Ray Clarke was trying to listen to the speaker to his right side as she droned on about the damage her addiction to Keebler Fudge Stripes, and the even larger monster, Little Debbie Honey Buns had done to her life. He tried not to look at her, just listened to her words, because she looked weird to Ray. One of those women that had been super obese, but had lost all of the weight, except for the huge breasts that fronted an upper torso that could have been used as a side of a barn at one time, and rolled around underneath her loose sweatshirt like used car tires. Probably couldn’t find a bra big enough to pin them down. South of the boobs, her abdomen tapered sharply into a waistline that topped a board flat ass held up by two sticks that had once resembled bridge pylons, and her name was Clara, but in Ray’s mind, a Clara should be a tiny woman with curly, brown hair. Clara had described in detail, how she could eat four buns at a crack, and at 230 calories/13 grams of fat-6 saturated/less than 1 gram of fiber, and 13 grams of sugar per bun, created an overdose of junk food that deserved its own food group, and when on a serious bender, she could do this five times a day, and that was on top of the rest of the horrible shit she would cram down her throat. Ray thought she was being a little tough on herself, but, hey, if that’s what keeps a girl sober.
Her visceral description of her cravings made Ray wince with the memories of his own insatiable desires that had finally landed him in the saving graces of Food Addicts in Recovery three times every week for the past six months. His wife, Wendy had given him two choices, either a twelve-step program, or a divorce. Take your pick mister. He picked FA. He had considered AA, but he didn’t drink much, and was concerned about identifying with alcoholics. True, they were both addicts, but Ray had never been on a blackout drunk binge, and forgot he had a family for a couple months, a job, or what he had done the night before. No one had ever come up to him and told him he had puked all over their back seat, or tried to hustle his wife, telling her that she was the best looking piece he had ever seen, when in truth, she was ugly as mud. So, after some research generously done by Wendy, he had picked FA as the best hope for him. This was after he got out of the hospital.
He figured Clara was sliding into her wind down since he had heard her talk before, and he was next in line, and as he reviewed what he wanted to say, his mind traveled back in time a year when his addiction grabbed him from out of the blue, and stole his life, and soul.
It began innocently enough one beautiful afternoon in late October, over a year ago. He had pulled up curbside at Mrs. Creda’s to give her lawn it’s final mow for the season. She was in her garden with a spear-head shovel in her hands, digging. She was a darling, tiny woman with an even tinier voice as if her vocal cords had never aged past year six, and she was one of Ray’s favorite customers. He’d been mowing her lawn for years.
Before hopping on his mower, he walked over to greet her, and hand out some compliments on the garden, which he knew she loved to hear, but always played modest when it happened. He felt relaxed, and lazy with the stress of the busy summer season gone, and decided to offer his help with the digging. After all, Mrs. Creda was in her eighties. He loved his elderlies, his name for his customers in their seventies or more. Most of them lived in either Lakewood, or Wheat Ridge just west of the big city boundary. As they struggled with chores they had outlived, Ray would help out while acting amazed at their achievements. His whole purpose was to make them feel good about the little bit of effort left in their bodies.
She was digging carrots, her favorite vegetable.
“Oh, Ray, I’m so glad you’re here. I want you to take some carrots home to Wendy, and have her cook some up with a pot roast. They’re delicious.” She was beaming like she had just dug up a thirteen-carat diamond. She held out a handful.
Ray grinned at her, and said, “Mrs. Creda, thank you. I love fresh carrots. Want some help?” He couldn’t actually remember the last time he had eaten a carrot, but why hurt her feelings? Ray believed in the power of white lies.
“No thank you, dear. Get your work done. I know how busy you are.” She smiled at him in appreciation.
As she handed Ray several carrots, she described them like a carrot geneticist. “ These reddish-orange carrots are called Royal Chantenay. They do so great in this heavy soil, and are as sweet as candy. Tender, too.” She tried to shake some of the clingy clay off them. “And, here, have some Short ‘n Sweets. They’re even sweeter than the Royals.” More dirt shaking.
“Yeah! Wendy’s gonna love getting her hands on these,” Ray crooned. Wendy’s idea of cooking was to microwave a bag of popcorn.
“Tell her to put them in with the roast,” Mrs Creda advised, “and don’t microwave them. Dries them out.”
Ray wondered what the dried carrots were gonna taste like.
Mrs. Creda looked into his eyes angelically, and said, “Ray, dear, why don’t you take a few over to the hydrant, wash them off, and try a couple. They make a wonderful snack, and they’re much healthier for you than the beef jerky I always see you munching.”
Ray was on the spot, and let go of the bag of jerky in his pocket. He’d sneak a little later.
“I’ll just do that,” he crowed like she had just handed him a double cheeseburger.
Ray slipped over to the hydrant, and washed all the dirt off, and pulled out his lockblade, and removed the tops.
“Thanks for the snack, Mrs. Creda,” he sang out. “I’ll munch on these while I mow. Better get busy.”
“Ok, Ray. Enjoy.” She went back to digging. She was tiny, but tough.
Ray stuffed the carrots into a pocket of his cargo shorts, unloaded his Wright Stander mower, and took off across a large section of bluegrass. He made a couple passes before he noticed Mrs. Creda had stopped digging, and was watching him. Uh, oh, he thought. Better eat some carrots, so he pulled a couple out, and started munching, acting like he was happily eating an ice cream sundae.
Mrs. Creda watched him for a bit, and turned back to her digging, all smiles. Ray was thinking, is there anything I won’t do to kiss ass?
It took about two-thirds of the lawn, and three more carrots before Ray realized how many he had devoured. He wanted more. By the last pass around the lawn, he was out of carrots, and he hadn’t even been hungry. He was just schmoozing a customer, but now he felt like stopping by Kings, and picking up a bag before his next job.
As if mind-reading, Mrs. Creda was waiting for him with a bagful by his truck.
“Ray, I saw how you ate all your carrots, so I bagged you some more,” She offered with her tiny voice. “There’s some Little Fingers, a couple bunches of Boleros, just a few Ithacas, and more Royals, and Short ‘n Sweets. I tagged them all for you. Let me know what you think.” She handed them to Ray like they were fine china.
“Wow! Thank you, thank you! I never had such good carrots,” Ray stated sincerely. He wasn’t sure he had ever had carrots. “Mrs. Creda, you’ve turned me on to a new snack.”
She laughed gaily, and with her miniature voice said,”So, no more beef jerky, right Ray?”
“Absolutely! See you later, Mrs. Creda.” It would be a very long time before he ate another piece of jerky.
“Bye, Ray,” she replied. She gave him a little smile, and a wave.
Ray made it three blocks to the city park around the corner. He shot through the entrance, and parked his truck and trailer in a corner of the lot, jumped out with his bag of carrots, and rushed to the toolbox where he kept his water jug, the orange one with the Broncos logo. He untied a bunch of Boleros, and spread them across the tailgate he had flung open, and quickly rinsed them off. He lopped off the tops with his lockblade like a pro chef, and with one bite had half a Bolero in his mouth chewing it like a starving horse. He was thinking, these fuckin’ Boleros were just as good as the Short ‘n Sweets.
He stood there with his eyes closed, face turned to the sun, feeling the autumn rays bathe him in warmth. He felt damn good. He fed a handful of carrots into his mouth like it was a brush chipper in high gear. After several Boleros, and Little Fingers, he realized something very strange was happening to him, and he beat back his craving before he swallowed every carrot in the bag, and forced himself to leave the park.
Ray had never been addicted to anything, didn’t believe in it, nor had he ever experienced a food craving. Oh, sure, he loved the smell of frying bacon on a Saturday morning, and his mouth watered over Thanksgiving turkey, but he figured that was normal. Craving carrots wasn’t normal. What the fuck was going on here? Who in the history of humanity had ever craved a carrot? Better Google it. Was his body deficient in something inside a carrot’s chemistry? Google it.
Ray headed for his next job, resisting the urge to grab another carrot. This had turned into one weird day for sure. He didn’t know what was happening to him, but he was pretty sure it was a simple need his body was experiencing, and would go away after all of the carrots were eaten. He sure felt strange though. If he could have peered into his tormented future, he would have sought treatment immediately. Instead, he called Wendy.
“You finishing up for the day, honey?” Wendy answered.
“Uh, no. Just a couple more. Was calling to see what you were planning for dinner.” His carrot craving was making him shaky.
“Oh, I thought I’d pan fry some burgers, and toss a salad.” This was gourmet cooking for Wendy. “Why do you want to know?” Ray wasn’t a picky eater.
For the first time in Ray’s simple life, he manipulated someone. He said smoothly, “You know honey, Mrs. Creda gave me a bag of fresh carrots, and she recommended trying them in a pot roast while their fresh, which won’t last for long, so I got to thinking we should try one tonight, if possible.” Mrs. Creda had told him they would keep for weeks.
“How do you cook a pot roast?” Wendy asked.
“I dunno. Call your mom. She’s a good cook,” Ray exaggerated.
“Just what the hell does that mean mister? That my cooking sucks?” Wendy sounded hurt.
“No, no, no honey. I just meant she has more experience,” Ray bullshitted. Her mom couldn’t cook worth a damn either. “Might could find a recipe online,” he suggested.
“Alright. You don’t ask for much, so I’ll do my best,” Wendy conceded. “Might take a couple hours, so I’ll look real quick on the computer, and run over to Kings, and grab a small roast.”
“Your a doll, Wendy,” Ray said thankfully. “Maybe you should pick up a bag of carrots while your there.”
“I thought you said Mrs. Creda gave you a bagful?” Wendy quizzed suspiciously. “And didn’t she say something about using fresh?”
Ray winced, and said, “Well she did, but it was a small bag about half full, and I’ve been snacking on them, so there might not be enough for dinner. We’ll experiment with carrots from Kings, and then cook these tomorrow.” The full-sized grocery bag had been stuffed. Lying came easy to a newborn addict.
“I never knew you to eat carrots, Ray,” Wendy stated even more suspiciously.
“I never have, but their pretty good eating. That’s why I want to try them cooked, and Mrs. Creda also told me they were good for weight loss,” Ray lied. He knew Wendy was always up for weight loss. She thought she was fat by at least five pounds at a hundred and two pounds, and all five of it in her ass. She was so skinny that Ray could just about fit her whole ass in one hand if he squeezed it tight.
“Kay. I’m outta here,” she said. “See you after work. Be home about five?”
“You bet,” Ray chirped.
“Sure hope this dinner isn’t a flop,” Wendy replied as if flopping had never happened before.
“Well, just make sure the carrots are cooked right.”
“What about the carrots Mrs. Creda gave you?” Wendy questioned. “Can’t you drop them off before your next job?”
“No, I’m too far away.” He was two blocks from his house. “Like I said, we’ll eat ‘em tomorrow. Just grab some at Kings. Couple pounds should do it. Gotta go so I can finish up. Bye, honey,” Ray said in a hurry.
“Bye.” A couple pounds? Really?
“Whew! That was close,” Ray said to himself. He reached for a couple more Short ‘n Sweets. Definitely his favorite.
That evening after dinner, Ray and Wendy lounged around watching a movie, full of pot roast. At least Wendy was full of roast. Ray had devoured all but three smaller carrots that he had left for Wendy. Her new recipe included potatoes, and onions, also, but Ray stuck with carrots, and a tiny chunk of roast. Wendy had watched him eating carrots, stunned. Like he was in an eating contest, shoving them in his mouth as fast as he could swallow. Shove, chew twice, and swallow. Reminded her of that skinny woman that ate three Big Texan steak dinners in twenty minutes, or maybe a starving dog. Ray was skinny. Wendy wished she had caught it on video.
“How were the carrots, Ray?” she asked.
“Real good. Got anymore?” Ray was thinking he should check in the fridge. “Think we could do another roast tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” Wendy was staring at him. “By the way, where’s the carrots Mrs. Creda gave you?”
Ray squirmed in his chair, unable to look at Wendy.
“Ray, what is wrong with you? Where’s the carrots?” She was getting annoyed, and nervous. Ray’s carrot eating was bizarre.
He couldn’t come up with a lie. “I ate ‘em all.”
“All of them? No shit?” Wendy was shocked. “Ray, I just watched you inhale almost two pounds of carrots! What the hell is wrong with you?”
Ray decided to come clean with her. She could spot bullshit way before it got too deep, so no point in spreading anymore around. “Honey, I don’t know what’s going on, but ever since I ate the first three carrots Mrs. Creda gave me, I’ve been craving them. My body must need a thing they have in them, or something. I don’t know. But I want more.”
“A thing as in a nutrient?” Wendy questioned.
“Yeah, that’s it, a nutrient,” Ray said, “but all I know is, I get a little rush every time I bite into one, and then after a few minutes, I start craving more, and it hasn’t quit yet.” He jerked up off the sofa, and headed for the kitchen. Wendy soon followed, and found him looking through the fridge’s crispers.
“You cook all the carrots, Wendy?” He was looking desperate, and scratching at an invisible rash on his arm.
“Ray, your scaring the shit outta me!” What the fuck, she thought?
“I know, I know. Looks weird as shit, but look at it this way. Better it was carrots instead of meth,” Ray rationalized.
“Well, you do have a good point there,” Wendy agreed. Months later, she would disagree.
“I’m gonna run over to Kings, and pick up another bag or two,” Ray said. “Hell, it’s probably just a passing need, and be gone in two or three days. Probably a good thing I discovered my deficiency before I got sick.” He gave Wendy a little pat of reassurance on her back, and a peck on her cheek. “Be back in a few.” He trotted out of the house before she could stop him, and jumped in the Malibu, and took off for Kings. He would never forget what happened at Kings for the rest of his life.
Ray walked through the open bay at Kings, said hello to the greeter, turned down a free Denver Post, waited impatiently for the three octogenarians to split up so he could get by, side-stepped around the four hundred pound biker on a motorized cart studying an endcap stocked with candy, and dashed for produce.
He quickly grabbed four, two pound bags of carrots. They were on sale. Was that gonna be enough? Grabbed two more, which made him realize he should have gotten a cart. Fuck it. Just go pay, and leave. On his way back to the front to check out, he passed by an open cooler of juice drinks. That’s when he spotted the bottle of 100% Bolthouse carrot juice. It was only $3.98 for thirty-two ounces. He managed to wrap three fingers around the top of the plastic bottle like a bird claw, and winged it for checkout.
Ray opened a bag of carrots just as soon as he was back in the Malibu. Looked clean enough to him. He bit one in half, laid back in the seat and closed his eyes. A brief feeling of euphoria swept through his body as he chewed, and goose bumps popped up on his arms. He felt great. Eating carrots kind of felt better than sex, and enough better that he decided to open his bottle of juice, and give that a try. He looked around the parking lot before he took a drink almost guiltily as if he was hitting on a bottle of cheap vodka. No one was watching, so he upended the juice, and took a big hit. It was ten minutes past seven, and twilight was descending upon him.
He became aware of a loud noise entering his left ear. His body jerked in surprise, and he swiveled his head around to peer out the window. It was dark outside. A security guard was shining his flashlight right into his eyes while barking at him to roll his window down. Ray felt like he was returning from outer space as he powered down the glass.
“What’s going on here?” a large uniformed man with a shaved head demanded. “You been drinking?” He was armed, and looking for a target.
Ray looked down at the seat, and his eyes found the empty juice bottle. When did that happen? “Just this stuff.” He showed the guard the bottle.
“Been smoking weed then?” Ever since marijuana was legalized, people thought they could smoke anywhere. They couldn’t. Mr. Skinhead had voted against legalization.
Mr. redneck guard made a big deal out of fiddling with his gun, and said, “I’ll have to hold you for arrest if you’ve been huffing weed.”
“No, no, really officer, I just drank this juice,” Ray exclaimed nervously. “Honestly, I don’t hardly even drink, and I never smoke weed. I’m just real tired from work, and must have dozed off.” This could get weird, and all over some carrot juice.
“What’s in the bag?” Kojak demanded.
Ray couldn’t remember, and peered into it as he showed the guard.
“Carrots?” The guard was staring at Ray suspiciously. “You passed out after drinking a bottle of carrot juice, with a big bag of carrots on the seat next to you? No shit? Is there something about carrots I don’t know about?” The guard leaned towards Ray, and saw the half eaten carrot in Ray’s lap. “Hell, dude, you got carrots in your lap!” He put his hand back on his gun, and asked, “Are these doped carrots?”
Ray was fully alert now, and was imagining cavity searches, and handcuffs, all because of his carrot cravings. He fumbled around his shirt pocket, and came up with the receipt. “No sir! Here’s my card receipt. I just bought all this stuff in the store.” Please God, just let me get away from this asshole.
The fleshy guard studied the receipt, and exclaimed, “Hell, this is from over an hour ago!”
“Like I said,” Ray explained, “I’m just real tired, and need to go home to bed. My wife’s probably wondering what happened to me.” He was craving a carrot, but was too scared to eat one in front of the guard. What he really wanted was some more juice.
“All right. Get outta here,” the guard ordered.
“Sir, do you mind if I run back into the store real quick? I forgot my wife wanted me to grab some eggs.” Wendy was allergic to eggs.
“Aw, go ahead, but make it fast. This carrot bullshit bothers me. I see all kinds of derelicts around here, but never seen a carrot junkie.” He laughed at his joke, and walked off. Ray laughed with him, kissing ass again as if he needed the practice.
Ray ran back into the store, and grabbed another bottle of juice. This time he got the fifty-two ounce size. It was only $5.48, and this bottle said organic. He never went near the eggs.
On his way to his first lawn the next morning, he ran by Walmart for a fresh supply of juice. It was on the way. He had nursed the fifty-two ounce bottle from Kings throughout the night, taking a serious shot every time he woke up, each time lying back down next to his sleeping wife, with a feeling of well-being coursing through his body like nothing he had ever experienced in his forty-seven years of living. This was no HOLY SHIT moment, like a guy shooting a dose of heroin into his vein. Oh, no. This was natural, unpolluted contentment. He would drift back into sleep like an infant son releasing the nipple, an instinctual feeling of well-being that only a very young, undeveloped organism that is well-fed, loved, and nurtured can experience. No cognitive questioning of why this feeling of complete pleasure enveloped him after feeding, but simply an enjoyment of his immediate comfort. This would end up being a very short-lived first step down into hell.
At Walmart, he decided on three thirty-two ounce bottles of Lakewood Organic Pure Carrot Juice at $8.99 each. Might as well try a different brand. Back out in his truck, he cracked open the first bottle, and took a hit off of it like a derelict waking up to his Ten High lover. Five minutes later, when he quit rushing, he headed to his first stop thinking, HOLY SHITBALLS!
Throughout the day, Ray went from job to job cheerily greeting his customers, visiting with neighbors, strangers on the street, and even gave a panhandler five bucks. He felt like a million dollars would probably feel like, all happy, and secure with no worries about paying bills, or how to improve on his ass kissing skills. As long as he was hitting on a bottle of juice, kissing ass tasted mighty fine.
Along about two o’clock, he finished up his third bottle, and within about fifteen minutes, started feeling itchy, and irritable. Kind of paranoid. He had a couple miles driving to get to his next yard, and within those two miles, he honked rudely at a lady that had come to a complete stop at a stop sign, gave some guy the finger for turning left in front of him only half a block away, and had purposefully tailgated some slow moving sonuvabitch only going thirty-five through a school zone, as if the lights were flashing.
He snapped back at bent, old Mrs. Taylor who was out front cutting some fall flowers, and had the fucking gall to ask him how he was doing when he got out of his truck. Told her he wasn’t doing worth a damn, still mowing lawns at forty-seven, barely payings the bills, and a with a wife who hated his guts more, and more every day. Life sucked, that’s what it did. It wasn’t fair, getting chiseled out of five dollars every time he turned around, and with customers getting pickier, and stingier every damn week. How am I doing? How in hell do you think I’m doing? He felt like killing the world.
Poor, old Mrs. Taylor just stared open-mouthed, like who is this? Where was happy, smiley Ray? The gentle soul that was always pleased to see her, and would do anything for anyone, and told her humorous stories about Wendy, and just daily life in general. This guy looks like Ray, was driving Ray’s truck, and unloading Ray’s stander mower, but this wasn’t Ray. Where was the guy that could always make her feel good when her worn out life was getting her down, and put out her trash cans, or would cheerfully move a heavy piece of furniture for her? Where was Ray? This mean-mouthing, angry, jittery, bastard was a phony, and was scaring the hell out of her. She hurriedly limped inside, and locked the door.
Ray jerked his mower back and forth over her grass, scraping trees, mashing flowers, and doing the worst job imaginable. He then roared back up on his trailer, half-assed tied his mower down, never even looked at his trimmer, or blower. Left the property a nasty mess. A drunk, blind man could have done better. He then jumped in his truck, slammed the door, and roared off, never saying goodbye, which was a first for Ray.
He made it about two blocks, and pulled over, got out and ransacked the cab of the truck for that third bottle of juice he just knew he still had. Tears, and mucus were running down his face. The pupils in his eyes had dilated till the iris’ disappeared. His entire body was a singular itch. He was copiously sweating on a crisp afternoon. He could feel his blood attacking him. He finally found the third empty bottle, and screamed hideously in despair. He shouted curses at everything, and everyone he had ever known, blaming the universe for letting him run out of juice. He was quickly descending into madness.
He finally yanked his body away from the truck, and started jumping from foot to foot as if bullet dancing. He was so hot he pulled off both shirts. His undershirt was soaked with sweat. He was exposed to the entire street, half-naked, drooling, yelling mother fucker over and over, and hopping around as if he had a demon on his back. He felt crazy like a shithouse rat.
Remarkably, no one saw any of this. By chance, he had pulled over next to a deserted strip of open space where there was no housing for a couple hundred yards, and after about fifteen minutes, he began to regain his sanity. He continued to feel an insatiable craving for more juice, but the craving had morphed into more like a hunger attached to the anticipation of Christmas dinner, something you couldn’t hardly wait for, but had to until it was ready. He leaned on his left hand against the truck bed, hanging his head, and still breathing heavily, and tried to think of where the nearest store was so he could get more juice.
Ray managed to maintain his composure long enough to pick up six bottles of R.W. Knudsen’s Organic Carrot Juice for $27.95 on sale at Natural Grocers, only a mile away. The clerk put them in a cardboard box for him, so he was able to set it on his seat like a tray. He chugged his first bottle before getting out of the parking lot. He then pulled into the lot next door while he hallucinated for a few minutes. He was thinking, man is that fucking good! He quickly forgot about the withdrawal he had just gone through other than realizing he needed to return to Mrs. Taylor’s, and attempt to repair the damage done.
A nervous Mrs. Taylor cracked her front door open the width of the security chain length, and stared at Ray with one fearful, blue eye. Ray conjured up a story about side effects from a new allergy medication he had taken that morning. He told her he was planning on by God suing somebody over it. He acted out some of his best suckup skills, apologizing, grinning, and offering to do anything to prove to her that he was truly remorseful. She bought the story hook, line, and sinker. He then put out her trash for pickup, straightened up the flower beds as much as possible, rationalizing that they were going to die over winter anyway, then completely mowed the lawn again, this time trimming, and blowing as usual to finish up. He then told Mrs. Taylor that this mow was on the house. That put the frosting on his repentance. During his act of contrition, he had sucked down another bottle of Knudsens.
Ray finished up his afternoon steadily hitting on his bottles of juice. He went from job to job like God, feeling omniscient, Superman powerful, and benevolent. His body was on constant vibration as if an angel was strumming his harp in an endless melody. He was floating on cloud nine, consciously in love with the entire universe, his blood racing through his veins like a winning horse, singing out his joy over his gift of a loving wife who adored his presence, and becoming rich as Midas with his awesome mowing company. Life was good!
He made a point of stopping by Trader Joe’s after finishing up for the day for a nighttime supply of juice. He was down to his last bottle of Knudsens. He bought six bottles of Trader Joe’s Carrot Juice at $3.99 each, which was an even better deal than the Knudsens from Natural Grocers at $4.66 per bottle by the six pack. Good economics for sure. Wendy would be way proud of him.
Wendy took care of the books for the business, and Ray handed her his daily receipts as usual after storing his equipment, and carrying his box of juice inside. After eyeballing the receipts, she was anything but proud of him.
“Ray, what in the hell is going on here?” She said amazed.
Ray lowered his juice bottle, and wiped his mouth off with his sleeve. “What’re you talking about, honey?”
“I’m talking about the almost eighty dollars you spent on carrot juice! Now, tell me, what the fuck is going on?” She was almost shouting, and waving the receipts in his face.
Ray backed up and said, “ I don’t know, Wendy! Ever since I ate those carrots Mrs. Creda gave me, I’m craving carrots, and after my first bottle of juice last night, all I want now is JUICE! Now, please leave me the fuck alone!”
“Ray, this is like a drug habit, and we’re talking carrot juice here. Do you have any idea how damn weird this is?”
“It’s not like it’s cocaine or meth, or some nasty shit like that,” Ray defended himself.
“I know it’s not cocaine or meth,” Wendy shouted, “but it’s beginning to cost as much!”
“Just settle fucking down, Wendy,” Ray shouted back. “It’s probably just a damn phase my body’s going through. I’m sure it’ll pass soon.”
“Holy shit, Ray,” Wendy exclaimed. “Your going to turn orange if it doesn’t. Has anything weird happened?”
“Not a fucking thing,” Ray lied. “Now, please, just leave me alone. I’ll get through this.”
“I hope so Ray,” Wendy said, “and if you keep spending eighty dollars a day on carrot juice, then you’re gonna have a marital problem, and a drug addiction.”
“You can’t call carrots a drug Wendy. Duh!” Ray spit out sarcastically. “And, who ever heard of someone getting divorced for eating too many carrots? I can just picture a judge laughing so hard that he shits his honorable robes.”
“Don’t talk down at me mister,” Wendy scolded. “All I can say is that this better not get any worse.”
“It won’t,” Ray promised.
A more false statement had never been made. Over the following twelve months, Ray descended into a world of addiction as nasty as any narcotic could have created.
He bought cases of juice from Trader Joe’s, often leaving them without inventory. Sam’s Club was another favorite outlet selling fifty-two ounce bottles of Bolthouse for $4.98 each, the best deal in town. He ordered juice online trying to economize until Wendy started returning his deliveries. He discovered carrot juice powder that worked wonderfully at increasing the potency of the juice. The powder rate was one and a half teaspoons per six ounces, and within a couple months he had doubled it. Some days, he would triple it. He kept needing more , and more juice to maintain the same feeling of euphoria he had become dependent on, and his daily cost had spiked way north of a hundred dollars, plus the powder was $28.95 per jar, which would last several days, thank God. He wiped out his savings account, and would have spent their joint account if Wendy hadn’t moved the funds into her own savings. He couldn’t keep money in his pocket. It all went to juice. He pawned every tool he could possibly do without, along with anything else he could pawn for a few bucks. He began asking his customers for cash payment when he worked after Wendy started to hold back money from him. He even started stealing from his customers, and both his and Wendy’s parents were missing tools and other pawnable items from their garages. He had sunk to the lowest end of an addict’s gutter when he started stealing from people who had trusted him.
The carrot juice took his health down. He suffered from extreme carotenemia. Strangers would take one look at his orange face, and move away from him, so’s not to get contaminated. He was always bloated, and gassy, producing a flatulence that smelled like a sugar beet factory. He was often doubled up with stomach cramps, and he always kept a mega roll of toilet paper in his truck for the chronic diarrhea that tormented him. He often displayed hives, and rashes on his face, and hands that looked infectious, and itched something awful, which caused him to violently scratch himself. He was a fucked up mess, and most people viewed him as another pathetic victim of cartel drugs. His customers had begun avoiding him as if he was a wild, diseased animal. He was losing business. He had stopped going into public places like his bank, or the 7-11 he used to stop by for coffee, and a chat with the clerks. He had become an outcast from his previous life, a life he had truly loved.
Wendy had become repulsed by his appearance, and behavior. His constant farting had forced her to ban him to the spare bedroom. Sex had become extinct, not that Ray was interested anyway. All he could focus on was his next bottle of juice, and he didn’t much give a damn about Wendy, or anyone or anything else. He became malnourished due to his homogeneous diet of carrot juice with only an occasional carrot thrown in for variety. His body began to waste away, and he was frequently sick with a cold. His nose was runny, and he was always coughing, like a man dying of tuberculosis. He was barely working, and used the excuse of winter as the cause until spring rolled back around, even though Wendy reminded him that he had always stayed busy over the past twenty winters.
The final straw was when Wendy caught him red-handed, pilfering her purse for juice money. He had done it before, but she hadn’t been able to catch him at it. The result was a spectacular knock-down, nasty fight, with Wendy screaming at him to admit his addiction, and go to rehab, and Ray, still in denial, screaming back at her to go fuck herself, it’s just a nutritional deficiency. He shouted that he would never admit he was an addict. Addicts took meth for fuck sakes, not carrots! They fought around Ray’s denial like prizefighters for over an hour, before Wendy finally had enough. She gave Ray two choices, again. The first choice was to go to rehab, and the second choice was divorce, and this was no-shit, the last chance. He had twenty-four hours to choose, and at this point she didn’t care one way or another. He had become so pathetic, and physically disgusting that she wasn’t for sure she wanted him to choose rehab. Might be better to cut bait, and run. She was aware of the shitty success rate of rehabilitation. The past year had been like a bad dream, but she had been awake the whole time. She had witnessed her gentle, honest, fun husband of over twenty years turn into a lying, surly, dirty, shiftless lowlife that bore absolutely no resemblance to the person he had been before carrots. To say she was blown away would be an understatement. An addiction to carrot juice. It was an absolute phenomenon. Before she stormed out of the house, she advised him to drive himself to the drug center at the nearby hospital, check in, and let the doctors take care of him, and if he made it through that, then immediately join a twelve-step program to stay clean, and they would see where they were in six months. Or, he could stay a despicable carrot addict. She looked at the wasted, vile image of what use to be her husband, and thought to herself that the chances of rehab were slim to none. She then slammed the door behind her as she left for her sister’s house. TWENTY-FOUR HOURS, she yelled again through the closed door.
Somehow Ray drove himself to the hospital, and when he finally fell through the doors leading to rehab, he hadn’t had a juice hit in over an hour, and was in full withdrawal. He screamed over and over at the top of his lungs that he wasn’t an addict. His wife had made him come here. He had ruined his pants with orange liquid feces, and piss. Sweat was flying off his greasy, stringy hair, and foam flecks were spraying out of his mouth as he raved about how in no fucking way could he be a carrot addict. His eyes were protruding from his face as if there was no skin. Nurses, and guards trained in subduing addicts began to restrain him as he fought back with the strength only fear can produce, and all the while howling, I’m not an addict, not an addict, not an ad… The tranquilizer wrapped itself around his frenzied brain, and he went limp in their arms.
It was eight-ten, on a Tuesday evening six months later, and Ray’s turn to speak was almost upon him. He had been qualified to speak at meetings for three months now, and every time it got easier. He had been reviewing his memories over the past few minutes as Clara finished up. He could barely recall the first seventy-two hours of rehab which had been spent in a fog of drugs designed to provide relief from the unspeakable pain of withdrawal. Any doctor would have labeled him an opiate junkie at first, and it actually had taken Wendy proving his drug of choice with the pile of debit, and credit card receipts she had purposefully kept. The doctors couldn’t believe it at first. Several medical essays had been written about Ray’s disease since. They were the first ever. Ray had become a prodigy of addiction. He was thinking about writing a book.
He was deep in reflection, when he realized Clara had given him a gentle shake. Recovering addicts often got lost in reflection.
“It’s your turn Ray,” Clara stated.
Startled back into the present, Ray slightly shook himself, and slowly looked around the room. He noticed several new faces, and pondered what levels of hell they were experiencing. Most normal people thought of addiction in terms of illegal drugs, and alcohol. Maybe throw gambling, and sex onto the pile, but never honey buns, or cookies, and if any normal person had been told they could become addicted to carrot juice, they would have nodded politely like you do when talking with someone crazy, and making statements like they had just seen Jesus walk into the Family Dollar, but Ray knew better. He had travelled to the gates of hell and back, hanging on to the tow rope of carrot addiction, and it had only been through his open acceptance of his powerlessness, had he been able to let go of the rope. A rope made of carrots that had wrapped itself around his soul, and twisted him into a ruined man.
“Ray,” Clara repeated. Her voice startled him again, and he realized he was standing. Once again, he cast his eyes around the room, and experienced a great empathy for every struggling person watching him, and he felt compelled by some inner force to imprint the gift of sobriety upon their souls. It was showtime.
He smiled like a man at peace with the universe, and began, “Hi. My name is Ray, and I’m an addict.” He smiled again as he felt the familiar craving for a hit of juice.
Author Notes: For mature readers eighteen years old or older only. All rights reserved, Paul Farin 2018.