Park Bench Recovery This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 9, 2012
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Hat on head, paper in hand, he sat on a park bench and pretended to read. He desperately hoped that he looked like an average man, relaxing and catching up on the news; just this one day, he wanted to be normal. No one saw his flaws, no one pitied him, no one judged him, no one noticed. Cross legs. Tip hat. Open paper. Don’t look up. If you see them, they’ll see you. Don’t let them see. It had been so many years since he had felt like a normal person. He savored the thought that maybe he could be invisible, almost nonexistent, in these few minutes on the park bench.

He remembered the day he turned sixteen and his mother told him she never wanted to see him again. He remembered the moment when he was left on the streets to fend for himself, alone. He remembered the job he got sweeping at a small pet store on the edge of town, and the long nights of sleeping in the park and not knowing for sure if he would wake up. He remembered the young woman he had been crazy about and the night that he came home to a note on the bedside table. He felt the web of razor-thin scars on the undersides of his arms that he had made to feel something in her absence.
Don’t let them see.
He remembered the substances that he couldn’t live without for years after she left. He didn’t remember the weeks that he didn’t show up to work, or the phone calls he got from his former boss. He didn’t remember losing the only friends he had ever had to the void he couldn’t live without. He didn’t remember how he had taken too much. He didn’t remember who found him. He didn’t remember arriving at the hospital. He did remember the withdrawal.
If you see them, they see you.
Pain shot through his body as he thought of the agony that the lack of numbness had caused him. The first day without it had hurt him more than anything else ever had, and he remembered thinking he was dying. That had been a bit overdramatic. When his senses came back and the desire to be nothing had lessened, he remembered feeling. Nothing specific, just feeling. It had been the most amazing thing he had experienced in years. It was this sensation that had kept him out of the void for this long. He saw the world around him with new eyes, looked at people like he never had before; he wanted to live. With this new recognition of the world, however, came the realization that people looked at him differently. He was an addict, unstable and dangerous. He worked for so long to get that image behind him.
Don’t look up
He remembered going back to work for the first time in two and a half years. This time it was in an office in the city. He rented a small apartment a few miles away. He always paid the rent on time. He wore nice clothes, professional clothes. He did his job well. He remembered going back to school so he could be qualified for that promotion. He remembered his boss calling him into his office to tell him he had gotten the job. He did it well. He had finally become the man he wanted to be; an average man, a normal person. Every now and then, someone would see the marks he had made on himself so many years before and the way they looked at him changed; he would feel like his old self for a moment, broken and lost. But he wasn’t ashamed. He knew who he was now, and he wasn’t afraid anymore.
Cross legs. Tip hat. Open paper. Look up. See the trees. Smile at the woman walking her dog. Talk to the old man sitting alone. Toss the Frisbee back to that group of kids. Participate.

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