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Jason Baum

The only meth head I ever liked was this guy everybody called T-Rex. We both collected old sci-fi comics and hated rehabs. He was one of the regulars at the AA Fellowship I’d been going to, who despite his best efforts could never string together more than a few weeks clean. The nickname T-Rex wasn’t because he was some ferocious carnivore or anything, it’s just that his arms were abnormally thin in proportion to the rest of his bulky body, like a tyrannosaur. His real name was Kelly.

One night while I’m cleaning the Fellowship bathrooms, I overhear people asking about T-Rex. Nobody had seen him in a few weeks which usually meant one of the three relapse inevitabilities: in jail, in rehab, or dead. That’s the saying around here, whether you’re a drinker or a drugger.

Then this guy who’s always sleeping on the couch says it wasn’t any of those things, T-Rex was just building a rocket in his backyard.

“Like a missile?” somebody asks.

“No, no. Like a ship,” the guy says. “A rocket ship.”

“Where’s he think he’s going?” another guy barks.

“T-Rex can barely read,” a woman says. “How’s he gonna build a rocket?”

I keep scrubbing at the grout between the sink tiles while the debate outside the bathroom carries on about what T-Rex did and didn’t know about space flight.

It’s hard to know what to believe around this place. Everybody’s sober, but they still goof off and exaggerate in a belligerent I’m-gonna-one-up-you sort of way. Instead of drinking contests, it’s always Oh, yeah, well I drank five gallons of whiskey a day. Big deal, I shot two pounds of dope in one sitting. That’s nothing, I’ve died and come back to life twenty-six times. You have to investigate everything you hear if you want to get to the truth.

When I’m done with the sink tiles, I turn the hot faucet on, rinse the sponge out, then leave the water running. You have to get it scalding if you’re going to make a dent in this place. Half measures availed us nothing. That’s another one of my favorites.

They have all kinds of those sayings up on the walls. First Things First. 24 Hours at a Time. I take the canned recovery-isms seriously because I don’t want to end up in jail, in rehab, or dead. I want the happy, joyous, and free that everybody else has. That saying is front and center above the Fellowship door.

When the water is hot enough to blister, I soak a Brillo pad, add some bleach, and start in on the toilets. The whole time I’m thinking about T-Rex going into space. We’d worked the steps during one of his more earnest stretches of sobriety and I’d watched him struggle to get through one page of the Big Book. Though in hindsight, I’m wondering if maybe he’d been faking it to get out of doing the hard work. Addicts and alcoholics will pull your leg clean off if you let them. I catch myself doing it all the time.

A couple days later on Saturday, I stop by the trailer park where T-Rex lives to see for myself what he’s been up to. Gathering evidence has been critical in my first year of sobriety. Seeing something with my own eyes helps me sort out what’s real and what’s not.

As soon as I park my car, I see the rocket. It’s school bus–sized and fills the empty lot next to the trailer park. It looks like one you’d see in a 1950s B-movie, with a bright red nose cone on top, standing on four matching red fins at the bottom. The steel body has one circular window on the side. Several side panels are laying on the ground, leaving all the wires and cables poking out from the ship’s insides. 

I walk over to where T-Rex and this guy in a white lab coat are standing in front of the rocket and a giant whiteboard with mathematical equations scribbled on it. T-Rex is all worked up, pointing at the rocket with his wiry reptile arms and shouting about something called The Orbital Trim Maneuver. “You’re not taking into account the speed of millimeters versus meters per second,” T-Rex is insisting.

The guy in the lab coat throws his arms up in frustration. “It’s mass and propellant, mass and propellant!

I wonder if T-Rex is clean. With meth heads it’s hard to tell. Looking at his weathered, pockmarked face, you’d guess he’s in his late fifties, but I know he’s somewhere in his mid-thirties like me. Plus meth does a number on the central nervous system, and none of the telltale spasms ever go away. T-Rex’s little arms always twitch like he’s about to punch you, and he makes this weird clicking noise with his tongue. Sometimes his eyes will do this violent blink like the lids are being yanked down over and over.

Every time I’m around T-Rex, I’m reminded of how the doctor told me they can only draw blood from my left arm. All the years of shooting junk and Oxy left the veins in my right arm shot to hell forever. He actually used the word forever.

Finally, T-Rex stops midsentence and turns to me with a grin, his tongue clicking. “Hey man, how’s it going?”

“Just stopping by,” I tell him. “Hadn’t seen you around.”

“I know, I know,” he says apologetically. “I’m working on something.”

I whistle in awe at the rocket. “Sure is pretty. Where’d you get it?”

“I know a guy,” T-Rex says, which is believable considering the resourcefulness of meth heads. There is nothing in the world they can’t find, and even if they couldn’t they’d know somebody who could.

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“Nowhere really,” he says. “I’m just gonna drift in orbit for a year or so and get some real clean time.”

“I’m the last fucking person to say this, but can’t you just go back to rehab?” I ask, wondering what would happen if T-Rex put a fraction of this effort into working his steps.

“Rehab’s not enough,” T-Rex says. “I’ve been to eleven, and it’s the same thing every fucking time. Two weeks in—and then I’m out. The doors aren’t locked, you know?”

The doors aren’t locked.” Another well-known Fellowship saying. I think of my own multiple rehabs, and how easy it was to vacate the premises when the doors aren’t locked.

T-Rex looks up to the sky and raises a tiny hand to shade his eyes from the sun. “I’ll have no choice but to sit tight and let the days add up,” he says. “Then I’ll come back, walk right into the Fellowship and get my one-year chip.”

“When do you leave?”

“In a week. Next Thursday.”

“Next Friday,” the man in the white lab coat counters. “Better weather.”

“Next Thursday or Friday.” T-Rex nods to the man in the lab coat. “This is Ken, by the way. He’s my engineer.” Ken smiles politely.

“How are you gonna land?” I ask.

“I’ve got an old parachute,” T-Rex says.

“With a hole in it,” Ken adds.

“We’ll patch it up in time for launch,” T-Rex says confidently.

“Patch it up?” I ask.

“Yeah, check these babies out.” T-Rex snaps the waistband of his shorts. “I got a connect who’s giving me a thousand of these nylon swim trunks we can use. It’ll be like new.”

I try to hide my growing skepticism as I glance between Ken, the rocket, and the barely legible whiteboard. T-Rex must sense my lack of faith because he assures me there’s no cause for alarm. “You know those visors on the space helmets,” he says, flipping his little hand in front of his face. “The things that go up and down for the sun?”


“Ken’s uncle invented those. So, all of this is a piece of cake.” They segue into a discussion about jet propulsion and centripetal acceleration. I try to follow along but get lost when they veer into linear algebra.

I hear a door slam and see T-Rex’s mom coming out of the trailer towards us carrying his beagle, Dougie. She was usually happy to see me when I picked up T-Rex for step work, but now she doesn’t say hi or anything. She just drops the dog to the ground and walks away. I do a double take when I see the dog is missing its left front leg. The tripod-angular way it’s hobbling toward us reminds me of wounded soldiers crawling across a battlefield in an old war movie.

T-Rex jogs over to the dog, picks it up, and nuzzles its face. Then he rejoins Ken and their conversation about astronomical twilight, and the way the sun will reflect off the fuselage and keep him warm when he leaves the upper atmosphere.

I do a lot more than clean the bathrooms at the Fellowship. Monday through Friday I arrive at 7 p.m. sharp, dressed in slacks and a button-up, shake hands with people at the front door and hand out books before the meetings, pour coffee if needed. Afterward, I collect all the books and stack them neatly on the shelves, then deal with the bathroom and make sure I’m back to the SLE, my “Sober Living Environment,” in time for curfew.

Tonight, Monday night, I’m scrubbing the walls in the bathroom with the door propped open so I can listen to the post-meeting gossip in the other room. Who’s got the most clean time, and who’s sleeping with whom this week. They’re calling tomorrow’s 10 p.m. meeting The Meat Market from all the hooking up that goes on. When the chatter turns to T-Rex’s trip to outer space, opinions vary from aggression to disbelief.

“He’s gonna blow his damn self up,” one man says. “Kablooey!”

“Why can’t he just come to meetings like the rest of us?” one guy grumbles.

“Maybe it’ll work,” a woman says. “I knew an alcoholic Navy SEAL who sat at the bottom of the ocean for six months. Came back up and never touched another drop of booze.”

“T-Rex never found God,” one guy finally declares. “That’s what his problem is.”

God. God’s a funny thing around this place. It’s always God this and God that. God, God, God, God, God. Everybody swears that God is the key to staying sober. In fact, God’s the whole reason I’m scouring the bathroom every night. 

A couple months ago, I was staring at one of the sayings on the walls, Let Go and Let God, when one of the old-timers, Eddie, said to me, “That’s the truth right there.”

“I don’t have any evidence of God,” I told him.

Eddie looked at me, jaw-dropped and wide-eyed. With forty years under his belt, he’s been sober longer than he was drinking. “How much time do you have?” he asked.

“Almost a year.”

“What’s tripping you up?”

“I guess I can’t figure out the difference between God, and the people who believe in God.”

“Ah, that old chestnut,” Eddie said. “Well, a year in the rooms isn’t that long. You better find your God or else it’s in jail, in rehab, or dead.”

“Well, I don’t want those.” I’d had plenty of the first two, and pretty sure I encountered the third, either that or it was just strong dope. When you’re blessed with the gift of desperation, you’ll try anything. “Alright, Eddie, enlighten me, how do I find God?”

“You could start by cleaning the bathroom,” Eddie said. “Everybody finds God in there.”


“No bullshit,” he said. “That’s where I found him.”

At first, I wondered if the old-timer was setting me up for some kind of prank, on account of how funny everybody here thinks they are. But at some point, I’d gotten obedient and just started saying yes to everything people told me to do. Pour coffee during the meetings. Okay. Raise your hand and introduce yourself as an addict or alcoholic. Sure thing. When somebody has what you want, you do what they do, and these people have what I want: the cars, the dates, the families. All the happy, joyous, and free stuff.

Sinks are the easiest. I’m scrubbing those down fast now. I even started using an old toothbrush under the lip of the toilet bowl. The Brillo pad was good, but the toothbrush has a better angle and gets the grime a Brillo can’t reach. I’ll use the toothbrush five minutes clockwise, five counterclockwise.

When I’m finished, I stare at the bits of black and green crud resting in the base of the toilet bowl. I’m getting pretty good at this. I flush it down, turn on the hot faucet, and go to the hall closet to get the mop, bucket, and Pine-Sol. Twenty minutes mopping the floor and I’ll be done.

The bathrooms practically glisten. They look better than they ever have. But two months of thorough cleaning and I’m still not feeling any connection to God, a Higher Power, the universe, or whatever you want to call it. No burning bushes in the stalls, no blinding lights from the faucet. I think it’s a pretty dick move on God’s part to see me doing all this hard work and not even pop in to say hello.

Wednesday before the launch, T-Rex calls and asks if I can give him a ride to Modesto to pick up a few things for his space trip. Methdesto is what the tweakers call the town. T-Rex says a guy there owes him money for an old meth deal, but instead of money he’s going to give him the swim trunks for the parachute, and a few pallets of Aquafina water, beef jerky, and expired graham crackers. I told him sure, and I’d get somebody to cover my Fellowship chores as long as there was no meth involved. He asked if he could bring his dog along.

It’s a hot night. The air feels warm blowing on our faces. For some reason, once I got sober, long stretches of driving became fun, though normally I can’t sit still. On the weekends I drive to different fellowships up and down the coast where nobody knows me. It’s a different kind of anonymity. 

T-Rex is holding Dougie on his lap, rubbing the nub where the dog’s leg used to be. He asks if he can put the radio to a country station, which I can’t stand, but the guy is going into space for a year so I let him. Who knows what kind of reception he’ll be able to get up there.

“What made you think of going to outer space?” I ask him.

T-Rex twitchy-shifts the beagle, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a crumpled piece of paper. “I found this line in the Big Book,” he says, tongue clicking. Then he reads, “We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed.

“I knew you could read,” I tell him, and he laughs.

“I want that other existence,” T-Rex says. “I’m tired of this one. All hooked on meth. Can’t do shit right. My mom won’t even look at me. Up there I can stay focused. No more bullshit.”

“Otherwise it’s in jail, in rehab or dead,” I say.

In jail, in rehab, or dead,” T-Rex repeats, his tongue clicking like a lighter. “You’ll see, I’m gonna get in that fourth dimension with the rest of you.”

“I don’t think I’m there yet,” I tell him.

“Horseshit,” he says. “You’re staying clean, you almost got a year.”

“A year isn’t that long.”

“It’s a strong fucking start,” he says. “And you got the job, the family, all of it.”

“Dude, I fill sample bottles of high-end lotion,” I tell him. 

“It’s still a job.”

“And my mom only talks to me once a month. Last time it was three and a half minutes.”

“At least she’s talking to you,” he says. We hit a stretch of empty highway that opens up the sky. Billions of stars turn on in an instant. I check my speed limit and eye my rearview for cops. Those instincts never really go away.

T-Rex points one of his tyrannosaur arms out the window. “If you get a telescope, you’ll be able to see me once a month. Ken’s got walkie-talkies, so I’ll be able to talk to you guys when I’m in line with the TV satellite on my mom’s trailer.”

I notice his other hand never leaves the dog’s stump. “What happened to Dougie?” I ask.

T-Rex rubs the dog’s ears and kisses its forehead, his arms twitching. He moves a clenched fist against his chest like he wants to hit himself. His whole face scrunches, then he pounds his fist on the side of his head like he’s trying to knock water out of his ear. “I don’t know what happened. I was cooking a batch of shit, same shit I cooked a million times. It only blew off Dougie’s paw, but the vet said it was safer to take the whole leg.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” I wince, then realize he’s already beaten himself into the ground over it. “Sorry, man.” The dog shifts on T-Rex’s lap. It looks like it wants to scratch behind its ear with the phantom leg but gets confused when there’s no limb to use. T-Rex scratches his ear for him.

“Wait—where are you getting the fuel for the rocket?” I ask. 

“Me and Ken are cooking it up,” he says. “Before you say anything, just know that meth is more combustible than jet fuel. I can do jet fuel in my sleep.”

“If you say so.”

“I’m telling you,” T-Rex says, his tongue loudly clicking. “I’ll be a new person when I get back. Just like you and everybody else at the Fellowship. I’ll get a job and go on dates and all that other stuff. I’ll even buy my mom a new house. A nice clean one.”

A nice clean one,” I repeat, not meaning to.

We pass a sign that says Modesto is twenty miles away. T-Rex says our exit will be the third one. Methdesto, he whispers, then asks if it’s okay to smoke a cigarette in the car. He’s not going to be able to smoke for the next year, so I figure what the hell.

“I’ve been cleaning the Fellowship bathrooms,” I tell him. “One of the old-timers says I’ll find God in there.”

“I heard that one before,” T-Rex says, nodding.


“I never tried it, but maybe you’ll have some luck,” he says, then looks out the window. “I think maybe I’ll meet God up there.”

“What are you gonna say to him?”

“Not sure,” T-Rex says and takes a long drag. “I packed a nice suit though. Figure I should look good for the occasion. What are you gonna say to God if you find him in the bathroom?”

I think about all the routines I have in place. I’d heard one of the old-timers say active addiction is mass chaos, so our sobriety needs to be rigidly organized, like tasks to cross off a list.

Wake up early, go to work. Get off work and go back to the SLE. Change into slacks and a button-up for the AA meeting. Get to the Fellowship by 7 p.m. sharp. Hand out books. Make and pour coffee. Raise my hand and share during the meeting. Clean the bathrooms, starting at the top of the walls. Hit the sinks and toilets with sponges, toothbrushes, scalding hot water, soap, and bleach. Mop until the room smells of pure Pine-Sol. Repeat the routine five days a week. Otherwise, it’s in jail, in rehab, or dead.

“I’m gonna tell God I’m fucking tired,” I say. “I’m tired and I don’t have much energy left.”

T-Rex is nodding, his tongue clicking like a light switch. He blows smoke rings out the window. “I think your nickname should be Mr. Clean,” he says. “Like the guy from the commercials.”

“That works,” I tell him. “Mr. Clean like the guy from the commercials and Mr. Clean because I’m clean and sober.”

“Also you look like Mr. Clean from the commercials, cuz you’re going bald, you know?”


“Yeah man, your hair is super thin. Why don’t you just shave it? It’ll look better.”

“Fuck you man, I just have thin hair!”

“Don’t be so sensitive,” T-Rex laughs. “Embrace that shit.”

T-Rex pretends to scrub the dashboard with his tyrannosaur hands like he’s scrubbing toilets, then he roars like the king of the lizards. Dougie’s head perks up. We laugh and turn the music up, the stars above us illuminating the deserted highway. T-Rex leans his head out the window into the hot wind, like he’s absorbing all the warmth he can while he’s here on the earthly plane.

The next night I’m sitting in a meeting eyeballing this guy in the back of the room who calls himself Homeless Carl. He’s another regular at the Fellowship, not because he comes here to get sober, but because he comes to eat the food, drink the coffee, and use the bathroom as a shower.

Usually, I’m able to beat him into the bathrooms and lock the doors because if I don’t, it’s big fucking trouble. I’ll have to wait an hour for him to get out, then at least thirty minutes to air the place out. I can’t even describe the smell he leaves lingering behind. Unfortunately, it’s a smell I know intimately from my own time living on the streets. Like T-Rex, the guy reminds me of things I’d rather forget, especially that.

One night I asked Eddie if there was anything I could do to keep Homeless Carl from using the bathrooms, “Can’t we tell him to go to a YMCA or something?”

“Nope,” Eddie said, then tapped one of the sayings on the wall, Some of us are sicker than others. As soon as the meeting ends, Homeless Carl stands and wheels his tattered travel suitcases with him into the bathroom, sealing my fate for the evening. I stay seated, envisioning what I’d be doing in there if he wasn’t in my way. Wiping walls, sinks, tiles. Tonight I’ve got to get around the little metal nuts that bolt the toilets to the floor. I forgot to get those last time.

All around me people are filing out of the meeting room and into the kitchen for post-meeting gossip and coffee. I should start collecting books but I’m stuck in a trance fuming over the damage being done to my bathrooms.

I snap out of it when a guy comes up to me, hands me a couple of books, smiles, and says, “Here you God.”

Another guy gives me two more books, saying cheerfully, “What a God meeting, don’t you think?”

Then a lady adds three more to the growing pile on my lap and winks. “Have a God night.”

“Ha-ha, very funny,” I snap as they walk away. “I know what you guys are doing.” I gather the rest of the books and stack them on the bookcase in sharp upright rows, when I hear the chatter around the Fellowship beginning to morph and meld into a God-soaked nightmare. God is the only word on everyone’s lips.

“God, God?” I hear somebody ask.

“God,” a man replies.

 “God, God God,” a woman cackles.

And then it’s everywhere. I grab the trash in the kitchen and everybody’s buzzing with God, God, God, God, God. Outside when I dump the trash in the bin, everybody on the patio is God, God, God, God, God. By the time I’m back inside the Fellowship, Homeless Carl is leaving the bathroom and I jump in and lock the door behind me, panting, hearing echoes of God, God, God, and inhaling the foul smell in the air. I gag, then hold my breath, unbutton my shirt, and wrap it around my face.

I pick up the cleaning products from beneath the sink and try to power through, starting at the top of the walls and working my way down to the sinks, but no matter how hard I scrub or breathe through my mouth, I keep gagging.

I tighten the shirt around my face and half-finish wiping down the sinks. It smells so bad that I want to cry. But instead I start to laugh. The more I laugh the more the smell gets in. I’m laughing and gagging, laughing and gagging. Every time I laugh the smells punch through the shirt into my face. The smells of an unbathed body, unbrushed teeth, excrement. All in my mouth and nose and lungs. I feel a small jolt in my chest, and more phlegm shifts as I suddenly remember this time my mom brought me a sandwich and a change of clothes when I was sleeping in the park and the way she kept all the windows rolled down in the car while we talked.

I crash into the stall, take the shirt off my face, and puke all over the toilet and onto the floor. It smells even worse here. I laugh and puke again. Then I’m just kneeling in front of the toilet, puking and laughing. I’ve heard the old-timers say that God has an odd sense of humor, and maybe this is my first glimpse of it. 

When it’s all out of my system, I pull myself up to the sink, wash the front of my shirt, and splash cold water on my face. 

The morning of the launch I drive to T-Rex’s trailer park to see him off. There’s a circle of barricade bars around the rocket, and a couple dozen people gathered in the lot. Ken is wheeling a ladder in front of the ship and checking items on a clipboard in his hands. I’m going to be late for work, but I think it’ll be worth it. There’s only so many chances you get to see something like this.

I make my way through the crowd toward a few people I recognize from the Fellowship. As usual, they’re hemming and hawing about the events unfolding. “T-Rex better bring a jacket,” one guy grunts. “That’s all he needs is to catch a damn cold up there.”

“Think he’ll make it?” one woman asks.

“Not a chance,” one guy says. “It’s about to be kablooey.”

“I dunno,” one guy says. “He just might make it.”

“He’ll make it if he finds that fourth dimension,” I say. They all nod in agreement.

T-Rex comes out of his trailer in full puffy spacesuit, glass fish tank helmet in his hands. He slowly makes his way toward us, taking his time and waving at everybody like the astronauts do in the movies. For a moment I don’t want him to go. I want him to stay here so we can keep goofing off. I hope he doesn’t change too much up there in outer space. I hope when he gets back from reaching the fourth dimension we can still have fun together.

He stops at the barricade in front of his mother. She’s holding Dougie in her arms, but still not looking at T-Rex. I know that look she’s not giving him. I know it all too well. T-Rex kisses the dog on the forehead and rubs its stump. He gives his mother a hug and speaks into her ear. I can’t hear what he’s telling her, but I know what he’s saying: This time will be different, I promise. I wonder if I tell my mom about T-Rex’s rocket, if maybe I can keep her on the phone for at least five minutes next time. Maybe even longer.

T-Rex climbs up the ladder then stops and turns to wave goodbye. He smiles a gigantic meth head of a smile, missing teeth and all. We lock eyes and he firmly salutes at me, and I salute back out of reflex. I don’t think he was in the military or anything, though it never occurred to me to ask. I have to start asking people at the Fellowship about those kinds of things. Who a person used to be and who they are today. I’m sure that would be good evidence to gather. Probably has something to do with their happy, joyous, and free.

T-Rex climbs through the rocket window and closes it behind him, Ken passes out earplugs then stands back with the rest of us and shouts for everybody to join him in the countdown. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…

The rocket starts to shake. Smoke billows from between the red fins at the base.


 I feel burning heat from the thrusters stretch across the lot and over my face. Gravel tumbles all around my feet, pebbles bumping up against my shoes.


Something small moves in my chest. Something really small. Smaller than a sliver stuck inside another sliver. It’s right in the center of my chest by that thing that breaks when someone gives you the Heimlich maneuver.


All of a sudden T-Rex’s mother starts waving to the ship and shouting, “That’s my son, that’s my son!” and I can’t wait to tell him that on the walkie-talkie. I bet it’ll help him stay warm up there.


 I hear the ignition and the blasting combustion of rocket fuel. A sonic boom shifts the earth.


A brilliant light washes over us. I cover my eyes. The air tastes like metal and fire. I peek between my fingers and watch the rocket lift off and shoot into the sky. A corkscrew plume of smoke trailing behind it spirals up, up, and out of the atmosphere.