(The names have been changed to protect people. I say “people” and not “the innocent” because we were after all addicts and alcoholics and most of us had more than a few skeletons in our respective closets.)
Michaela had fake boobs. Actually, I really didn’t find out enough about her to know if she had had more than just a boob job because frankly, talking to her was work. Or more specifically, she was quite a piece of work. Actually, even that is not good enough. Michaela was quite a piece of work the same way that Alaska is quite a state. I just can’t find the words to summarize her character. I will say that she was kind of abrasive, the same way that toxic chemicals are harmful if swallowed. And it was impossible not to know when she was present. Her voice had the soothing quality of the shrieking eels in The Princess Bride. I assume that was by design because whenever she was in a room or around the ashtray in the Butt Hut or within earshot of a rat terrier, she was practically shouting some inane blather about the petty crimes she used to pull or her redneck boyfriend whom she hated and hoped to marry.
I point out that she had fake boobs because A) There was simply no way of not knowing that. I’ve seen enough girly magazines in my time to know that the ones she had must have cost a fortune and B) She never hesitated to tell anyone who would listen that she had been a stripper in a former life. I don’t know what all she did in that former life, but I do know that, and again by her own admission, she had been in rehab for most of the last dozen or so major holidays. She beamed when she said this, which is actually not an uncommon facet of drug and alcohol rehab. Apparently, for some people, going to rehab multiple times is something of a badge of honor; something that, in their minds, they should hang over the heads of the newcomers as if drug and alcohol rehabilitation is something one should aspire to and not the apex of shame, humiliation and defeat that I had come to realize it was for me. Alcohol: 10, 0000, Me: Zilch. At least that’s how I felt at the time and it behooves anybody in recovery to weigh the good times you had when you were high against the bad and see which one is the winner every single bloody time.
But back to Michaela. Truly she was the kind of person you suspected had a bright side that you just couldn’t see. You couldn’t see it above and behind her comparisons of the local penal system, the various facilities available for incarceration and the multitude of amenities they offer. This woman actual preferred one jail over another because they had cable and the food was better (you can’t make this stuff up). So the night I walked into the cafeteria and she was playing that beautiful, haunting work of the old Ludwig Van, I was floored.
And she played it pretty well too. I wouldn’t pay to see her or anything, but it was a relatively sound rendition of the masterpiece. Then she played it again. And another time. And I was so flabbergasted, I walked out of the cafeteria and simply couldn’t express to my friends what I had heard. As an aside, that is one of the things about rehab I liked the most. It was kind of like being on Gilligan’s Island. You get to know your fellow castaways pretty well and I jived with more than a few of them, shared in their little adventures in our little desert island in north central Nebraska. On my first morning, when I found out that Jim kept CAFFEINATED coffee in his room and he offered me some, I could have kissed him (for some reason, no caffeinated beverages are allowed at all but you can go to the Casey’s down the road and buy some and keep it in your room.) I got to know the smokers way better than the non-smokers as we all congregated around the big ashtray. One morning, I stumbled out of the cafeteria half-awake with my cup of black gold and encountered Maura, a teenager who dragged off one of the 25 cigarettes she smoked a day, and spit the smoke right back out.
“Why don’t you inhale?”
She emitted an aghast exhale. “I inhale.”
“No you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No you don’t. I just watched you. You didn’t inhale at all. You can tell if someone inhales because the smoke isn’t blue like it is when you don’t inhale. You didn’t inhale.”
“I did too! I inhale as much as I need to.”
“Nothing ?” She didn’t like me very much after that.
Back to Michaela. She played the same piece pretty well the next night, too. And then the next night and a couple nights after that. As I would flip through the sheet music stacked on top of the piano, ever further testing my degree of difficulty with this piece or that piece, so would she play the same goddamn song over and over and over again. It was simply amazing. That this divine piece of art could come out of someone so prickly and abrasive. But then again, if the movie Amadeus is any indication, Mozart was a childish lecher who delighted in naughty language. Go figure.