Andy's been trying to figure out whether to use his present, the booklet on scenic bicycle rides, now or wait till spring. It's been snowing every few days for awhile now, and although they get the roads clear pretty quickly, the shoulders are all clogged up and icy. We can bike, obviously, but it isn't very much fun or very safe. But Andy doesn't want to wait. We were talking about it this morning. He's the proverbial kid at Christmas. He's like a kid all the time--he just gets so excited about things.
"Andy, how old are you?" I asked.
"Thirty-six. Why?" I was surprised--he doesn't look thirty-six. His hair is greying and thinning and he has bad, weathered-looking skin. But I didn't say that.
"You don't act thirty-six," I said instead.
"Oh, how do I act?"
I think I turned red. How was I going to avoid insulting him? I shouldn't have brought it up.
"I don't know, younger."
"About twelve right?" Andy supplied, grinning.
"Yeah, about twelve." I'm glad he grinned.
"Yeah, I'm basically a big kid. They say you stop growing up when you start using. I started smoking and drinking when I was twelve." He wasn't grinning anymore, but he didn't seem angry I'd brought it up. He seemed like he wanted to talk, so I let him.
"So young?" I asked. I think I was still playing with GI Joes when I was twelve.
"Yeah. I had a brother who used, and he shared with me. Pot, at first, and we got into our parents' liquor cabinet a few times, you know, watering down what was left so they wouldn't notice how much was missing? He wouldn't give me any hard stuff till I got older."
"I didn't know you had a brother."
"I don't, now. He died."
"So am I."
We were quiet for a bit. I looked out the window for a bit and fiddled with my binoculars.
"So do you start growing up again when you get clean? So you're, what, almost thirteen now?" Andy smiled a bit ruefully and looked away. We were quiet for a while again, until his enthusiastic grin broke out again, like a sunrise.
"No, I'm almost one. I was saved last year, end of February, beginning of March, I don't remember the date. Since then, everything's new, everything that came before is gone. I guess it's no wonder I act young? Everything's new. There's so much I never knew before, never experienced. Sobriety is the most amazing high ever!"
He'd gone from sad and gloomy to completely elated in less than a minute. Little Aidan does that, too. It's like neither man nor baby has any emotional momentum. They feel what they feel right now, and what they felt last minute is irrelevant. I'm not entirely sure Andy is sane, actually, but he is a good man, and at least he's coherent. When he first arrived he wasn't quite.
"You came here in March," I told him, thinking about how he was when he arrived. "When did you steal the bicycle?" Instantly, his rueful smile was back.
"I think that was--mid-February, thereabouts. I was trying so hard to get back on my feet, but I couldn't. I was cold all the time and I was still using. Everything was happening so fast. It's like, you're supposed to be up here" he held his hand up about shoulder height, "living a normal life, you know? And you fall down a bit, you make mistakes, and you try to climb back up again. But gravity is against you, and you keep falling. You make enough mistakes, you fall far enough, and you can pedal and pedal and pedal and still you'll never make it. Or, it's like being in debt, trying to pay it off, and you never do, so you have to borrow more just to survive and your debt gets bigger...but now my debt is paid in full by Jesus Christ. I don't have to feel guilty all the time anymore. I can live my life and try to be the best man I can be, today."
"Well, you've certainly worked hard at that this past year. I think you are a very good man."
"No, no, no. I haven't worked," Andy protested. "My best work...got me into stealing bicycles. God worked. God worked on me. I couldn't have done it. I'm a miracle. It's like they call it a self-help program, but it isn't. I can't help myself, I tried, I failed. It's a God-help program."
I assume he was talking about NA. I know he goes--he's not exactly anonymous about it. And I had thought he was more or less quoting things he's heard in meetings. I remember there was a lot of that when I used to go to open AA and Al-Anon meetings, all these phrases that everyone keeps repeating to each other,like a new habit. But that one about the God-help program sounded different, both unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. I must have frowned or something, because Andy looked at me sharply.
"You know who told me that," he said. It wasn't a question.
"Yes," I told him, finally.
[Next Post: Friday, January 3rd: New Years]