When I was a kid, all I wanted was an “Illumastorm” from Radio Shack. An Illumastorm is a glass sphere that has a low-powered, glass-coated Tesla coil at the center. When you turn it on, static electricity jumps from the tip of the coil to the inside surface of the glass, illuminating a tracer gas along the way, creating a miniature spectacle of dancing-glowing veins that look like magenta and purple plasma. If you touch the sphere, the increase in conductivity at that point draws all the electricity into one focused beam that paves a bluish-white path through the gas.
I walked by that thing with the envy of a man who likes to sail walking through an elite marine or yacht club for the first time. If only I had that sphere of power, I could dominate my first grade class’s “show and tell.” The only thing that could out-do the Illumastorm in Show & Tell would have been an Apple PowerBook (this was 1991). My dream came true on a cold Christmas Eve night at my grandmother’s house near Denver. The device quelled my need for a new toy for quite some time. That is, until I walked by a desktop PC for sale at the mall. The magnificent machine had a color screen — something I had seen in movies like “Sneakers” with Robert Redford, but never in real life. The rows of new computers with color monitors had tropical bird screensavers. I can’t remember ever peeing in my pants, but if I ever have, that might have been the day. My dad probably said something to me like, “…maybe when they get down to around $3,000. $3,999 is too much for something that will be outdated in a few years. Again, my dream eventually came true. I came home from swim practice, after a long day of grammar and addition, to my dad unpacking a killer new desktop in his office. A thing of beauty, it had 8mb of RAM and a 32Mhz processor. Our Prodigy Online dial-up subscription gave us a generous 100 minutes per month of access to the world. In 1992. I sent my first email, the content of which was probably similar to Alexander Graham Bell’s first “…can you come here” phone call.
Like most Americans, especially addicts, my appetite for that next new thing or experience drove my decision making in a lot of ways, some of which motivated me to achieve a lot for my age. It also got me into a world of financial trouble that may haunt me for the next 10 years. But I choose to believe that life experiences like waking up on a plane to Las Vegas not remembering how I got there were a crucial stage of the formative part of my writing career. Only God can explain how I escaped my 20′s without a single bump or bruise, and a criminal record that amounts to two unpaid New York City parking tickets. Those orange envelopes for parking two inches too close to a fire hydrant must have been a divine reminder to leave Manhattan driving to the men in yellow taxis.
If I could have any thing on Earth, it would be a studio apartment in Brooklyn. Then I’d be happy, right? No?
The first time someone suggested to me that happiness is wanting what you have, I was a bit miffed. Pfft. How could I learn to want the next to nothing I have? As much as I loathe admitting defeat — that people are right, I’ve hit a strange turning point in the depths of this dreary treatment center. It’s a revelation that I can indeed be happy without stuff. Well, let’s say I can be happy with the bare essentials. For me, those include clothing, food, and a web hosting subscription so I can write, even in hard times when no one else will publish me. The blog is my canvas and the pen, my paintbrush.
By telling the stories many are afraid to tell, I have found a source of peace and comfort, and a sense that my life does have value and meaning. I’ve been given more chances than I deserve, and the only way to pay them back is to provide hope to others, that they too may emerge from the shadows of sadness and rediscover joy.
Today, a young woman in our spirituality group was moved to tears by our instructor’s gospel rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The sun shined through the thin purple curtains of the fireside room as a feral can wandered through the field of snow outside, and we sat silently, absorbing the classic melody, wanting what we had, just that moment.
Editor’s Note: The following post was handwritten by Kirk Klocke at Keystone Treatment Center in Canton, S.D. and transcribed, edited, and published by Cassie Rodenberg, an independent journalist in New York City who covers addiction, poverty, and other dark things happening in rough urban neighborhoods. Ms. Rodenberg publishes “The White Noise,” a Scientific American blog that focuses on the scientific, medical and social implications of addiction. Follow her: @cassierodenberg