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Sitting on the weathered, creaking oak stool at the town bar, The Inferno, you take a good look around. The heavy odor of cigarettes and stale beer wafts through the air, making your eyes water, producing an insatiable, tickling itch in your throat. You cough. The poker players and bookies at the other end of the bar look up at you suspiciously, pausing their shady game, then resume play. Your hands rest on a matching oak countertop, scummy from years of disregard and beer spilled in joyous occasion, an occurrence now a rarity in this dingy hole-in-the-wall, with a dirty martini and three year old olive jar in front of you. On the other side of the counter sits the bartender, a decrepit old man at least eighty-five years of age, glancing at you every once in a while out of the corner of his rheumy eyes while he reads Fahrenheit 451. His feet in hardened leather cowboy boots are propped up on a shelf of cheap half-used booze.
What have I become? Where is my life going?...These thoughts zig zag across your mind, bouncing back and forth, leaving you no room to think of anything else, no end in sight to the merciless noise of utter depression. The bartender silently slinks over to you, noticing your glazed, blank stare and untouched drink.
“Need a fix, pardna'?” He questions you with a slow southern drawl. His eyes, now sparkling and oddly vivacious, stare at you, no, through you. Conceding that you are at odds with the way your life has gone thus far, you ask him what he means. He leans over the counter, mere inches away from your face; you can smell the brandy off his hot breath as he begins to speak to you in a low, hushed tone. He offers you a way out, a permanent fix to any and all of your problems, but you still do not understand his aim. How is there a possible solution to your life, thinking it has been utterly destroyed? No worries, he says, he can take care of all your woes for a simple trade, a strange request; your soul. What are you even doing with it now anyways? It is just sitting there, unused and abandoned. You might as well give it away to obtain happiness. So you agree, signing away on the newly printed contract in mottled blue ink, merely skimming the fine print.
You wake up to the buzzing of the alarm clock on the nightstand next to your bed, smacking it away. Staring up at the blank stucco ceiling, you wonder how you got home, suddenly recalling the agreement in which you entered last night. A yawning stretch brings you to awareness and you realize this is not your home. Well it is, but everything is slightly different; new furniture, 42-inch flat screen television, a sultry woman beside you in bed, and outside sits a brand new two-door Mercedes. You can not believe it, the bartender was able to uphold his end of the deal, what you thought was a mere waking fantasy. Exuberant, you scurry throughout the house, finding all those things you always wanted but could never have. You are finally as you should be, finally happy.
Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, months into years and you finally realize something is not quite right. The house you are in is not a home; it is empty with all its gadget and luxuries piled high. Your woman is not yours, leaving for other men every night, staring blankly at you over luke-warm T.V. dinners. The car stopped running after a few months. This is not the life you wanted, you are just as miserable as before, even worse because you can not enjoy all that you have. It is all false, your life is false. So you return to The Inferno to demand an answer and retribution.
Alone sits the bartender, seemingly in the same spot in which you left him all that time ago, smirking over the same novel. You demand a reason to your misery, but he simply slides the contract your way. You gave up your soul, your being, to this man in exchange for all the things that you believed would make you happy. In the event that this does not remain so, it is solely the responsibility
of the now soulless party. You have nothing now, no happiness, no friends, no family. You belong to
him. Hopelessness and despair course through your veins, turning you cold and nauseous. You are at his mercy.
Every day people give in to him, give in to the temptation of false and momentary happiness paid back with a lifetime of regret and pain. He is not really a person, but the poisonous world of drug use. When life is difficult, when there seems to be no way out, no option for you to be happy, drugs buzz like a mosquito in the periphery of the mind. Just once, it will make me feel good, I will get my act together after this, I will be able to focus or relax, whatever I choose. But rarely is it just once. It becomes a disease, spreading more and more each time you go back to your “happy place”. Maybe you are truly happy in that moment, beyond blissful without a single care burdening your sunken shoulders, but that moment is fleeting, a blip of light in a dark world you created for yourself. Sinking ever more into the abyss of addiction, you become your own destroyer.
Growing up in the suburbs, surrounded by mostly white middle class families and protected from the horrors of the real world, I never imagined the dangers that would face my brother. In high school he began to use somewhat acceptable drugs such as marijuana or Adderall to deal with a problem with depression. As time wore on, he slipped into heavier and heavier drugs, signing his own contract with the devil. Despite his drug use, he was able to guarantee his way through college with a scholarship that paid all of his tuition. He has always been the smartest person in the family, edging a genius IQ, but this could never afford him happiness. He dealt with his pain through the drugs, giving away his soul for momentary contentment, eventually settling on opium for his drug of choice. After one year of school, his drug use had become so rampant that after enrolling in his third semester he was forced into a detoxification center, losing his scholarship and withdrawing from classes with no credit. He overcame this only to repeat his mistakes, sucked back into the dark whirling waters of his addiction. Falling hopelessly deeper into this, he refused to admit he had a problem.
Several months ago, I wake up to an utterly devastated cry from my mother; he was in the
hospital, they do not know if he is alive, if he will make it. We rush to the hospital only to be forced into the family waiting room in the emergency center. Time slows, the tick of the clock entering my ears painfully. Finally, a doctor comes in and gives us the details of his status; he had overdosed on opium, and was found by his roommate on the floor, unconscious, not breathing, in a pile of his own vomit. He is comatose, and not responding neurologically to any of the medical teams efforts, causing fear for brain damage if he ever wakes up. We are walked into his room, tubing and wires crisscrossing his body, a plastic heating blanket over him to warm his body back to normal temperatures, dried blood streaking down his face from his nose. His body is pale and limp, corpselike, frigid to the touch. Silent tears running down her face, my mother reaches up and tenderly wipes the blood off of his face.
Several hours later, I receive a call from my parents: he has woken up and is fully responsive, no brain damage, no neurological problems. They hold the phone up to him so I can tell him how much I love him and how scared he made us, that when he gets out I will punch him so hard in the face for making us go through this. I hear only hard breathing, a gargled unintelligible response. I breath a shaky sigh of relief, knowing that he heard me, hoping he understood me.
Since that day, a day I will never force from my mind, my family has never been the same. My brother is recovering from his addiction, one day at a time, hoping to get his life back on track. Living through this torture, I know the myth that people create for themselves to justify their actions. It is a selfish, self-pleasing path to take, hurting not only oneself but all those around you. I have had my heart broken, have had to see my brother shake hands with death itself, lying lifelessly on what could have been his death bed. You may think no one cares, but trust me, we do. Do not sign the contract.