Greg Lippert and Robert Haydon Jones

Light at the end of the tunnel

By Greg Lippert


By Robert Haydon Jones
©2018 RHJA, LLC. All Rights Reserved

When Bud Monroe, his cardiologist, told Jimmy O’Hara his aortic valve was failing and must be replaced – Jimmy had an overwhelming urge to ask God to help him, even though he hadn’t said a prayer or even believed in God for
many years.

He was out of touch with God. Like he was out of touch with his friends from his youth. Nothing formal. Just time and tide.

Time and tide. Jimmy suddenly remembered that the last time he saw Bruce,his best friend all the way from high school to his early thirties, they had been out fishing. Bruce had driven them back to Jimmy’s house on the river.

Jimmy got out, slammed the door, and said goodbye like it was forever. For the life of him, Jimmy couldn’t remember why.

That was his last time with Bruce. Forty-two years later, one of Bruce’s daughters emailed Jimmy that Bruce had died of cancer and asked Jimmy to come to the wake and funeral – but Jimmy was in Hawaii for February and even if he had been home, 
he probably wouldn’t have gone. Although he really couldn’t remember what the problem was.

That was sort of crazy because Bruce had saved Jimmy’s ass back when he was sixteen and in a world of’ hurt. Jimmy couldn’t take another night at home – andBruce had invited him to stay with him and his two younger brothers and his Mom, Hilary.

They lived in a yellow Federal perched on the edge of the town’s biggest graveyard. Jimmy stayed for months. Bruce’s brothers were two and three years younger, but in those days, that was much younger.

The father had been gone for a long time. But Hilary was pretty and fresh. This was way before people started using the phrase, “Single Mother.” Hilary appeared to Jimmy to be undaunted. She had a good job. She wore very stylish clothes. She smiled a lot.

Everyone had a chore. Bruce had to keep the furnace going and mow the lawn. Jimmy had to dump the garbage and the trash and the ashes from the furnace.

Hilary left very early in the morning on weekdays. The coffee she made was good. But he could not remember ever sitting down for a meal with Hilary and her boys. He had no memory of eating in the yellow Federal. The food thing was a mystery.

Jimmy and Bruce were sitting side by side in civics class when Melanie O’Donahue first came through the door. She had moved from Detroit. Bruce was immediately enchanted. He married Melanie after they graduated from college. Jimmy was newly married then too.

They were a foursome right away. Even after Jimmy moved to Manhattan, they got together in Connecticut on weekends. In the summer, Bruce and Melanie would visit Jimmy and Karen at their cottage way out on Fire Island.

But now, Jimmy could not recall anything specific about all the time he had spent with Bruce and Melanie. Not a moment. Not a scene. Nothing. He assumed they were surprised when he left Karen and started up with Anne. In time, Jimmy and Anne began to socialize with Bruce and Melanie. Then he went fishing with Bruce and that was it. What on earth was the problem?

He asked Anne if she recalled if Jimmy and Bruce had some sort of issue way back then. He said, “I know I had some sort of problem with Bruce, but I can’t remember what it was.”

Anne said, “The night before you went fishing, we were having drinks at the river house with a few people. Bruce was there. Melanie was away. You were drinking way too much and being just terrible with everyone. Anyway, Bruce hit on me – and the minute he did, I could see him realize how crazy and wrong he was being. I just turned away. I never told you – I knew how important Bruce was to you. Then you went fishing the next day. You never said anything. When we didn’t see Bruce and Melanie any more, I didn’t give it much thought. I had no idea you knew.”

Jimmy said, “I didn’t know. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what.”

All these years later, Jimmy was shocked Bruce had hit on Anne. She was a beauty and lots of men tried with her – but Bruce was his friend. They had been drinking hard. Jimmy was acting crazy. So Bruce had run his own nut job show. It was sad Jimmy hadn’t known about it. He had never realized how angry Bruce was at him. Now he did.

Bruce was dead. But now, forty-two years after they had parted, Jimmy was back in touch with him.

In the years that followed his parting from Bruce, Jimmy made no new friends. His business was going very well — so he met a lot of new people — but these were business contacts. He loved Anne but their marriage was a very rocky road.

They traveled a lot. Jimmy was succeeding even though his drinking was increasing. One night in New York City, a new business acquaintance turned Jimmy on to cocaine for the first time – and that occasion – when Jimmy was forty-three – changed his life forever.

Jimmy became a cocaine addict on his first toot. It was the first time in his life he felt okay. Actually, “okay” is a frail, sadly insufficient word for how he felt. He felt deep down good. It was a wonderful way to feel.

Three years later, he weighed 132 pounds. He went into treatment at a rehab. He relapsed. His wife organized another Intervention. He did well in treatment but relapsed 52 days out. After he emerged from his third rehab, his wife surprisingly got pregnant. The child was born with a genetic disability and in intensive care for months. Our hero left the second night.

He had a heart attack in rehab four. There was a 3-bed intensive care unit in the little hospital in Wisconsin. He saw his lines go flat on the monitor. A stocky nurse named Ann-Marie punched him in the chest and his heart began to beat again.

Back in Connecticut, they thought it had been a mild heart attack. When they checked via a Catheterization, one of his arteries blew out completely. There was nothing left to bypass.

He kept on using.

Finally, he went to a new fangled rehab in Arizona that approached treatment for addiction as an educational experience for people who had been traumatized early on.

He was there three months. He got good healing. He had two very minor slips and then stayed clean and sober.

Of course, the 12 Steps of AA were at the center of his program. And the result of the 12 Steps was “a spiritual awakening.” But he was way out of touch with God. When he worked his program, he used the entire Membership of AA as “a Power greater than ourselves.”

Looking back, he realized, he had disqualified himself as a God consort, when he was using. Back when he was using, cocaine was his one and only God.

“One and only God” were just words. It seemed to Jimmy that you had to be an addict to know what they really meant. For years, if you had asked Jimmy O’Hara if he would choose his next cocaine run over God, he would have replied, “Absolutely.”

Since he had made that choice again and again over the years, Jimmy had figured his disqualification was permanent. Even though over his years of recovery a spiritual awakening had bloomed and leafed out in him. Even though he often said the 
Serenity Prayer. Even though he joined the Unitarian Church and attended there regularly for years.

Like Lucifer, Jimmy had been cast out. Actually, he had jumped out. It seemed fair.

Now Jimmy realized that what he had accepted as a just verdict was actually the misshapen pronouncement of a crazed addict. And he had borne it – and even occasionally brandished it – all through the years of his recovery.

However, when he got Small Cell Lung Cancer — right before he went under and they cracked his rib cage and extracted the peach sized tumor and the upper lobe of his left lung, he thought the words, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” He felt safe.

He healed from the operation. It was very painful. They had cracked his rib cage. He recovered. They kept running tests. In those days, hardly anyone recovered from this cancer. But Jimmy stayed cancer free. It was a happy surprise.

But Jimmy forgot about how safe he had felt right before they cut him.

He went on with his life and his recovery one day at a time. However, he was still mired in his addiction much, much, more than he knew.

Then came the diagnosis and the yearning for God’s help and the memory of his last time with Bruce and the crimson dawning deep in him of the realization that he was heavy laden and needed rest.


  1. Posted March 12, 2018 at 7:28 am | #

    A fine summing-up of the Jimmy chronicles.

  2. Posted March 12, 2018 at 12:44 pm | #

    A welcome and highly readable chronicle of the long, strange trip of Jimmy O’Hara, which I have greatly enjoyed over the years. An inspiring epic of survival, not quite enough to light the spark of faith, but enough to demonstrate the miracle of cosmic randomness.

  3. Posted March 14, 2018 at 7:54 am | #

    A great tale on what brings us close and what takes us away from friends, lovers, God, and ourselves.

  4. Posted March 16, 2018 at 9:57 am | #

    Stunning! – both the photo and the response. Great to read this chapter in Jimmy’s life. I literally gasped at the use of the end phrase “heavy laden” – perfect for the story inspired by the photo. Thank you both for the rich pairing.

  5. Posted March 19, 2018 at 3:30 pm | #

    Out of touch indeed. He went through life one day at a time until he realized he was heavily laden and needed rest. Very real and disturbing. Or is it just my mortality showing?

  6. Posted April 2, 2018 at 9:50 am | #

    It takes your breath away to think of the tangible matter that is love and friendship — to say nothing of the stuff of soul — that fleed without footsteps and fingerprints like this from a self-obsessed id in full freefall. Bruce had his own demons but Jimmy still can’t quite link arms with his own, though clearly these decades on he is closer. The specter of cocaine on the brain is one thing. A terrible thing to behold even in someone you ostensibly love. Some people can stare it down… Bruce clearly couldn’t and the reader can only speculate why this is so. But it in Jimmy’s and so many cases, addiction is only the echo of a troubled soul — in Jimmy it is the lost boy — who lived forward in the shell of Jimmy the suburban man. Clearly ending the madness of drink and drugs just started the long journey home for the lost boy. Perhaps passing the whiff of Bruce’s memory as it passed in the cool morning dew gets Jimmy closer.

    I like this character development. Please keep Jimmy vital so we can see how it plays out.