Those who treat, define sickness. Those who jail, define crime. But the kindling does not define the flame. Those who are awake will recognize the dream. All power resides within you; freedom can not be granted; it is your birthright—beware those who traffic under its banner, for they bait their words with the totem of tyranny. --Lt. Gov Twnk
Jail had been a perpetually-lit fluorescent hell, but the moment Abigail was buzzed through three sets of security doors outdoors for the first time in 13 days, the intensity of the afternoon sun without shocked her pupils to pinpricks. A corrections officer was set to transport Abigail to her court-ordered home for the next 30 to 90 days, the Hallmark-Oprah Women's Recovery Center in Joliet, IL.
A white transport unit approached. “Abigail Rose?”
“Yeah, that’s me.” She tried to focus on the driver’s face, but it only made her light-drunk eyes hurt worse. The airlock hissed and the rear door retracted. She sat down in the backseat and waited for him to recite all terms-of-service applicable to his duty to transport her, including the use of necessary lethal force, etc., etc., and like a thousand times before, agreed to the terms with her DNA signature on the driver’s outstretched blockpad, tracing the indented circle near the bottom with her index finger. The screen illuminated briefly..
“Identity confirmed, Abigail Rose, citizen,” chirped the pad’s feminine-voiced response.
She had never given it much thought, but as the grid of Chicago’s streets beyond the jail gave way to somber warehouses, Abigail considered that nearly all programmed digital voices were female; speakers, software, home assistants—essentially all the electronic interfaces with which humanity communicated—were helpful, cheery women’s voices. Like secretaries. Centuries of progress, yet a woman’s voice is still the default program choice for the role of assistant.
The Hallmark-Oprah recovery
center was located behind a byzantine network of residential streets,
and the entire perimeter was surrounded by a digital two-and-a-half
dimension privacy screen. The transport vehicle approached the
trillions of mesh-like strands of light forming a simulated glade of
mature deciduous trees, ringed by a dense hedge. The screen extended
unbroken as far as she could see, save the automated entry gate. This
place must be fucking enormous.
The corrections liaison, the fat-necked man who had wordlessly
her the last hour, slowed and rang the entry pad at
the end of the drive.
There was the intake nurse with endless disclosure forms, tissue scans, then a tall, thin chess-piece of a man sent to review her responses to the same ten questions reworded endlessly. On paper no less. He smelled like wheat grass, starch, and coffee.
Sex: Other (always her choice). Race? White/Native American. Twenty-three years old. When did you first begin using drugs? What are your drug/s of choice. What drugs have you used in the last year? Heroin, Dilaudid, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, alprazolam, Soma and all meprobromate analogs, Klonopin, alcohol with any benzo, Adderall, Dexedrine, Butalbital, Fioricet, Fiorinal, hydrocodone, Provigil, Nuvigil. Crack, powder cocaine. Not enough room left on the page to answer completely. Have you ever smoked, snorted, or injected a drug? Yes, yes, yes. Remember, alcohol is a drug. Have you thought about harming yourself intentionally or taking your life in the last month: none at all, on occasion, regularly? Have you made a plan to end your own life? Have you been previously hospitalized for any condition? Do you hear voices that other people can not? Do you ever get the feeling you are being watched? Have you ever had a "blackout" where you can not remember what happened after drinking or using? Have you ever taken psychedelic drugs? If so, what kind? Are you currently prescribed any medications? Have you ever been hospitalized for a psychiatric illness? Have you ever overdosed? Lost a friend, partner, or job because of your addiction?
Doctor Gilbert bellowed a coffee-laced yawn and tapped his pen, reviewed her answers.
"This is quite a list Abigail. I'd say you're lucky to be alive."
"I’d say you are too"
"Right. I see in your file that the courts ordered your stay here. Do you have a personal desire to be clean?"
"Yeah. I mean, I want to stop using hard drugs."
"How long were you, uh, in jail before you arrived?"
"Are you still experiencing any withdrawal?"
"Yes," she replied with perhaps too much emphasis. Hot flashes, insomnia, thought loops, depression, diarrhea, difficulty concentrating. Anger in my heart, my spleen.
"Generally opiate withdrawal has a seven day to three week duration," the doctor pulled a prescription pad from the desk."So you're likely nearly out of the woods...butI don't want you uncomfortable during your stay here. We'll be starting you on Suboxone, just for a few days. Maybe a week. I'll also prescribe Clonodine for breakthrough withdrawal symptoms. I think we can treat your insomnia with 100mg of Trazodone in the evening. I’ll authorize an additional dose if that doesn’t do it. For depression, Amazon HalcyonTX is quite effective. Revolutionary, really.” Starry eyed, she thinks. A fellow pharmacological enthusiast. He stared at her, clicking the pen in and out.
"I don't want to take that HalcyonTX garbage." She had seen the promotions for the medication advertised endlessly. Everyone had. The holographic advertisement stunk of billion-dollar ad budgets. And that fucking voice!
Amazon Medical has partnered with happiness, to bring you HalcyonTX. A new semi-organic/digitally attenuated mood stabilizer that uses the latest in nanopharmaceutical research to work on your neurotransmitters in an adaptive, algorithmic digital transmission from your hopes, desires: your dreams; programmed to work as they were always meant to. Smile again, with HalcyonTX, Amazon helps you be your best self. Exclusively for Prime Members...We're in this together.
"You know, it's quite an opportunity. Amazon Pharmaceutical providing HalcyonTX free of charge is something a lot of people wish they could have. We’re one of their clinical testing sites, which, I, uh, am obliged to tell you. It's a true breakthrough in how we treat depression. We wouldn't want to miss the opportunity, with so much at stake, would we?" The doctor's voice was less casual now.
"I guess you're right.”
"Now it's not just going to work all by itself. You'll be seeing one of our qualified therapists three times weekly for Neuro-Harmony sessions; these are a powerful breakthrough in addiction treatment. Used in adjunct with HalcyonTX, they allow us the ability to not just attenuate biofeedback, but to literally reprogram the reward circuitry that your brain has formed around Untaxable drugs’ effects, and to tie them back to the baseline pleasure response the human brain—your brain specifically—formed before your addiction!” A fellow The man was practically giddy. She thought the whole things sounded absurd.
“But the core of our program is an updated twelve-step model, of course." Doctor Gilbert pushed his glasses down and smiled at her.”
She could see the anemone-like liquid contraction of the doctor’s e-contacts focusing in overlapping threads against his irises, like the aperture of some antique 3-dimensional camera. The same burning sensation in her gut that always accompanied a man’s stare, that kind of stare. The one that revealed their true nature. Sexual robots. Designed to respond to genetic cues, the amount of fat in the right places to ensure the survival of their...offspring.
"If you would please lie back on the table for me, I'm just going to scan for any disease signatures, check your vital organ functions." Dr. Gilbert's smile widened. Had he been smiling the whole time?
“Welcome to group, everyone, I’m Counselor James, and I’m a recovering addict.”
“Hi Counselor James,” twenty-some women unenthusiastically respond.
He surveyed the women seated on folding chairs formed into a circle. His gaze and smile landed on Abigail, sitting cross-armed and staring down at her worn black shoes.
“We have a newcomer to group, would you mind introducing yourself, and telling us a bit about what brought you here, what you hope to accomplish at treatment, and how you’re feeling today?”
The counselor had a facial tic, and his speech was punctuated by a slight snort. Abigail’s heartbeat quickened, and she felt the heat of dozens of eyes fixed on her.
“Ok, ahm. I’m Abigail. I’ve been using drugs most of my life. Started smoking pot when I was twelve, spent much of my high school years taking acid and mushrooms. I never quite saw psychedelics as drugs, or pot...I wanted to explore alternate realities, understand my spirit…” she heard a little bird-like giggle from someone to her right. “Anyway. I was babysitting my neighbor’s kids when I was seventeen. While they were napping I went through the medicine cabinet and found a bottle of Vicodin and helped myself. I recall thinking...this is how I’ve always wanted to feel. Just warm and calm and...right. My teen idols, Basquiat, Burroughs, Kurt Cobain, Lou Reed, they had all made opiates...well, heroin seem romantic, so it seemed that if I wanted to follow a certain path, creatively, that was just what I would do...at least try it. I started shooting up when I was eighteen and was really in love with it pretty quickly. I’ve been doing dope every day for, I don’t know, three or four years now. Right now I’m feeling pretty shitty. I went through the worst of withdrawal in jail...I was arrested after I overdosed. My ex, Adan, called an ambulance. I was revived with Narcan and woke up covered in my own puke, and Adam was gone. I’m here mainly because of the court. It was either get sentenced to the server farms, or...come here. I guess.” She trailed off and felt like running out of the room.
“Well, we’re certainly glad you’re here, Abigail. I’m sure many of your peers can relate to that experience. I know I can. Group, can anyone here identify with Abigail’s story?” He crossed his stubby legs and looked around the room.
“I know what it’s like, hon,” said a slight woman near the counselor.
“Your name please? Remember group. We..urp, hicasshhh...ahayam. We always introduce ourselves the first time we speak,” said Counselor James, his neck stiffening and looking as if her were having a micro-seizure, snorting, flinging his head back. The woman waited for his spasm to pass, and his mental-health-professional ‘sincere, not just listening to you, but also for you’ expression to return.
The woman continued, and Abigail struggled to listen, she could only focus on the Counselor's face in her peripheral vision, it had become pale, sweaty, anxious, and she felt him staring into her, through her, into some secret place she didn't yet know existed. An enormous reservoir of suffering and desperation whose contours he probed for weakness. The Halcyon was taking effect. Hadn’t they said it took a week to kick in?
The days started to blur. Breakfast on a cafeteria tray, then three pastel pills from the nurse’s station, then group therapy, journalling before lunch, Neuro-Harmony sessions began somewhere during the second week, the details were getting fuzzy.
“To begin, we’ll get this headset fitted for you—looks a bit silly, huh?” Counselor James held up what looked like a matte white bicycle helmet, and turned it over so she could see the underside. Dozens of ridges covered in a metallic tin-foil sheen, like those emergency thermal blankets. It looked fairly harmless, she thought. “Now I’ll ask you to sit here,” he approached a swivel chair mounted near the office’s loveseat, it’s back facing them, and started fumbling with an instrument panel near the chair’s right armrest.
Abigail rose slightly and peered at her open case file on his desk. She had watched this folder get passed from one member of the rehab’s staff to another, and it had grown in thickness as the days had passed. The photograph the intake nurse had taken of Abigail upon arrival was not paper clipped in its usual position of the inner left folder. She became uneasy; her photograph sat askew in the Counselor’s top desk drawer, hastily half-shut. Her dark hair, a gift from her Cherokee grandmother, and her mother’s mischievous smile peered back at her. Her own face seemed like a caricature of her ancestors, women who raised her seeming to cry out from behind her own brown eyes in the photo. Why had he removed the photo from her file? Why did her own face seem not her own?
“Well, I suppose we can get started, I’ve got the initial settings,” he caught her gaze and the Counselor’s head jerked back in the spasmodic tic that the other patients incessantly mimicked. The result of a cocaine overdose in his bygone party days. He saw what she was looking at, and hobbled over, “Oh, what, would you look at that, must’ve fallen right out of your chart.” He snatched the photo out of the drawer, placed it back on top of her case file paperwork, and closed the folder. She stopped chewing the gum that had lost it’s flavor an hour before, and met his gaze, and involuntarily looked down at his shoes: casual black leather, black laces...but one shoe had a platform, two or three inches high, the other as ordinary as any shoe. “I was born, ah, with one leg shorter than the other.” James said. She felt sorry for this overly asymmetric man. A man who couldn’t speak more than three sentences without his neck jerking back, accompanied by that crisp exhale-hiccup sound, like a bodybuilder imitating the sound of being punched in the stomach by a kid, pretending it hurt.
He seemed harmless, even a touch pathetic, she thought. He probably had just dropped her photo opening the chart. She didn’t let the alternatives play out in her mind. Abigail smiled.
“Well, I’m ready for the chair, warden.”
They both snickered and made their way to the chair, now glowing a soft blue at it’s edges. He was still snickering as he interrupted his own explanation of the Neuro Harmonic chair and headset operation. “Oh, ha, ha! Blehp,” his head jerking back, “that was a good one.”
Karen had been waiting as long as she can remember for something to happen. Something that would define her life, her life’s work, and its ultimate direction. As a healer, this goal sometimes felt fulfilled by the thread of people she helped free themselves of illusion, illness, and fear. But that thread had diminished after she’d lost her license to practice.
The laminated sheets were passed around the room, and she ended up with one titled “How the Program Works.” Everyone else in the room seemed to be talking to someone. Abby drank the stale coffee and kept her eyes on the table.
“Alright everybody, welcome to the New Beginnings 7pm meeting of Untaxable Euphorics Anonymous, my name is Tara and I’m an addict.” The leader of the meeting looked genuinely cheerful, and tucked her short gray hair behind her ears.
“I’d like to start the meeting with the Tranquility Prayer. I’ve asked Tammy to lead us tonight.”
Abigail shifted in her seat rolling her eyes beneath closed eyelids, and followed along for the first few words of the prayer.
“Benevolent spiritual entity, please grant me the tranquility, to accept the terms of agreement, which no one can change, the courage to abide by their direction, and the wisdom to display my deference. Amen.”
“Amen,” Abigail stirred more powdered creamer into the styrofoam cup of coffee, and eyes the Exit sign by the hallway.
“So if I were to offer only one piece of advice to a new medical examiner, it’s this: never have sex with the bodies. No matter how attractive, or alive they are when they arrive.”
“Listen, I know it’s old-fashioned to proffer any exclusionary doctrine, especially around one’s sexual inclinations. It can just, get messy. Oh, it starts off innocent enough, no one’s around, you’re pulling a late shift, smoothing the inner walls of some poor strangulation victim’s trachea, and, well one thing leads to another…” Coleman drops the last of the scalpel in the autoclave, turning to Gabriel, the newest assistant Medical Examiner.
Gabriel backs up from the table.
“Hah! I’m a dog! You shoulda seen the look on you face! “
“This is Dreamer,” Karen, propping the screen door open, and motioning to the short man approaching them. Abigail, feeling nervous for the first time since entering the reservation, extends her thin hand towards him.
“Hello, it’s so...it’s such an honor to meet you,” says Abigail, meeting Dreamer’s intense gaze as he softly clasps her hand with his own. There is laughter in the man’s eyes, a wisdom and strength she recognizes. The smile he offers radiates into her, his spirit seems to fill the entire trailer, like fire, trailing out the open windows and into the barren landscape beyond.
On the wall was an old paper map of the USA; most of the northeast coastal states were still on it. Written in black bold marker above the longitudinal lines—The Occupied Territories of the United States. Chunks of the map were cross-hatched in areas that at first glance Abigail thought looked familiar. She surveyed the rest of the trailer’s interior; sparse, fruit crates filled with maps, a carved tree branch in the shape of a jaguar devouring a serpent. Dreamer sat on a loveseat and with a grin, followed her eyes as they landed on a still-drying clay square mounted where a monitor would normally be.
“Karen has told me all about you Abigail. I hear you’ve been filled in on the First Nations’ general plan. What we have not told you is that we have proposed a return of the National Parks to the Native Peoples,” said Dreamer.
He motioned to the reservation beyond the trailer. “The United States are occupied territories. The whole country is living a collective hallucination that the facts are otherwise.”
“I don’t understand, what do the parks have to do with…”
“Everything!” he cuts Abigail off. Her eyes betray a mild frustration. “The parks belong, like the rest of North America, to our people. These were chosen for their beauty, splendor, the jewels of America, si? Look out the window. What do you see?”
“What else do you see?”
Thinking this is a trick question, she answered “Nothing.”
“Exactly. Nada. No elk, no buffalo, no children playing, no water. Not even a single tree. This. This is the land we were ‘given’ by our occupiers. We were murdered, displaced, disinherited...but, hey, we can buy cigarettes, alcohol, tax free. We can build casinos.”
We have waged a war whose bunker has been time. The elders from the Nine Tribes have met in secret for many decades. We can not win our land back with combat. Many felt that if we just waited out the white man, the sickness that he has brought on our land, that we would again rightfully assume our place as the habitants of this land. A group of us, the leaders of the Ute, Navajo, Paiute, Anasazi, Cherokee, Pueblo, Choctaw, Sioux, and Apache Nations began last summer to...carry forward an old war. And with old tactics. And we want you, Abigail, to help us.”