The Abyss

David Cabot felt himself slowly going crazy. Last night he went out into the streets with a total stranger looking for who knows what. In retrospect, he probably went out in the streets to keep himself from going crazy. Cabot loved meeting and talking to random strangers. It was something that made his mind tick. It could have been the coyotes in the neighborhood, a dog or his unlimited imagination. His job did not help him in the sanity department all that much. He was the lead addiction counselor at the burgeoning Out Patient Clinic Addiction Center in the Middle of Hollywood. Ultimately, addiction counselors goals are to help those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, realize their full potentials, and learn to live life productively again free from the dependency upon alcohol and or drugs. Lately budget cuts have curtailed much of the work that he could do in the normal hours. He had a group of five that he helped council as a group. He did this on his own his just because he had taken a liking to all of them and he knew they would fall through the cracks given the current budget crunch. It is what he had to do. He knew his own family history. Life was fragile and sometimes, you were one false step away from falling through the cracks. He was one false step away from being a patient at his own clinic. In weaker moments, his mind went there. Hell in life who knows where our mind actually ventures. Sometimes it simply goes there.

He walked down to the rehab center for his afternoon meeting with the group he had grown to love.

David was wearing his high rubber boots tucked into his jeans. The boots kept his feet dry but not necessarily warm and he was lucky it was a powdery snow or his jeans would be soaked. He took the 105 steps down from the Alameda ridge into the Hollywood district with great care. He thought about his group for today. He had grown attached to this eclectic interesting group. He knew most of them would be happy to see him.

He walked into the make shift rehab center over on 40th Street and realized something wasn’t quite right. For some reason both of the windows in the center were wide open and all four were not there as expected. They were usually early and eager to get started. There sat Opal in a reading chair. She looked like she had seen or at the very least went back to drinking last night or even this morning.

“Good Morning Mrs. Byers how are you today. And may I ask where are the others today” David asked as he set down his backpack. He did not bother to take off his knee high rubber boots.

Cabot”, for some reason she always called him by his last name. “Remember today was optional.  I imagine they are having trouble getting here with the weather. I am not like the rest of society. I do not have a mobile phone so keeping track of the other three is not even possible. I would not want to do that. I have enough to deal with in my own life.”

“Yeah I see your point. I am not asking you do that. How are you today Opal.” He asked again.

“Well you are not going to be happy about this but I have had a rough couple of days. It started out a few days ago when a stranger on the bus gave me some money. I went to the convenience store and bought a box of wine. I really want to drink it. Life has been hard lately. I hid the box of wine, as I cannot get into my building with the wine. I hid it in a spot where nobody in a million years will find it. I am not even telling you where it is because that way if I forget I cannot bug you exactly where that is.  Does that make sense“


David sat there silently for a full ten seconds and contemplated what he was going to say next. He cared about Opal and he really did not want to see her back drinking. Lately it seems like the most pragmatic approach has been to allow the patients to have their drug of choice and managing it after that. Opal had become a friend to David, which he knew was a professional mistake, and he cared about her well-being.

“Yes Opal I am aware of the rules in your building. So what is going on that has you wan to drink today”

“Cabot I want to drink every day. However, I just do not. This winter seems harder than most. I feel like life has passed me by. I met this woman on the bus today and she is a sweet young woman. She tells me she is a banker. I am not sure if that is true, but I like the way she talks all confident and calm. I would like to be that again. I would love to go to work like a normal person. I want to have people over to my place for dinner. I realize I am 55 years old, I will always have a drinking problem but I feel stable these days. I know I can do it.”

“Opal we cannot just turn back the aging process. We all know that. So what are you doing to get yourself back into the work-force?”

“Not drinking.” Opal answered almost too quickly.

“Well that’s half the battle my dear. That also keeps you in your current apartment and having a permanent address will allow you gainful employment.” David said to Opal as she looking into her backpack and she took out the same notebook she had on the bus.

Opal instantly grabbed one of the papers that sat neatly folded into an envelope and then she slid them across the table.

“What is this?” David asked.

“Just read it.” Opal barked back.

A serious gloom came over David, as he knew this was bad news. Opal hardly wrote anything down. All their communication up until now had been the spoken word. David opened the envelope slowly and read it silently as Opal took a power bar out her bag and cut it in half using a plastic fork she must have taken out the community kitchen in the building. She wrapped up the other half and put it neatly back in her bag. She sat there chewing loudly as David read in silence.

“Opal this is your resume. I never knew you had a resume. It says here you have been a nurse. This almost makes me feel like I have not been doing my job here. You never told me that you were a nurse.”

“Number One you never asked and I am not sure I would have told you anyway.” Opal said as she finished the last bite of her power par. A crumb had lodged in her Auburn grey hair and David instinctively brushed it away. This gesture put Opal on edge as she flinched as David reached his hands across to her. Another human being had not touched her in the last eight months. It was a simple gesture from her friend and counselor. She wanted simple things like this to be part of her everyday life.

“I did not want to alarm you Opal. I was just getting the crumb out of your hair.”

“Yeah I realize that, but you could have just pointed it out.”

A long silence blanketed the room.  David thought to himself, how awkward he had become. His self-confidence was at an all-time low. He wondered if he could not solve his own problems what business did he have working with the less fortunate. 

“Opal are your nursing credentials up to date?”

Opal seemed to be staring at a distant object and answered without looking him in the eyes. Cabot they were up until about six months ago. I was working as a nurse at St. Vincent’s and I was good at what I was doing. I had a hard time getting to work on time. I had to take the Max train out to Beaverton. I managed to make it on time most days. The last couple of months I would take a small flask of booze to work. One day I lost two months’ worth of a patient’s paperwork. My bosses called me into office and he confronted me. I waited for them to arrive and I stashed the flask into a full trashcan. I was more than a little drunk that day. I just quit on the spot without fighting it. “

“Opal are your nursing credentials up to date?”

No they are not. I went over to the library and used their internet station. Apparently I have to take a refresher course and then I can apply for my license again.”

“Opal what’s stopping you from doing that?”

“Besides the obvious money constraints, I am the only person holding that up. I am never sure of myself anymore and my demons are just that. How can I be caring for other people when I have a hard time caring for myself?”

David gave a knowing laugh and noticed somebody walk into the clinic that he had never seen before. He did not notice him immediately rather he felt his presence. Not unlike some people who venture into the clinic, this new comer had a definite odor to him. One would instantly conclude that he had not bathed in days. This was not new to David. What set this gentleman apart was that he was dressed for business. He sat in the corner of the room typing away on a lap top computer and ingesting some soup that the cooks had resourcefully prepared. He looked like somebody who was completely out of his element. Not many people came into this center in a tweed jacket and a dress shirt. The stranger sat in the corner of the clinic and banged away at the keyboard of a laptop computer. If one took the time to sit and watch the stranger, it was clear that he was starting to get agitated. It seemed like he would be the type of person that would stick out in a place such as this. Fortunately or unfortunately, nobody noticed the stranger. Most of the people at the center were either self-absorbed with their own little problems or the divided up into convenient cliques. So there a stranger sat working in the corner virtually un-noticed.

“Hey does this place have a WIFI connection?” the stranger yelled out hoping somebody within earshot would hear him.

The stranger once again went back to typing and then frantically started to run his hands over the top of his keyboard looking for to reconnect to the wireless network. The stranger returned to sipping his steaming warm soup and he let the soup warm his hands even though the inside of the center was toasty warm. He suddenly seemed distracted as he stared out the window mesmerized by the snowflakes softly making their way to the ground. 

Hey does this place have a WIFI connection?” the stranger repeated once again, this time at a slightly higher volume.

David quickly walked over to the corner of the room and politely addressed the stranger with little fore thought into what he was going to say. At this point, he simply is reacting.  He did not want a scene , his clients were happy and serene.

“Hi there my name is David, David Cabot Lodge, what seems to be the problem here.” David said to the stranger without a trace of fear in his voice.

No problem here Mr. Lodge, that is if we had a decent WIFI connection”. The stranger grumbled half under his voice. As he was, saying this David raised both hands, and signaled for those around him to be quiet. Surprisingly, most of the people around him followed David’s gestures to the point where the room became almost quiet. Suddenly about twenty people were sitting and listening.

“Sorry to be such a spot of bother here, I love your little place here. If it only had WIFI”. The stranger said he ran his hands through his unruly hair. 

“We are a community place here and we do what we can.” David said as he scurried over toward the stranger. “Hi I am the director of this place and I have not seen you before. Did you fill out any of the forms we have out front so that we may enter it in our data base and maybe find some resources to help you?”  He stood there for a second a watched the snow blowing out the front window then he once again addressed the stranger. “I am assuming you need some help. I am assuming that is what brought you here today. How did you find out about our services?”

“Just by accident. I live in the neighborhood and I noticed people coming and going every morning and I thought I would check it out.”  The stranger let out a sardonic laugh that seemed to tip off that he was just making things up however; David had been at this long enough to know that he had to ask further questions. He surmised the stranger did not live close by as most houses, if not all, had shower facilities and most used them often. Then again, this was Portland and it was never prudent to assume anything.

“Hi there my name is Craig Bender and to tell you the truth I have no idea how I got here.”

“Do you live in the neighborhood?” Cabot asked with some trepidation.

“Yes you can say that I do. I am new to the area.”  Bender replied as stood up and brushed something off the lapel of his sports jacket.

“Nice where you live” Cabot assumed that he lived in one of the many subsidized housing spots in Northeast Portland.

“Under the bridge over by the Banfield. It is a cozy set up I have”

“I image it isn’t. I have a few loose ends to tie up could you stick around. I would like to introduce you to our facility and see what I can do about getting you out of this cold weather.” David said as he sat down in the booth and looked directly into Bender’s eyes for any hint of neglect or abuse that he usually clinically suspected. He noted that his eyes were much clearer than he had anticipated. David was anxious to get to talk to the newcomer as he hinted at being a person needed a plenty of help. David took about five minutes helping various stragglers be on their way making sure they had their warm clothing. He liked to connect with people as they left as he felt when he did that they were more likely to back the following day.

When he returned to where the stranger by the name of Craig Bender sat the stranger was no longer there. All that remained was a puddle of water and a black leather glove.

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