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No Oasis

The desert takes all strangers

By Barb DukemanPublished 6 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - November 2023
17

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.

religionpsychologyhumanityfact or fiction
17

About the Creator

Barb Dukeman

After 32 years of teaching high school English, I've started writing again and loving every minute of it. I enjoy bringing ideas to life and the concept of leaving behind a legacy.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (11)

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  • Mike Singleton - Mikeydred2 months ago

    Hi we are featuring your excellent Top Story in our Community Adventure Thread in The Vocal Social Society on Facebook and would love for you to join us there

  • Xine Segalas6 months ago

    "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." What powerful imagery and what a great response to the Arid challenge!

  • Test6 months ago

    What a story! Loved the introspective soul searching and the realness of it... with a touch of the mystical at the end. Well done! 💙 Anneliese

  • Test6 months ago

    Great going! Keep up the fantastic effort—congratulations!😉

  • Phil Flannery6 months ago

    Did they see some kind of redemption in giving themselves up to nature. It was a very thought provoking story.

  • Barb, when I read this part: "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." I actually FELT this. I think I have some kind of mildly twisted enjoyment of reading about characters, whether real or fictional, who venture into nature, and subsequently, their demise (either temporary or permanent). I think I see it as symbolic of returning to simplicity once the complexities of living have finally crushed the narrator. It's sad, but also peaceful. And thus, we get solace. And I absolutely love that word and the way it feels.

  • Rana Shafiq6 months ago

    The imagery of the swirling sand dancers and the desire to become a fleeting cloud evokes a profound connection with nature. The closing line, "another grain of sand in the wind," resonates with the theme of insignificance in the face of the expansive landscape, creating a contemplative and atmospheric story.

  • Hannah Moore6 months ago

    I still have hope the narrator turned around.

  • Dana Crandell6 months ago

    Another fine entry, with a sad twist based on addiction. Judging from your writing, you must have been an outstanding teacher.

  • Babs Iverson6 months ago

    Outstanding and heartbreaking!!! Left some love!!!💕❤️❤️

  • Novel Allen6 months ago

    A serious contemplative story. Hopefully a stint in the desert helps to drive the demons away. Well written.

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