I stare at the Kandinsky print on the wall rather than Paul, a subtle maneuver upward, for I’m used to losing myself in the damask carpet, wanting to be part of its pattern, when I speak. The Kandinsky is a pastel Rorschach, a benign something, hung there because it is a benign something, and the office is designed to be inoffensive, non-representational, so that sitting on the couch is to be in some mode of bas relief, not entirely there and therefore not entirely, three-dimensionally, petrified. A cup of coffee cools on the glass table and Paul sits quietly, a blank canvas.
Paul resembles Richard Milhous Nixon, just handsomer, with a broad face and carefully slicked-back bangs that, were they to fall in his face, would reach the tip of his Richard Milhous nose. I imagine he drives a Prius. I imagine his morning breakfast is beige.
“I can’t seem to surrender, Paul. My ambivalence holds me in place. I’d like to, but.” My eyes settle on the bookcase. Paul has the DSM-IV. I know there’s a fifth edition, but I don’t hold it against him. “How does one surrender anyway?”
Paul doesn’t uncross his legs or shift in the wing chair that dominates his side of the office.
“In this case, you have to think of yourself as being in a burning building,” he says levelly, “With the only option for appreciable change being to just jump.”
I am quiet. Paul is quiet.
“You have a safety net. You’ll know you’re safe once you’re caught, but it requires an act of will.”
Incongruously, I say: “I don’t want to leave a Thom-sized hole.” This is an aside mantra, a stopgap, a gambit against erasure. It’s something I say all the time. It sounds right to say, and how we all need our summonses.
“You know David Foster Wallace talked about a burning building, too,” I change the subject while keeping with the metaphor. “He said a man jumps from a burning building not because he is suddenly comfortable with falling, but just because the alternative is so much worse.”
I’m not parrying Paul. I ponder that I may be agreeing with him. I think suddenly of that iconic photo, the Richard Drew one, the North Tower still intact but shedding souls and the idea of freefall is dizzying.
I had said, ‘I surrender’ before, at Casa Palmera, to the admissions director who pulled my file with an almost alacrity.
“We figured you’d be back.” He had a self-righteous air, which matched his overall mien; it also matched his car vaingloriously parked in front of the building, all lacquer and gleam. I hated him. While he detailed the terms of my surrender, he fingered a six-year sobriety token between pudgy fingers—seemingly for effect—and I hated him a second time.
“I’m serious now,” I said meekly. I blew a 0.16. I got a bed.
Fear: Face Everything And Recover. It’s what they teach you there. Else Fuck Everything And Run. Two types of surrender.
“I’m serious now,” I repeated three days later as the nurse tried to convince me to stay. “I’m leaving.”
“Where you gonna go,” the admissions director asked, with a sneersome face worn to resemble tough love. “I mean, you’ve essentially lost your family,” he lied.
“I have places I can go,” I lied right back.
The director was annoyed—this was going to be a ding on the recidivism record, a spot of tarnish on Casa’s otherwise brass finish. The halls were shiny. The food was Mediterranean and served on actual dinnerware. There were salad forks, masseuses, biofeedback options, yoga and meditation. To leave this place was to leave recovery, period, the alternative being no alternative in the director’s mind as evidenced by the waiver I had to sign upon my exit.
‘Against medical advice, the undersigned faces the potential consequence of: Relapse. Death.’
I affixed my signature, then took a black Mercedes up and out of the Del Mar hinterlands, a fine death cab if there were one, and stared out the window as we passed the well-arbored equestrian farms, the gated manors, the eventual coastline. The moon of my breath appeared on the blue window, disappeared, then appeared again. Down the highway there was the fact of a burning building; I folded my hands in wait.