Monologues from Songs from Bedlam


Setting: A stool on a bare stage.

Casting note: She is old enough to have been married, but not old enough to have grandchildren. Her memories have as much to do with what she needs as with anything she has actually experienced.

Lights up on A WOMAN, seated on a stool, facing the audience.


When I dream of cherry blossoms and the musk of peaches deliquescing on the ground aswarm with wasps, of pressing a peach to my lips crushing its bearded flesh and removing carefully the cyanide pit, I wonder if I am remembering a summer I have lived or anticipating summers yet to come.

She gazes at the audience.

I remember the warm strong feel of my father's hands, and the soft touch of the Virgin. And running home one day from the sound of Mr. Willis hitting Tommy too hard—Mr. Willis who looked at me through my bedroom window, his left hand missing the thumb he cut off with the electric saw in the basement smelling of sawdust and whiskey—and the tree that must always protect me and hitting Tommy, smack! smack! smack! all the way home.

When Eddie wooed he sent a single yellow rose every day for twelve days, and on the twelfth day he proposed (although not on one knee: he was romantic, but not humble). Tomorrow for my birthday I am praying for a pony. I've been good, but I know I mustn't get my hopes up too much so I'm trying not to. My dress for the prom is purple, and I am making it myself. I will dance with a boy I never dared speak to for four years. For four years I never spoke. He will hold me tightly all night, and after the dance I will never see him again.

Dr. Carter has the cleanest fingernails I have ever seen, and he wants me to remember something. He is telling mother about post-traumatic stress disorder, and something called “paramnesia.” Tommy and I are playing hide and seek. Smack! Smack! When I meet people whose lives move only one way (instead of back and forth like mine) they are confused because I know them—who they are, or what they're going to be—or who we're going to be together. But when I laugh, it makes them feel better—and I think most people like to see me happy. My grandchildren love to make me laugh, and it's fun to spoil them instead of raising them—to have a second chance with children, without the blame and shame game.

My earliest memory is wetting my pants when I was three and a half years old. My father pulled me into his car and drove to the dump outside of town. There were pigs there that ate the garbage. Now he puts me on the ground and says if you're going to act like a pig, you can live with pigs . . . and he drives away and leaves me here.

I will cry until he comes back to get me later tonight.

You are my angel he says, and you have made me very happy. There are candles, and I am wearing the dress that makes me feel like a fairy princess. Make a wish he says. There are tears in his eyes. Make a wish.

She smiles.

Everyone is very proud of me. Do you know the story about the little pigs? Sometimes the wolf eats them in the end, and sometimes he falls into the pot and the little pigs cook him. And sometimes nothing really bad happens to anyone at all. I don't know which is the real ending.

I remember the shock of sex and childbirth and the dry pain of menopause, each the loss of something. Eddie smiles and looks so beautiful in his coffin, surrounded by candles. After the dance I will never see him again. He is holding me all night. I have filled the room with yellow roses, and the musk of peaches. My mother is the Virgin Mary, and every night she comes into my room to see if I am asleep. I close my eyes, and breathe slowly and evenly . . . because she loves me very much, and it is important for me to get my sleep. She stands in the doorway of my room every night. She prays for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. She watches over every child.

She comes over to the side of the bed to see if I am sleeping. She puts her hands around my throat.

She closes her eyes.

She squeezes . . . and I keep my eyes closed, and try to be good, and to breathe slowly and evenly. I love you so much, she says. You are my angel, she says. There is light all around her, and it fills the room—and I see it with my eyes closed.

She takes her hands away, and goes out and shuts the door.

All the years of my life.

She opens her eyes.

I'm grateful.

When you give to your Lord, you perfect yourself beyond your imaginings. At Fatima and Zietoun and Medjugore I saw the Virgin Mary, my mother gazing upon me with such love and said you are my angel—and as she grows bright and numinous her light (her hands around my throat) begins to fill and flow, until all memory is memory of her.

She closes her eyes.

She is my earliest memory, and I so look forward to her smack! hitting Tommy too hard every day smack! smack! for twelve days smack! and the twelfth day he proposed, you are my angel he said—his left hand missing the thumb he cut off with his electric saw holding me tightly all night, crushing my bearded flesh and removing the cyanide pit, he has the cleanest fingernails I know—my father's warm strong hands and wants me to remember something. I try to breathe slowly and evenly. I love you so much she says. You are my angel she says. My prom dress is purple I am making myself—I pray for a pony, but try not to get my hopes up too much.

She gazes at the audience.

If you act like a pig you can live with the pigs.

Lights fade.




Setting: A bare stage with a chair.

Lights come up on ELMO, a man in his fifties or sixties, seated.

My name is Elmo, I'm an alcoholic. It's good to be alive, good to be sober today. You all got to pray for me when I come around here. Pray for my ass sometimes. Because I came in here a street drunk. I been through jails and institutions—lost my job, my wife, my house, my kids. My ass was on fire. I had nothing.

I got something today. I'm a miracle sitting here. I should be dead. I know it. But I'm where I'm supposed to be. Because where I might have been yesterday, tomorrow—that don't matter. What I've got is a daily reprieve, based on my spiritual condition. Because we alcoholics know what happens to us—and we do it anyway. We know what happens, and we do it anyway. That's insanity. Normal people can't understand that. So we get to be a bit grateful when we get in here and hang around, and find out that what's inside of us—if it doesn't change—we're going back where we come from.

Now the tragedy of that is, folks—see, I'll guarantee you, if you can't find out that you have the disease of alcoholism—I'm talking about alcoholism. Not life-ism, or psychology-ism, or my dog or my cat, or whether you think I smell good or not. I've got a disease that tells me it's not a disease. That's hard information. You say tuberculosis or meningitis, folks take that shit serious. Well, I got inoperable alcoholism. I got a disease that says: go ahead Elmo, have just one drink. Go ahead. When Elmo never took just one drink in his life.

I don't know about any of you, but my best thinking got me here. I used to be a genius. I was as smart as nine circus donkeys. I used to be a real jackass. I'm not allowed up in my head now, without adult supervision. But see, the beauty of that is that I don't have to figure anything out. How come I've got to be an alcoholic, and you don't? How the hell do I know? How come one cell turns to cancer, and the other don't? It doesn't matter.

That's why—when I come into these rooms, a few twenty-four hours ago—them old boys told me to take the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth. They said if you got the disease of alcoholism, we know everything we need to know about you except your name—just sit down and listen. Saved my life.

Something happens to a drunk when he gets in here. He's got to make a decision about his drinking. And if you ain't finished drinking—I mean if alcohol ain't bit you in the ass hard enough you can't put it down, then you just ain't finished drinking. And how do you know that?

Because your ass hasn't fallen off yet. But it will. And when it does, and once you get some distance between yourself and the drink, you'll discover the same dilemma I find myself in today. Alcohol is not my problem.

That's a surprise, ain't it? Once we put the plug in the jug—and hung around here awhile, and got some distance between ourselves and the drink—we come into the dilemma where I find myself today. Alcohol is not my problem. Life is my problem. I don't know how to live.

This is all about change, folks. And you know what you got to change? Everything. This is a spiritual program, and I'm preaching. Why? Because it's fucking sad. People are dying around here. And this is a spiritual program. You need a Higher Power. No God, no church God—you don't even have to have a God. All you got to find is a Power greater than yourself. All you got to know about a Higher Power is that probably there is one, and probably you ain't it.

The way I run my mouth, I know a lot of people don't like me. And I don't blame them. But I thoroughly get tired of knowing how serious this alcoholism is. I come in here with a message—this shit ain't funny. And if you been here awhile but you're still farting through silk, still pissing and moaning about relationships and jobs, and money, or what somebody said to your dog—you need to go out and drink some more. Just go on out and drink some more. But you might not make it back alive.

If you want to stay alive, you got to stay sober. And if you want to stay sober, you got to trust this God of your understanding. And you got to clean house. You got to take personal inventory. It don't work the same for anybody except for a drunk. Because only a drunk knows what it is if he picks that drink up. Only a drunk knows what it is to wake up and not know where you've been, or what you've done—and the snot inside your head smells like ammonia, and you can smell the booze coming out of your pores—and maybe you peed or threw up on yourself, and your body feels beat up, and you don't know if it's daytime or night—and the first thing you reach for is a drink. And you'd sell your mother to get it.

I remember lying in the snow in the front yard. My kids were looking at me through the front window, crying, and my wife was standing behind, and holding onto them tight. I'll never see those people again. Poor Elmo.

I can't change that. That's the past, and I can't change it. All I have is today. And this is about taking action, folks. This is about a new way of life. There's a psychic phenomenon that a drunk like me knows about. We experience a psychic phenomenon every day of our lives—we fools, we bottom-ass drunks. Because we don't drink, and we can't tell you how or why. And that's a phenomenon—when something good happens to you over and over, and you can't explain it. All I know is, they told me I had to change. Change you must, or die you will. So today I've got a relationship with this God of my understanding, who I'm trying to seek through this Higher Power. I've changed, through a psychic phenomenon I can't explain.

The good news is, my life is better. Them old boys told me that if you take a drunk, lying, no-good, cheating horse thief, and get him to put down the drink—do you know what you have? A lying, no-good, cheating horse thief. But we can change. And we do it through getting honest, getting involved, and carrying the message.

Honor the vessel of your life, folks. Honor the vessel of your life. That's sacred. You got to treat it with respect.

Because this is a serious disease. You don't believe me? Then you go on out and drink some more. This disease is a bear. This disease will bite your head off and spit it out on the street. I lost my wife, my kids, self-respect. Lived on the street, jails and mental institutions.

We must be as desperate as only the dying can be.

Because there's nothing in the world more natural than for an alcoholic to drink alcohol. When you put down that drink, every cell in your body starts to scream. And while you're shivering and sweating and shaking, your disease is over there doing push-ups. Just waiting.

That's what you can learn, from a low damn bottom gutter drunk like me. If you haven't been there, you don't have to go. Because this disease will put a shotgun in your mouth.

And if you don't believe that, you're peeing in your ear and telling yourself it's raining.

Lights fade.