The Last Safe Place

I have been clean for nearly 14 months. 414 days to be exact. I’ve been back east nearly 8 of those 14 months. Staying clean here is a coup considering far more than half my life has been spent in the desperate grip of addiction in this place in which I was born and bred. When I left to go to California it was an attempt to outrun my addiction and get a clean start. I was embraced and emboldened by people who loved me out there and it was the springboard into a future that was slipping further and further away from me. A last, futile grasp at life. When I left to go to California I was also in some pretty dire circumstances with my dealer at the time, so it was also an escape from a dangerous situation that had, on more than one occasion, become fairly violent.

I’ve been clean for nearly 14 months and back east for nearly 8. When I came back east I didn’t stay in Boston.  I would have picked up again if I’d stayed in the city that I so closely associated with getting high. There’s not a lot in the city that I don’t associate with my drug use. The streets, the buildings, the people, the bars.  There is so much pain in this place.  Things I had dealt with my whole life by not dealing with them, by losing myself to the empty promise of dope. The last place I lived before I left for California last year was a closet on the second floor of a filthy junkie flop house in Dorchester. I was terrified of everything and of nothing. My fear of the world took a back seat on a daily basis to my desire, my need to get high enough to get me through one more day.

So I didn’t stay in the city when I came back last July. Instead, still newly clean and sober, I thought it safer to go to Maine and stay at my grandparent’s cabin. The cabin was my safe place. It had always been my safe place. As a child, being in that cabin with my grandparents was what made everything else tolerable. I was always safe with them. I was safe and I was loved. And though they are now gone, their love lived on in that place. I felt immediately at peace when I was there. And so when I came back east I made my way to the cabin and spent most of the summer and much of the fall there. I’d go into town for brief respites from the primitive living at the cabin. I’d stay at hotels or rent rooms for a week at a time to refuel a little before heading back to the lake. Sometimes I went into town just to be around people. The cabin is remote and the silence could get overwhelming at times. As the days and nights grew colder, I spent more and more time in town. But when I found myself getting anxious or scared, I’d go back to the cabin for a night or two and it always made me feel better.

In the 8 months since I’ve been back east, I’d only gone back to Boston a couple of times. They were short stays and I had managed to avoid running into my dealer or anyone else from that life. I could always feel myself slipping when I was in the city. It’s like an invisible cord around my neck was tightening and making it difficult to breathe. My veins ached each time I walked the streets of my hometown, no matter how short the visit. The demons would start to scratch and claw their way to the surface, waiting for me to succumb again. It was the dance we danced. Still, I managed each time to make it back to the safety of the cabin, still sober, breathless and sick from the memories and the temptation.

And then something happened. The only safe place I’ve ever known was taken from me in a savage way and now I feel like I’m in a free fall with no end in sight. I’d returned to the cabin after a trip to Boston. I’d arrived around midday and by evening I was settling in for the night, exhausted from the trip and in need of some solid sleep. I don’t remember hearing them climb the stairs or come through the door, but suddenly they were there. These men I’d managed to avoid for 8 months. Three of them. My fear rose when I saw my former dealer and my uncle; it was dampened a bit when I saw the third man, a friend from childhood. I figured it wouldn’t be good, but it wouldn’t get too bad if he was there to intervene. I have never been more wrong in my life.

I am desperate to push what happened out of my head because I have no idea how to even begin to process the reality of it. But every time I close my eyes it’s there. They’re there. The blood rises to my face and I can feel his hand around my throat, squeezing, squeezing. His face directly next to mine, his breath in my ear, kneeling on my chest, heavy. The other’s hands tearing at me, holding the cold metal against my cheek. They know what scares me most.

I’m back in the city this night.  I spent the better part of this week back in the hospital with an infection. I tried to go back to the cabin when I got out. I can never go back there again. And so I came back to Boston, the city of my birth. I tried to distract myself today. I tried to write because writing is always what I’ve done. I sat with the keyboard and tried to write about anything but my dealer and my uncle. I didn’t want to write about what happened. I didn’t want to think about it. I was desperate to write about anything but the attack–the seasons, my addiction, anything–but it kept coming back to this, to what happened. I wrote and wrote and wrote the things that I couldn’t say aloud. I purged the details of what my uncle and my dealer did to me. I wrote about the fear and helplessness I felt as they held me down. I wrote about the things they said as they violated me in the most sadistic ways imaginable. I wrote about the agonizing pain, the blood. I needed to rid myself of the terror that once again threatened to paralyze me, silencing me forever. I wrote through the tears. I wrote through the pain. I’ve learned well over the years to dissociate myself from the pain–physical as well as emotional. It’s how I got through the years of abuse as a child. It’s how I survived that brutal night at the hands of two men who seemed to enjoy doing whatever it took to get me to scream louder and cry harder and beg, beg, beg them to stop. I wrote it all and then I erased it all, shame and fear and fury dripping off each word.

Power is holding someone else’s fear in your hand and showing it to them. They showed me my fear that night. If there’s any justice, they’re getting just a taste of the fear I felt as they sit in jail now for what they did.

I’ve locked myself in this room tonight. The small space is closing in around me. The air is stale and it’s difficult to catch my breath. My heart is racing and panic washes over me. I can feel the bile rising in the back of my throat and I try to suppress the terror and the rage. My fists clench and I start to scream. It’s a scream that comes not from my throat or my lungs, but from deep within the shut-off places that I carry inside. It’s a scream that could expand and expand without end. Its source is equal parts panic and rage, proliferated by the silence and pain of all these years, the anguish of these last two weeks, the ever-present fear, the never-ending nightmare. It’s all I can do. Scream and wail. Anything to break the silence that hangs heavy, thick with dread. And then it stops and there is no more sound. Just tears rolling down my face as my chest rises and falls in silent sobs.

I have spent every night of the last two weeks rocking myself to sleep as a child who is learning to self-soothe would. My knees drawn tightly to my chest, holding myself together. My greatest fear is that if I let go I will crumble into a million pieces. I sit in silence and listen to the neural hum of time travel. The world around me slows; my mind speeds through at a supersonic rate.

I can’t take the silence any more. I need to escape the silence or it will swallow me whole. I still hurt. It hurts to walk. My flesh is still raw and pulsing with pain but I have to get up and get out tonight and not be alone and held captive by the silence. When one is lost, one must be among the lost.

The cabin was my last safe place. And now it’s gone and I don’t know what to do. So I fix my eyes on the dark and wait, holding my breath one beat longer than is comfortable, trying to keep my heart from beating too loudly. Am I too far gone now? Trapped on the other side of this wide, dark chasm. This expanse that has always tenuously bridged the void between hope and despair, sobriety and drunkenness, safety and terror, life and death?

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