NEA Literature Fellowships

Lucas Mann

Back to NEA Literature Fellowships


Lucas Mann

Photo by Matthew Celeste

(2018 - Prose)

Excerpt from “Trying to Get Right”

When Dr. Claude Curran’s office is open, it’s still always full. He stays right at the patient limit for buprenorphine now, close enough anyway to not raise any red flags, and also provides other psychiatric treatment for Fall River’s poorest residents.

On any given day, there’s twenty people crammed into the waiting room, another five or so smoking out on the little porch. When I go out there to bum cigarettes and ask questions, the answers are like this:

J: I was working cleanup after a hurricane in the 80s. Some wreckage fell and I lost my toes. It’s a lot of pain. I like booze, and Vics and Percs. It’s hard to get Suboxone. I’m still on the waiting list at the clinic in New Bedford—they just never called back. I was buying it for $10 a pill on the street. I know a lot of people who need it who can’t get it. Not friends. All my friends are dead.

Or M: My father was an addict. My brother, now my brother-in-law, too. My brother died; it was a suicide by cop sort of thing. He couldn’t get treatment, he didn’t want to keep using, he didn’t want to go through withdrawal. He had a standoff with the Taunton cops and they shot him. You can read about it in the paper.

Or B, who’s scared to go home because she lives with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend assaults her when her mother is out. B was on methadone for a while, hated it, tried to get off it, and ended up attempting suicide in withdrawal. After that, she was a patient of Curran’s for about a year. A few months ago, he kicked her out of treatment. He pill-counted her and, a couple of times, the number came up wrong. She stopped taking the medicine for a while, started selling it and using the money to buy heroin. She says it started on one of those days when her mother’s boyfriend did what he did and she wanted to feel different than how she felt. She says she shouldn’t have done it. She tells me like I can relay the message to someone important—that she is contrite. She’s here to ask Curran to take her back. She can’t find a doctor with room on their cap limit who takes Medicaid.

She rocks as she speaks. She rubs her hands together. She asks me outright if I can put in a good word for her. She looks like a junkie. She looks like someone who needs her medication.

Curran can’t take her, I know. There isn’t room, and he’s trying to lay low. He ends up prescribing two weeks worth to at least buy her time. He calls this compassion. Many of his colleagues would call it against best practices. Either way, it’s a desperate gesture, and almost certainly ineffective.

I text B for a while, trying to find a time to check in and see if she’s gotten treatment. For a couple of weeks she answers; then she stops.

("Trying to Get Right" was originally published in Guernica: A Magazine of Global Arts & Politics, 2016)

Lucas Mann is the author of Captive Audience: On Love and Reality TV (Vintage, 2018). He is also the author of Lord Fear: A Memoir, which was named one of the best books of 2015 by the Miami HeraldKirkus ReviewsPaper MagazineLargehearted Boy, and, and Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, which earned a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. His essays and stories have appeared in Guernica, BuzzFeed, Slate, Wigleaf, and the Kenyon Review, among others. He has received fellowships from United States Artists,the Wesleyan Writers Conference, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. He teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and lives in Providence, Rhode Island with his wife.

The joy and validation of receiving the call from the NEA was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. To know that a panel of brilliant people somewhere finds value in my work means so much to me. More practically, I’m a professor, and a lot of my time is spent teaching, advising, grading, organizing. I love the work, but this fellowship provides the chance to make some more time and space for my writing. What a privilege! Thank you for existing, NEA!