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I tried to smooth things over, but Jack just kept repeating, "You threw me under the bus."
He sent an email to the editor with the subject line "I am Jack's bitter sense of resentment."
"That's actually pretty witty," Robert said.
"I know," I said. "He's fascinating. Why do you think I keep writing about him?"
Jack's email to Robert said I was among his worst customers ever, paying in crumpled bills and coming up short besides. Late-night demands. General rudeness. In my defense, Jack charges too much and lives in an inconvenient part of town.
The last text he'd sent me had come shortly after he discovered the article. It said, "Wow, you suck."
At least now, for once, we had something besides just weed in common. Thanks to me, we both knew what notoriety felt like.
I thought I'd never talk to Jack again, and it was a bummer. Ours is a dysfunctional relationship, but a life worth living requires a few good frenemies, and when Jack is gone, I miss him. About a week after I cast the spell, he texted me at 1 in the morning: "Hi."
So there it was. Forgiveness from Jack. My first act of magic.
There's a bartender who used to work at the Golden Rose named Joe. Forever clad in basketball shorts, he'd slap the bar twice when he handed you a drink and was always prompt and courteous about it, even though we were dumb and demanding customers and even though he doesn't drink. I said to Ted, my good friend, one of the best writers I've ever known and for whom I wished a better job and more money and for his novel to be published—I said, "Ted. Look at how great Joe is. Can't you see?" I used a finger to point at the otherworldly elegance in the way Joe wiped the bar down with a wet rag.
"What," Ted said. "He's just an ordinary dude in basketball shorts. He's a pretty good bartender."
On the slip of wishes, I'd written "Something good for Joe," because who knew what Joe wanted. That night, Joe told me that he'd put in his two weeks' notice, that he was going to go into physical therapy and eventually be a U.S. Marshall, which is not just a cop but a super-cop. That didn't sound good to me, but it sounded like something Joe wanted. Later that night, instead of climbing over the bar and sticking my tongue in Joe's mouth, I went home and crossed "Something good for Joe" off the list.
My friend Mackenzie tore his hand open from rope-burn while rehabilitating a horse, and that same week his partner, Sarah, messed up her ankle rock climbing. The two of them lumbered around town like prizefighters, as though they'd turned their fists on one another. I asked the universe to heal them, and it's true, they did get better.
"Of course it's your magic that healed us," they both agreed.
"Yes," I said, dutifully optimistic and ignoring basic tenets of biology. "Angels came down from heaven and healed your broken bodies because I asked them to."
In those first few days of the experiment I was still wading unhappily through life. I'd barely smoked any weed since my pot piece came out, in large part because all of my dealers had blacklisted me, but I drank a lot to make up for it. During that window, if someone had handed me crack I probably would have smoked it. I had a lot of self-destructive tendencies but luckily not a lot of ambition to carry them through.
Friday night, September 16, we all got drunk at the VFW per usual. We after-partied at Mackenzie and Sarah's and nothing particularly bad happened. I talked loud and said stupid things but so did everyone else. Still, I rode home hating myself in a fresh, new way. I cried in my filthy apartment. I cried some more and smoked the very last of my pot, which—hey, Missoula, do you have any familiarity with pot? It has this uncanny way of making a person stop crying.
I didn't hear any whispering voices in my ear. There were no visions. But the next morning, I was struck with the sudden conviction that I had to stop equivocating, that there was no such thing as moderation for me and if I ever wanted to seriously accomplish everything I was meant to in this life, I had to stop drinking and doing drugs forever and ever and ever. I made my resolution on Saturday, September 17 before noon, and then my hangover and I biked to a howling football stadium to cover the Griz game for the Indy's football feature. It didn't occur to me that suddenly and inexplicably kicking my decade-long addiction just days after I'd gotten down on my knees and asked the heavens for help had anything to do with magic until much later.
Ways of looking at a bluebird
October 12 came and I decided my magic experiment had been a bust. A few things on the list came true, mostly when it came to other people, but so much of it went unanswered. Being sober felt like being trapped in a room with stabbing fluorescent lights. I had a hard time remembering to stay positive. The month felt clumsy and realistic, like all the others. On October 15, I left Missoula.
Now, many weeks later, I can see it more clearly: 30 days is nothing.
In November, I went to the MacDowell Colony on an eight-week fellowship, to be a captive in the woods with "the freedom to create." MacDowell, it turned out, was a great place to be a witch. I worked in a little stone hut where every day the staff brought me a picnic basket. I wrote about 40,000 words of what I might someday rearrange into a novel. I meditated, a lot. I logged my first 90 days of sobriety. You might think being in the woods made it easier, but it didn't. MacDowell was like a special kind of rehab where everybody is allowed to drink and smoke but me. I felt Midwestern, poor and painfully shy.
The prophetic dreams I asked for in September didn't arrive until I started sleeping in the colony's convent-like dormitory. There, every night before I fell asleep, I asked the spirits to tell me something. "Why did I have to stop using? It doesn't seem fair. Why am I the only one who's not allowed to have fun? Why is it so hard and when is it going to get easier?"
I dreamt about Charles Bukowski's poem "Bluebird." In the dream, the poem was paraphrased to "There's a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out." Bukowski tells the bird to go away. He says, "Be quiet, I don't want anyone to see you." He pours whiskey on it and blows smoke in its face.
My spirit guides are snarky. "The lesson is obvious," they said. "You invited us in, didn't you? You said, 'I want to be happy.' Well, this is how it's done. Stop murdering your bluebird."
"But it still hurts," I said. "I'm lonely, and I don't know how to live like this. It's like there's a pane of glass separating me from everybody else. How much longer is this going to last?"
Naturally, this is a dramatization. Even in dreams, the spirits don't use voices to talk to me and the images are sketchy. I see the bluebird a little, flailing and wet and then shaking dry her feathers, but it's more like a feeling. And then the answer to how much longer comes in a dream hug, roughly translated: "A while."
So now I'm in my old bedroom at my mother's house in Waterford, Mich. I'll be here for the next four months while I teach composition at my old community college. Something tells me I'll be back in the spring with flowers, pleading, "Missoula, forgive me. I don't know what I was thinking. Take me back." Michigan feels like a way-station now, but the layover seems necessary.