FROM THE INSIDE
★ ★ ★ ★
THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK
By Ryan M. Moser
“This is the way the world ends;
not with a bang, but a whimper.”
Countdown: 26 years: 3 months: 16 days till Doomsday
Life is pleasant in suburbia; you’re eleven and go to Disneyland with your family and visit Epcot Center. You’re enrolled in the gifted program, but something feels wrong deep inside—a nihilist attitude begins its embryonic stage. Instead of studying flying buttresses and Matisse, you start fights at school and act morose.
25 years: 6 months: 23 days
You’re a pariah, smoking Marlboros and getting detention. Cigarettes are your first habit of many, but you don’t know this yet. You run track and go to school dances with girls out of your league, trying to fit in. Skateboarding is your identity and rebellion a burgeoning ethos. You clearly don’t fit in. You love playing the drums and are getting good. This becomes your escape from ordinary teenage angst; later you will use more nefarious means. For now, the syncopated off-beats of improvisational jazz mirror the chaos theory in your head.
24 years: 8 months: 7 days
The family house on the golf course is a popular hangout; you and your two brothers and sister always have friends around, and your parents are social. You babysit for your neighbors. Family dinners every Sunday. Life still has the potential to be happily normal. You drink your first beer—a Michelob Light stolen from the garage fridge. It tastes like copper pennies. You get caught talking about it on the answering machine and lie… you feel no remorse. Beer makes you feel confident; the evolution of an addict begins.
23 years: l month: 11 days
You hang out at the mall, get a part-time job as a busboy in a mob-owned Italian restaurant, and have a steady girlfriend—nothing feels right. Dad almost catches you selling marijuana to your friend in the garage; he taught you better values than breaking the law. Your whole family is well-adjusted, but you’re becoming the outcast. You start dealing weed and the feeling of power boosts your insecurities. You smoke your first joint of dirt weed and adore her—she’s your first love. You become the bon vivant of bud and bongs; learning about Maui Waui and Blueberry strains the way a sommelier studies wine. Although you will leave her for more attractive, risqué drugs in your lifetime, she will always come back to you.
21 years: 7 months: 3 days
After you get drunk for the first time—really drunk—you puke in the backyard. You find Stephanie and get another beer from the keg. Something in your cortex tells you that alcohol will be a problem later on; for the time being, you live at house parties and get in drunken brawls. Uninhibited teenage fun. You drink and drive often, yet make it home alive. You don’t kill anyone—luckily. The responsibility your parents instilled is waning and chances are being taken. You and your friends drop acid and eat mushrooms for the first time. You’re the only one who doesn’t care about expanding your consciousness. Even though you see that as a possible side effect, you only trip to get f’*ked up. This should be another red flag. It’s not. It’s 1993…you’re sixteen and called a free spirit. Someday you’ll be called a loser. You and your friends just want to buy micro beer, pick up girls, and watch hockey. Family dinners on Sunday; they still support you… this will waiver.
19 years: 9 months: 26 days
High school Senior Week in Ocean City, New Jersey. You snort a line of cocaine for the first time… and meet your second love. She’s expensive, but fast. Everything in your confused life seems euphoric under her spell—the White Lady. You stumble down the boardwalk with your crew, up all night and hooked. You finish the baggy on the beach watching the sun rise; it’s the beginning of something ill. You should be applying to colleges, but you dropped out of school last year, content to get your GED and work full-time. Goals are nonexistent. “You have so much potential,” people say. You go to county jail for the first time—2 days for marijuana possession.
17 years:2 months: 18 days
No job. Living on a sofa in a college town. Your roommate accidentally buys crack cocaine instead of powder cocaine—the two of you smoke it for kicks. If weed was your first love and coke your second, crack rock is the mistress that you cheat on them with. She swings into your life like a wrecking ball several times in the future. It was a one-night stand, but she’ll be back again. You learn how to use pain pills to come down from all-nighters. You’re twenty and drink beer every night. You are a writer and an artist and a musician, but these things all take a backseat to your mind-numbing habits. You try ecstasy for the first time before sex. Absinthe makes you hallucinate and happy-cry. Nitrous oxide becomes a fan favorite. You are in the midst of a personal War on Drugs. You go to county jail for the second time—4 days for unpaid fines.
15 years: 4 months: 10 days
No more family dinner on Sunday. It’s been a while since you’ve written a poem or played the drums. Girlfriends come and go on the wind. You have no direction and use drugs for recreation, then abuse. Coke. Beer. Weed. Ecstasy. Prescription pain pills make you lighter than air. Jobs come and go on the wind.
You move into your parent’s basement and find work again. Settle down with a good girl. Move to an apartment, she gets pregnant, you get married. Things have potential again, you have potential again. No more coke. Social drinking only. Great job; life is good once again. You write every day. Learn guitar. Have a healthy boy.
11 years: 10 months: 28 days
You’re unfaithful. Secretly using cocaine again while your wife works nights bartending. You feel ugly about it; a cold shame fills your aura, and all of your childhood problems and issues unfold out into the present. Insecurity. Narcissism. Great job is on the rocks. You get separated and move into a small apartment… alone and contemplating suicide. You sleep with a different woman every week, longing to fill the emptiness. You are no longer a drug user, but a drug abuser, using coke and booze and music and women to escape from your unhappy reality.
If you make $1000 a week, you spend it all on illegal substances. You have an eight-ball and a bottle of Percocet in your pocket, but bounce checks for groceries. Pay your large bar tab and take girls out on dates, but run out of gas and can’t find change to do your laundry. Priorities are warped. Family does a welfare check on you… so many bad days, too few good ones. Your son looks into your sunken eyes and wants to play. You want to end it all. You go to county jail for the third time—30 days for unpaid child support.
8 years: 7 months: 14
You’re twenty-nine. You drive from Philly to Florida on a whim; after a night of drinking and popping morphine pills, you go to a beach house with a girl you meet at a bar. You go to state prison for the first time—three years for burglary. Your family eats dinner without you on Sundays… talking about what your life has become because of addiction. Your son cries on the phone as you punch the wall.
5 years: 11 months: 22 days
Prison was indescribably violent and boring. Now you bartend at night, do drugs with co workers after your shift, come home to your house with your pill-head girlfriend you met in work release and yearn to be back in Philadelphia with your family… to be back where your roots are planted. Present is indeterminably discontent and banal. Settle down with said not-so-good girl. Move to new apartment, she gets pregnant and you get engaged. Things have potential again… you have potential again. Still doing coke but you have a great new job; life is good once again. You write every day. Start playing piano. Have a healthy boy.
3 years: 1 month: 5 days
Fiancé introduces you to a prescription pain pill called Roxycontin and you fall in love all over again. Cocaine psychosis has nothing on the agony of Roxy withdrawals; you will do almost anything to alleviate the symptoms when you run out of pills—shakes, chills, diarrhea, fatigue. You and your fiancé have a $150-a-day habit and spend afternoons driving all over Jacksonville, Florida meeting drug dealers and hitting pawnshops. Still have great job until you try crack again… the mistress snuck in the back door in the middle of the night and pulled you in. Lose job. Break up with fiancé. Sell truck. Move out of apartment. Start hustling stolen diamonds to support coke habit and pay for hotel rooms. You lose 30 pounds and hit rock bottom; crouch beneath the lid of a dumpster to light a crack pipe in the rain, homeless and no place to go. You think about family dinners as you get high. Think about your kind ex-wife. Touch the gun in your pocket and wonder who would find you….
The ball drops in Times Square as you stick a needle in your arm for the first time; rather, a pretty stripper does it for you. RoxyIcocaine mixed. This is the only speedball you’ll ever try, and you almost overdose. Sell $50,000 in pilfered diamonds that summer. You go to state prison for the second time—one year for dealing in stolen property.’
1 year: 2 months: 16 days
You get out and on your feet… again. Work two menial jobs and live in an efficiency. Stay clean until you get a security job working nights at a beach club. Try molly for the first time. Back on prescription pain pills. New girlfriend begs you to stop doing pills and blowing money; you hide your vices and life seems idyllic. Try amphetamines for the first time. Try Suboxone for the first time; get hooked on it when no pain pills are around. You can no longer remember what family dinners were like on Sundays.
You get engaged; she gets pregnant but doesn’t want a baby at twenty-two. This hurts you more than you thought it would. You begin to abuse anything you can get your hands on while barely staying employed. Get arrested for dealing in stolen property after fiancé reports it. You don’t understand, but Karma is a fickle bitch.
6 months: 23 days: 17 hours
Sitting in county jail awaiting trial. Ex-convicts with long arrest records. receive mandatory—minimum sentences in state prison—even a nonviolent thief. You’re facing a severe punishment for your addictive actions with no way out. Fifteen years. Your public defender is against you; he calls you a career criminal and a drug addict. He will not use any favors to help you. Tells you to do the time. You tell him to go f’**k himself: You need help. There is no help.
2 months: 11 days: 5 hours
Your lawyer comes to see you with a new offer: ten years in prison; eight with good behavior. Against every instinct in your rational and sober mind, you accept the plea agreement, knowing that if you could only get some treatment for your addiction—for the first time—that you may have a chance at a good life. This is not a good life. You make a vow to never be in this same position again, to never let your family down again, to never fail so miserably at life again. You vow to do this sentence in a positive way, change your way of thinking, face your demons, get out, and get back to the top. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
3 days: 19 hours: 37 minutes
It’s been one year since you’ve used or abused drugs and alcohol. Recovery is obviously your only choice, from here out. Your family supports you. Meditation and exercise has made your mind, body, and spirit strong again. You write in a journal every day. Create song lyrics to match your mood. You tell your family that you are going away for a long time…they’re having Sunday dinner when you call.
2 hours: 7 minutes: 44 seconds
The day of the final judgment. You sit in a crowded holding cell at the County Courthouse, awaiting your· sentencing hearing. Nothing has prepared you for the uncertainty of eight years in the penitentiary.
1 minute: 50 seconds
“I understand that we have a plea agreement which reflects the mandatory sentence under the Prison Release Reoffender Act…is that correct Ms. Levy?” the judge asks. “Yes, Your Honor. Ten years instead of fifteen.”
You are thirty-seven years old and have so much wasted talent. It occurs to you—not for the first time—that if you would have never abused drugs, never touched a pain pill or a crack rock, never lacked morals and character, never took unnecessary chances, that you would have never been in this scenario at all.
9 seconds till Doomsday
“Mr. Moser, I hereby sentence you to a period of one hundred and twenty months in the Florida Department of Corrections. Court costs will be forwarded. Let this be your last time in a courtroom, lest you want to grow old in state custody.”
A gavel slams. A quick, uneventful moment done in a uniform and procedural way… a whimper.
Ryan M. Moser is a recovering addict serving a ten-year sentence in the Florida Department of Corrections for a nonviolent property crime. Previous publications include Evening Street Press, Storyteller, Santa Fe Literary Review, The Progressive, themarshallproject.org, medium.com, thewildword.com, thestartup.com, and more. In 2020, his essay “Injuries Incompatible with Life” received an Honorable Mention award from PEN America, including publication on pen.org. Ryan is a Philadelphia native who enjoys yoga, playing chess, and performing live music. He is a proud father of two beautiful sons.
This column was made possible with the help of Exchange for Change, a non-profit based in Florida that teaches writing in prisons and runs letter exchanges between incarcerated students and writers studying on the outside.
Exchange for Change believes in the value of every voice, and gives their students an opportunity to express themselves without the fear of being stigmatized. Their work is based on the belief that when everyone has the ability to listen and be heard, strong and safe communities are formed, and that with a pen and paper, students can become agents of change across different communities in ways they may otherwise have never encountered.