You go for weeks without any pain at all, just minor irritation and then suddenly you wake up hurting. Everything breaks at once. My heart hurts because my friend is suffering loss. My head hurts, just on the right side, and has since yesterday. My chest hurts; I slept funny but not funny ha-ha. Saint Aardvark wrenched his back this morning and we tiptoed around each other in the kitchen, my sore head, his sore back, afraid to speak because all the words seemed to be coming out poison-darted.
Last week I picked up “A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey in our office library; the kitchen with a bookshelf where people bring their old paperbacks. All I knew about it was that first Oprah liked it and then Oprah was mad at the guy who wrote it for making (parts of) it up. Both of those factoids were enough to make me avoid it like the plague because I hate that Oprah tells anyone what to read (I know – literacy, book club cameraderie, whatever, I don’t like being told what to do, this goes deeper for me than just Oprah) and I hate Media Circuses About Stupid Stuff.
Opened up the book on the train home and nearly lost my own internal organs to vomiting, so visceral were the first 35 pages. An onslaught of words, hardly any punctuation, images vivid and unrelenting. Vomit, shit, bile, blood, everywhere.
Young hero wakes up on an airplane, not knowing how he got there. He enters an addiction treatment facility and gets clean. He meets a couple of people who become friends and a few who don’t. That’s pretty much it so far.
When I got home I looked up the Media Circus online and found the Smoking Gun’s exposay of the author’s Terrible Lies. Got halfway through the article. Decided to bookmark it until after I’m done the book and read the book as itself, as words on paper that convey meaning, rather than as a true versus fictional work. Whether it is true or not, it is written from a very compelling point of view, with engaging language, with great power.
I think everything is semi-truth anyway. The most fervent of memoirs, the most fictional of novels. All semi-truths.
Of course I have also known a couple of addicts in real life so now I’m halfway through the book thinking: ah yes, I have heard this before. Which is kind of what getting to know an addict is like, in my experience. All gore and flash and excitement when you first meet and then a slow, ponderous, repetitive progression to an ultimate realization: whether that is “I do not want to die” or “I do want to die, after all.” Watching someone else make that decision is by turns mind-blowingly dull and mind-blowingly frustrating.
There is a lot of discussion in the online Media Circus around Betrayal. People, Oprah’s people, they believed in James Frey and his battle and his recovery. They were rooting for him and then – it turned out he hadn’t been fighting the battle they thought, so they felt betrayed, angry. But. Regardless of how accurate his telling of the story, his own story, even if cobbled together with fiction, fantasy, someone else’s story; he fought the battle, at the least, of writing this book. He must have fought a battle or two to write the things he wrote. If I felt like barfing while I read it, he has succeeded as a writer.
And everyone has a battle. And everyone deserves to be rooted for. No matter how huge and blustery and vomit-fueled, no matter how quiet and sorrowful and slow.
Tiny battles, like mine & SA’s today. Big ones, like Sarah’s. Yours, whatever it might be. I think we should all root for each other, even if our expectations weren’t met, even if we think the story isn’t true, even if we don’t know each other. We can still be armour for each other.