I read all the personal stories in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous in a couple days, and in those narratives discovered the same mutant antiheroes that I’d always considered to be my true clan. The ghosts who showed up at the gathering every morning, were the same kindred spirits I’d once closed down a thousand bars and scraped a million bowls with. Something had happened where our good times had turned on us. We’d all ended up in dark hotel rooms, poisoning ourselves to death.
When I told Santos I’d already finished my first assignment, he thought maybe I’d just been skimming, but I threw out all these details that had cracked me up, and that cracked him up too. We particularly liked the story of the abstaining businessman, who decides after dinner at a restaurant to ask for a little whiskey in his milk. Who puts whiskey in their milk, dog? That dude was whack.
Santos asked me if any of the stories rang true with me. I said they all rang true, well, maybe not the whiskey in the milk one, but all the rest. He then gave me my next assignment. I was to write my own story, not every single day of my life, just the main events that had led me to take the first drink and then eventually go full hungry ghost.
That was going to be a long story, I told him. I’d been going at it pretty hard for the past forty years. He asked me what else I had going on. I said I had a DMV court hearing in two months to see about getting my license back. That was about it.
I had a notebook that I’d had in Vietnam with me when COVID broke out. The small calendar I’d been keeping went from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia, to 4,000 Islands, Pakse, Vientiane, and Luang Prabang in Laos, to Hanoi, then suddenly, Los Angeles, Calexico, Tucson, Las Vegas, and lastly to a crack hotel in Buena Park, where everything goes blank during quarantine.
I decided to fill all the empty pages of that ruined travel diary with memories of my ruined life, starting from the very beginning.