“Take these for me, will ya?” he said, shoving a wad of money and a crack pipe into my hand.  “If I get caught with them, my parole with be revoked.”  He looked around nervously, as if he’d forgotten something.  “Please don’t tell anybody I’ve gone in; I can’t handle any more.

I gave him a hug and watched him trudge through the doors.  It wasn’t the first time he’d gone into rehab, but I hoped it would be the last.  I tucked the cash into my pocket and stepped on the pipe.  Funny how fragile the glass seemed under my heel, not at all like the indomitable monster it had become of late.

He wasn’t always a slave to it.  There was a time when he wanted to master his world and shape it like one of the many sculptures at his studio, but it had been nearly two years since he wielded a chisel.  All the accolades and early promise had slowly disappeared into a spiral that gathered speed as it augered downward.

I hated the way both critics and admirers had pandered to his habit.  Weren’t all brilliant artists tortured in ways that made them incapable of handling success?  I wasn’t sure if they were patronizing his frailty, or keeping him docile and productive.  But regardless, he found no fault and kept them close until they grew weary of his tweaking and declining sales.

I’m not sure why I stayed.  Maybe I remembered how he once was and hoped that some semblance of that person still remained.  Or perhaps his vulnerability, so eerily like my own, frightened me enough that I had to discover if the journey actually ended with redemption.  Was I voyeur or enabler?  I could never really tell.

But in the end, I was the only friend he had.  Though I refused to loan him money or bail him out of jail, I answered his rambling drug-fueled call one day and agreed to drive him to the hospital.  In the car, he whispered of a life that I had only imagined, confessing his sins and terror of the future in a voice so lifeless that I wept, grateful for the sunglasses that dammed the tears from my cheeks.

Where had he gone, that clear-eyed man with the world on a string?   In his place was an impostor who sat looking vacantly from the passenger window until I pulled into the parking lot.  I recognized nothing of this creature until he turned and pled for mercy.  Would I shield him from prying and malicious gossip?   It was the least I could do; even a clown needs respite from the demands of his audience.


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