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Love in the Wrong Place with the Wrong Man

I went into Synanon in 1964. My husband Oscar Johnson went to prison. I had a big habit. Synanon, for those who don’t know, was the very first drug program. Anything that has been even slightly effective since then is a watered down version of Synanon. Delancy Street in San Francisco and Phoenix House in New York are the very best of a faded version of the original Synanon. It was on Commercial Street in a great big old warehouse in San Francisco no far from the waterfront. The story goes that warehouse had been on the bay until the great quake of '06. Now it sits several streets away, tucked in under a steep cliff near to where Maiden Lane winds its brick way up to North Beach.

I kicked a heroin habit cold turkey, as they called it. I had a couch in the middle of the community room, a blanket and a bucket to throw up in. For three days I could not even walk to the bathroom without support. I weighed in at 85 pounds. Heroin is the ultimate diet drug. Speed only causes binge eating, but heroin stops all eating; on heroin food is something you think of occasionally, like shitting, which also comes to a stop. After several days you remember these things. 

You look in a mirror by accident. Purely by accident. I avoided mirrors. When I caught a glimpse of myself by I ran out to buy a banana split thinking that is the most fattening thing in the world. Of course it is, but not if it's all you've eaten in days. 

Taking a shit is something else. Not thought of so often. But when you remember that people, including you, must excrete, you buy the Black Draught Laxative, the very strongest there is. 

Having a normal menstrual cycle is also forgotten, so for months you imagine yourself pregnant with an unimaginably small fetus. (When you remember, which is not often.) But no baby ever comes, or if it did you did not notice. 

All that came to an end in July of 1964. I told myself I would quit heroin or I would put a gun into my mouth and end it once and for all. No going back for me. I had the good luck to find the one place that could stop this gruesome, monotonous life. I wanted to live.

When I was done with kicking my habit, I was shipped off to Santa Monica. But they were making a movie. They did not have time for newcomers. A month later I was again shipped off, this time to San Diego Synanon. On the very first day I arrived in San Diego, I met Jim Morris, my future husband. In fact, the minute I walked in the door.

Jim Morris was essentially Southern California. I was a San Franciscan at heart so I was not impressed. He had blonde hair. A beachy sort of look. Just under six feet. Handsome in a blonde, LA way. Levis and a pale blue short-sleeved button down shirt. I have never liked short-sleeved shirts on men. That he had a bit of power was easy to see. I took note of that. As soon as he saw me I knew he wanted me. The way women know these things. I did not think about why he wanted me only that it might be to my advantage some day. I did not find him particularly attractive. But I realized I was in a foreign environment and whatever advantage I could find I would take.

But as it turned out there were several very attractive men in San Diego. The ratio of male to female was 5 to 1. Any newcomer girl, no matter what she looked like, was secretly courted by dozens of sex-starved males. And I did not look half bad. I found that whenever I tried to start a relationship with one of them my life became unpleasant. But when I showed attention to Jim all of a sudden things changed. I was allowed to go out for pastrami sandwiches with Jim, but if I spent any time with my other suitors I was promptly sent to wash dishes. 

So I began to rethink my view of him. I realized he had power. Power was essential in Synanon. I was beginning to understand that. Position meant everything. To be involved with another newcomer like myself was frowned upon. 

Jim Morris had been there several years. He'd worked his way up the chain of command. He also had never had a girlfriend, and everyone dearly wanted him to prove himself not gay. Being gay in Synanon was not an option. It meant endless years of misery as Synanon tried to cure you in any conceivable way they could devise. Quite frankly, I believe that had Jim been born 20 years later than he was he would have been gay. But he was not, so he was strongly homophobic like many men who could not accept the hand life had dealt them. He was a man’s man. 

And there was the Synanon Game, a sort of encounter group, although that does not really describe it. I was constantly brutalized for any other relationship other than the one with Jim. To say that the Game was brutal is to down play it. Eventually I learned to master the game. To my mind mastery meant keeping the focus off me and onto anyone else. However, in those days I just sat mutely until the dread moment when the attention came to me. I only prayed I would be overlooked. I wasn't.

The key to mastering the game was being the aggressor, but it took me several years to understand that. The key was to take control. Nobody wanted that responsibility so if you grabbed control from the start you would be spared because if they turned on you someone else had to run the show. If they did  have to take control, it was half-hearted. But since they feared you, the aggressor, they were gentle in their criticism of you. 

Not only did you have to be the aggressor but you needed a game plan. You had to know where you were going with your offense because just screaming was not enough. That would only mean it would turn back on you even more vehemently. You had to learn attack (breaking down defenses), then come in to pick up the pieces of the broken person and put them back together in a way that sent them in a positive direction. 

I have learned many games in my life but none so technical as the Synanon Game. Anyone who says it was not highly structured does not have a clue what the game was about.

Of course, I did not have a clue at that time so I took it very seriously and was devastated when attacked. The Old Man called it The Game. He gave marathon talks on the structure of the game and why it was indeed a game. I understood what he said but could not convince my baby gut that there was anything fun about it, although I saw Chuck having a world of fun with his lucky victims. I could not get the joke. 

My only hope of a relatively pain free life was Jim Morris. I took it. After all, I thought, I had made all the wrong decisions about men all my life — 21 years of it at that time. My instincts were flawed. I had low self-esteem. Or so I was told. When I was not being told I was a condescending, elitist intellectual, I was told I needed to pick someone who was good to me. Like Jim. Not someone who beat the shit out of me all the time. I was open to that idea. I began to think my ideas about who I found attractive were based on the fact that I had no self-esteem. So it came to be that Jim and I were now a couple.

He was devoted to me. He courted me. He was a sweet man really, although he was an older man to me, being 32. 

Synanon wisely made provisions for sex. They had a Guestroom. You had to be approved, then you made a reservation for the guestroom. You took your clean sheets and became the guest. Unfortunately, it was above the community room so as you went along the hallway on the second floor everyone below could see you. There was nothing private about it. When Jim and I finally made it to the guestroom I tried not seeing everyone below leering and laughing their approval. It wasn’t that bad — the first few times he managed to get the job done. He was a sweet, caring man and I appreciated his devotion. Although I did not understand it.

I found shortly after that I was now in a different class altogether. I was no longer required to go through the normal newcomer humiliations. I got to skip all that. I was the girlfriend of an old-timer. We were on the cheese list. We got cheese when the others didn’t. The cheese list was important because if you were on it you got all sorts of privileges others didn’t get. 

Jim told me stories about himself. He had been in the Korean War. He had a daughter. I believed him. He seemed so simple and honest. 

He was lying. Jim was a good liar. But I often wondered about those lies. Why did he tell them to me? Why would it matter to me? Why would I care? Did he think it would impress me? Did he not know me to such an extent that he imagined it would matter to me?

He told me two stories that were true; at least the first one was, for sure.

He was shot in the back by a cop. Jim Morris had a ten-year habit. That is unheard of in case you don’t know. Most junkies get busted every six months. That ends their run. This is because they are on the streets dealing with your everyday dealer. But Jim never bought dope on the street. He worked as a bartender at the Disneyland hotel in Anaheim. He led a double life. To supply his secret habit he broke into pharmacies and stole pure morphine. So he never got busted until one night in Redlands an alarm went off. A rookie cop chased him down an alley. In his overzealous effort to prove himself the cop emptied a .357 into an unarmed suspect, hitting Jim in his back a fraction from his spine, blowing his guts into the street. Jim stumbled and fell not knowing he was shot until he reached down and found his guts hot, wet and wrapping around his legs. He had stumbled on his intestines, ripping them further out from his stomach. 

Jim survived. But the morphine they gave him in the hospital did not touch his habit. He was still in tremendous pain and he was kicking. His dope fiend days were over. A couple of years before, his mother sent him for shock treatment to cure him. He remembered nothing, not even who he was, for weeks. But he did find one memory: where his dope was stashed. They could not burn that brain cell out. Shock treatment destroyed most of his memory of his early life, but it didn't cure his addiction. A cop's .357 magnum did that for him. 

His gut shot got infected and they had to let it heal open. He ended up with a wide concave scar on his belly which, for years, was prone to reopen and leak. When I first met him, Jim's diet was mostly Jell-O and Maalox because that was all his intestines could tolerate. But he loved Mexican food so much he ate it relentlessly all his life, suffering miserably all night long afterward. 

So it was that Jim was a sort of hero in Synanon. He beat the system outside for ten years. Even though Synanon people scorned the old dope fiend’s life they never got over hating the system that had tortured and abused them and hated them. Jim’s inevitable fall was dramatic, definite and hard. Still, he survived. He should have been dead, but he got back up again and never ever shot another bag of dope. (Well, I am not so sure of that; at least he never got caught again). 

When Jim called himself a survivor (which he often did) it had a certain authentic ring to it. Eventually I came to see it as a malignancy in itself. All that mattered to Jim was that he survived and he never moved beyond that basic state of being.

Eventually we were married. It was a beautiful wedding. In Mary Pickford’s beach house on the beach in Santa Monica. It was a beautiful house. A two-story Tudor, typical of old LA, Pasadena or Suntan Monica. It had hard wood wainscoting and a sunroom on the beach. This house sits right at Muscle Beach moving towards Venice south of the pier. The Santa Monica pier. 

I know that pier was burned down but I don’t know if it was ever rebuilt. I suppose it must have been. But probably the carousel is gone. The old horses could not be replaced. It was the only real wedding I ever had. And it was the only wedding in which I said to myself, “Not likely,” when they asked, “Do you take this man till death do you part?” 

I couldn’t wait to get away from there. To get out of the wedding. To go to Pismo Beach where we would be out of Synanon for a week. Just Jim and me. Doing what we wanted without those measured looks from the others. I had found that even though Jim was an old timer he was no different from me. He was the Jim Morris he was expected to be but he did not buy half of it. He was as negative as I was. He was my friend. We understood each other. We did not have to pretend to be something we were not when we were out of the shadow of the facility. We both wanted desperately to be somewhere else but we were afraid of what would happen if we were not there. So by Synanon standards we had a negative relationship. What bound us together was a dislike of regimentation. 

Not long after we were married, I learned that Jim had no future in Synanon. He was well loved but he was incompetent. He was shuffled from one job to another. He was always fired but always in a nice way until finally he was the bus driver. They tried to make it a big deal. Bus driver of Synanon’s first Synacruiser, but it was still bus driver. 

Then he wrecked the bus. Jim was never good at driving. Whatever distracted him he tended to drive right towards it. It was not more than a month before Jim crashed the new bus into a cliff on Mulholland Drive while taking the big shots on a tour of LA. I had been waiting for that one. Certainly I would never board a bus driven by Jim Morris.

Although I had married him in the hope of gaining more power, I now realized I had been in error. Jim Morris was not taking me to the top. Women themselves had no chance of getting to the top; gays had even less chance to advance. Women had to have a man. Synanon founder Chuck Dederich said early on that women never got along well. They were constantly involved in one or another melodrama and melodrama was not what he wanted in a leader. I finally realized that you did not want to express any deeply felt feelings in the game after you became an old-timer because you would be tagged a loser. Once tagged you could never reverse the loser label. The most minor misstep was unforgiven, and only proved once again that you were a loser. All women were in that loser category in Chuck’s mind. Women must be married and the husband was all that mattered. I had chosen poorly. Jim was perceived as weak. He was permanently tagged a loser. A much-beloved loser, but a loser nonetheless.

Still, there was a bond between us that could not be broken. He loved me, really loved me. I could not imagine why. But I was the one he had chosen to be the great love of his life. I needed him because no matter what I did I was still perfect to him.

Then Chuck called the Albatross Stew. 

He had been taken with the notion that the women were not supporting their husbands. The husbands were gathered together in a game. The wives were placed on a bench outside the group and one by one called in. I sat there for eight hours in the middle of the night drinking spoiled orange juice to keep awake. 

Finally they called me in to ask me why I did not respect my husband. Arrogantly I said, “When he does something to make me respect him I will respect him.”  That statement was met with total wrath. Jim sat there pale and numb. Unable to speak. I had hurt him to the heart. But I was not repentant. 

They sent me back to the bench for 12 hours and called me back in. I had just watched a good friend who was eight months pregnant consent to crawling across the floor, her belly dragging the carpet with a wrench tied around her neck to kiss the feet of her mechanic husband and beg his forgiveness. For what? I wondered in a silent rage. What had proud beautiful Barbara ever done to deserve this humiliation? She had a good job in accounting. She was always smiling, never failed to get to work. Then she would go home to fix dinner and clean for her half-wit husband. 

Before I saw that, I was weakening a little, thinking if I just gave them what they wanted I might shorten my time in purgatory. I am not saying I would have given in to that weakness of will, but it was playing around on the edges of my mind. After seeing what happened to Barbara I realized I would never give in no matter what it did to my husband’s fragile ego. I dug in for the long fight. 

They called me in again and again. I unerringly repeated my snarling contempt for Jim Morris and all of them. That evoked the ecstatic wrath of all the so-called men in the room except for poor Jim who sat white-faced and silent. 

I don’t know how many more times this trying to break me down was repeated. Several days I am sure. No sleep. One garish travesty after another. One quiet, kind young Ute woman was cast out of Synanon and her husband was told he was lucky to be unburdened of her. He belatedly gathered up his balls and numbly said he was going with her. He was jeered out of the room. Called a faggot and a ball-less wonder. But he walked with what little dignity he had left to join his wife in her exile. 

Tampering with marriage had only just begun, although I never stayed for the final act. Chuck eventually divorced everyone in Synanon. His claim was that these were loveless habitual relationships. Then he had everyone bid for a new partner. 

Nobody wanted Elsie Albert. She was a birdlike church soprano who had followed her piano-playing dope fiend husband into Synanon. They had a 30-year, solid, healthy marriage. No one chose Elsie. She suffered that great humiliation while watching Howard coo and fawn over his new, much younger mate. 

But that day in the Albatross Stew I knew that Synanon had finally careened out of control. I knew then that the path was by now set in stone. Everything clicked into place for me.

In truth, I had quietly watched Chuck build this machine of madness for years. Almost from day one I had heard him say things that made me shiver. I would tell myself he could not have meant that the way it sounded. Things will stay the same. He will not act on these ideas he mulls around. But as time went on he did act on them. He started driving the dope fiends out and pulling in rich, neurotic people who did not have the knack the dope fiends had for saying whatever was expected while quietly holding all their cards close to their chests. He became frustrated with us. He said we were poorly educated, inept, not up to the task of running a multi-million dollar corporation. He said we would never be cured. We were useless to him. Dinosaurs. Unable to make the leap into his newly created 21st century. He blatantly extolled the virtues and superiority of some lame insurance broker over us. He started to systematically drive us out, replacing us with the  neurotic zombie-like ,non-dope-fiends who did exactly as they were told and had the misfortune of actually believing what he said was true. He crowed his triumph over us. He had finally found his True Believers. 

His mistake in the beginning was reading Eric Hoffer’s book “True Believers,” in which Hoffer claimed that the drug addict, if he could be converted, would be the true believer, because drug addicts had obsessive personalities and would trade their obsession with heroin for an obsession with their savior. 

Hoffer was wrong, as Chuck eventually learned. Take heroin out of the equation and you still have an outlaw. Junkies are law-abiding citizens for the most part. The only crimes a junky commits are crimes of necessity. Take away the need and they are not interested in crime for the sake of easy money. They want respect, power and nice things. They are above average in intelligence. The dope fiend life has taught them that you can never put all your eggs in one basket. You never tell all you know. You become two people. Inside you are hard. Outside you are congenial. Your heart is well guarded. You have seen everything. You know that you have survived by sheer luck and nerve and cunning. No one will ever get you again. Because living straight and playing the straight world’s game is peanuts compared to what you have survived in the old life. You believe in nothing. You trust no one. You have learned a detachment from pain, misery and death — whether your own or someone else's. You never give in to your emotions. 

I have been told that we are cold, heartless people. Capable of doing anything without remorse. I can not say that is not true. After all, we have already done some very ugly things and we do not, in truth, feel remorse. We simply did what we had to do at the time. No other options came to mind. So that is how it will be until the day we die. 

I suppose being a junky is like being in Vietnam. Except nobody forced you to go shoot up dope. You did it to yourself. It changed you radically. You will never see things again like a normal person. An ex-dope-fiend is not true believer material, as Chuck eventually came to see. He felt ripped off. He showed it. 

What he didn’t see was that we loved him. We did not think he was God, as he wanted us to. We saw him as a wonderful, brilliant, but severely flawed man. By balking at his grand, mad ideas we were truly showing our love for him. By ignoring his glorious impractical edicts we were saving him from himself. We were all that stood between him and madness. He didn't need yes men. He needed the balance we gave him. But he never saw it and he drove us out, eventually destroying everything we had built. He will go into history as a nut case who put rattlesnakes in people’s mailboxes instead of the man who changed the course of treatment of addiction forever. He was left with no followers — except a handful of old dope fiends who could never bring themselves to leave him.

However, I would leave him. I was going whether Jim went or not. We had talked about it before, but Jim always said he had no skills, and that he was too old at 30-plus to start over. But now I knew I was going with him or without him.

Of course we had no money. We were what were called Synanon employees so we received $100 a month each. But then Synanon demanded that if we were loyal Synanon people we would donate it back to Synanon. A list was posted monthly on the bulletin board glorifying the idiots who did that. Our names never appeared on that list, but a hundred a month was not enough money to make a start in the outside world.

Then Jim’s parents came for an obligatory visit. His mother loved him dearly, but his stepfather, who controlled the money, was still greatly embarrassed over his stepson’s front-page arrest in Redlands where step dad was a member of the city council. Jim's parents found us with shaved heads and wearing uniform bib overalls because that was the current look the old man had deemed appropriate. His mother Ruline said this is just like Nazi Germany. I said, “Exactly.” So it was then easy to extract the money we needed from them to escape.

My parents were not a problem. They did not have a lot of money like Jim’s parents, but unlike Jim's stepfather they were willing to take us in. To avoid having us around, Jim's family paid for us to go to Moab. I knew then we were free. 

Quite honestly I believe that the happiest time of Jim’s life was the time we spent in Moab. All Jim ever wanted was to be accepted by other men. Men are cruel judges of each other. If you don’t meet the mark they treat you with disdain. That had happened often to Jim and it hurt him. He tried to talk sports. He knew so much about baseball and football but somehow they still judged him lacking as a manly man. But in Moab he made the cut. He got hired by a uranium mine that had just opened. It was a half of mile down. The men in the bar placed bets if this California boy would ever go down that shaft. 

Truth is if not for me he wouldn't have. He threw up at near midnight the first day and claimed to me he had to call in sick. I said, “No you don’t. You can't call in sick your first night.” 

They always started new guys on graveyard shift to weed out the faint of heart. So Jim went, pale and terrified. A lot of miners lost their bet, but my dad won his. Before long they had Jim working a face of ore that was three feet wide and you had to drill laying down and facing up. That mine had filled with sulfur water not a month before. The men loved him. They thought him a bit peculiar because he had a lunch of dark bread and pastrami instead of Wonder Bread and bologna, but they loved his courage. For once I was proud of him. 

But then we began to miss the city. We had friends in Miami. Synanon friends. People who had been through what we had been through. We were still very much Synanon people. We wanted to be with our own kind. People who had been in Synanon.

So we decided to move to Miami. My mother loved Jim. She told me how wrong I was. She thought I was the driving force. She said Jim was happy now and I was only going to destroy him. I knew she was probably right but I was determined. I was moving to Miami. Then my brother decided to go along. He was deep into methedrine. He wanted out of Moab. That made my mother even more angry. But I was relentless. I believed Jim would die in that mine and his boss had told me right out that the best thing I could do was get him out of the mine. Because whether he died now of an accident or later of radiation he would die of that mine. 

I was going to Miami. Jim and my brother Steve were going with me.

It was a long ride. We had to go through Texas. That took 200 years. Once we completed Texas, Florida was just around the corner. We went through Biloxi, Mississippi. Along the beach. Grand old mansions with columns. So beautiful — almost as beautiful as Boonville, but not quite. Then Florida, the turnpike. We were on the East Coast, sailing down to Miami at 90 miles an hour on the Sunshine Expressway! Not a freeway but an Expressway! 

We had jobs already working in a drug program for a Synanon friend. The first night we had the most fabulous dinner on Miami Beach. Seafood gumbo. Never in my life after or before have I eaten such wonderful seafood as we had in Miami. Eating, I was to learn, was the crowning virtue of Miami. 

And drinking, because Miami is a drinking town. The bars are open 23 hours a day. They are required to close for one hour between 5 and 6am. So the party never ends until you yourself decide to end it. Jim and I both had developed a drinking habit so we closed down the bar more often than not. The bars were incredible. There was the Yacht — an actual boat anchored in Biscayne Bay where you had a view from every window. There was Big Daddy’s — 75¢ drinks. All you needed was to ask for a double. There was the Shark and the Tarpon — a private club where the drinks were cheap and the food terrific and they did not have to close at 5am. The restaurants were unbelievably good.

But on the job Jim had begun to show himself incompetent again. His decisions were poor. It often appeared that he did not know what to do with the tough black dope fiends we dealt with. His credibility was sinking. Our Synanon friends in the bar treated him with a degree of disdain. I could see it in their faces. As if he were an ineffectual but ebullient Labrador. I hated it. For him. I was embarrassed that he took their condescending gestures so graciously. I was embarrassed that he behaved as if he did not see their contempt.

And there was another problem. I detested Miami as soon as I saw it. Hotels with cement walls cordoned off the beaches. In California the beach belongs to everyone, but not in Florida. The beach is privately owned. The people dressed up to go to movies. I was a West Coast girl. Jeans and t-shirts were appropriate for almost anything out there. The homes of the parents of our little dope-fiend clients where we were asked to dinner had black servants serving dinner. I found that offensive and uncomfortable and wished they would just ask the poor woman to sit down at the table and eat, then we could all clear the dishes. Everyone was rich, and those of us who were saving their neurotic children were inclined to try to live up to that standard. 

We went to bars several nights a week for expensive drinks. We went out for expensive meals. Everyone does that in Miami. It is worse than Las Vegas for glitz. Nobody thought you were a drunk just because you went out for cocktails after work. Cocaine was everywhere. People went off together suddenly to the bathroom and came back very flushed and suddenly up again. 

I never did much coke. Too expensive in my opinion. But I know Jim did. He never said so, but I could tell. But I drank. I quickly gained a reputation as a tough, hotheaded drinker. I knocked Jim Morris off his chair in more than one bar when he refused to comply with my request to go home. And Jim’s drinking had increased. I had not yet begun to think of him as a pathetic drunk. But I would eventually. 

In Miami everybody drank so it seemed normal to me to drink all the time. I had, however, become weary of the constant war stories. Jim talked constantly to his old Synanon buddies about things that happened when they were shooting dope as if those were the greatest moments of their lives. I was bored by it. The same stupid stories told as if they were great achievements. Jim often invited the other warriors to our house after the bar closed, and they stayed up all night laughing and talking and drinking our booze. I went to bed, shutting the door as politely as I could.

As soon as I got to Miami I knew I was going home to California at the earliest possible opportunity. It took several years because Coast-to-Coast is an expensive move, but eventually a friend I had met in Miami got a job running a drug program in Santa Cruz. I called him and asked him if he could find us jobs. 

His name was Joe Vitanyi. Joe was a great bear of a man. He was born in Rockaway Beach in New York. He was a New Yorker to the bone. Nobody could really be a dope-fiend in his opinion unless you shot dope in New York. So he took people like Jim and I as pale imitators of true dopers. We were California hippies. Weed freaks. Not real dope-fiends. Incense burners. Flower children. But oddly enough Joe was very drawn to the hippie thing in a way. He was very proud to say he had come to California and now wore Birkenstocks! That for him was a very hippie thing. Of course he did wear socks with them. I never wanted to explain to him that by wearing socks he had invalidated the whole Birkenstock hip-a-roo concept. Because Joe was such a child — as big as he was you never wanted to disillusion him. He couldn't handle it. 

But Joe was my friend. He was contemptuous of Jim, although he was always cordial to him. For my sake he did find us jobs running a drug program in Watsonville. We were hired sight unseen. Jim was the Director and I was an Assistant Director.

So we trundled back across the country, leaving my brother who had married the daughter of millionaire whose source of income was always unclear. I learned later that the man ran a large illegal betting business. A millionaire bookie.

In Santa Cruz the drinking continued. But now I saw it differently. Jim had a circle of ex-dope-fiends who went to bars and talked the same war stories as before. They clustered at our house. They sat up late talking and drinking, telling the same old tired war stories. I found it far more irritating than I had in Miami. These people did not treat Jim with contempt like the guys in Miami, but they patronized him. They listened to the same stupid stories night after night, never indicating they had heard it all before. 

They talked to me about Jim's drinking. I told them they should talk to him not to me. Why do you buy him drinks then say he’s a drunk, I asked them? 

Jim kept his job because he always asked me what to do. I made all his decisions for him. What he wore, what he did, what he read. He never read books, but I told him about books I read then he would tell people he had just read this book and talk about it as if he had. 

I was Jim Morris. 

He could do nothing; he could be nothing except what I gave him. I had created this guy. I was sick to death of him and myself. When I met him he was his own self but now I had destroyed him because he was weak, and everything that came out his mouth besides his ridiculous war stories — all of it — was my mind, my decisions, my ideas. And he claimed to love me. More and more I disbelieved him. How could he love someone who hated him so much? But did I hate him? I could not stand for him to touch me. He wanted to touch me. If he walked up to me from behind and tried to embrace me my body instinctively repulsed him. If he tried to hug me, which he often did, I went stiff and waited for him to stop. I could not stop these reactions of mine to him. They were involuntary. I would have liked to be able to let him embrace me simply because he wanted to so much. But I couldn't do it. 

I felt I was to blame for his drinking. Joe convinced me finally that I was not responsible for Jim's bad habits. He said that Jim was drinking because he wanted to drink. That convinced me that I would leave Jim because I was not to blame.

I was attending creative writing classes at nearby Cabrillo College. It was there I met Rick Hepting. He was a strange creature, but I was immediately attracted to him. The teacher seemed to always defer to him. Rick said very little, but what he eventually said was always startling. People wrote things, then read their work in class and everyone commented favorably, as is the Santa Cruz way. 

Everybody except Rick and myself. We both spoke honestly about what we had heard. After a while the group came to focus on us, knowing we would tell them what we honestly thought. He was the smartest man I ever met . Not quite as smart as me, I thought, but he earned my respect and I gave it to him. At least I tried. He was a red-haired man. He had a thick beard, he was 33 years old and recently divorced. Not long after I moved in with him in Santa Cruz.

Jim was devastated. He lost his voice. He could not speak above a whisper. He insisted on sitting there the night I packed my things to leave, his face stricken, talking in a whisper. Eventually he went back to Miami and married a social worker who was well provided for besides her salary. She put him through school and he got a degree in social work. He had a couple of jobs, which he was inevitably fired from. He went back to bartending and he died of cancer when he was in his early sixties.

I never got over Jim. Never understood why I could not love him or why he loved me so unconditionally. How can you love someone who can't love you? But then I have always loved him in my own way. He was always so certain, so predictable. I always knew no matter what I did he was there. If I had called him when he was married to someone else and said I wanted him back he would have come back to me. I never said that when I talked to him on the phone, although sometimes I wanted to because I knew he would come back and I would hate him again and shut down on him and hurt him again, so I never told him those things even when I wanted to. 

Then when he died a door was closed to me. There was no more Jim. No one who would forgive me, just take me up in his arms and care for me forever. So I was alone. There was no going back. But what we went through, Jim and I, from Synanon out into the world — no one can understand that. Only he and I could know what a strange thing it was. I claimed to never love him from the start, but in some ways no one but he could ever really understand me or what I am or what I have become over the years. I told him once that if only he had been a woman we could be good friends, but he was a man and it was impossible. 

He wanted to touch me and I did not want to be touched.

One Comment

  1. chuck dunbar April 14, 2021

    Interesting–and wearying– story of a life that most of us could not imagine. Glad my ventures into the drug world were pretty minimal and left me fairly sensible. I made enough wrong turns and mistakes in life without the help of drugs and that whole delusional, self and soul-destroying world.

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