pg 859: ‘At St. Collie only the Crocodiles’d heard of him. My own Daddy’d followed him, cut out pictures, as a boy.’ Gately can tell she’s smiling under there. ‘But what I used to do, I’d throw away the pipe and shake my fist at the sky and say As God is my fucking witness NEVER AGAIN, as of this minute right here I QUIT FOR ALL TIME.‘ She also has this habit of absently patting the top of her head when she talks, where little barrettes and spongy clamps hold the veil in place. ‘And I’d bunker up all white-knuckled and stay straight. And count the days. I was proud of each day I stayed off. Each day seemed evidence of something, and I counted them. I’d add them up. Line them up end to end. You know?’ Gately knows very well but doesn’t nod, lets her do this on just her own steam. She says ‘And soon it would get… improbable. As if each day was a car Knievel had to clear. One car, two cars. By the time I’d get up to say like maybe about 14 cars, it would begin to seem like this staggering number. Jumping over 14 cars. And the rest of the year, looking ahead, hundreds and hundreds of cars, me in the air trying to clear them.’ She left her head alone and cocked it. ‘Who could do it? How did I ever think anyone could do it that way?’
Gately remembered some evil fucking personal detoxes. Broke in Maiden. Bent with pleurisy in Salem. MCI/Billerica during a four-day lockdown that caught him short. He remembered Kicking the Bird for weeks on the floor of a Revere Holding cell, courtesy of the good old Revere A.D.A. Locked down tight, a bucket for a toilet, the Holding cell hot but a terrible icy draft down near the floor. Cold Turkey. Abrupt Withdrawal. The Bird. Being incapable of doing it and yet having to do it, locked in. A Revere Holding cage for 92 days. Feeling the edge of every second that went by. Taking it a second at a time. Drawing the time in around him real tight. Withdrawing. Any one second: he remembered: the thought of feeling like he’d be feeling this second for 60 more of these seconds — he couldn’t deal. He could not fucking deal. He had to build a wall around each second just to take it. The whole first two weeks of it are telescoped in his memory down into like one second — less: the space between two heartbeats. A breath and a second, the pause and gather between each cramp. An endless Now stretching its gull-wings out on either side of his heartbeat. And he’d never before or since felt so excruciatingly alive. Living in the Present between pulses. What the White Flaggers talk about: living completely In The Moment. A whole day at a crack seemed like tit, when he Came In. For he had Abided With The Bird.
But this inter-beat Present, this sense of endless Now — it had vanished in Revere Holding along with the heaves and chills. He’d returned to himself, moved to sit on the bunk’s edge, and ceased to Abide because he no longer had to.
His right side is past standing, but the hurt is nothing like the Bird’s hurt was. He wonders, sometimes, if that’s what Ferocious Francis and the rest want him to walk toward: Abiding again between heartbeats; tries to imagine what kind of impossible leap it would take to live that way all the time, by choice, straight: in the second, the Now, walled and contained between slow heartbeats. Ferocious Francis’s own sponsor, the nearly dead guy they wheel to White Flag and call Sarge, says it all the time: It’s a gift, the Now: it’s AA’s real gift: it’s no accident they call it The Present.
‘And yet it wasn’t til that poor new pipe-fellow from home pointed at me and hauled me up there and I said it that I realized,’ Joelle said. ‘I don’t have to do it that way. I get to choose how to do it, and they’ll help me stick to the choice. I don’t think I’d realized before that I could — I can really do this. I can do this for one endless day. I can. Don.’
The look he was giving her was meant to like validate her breakthrough and say yes yes she could, she could as long as she continued to choose to. She was looking right at him, Gately could tell. But he’d also gotten a personal prickly chill all over from his own thinking. He could do the dextral pain the same way: Abiding. No one single instant of it was unendurable. Here was a second right here: he endured it. What was undealable-with was the thought of all the instants all lined up and stretching ahead, glittering. And the projected future fear of the A.D.A., whoever was out there in a hat eating Third World fast food; the fear of getting convicted of Nuckslaugh-ter, of V.I.P.-suffocation; of a lifetime on the edge of his bunk in M.C.I. Walpole, remembering. It’s too much to think about. To Abide there. But none of it’s as of now real. What’s real is the tube and Noxzema and pain. And this could be done just like the Old Cold Bird. He could just hunker down in the space between each heartbeat and make each heartbeat a wall and live in there. Not let his head look over. What’s unendurable is what his own head could make of it all. What his head could report to him, looking over and ahead and reporting. But he could choose not to listen; he could treat his head like G. Day or R. Lenz: clueless noise. He hadn’t quite gotten this before now, how it wasn’t just the matter of riding out the cravings for a Substance: everything unendurable was in the head, was the head not Abiding in the Present but hopping the wall and doing a recon and then returning with unendurable news you then somehow believed.