This is a true story. This was told to me by a man I’ll call Tom Fuller. The story came to me outside of a meeting hall where an anonymous group meeting had been held. I am betraying no anonymity and use this story with permission.
Fuller and I were standing outside of a room in some church. It was a muggy August day, and Fuller was wearing one of those T-shirts they call “wife beaters.” I wore a Hawaiian shirt, unbuttoned. He pointed to the vertical scar on my chest and the round protrusion just beneath my skin above my left breast. Pacemaker. He asked me, “What happened to you there?” I told him about it briefly.
Fuller’s facial skin looked stretched too tight, as if he’d had plastic surgery. He had. I pointed to the mottled and discolored burn scars on his shoulders and upper arms and asked him the same question. I knew they were burn scars. I’d seen similar ones. Fuller cleared his throat.
“My wife divorced me four years ago. Mostly cuz my drinking. The day I got served, the landlord locked me out of the cottage I was living in. Hadn’t paid rent for two months. Oh yeah, I’d been fired from my job at the shipyard three weeks earlier. Anyway, I kicked the door in, holding a fifth of Ancient Age and a sixer of Coors. I was gonna get drunk and kill myself. I figured I’d do it with the oven, you know?
“So I go in and put a Dylan CD in the thing and drank most of the bourbon and maybe four beers.”
“Wait a minute,” I stopped him. “Which Dylan record was it?”
“I can’t remember which album, and the only song I remember hearing that night — I guess I thought it was appropriate — was ‘Trying to Get to Heaven.’”
Don’t know what difference it made. Maybe I was wondering if the music had inspired despondency. I wasn’t familiar with that song, but later I listened to it. One stanza of the lyrics, representative of the tone, goes:
“The air is getting hotter, there’s a rumblin’ in the skies/ I’ve been wading through the high muddy water/ With the heat risin’ in my eyes/ Every day your memory grows dimmer/ It doesn’t haunt me like it did before/ I’ve been walking through the mirror to nowhere/ Tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.”
Fuller continues. “I’m loaded and I put the oven on, full blast, open the oven door, and stick my head in, breathing gas. Nothing. I got bored with this after about ten minutes and felt like I was gonna pass out from the booze, not the gas. So I put my head on the surface of the inside of the oven door and fold my arms under my head like I’m just goin’ to go to sleep. I did. Or passed out, whatever. I remember hearing Dylan singing, ‘You find out you can always lose a little more/ I’m just goin’ down the road feeling bad, tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.’ I was in a shithole of self-pity.
“Anyway, after a while. I don’t know how long, the oven door starts to get hot. The oven’s already hot and the kitchen’s freakin’ hotter than hell. I had to lift my head up off the oven door and I sat back. I think I drank some more bourbon and some, by now, warm beer. I wanted a cigarette. I’m not thinking straight at all, right? I listen to Dylan some more. Different song now,
“‘I’m your man, I’m tryin’ to recover the sweet love that we knew/ You understand that my heart can’t go on beatin’ without you/ Well your loveliness has wounded me/ I’m reelin’ from the blow/ I wish I knew what it was that keeps me lovin’ you so/ I’m breathin’ hard, standin’ at the gate/ Ah, but I don’t know how much longer I can wait.’ Don’t know what that one’s called, but I’ve listened to it a lot lately. Self-pity. Right?”
I was impressed that Fuller had memorized a good chunk of Dylan. I knew he could recite scads of the Bible, and he had told me he used to be a minister.
“Anyway, I reach for a cigarette — not thinking at all — and I search around for a lighter, find a Bic, and sit on a kitchen chair. I start to light up the Bic. It doesn’t even flame, just the small spark blows the crap out of the kitchen and living room. I went head first through a patch of drywall. Had plastic surgery on my face. Mostly second-, but some third-degree burns.
“They arrested me for it. You know what for? Arson.”