wake to the drone of an airplane engine and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin. I lift my hand to feel my face. My front four teeth are gone, I have a hole in my cheek, my nose is broken and my eyes are swollen nearly shut. I open them and I look around and I'm in the back of a plane and there's no one near me. I look at my clothes and my clothes are covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood. I reach for the call button and I find it and I push it and I wait and thirty seconds later an
Back in the car with a headache and bad breath. We're heading north and west to Minnesota. My Father made some calls and got me into a Clinic and I don't have any other options, so I agree to spend some time there and for now
I'm fine with it. It's getting colder.
My face has gotten worse and it is hideously swollen. I have trouble speaking, eating, drinking, smoking. I have yet to look in a mirror.
We stop in Minneapolis to see my older Brother. He moved there after getting divorced and he knows how to get to the Clinic. He sits with me in the back-seat and he holds my hand and it helps because I'm scared.
We pull into the Parking Lot and park the car and I finish a bottle and we get
out and we start walking toward the Entrance of the Clinic. Me and my
Brother and my Mother and my Father. My entire Family. Going to the Clinic.
I stop and they stop with me. I stare at the Buildings. Low and long and connected.
Functional. Simple. Menacing.
I want to run or die or get fucked up. I want to be blind and dumb and have no heart. I want to crawl in a hole and never come out. I want to wipe my existence straight off the map. Straight off the fucking map. I take a deep breath.
We enter a small Waiting Room. A woman sits behind a desk reading a fashion magazine. She looks up.
May I help you?
My Father steps forward and speaks with her as my Mother and Brother and
I find chairs and sit in them.
I'm shaking. My hands and my feet and my lips and my chest. Shaking. For any number of reasons.
My Mother and Brother move next to me and they take my hands and they hold them and they can feel what is happening to me. We look at the floor and we don't speak. We wait and we hold hands and we breathe and we think.
My Father finishes with the woman and he turns around and he stands in front of us. He looks happy and the woman is on the phone. He kneels down.
They're gonna check you in now.
You're gonna be fine. This is a good place. The best place. That's what I hear.
I guess so.
We stand and we move toward a small Room where a man sits behind a desk with a computer. He meets us at the door.
I'm sorry, but you have to leave him here.
My Father nods.
We'll check him in and you can call later to make sure he's all right.
My Mother breaks down.
He's in the right place. Don't worry.
My Brother looks away.
He's in the right place.
I turn and they hug me. One at a time and hold tight. Squeezing and holding,
I show them what I can. I turn and without a word I walk into the Room and the man shuts the door and they're gone.
The man shows me a chair and returns to his desk. He smiles.
How are you?
How do I look?
I feel worse.
Your name is James. You're twenty-three. You live in North Carolina.
You're going to stay with us for a while. You okay with that?
Do you know anything about this Facility?
Do you want to know anything?
I don't care.
He smiles, stares at me for a moment. He speaks.
We are the oldest Residential Drug and Alcohol Treatment Facility in the
World. We were founded in 1949 in an old house that sat on the land where these Buildings, and there are thirty-two interconnected Buildings here, sit now. We have treated over twenty thousand Patients. We have the highest success rate of any Facility in the World. At any given time, there are between two hundred and two hundred and fifty Patients spread through six Units, three of which house men and three of which house women. We believe that Patients should stay here for as long a term as they need, not something as specific as a twenty-eight-day Program. Although it is expensive to come here, many of our Patients are here on scholarships that we fund and through subsidies that we support. We have an endowment of several hundred million dollars. We not only treat
Patients, we are also one the leading Research and Educational Institutions in the field of Addiction Studies. You should consider yourself fortunate to be here and you should be excited to start a new chapter in your life.
I stare at the man. I don't speak. He stares back at me, waiting for me to say something. There is an awkward moment. He smiles.
You ready to get started?
I don't smile.
He gets up and I get up and we walk down a hall. He talks and I don't.
The doors are always open here, so if you want to leave, you can. Substance use is not allowed and if you're caught using or possessing, you will be sent Home.
You are not allowed to say anything more than hello to any women aside from Doctors, Nurses or Staff Members. If you violate this rule, you will be sent Home. There are other rules, but those are the only ones you need to know right now.
We walk through a door into the Medical Wing. There are small Rooms and Doctors and Nurses and a Pharmacy. The cabinets have large steel locks.
He shows me to a Room. It has a bed and a desk and a chair and a closet and a window. Everything is white.
He stands at the door and I sit on the bed.
A Nurse will be here in a few minutes to talk with you.
You feel okay?
No, I feel like shit.
It'll get better.
The man leaves and he shuts the door and I'm alone. My feet bounce, I touch my face, I run my tongue along my gums. I'm cold and getting colder. I hear someone scream.
The door opens and a Nurse walks into the Room. She wears white, all white, and she is carrying a clipboard. She sits in the chair by the desk.
I need to ask you some questions.
I also need to check your blood pressure and your pulse.
What type of substances do you normally use?
What time do you start drinking?
When I wake up.
She marks it down.
How much per day?
As much as I can.
How much is that?
Enough to make myself look like I do.
She looks at me. She marks it down.
Do use anything else?
She marks it down.
As much as I can.
She marks it down.
In what form?
Lately crack, but over the years, in every form that it exists.
She marks it down.
Pills, acid, mushrooms, meth, PCP and glue.
Marks it down.
When I have it.
A few times a week.
Marks it down.
She moves forward and draws out a stethoscope.
How are you feeling?
In what way?
In every way.
She reaches for my shirt.
Do you mind?
She lifts my shirt and she puts the stethoscope to my chest. She listens.
Good. Do it again.
She lowers my shirt and she pulls away and she marks it down.
Are you cold?
She has a blood pressure gauge.
Do you feel nauseous?
She straps it on my arm and it hurts.
When was the last time you used?
She pumps it up.
A little while ago.
What and how much?
I drank a bottle of vodka.
How does that compare to your normal daily dosage?
She watches the gauge and the dials move and she marks it down and she removes the gauge.
I'm gonna leave for a little while, but I'll be back.
I stare at the wall.
We need to monitor you carefully and we will probably need to give you some detoxification drugs.
I see a shadow and I think it moves but I'm not sure.
You're fine right now, but I think you'll start to feel some things.
I see another one. I hate it.
If you need me, just call.
I hate it.
She stands up and she smiles and she puts the chair back and she leaves.
I take off my shoes and I lie under the blankets and I close my eyes and
I fall asleep.
I wake and I start to shiver and I curl up and I clench my fists. Sweat runs down my chest, my arms, the backs of my legs. It stings my face.
I sit up and I hear someone moan. I see a bug in the corner, but I know it's not there. The walls close in and expand they close in and expand and I can hear them. I cover my ears but it's not enough.
I stand. I look around me. I don't know anything. Where I am, why, what happened, how to escape. My name, my life.
I curl up on the floor and I am crushed by images and sounds. Things I have never seen or heard or ever knew existed. They come from the ceiling, the door, the window, the desk, the chair, the bed, the closet. They're coming from the fucking closet. Dark shadows and bright lights and flashes of blue and yellow and red as deep as the red of my blood. They move toward me and they scream at me and I don't know what they are but I know they're helping the bugs. They're screaming at me.
I start shaking. Shaking shaking shaking. My entire body is shaking and my heart is racing and I can see it pounding through my chest and I'm sweating and it stings. The bugs crawl onto my skin and they start biting me and I try to kill them. I claw at my skin, tear at my hair, start biting myself. I don't have any teeth and I'm biting myself and there are shadows and bright lights and flashes and screams and bugs bugs bugs. I am lost. I am completely fucking lost.
I piss on myself.
I shit my pants.
The Nurse returns and she calls for help and Men in White come in and they put me on the bed and they hold me there. I try to kill the bugs but I can't move so they live. In me. On me. I feel the stethoscope and the gauge and they stick a needle in my arm and they hold me down.
I am blinded by blackness.
I am gone.
Excerpted from A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Copyright © 2003 by James Frey. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese / Doubleday, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.