I’d fallen off the wagon, again, and felt ashamed of all that I had done to hurt my family. I was just fifteen years old when I had my first rum and Coke at a Las Vegas casino. It didn’t help that my parents had a well-stocked liquor cabinet at home. That began my lifelong misery of fighting and losing, getting my AA tokens, hitting the liquor store after a meeting with money I “borrowed.” Something about the intoxication seemed to be the anchor to my soul; nothing else could match it. Addiction is a disease, and I was fully infected.
Four stints in rehab, two in a halfway house, and one month in jail, I was forever tossed about in an ocean of aching. My mom had passed away from cirrhosis five years ago, but that wasn’t enough to deter me. I knew alcoholism ran in my family, and I used that as an excuse. My father had disowned me after my last bout of booze; he had done just about everything to help me. Family support had abruptly ended after that last bender. My little brother didn’t recognize me anymore; I was saddened that I probably wouldn’t be around to watch him grow up. I could never keep up my end of the bargain.
I just stumbled about from camp to camp, trying to score some bottle of anything. Never a smoker, I didn’t want cigarettes or weed. Just the sweet taste of beer or bourbon. Camps aren’t as cohesive as people think; they don’t welcome strangers or share their goods. It’s a survival mechanism, honed from years of isolation. It was plain to see I wasn’t going to fit in anywhere.
Near the edge of a homeless encampment by the interstate, I saw the border between the city and whatever lay beyond. I had never ventured far from my immediate vicinity. This seemed like an adventure, and I had nothing left to lose, no other viable options. No family, no friends, no job - just an endless supply of time and other half of Nevada to explore.
A copse of trees stood along the edge of the dirt road beside the interstate. I didn’t own a phone, a car, or even a map; I was walking toward nowhere. There was a small break in the tree line, and I followed what I thought was a path. Spiderwebs and thorny brambles in my way, I fought my way through until I reached an expanse of land so very different from Vegas. If only I had fought this hard through my addiction, I wouldn’t be in this predicament.
Emerging from the trees, I saw nothing but sand in every direction. I was reminded of a poem I learned in high school. This ancient king had built a giant statue to impress other kings, but after eons of time it became nothing. The poem, I remember, ended with “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.” King Ozy was swimming in irony.
So was I, my guidance counselor once told me. I had promise for success in college according to my test scores (taken while hungover, I might add). I also had scholarships, but I just didn’t want to spend four more years in another institution to be churned out into this world. My drinking had gotten out of hand, and this world was not one I wanted to be a part of.
Since the time I graduated, I saw the Twin Towers fall, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, another shuttle blow up, a recession dumping more heaps of misery on Americans. There were tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, and other weather disturbances that made history. And those records were being topped each week by other disasters.
Covid stopped the world for a year, and things became still. The fear spread across the world, and for a few months, people faced their mortality with either fear or disbelief. The news showed mass graves while people tore off their masks because they wanted their freedom. Nobody could agree; science was late in coming and then ignored, more people died. The blame game started as the origin of the virus was debated. Conspiracy theories, ugly confrontations abounded; no wonder drinking was a soothing balm for me.
In the political arena, people were fighting like children. Countries fought one another after they entered the fray. Russia and North Korea posturing with their nukes, Palestinians going after Israel and vice versa. I was still drinking this turmoil in while whiskey drowned out the voices. People screamed at each other in news media, social media, and grocery stores. Who was right? Who was wrong? I thought to myself…can’t there be a middle ground where people could agree on something? Anything?
I decided no. The world had become a lost cause. I looked at the desert before me and could see the mountains rise in the distance. They’ve been here for millennia, existing in majesty, while humans couldn’t agree on which god was correct. With each step I took, the sand caved in to fill my footsteps as if I weren’t there. A fitting elegy to the hollow paths I’ve taken my whole life.
The sun beat down as I trudged on, the sound of traffic and city life fading in the distance. Once I reached a horizon, I saw the sand rolled on, just as the surroundings of Ozymandias did. Nothingness all around indeed. My head ached, I was hungry, and I needed a drink, but my flask was empty. This must be what it feels like to be dry. I had no water; I didn’t plan on going this far. I don’t think anyone thinks that far ahead. I didn’t have much to live for, really. No family or friends to reach out to, no resources I could afford, no one to say, “Hey, you’re gonna be ok.” Just rejection from every angle.
There was something very welcoming about the desert - I felt accepted. It was loudly quiet. I trudged on for a few more hours, and then I felt tired, more tired than I ever felt before. The distance between the mountain and me didn’t decrease, but the distance from my world seemed endless. I fell to my knees, and the wind picked up. I saw whirls of sand around me, dancers in the desert, keeping me company. I lay down in the warmth and faced up toward the sky. One little cloud gently grazed across the sky, changing form and finally dissipating. I wanted to reach out and touch the perfect sky. I wanted to be that cloud, alone and ready to dissolve. Engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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