The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors

I’ve been in the hospital for a few days. I went in for one thing and, of course, ended up being poked and prodded until this morning when I’d had it and was feeling well enough that I decided to leave and get on with things. I didn’t want to go in the first place, but I was feeling pretty crappy and my desire to make it to tomorrow with the ability to breathe relatively unhindered trumped my distaste for medical intervention. And so, here we are. And now I’m just a couple hours away from being able to say that I am officially one year clean. Tomorrow marks a full 365 days without heroin. There’s a lot to say about that, but there’s a lot to say about other stuff as well, so I’m going to start here:

When I checked my messages this morning after having not looked at my phone in over a week, I saw one from my childhood friend, Beeb, telling me that his brother Frank had taken his own life. The weight of the news took me to my knees as a wave of memories came rushing at me all at once. Frank and Beeb were among my closest friends growing up. We lived about a block apart and we, along with a group of 6 or 7 other kids, spent countless hours together, walking the streets of our neighborhood, trying to steer clear of the adults in our lives, hanging onto one another for support and love and fun and any sense of normalcy we could glean amidst the chaos of our respective worlds.

Frank and Beeb lived with their grandmother and an aunt and uncle in an old, rundown colonial right next to a cemetery. Their mother was dead; their father was in jail. There was a correlation between these two facts, but we certainly never discussed it. I knew little about their home life, except that their grandmother was mean. Her way of keeping her young grandsons in line was to smack them around and instill a fair amount of fear in them. Their family was from the Mid East. I actually have no idea if Frank and Beeb were born here or if they came over with their family at some point later. I met them when I was around 6 and they always spoke perfect English with no accent so I assumed they were born here. They spoke Arabic with their family though, and I remember being pretty fascinated by that.

Beeb was my age and Frank was a year younger. Beeb was the stronger of the two, physically and emotionally. Frank was a tiny little thing. He and I bonded quickly over our love of nature and words and later, our shared desire to stay away from our homes as long as we possibly could. He had this adorable crooked, mischievous smile and a mop of curly jet black hair. He was several inches shorter than me until well after high school when I stayed at 5’5″ and he suddenly shot up past 6′. Below is a picture of him when he was 16. He’s the second one in from the left. That’s part the motley crew I affixed myself to throughout my school years.

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I’ve spent a lot of today thinking about the time I spent with Frank. I remember riding quads in the pits behind the cemetery for endless hours and then sitting against the headstones until long after dark just talking and laughing. I remember the town dances we all used to attend. Frank would wear a crisp white shirt and skinny tie and pegged jeans. He was obsessed with Michael Jackson’s music and that kid could break dance like nobody’s business.

When I was a senior and Frank was a junior he asked me to go to his prom with him. Neither of us was looking for a hookup or a relationship; we were friends who loved to dance and talk and so we went to his prom and had a great time together. We went to the after party at a hotel with the rest of his class and at the end of the night I remember Frank leaning in for a kiss. I instinctively pulled back and immediately felt bad. I certainly didn’t mean to offend him. He was surprised by my response and tried again to kiss me. He wasn’t trying to go any further than that, he just wanted a kiss. When I recoiled a second time he asked why I didn’t like to kiss. He’d kissed me on the cheek lots of times and I hadn’t reacted, so I think it just took him back. He didn’t know about the Monster. He didn’t know that our neighbor had been raping me for years. I’d only told one other person at that point but that night I told Frank. I told him a little anyway. I didn’t get into the whole thing, but I told him that the Monster would try to kiss me and that I remembered how it felt and the thought of it made me physically sick. And while it certainly didn’t hurt like the rest of it did, I remembered the kissing and how much I hated it. I told him I still didn’t like to kiss because all tongues feel the same. He sat back and stared at me for a few minutes and then gave me the longest, warmest hug I ever remember getting. He never tried to kiss me after that, but he almost always put his arm around me when we walked together and I remember loving how safe that made me feel.

I didn’t know Frank well as a man; I knew him mostly as a boy. Still, my heart broke when I learned of his pain and his passing. It brought me back through time and suddenly I could hear his voice and his laugh and the hope he had for the future. And then it stopped. We reconnected about 10 years ago after having not seen each other in well over a decade. I’ve seen Beeb from time to time. He and I had drugs in common. I’d see him on the streets of the city now and then. But Frank, for as troubled as he was, never got into drugs. He traveled to try to escape his past. I’d get postcards or emails from him every once in a while from wherever he happened to be. The last time he wrote he was in Jordan. This is the last picture I have of him. He’s standing on the banks of the Dead Sea.

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It’s funny how we’re drawn to certain people in life. Frank and Beeb and I seemed to have this restless soul thing in common. I escaped through books and words and getting high. Frank took off for adventure and I always admired that about him. We were all perpetually running from that which haunted us, desperately afraid that our pasts would someday catch up to us and finish the job. Our pasts seem to be winning the race right now.

A year sober. To be honest, aside from not actively using every day (hour) and avoiding the inevitable overdose or run-in with my dealer, not a lot has changed for me over the last year. There are times I feel worse now because I’m not using to escape and I haven’t developed a whole lot in terms of coping skills. I haven’t used in a year. But I’m not sure I really consider myself in recovery and sober because aside from abstinence from using, nothing has changed. I haven’t  faced my demons and worked toward some semblance of a life. Basically what it comes down to is this: My stubborn Southie pride has managed to override my desire to use for no other reason than as a BIG Fuck You to those who never thought I’d be able to make it a year. Not great incentive, but it’s kept me from the needle, so there’s that.

I’ve had a year before. In fact on the day I made a year the last time, I had an epic relapse that almost killed me when I overdosed on a speedball. I love heroin, but speedballs are the craziest thing I’ve ever done. It’s like bungee jumping and having the most intense orgasm of your life in the middle of the free fall. The whole point of it is to get as high as possible. But it’s one of the most dangerous things you can do because it speeds up and slows down your heart at the same time. It’s the ultimate game of Russian Roulette. Will the pull of the trigger set off a hollow click or will your heart explode into a million pieces?

It was always an exercise in futility to find the balance between oblivion and lucidity when I used. I’m actually having the same trouble sober if you want to know the truth.

The past few months have been difficult. I hate the holiday season. This is always a difficult time for so many reasons. I miss Paul, I miss my grandparents, and thoughts of family fuel the rage. Thanksgiving, in particular, is difficult because I always spent it with Paul and it marks the lead-in to the anniversary of his death. I struggled most of November and December to keep my head above water. I thought many times about just filling a syringe to capacity and pushing off into a peaceful nod. It was exhausting trying to fight off the sadness and despair. Heroin protected me from anything that could hurt me. It filled me with peace and calm. Until it didn’t. It’s the broken promises of heroin that I need to remember.

The past 12 months have been surreal. The months leading into the holiday season last year were among the most difficult I’ve ever had. Between brief infinitesimal stints of sobriety I was abusing my body with heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. I was, quite literally, living in a closet in some junkie shit hole in the city. A year ago Thanksgiving week I was in such desperate shape that I made a really lame attempt to smite my misery by securing a belt around my neck and hoping it would strangle the last hopeless, wretched breath out of me. I was so sick at that point that I didn’t think I had anything left to fight with. I was on the Cape that week with D and R, who had come from across the country to get me out of where I was and offer me from respite, some love. I think we all thought that I wasn’t going to live a long time and they wanted to be there with me.

I was still using then, but during the first couple of days with them at the little house D had rented I started to feel something I hadn’t expected. I decided that if I was going to die, I didn’t want to be using when I did. So I flushed what I had left and started to go through withdrawals. But I wasn’t alone this time, and the care and love they showed me helped get me through the worst of it. The unfortunate belt incident was most probably a reaction to the confluence of emotions that hit me like a hammer: the fear, despondency, and loneliness were met head on with hope, love, and compassion and I really had no idea what to do with it all.

I remember just wanting to talk. I had been alone for so long. Silence had broken me down and I just wanted to talk. About ordinary things, about extraordinary things. I wanted to hear them talk. I wanted to just listen to their voices as I lay there shaking and exhausted. Mostly, though, they seemed to know that what I needed most was just some human contact. They held my hand often that week, wiped my brow with a cool cloth when I had a seizure or my fever spiked. My discomfort with opening myself up like that diminished over the course of the week and eventually I embraced the connection. That week they seemed driven to get at the deeper places inside me, knocking on doors I had long ago locked. They were urging something else, but demanding nothing.

While I believe they were prepared to be there for the end of my life, I know that they hoped to ignite in me a spark of life, of hope. D asked me, I believed sincerely, if I would return with him to the west coast. I had begun to fight and he wanted me to continue. I couldn’t commit to that then, but a couple of months later I came to believe that my best shot at staying sober and of living was to leave Boston. So in February I flew to R in Florida and then we flew together to California a couple of weeks later.

“You never forget the face of the person who was your last hope.”

Except sometimes you have to.

This is not where I pictured myself being right now. In this place, in this head space, in this anything. But it’s funny because for so much of my life, I never did the “I wonder where I’ll be in a year” type thinking. I lived day by day, for better or worse. Ok, usually worse given my proclivity toward recklessness and self-destruction, but my point is I never really thought too far into the future. That changed a year ago. It changed on the Cape. I guess gradually it had started a little before that, but though I relapsed soon after the Cape trip, that week was really the impetus for my current state of sobriety. Though it’s not exactly the journey I would have expected. I was moving ahead with such vigor and promise and then I landed back here and hit a wall. Today I’m back to living day by day.

I’m just not doing a lot of forward-thinking these days. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I don’t think. The thing that sucks about it is that I don’t get to experience the joy and peace that I felt when I allowed myself to be open to possibility and to love. Conversely, I don’t feel the pain I felt when I allowed myself to be vulnerable and open. So, while C.S. Lewis would most certainly disagree with me, I’m willing to forgo the former to avoid the heartache of the latter.

“Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man.” -Nietzsche

The room I’m currently renting has a small couch by the window and a little alcove off the living area. I live, eat, and sleep mostly on the floor in the reading nook. I have couch cushions laid out on the floor and a sheet on top of them. Arranged around the perimeter are dozens of books in various stages of being read and not being read, a fortress with me walled off inside. My safe place. A portable safe place I can take with me wherever I go.

I’m no longer taking my AIDS meds. I came off them months ago. I suppose I’m being very passive aggressive about both life and death, holding onto neither particularly tightly. One consequence of not taking the meds is that I have been having a lot of seizures lately and night sweats many nights. I have a lot of trouble sleeping. I wake with great urgency, ripped from any peace that sleep had rendered, and writing is the only way to calm the thoughts. I keep a notebook next to me and without turning on the light I scribble faintly in the night’s small hours, often trailing away and off the page as I struggle against my body’s desire to fall back into unconsciousness.

Right now I’m just filling my days with books and some writing. I’ve been thinking lately about the themes in my life: sexual abnormalady, family division, abandonment, loss. It feels like there’s a Herzogovinian revolt brewing in my soul.

The silence is getting to me again.

The moments between the sounds of life feel like chasms of emptiness. I hardly have the words to describe the absence of sound. Each heart beat is like an explosion. I feel like a Dharma bum of the northeast these days. Completely unsettled, without a home, waiting for the silence to overtake me.

“Without a family, man, alone in the world, trembles with the cold” -Andre Maurois

I fell asleep this afternoon and woke up angry, enraged really. I had a nightmare about the Monster. It’s been happening more and more lately. I always thought I’d have the chance some day to confront the man who stole my childhood, my innocence, my life. But he died last summer from the same fucking disease he infected me with and I lost that chance forever, and that has only fueled my rage more. I have such a desperate need to confront the people who’ve hurt me. And lately I’ve felt an intense need to look back at my life and excavate something from the depths and memorialize it in words so it won’t be forgotten or denied. So I won’t be forgotten or denied. To leave my mark somewhere on the world. I wasn’t born broken. That happened later. I was a child once, full of innocence and hope. I laughed and loved. And then I didn’t.

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My cousin and I (on the right) in our favorite place in the world: our grandparent’s backyard.

 

It’s just after 3:00 in the morning on the 23rd of January. I am officially a year sober. I’ll stay here a few more days, then perhaps make my way back to the cabin for a bit. Ultimately I imagine I will end up back in Boston if for no other reason than to fulfill my need to confront part of my past.

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Alternate Ending

We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.

–Orson Welles

I hate days like today. I woke up thinking about my cousin. Today is her birthday. Or rather, today would be her birthday if she hadn’t overdosed on heroin nearly 4 years ago. I was supposed to save her that night. Her sister had called me and asked me to look for her. She was worried that she was out of control. I’d only been clean for a short time and her sister knew I’d know where to look. So I looked for her and, of course, I found her. But instead of saving her from herself that night, I loaded up with her. I woke up the next morning. She didn’t. No part of that makes sense to me. It should have been my heart that stopped that night, not hers. She was young and beautiful and smart. She had so much to offer, so much life ahead of her.

Anyway. I hate days like today. I’ve been in a dark place since I woke up from a very restless sleep.

I’ve been back on the East Coast for a couple of months now. The past 7 months or so are still kind of a blur to me. One minute I was in a safe place, thousands of miles from my life, tucked away in a friend’s little yellow spare room, feeling as close to loved as I have in a long time. Then a few things happened and suddenly I was on a plane, loaded on Xanax, headed back to the belly of the beast, unsure of exactly what was going to happen next. I got off the plane around 6 AM on a Friday and grabbed a cab to a hotel about an hour away. The last 24 hours had cost me nearly three grand between air fare and the cab ride alone. I threw my bag in the closet and fell into a deep sleep on top of the covers of the bed.

I awoke a few hours later and shook off the cobwebs and lethargy. I still felt numb from the realization that I was back and I wasn’t sure what to do next. So I went where I always go when I feel myself tumbling aimlessly through space and time: I went to visit my grandparents. My grandmother died 9 years ago; my grandfather followed 6 years later. They now rest side by side in a family plot at a cemetery just outside the city. I sat with my back against their headstone telling them about what had gone on over the last few weeks. After an hour or so, I got up and headed for the bus station for the long ride north.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 2 months at my grandparent’s cabin in Maine. It’s a remote place. There’s no electricity or running water and it’s pretty run down. Early in my stay, I was climbing the stairs in back and put my foot right through some rotted wood. I ended up tearing a tendon in my ankle, so that’s made things  a bit more difficult. Still, it’s a peaceful place for me, full of memories of when I used to go there as a kid with my grandparents. So I embrace it for a while and then I get tired of living like Laura Ingalls and I hightail it into town for some 21st century amenities.

There’s not much to do at the cabin. It’s heartbreakingly quiet at times. I spend a lot of time down by the lake, fishing or just staring out at the water. I don’t go in the water, or not too far in anyway. I’m not much of a swimmer. I used to be, but apparently it’s a skill that can be forgotten and I seem to have lost the ability to not sink, or at least to not panic as I try to avoid sinking. Drowning is not how I want to go out, thank you very much.

Getting back into town from the cabin can be a bit of a challenge. Usually I walk as far as I can until I get at least spotty cell service and then I call a cab or hitch a ride. Being all gimpy with my injured ankle, it’s easier if I take the rowboat across the lake instead of trying to walk around. That old rowboat and I have a tenuous relationship at best. But so far it has managed to deliver me safely to the other side with no major incidents.

Tonight I’m in town. Sitting at the desk in a hotel room I’ve taken for the night. A small lamp illuminates the otherwise darkened room. I closed the curtains and turned on the air conditioner as soon as I walked in several hours ago. I have a vanilla candle on my left and an American Spirit burning down to the filter in a makeshift ashtray to my right. That’s not really allowed but what’s the worst that can happen? I get kicked out? I’ve been tossed out of better places. Whatever. I’m not here for long. I wanted to escape the humidity, get a meal that didn’t include something I’ve kept chilled by sinking it to the bottom of the lake, and indulge in a hot shower. Simple pleasures.

I had to get away from the silence for a while. I’ve been alone since I landed back in Boston. Alone, I’ve tried to process what’s happened the last couple of months. Alone is the only way I know to endure the grief, hurt, and anger I’ve been feeling. Solitude isn’t always easy, but I’ve come to believe it’s necessary. True intimacy has always been difficult for me. Even when, like with my friends D and R, I know they’d be there for me, I have a difficult time reaching out. And so I sit in hotel rooms and write it out, hoping for some relief. Being able to trust has never come naturally. And the times that I have, it hasn’t turned out so well. It’s become far too troublesome to bother to be honest.

D and R spent months breaking down my defenses, trying to get me to embrace life and believe in a future they insisted I had. And to be honest, I felt human when I was around them. I felt safe. “We got you.” But alone in this room tonight, they don’t have me. I’m in this one alone. Terrified and alone. D wants an ending. He wanted a different one than I can give him. I’ve been holding my breath since the day I landed back in Boston, trying to pretend like things haven’t changed, like the experience I had being held in the arms of people who said they loved me, despite my utter inhumanity, didn’t open some door of possibility for me.

In an interview about a movie he was writing, Orson Welles once said, “If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop your story.” I’ve been thinking about where I want to stop my story. I may have stopped mine last Thanksgiving at the cottage on the Cape. I felt safe and protected and loved there with my friends. They took me quite literally right off the street and were willing to be there for whatever happened. There in that house, lying on the couch with D and R on either side of me, no drugs in my system, I would have just slipped away. I know that’s probably not the ending they would have wanted for me. Which I guess is why I ended up in California with them a few months later.

My first stay out there. I may have extended my story and ended it there. Though thinking back on it now, that stay offered a glimmer of hope that I made the mistake of trusting. I started to see a way back to life during those couple of months. I was sober, my health was improving, I met people who live fully and who welcomed me warmly. I don’t think I could have ended it there, because I was too full of hope and promise. I wanted what they had, but the terror I felt at how to get there proved too strong, and so here I am. No matter where my story ends now, it’s not going to be the rainbows and unicorns ending that D wants. It’s time to write an alternate ending.

The demons that haunt the darkest places of me are painful and scary and I’ve no earthly idea how to face them sober. I don’t have the tools to do that. I’ve always just numbed myself to the worst of it. For so long I’ve felt like I was too broken for this world. It terrifies me at every turn and that fear has exhausted me to the point of no return. It’s broken me down, and the few times that I dared to hope that I could find my way out, I was pulled back in the cruelest of ways.

It’s peaceful at the cabin. But sometimes even the peace of that place is shattered by the roar of the broken junkie voices inside my head shouting for relief. I feel caught square in the middle between life and death; a swinging pendulum stopped short in the middle of its journey to either side. I feel like I’ve been dying like this forever. This inexorable march toward my own end–physical, emotional, spiritual–not all at once, but rather one by one. Time has stopped here.

I’m not sure what I’m waiting for now. Am I waiting to see if, like it always has in the past, the Monster will rear its head and drag me down once and for all? Am I waiting to start living my life again? Or am I merely waiting to die?

I know I can make all this pain disappear tonight. I mean, I know the quickest and easiest–and weakest–way to stop the hurt. The needle could take all this away. I could be enveloped in dope’s warmth tonight. Dope. My only friend this night. My veins ache for it. The silent scream I feel forming in the pit of my stomach, making its way up my throat, waiting for me to open my mouth and release it all to my savior. I don’t want to be alone tonight. The urges are pulling all the darkness to the surface and I am losing myself to the desperate desire I feel for the beautiful silence of the nod. I can taste the flavor, the bitterness in the back of my throat as the junk hits my bloodstream. I just need a fix.

What choice do I have then? I’m too destroyed to continue to live with dope and I’m too terrified to really believe in the idea of living without it. Will this last shot bring me from zero to forever?

God, I fucking hate days like today.

I’m so tired. I’ve been fighting a fever for weeks. I still have a few hours until the sun comes up. I just have to get through this night. I’m going back to the cabin tomorrow. Back to the peace and solitude of the cabin. I just have to get through this night.

Ghosts That We Knew

I’ve been thinking about family lately. My friend D is in New York visiting his mom, who’s been in the hospital for a week or so. Over the past several years, D, and more recently his fiancée, R, have become the closest thing I have to family. I long ago lost faith that unconditional love actually exists. Certainly I’ve been so fucked up for so long that I stopped believing I deserved it. Tirelessly, they have been peeling back the layers of my defenses and forcing me to see my own humanity once again. They have been loving me, and though I’ve struggled with it at times, I’m desperate to embrace it. They’re not afraid to know me at my core, the damaged me, the vulnerable me, the me that I don’t show anyone, ever, because the pain of rejection, of betrayal, long ago became too much to bear.

One hundred and eleven days ago I was pretty strung out on dope. I’d been living in a closet in some shithole in Boston, terrified that the cops, or worse yet the dealer I owed money to, would be coming through the door any day. I was sick and freezing and didn’t want to live to see another sunrise. One hundred and ten days ago, D and R opened their lives wide open to me. They took me into their home, they cleaned me up, they cared for me, they brought me back from the hell that I’d been in for so long. They’ve become my family in every way that matters. Far more so than those with whom I share DNA.

Anyway. That’s a story for another post to be sure. For now, suffice to say that D’s visit with his mom has tapped a deep well of emotion in me as I think of him at his mom’s bedside, visiting with her, caring for her, loving her.

I’m tired tonight. I haven’t been sleeping. The vague punchiness I experience with fatigue began as I closed my eyes and recalled one of the last conversations I had with my cousin several years ago. I held the phone listening to my cousin talk. I was happy she had called. After 45 minutes of animated chat, she said she had to get going, and promised we’d talk again soon. I was a little sad when we hung up. That wasn’t unusual. There was always a lot of noise when we were on the phone together. A lot of laughing and sharing of stories. When we hung up, the silence was deafening.

That memory hit me hard tonight. Alone in this hotel, curled up on the chair with only my computer screen illuminating the room, I suddenly had the feeling of being in a Stanley Kubrick movie.

How to put this. In his movies, I think there’s a kind of vast silence underneath everything. It’s an expression of detachment and alienation. So I guess now’s as good a time as any to write about family.

For the first 8 years of my life, I was raised primarily by my grandmother and grandfather. I cherish the memories I have of that time with my grandparents. Their house was always warm and safe and full of love. I remember sitting quietly with my grandmother on the sofa, snuggled under her arm for hours as she sewed. And I remember the wondrous aromas that came from her tiny kitchen on a daily basis. At night she would read to me and kiss me on the forehead as she tucked me in under a quilt that she had made herself.

Besides my grandparents, the one thing I could always count on when I was growing up was my relationship with my cousins. Until I was 10 I was the only child in the family living in Boston. I had cousins—on my father’s side—in Ireland, and I had cousins in Maine, but I was it in Boston. I had three cousins in Maine. I was close with all of them, but the oldest and I shared a special bond. From the beginning she was more like a sister to me than anything. Though we lived in different states, we saw each other fairly frequently and often talked on the phone and wrote each other letters (this was long before email…when we actually used pen and paper). When I knew she was coming to visit I would talk about it for days before she arrived. I could hardly sleep the day before she came, and I was a complete nut case on the expected day of arrival. My aunt was always running late and I would sit and stare out the window watching for their car to drive up the street.

I saw them mostly on holidays and school vacations. Those were undoubtedly the best days of my childhood. The four of us spent hours together playing and talking.  We took long walks around the neighborhood and my oldest cousin would lead us on countless adventures. She could talk us into anything, and we usually ended up in trouble, but I for one would never have questioned her. We walked through the field in the back of our grandparent’s house and sat on the hammock, swinging back and forth lazily as she held our attention with countless stories. We climbed on the roof and hid out from the rest of the world, basking in the late-summer sun. Nothing else existed. I was happy.

Holidays with the family were always interesting. The only time my whole family got together was Thanksgiving. We would gather at my grandmother’s house and hold our breath hoping this year would be different. My family never could gather in one place without a war breaking out. To escape the insanity, my oldest cousin would lead her sisters and me down to the basement. We ruled our own little world down there and it served as our refuge from the madness of the adults. It was in that basement at the tender age of 11 that I shared my first bottle of rum with my cousin. Stumbling upstairs a few hours later, I was sure we were doomed. But the family seemed to think it was amusing.

The last great childhood adventure I had with my cousin was when I was 12 and she was 13. My grandparents took us on a 3-week road trip to meet our relatives down south. We rode in the back of my grandfather’s Buick and amused ourselves during the long hours of driving between stops. The trip was a coming-of-age for us both, and it was the last time we shared in such an adventure. I was Sal Paradise to her Dean Moriarty and we were “On the Road.” I had a sister for those 3 weeks, and all was right with the world.

My cousin is dead now. My family has been decimated by addiction and she too fell victim to it at an early age. One night several years ago during one of my short-lived attempts at sobriety I was asked by her sister to look for her and bring her in for help. Her sister knew I’d be able to find her, and I did. But instead of bringing her in, instead of keeping a level head when I saw how much trouble she was in, I succumbed to her pleas and my own demons. We both ended up using that night. I woke up from the nod. She did not.

More memories tonight. This time of one of the last times I saw my grandfather. I had left Boston around 2 and took the train into the town in which he lived. It just sort of happened. That’s not close to where I lived. But it’s where my grandfather lived and I needed to go there first. I took a cab from the train to his house and felt only a bit of hesitation as I ascended the steps. I was praying my uncle wouldn’t be there, and he wasn’t. My grandfather shuffled over to the door, carrying the tank of oxygen that had become a permanent fixture for him and greeted me with a warm smile. I spent the next hour or so catching up with him. I told him about my garden. He was proud. I knew he would be. He told me he was looking forward to bowling and poker starting up again in the fall. I kind of sat there unblinking, saddened by the thought that he was clearly fooling himself if he ever thought he’d be well enough to leave the house to play poker…forget bowl. He’d been an avid bowler for as long as I could remember. Poker player, too. I inherited neither of those proclivities. Addiction though, that one I got.

He looked old, my grandfather. Older than I remembered him. He was gaunt, his face drawn tightly and sunken around his skull. He was pale and worked hard for each breath he took. It broke my heart. Still, the first thing he did when I sat was ask me to have a cold one with him as he cracked open a Miller High Life. I’m good, I assured him, and poured myself a glass of lemonade. We talked for a few minutes about the Red Sox and the weather. Inevitably he brought up my grandmother. My heart sank as my eyes filled. I looked around the house that was for so long my home. It was still warm, but different, less familiar.

When he excused himself to use the restroom – an activity I was confident would take a while – I took the opportunity to roam around the house a bit, taking in the memories, and letting them wash over me. I started in the kitchen and was transported back instantly to the Thanksgivings and Easters past when my grandmother would be slaving away in this room, cooking and baking, filling the small house with the most amazing, mouth-watering aromas. Suddenly she was standing at the stove, stirring something on the range, asking me to turn up the radio, which was playing some Glenn Miller song or other. I turned it up and we danced – as much as one can dance to Glenn Miller – as she stirred and I taste-tested her latest concoction. Her hearty laugh filled the kitchen, bouncing off the faux-brick walls, filling me with joy and comfort. She pulled me close as the last notes played and I got a nose full of the scent that defined her: Estee Lauder dusting powder. God, how I loved that smell. She held tight for a moment, then kissed the top of my head and told me that she loved me more than the stars in the sky. “I love you infinity,” I replied.

I was thrust back to reality when I stole a glance around the room and noticed the two items that reminded me roughly that this was a scene that would never again play out. On the baker’s rack next to the refrigerator lay the folder that held the paperwork from Hospice, the folks that had been entrusted with her care in the final days. It was a blue folder and it contained everything from a list of her medications to notes on how she was feeling on a given day. The folder was thin because my grandmother died mere days after hospice was called in. The last nurse to see her left the folder there and it had never been moved. I wondered quietly to myself what the hell my family was thinking by leaving it there. The second item was just as devastating. My grandmother had this old block calendar hanging on the wall behind the back door in the kitchen. You’d have to move and turn the blocks to the appropriate number each day. It was tedious, but she loved it. I looked at the calendar and sure enough the date it reflected was thus: Wednesday, April 12, 2006. The day she died. Are you fucking kidding me? They erased her voice from the answering machine, but this they kept? It brought me back immediately to that horrible day.

I left the kitchen and made my way to her bedroom. Her pillow was still in its rightful place on the bed, covered in her pink silk pillow slip, her favorite. I lifted it and inhaled deeply. Then I lay down for just a minute and imagined her arms around me, singing me to sleep, protecting me from anything and everything that could hurt me. I started to cry just as I heard my grandfather emerge from the bathroom.

We sat for a while longer. I made him a sandwich: ham and cheese on wheat smothered with mayo, with a single leaf of lettuce and a slice of tomato. He ate heartily, which I was pleased to see. At least he still enjoyed something. We made our way to the family room. He took his seat and I sank deeply into my grandmother’s recliner. How I wish she was there. I folded my legs up under me and rocked, imagining our last days together when she was in this chair and I was next to her, holding her hand, comforting her as she had so often done for me. I closed my eyes and let my mind wander as my grandfather provided commentary on each news story that came across CNN’s screen.

I spent the better part of the afternoon with my grandfather. Neither of us mentioned the cancer that was ravaging his body. He didn’t comment on how shitty I looked either, which was a relief. I left around 6, hugging him longer than I normally would before I walked back down the stairs to the waiting cab.

It’s amazing how memories like that can steal the breath from your lungs without warning. The memories have settled in around me tonight. As I type this I’m sitting on the little balcony of the hotel that has served as my home since shortly after I returned from California nearly 2 months ago. The oppressive warmth of this day has been replaced tonight by a crisp breeze that makes me shiver each time it blows. A few minutes ago I went inside to retrieve a sweater to wrap around my shoulders. I picked up my grandfather’s cardigan from the dresser and pulled it tightly around me. I keep my grandfather’s sweater and my grandmother’s apron with me because they are physical connections I have to people I loved so deeply that their absence made me less than whole.

As I enveloped myself in my grandfather’s sweater, I bent my head down to see if I could still detect his scent on it. I couldn’t, of course; it’s been 3 years since he passed. Still, I inhaled deeply as an image flashed in my mind’s eye of him wearing this sweater and his tweed fedora, whistling a Sinatra song as he walked out the front door to go play poker with his buddies, winking and smiling at me on the way out.

I wonder why when someone dear to us dies do we smell their clothing. I suppose anything that stimulates a visceral memory for us provides some desperately sought-after comfort. I wonder what, if anything, someone will keep to remember me by. Is there anyone in this vast and cold world that will sit as I am now shrouded in a piece of my clothing and smile at the memory of the person I had such possibility of being?

I’m ready now to close my eyes against these past few days and try to figure out what comes next. That was a fun trip down memory lane. And to think that it all started with some exploration of the Kubrickian sense of isolation that resulted from the memory of a conversation with my cousin, leaving my anxieties to grow large via the magnifying effects of solitude.

I’ve Stepped Off the Edge of the World

I’m alone tonight in an all too familiar darkness, hoping, praying the Words will be enough. But this might be where the story ends.

A brief non-sequitur:

When a friend I’d met through social media told me that she loved me, I had a visceral reaction. I responded thusly:

“Love is a word that is so easily thrown around. One whose use and misuse can be equally devastating. Too powerful a word, to be sure, to be wasted on someone you’ve never met or even spoken with. I have indeed been loved. My grandparents loved me, completely and unconditionally. My cousin loved me. My best friend, Paul. They are all gone now. The last of those who knew and loved me. Those whose love was true and genuine, and was, for me, the very breath in my lungs. Those whose love was safe and inspired me to try to love myself. Those who, despite my utter failure in being able to do so, loved me so well that it often brought me to tears.

You cannot love me…. You don’t know me. What you love are the Words I’ve strung together in some blog entries. I can appreciate that, I truly can. Words can be amazingly powerful. Heartbreakingly so.

You can’t love me because what you love about me is no longer true. You love the Words in the blog I wrote called Positively Sober. A blog written by a girl just trying to stay sober. But I’m not sober now. I relapsed. I’ve regressed to the junkie that was lying in wait, scratching and clawing her way from the depths of my soul. A junkie born and tended to by the very opposite of love. A junkie whose body is failing, whose mind is at war with itself, whose soul lies in ruins. The ruins created, by the way, in the wake of the destruction caused by someone who would whisper in my ear ‘I love you’ even as he stole the very life force from my being. Over and over again. Those fucking words.”

Truth is, there’s a connection, a bond formed, especially from shared experiences, and most especially, from shared painful experiences. We’re human and those shared experiences, the ones which we sometimes feel will consume us, are necessary for our very survival.  No one can exist in a vacuum. Though I’ll be God damned if I haven’t tried to do just that recently. It’s no way to live.

A sad, slow wash came over me tonight. I’m kicking from a relapse after about 70 days of sobriety. My last chance. And tonight as I type, I’m fighting, fighting against the swirling vortex of entropy that has become my life.

I collapsed earlier in a ball of heaping sobs, struggling to catch my breath as I contemplated this new reality, this final fucking reality. This stuttered death that stretches out long ahead of me. Perpetual dying has taken its toll. My formidable opponent. I surrender.

I never stopped thinking I could beat it. I never doubted my resolve. Until now. Now I know I am defeated. My addiction has won.

God, it’s so fucking quiet here. I feel like there should be some grand conversation, some…I don’t know, something. It’s so quiet. I yearn to hear another’s voice. To talk to me. About ordinary things, about extraordinary things. Anything to distract me from this dark quiet for a while. The silence is deafening. And it is heartbreaking.

I was thinking today of the benchmarks of my decline, physical and otherwise. I stopped working. I stopped writing, for Christ’s sake. The sign posts along the road to my demise. That’s fucking poetic right there.

There are things I want you to know about me, other than that I’m an AIDS-infected junkie. I lived life well once. I lived, I dreamed, I accomplished.

My words were brought to life on stage, and it made my heart swell with joy.

I’m a terrible cook.

I’m terrified of flying.

And I suck at algebra.

I’m a black belt in karate and a baseline piano player.

I’m a bibliophile, and I’d be hard-pressed to name my favorite author. But among my favorites I’d have to include Rimbaud, Kerouac, Burroughs, Poe, Harper Lee, Dumas, Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling. The list goes on and on.

My favorite book when I was a child was Unicorn and the Moon. I lost my copy of it years ago, but I can still picture its well-worn cover and it brings a smile to my face as I remember sitting in my grandmother’s lap as she read it to me.

I’m passionate about Boston sports.  Going to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox, which I haven’t done in years, gives me the chills every time. I love going to Gillette Stadium to watch my beloved Pats (though Tom Brady lost me when he started modeling Uggs. Jesus.). I’ve been to the Garden, but I’ve never seen the Celtics play there. I wish I could’ve seen a Celts game.

The first concert I ever saw was Frank Sinatra. I took my grandparents. It was the best night of my life. I’ve also seen Baryshnikov dance and Jerry Lewis act on stage. I’m an old soul.

I love Star Wars and Star Trek equally, and that makes me a freak even in the Geek world.

I once lived in the same small town in Connecticut as Stephen King (not at the same time he was living there), and that knowledge for some reason made me really happy.

I’ve never had sex where it felt safe or right or OK in any way. That particular gift was ruined for me when I was 8 years old.

Getting lost in the pages of a book has saved my life on more than one occasion.

I have the ashes of my best friend, Paul, sitting in my office at home because I haven’t been able to bring myself to scatter them yet. But if I ever had the strength, physically and emotionally, to do it, it would be at Yankee Stadium, because he was as big a Yankees fan as I am a Sox fan. Despite that, we loved each other.

The last writing project I was working on before I got too sick to work was a screenplay loosely based on Paul’s life.

I sleep with the light on because the dark absolutely terrifies me. Most nights, in fact, I try to wait for the sun’s ascent before I dare close my eyes and succumb to sleep because I am terrified of what my mind’s eye has in store for me.

I wish I’d had the chance to swim with the dolphins. Also, I’ve never seen palm trees in real life. I love Boston, but Northeast winters are the bane of my existence.

I’m tired. And sick. I need to close my eyes. I pray for a peaceful slumber this night. We’ll see what the sunrise brings…

 

 

 

Lost

I’m perfectly torn between fleeing from the chimeras I have created and embracing them. It’s the very reason that I’m forever balancing so precariously on this precipice, an abyss on either side, both of which threaten to consume me, no matter which I plunge into.

The whole fabric of my character is laid bare in these Words I set forth, willingly or not. My tremendous hunger for experience and life, my insatiable curiosity, desires, courage, and tenacity, my self-flagellation, self-loathing, my drunkenness, my sobriety, my fears and obsessions, my morbidity and mortality, my desperate loneliness and fear of judgment, my unfathomable boredom, my sense of loss and mourning, and my most desperate desire: that I were able to just Be.

I’m at war with myself. This violent and burning battle that I am at once embroiled in and merely witness to from afar. There appears no egress, no liberation from it all. At least no way that isn’t likely to kill me sooner rather than later.

And it all comes back to the Words.