where souls were being branded with the shapes of their hope


i inherited some garbled strain of depression-era conservation of materials from my grandparentses. right now this impulse to not-waste mostly expresses itself through paper products. i am incapable of throwing away notebooks before every page has been used somehow. i squirrel them away in the dining room hutch, planning to use up the nice white pages for journals or to-do lists or other attempts at communication with self. for a very long time my metabolism in this regard was fucked, in the sense of buying way more notebooks than i was filling. but i’m getting caught up. there are several notebooks of different types that look like this: notes from a german class i started but didn’t finish in 2007, then fretting about a botched romance from 2011, then scrambled notes about a movie i saw in 2014. almost always there is a little marginal note saying “whoops i did not write in this notebook for x years.”

so i started up with another of my mostly-blanked notebooks. there are maybe three of those mead wireless 80 page notebooks, the kind that always fall apart, all of which have dark blue covers. the one i grabbed is actually the notebook they gave me in rehab in october 2007, after i graduated from the super grim psych-ward part of rehab where they just leave you alone to digest food and metabolize meds, into the part where the rehab counselors described recovery to people concussed by the absence of intoxication. the notebooks were for writing down stuff about recovery, and that’s mostly what i did with mine, until i trailed off after 20 or so pages. but there was one page that just had a journalistic vignette on it.

most of the time in the rehab place we just did group therapy or focus groups or straight up AA meetings. but one day we went up to an otherwise unknown floor of the hospital (we had to be shepherded through the elevator like a field trip flock of children) to a light-filled room with windows high on the walls. it was the art room (the whole place now reminds me of an elementary school, although at the time it felt like … a rehab hospital).

the counselor gave us boxes of parched markers and blunt crayons and big sheets of paper the color of mopwater. the assignment was to draw something that symbolized your recovery. i drew a map, i remind, sort of a modified Pilgrim’s Progress type thing but heaven replaced by some kind of area where I felt comfortable in my own skin. my drawing was not the focus on the vignette in the notebook.

what i wrote down was about rudy’s drawing. rudy (not his real name) was this beefy, black-haired classical chicago irish meathead guy, about 40, very much just a swollen, mushy teenager stuck in a man’s body. he was thick and coarse and not at all bought-in on that rehab or even the general idea of not being fucked up. not long after the art therapy rudy sorted of flopped out of the boat, signing himself out AMA and hollering even as he walked out to fucked-up freedom what a bunch of bullshit it all was.

rudy’s drawing was an energetic but crude pencil rendering of a topless lady on a bed. she was on all fours, crawing toward the camera eye, sort of, and i think she was supposed to be leering sexily but the quality of rudy’s line was such that you could not really say what he meant by her expression. she was on a bed, and her nipples were upside-down pilgrim hats rendered in fairly precise right angles. behind the bed was a window, looking out onto a cartoony cityscape (water tower, etc) with a smiling moon overhead. the cityscape also featured a billboard labeled MEGAMILLIONS which stated that the current jackpot was $69,696,969.69. the only thing on the bed besides the crawling woman was a lottery ticket. Nothing in the drawing suggested whether this was the winning ticket. The drawing was titled (reduntantly) “Title: Prepare to Mount” and signed with rudy’s full name, including middle initial.

i only wrote all this down because the teacher made us go around the room and show our drawings, and say a little bit about what we had put on the paper. i can’t remember what rudy said by way of docent’s talk, but i remember the pure silence that followed his share as both historically awkward and almost beautiful. no one knew what to do with what he wanted.

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