(This is the start of a Character Study Series that will be ongoing. Periodically, I’ll throw in a story or experience I have had on my road to recovery. All names are changed to protect identity.)
Grayson. A man, that would undoubtedly self-diagnose himself as so dirty-minded, so salacious and crooked that if he swallowed a nail, he’d spit up a corkscrew – and trust me when I say that I’ve met people bred in Texas over the course of my life, but no one quite like Grayson. I was engulfed in his “southern charm” faster than a prairie fire with a tail wind could spread and it really, really caught me off-guard. You can also trust me when I say I wouldn’t be surprised if this maniac literally did swallow a nail just to prove that point a reality.
It was the first morning at the new house my treatment program had relocated me to. Stumbling down the stairs like a zombie, still somewhat trapped between the stages of vague cognizance and completely comatose; still existing in an acute state of detoxification, I opened the back door to the patio and laid eyes on my new group of fellow addicts and alcoholics. As a side note, It’s a phenomenally uplifting occurrence to be routinely greeted every morning by a cluster-fuck of weary, temperamental, and volatile degenerates who haven’t inundated or, more accurately, bombarded their systems with enough nicotine or caffeine to stabilize themselves quite yet. I say this with the utmost sarcasm and I’m just another sorry unstable soul in this sea of dissolution – at this juncture in my journey seeking sanity, I had become so used to moving from house to house; so used to being hurled into a new pack and required to integrate myself, that at some point, it all started blending together and morphing into a twisted, new sense of normalcy.
From the far reaches of my peripheral line of vision, I saw an intimidating, boisterous middle-aged man sitting with a cigarette lit in his mouth flicking up and down as he concurrently spouted off obscenities and dirty jokes to anyone that would listen. I’m rather desensitized to this type of atmosphere, but Grayson proved an exception and quickly grabbed my attention. His voice was gruff and featured the stereotypical Texas inflection; his ball cap wore with an extremely tight curve and displayed ragged tears in the brim – not because it was stylish, but because it had earned them from enduring life atop this man’s head for so long. Dirty, ripped jeans, prison tats, and an old, black wife-beater bridged the gap between his hat and cowboy boots. Through the combination of smoke and the morning mist lingering between us, his eyes locked on me and he emphatically hollered in my direction, “well put on your sittin’ britches y’all, we’ve got ourselves a fish – looks like he just fell off the tater truck! Hey man – yer face reminds me of a wrench; when I see it my nuts tighten up.” – That was my introduction to Grayson; it wasn’t even seven o’clock yet.
To say Grayson had lived a colorful life up to the point that he found himself in Southern California would be an incredibly potent understatement; in fact, at first I wasn’t sure I could even believe there was any truth or validity to some of the completely unfiltered and farfetched stories that came flying out of his mouth, but as time went on and as I got to know this gentleman on a more vulnerable and personal level, I knew there was no falsification of the tales that he told. Despite his tumultuous demeanor or his offensive and obscene sense of humor, he had a unique code of integrity; principles that had been ingrained in him by life over the years; hidden in a sense; they are the type of values that if you don’t pay close attention, you’d be blind to the fact that they were even there within him at all – the prejudice that he is just a crude, animalistic or undomesticated Texan with entirely no sense of morals or decency is, in all reality, the only real tall tale to be told; it’s merely a surface deep look into what this man and his life really is.
“The Enforcer” is what I grew to know him by as we hung around each other more often; fanatical stories of his under-the-table “career”; how he made sure those that were required to pay up, did in fact pay up for whatever debt they owed – no matter what, no matter how; and I’m not talking about how somebody is behind on a mortgage payment or hasn’t made up for owed taxes either; I’m not referring to the mainstream ideology of debt if you catch my drift; we’re talking underground here. Stories of his madness further consisted of scandalous and depraved sexual conquests, tension filled run-ins with law enforcement, spine-chilling near death experiences, and the grueling, arduous life trapped behind bars. It was fascinating that he was still alive, let alone in a head-space where he was seeking professional help under his own free will and not to satisfy the requirements of a court card.
Grayson was outside having a smoke one night as I pulled up in my car at our sober living house. As I walked passed him to head inside for the evening, he very energetically and, in his own distinctly Grayson way, let me know I had a tail light out on my vehicle – I believe he said I was “so oblivious that I couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with a hole in the toe and directions on the heel” – or something like that. I thanked him for letting me know and continued on my way. The next morning, I walked out to my car and there he was, standing at the front passenger side door, the signature cigarette as always locked in and animated in his mouth. At first I was confused; what did he want? Did he need a ride somewhere? He hadn’t mentioned anything or asked me for one.
As I got slightly closer, he yelled something to the effect of, “I reckon you’re about as handy as hip pockets on a hog when it comes to fixin’ a tail light, so that about puts the rags on the bush, you need a fuckin’ invitation to your own ride? C’mon!” Before I knew it, I was buying a tail light at the auto parts shop and he was fixing my tail light. As we headed back to the house, he attempted to charge his phone unaware that the power outlet didn’t work. We were right back at the store and I was purchasing new fuses. He fixed that too. I think I maybe spent a total of fifteen bucks for everything – a bill that would have been significantly higher should I have taken it to a shop for the repairs; that was the real Grayson though – kind, compassionate and willing to lend a helping hand to someone in need. Nothing about helping me was intended for him to benefit, he refused anything in return; and trust me, with his background as the enforcer, I tenaciously tried to compensate him for his time – but he was happy just spending time with me, shooting the breeze, and doing some man shit.
The man behind the mask was really looking for the same thing I was – a sense of belonging, purpose, and meaning to this whole deal on Earth; he got lost along the way just as I did – I realized how in many ways we were the same just as much as we were different. We were both walking through life with haunted souls, infected with the same malady, and in need of the same remedy – just because the footprints of his path were marked by cowboy boots and mine marked by Chuck Taylor’s doesn’t mean we didn’t end up in the same place – Grayson is an incredibly respectable man, a brother in the fight, and I was truly blessed to have crossed paths with him on our respective roads to pursue a purpose-driven life. Had I judged him right off the bat because he was different than me or wrote him off as bad news, I would have missed out on a very impactful part of my recovery; I would have missed a valuable connection, an incredible experience, and I would have continued on my road with a closed-off mind acting or living no better than where I started.