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Moments of Clarity
Jim described himself this way: "I'm a cocaine addict, a father, a husband, a man trying to make a difference in the world." Jim also anchors the nightly news at WRC-TV in Washington, DC, where he's worked since 1969. He was one of the first people to break the color barrier on TV, and he's earned seventeen Emmys and a spot in the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame. He's also one of the stalwarts of the DC recovery community. A couple of things stand out to me about his story: his humor in telling it, and the way he feels most ashamed when he's being recognized for his success. That sense of being a fraud is so common among addicts.
I haven't known hopelessness since 1987, but I remember very well what it felt like. I had a total, complete, full conviction that I was going to die. I did not believe that I had a chance at getting a decent life. I knew I was going to die, and not just die, but die a miserable death. I had decided that if I could get any "good" out of this misery, it would be that I died more miserable than my father. My father died in 1951. I was nine years old. He was thirty-eight. He died of cirrhosis and DTs. I don't know a worse way to die than DTs. Jesus, what agony. But my condition in April 1987 was that I'll find a way to die worse than he did.
I think that speaks to the hopeless state of mind that I was in. I didn't want to die, but if I was going to die, then let me die even worse off than my father was. What kind of insanity is that? That, my friend, pretty much defines hopelessness.
I'm a broadcastjournalist and I had been the anchor at the NBC station in Washington, DC, since 1972. In 1987, in August, somehow or other I was still hanging on, but I had been missing in action for two days again. I was down in Southeast DC, where people were living hard lives, and still are. There was a public housing complex that had been abandoned or determined to be shut down—huge, as most of them were, from an urban renewal program in '62. In one of the buildings, there were two apartments that were still occupied. There were no utilities: no water, no electricity, no telephone, no anything. There were some mattresses on the floor. And for two days, I was in one of those apartments, desperately trying to get one more hit off the pipe. I'm in that apartment, I didn't have any clothes on, couldn't get an erection, and couldn't get high. I don't know how that is for most normal people, but for this colored boy, that was as low as he could get. You couldn't get your dick up and you couldn't get high. What is left?
I finally got out of there at some point. I didn't have a car because my car had been repossessed. I went back to where Kathy, who later became my wife, was living and I got cleaned up. She had nothing to say, because by that time, there was nothing else to say. There comes a point when silence becomes deafening and cruel. I mean, silence can cut like a knife.
I went to work and got through it, I don't know how. I have some pictures from back then, and I'm not sure why they allowed me to go on the air. Cheeks sunken in, eyes way back in the sockets, dark circles around the eyes because I hadn't slept in probably three days. My teeth were falling out. Literally falling out, because my gums were deteriorating and the bone under the gums was deteriorating. I had to talk in a certain kind of way just to keep my teeth in my head.
On a Thursday night, I did the six o'clock show and I left work at seven o'clock. Richard, who worked at the station, had loaned me his car. I was supposed to turn left to go home but I turned right. I drove around for a couple of hours, stopping every now and again at some phone booth, trying to get somebody to get me something. I finally got a guy in another part of Southeast Washington. I went to his place and got an eight balland fired it up. Didn't even pay him, just smoked it right there. When the ball was smoked up, at this point I was geeking. You got to get more. You can't be still, you're bouncing around, kind of like when people want to speed. Geeking was the term at that time, and I was geeking.
I told the guy, and he said he had more but he wouldn't give me any more without seeing some cash. I said, "Let me go over to the money machine." I walked out of the apartment and I left the keys to Richard's car because I was just going to walk over to the bank right across the street. But I hailed a cab. As it pulled out from the curb, I saw the guy running out of the house. He had a pistol in his hand, and he ran this way and ran that way looking for me. I got down in the cab, and the guy was still running around when we turned the corner. Oh, he was pissed off.
I got home and got Kathy to pay the cab. She went to bed. I went downstairs, got the shotgun, took Kathy's car, and went to Great Falls Park. The Potomac River runs through it, and there's a serious drop that creates some big rapids. The Olympic kayaking team practices at Great Falls. I was upstream, where you don't have the roar of the river as it drops off the precipice. It's more brooklike, more tranquil, but on that night it was deafening where it should have been melodic and soothing. Deafening and discordant. Jagged and unnerving. It was a violent noise that didn't really exist. My, it was horrible!Moments of Clarity. Copyright © by Christopher Lawford. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.