Not Like Oz

Tonight is the first time I’ve seen my friend Sean in fourteen years. We’re sitting at the kitchen table inside his mother’s house. We used to pal around, back when we were first getting clean. Diners, pool halls, coffee shops, Narcotics Anonymous meetings. “You were a fucking mess when you came in, bro," Sean says, smiling. Sean is not Sean’s real name. Sean’s spent the last eight years in prison. He did a year-and-a-half before that. “It’s not like Oz or any of that shit on television,” he says. “You just do the same thing, day after day.” We’re drinking seltzer-and-cranberry, eating the salad and pasta-with-meat-sauce he made for my visit. He starts telling me what it was like on the inside, but I zone out and think of all the places I’ve been since he was first locked up—Big Bend, Big Sur, Dublin, Doolin, Dingle, Galway, New Orleans before Katrina, Reno, Roundstone, Tucson, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, West Palm Beach, Oaxaca, Mesilla, Monterey, New Orleans after Katrina, Pearl River, Green River, White River Junction, Yuma, Hanover, Hollywood, La Jolla, Las Cruces, Puerto Escondido, in cars, bars, banks, bakeries, oceans, deserts, blizzards—how poor I was in those places, how broke, how short I was on cash, how short I was on everything. Except freedom and time. Freedom to go and see and do, and time to do it. Not like Oz at all. “How’s your pasta?” Sean asks. “It’s good, man,” I say, clearing my throat. “It’s really fucking good.”

After kicking heroin in 1999, Jamie Alliotts went on to study writing at Columbia, Oxford, Dartmouth, and Iowa. He’s won awards and fellowships for his playwriting and essays, which appear in Cleaver, Bayou, 40 Towns, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Alliotts is writing a series of stories about the horrors associated with 12-step recovery and a memoir about his experiences as an addict in the Navy and on the streets of Manhattan during the 1990s.