The Tigers of Scotland
by Jesse Waterman
“There is no stranger feeling than poor timing; when you think you just missed out, and if you had only gotten clean earlier, maybe things would be different. But things are how they are, and God only moves mountains if you bring the shovel. It feels like annihilation out there. One tenth of the world shuddering like scared little beasts, waiting for death that will come without reason. But I swear to you Josiah, if you stick with me and work these steps, we will find an answer. We can move that mountain. God will provide the shovel.”
Extinction hung around Darius like a bad perfume, scenting his existence with a stale musk of finality. The thought of decimation came from two sources; the fentanyl epidemic and a scrap of a National Geographic he found during a moving job one year prior. It felt like providence when he picked up a stack of magazines and one dropped, opening to an article titled “The fight for the tigers of Scotland”. The “tigers” were large feral cats in Scotland. They could only be separated from other breeds when studied post-mortem. Only a few obsessive zoologists knew the difference between the skull of a normal feline and the near extinct tigers. Darius could relate and as he stood running his fingers along the lines of small text, he felt there was an answer to his search for reason behind the overdoses which were claiming his own breed.
“Steps one, two and three give you the how of this program; honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. You build your esteem; you find a God and you find the willingness to move forward. I know it has only been a month. I know it seems like there are a million things to take care of. But you work those three steps fully and you will be free.”
Phrenology and the overdose rate were a theory created by Darius while seated in his nightly Narcotics Anonymous meetings. With his cup of coffee swirling in a Styrofoam galaxy of powdered creamer, Darius eyed the sloping hills of cranial structures, weighed the forest density of hairlines, and predicted mortality rates based on estimations of gradients, hair length, and circumference. His estimations were scribbled in dollar-store notebooks that were tucked in his red flannel breast pocket. Darius would wipe his tears as he stared at bald spots and bleached bobs. Sentences of life and death were read in fallen follicles, teased between his fingers, and tossed to the tile floor like an I Ching no one would understand or had time to hear. What was scarier to Darius than the fentanyl, was the accuracy that stared at him with each highlighted check he placed next to each name he predicted correctly.
“Don’t dread when faith leaves you. It always goes when reality lays down its cards. Right now, life, God and recovery are like a great new adventure. But the disease of addiction is always waiting for something to go wrong. I know it breaks because it happened to me not long before we met. We don’t always understand the way God treats us. We feel abused. We feel tormented. We see our brothers die like dogs, drying out in parked cars with the windows rolled up.”
Josiah was a sponsee; a man under the tutelage of Darius and his two decades of sobriety. Josiah and Darius met after a Wednesday meeting in which Darius had pronounced his theory to a meeting filled with the sound of crickets and rows of downturned heads illuminated by cell phone screens. But Josiah had listened and approached Darius afterwards. Josiah proudly spoke about a God who loved, understood and forgave him; a God that he spoke with in prayers, that greeted him in every meeting, that he saw in the marching of ants and the flow of electricity. Darius had listened intently, reveling in the words of a newcomer who could discuss God and science, and appeared to grasp the concepts that were otherwise silently dismissed. After the parking lot had emptied, Josiah asked for Darius to sponsor him. Darius agreed and began his first of what was planned to be a long line of speeches related to the 12-step program. But with each practiced sentence, Darius wondered about the knot that ballooned with each turn of Josiah’s head.
Darius grabbed his copy of the Basic Text; the NA reference guide to meaning and direction. Josiah had been working for a month on his 1st step; the admission of powerlessness over addiction and the insanity of one’s life. Darius walked to the top of the basement stairs. He didn’t hear Josiah, who normally placated Darius with small acknowledging chuckles. Darius called out “Josiah?”. He walked down the basement stairs, noticing the scent of a generation of dried sweat and summer rains buried like pharaohs behind cheap wood paneling. He walked over the cracked tile floors; over the bare soil gasping for air; past the bookshelves of framed photos from NA conventions, retreats and other festivities; pictures of friends that were buried behind glass in fading photos and stories with only a first name to identify them. No stain or nostalgia could conjure the aura that surrounded Darius as he scanned the room that held his history and knowledge, his notebooks and scribbled assumptions, and the cyclical thoughts of 20 years spent in the ideology of a single notion; that one addict helping another could stop a disease.
By the cellar door, he saw Josiah; laying like a broken table, shirtless and lifeless, his sweat misting into the walls and floor; another anonymous story to stain his home and mix into the odors of time and decay. Two empty bags and one half filled syringe lay below him like a curious cat. Darius wiped his eyes and grabbed a small notebook from his desk to mark the name of another partner in extinction.
Jesse Waterman was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. After dropping out of school at the age of 17, Mr. Waterman spent many years in menial jobs, while continuing to work on his craft. At the age of 24, Mr. Waterman entered school to study social work. He was published in Typishly.org and Esthetic Apostle in 2018. Mr. Waterman is a Licensed Masters Social Worker and mental health therapist, focusing on trauma and addictions.