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Ghosts of a Future Lost

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“I’m getting clean. Asshole.”

“No, you’re not.”

Johnny had said it a thousand times and Jimmy was right every time. Sweating through the sheets of the bed they shared, unable to eat for days while his body rejected everything and anything in it, vomiting and shitting and feeling his insides twist up and convulse like they were trying to eject his spirit–Johnny didn’t feel great off of dope. Still, he wanted to quit. It was a legitimate, burning desire for him now; something he thought he’d never experience. When he’d started, it was fucking amazing. It had been more than numbing. It was like liquid courage, hope and warmth. It was a reason to get out of bed in the morning and what nursed the nightmares away.

“You’re gonna come crawling back, begging me to shoot you up ‘cause you’re too pussy to do it yourself. Makes you feel too guilty. Too bad, Jesus. You know you can’t come back from this now.”

Johnny used to curb the guilt and felt guilty because he used. Even knowing what it did–to the people he loved, to him, to his life, to the lives of others–he still did it. At first he wasn’t hooked, he did it because it felt good. At first he ignored the sweating and the shaking in the hours after the lines or the needle wore off. Jimmy, in his infinite, gentle and harsh wisdom told him he should. Nothing was wrong when he was high. There were none of those dark and gnawing memories of being beaten by Brad. The abandonment he felt deep in the pit of his stomach from Will back in Jingletown and Tunny overseas melted into gooey bliss. It didn’t just distract, it replaced.

“You said it yourself. You can’t get rid of me.”

"You said that.”

Johnny knew by now that Jimmy wasn’t real. Or something. Underneath the fog in his mind, the misinterpretive gears in his brain, the brain cells snuffed out by junk, he had heard her loud and clear. It didn’t matter whether Jimmy was some flesh and blood organism or a masturbatory drug-induced psychotic hallucination. What mattered was the pedestal Johnny had put him on–the pedestal she had torn down as she left. Johnny saw now, despite the turnstile of using and quitting and relapsing and using and quitting and relapsing and using and quitting and relapsing, that Jimmy was not God. Jimmy was not an angel. Jimmy was not a saint. Jimmy was Jimmy.

It was sweaty-cool September, too early for snow, but Christmas in Jingletown was all Johnny could think of as he turned the baggie upside-down and emptied the brown powder onto the street below. His mom would kiss his cheek and make sure he wore a hat; they’d go sledding on the hills of the park closest to the edge of town and then pile into Will’s basement for video games and hot chocolate. Johnny’s near-withdrawal brain crept slowly into the past. As he heard Jimmy’s boots on their apartment floor, he snapped back to the city.

“You are such a fucking drama queen. What is this, a fucking Lifetime movie?”

Johnny tossed the empty baggie out of the window and sank into their mattress.

“Once you start shitting your guts out and remembering your brain can’t make you feel good without me you’ll be back. Waste your money all you want by pouring my shit out the window. I’m the one who wins in the end. I always win. Haven’t you learned that, Jesus? She told you the truth and you still need me. You’re weak, Johnny. You need me.”

Jimmy was right, again. Johnny needed him. The longer it went on the more twisted it became until Johnny was blind, deaf, and dumb. Never mind the dope-sickness, even seeing people in the shadows and slashing at her with a knife weren’t enough for him to stop. Johnny saw nothing but dope, could do nothing but snort or inject, thought of nothing but his next high; her demands for help went unheard and he was grabbed by the wrists and pulled to Hell again. He’d brought her down to his level–he remembered, hazily, through a dream, taking her arm and easing the plunger down. She’d watched him mutate from a lost suburban exile to a dangerous, braindead dope fiend. Still, her last words to him were from the heart. Although they were spat at him from above as she pinned him to the floor, they were caring.

Johnny didn’t know how he could put someone through so much shit yet they’d still have the heart to tell him how much he’d fucked up his life and to inspire him to fucking do something about it.

“You wanna be sober and face all your dead dreams?”

“‘Course not.”

Johnny stuck a cigarette in his mouth and pulled open their dresser drawer. Jimmy watched as Johnny grabbed the pistol–Brad had the same–and placed it in his lap.

“Don’t tell me you’re gonna shoot yourself. You ain’t in Jingletown anymore.”

Johnny saw ghosts of a future lost in his mind’s eye; they could’ve been in love. She could’ve loved him back. He could’ve taken her home to meet Will. Tunny would’ve been there, happy and whole. None of that mattered now. He thought of dope; and the way she looked under the street lamps; and the note Tunny had left behind when he’d enlisted; and how Will’s hands had felt gripping his arm, trying to stop him from leaving; and her love; and her rage; and dope.

“This is my cross to bear,” Johnny said, pressing the gun into Jimmy’s hands and walking out the door.