The Preacher

Seven or eight years ago I was still a teen, and as such I was still living under the rule of my mother, who at that time was a deeply religious woman and had aspirations for me to follow the faith as well. To this aim I was sent to a Pentecostal church camp in a rural area of Portage County for two weeks (I know, sounds pretty lame). This camp was nice enough, not very flashy due to the fact that its budget was funded mostly by the offering plate. We had activities, fair grub and a lot of prayer. So far this scene shapes up to be one easily forgotten behind many other memories of much higher impact and influence, except for something I saw that changed my life and the way I saw the world around me.

There were a fair spectrum of personalities there, but very few characters, and I mean characters only in the sense that you may see them in some fiction film or book perhaps. The one person I would identify as a real character was one of the preachers, who was from a congregation in Racine. The man’s name escapes me, but he sticks out in my mind because of the fact that he was blind and not just legally blind – this man had zero vision in both of his eyes. Despite this (or perhaps in some small way because of it) he was somewhat of an overall leader at this Pentecostal camp.

One evening we were rushed out early from our six o’clock prayer service. At the time no one knew what was going on; it appeared to me that there was a young woman who had come to alter that was having some sort of a seizure. The group retreated across the football field to the main block of dorms about 150 yards away from the temple. As we stood outside we began to hear these terrible screams escaping the temple–horrible, shrill screams. The one thing that was remarkable about the screams was not the tone or personality of them so much as the volume–it was tremendous, bellowing even. I don’t think then, or even today, that 5 people could have achieved such a volume. It was stunning, and it was probably the most terrifying thing I had heard up to that point in my life.

I wanted to investigate, the others did not for obvious reasons. I am skeptical of such things, and I was overwhelmed with curiosity at this point. i made my way across the grass and back to the temple; I went inside. The first thing I saw were perhaps 5 or 6 adult individuals holding this girl down. This girl was not having a seizure, but what was it then? The blind preacher stood over her and the men holding her down –he was praying, quite loudly, but his words were drowned out, enveloped, by the still, shrill screams coming from the girl. At this point it didn’t even seem that they were coming from her at all, but instead from all around, the center focused at her center. I was struck with the visuals of this thing unfolding before me. I was one of only perhaps 3 bystanders in the temple; one of the others informed me that the girl was possessed, and they were in the process of cleansing her of her demonic affliction. It made sense where nothing else did; it was the only answer to what I was seeing in front of my eyes.

The scene unfolded for about 30 minutes. During this time I saw feats of human strength from this girl who astounded me. She was able to un-seat and almost lift 3 men at once, with one arm, and she was maybe 130 pounds herself. I can’t explain it.

When everything was over she walked past me and out of the temple, completely clear-eyed, completely collected, and her energy was different. I don’t want to explain anymore for the fear of sounding like a fool–just realize that she had completely changed.

That blind preacher was the one symbol of that whole event, the whole duration of the camp even. I thought back on this instance infrequently in the last 8 years. It proved something to me that I cannot deny to this day. I don’t speak from a position of , on the contrary I have drifted far away from my faith, and have come to embrace other ways of living, but still, in all that I have seen and done in those 8 years nothing has unseated logically what I saw on that day.

                       

Today I was riding the bus through the university and a blind man got on at one of the stops. I recognized him immediately as the preacher from that day. I had not seen nor heard anything about anyone else in the church for all those years. It was a real surprise. I thought about approaching him, but I did not. I simply sat back and studied him, remembered him, and marveled at the way fate re-introduces people into our lives at times for which we cannot appreciate for their value until years later.

I wonder why I saw him today, I wonder why I saw him here, and I wonder why fate didn’t bring me around to say a few words to him as we both rode on that bus to where ever life was taking us next.

 

Can’t Find a Single Friend Here, by Matt

I haven’t ranted for awhile, but I just feel the need to describe something.  This is to anyone who cares enough to read the things that I write. It’s about the place I live…or perhaps it’s about me, I can’t quite figure it out.

I’ve been in Oshkosh since November, and I’ve just realized that I don’t really have a single friend here, at least no one that lives up to my definition of a friend. You know, someone that you can talk candidly with about anything, someone who values your person, recognizes your soul and the features of your entire personality,and appreciates this enough to actually let you inside their head–their triumphs and struggles. Someone that’s going to be able to tell you the hard truth about the things that you ACTUALLY do and the way you act; I mean real feedback.  My most basic definition, I guess, is just someone that corresponds with you honestly and lets you in when you let them in.

I have the chance of course to bump into individuals out there, whether it be at work, through acquaintance, or through random means. A lot of people I’ve felt could really turn out to be friends of mine, just haven’t really come around to that point after spending time with me . Back home, it was really quite easy to make these personal connections; once you had met someone it was fairly easy to pull them to your level, or to be accepted into theirs. People wanted others around them that would be true, good for a laugh, some company, or a drink–God, just anything.  But here it’s quite different. Here it seems that people are locked into this death battle for some type of relative status over those around them. They compete fiercely with each other in everyday circumstances. They have a very set idea of what they believe, of who they are and their image. You really can’t shake this “better than you in some damn way” kind of thinking. Maybe its just because I won’t compete with them, or that I really can’t–I don’t have status at all, not much money, no car, not really upwardly mobile at this point. When I was a successful person, not too long ago, I rubbed elbows with all kinds of people–from rich to abjectly poor, from students to addicts to lawyers and even homeless. Whoever you were, I was happy to be in your level of view.  I really wanted to see what you saw from your point under the sun. Your lack of money or status or mobility didn’t bother me.  Just to be around you was enough. I felt a great sense of warmth getting to know different people in my few years on the earth.

I found deeper people too, not so here. I can’t seem to find anyone that feels the least bit like discussing anything beyond the reaches of their own paradigm. No one wants to be bothered with deeper meanings, symbolism in life, or a greater, grander picture. As for the people I have met so far here, its like this all boils down to your position within this system, and where you can get to in it. If you happen to vary from the upward swing, or don’t care about the money or the status then the interest level drops right off.

So far I have been really biting into the culture down here, but you know that I’m not really sure. I wonder about myself sometimes like maybe it is all in my head –or worse yet, that it isn’t them at all but that instead its me! This could be so true considering that I’ve been walking around completely blind having no real friends to give me input or feedback–my image through their filters. Regardless of the cause of the situation I feel quite helpless and more than a tad bit depressed about the whole thing. I get really scared sometimes and start thinking that all of my countrymen have gone absolutely mad, all of the U.S. completely gripped by this infinite power struggle for status or riches, their minds blinded to real meaning and beauty in life. But then the question arises: Am I so self-assured to feel that I know the meaning any better than them? God, what a position to be in.

So yeah, I’m pretty lonely, and I’m confused because I always thought that I was pretty personable and likable–deserving of real friends. But, I lack some sort of characteristic to draw people to me, or perhaps they HAVE all gone mad?

I hate this place. I came here quite optimistic, but I find that as the days go by I feel less and less like even trying. I feel a lot more like keeping my mouth shut and just doing things by myself. I feel like getting out of here for sure. I just hope that this doesn’t end up killing me before I end up making it out. Things have been happening lately otherwise that give me reason to seriously doubt myself on a lot of different issues…..to trust myself less.

We come back always to the truth that God knows whats going on, that he’s leading you down and around some trail to bring you to some destination. Trusting in the future or outcome is tough. If I look back on this in 20 years and recognize it as the penance that it is, then what? I guess I will have learned something quite profound. Until then we leave the mind to suffer.

(Matt and I talked about this topic a lot. And, he was right–he had tons of friends everywhere else but Oshkosh. Everywhere he went he made friends, before. He worked in several little tourist towns in Wisconsin, in some small cities, and around home. He made just the strangest, eclectic group of friends I have ever seen: store managers, business owners, chefs, foreigners from just about everywhere, people from rehab, doctors, old ladies (how the old ladies loved him), and just about anyone you can imagine.

Well, he did make it out of Oshkosh, for a total of about three weeks–he died just after moving to Madison. And, guess what! Only two people from Oshkosh came to his funeral (well they were related), but EIGHT people that he had just met came from Madison and even spoke at his funeral! The place was absolutely packed. And, talk about the flowers! Flowers were arriving from everywhere, and so many. We almost didn’t have anywhere to put them. Oh ya, Matt had friends. Just not in Oshkosh. He really did feel very, very alone. Matt’s mom.)

Matt’s story told by him

                     

Whether it’s coke, heroin, or prescription medication, it all happens the same way. You are always un-suspecting your first time, and generally people don’t set out trying to use drugs, or drinking themselves completely stupid every single day. Things happen, and sometimes you end up trying things as almost an accident. The whole course of my life was changed by one event–a trip to my local doctor in Crandon for a minor operation to fix-up an infected toe on my right foot.

The pain was excruciating. For several months before I went to see the doctor my big toe was infected beyond belief. It was black and blue, basically just a big pocket of puss. The slightest touch was enough to send me into almost crying-pain. At some points it got so bad that I had to use a walking cane in order to get around. My mother finally took me to the doctor. My toe nail had to be cut; it was in-grown and caused a continuous infection. It simply wouldn’t heal on its own. My doctor that day was a Dr. Bradner, a real old-time doctor–my mother remembers him being her doctor when she was just a child. He was a good man, and widely respected in the community. It was March 2001. I had just turned 16 years old. I had never had a drink of alcohol, never had a puff of MJ in my lungs; I did smoke cigarettes but this was very casual. I was not in any way, shape, or form a drug user. I knew that dope was bad. I knew that my father destroyed his entire life with alcohol, and even at this young age I had a healthy fear of drugs and alcohol in general.

When we got to the clinic, both my mom and I were ushered into one of the back, examination rooms. Dr. Bradner explained to me that he was going to have to numb my toe with lidocaine, peel back the toe flesh by cutting it with a scalpel, and then cut the nail and remove a section of it right out of the root. “Am I going to feel this Doc?” I said.

“No, we’re going to numb you up real good. You shouldn’t feel a thing,” was his answer. Great, I was ready to go.

My mother went back to the waiting room while Dr. Bradner and his nurse’s aide prepared to cut. He gave me some injections and asked me if I felt anything. “I don’t think so,” was the answer. He began to cut with the scalpel.

The first few cuts I didn’t feel, but when he got to the nail itself, which was surrounded by nothing but infected flesh, I began to feel, hell, I began to scream because I could feel everything.

The doctor stopped for a second – “You can feel that?!?”

Ooh yeah, I was screaming, and I was crying. My wailing was so loud that my mother heard it in the waiting room, her instinct kicked in, and she came running back to me. I was holding the nurse’s hand, and Bradner told me something to the effect of: “Well Matthew, we’re already so far in, and your toe is so infected that the lidocaine isn’t helping, but I have to continue. This is going to hurt, I’m sorry.” By this point Bradner was obviously shaken by my screams–he was pouring sweat, and I could tell that he was very focused on the task at hand, shaken, but confident still. When he finally cut the nail he began to rip it out of its root. I cannot explain this torture; pain shot like white lightning through every fiber in my body. A bullet train of agony that derailed in terrible flames in the inner cortex of my mind. I had never felt anything like that before, and I’m sure that my screams were enough to unsettle the entire staff, and probably a few patients. All of a sudden this little country clinic where people went for a cold or flu was feeling like a triage unit on some field of war. I’m sure that some people probably thought I had been shot or stabbed, it was that bad.

God, thankfully Bradner finished. At this point my mother was there, and the nurse was released from the pit-bull like grip of my hand. I was panting like a dog, red as a tomato, and Bradner was looking about the same way. My mother was crying. I only remember her crying in front of me a few times in my life–this was one. This was totally different than anyone expected. My mother was asking Bradner what he was going to do for me; “Will you give him antibiotics? Should I give him some aspirin? Maybe you can prescribe Tylenol #3?”.

I remember this very clearly. He said, “No, I don’t think I’ll give him Tylenol 3. Believe it or not those things just make children tired. I’m going to prescribe him something called Vicodin, better for pain, much better.” The poor man was so shaken, I haven’t seen a doctor like that EVER, before or since. He looked as if he had just stabbed me and felt all the worse for it!

We went to the pharmacy and got my pain medication and some antibiotics. Fifteen Vicodin and a bottle of antibiotics. Now the drive from town to my house is 32 miles; takes a modest driver about 40 minutes to get there. I have driven this road more times than anyone can count, but this ride was different. We started the journey when I was still young and innocent. By the time we got home I would never be innocent again. I was completely transformed in that short span of time. I took 1 Vicodin thinking it was going to be similar to ibuprofen, but it was not so; this was something else, this was an OPIATE, and I fell deeply in love with it immediately. Changed forever.

My mother went out of the country to lead a class trip. She left me the bottle, and in the care of my grandma I began to take these and just felt so wonderful. I was at school, I had a crush on this girl (you know who you are!), and I felt that I could finally ask her out. I felt invincible. I felt no pain, my mind was clear, my soul felt purified as if by the touch of God himself. I couldn’t imagine that this was the beginning to the darkest period for me and any of my friends that were along for the ride.

I suppose, on reflection, that my addiction and morbid compulsion didn’t start right away; it was a very gradual thing. I remembered the name on that prescription bottle, and whenever I bumped into it in a friend’s parents’ medicine cabinet I made sure to swipe a few. This happened only every few months or so, but it was graduating, ever so slowly, into a mushroom cloud of mental and spiritual darkness. Hydros turned to Oxies which turned into Morphine and finally Heroin. Along the way, inevitably, you pick up things like cocaine, speed, and grass – the same goes for picking up methods; at some point every opiate user will begin intravenous injecting, and then the real trouble starts. You stay up at night worrying about Hepatitis, necrotic abscesses and AIDS. There is no real way out; if you have access you have problems.

The lowest point for me started in the summer of 2005. I had several good friends, all of them by now were drug people; my true friends had to turn their back, and I don’t blame them at all. I wasn’t a person anymore–I was a monster. Great people like Matt D. and Mike D. had had enough, so to fill my contacts I made friends with people like Peanut (who was actually a great guy, but sick people run together in packs, like wolves), Anna, and others who I don’t care to mention. Heroin by this time was my gold, but I was just snorting it at the time as the worst was yet to come.

I fell in love with a girl that summer, deeply in love, and at the same time I was using whatever I could get my hands on. I was forced into a corner where I had to try my best to maintain while also following love. This culminated into a fateful trip to Chicago on a heroin run (my first)– the strangest experience for a country boy.

Peanut was my mother’s age–a streetwise dude who grew up on the Northwest side of Chicago, just bordering the near west side. The west side of Chicago is a Disneyland for junkies of all persuasion. It’s a quagmire of violence, sex, hate, racism and enormous danger. Garfield Park is 98% African American, so for once in my life I stood out, and Peanut had to give me a run down on the rules we would be playing by on that fateful July night.

“I’m going to tell you exactly what to do; when I say turn you turn; if I tell you to punch a guy, you punch him. This is going to be dangerous, but if you listen to me everything will be fine,” Peanut said. This was my first visit to Chicago, and I didn’t start getting scared until we got to the West Side Proper, and then fear gripped me; I was very scared man. I was terrified out of my mind. We made our way north on Pulaski until we got to a “spot” (term for Chicago’s open air drug markets). At a spot the way it works is that you ride by with your window half down, then guys running the operation will literally shout at you as you pass by slowly, “rocks” or “blows” (crack and heroin). The operation was sophisticated. Gangs of Vice Lords or Gangster Disciples had certain blocks that they controlled. When you went to a certain block you had to be waved up the block by a guy that was checking everything out. If you didn’t get the OK from him, you weren’t going to be able to buy anything. Worst case scenario, you may get shot.

The first spot we got to was I guess some friends of Peanut’s; we even got out of the car!! I was almost shaking to death, but Peanut was cool: “You don’t have to worry about anything here. Reggie runs this block. Reggie and I go way back”. So, here we were, just hanging out on the porch of a dilapidated home, Peanut’s son Stoney was with us– maybe he was 2 at the time. He was playing with Reggie’s son of the same age while ten feet away a group of 10 guys was selling as cars kept coming up. It was insane. I felt insane. I had never seen anything like this, even in the movies. I felt guilty too because I allowed Peanut to bring Stoney with us. I still feel guilty about that to this day. As a 20 year I had no business being there, and Stoney certainly should have been much farther away.

We bought a few “bags” of heroin, which cost 10$ a piece. We were going to drive around to a few different spots, try a bag at each spot and then return to the best spot to make a bigger purchase. Peanut opened my bag, put it on a pack of smokes, pushed it toward me and I snorted it as I was still driving the car. Almost instantly I had no fear of where I was. I could have been in Mogadishu. I could have been in the middle of a great battle and it didn’t matter. I was more than ready to dance all night long with the devil.

We went to a few more spots–all this occurred at night, which is the worst time to be in the ghetto. We weren’t very impressed and decided that it was getting too late to operate safely, so we parked outside a park on the near north side, which is much safer, and called it a night.

The next morning I woke up and just felt petrified again. I told Peanut that we were going to go to the first spot and make our big purchase. The stuff could have been chalk dust at that point, but I didn’t care. It was high time to get out of the city. We went back into the Ghetto, which was all the more scary because now it was daytime and I could see everything. Now I knew what to be afraid about. We saw a dude, flagged him down, and I bought maybe 15 or 20 bags from him. “Let’s get out of here Peanut.” was all I said

“One more quick stop.” he said. “I have to do a line before we get heading back”.

Fine, whatever. Back to the park we went, and by this time Peanut’s girlfriend was there. I jumped into the back seat of her car, Peanut being in front with his girlfriend. I remember watching them blow their entire bags in one shot; “Good stuff, good stuff.” I thought that I would have the tolerance to do the same, so I opened up and blew my bag, all at once. The last thing I remember was saying, “Yeah, that is good stuff,” and then…lights out.

The next thing I remember was Peanut stabbing me in the shoulder with a pen to wake me up. I had OD’ed, and I was in serious trouble. The feeling was something like drinking 3 bottles of vodka in the space of 5 minutes. My field of view was dark and kept closing in. I just wanted to go back to sleep, but Peanut was keeping me up; “Talk to me Matt, talk to me, HEY, wake the fuck up, c’mon, do you like baseball? Let’s talk about baseball.” He hustled me out of the car and across the street to the park where I was just about put into the fountain. I was in a lot of trouble…..

When you OD on opiates there is a period of time I like to call “the Flash”. If you “Flash Out” and no one is around to help you, then you’re dead. The important thing is to keep someone awake long enough for the first rush to get out of their system; depending on the person this could be about 45 minutes. Falling asleep means that you quit breathing. I only found out later that the summer of 2005 was unique to the City of Chicago because some operations started cutting their dope with Fentanyl, which is one of the most powerful synthetic opiates known to man. This is something like using Everclear to cut regular vodka–you get a very much more potent product. A lot of junkies died in the city that year, and I was a hair away from becoming a statistic, but Peanut saved my life. I wouldn’t be around for him a year later when he was shot to death, only a few blocks from that first spot–a tragedy. I still think about him all the time, and I miss him.

Despite all the things I had seen and all the pain and trouble that is endemic to being a junkie, I still didn’t stop. I brought my habit with me to Poland in 2006 and ended up losing the most beautiful and lovely girl I had ever met. I stole money from my workplace, I burned my family and my friends ever more, and upon my return from that Poland trip I degenerated into a suicidal wreck.

Renee was there to witness my downfall. Renee was there to see the madness that I had become. No longer a man. I was closer to a sociopathic mad man. I remember getting messed up and burning an 8 inch by 1 inch section of my inner right arm, just to get the track marks out (Renee also witnessed this, with absolute terror in her eyes–how could anyone do that?). I lost many more friends in this time; even hardened drug buddies of mine were walking away; I was just too crazy for even them.

I couldn’t hold a job for more than a few months. I couldn’t pay my bills and got kicked out of my apartment, which I really loved. It was a shame to lose that place. By the very end I was so incredibly depressed that I would spend every cent on opiates, just to remove the pain for a short time, which in turn would make me even more depressed for being broke. I was on a collision course. My family even staged an intervention, which I refused on its face. I should have taken the offer because what ended up happening was worse than I could ever imagine.

I was in a little shit apartment on the outskirts of my town. I was very unhappy. I had just lost a great job at Shopko because of my poor attendance among other things. I really wanted to die at this point, but I didn’t even have the guts to put a gun to my head, or fill a syringe with liquid DrainO and fire away into oblivion. Next door to me was a hardened criminal type. The guy was a real scum bag. He looked like a “meth skeleton”. We made easy friends….7 years before this I would never have given this shit-head the time of day; that’s how incredibly overboard I had gone.

We used to get together and smoke dope. During these times we would be all messed up and talk about all sorts of criminal stuff–just real fantasy type stuff. This guy would tell me about his dirty deeds, being in prison, being on meth, etc. I would gloat about my thief like ways and all of my black adventures. Looking back makes me realize that I would have locked me up if I were a cop.

One of these nights we had been smoking and I started to explain a fantasy plan I had of making a perfect robbery on a local pharmacy, just total madness. It was very unrealistic. I didn’t even own a gun, and I had never even hurt another person physically…, but you would never know that by the way I was talking. This guy got a real kick out of it. He went back to his apartment and told his girlfriend, who didn’t understand that it was a fantasy, nothing more. She ended up telling her employer, who in turn called the sheriff. The sheriff ended up surprising this guy and compelled him to wear a wire on me the very next night. The police put me under surveillance that day, and at one point they lost me and scrambled cops to a few different pharmacies just in case I popped up with machine guns, armor piercing rounds, bullet proof vests, and what the hell, maybe even a TANK. They didn’t know me, and I had no idea I was being watched.

That was indeed a fateful night; probably the best and worst thing to ever happen to me. The guy showed up to my place right after I had gotten home. He brought some MJ with him, and we began to smoke. Little did I know there were 4 detectives and several units of regular police decked out with machine guns, all around the building, just waiting for the go. After we smoked we were just talking gibberish again, but this guy was on a mission. He started, “So, remember that thing you were talking about last night? Well, that sounds pretty cool man. Why don’t you tell me how that would go again?”

Like a complete fool I started talking about the fantasy again, with all the dramatic inclusions of bullet proof vests, lots of guns, and a suicidal approach. Not only that, but I just had to brag about literally almost every crime I had committed in the last 3 years. It was such a foolish thing to do. I was singing like a canary. I was downright delusional.

This guy left my place, and about 10 minutes after he left I got a friendly knock at my door. I opened the door only to see 3 detectives and 2 heavily armed deputies; I think the mix was 3 machine guns and 2 pistols, all of them aimed right at my face. I was beyond shocked. I don’t think I could even talk, let alone move. I had this feeling, all at once, a very strange feeling that I never had before. It was a feeling of absolutely knowing that whatever happened in my life before that moment and what ever happened after were two completely different things. Nothing as I knew it would ever be the same. It was a revelation that came on all at once, a flood. In that instant I was cured of trouble. That moment did more for me than 45 days of drug treatment, more than 5 months in jail, more than anything. It was very powerful. I knew that I was going to do anything to make sure THAT never, ever happened again….

My ordeal into being a junkie lasted from March 15, 2001 until February 1, 2008, just short of 7 years. It’s coming up on the two year anniversary of me being arrested, and I haven’t had any problems. I moved to Oshkosh determined to change my life, and I have!! I hold 3 jobs at this point, have never missed my rent or failed to keep my serious commitments. I am learning to heal. Things are still a struggle from time to time, but I’m doing very well. I have my plans all lined up now to go back to Europe. I have made amends with my family and old friends. Just last week I saw Matt D. for the first time in 2 years. I have the opportunity now to really be sorry, to make all the amends I have to make, as well as have a clean view and live the life of a man raised well by his family.

I’ve been waiting a long time to tell this story, and I feel that all of you deserve to know all this. I have no problem talking about it anymore. I am a changed man, a different man. My road out of all of this is still very long, but I suppose that I will walk it and live my dreams again.

Let this be a warning to all of you; keep your guard up. I take responsibility for the terrible things I did in those 7 years, but I always remember that it all started with a trip to a local doctor, a single stroke of amazing bad luck, but these things will happen to us all to one degree or another, for our entire life. As bad as all these things were, I thank God for the lesson, and I feel smarter and stronger for all the trouble.

Thank you all who have stood by me, or have come back to me in the time since I’ve gotten out of jail. Even if you have forgiven me I still have a long way to go to forgive myself, a lot of guilt left to be dealt with. But, I’m finally dealing with it, thank God.