Clark’s face was like a kiwi—a big angry kiwi that had been left on a windowsill for so long that the sun had blanched it a blotchy cream color. None of the hairs on his head were longer than ¾ of an inch, but they were everywhere, like a bed of prickly blonde grass that formed a sort of second skin over the clusters of budding acne that lay beneath it. Pockmarked and full of pimples, Clark’s skin reminded me of the surface of some alien landscape you would need a Mars Rover to cross. At 19, Clark was just old enough that the Technicolor braces bridging his teeth seemed age-inappropriate, especially as the pull of male-pattern baldness started to make itself known towards the top of his sloping forehead.
A self-proclaimed former all-state hockey star from Wisconsin, Clark managed to work himself out of playing shape at an alarming pace. Within his first month in treatment he had put on about twenty-five pounds, which isn’t abnormal for addicts whose bodies are busy recovering from years of active addiction and appetite suppression. However, Clark kept going at a heady clip for the remainder of his stay and by the time I met him he was reduced to an all elastic-waistbanded wardrobe of sweatpants and hoodies until his folks could send him some new clothes. Before every meal, Clark would rush over to the couch cushion nearest the stairs and get into this hybrid stance that channeled both a power forward boxing out for a rebound and a 100m sprinter setting into his starting block. If you tried to pass him in the hallway going to the cafeteria he would straight up stiff-arm you into the wall.
I really can’t remember much about Clark’s back story, but it doesn’t matter too terribly much. Whether he was addicted to uppers or downer, opiates or benzos, prescription or street drugs, it’s all a wash. All I know is that Clark was possibly the angriest manchild I’ve ever met in my life. In treatment/AA-speak, Clark was the quintessential dry drunk. Taking the bottle away from him wasn’t going to do jack shit aside from make Clark even more of a bitter, hateful son-of-a-bitch than he was to begin with.
If you go to enough Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, you’ll notice that many members will say that they have done crazier, more ill advised crap in sobriety than they did when they were using. Objectively, this doesn’t make much sense. Logic would have it that since he was doing stupid shit because he was drinking, he is bound to do less stupid shit when the drinking stops, but it doesn’t work that way. Clark, and those of us that are like him, basically used drinking as his go-to coping mechanism. Eventually, after years of abuse, that coping mechanism stopped working, which is what inevitably led him to seek/be forced into treatment. All of this is well and good, but once getting high has been forcibly removed from his limited repertoire, what replaces it? This is where fresh hell breaks loose. At least with drinking there was a set formula for how to cope with adverse feelings and events. Even if it only worked for the second the glass first hit his lips, there was at least the illusion of relief.
When that quick relief was taken away from Clark, he replaced it with pure, unadulterated rage. His response to almost every issue in his life was to get furious at it. Therapists will often refer to anger as a “secondary emotion,” that people use to avoid dealing with their underlying feelings. Well, oxymoronic as it sounds, this secondary emotion was Clark’s lone primary emotion, namely because he refused to acknowledge the existence of all the others. To paraphrase John Hughes, if you stuck a lump of coal up Clark’s ass and waited two weeks you’d have a diamond. If you looked closely at Clark’s pillow when he woke up you could probably find little enamel shavings from where he’d been gnashing his teeth all night. In clinical terms, he was a hot mess.
Implicit in the term Bible Thumper is the act of thumping, as in to, “hit (someone or something) heavily, esp. with the fist or a blunt implement.” I suppose it’s subjective as to whether said Bible is being thumped on an inanimate object (i.e. preacher thumping away at the pulpit) or another person (say, someone trying to walk into work at Planned Parenthood), but both definitions have some sort of undesired force, be it physical or verbal, at their center. When it was suggested to Clark that he cultivate a relationship between himself and the god of his understanding, this particular brand of fire and brimstone bible thumping was the form that his faith took. Like many of his ilk, the change was sudden, violent, and largely superficial. Soon after his “conversion,” Clark somehow procured a cross necklace made of stainless steel and cubic zirconium, which rarely left his person. Armed with this totem of his religious devotion and a fancified, leather-bound bible his mother had dropped off for him, Clark would spend much of his time patrolling the halls, preaching to whoever was fool enough to make eye-contact with him. If that failed, he’d plop himself down in the seat with the greatest potential for being in the path of foot traffic and begin reading and nodding like a street performer for the benefit of others. His favorite pastime became name-dropping bible verses in the middle of conversations that had absolutely no relation to scripture. Clark was a zealot without a cause.
For being such a disciple of Christ, Clark had a preternatural gift for behaving in a very un-Christian manner. The first thirty minutes of any treatment group was pregnant with the fear of volcanic rage as we waited for Clark to come unhinged. Patients would spend that first half-hour sliding from group to group, going through an exercise called I See/I Feel/I Hope/I Will, in which everyone was encouraged to go up to another group member and express a positive or negative action they had seen them take and let them know how it effected them. Without fail, Clark ended up being the front runner each day to get the lion’s share of the group’s negative feedback:
“Clark, I see that you called me a fag and threatened to strangle me at lunch today. I feel hurt that you would call me names and frightened that you might actually choke me. I hope that you can learn to not yell homophobic slurs at me and I will hold you accountable.”
“Clark, I see that you threw a basketball at my face at the Y because I beat you in a game of 21. I feel, well, sore…I mean, I can’t move my jaw up and down too well right now. I hope that you stop throwing balls at people’s faces and I will probably be running on the treadmill the next time we go to the Y.”
“Clark, I see that you’ve been eating entire sleeves of Oreo’s at AA meetings without putting any money in the basket. I feel embarrassed to be seen with you in public. I hope that you can learn to eat an appropriate number of snack cookies at social functions and I will do the same.”
After enough of these complaints had been levied against him, Clark’s face would turn a begin to fill with blood and he would accuse us all of being cocksuckers who needed to have the shit kicked out of us. I was legitimately frightened of Clark precisely because he was crazy enough not to give credence to the consequences of his actions. There was something so intensely visceral about him that you just wanted to steer clear of him, like a feral animal or a serial killer.
Eventually, the whole place soured of him and administration decided to ship Clark off to some other treatment center and never mind which one so long as it wasn’t this one. I had heard a bunch of rumors about what happened to him once he left, the most outlandish and horrifyingly plausible being that he was arrested for killing his father back home. The way he talked about that man it’s hard to imagine anything positive coming from the two of them reuniting, but, then again, the world is full of no good, abusive, slimeball dads who don’t get murdered by their raging children, so who knows? What I do know is that Clark was the personification of Tennessee William’s old line about the lone victory of a cat on a hot tin roof being just staying on the damn thing. It’s amazing how long a man’s fire can be stoked by resentment and loathing. Instead of tiring out like you think it would, some folks have the capacity to let an unceasing stream of hate into their hearts, compounding their misery by the day because they think it’s impossible to do otherwise. I’m guessing for Clark it still is.
Categories: Drug News
I know that kiwi face. See it all the time. This had me laughing and relating. Beautifully written.