John E. Swan: An Excerpt

An interesting side effect of indiscernible alcoholism is that, sometimes, after drinking heavily and to the point of severe drunkenness very, very often, your liver will start to ache and throb; will start to make obscure sounds and you begin a daily routine of surveying your own body every morning; will search every single inch for new and unusual wounds or contusions, subsequently creating explanations for these inexplicable markings.

No one will be impressed.

A noteworthy byproduct of trying to poison oneself is that, at a point, when you very first fear death, you may resolve to stop, not quit.

Stop, because nobody likes a quitter.

When this happens, you will likely forget how to sleep.

‘Insomnia’ is not the right word, though it’s the one that most readily comes to mind.

When that happens, you will find yourself watching infomercials intently, interested primarily in the trivial bonus features. This will always be after the hour of midnight, on absolutely any given day of the week and at that particular point, you may realize that something has gone terribly awry.

Something is wrong. Something is out of place.

The television, or more accurately, someone on the television, will tell you that, weighing in at just under eight pounds, the Turbo Deluxe Pro sports a thirty foot extension cord, allowing you to clean absolutely anywhere in your house at absolutely any time and because your brain and your liver will have had some time to dry out, you’ll think to yourself that a person who hasn’t paid their electric bill wouldn’t find any of that very useful at all.

Shortly after that it will occur to you that a person who isn’t paying their electric bill is probably not at all concerned with the idea of vacuuming their floors and you’ll be very, very proud of your sobriety induced levelheadedness and temporary rationale.

These bouts of clarity will typically only last up to a week after any given resolution and will inevitably succumb to your screaming insomnia, resulting in a suffocating blanket of guilt and self-loathing.


Chasing sleep, your eyes heavy, reddened, lined with broken blood vessels, you’ll start making phone calls that will disappoint your loved ones; will search out different colored candies that will help you to forget important information, such as your name or date of birth.

This, in accordance with your resolve to abstain from drinking alcohol, for whatever that may be worth.

Ignore this.

It isn’t happening at all.

If you weren’t quite certain of the already blurred line dividing your skewed sense of reality from some incredibly loose definition of a lucid dream before the colored candies, this will be doubly so now, and you will oftentimes find yourself repeating things time and again at home, at work and to yourself on short car rides to and from the store.

That these repetitions are both incessant and transparent will be of no discernible consequence to you, as by now, you will have forgotten their respective premises, a side effect inherent in your new colored candies. You’ll listen to yourself as intently as you once watched your infomercials, which is good, because at this point, no one else will really be listening to you; but ultimately unimportant, as you won’t remember any of this anyway.

You will ramble, and ramble, and ramble, and…

All of this will make you a redundant and generally undesirable person, and so you will eat more of your colored candies, forgetting that you are redundant; that you are undesirable; happy with yourself for not drinking, though oblivious to the irony of this situation and impressing absolutely nobody but yourself.

Now your smile will look incredibly stupid.

Ignore this.

It isn’t happening at all.


At a point, the beautiful blue and yellow candies, they will get demolished and turned into a very fine powder and shoved deep into your nasal cavities by means of a very crude funnel fashioned from a dollar bill, because you haven’t any larger bills.

This will, of course, create a more clear and immediate path to the frontal cortex of your brain, slowly imparting irreparable damage, though it won’t matter a whole lot to you.

By now, you will not have had a drink in nearly six weeks, for whatever that’s worth.

At this point, sleep will no longer be an issue, and in fact, almost the only thing that you’ll be able to manage to do is sleep, or more to the point, all that you will be certain of is that you are achieving some vague and measurable equivalent to the notion of sleep.

All of this, without the aid of alcohol, which isn’t worth a god damned thing.

In light of this new and semi narcoleptic development, more disappointing phone calls will be made; an entirely different color of powder will bellow through the fine black hairs lining your nostrils, destroying them in much the same way that avalanches will sometimes destroy the trees in heavily wooded areas, but you will, for the most part, be awake now.

Consequently, you will talk a lot, but to no one in particular, as, by now, your girlfriend will have left indefinitely. A post it note, dated for days past, that she’s adhered to your forehead, will inform you that she’s gone to her mother’s for now, but that you should pack your things and leave immediately.

Upon this realization, you’ll note that most of your friends will now have careers that require they wear things like khaki slacks and button down shirts and they will use words that you don’t quite understand; words such as, “commute,” or “four-oh-one-kay,” or “mortgage,” or “refinance.”

They’ll be having children and buying houses and it will be understood that in the interest of maintaining the integrity of their nice things, and in the interest of maintaining their children’s innocence, it would be best that you not come around, showing your face, reddened with too much alcohol, your frequent and inexplicable nosebleeds and incessant nodding off.

You’ll wonder how long you’ve been asleep.

This is when things get ugly and then much, much uglier.

This is the part where you’re in hell.

The rest of this sucks.

The rest of this is extremely hard and all of it really hurts a lot.

To an extent, you shut down, or are at least a lot more of a shadow.

In the morning, and into the bathroom mirror, you say to yourself, “Good luck.”

And you take up drinking again.


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