“People only count their misfortunes; their good luck they take no account of. But if they were to take everything into account, as they should, they’d find that they had their fair share of it.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Notes from the Underground
I sat in a darkish room, with darkish walls, around a darkish table, surrounded by people of grim expression and waning enthusiasm for life. Sitting there, in my bright red blouse, coordinating black and red skirt and red heels, I fit in like a mouse at a cat convention. Wringing my hands beneath the table, I looked down at the sheet of paper that sat in front of me on that dark table. The edges of the paper were yellowed with oils for hundreds of hands before me. People were speaking, I was hearing, but not listening. These strangers around me were sat in the dark room, most of them voluntarily, reading from these sheets. Some of them didn’t even have to look at the sheet to recite the words, for many of them knew them by heart.
“Nikki, your turn.”
“Step one: We admitted we are powerless over….” and I read, keeping my eyes downcast, looking in the direction of the paper, but not really reading it. This was an AA meeting, and we were basking in the pain each other had experienced and or were experiencing. The faces were friendly, almost to a familial extent, all looking to help those looking for a hand up, not necessarily a hand out. The meeting went on, as they typically do, stories of sadness and hurt, and upon conclusion, I was making a hot trot towards the door. It was a Sunday morning, I wanted to get on with my life.
“Please, young lady, Nikki was it? Please, join us for congregation and fellowship. You need no money, we will feed you.” The soft voice echoed for me from behind. “South Main, it’s…”
“By the tracks, I know where it’s at.” I left without much more to say. I hadn’t been to church since the annual Christmas Eve service with my mother-in-law a year or two prior. I wanted no part, I didn’t want to be around a bunch of holy rollers, nor did I want to monopolize my precious day off with sitting there listing to some sort of preaching. I kept walking, zeroed in on my car door, actually planning on crossing the county line to buy the ever elusive Sunday beer.
“The congregation is full of people like you, Nikki. There are drug addicts, both recovering and not. Alcoholics, some show up drunk. Homeless people, prostitutes, all of them are welcome. We don’t judge there. North Main.” He proclaimed from the door, almost as a beckon call.
I sat in my car, offended. Did I look like a damn drug addict, alcoholic, homeless prostitute? I faltered slightly before starting the car and heading off to the house, not going for beer. The entire ride, the whole three miles, was nothing but a reflective trance, the fear of what people thought I was, or even more frightful, what I had seen myself become. I wasn’t being invited to fancy occasions, formal dinners, company picnics, I was being invited to a church full of winos and hookers. That was the company I kept, or at least, the company I was perceived to keep. I ended up going to the service, against what I would typically do on a Sunday. I sat in the extreme back row, I gave no alms, I did eat a sandwich though and had a very interesting talk with some of the congregation.
The crowd was interesting, and as described, diverse. Some people in their Sunday best, hats and all. A few were in pajamas, a few were sleeping in pews. The minister didn’t care, he stood up there, spoke his sermon, threw water on some people, and as a congregation, songs were sung. I sat that one out, only because I wanted to focus on the faces of this crowd, this incredible gathering of oddities. Upon entering, I held my nose in the air, I was better than these people, or so I thought. By the end of the sermon, I was lower than these people, I felt like the slime on the underside of a slug, and to borrow a line from Crime and Punishment, I wasn’t worthy to keep the feet nor shake the pinky of any of them. I left there, shaken up, and in a funk for the rest of the day. Honestly, I hadn’t thought of that day until yesterday.
“Women gouges out own eyes, leaves bystanders shocked and disturbed.”
“Woman found holding her own eyes outside upstate church.”
“Woman rips out own eye, shows up at upstate church.”
You can see where this is going, it was that church. That same church that welcomed me, welcomed everyone.
I opened the new article and immediately recognized the church from the photograph. I felt sick to my stomach in a way I hadn’t felt since about a year ago when I read the new article about the woman stripping naked and running with the track team, Julie Ledger. The problem that I had, the draw that I had towards this story wasn’t the macabre nature of the story, it was the fact that there was some sort of parallel that I could see between the two stories. I had a personal connectivity to the woman in the upstate, could she have been one of those people in the church on that Sunday?
Without needing to be said, people don’t rip out their eyeballs without an inner demon that takes the wheel of their destiny. In this case, it hasn’t been released if or what sort of drug it was, but there is a huge part of me that leans towards some sort of same substance that caused a girl, wrapped up in the wrong lifestyle, to strip off her clothes and chase a track team around. These activities, these actions, these life changing circumstances all stem from a decision to escape reality. This is the only logic reason for one to subscribe to a lifestyle of drugs, and in some of our cases, alcohol. Reality becomes so gray, difficult, and impossible to handle we chose to numb our senses and drop out of it for a while.
Here’s the hitch in the giddy-up, there’s always going to be the edge.
“”The Edge… there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”
Hunter S Thompson
I’ve been to within feet of the edge, I could feel it in my blood. It’s an interesting feeling, almost as if you fear death, but at the same time you welcome it to put a period at the end of the sentence of life. Crashing cars, unable to walk, poisoning, heart failure, all of these near misses of going off the edge didn’t really effect me. I’d shrug it off as luck, and never really stopped to look back and take inventory of all my “luck” incidents. This girl, with her eyes, whom might I add was only stated as being 19 years old, has gone over the edge, and who knows how any times previously she had a close skirting with the edge without going over.
I feel my friend, although I’ve never met her, Julie, had a ridiculously close skirt with the edge, and I feel for her, our nameless woman here in the upstate – no wait – scratch that – girl – has dove headlong over the edge. Think of it this way, she can barely buy cigarettes and lottery tickets, she can’t buy beer, and for the rest of her life she will be haunted with a decision that changed her life forever. It takes one step too far, one shot too many, one snort too long, one tree too sturdy to put you right over the edge.
I’m not getting preachy, but keep in mind, I’m shaken and tend to pull out my worn out soap box, take a delicate step onto it, lift my hands into a cone shape around my lips to form some sort of hand megaphone and yell a message. This is my message.
We all take risks, and none of us are saints. I’ve realized that drinking has, well, ruined my life. I do not hate myself for it, I just have become very cautiously aware of it. Have I become a teetotaler and put a plug in the jug for good? No, not hardly. Have I become hyper aware of those that don’t take care in their decisions when participating in their favorite escape. I care, I care about everybody, stranger or not. I hear stories that could easily be one of my friends, acquaintances, or hell, even people I don’t particularly care too much for and I care.
“As we are, so we do; and as we do, so is done to us; we are the builders of our fortunes.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Listen, life really isn’t a lottery, you’re not going to have a fortunate and fulfilling life by living on luck. Take the reins and make the right decisions. You might need help that you don’t have within yourself. I’m here if you need me.