There was a woman in Lewiston years ago who used to sing in Kennedy Park when she got too far into her cups. 

Some nights, as I sat in front of the newspaper having a smoke, I’d hear her voice rising out of the leafy darkness across the street. And what a sweet voice it was. The lady may not have been able to handle her liquor very well, but she sure could sing. And she wasn’t singing pop tunes out there in the lonely night. To my ear, they sounded like arias; heavenly notes floating across the dark, transforming gloom and despair into something beautiful. 

The lady had a gift. But boy, how she loved her liquor. 

One night, I went home to my seedy apartment house and found her passed out in a hallway. When I attempted to rouse her, she cried and blubbered and had trouble standing on her own. She had wet herself. Yet when paramedics came to take her to safety, the lady began to sing, even as she staggered and swayed toward the ambulance. And it was beautiful, not fraught at all with the malady that so ravaged the rest of her. 

She got arrested from time to time for things like trespassing, obstructing a public way, maybe a disorderly conduct here and there. 

Her voice was divine, but it wasn’t enough to save her from the horrors of alcoholism. And so when I didn’t see or hear of her for a year or so, I assumed she had succumbed to that slow death of ounces like so many before her. 

I asked the Lewiston police crisis intervention officer about it, confident I knew the answer already.  

As it turned out, I didn’t. 

The lady with the voice had been moved down to the Boston area, the officer told me. She was checked into an alcohol treatment center and later moved to a halfway house. The last the officer had heard, the lady was thriving. She was safe and sober and living among friends. And she was singing with a local group, wowing audiences in the Bay State with her glorious voice instead of just singing to the birds and squirrels in Kennedy Park. 

‘One’s too many and a thousand not enough’

There was another fellow I knew from the police rounds. He was tall and handsome and wise as any scholar I’ve ever know. He was charming and engaging and could write pure gold. 

But man, when this cat hit the sauce, he turned mean. 

There were street brawls and bar fights. There were weekends in jail and then longer stretches. There were brief bouts of sobriety, but he’d be back at it soon enough, drunk, swinging fists and making his mark only on the battered faces of his drinking pals and on the daily police logs. 

He began to look haggard. Those once avid eyes were cloudy and red and they always seemed to be gazing upon some sad inner landscape. He staggered down the Lewiston streets, dirty, unkempt and belligerent. 

Finally, he had one shot too many and ended up throwing another man through a window. This time, it wasn’t the county jail he was hauled away to, it was the state prison and for a pretty beefy spell. 

So long, old pal, I thought. Whatever intellectual ambitions you may have had, the prison system is sure to beat them out of you. 

But I was wrong about that one, too. The next time I saw the fellow, it was five years on. He was sober and bright-eyed and he somehow appeared younger on this side of the prison sentence than he did going in. 

He had gotten married and bought some land out in the countryside. He was gardening, working, writing every chance he got in a life that was suddenly very busy.  He didn’t drink, he told me, and wasn’t even tempted to. It was like a noxious switch had been shut down in the corner of his brain that thrived on pain and disorder. The zeal for booze and bad times had left him and as far as I know, it never came back. 

It just goes to show. . . something. 

The thing is, I could sit here and write all day about the intelligent, talented, supremely gifted people I’ve known who plunged into the black waters of addiction never to emerge again. Hell, we all could. 

The list of those who came back from those bleak depths is shorter, but what an inspiring list it is. These are men and women (and some kids, no doubt) who were down on the bloody, spit-soaked mat, the grim countdown halfway done, when they found the strength to climb, first to their knees and then to their feet. The comeback kids, rising against the odds, and who among us doesn’t love an improbable comeback? 

The charming man is still around; still writing, still tending the garden, still living in defiance of the booze tsunami that tried to knock him down for good. 

I have no idea where the singing lady is now, but I like to think that some introspective reporter is sitting on a curb somewhere — Lowell, perhaps, or Revere, Cambridge or Chelsea — and listening to a transcendent voice rising out of the night like some gift from the gods meant for him alone. 

I envy that fellow, I really do. I miss that voice, sure enough, but I’m happy as hell that she took it on the road. 

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