The Next Right Thing

Dear Hope Nation,

One more straw. That’s all. The landlord’s note on Jared’s door wasn’t the end of the world. Just one more straw, and Jared didn’t want to be a camel.

“Hey Jarod—Rent’s due Wednesday. Today is Thursday. Please see me.”

Just a note, but his name was spelled wrong. That was the disrespect. Having lived 31 years on a steady diet of diet of disrespect, anger and resentment, Jared felt anger vomit bubbling in his belly. He was mad.

Not just mad at the landlord’s note on his room. Not just mad at the 7-11 manager who’d cut his hours from 27 to 22. Not just mad at the freezing rain that wouldn’t stop and the shoes that wouldn’t dry and the water adding to the stains on his wall. Not just mad that he owed fifty dollars in rent and only had sixty-seven bucks to last him until next payday, which would be smaller than even his last one.

Jared was mad at the world, and he knew the best way to get back at the world and turn his anger into something fun. All he needed was a little bit of meth and a couple Natty Daddy’s and the edge that needed removal would be obliterated. At least for tonight.

His madness would be transformed into mellow excitement. His landlord and manager would be turned into little sheep, bleating away far down in the valley beneath the mountain where Jared ruled the kingdom. The rain would cease to matter. All he needed was a little bit of meth and a couple Natty Daddy’s.

Except. Except he couldn’t. He’d been clean and sober 54 days now, the longest time, outside of jail, since he’d been in 8th grade. Fifty-four days without the one thing that made life livable, that turned the disappointment into apathy and the pain into a pleasant numbness. Fifty-four days that seemed like a lifetime.

He looked over the landlord’s note.  What a jerk he was.

Looking around the boarding-house room he’d gotten with some help from some guy at a recovery meeting, Jared tried to remember why he’d decided to quit, but the desire to use sent brain waves that blocked him as effectively as any radio jammer. He searched the room for something, anything, to take his mind off using. The guitar in the corner, missing two strings, offered nothing. Neither did the stupid certificate he’d gotten at “graduation day” from rehab. Neither did the nightstand, with its cheap alarm clock, crummy light and book of devotions. He wanted to join the monster inside him and get high.

Jared tried to remember the stuff he’d learned in rehab and the things he’d heard in church basements, but it all sounded trite and pointless.

“Think. Think. Think.”
“This too shall pass.”
“Time takes time.”
“Don’t use no matter what.”
“Live life on life’s terms.”

Like chattering chipmunks, the people in those meetings squeaked out these stupid phrases.

Two days ago, though, at a meeting, this guy, Aaron, a junkie with a missing finger, had said something Jared had been turning over in his head since.

“Do the next right thing.”

Jared tried to parse the meaning from it. What did that mean? Who knew what was right and wrong anyway, and even if you did know, how would you recognize what thing came next? He’d put Aaron’s number in his phone. Maybe he’d call and ask about him about it.

“Let’s see,” thought Jared. “The next right thing. How about a bag and a couple beers? That sounds just about right to me.”

But it didn’t, didn’t sound right. Buying a bag and a couple beers would be the next easy thing, the next comfortable thing, the next familiar thing. He glanced down at the bed, at his phone, just as he did 20 times an hour. The glance brought the same pride of ownership it had since he’d bought the phone three weeks ago, a present to himself for staying clean and sober for a month. It wasn’t a great phone, not an iPhone or even a Samsung Galaxy. Still, it was a good phone, and he’d been flush enough to go on a month-to-month plan instead of just buying minutes. In a week, the bill would be due, but he still had eight days of completely unlimited access. The Moto wasn’t top of the line, but it wasn’t a piece of crap either.

Craaaaaccckk. Jared actually heard ice cracking, a sound he was sure wouldn’t show up on a tape recording. That was weird. Weirder still was next.

“And neither are you. You are not a piece of crap.”

Whether a voice or just a loud thought, the words nailed Jared to his spot. Stunned, Jared played the words over in his head.

You. Are. Not. A. Piece. Of. Crap.

That four-fingered guy from the meeting, Aaron, came into his head. The next message sounded like something he might say.

“Like your phone, you’re not perfect, and that’s okay. Like a Moto, you’ve got everything you need, no more but no less. Unlike any cell phone, though, you can upgrade yourself. Just do the next right thing.”

Jared felt shaken, but shaken in a good way, like a bottle of champagne that was going to explode in the winning locker room, not like when he as a kid and annoyed his mom’s boyfriends. He picked up his phone. The name he needed was at the top of his list.

“Aaron? Hi, this is Jared from the meeting. Yeah, I’m doing okay, but I just had this weird experience. You down for a cup of coffee in like an hour? Cool.”

It may not have been the next right thing, but it wasn’t wrong.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith

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