This is a true story. A story about my city. Chattanooga. I love it like no other. In this city, it’s rare for someone to say, “I love living here.” Mostly you just hear people talk about leaving. People new to the city often complain that it has a way of sucking you in, so you can’t seem to leave, no matter how hard you try.
I’ve always been here. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was born here. I’ve spent many summer looking at the stars. I’ve spent many winters watching the city lights grow in number, year by year.
This is a story about disappearing. For such a small city, it’s so easy to disappear. When you’re gone, you’re gone. Most people forget they ever knew you. I don’t forget.
I met Will in the early summer one year, in a local bar. He was an old man to me. That summer, he told me his years numbered 60. I bought him a beer, and loaned him a cigarette, and he told me stories.
He was a Vietnam veteran. He had shrapnel lodged in his leg and chest from his tour of duty. He came home to find that he couldn’t work anymore from the pain. The Veterans Administration moved him into the Social Security Building, gave him a fixed income and a constantly growing addiction to pain medicine. When I met Will, he was taking 120mg of morphine and 80mg of oxycodone a day.
My wife often remembers the first time I introduced her to Will, pleasantly. She could not hear his name over the noise of the bar. After mistakenly calling him something else, he told her, “My name is Will, but you can call me anything but late for supper.”
Always a smile, always a laugh. A man could hardly have a better disposition.
He once told me that a man can’t tell a lie, it’s a lie that tells a man.
Whenever he got his prescriptions filled, he’d sell his morphine and oxycodone to people he trusted. A fixed income and an apartment in the Social Security Building in Chattanooga is just a small step up from homeless.
One night he came to the bar and sold some pills to several people. He had been drinking and taking the medicines himself, and there was a bit of a mix up. When those people figured out they were taking vitamins instead of opiates, he apologized, and promised to fix the issue.
The last time I saw Will, he was leaving the bar to walk home. He had had a few beers, and I had watched him swallow several pills. I never saw Will again. No one I know has.
A disappearance. It happens all the time. How many people will you forget? How many people will vanish from your life without a second thought?
I’ve often told people that the greatest ability of the human mind is that it is able to forget. I sometimes wonder.
(Chattanooga, A Love Story: fragment 1)
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