by Leaticia Hammadache
Imaginations. Illusions. Fantasies. There are so many processes one can use for creating unrealistic images to escape from the heavy world we are living in. Jack, in the short story “Jack, July” written by Victor Lodato, has found his own way to live in a different reality: methamphetamine. The story covers several hours in the life of Jack who is wandering in the streets of Tuscon during a hot day of July. Although he is under the influence of meth, Jack visits different people and places of his pasts that he still cherishes. Through those small adventures, a third-person voice is recalling the mess that have become his life, while Jack is fooling himself into thinking that his life is not all that bad. By showing the contradictions in Jack’s character, Lodato uses the story to describe the process in which drug users use substances as a way to escape their brutal reality.
When one is under the influence of drugs, he/she can feel like they are never wrong although they might be. In other words, as an addict under the influence, Jack feels like he always has to be right about everything: “The sun was a wolf” (Lodato, p.156). Obviously, the sun did not look like a wolf but this suggests that Jack’s perception and judgement is faulty. In this case, Lodato uses this confusion to suggest that Jack cannot make a distinction between reality and his fantasies. As a side note, I found that the usage of the word wolf had a very interesting symbolism. Indeed, wolves are known for their instincts and are seen as powerful guides. In many different beliefs they are seen as pathfinders and guides during a journey. Why would Jack be seeing a wolf? Does he think he needs someone to guide him and inevitably admitting that he is lost? The use of the wolf in this story is fascinating because it also indicates how strong Jack’s self-denial is: wolves are additionally perceived as loyal and loving towards their family. If Jack visualizes a wolf, it is because he thinks of himself as loyal and loving to his family, although the reader can clearly see that this is another illusion he created. The relationship he has with his family is undeniably nonexistent; “Do you realize how much pain you’ve caused Beatrice?” (Lodato, p.166). Although his sister and his mother are constantly mentioned throughout the story, Jack has neither had interactions nor contacts with them. Months have passed since he last saw or talked to his family, something his mother has trouble coping with. His lifestyle causes harm to his family, but Jack cannot see the situation for what it is since his unorthodox routine has weakened his ability to situate himself in time and to draw a line between reality and fantasy. Through Jack’s rejection of reality, we also learn that he feels like he is actually helping his family by doing meth;
“He felt that by going fast he was actually helping Lisa, he was helping all of them. He was building a white city out of crystal, inside his heart. When it was finished, there’d be room for everyone” (Lodato, p.172).
His self-denial is so strong that it convinced him that taking drugs is helping those he supposedly loves. He is not acknowledging the fact that his family has teared apart with Lisa being far away from everyone, his mother living a new sober life and him being under the influence of drugs most of his time. In other terms, Jack, a man deeply in love with meth, has convinced himself that being under the influence of this drug will help his family and so, there is no harm in taking it.
Although Jack appears to have everything under control and to think he is doing the right thing, he does not seem to be living his life without any regrets. Here is the big irony in Jack’s character: he uses meth as an escape from reality while desperately trying to embellish it. Despite the fact that being under the influence of meth makes his decisions look legitimate, a shadow of regrets seem to follow him everywhere; “It was almost funny how, at certain elevations, it was so easy to pretend you didn’t know thinks you could never forget” (Lodato, p.163). A year has passed by since Jack was last with his old girlfriend Rhonda, though he believes that it has only been a few weeks. One can speculate that every time he gets high, his mind may be erased in a way resulting in him not being able to recall the bad choices he has made in his life. The term “elevations” refers to being high on drugs and so, he is demonstrating Jack is able to neglect everything about his world by turning to drugs. Psychologically speaking, addiction has been linked to escapism and avoidance. When reality is too overwhelming and painful to handle, addicts withdraw to their own fantasies. In this case, Jack’s pain is apparent; “Who knew If Lisa forgave him? He hoped she didn’t” (Lodato, p.174). He feels terribly bad for forgetting to walk his sister home from school, for allowing people to tease her on the bus, but mostly for throwing the Frisbee over the fence and telling her to go get it. The attack of the dog on his sister is probably the main cause of his agony. One can only wonder whether Jack would be consuming drugs if the dog did not attack his sister. Unfortunately, suffering is a part of the reality surrounding this hurtful event, but Jack does not want to deal with reality and re-experience the incident. As meth ran through his veins as all anxiety was eased. Every hit he takes, the memories that hurt most were the ones most easily forgotten. The only problem is that to Jack has to keep getting high to avoid this reality, because these demons never go away. They are always there, lurking, waiting to bite him as soon as the drugs’ effect start coming down. As the relief of being under the influence started as a burn in his belly, his stomach being the first place to guide him in the hopelessness of life:
“The sadness bloomed in his belly. It always started there – a radioactive flower, chaotic, spinning out in weird fractals until it found its way to his arms and legs, his quivering” (Lodato, p.173).
It burned his senses, but not in the way he wanted. It did not burn because he was high, it burned because it was all real. Was he feeling guilt or was it the sadness of real life? Thus, Jack ends up where he started, walking in Jamie’s house without knocking, closing the cycle, wanting to taste one more time the ecstasy of his own reality.
Lodato has done an amazing work with this story. It was not written as a long and boring story, but rather as one with a fractured storyline filled with Jack’s memories while he was is trying to get through his day. The way the story was written is really interesting, because the readers must interpret Jack’s irregular thoughts to find the true meaning of the story. Lodato has done a great job by not giving Jack a happy ending, it shows a truthful representation of how drug addiction can damages one’s life.
Boyle, T.C., editor “Jack, July” The Best American Short Stories 2015,New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2015. 156-175
Diamond, Stephen. “Avoidance, Sobriety and Reality: The Psychology of Addiction.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 28 Feb. 2010, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/201002/avoidance-sobriety-and-reality-the-psychology-addiction.
“Watch Truth About Drugs Documentary Video & Learn About Substance Addiction. Get The Facts About Painkillers, Marijuana, Cocaine, Meth & Other Illegal Drugs.” Foundation for a Drug-Free World, http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crystalmeth.html.
“Wolf Symbolism, Wolf Meaning, Wolf Spirit Animal.” Universe of Symbolism, http://www.universeofsymbolism.com/wolf-symbolism.html.