A Higher Power
A Higher Power
by Matt Briggs
MY WIFE MARTY WAS IN AL-ANON. Marty always took my with her on what I thought of as her meet-and-greets. Marty wasn’t trying to sell anything. She wasn’t running for office, but rather I figured she was looking for something about herself in these meetings. These were retired boozers like she was, and they had moved and assembled lives out of whatever was left of their health, of their marriages, families, out of their cars that were still sometimes banged up in inexplicable places because of the type of collisions you have when you are blacked out. We were visiting Ralph and his wife Samantha who went by Sammie. They lived in an actual cul-de-sac in the suburbs. Ralph had a five-year-old Chevy Impala, one of the new editions, and he had somehow dented the roof of the car and then tried to pull the dent out so that it had a metal cowlick.
Marty had met me at a recovery meeting. It was a general one. I’d got there because of AA, and it was the only meeting I could find when I was visiting my mom in Everett. I was a heroin addict, and alcoholics have a different culture. Junkies live in terrorist cells. We depend on our collective scrounging of resources, but at the end of the day, we are alone. We don’t trust anyone. And so, the people we do end up hanging with are there out of necessity and because we trust them the most, which is to say, not really at all. A gathering of barfly talk and smoke cigarettes and make friends almost too easily. That’s a junkie’s perspective. It is suspicious to be someone who makes friends too easily. Both Marty and I were received, and we told our story in the meeting. And then afterward we were talking, and she invited me out for coffee. For a junkie, I’m always down with whatever. I figure how bad can it get given what I’ve seen already? Without booze or smack involved, it can’t get that bad. And it might get good. I went with her to coffee. And then the next day, we had dinner. She said to me at the end of the date, “Second date. You know what that means.” I had thought it was the third. I didn’t know that as an actual thing. A year later we were married. She asked me and I said, “Why not?” Marriage to Marty was the best thing to which I have ever acquiesced.
Although Marty had begun talking to Ralph and Sammie at the meetings, like all her meet-and-greets, she didn’t really know them that well. I worked at a software company where I wrote up system requirements. It was perfect for me. “You want this and that? OK!” She worked as a special education instructor at a private high school. We had good lives now, and it was kind of scary to both of us. We both missed being addicts. We missed being free of the future, and as middle-aged people we had to say to ourselves, “We are middle aged! What are going to do when we are old.” Addicts do not see themselves in the future. The future tense for an addict is how quickly can I get stoned? So, we spent a lot of time how looking at the future, because we had one, because when we were lushes, we didn’t know we could be her. And for Marty I guess that meant talking to these people to figure out her past and where she was at now.
We were sitting in Ralph’s living room. We had driven out to the suburbs from the city. All around the place were houses. There were apartment buildings that looked like houses stacked on houses. They were big lots around his house, and we were in Ralph’s living room not able to find anything to talk about and then Ralph said to me, “So you want to look at my guns?”
“Sure,” I said. Ralph got up and we went upstairs, and then climbed a ladder into his attic. He’d remodeled the crawl space up there into a man cave. It had about three feet at the walls and then sloped walls up to the point in the roof. There were just two windows looking out at the neighborhood. The room was full of rifles. Each of the rifles had an amazing telescopic site like you might see on a sniper rifle in a movie about a killer. And he handed me one of the rifles.
“What do you think?”
“This is a fine gun,” I said. It was beautiful. The barrel was well-oiled and taken care of. The wood had a high sheen. And it was kind of heavy and solid. It felt like something.
“Go ahead,” Ralph said. “Go ahead.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look through the sight,” Ralph said.
So, I did but there wasn’t really anything to look at in the room.
“Whoa,” he said as I tried to find something in the room to look at. “You don’t want to point a weapon at a person.”
“I’m trying to find something to look at,” I said.
“You’ll need to look out the window,” he said.
So, I did, and I could see all sorts of things around the neighborhood through the sights. Better than that, I could see the cross hairs. I zeroed in on a crow. I kept the bird right in the middle of the hairs. If I just pulled the trigger. And then I was looking at someone’s shoulder and I couldn’t help myself; I brought their head right into the center of the cross hairs. I could pull the trigger and take someone’s life. The person was doing something in her yard. It was an old lady. She was weeding a bed of roses in the winter. She wouldn’t even know. She didn’t know she was in the cross hairs right then. That was a saying, and I was doing it. Wigged out, I handed the rifle back to Ralph. “That’s something. You have the birds eye view from up here.”
“I can see everything. All of the comings and goings.”
“Better safe than sorry,” I said.
“It passes the time,” Ralph said. This was the other thing I had to deal with. Without a future, we didn’t exist in time. Everyone complained about how little time they had left. After we stopped drinking it seemed we were drowning in time. What do with this excessive time?
Ralph took the rifle and then he quickly found the old lady.
“Are you pointing a loaded gun at that old lady?”
“You did it as well,” Ralph said. “You know how it feels. For a moment I have the power of life and death.”
“I’m not enabling you man. You should stop.”
“For a second, I am a god.”
“Do you think this is right?”
“Right? I can do it, so I do it.”
“Would you really kill someone?”
“Yes. That is the thing that keeps me bound to this mortal coil. If I could really do it, I would be a god already. It would be no more than a flick of a finger and a jolt to my shoulder. I hold that thought close. In that instance, I am death and life.”
I saw what he meant. I could feel it in the room. The power to project that sort of force out of this little forgotten space in the attic of a home in a forgotten suburb, on a cul-de-sac, and fit a piece of lead through someone’s brain. A prison sentence wouldn’t bring them back. To not kill was to give the life, and the old lady didn’t even know she was being given life. But Ralph knew it. I could see how you could feel it. I understood what Ralph meant. I felt I should be creeped out by Ralph. He was creepy right? But we all have our hobbies. Some people make scrap books. They assemble the loose paper tickets, the receipts, the greeting cards, and sentimental detritus of their life into an archive grade binder, desperate to call it Art to wave waving off the inevitable. Even if their children do treasure their scrapbooks, it won’t really matter to the scrapbook artist because they won’t know. They’ll be dead.
“Yeah,” I said. I felt I understood.
Ralph didn’t hear it. “Yeah? Yeah? Are you judging me?”
“Man, I’m no judge. Whatever gets your rocks off that isn’t pills or booze. And if that is your thing, go forth and drink and pop pills. You aren’t hurting anyone.”
“I could. I just could take a life with a flick of my finger. You don’t think I could, do it?”
The lights in the room off. This let in the gray, watery light from outside. The room smelled of metal oils and solvents used to maintain the weapons. Ralph had his finger on the rifle trigger, his eye to the scope trained to the woman three houses down. She leaned down in her backyard with a handful of rosehips. Ralph moved the scope as the woman moved. I didn’t know what to say to save her life. If Ralph was going to shoot the rifle, he would kill her. “Of course, I believe you, man. Life or death. You got it.”