Updated: Apr 15
The day had a vibe. I can’t pin it down exactly, but there was something there. Maybe it was the fact that the night before, instead of attending a party, a bar, a venue, or even being with family, the only sort of NYE celebration that took place for those of us residing in a sober living was going to the AA club to welcome in the new year. Midnight came and we had to be home by 1 AM. It was depressing. We drank apple cider. Pathetic. But it was all we had outside of sitting in bed alone.
So, the feeling of discontent lingered. For me anyway.
A portrait of me at the time: 205 lbs, definitely not all muscle. My metabolism had slowed to a crawl due to years of drug abuse, and so when I ate, I kept it. I would work out sure, but my body had yet to stabilize. I ate a lot, and a lot of it was shit. I had to buy bigger pants, and as was the sober living style of the time, I was wearing Dickies and XL Pro Clubs, because they were cheap and I had nobody to impress. I looked thuggish, and I felt thuggish while eating entire sleeves of Oreos. I wasn’t an angry person necessarily, but living with 26 other guys, you feel on guard. Sometimes confrontational. I was barely working during that holiday season, and all I had was time. The same went for most of us in that house.
A new year! Who fucking cared. I looked around at my housemates and felt little more than contempt for them, despite growing quite close to several of them. My main circle of sober living pals consisted of Chris, Randy, and Bud. These are not their real names. But hey: Bud! Remember Bud? Who shot me up with heroin? Bud was sober now! A part of AA life with me, his ol’ pal Luke! A miracle! Even my old friend Bud couldn’t ease my discontent, poor guy.
Days would go by. We’d play Call of Duty, we’d listen to “Mo Bamba” on repeat, we’d work out, we’d eat, we’d go to meetings. That was it. I’d find time to see friends and family, but I did not have a car at the time, so while it was a better situation than prison, sometimes it still felt like one. I felt like I was going crazy. I started to hate these people. I started to hate Sheck Wes! I started to hate my kill-death ratio. I would pass the controller back and forth, staring vacantly at the screen, listening to the bullshit these guys would talk about, like who was the hot girl, which meeting sucked, where the best place to pick up drugs was. Aggressive outbursts were common. Like drug addicted sardines packed in together.
Randy had a chip on his shoulder that day. Randy was young, younger than the rest of us, and acted like it. He would constantly be messing around, constantly getting in trouble, always had something to prove. But he was a kid, and he meant well, mostly, and all in all he was a fun, goofy guy who was enjoyable to be around. But sometimes he’d try to start fights. We only had one brief altercation previously, in which when I returned to sober living with bleached platinum blonde hair, and he said I looked like a used Q tip. I had been dealing with some personal things which was the reason for my return, and I was not having it. But, it passed. No punches were thrown.
This New Year's Day, Randy was going through it. He was hurt by a girl, he was jacked up on pre-workout, and we all had to go to a despicable meeting we all hated because, well, we had to get our meeting in for the day. If you weren’t working, the house enforced a strict two meeting a day policy. If you were working, one meeting. It sucked. I did not love AA.
So, we arrived at the 5 o’clock Happy Hour meeting. I was so done. I hated this bullshit. I hated that I had to be in this position, and that I was entering a new year doing this same shit. I was over it. I had regrets, and goals, and I was ready to snap. So was Randy. Randy is short and stocky, but strong, he was a beast in the gym, and he always had something to prove.
We all sat in the back as we did, to avoid being discovered on our phones, and to allow ourselves to be able to mess around while everyone else did their best to listen and share during the meeting. I was in between Chris and Bud, Randy was in the row over, silent. About 20 minutes in, after the volume had escalated maybe a little too loud in our particular section, Randy turned over and told us to shut the fuck up.
Hold the phone. This motherfucker was as prone to messing around in AA meetings as we were, and he was going to sit there and act all holier than thou? Nah, I wasn’t having it.
I turned to Randy and looked him dead in the eye.
I said it as cold and menacing as I’ve ever uttered the phrase. He was taken aback. Maybe he thought we would take it in stride, maybe he really wanted us to quiet down. Maybe he was just looking to argue.
“Wanna go talk outside?”
Sure. I got up and walked out back behind the AA club with him. Chris and Bud kind of glanced up but didn’t follow. I was out there for about 10 seconds before he started in on me.
“Why are you trying to disrespect me?” he asked.
“Bro, what is your deal? Chill out.”
“Nah man, you’re being rude. You just came at me sideways as fuck.”
Before I could complete my insult, Randy had punched me square in the face. I was stunned. Offended, even. I hadn’t been in a fight since middle school, when some piece of shit had attempted to steal my copy of Rancid’s “...And Out Come the Wolves”, for the CD’s album artwork. I gave him such a thrashing I thought I would never be tested again. Here I was, sober, punched in the face.
It didn’t hurt as much as it did shock me. It took me a second to realize hey, this guy just punched me. I looked at him and he was glaring, waiting, mocking me. Like being snapped out of a dream, I went off.
I’m not a particularly good fighter, but I’m tall, I have some reach to be sure, and he was shorter. I weighed a decent amount, maybe 20 lbs less than him. This wasn’t going on in my mind while I grabbed his collar, but in retrospect, the odds were decent.
Within this seconds long time span, an older gentleman named Kyle came outside. I remember thinking, ah, surely this old man will put a stop to this nonsense. But no, Kyle lit a cigarette and stood there, observing. What the fuck, man. Leave it to AA.
I sent maybe 8 good shots to ol’ Randy’s face, all in succession. I thought I had him. But this son of a bitch was resilient, and before I knew it he backed off and regrouped. Chris came outside to maybe stop what he suspected was a fight, maybe to observe with Kyle. Bud was inside, motherfucker. Decided on that night of all nights to soak up AA.
Randy came back hard. He copied my grab the collar and swing strategy, and my Pro Club tore. Not the Pro Club! Enraged, I swung back, catching him in the eye. He backed off some.
“You stupid fuck, come on you stupid fucking fuck, let’s go.”
I was all in. Adrenaline was racing through me. I didn’t realize how fucked up my face was already getting.
I went in and Randy got me good in the cheek. I took a few steps back and took a knee. I felt that, and I was tired. To his credit, he didn’t go back in. I got up, and don’t you know, we hugged it out. Kyle mentioned that it was a good fight.
We started laughing and I felt oddly good. The disgruntled mood of the day had evaporated. I went to the bathroom to shove toilet paper up my bleeding nose, and went back to my seat. Randy went back to his. We kept giggling. Chums again. His eye would definitely be black, but Randy looked largely unscathed compared to me. It was blatantly obvious what had just occurred, and after the meeting ended, some of the older women came up to me asking if Kyle did this. I said no, I fell skateboarding. I was no rat. They were disappointed I didn’t say it was Kyle.
I went home and fell practically straight to sleep. Fighting is not tolerated, so Randy and I laid low, to keep our faces out of the watchful eye of management.
The next day, I had a haircut appointment. My face hurt much more the next day. I looked like hell. Randy had the black eye, as promised. He refused to say he won, which while I felt it was a draw, at the end he did have the high ground. Had more testosterone flowing that day I suppose.
Instead of canceling the appointment, I showed up on time. The barber definitely registered my face, but didn’t ask anything. A real one, through and through. As my hair was cropped on the top and the sides shaved down, as was my preference, I stared at my reflection in the mirror across the room. My face looked splotchy, like leprosy even. The barbershop playlist was bumping, and Kendrick Lamar’s “PRIDE.” came on. The song is silky smooth, and I felt out of touch, outside of time and space as it played while my cut hair fell across my vision, like tiny black snowflakes falling past my disfigured reflection.
The barber asked if I wanted any product to slick my hair back with. Even though it would reveal more of my busted face, I said yes. Fucking duh, of course I wanted some product in my hair. I wanted to look good didn’t I?
Luke is a member of the wrting staff at Faded Morgana, as well as the Creative Director for the Film and Television projects releasing later this year. Luke comes from a pop-culture fueled background including healthy obsessions with Quentin Tarantino, Alkaline Trio and Wes Anderson films, as well as unhealthy obsessions with old school punk and the Smiths. Luke rates stories by Ewoks rather than Gold Stars.