After I was about three and a half months sober I’d saved enough money to haul my sorry self off my sister’s couch and move into an apartment of my own – actually less than half a mile away, also on a third floor, above the family who owned the house and lived on the other floors. There was a wooden outside staircase on the back of the house, and that’s how I got up to my place, the only entrance and egress – good thing there was never a fire. I lived there a little more than two years until I got involved with someone I shouldn’t have – actually a couple of someone’s – and I needed to move my sorry self again, this time up the North Shore into Lynn – how’d that rhyme go? “Lynn, Lynn, city of sin, never come out the way you went in.” You had to be there.
But back to Somerville and my first place under the trance of recovery. It was actually a great place, you entered into the kitchen, the bathroom was on the right, then further in the living room was also on the right, facing west with lots of sun, and this great slanting ceiling. The bedroom was in the back, one window facing south and east, with a view of the back of Somerville High School. I cannot remember how I furnished the place but I had a bed and a couch and a tv and a kitchen table that had been in my family for as long as I remember, a gift to me sometime after I moved out of mom and dad’s. I’ve for sure logged more than 10,000 miles with it, hauled back and forth across the country twice, down to Florida twice, all over eastern Massachusetts and multiple stops here in Portland. Fun fact – I’m typing this on that very table right now, 11:14 pm Monday near the end of April, 2019. I moved into the apartment in Somerville August 1983. I was thirty-four years old. Time flies.
This is what I want to tell you. It was about a two-mile walk to Harvard Square in Cambridge, and there was a Dunkin Donuts right in the Square and long cement walls to sit on and sip coffee and watch people, and I was sober and that made pretty much everything new, even normal stuff, and on weekends and sometimes during the week when the sun was shining and winter fading to spring, now ’84, I’d take that walk, through a bunch of different “Squares” – Union, Inman, Kendall, Central, up Mass Ave to Harvard, past smart people playing chess in the permanent tables on a plaza of sorts, and past smart people, I figured, being students at Harvard and Radcliffe and MIT, and probably, like the song says, muggars, lovers, and thieves. Always something cool to look at in Harvard Square.
I said being sober was new and often interesting – new eyes and all that – but sometimes it wasn’t and sometimes it sucked, dealing with “life” without getting blasted on one thing or another, and I wasn’t always happy, joyous, and free, and it’s one particular late spring day, 1984, a weekday which I had off who knows why, and I decide to walk over to Harvard and get a coffee and hang, and I have walked through and out of Somerville and now in East Cambridge and way up ahead of me on the sidewalk I see some young kid bouncing around, all by himself, playing and filled with energy and, it looked like, happiness, and I distinctly had the thought “What an asshole.” Because the kid was happy, I guess, or because I wasn’t, or was in a mood, or feeling sorry for myself, or whatever, but for sure this kid was an asshole. And I kept walking – him between me and a coffee – and when I got up to about twenty feet away from him I saw that he didn’t have a left arm. Nothing below the elbow. Yet here he was living his little slice of heaven on earth to the max, sidewalk dancing, celebrating oxygen flowing in and out of his little body. Digging life.
I passed that kid, with both my arms, and hopefully I mumbled “Hi” or “Hey” or something, and headed over to the Square. I thought about it, the kid and me, I guess you could call it an encounter, and that it suddenly felt pretty arrogant to be feeling sorry for myself because everything wasn’t perfect in my life. Maybe it became one of those plateau places for me, a reconnoiter place, I was like a year sober, I’m thinking it did. And every once in a while – I say this with clarity – life gives you a chance to smarten up, maybe grow a little, in the right direction, begin substituting gloom and doom for a small ray of hope. That happens. And maybe something put that kid on the sidewalk that afternoon, directly in my path, something looking out for me, something that has my back – call it what you will. Some gentle version of, “Yo, shit for brains – check this out.”
I thought about that kid today, now in my 36th year of being sober, far, far away from Somerville and Cambridge. I had a few moments of feeling sorry for myself, if you can believe it. Anyway, I decided to tell you about it. The kid with one arm; third-floor apartments; and coffee in the Square.