Echoes of Silence

Three AM, a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t sleep and was feeling pretty restless. I’d decided to go for a walk to see if I could clear my head a bit. I put my headphones on and tried to listen to an audio book instead of the workaday anxieties scratching at the back of my mind. The streets were empty. The stoplights had switched to the late-night mode of blinking only red. Everyone in town was asleep. My mind wandered back to a conversation I’d had with my friend Paul one late summer night many years ago. I’ll try to summarize it.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Energy (heat, light, etc.) goes where there isn’t any energy. All systems tend toward entropy or an increased state of disorder. This disorder manifests itself as a rotting apple, an exploding fuel tank burning itself out, or some other dissipation of energy. Living things have about seven distinct characteristics, which include a higher level of complexity than the environment, a barrier against the environment, reproductive capabilities, etc. These represent the tendency toward order that all living things share, a tendency toward imposing an order on the disordered environment in its own image.

For example, if I eat an onion ring, then my body will tear it apart and use the constituent bits to make more me. Life wants to make more of itself.

This “order” represents what is desirable to us, at the most fundamental level.

We love music because it creates from an infinite number of possible dissonant arrangements a recognizable theme. We hear the melody and take pleasure in the variations that weave a higher and more complex order from what would otherwise be noise.

We have really good orgasms if something in us thinks that we’ve connected on some appropriate level with our partner, a level that in evolutionary terms indicates an increased probability of successful reproduction.

We like a Rembrandt because of the gorgeous, radiant life in his portraits. He created a visual representation that everyone recognizes on some visceral level, and the measure of his genius is that so many people share this recognition. It isn’t a smudge; it’s a pure moment caught in a canvas. (I have no idea why people like Jackson Pollack.)

Now put death/disorder/entropy on one side and life/order on the other side of a great big cosmic balance. Someone dies and someone else is born. Someone has a great personality and someone else has an ass to die for. A superstring sweeps out an orbit and whatever would be the opposite of that probably happens somewhere, I guess.

Take it up another level. Say God is on one side, Not-God is on the other, and the general region in the middle is where Life dukes it out to a draw, more or less. It’s where we leave our give and take and where order is balanced by disorder. Law versus Chaos.

Two what-ifs here:

What if we’re the fractal elements of an even greater order, which some might refer to as a Supreme Being? We’re all on the right side of the scale, all our loves and lives and failures, and the gestalt creates a living pattern that, from some unimaginable perspective, outlines the face of God.

And what if all that amounts to the proverbial dot on a dot on an atom in a molecule in a cosmic blade of grass.

I’m not sure what this has to do with the argument at hand, really, except that it got me thinking about my faith and what I believe in.

My faith has never (ok, rarely) waned. My discomfort was never with any possible God that may exist, but with certain of His putative servants and their “works.” I loathe any organization that works to suppress our natural human urges to make love, and drink, and read, write, paint, hear, act, watch, or sing what we like. To me, these people are about censorship, regimented thinking, embezzlement, exploitation of the elderly, chauvinism, sexism, homophobia, opportunism, hypocrisy, repression, and voting a straight Republican ticket without reading the names above the levers.

But it goes deep than that now for some reason. It goes beyond my faith and touches on my very beliefs. I watched a powerful movie long ago called The Believer, about a young man who was involved in the White Power movement. The irony was the man was a Jew. As the movie progressed, it flashed back to his years in Hebrew school when he would argue with the teachers against the belief of a just God, one of love, mercy, and grace. Instead, he offered, God, if He did exist, was a bully who demanded too much of a creation He ultimately screwed up. He made us too weak and then tempted us, and when we failed He destroyed us. Was it not easier to simply believe there was no God than to believe in a wrathful deity who wielded such power over the meek and helpless? He gave us free will and then dared us to exercise it. Where does our inherent weakness lead us in the end? I know myself I used to be afraid of being angry with God. What would happen if I raged against Him? And even if I did it silently, He knew my heart. That I could conceive both sides of that argument, I figured, was God’s ultimate mind game. Some sense of humor.

Anyway, the movie struck a nerve and it haunts me.

I’m tired tonight. I’ve been spending less and less time at the cabin because, well, it’s fall in New England, which means the days are cold and the nights are wicked fucking cold. Still, I can’t seem to stay away completely, so I go for a couple of days and then come back into town for a bit. I’m loathe to make a final visit though, mostly because I’m not really sure where I’m going to go after that. The cabin has pretty much been my sole mission for the past few months. For sure it’s been the only place I’ve felt safe and at peace. I’m not ready to lose that yet.

I’m tired tonight. As I write this, I’m lying in bed staring out at a beautiful full moon. I’m desperate for sleep, but afraid to close my eyes. I’m growing frustrated with the effort.

 

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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…

 

 

 

The One With the Blanket Fort

I’m sitting in my office looking out the window and deep into a sunless sky, as I have been for at least a week now because whatever the hell weather front causes the sun to disappear and me to get all stabby has been stalled on top of us For. Ever. After the long cold winter, I was quite enjoying the beautiful weather Boston has been seeing since late spring (we actually HAD a spring this year, which is rare unto itself). I have been taking advantage of the heat and sunlight and re-energizing on a near daily basis by sitting on my deck for long stretches of time, reading, writing, gazing, dreaming, napping. I’ve even been tending to the garden when my energy and desire to do so happen upon me at once. The garden thus far has produced a copious harvest of…well, so far just strawberries. But all the plants have flowered and are growing wonderfully, and before I know it I’ll be enjoying the fruits (vegetables…HA!) of my labor. Tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, squash, zucchini, green beans, corn, and the sweetest watermelon ever..though the damn gophers have been filling their annoying gopher bellies on my watermelon plants this year.

The sun’s heat and light are amazingly healing and soothing. Alas, for the past week or so the sun appears to be on hiatus, at least in these parts, and has been replaced by a dull, gray sky that is neither healing nor soothing. The monotonous gray is broken up only by the menacing black clouds that roll in just before the sky opens up and releases its deluge, soaking everything to near strangulation. Not a warm, gentle rain; the kind that poets write about walking in. No, no, rather a monstrous, thunderous, pelting rain; the kind that you want to hide from. But I’m trying out this new positive approach to life and the shit storms that tend to accompany it. 🙂 So, rather than wallow in the dark recesses into which I would surely wander if not for my newfound positive outlook, I have taken it upon myself to make the best of this sunless, drippy existence.

So today, rather than curse the universe for yet another crappy, dark, damp day, I decided I would practice some self-soothing and find a way to be comfortable while I’m stuck in my house. So, I built this:

blanket fort

A blanket fort!! Because blanket forts? Rule!! Yes, I’m 41, but they are as awesome now as they were when I was 7 and I am completely unapologetic about it! And let me just tell you, this picture does not do my blanket fort justice. I, in fact, built the MOTHER of all blanket forts. I built a blanket mansion! It had like 6 separate rooms, secret entrances and tunnels. It. Was. Awesome. I holed myself up in there for hours this afternoon with a book and lost myself to the innocence and wonder that only a blanket fort can provide. It was my grandmother who taught me to build the perfect blanket fort, and we spent hours of my youth cuddled inside our cotton and down creations, reading and talking and escaping our respective trials and tribulations. It was one of the greatest things she ever taught me and I put it to good use today.

Beyond Words

My friend B called me last night. One of his typical late-night phone calls. He knows me well. B is a palliative care physician in New York who came into my life several years ago after I was introduced to him by a friend who had read a book he’d written on end-of-life care. Our friendship began as a simple email correspondence and flourished over time into great philosophical debates about euthanasia, suicide, living and dying well, and, of course, the Red Sox. In some attempt to inspire me back to life, B suggested several months ago that we collaborate on an article for Atlantic Monthly on “dying hard in America.” I agreed, partly because I was interested in the project and partly because it did, in fact, give me something to hold on tight to. We struggled with the format in the beginning. He wanted me to write straight prose about living and dying with AIDS. But who wants to listen to a woman with AIDS bitch and moan about life and death, I argued, if it isn’t tempered with the wit and wisdom of a God-fearing, Springsteen-loving, Sox-bashing, Jewish (mother-of-a) doctor who, for reasons that defy logic, became her friend.

Thus began our journey. We decided that our email correspondence would serve as the bulk of the thing and we’d worry about editing it later. There are no truer words than those written by the pair of us at obscene hours of the night when life and death and all that weighs heavily upon our shoulders leaves us to the mercy of the Words. It has become our opus. Only, I can’t write anymore, and B called to find out why.

My silence always scares him, he says. He fears it’ll become too much of a burden and I will lose the battle to the Silence. I told him I wanted to stop writing the article. I couldn’t tell him why. It’s all just become too much. The raw emotion of the words I was trying to share left me far more vulnerable than I was comfortable with.

He let me get away with that for now, but vows to re-engage me soon. He asked a final question before he lightened the mood with baseball banter: Was I thinking of going to the cabin? I assured him I wasn’t. We made a deal and I gave my word that I’d tell him if it ever came to that. We have to trust each other.

I Was There; Now I’m Here…

1972 – I’m born.

1972-1980 – I live mostly with my grandparents, who shower me with affection and make me feel absolutely safe and loved. My guardian angels.

1980 – I’m delivered back to the hands of my parents, who, one would have hoped, had grown up enough to take responsibility for their child.

1980 (2 weeks after being put back with my parents) – I am raped for the first time by “J.” The abuse goes on for years.

1980-1983 – I live every day in fear and self-loathing. The abuse continues.

1983 – I take my first drink.

1986 – I start high school. I already have a dealer. I have used pot, pills, booze.

1988 – Cocaine. I start cutting. Physical pain lessens the emotional pain. I can deal better with the physical pain. I’m almost immune to it now. A suicide attempt. A feeble attempt at best. The proverbial cry for help. None comes.

1990 – I graduate high school. Take 6 months off to figure out what I want to do with my life. I think they call it “finding yourself.”

1990 – I start college. Despite my continued and increasing drug and alcohol use, I am wildly successful in college. I write for the literary magazine and school paper. I write my first play, which the college produces my junior year.

1993 – I write my first screenplay, at the behest of one my favorite and most inspired English professors. It’s awful. Really, truly, embarrassingly awful.

1995 – I have a degree, ambition, and a raging drug and alcohol problem.

1995 – I collapse, I assume from exhaustion, in front of a restaurant and am brought to the hospital. I am diagnosed during that stay with HIV. I choose not to process the information. I am released from the hospital and the liquor store is my first stop. Then my dealer’s place. I am pretty well constantly loaded for the next month or so.

1995-1999 – I get my foot in the publishing industry, working first as an associate editor and then a development editor for a large publishing company in Boston. For the last year of my employment there, I bring vodka in my thermos every day for lunch. I have extra bottles in my car in case I work late and run out. When I go out for client lunches, I often make detours to meet my dealer.

1999 – Jaded by the publishing world, I look for something else to do that will pay my bills and be somewhat fulfilling.  I land a job as a journalist at a company that will be my home for the next 11 years. For 2 of those years, I work in-house at the company in NY. When I decide to return to Boston, I continue to work as a freelancer for the next 9 years for the same company. This same year I start an editorial company, working with many talented authors. My own writing takes a dark turn and becomes my albatross.

2000 – I have a nearly completed a manuscript and send out 10 queries to agents in Boston and New York, hoping to get a bite from at least one. Seven respond. I sign with one in NY and he starts shopping my manuscript. Later that year I fuck that up by blowing every deadline I’m ever given. I’m starting to self destruct.

2001 – 9/11. I lose a friend in the attacks on our country. My anger at the world is exponentially increased. So, too, is my self-hatred.

2002 – I have little recollection of this year, actually. There was an arrest for DUI at some point. My health starts to deteriorate toward the end of the year. I am angry all the time.

2003 – I overdose twice. Brought back once by friends and once at the hospital. Fearing I’m going to die, my friends, led by my former pastor, stage an intervention. I surrender.  I get clean. Sobriety sticks.  I start what will turn out to be a 7-year run of sobriety. I work hard at it every single day. I work the program. I am grateful. I am embracing life. My health improves. I enjoy wonderful success, editing for others, selling my own writing. I have phenomenal friends. I buy my first house. Then my second. I get a dog. Then a second. Life is good. I meet a guy. We get married. Two months into the marriage he hits me for the first time.

2004-2005 – The abuse intensifies. A broken collar bone one time. Two broken ribs another. Bruises, cuts. I stay clean. Work is what sustains me now. The old demons start to stretch and claw their way back in.

2006 – My beloved grandmother succumbs to breast cancer. I am devastated. My heart is broken.  But I do not resort to my old habits. Yet. I do, however, garner the strength to kick my abusive prick of a husband to the curb once and for all. I file a restraining order when he tells me he’s bought a gun and that I better watch my back. Don’t have to tell me twice.

2007-2010 – I work non-stop. I continue with the editing work, because I love it, but most of my income for several years now has come from my own writing. I’ve written several plays that have been produced in and around Boston. I start my third screenplay.

January 2010 – My health starts to deteriorate again. I am frustrated, angry, scared. Meanwhile, the sleeping monster within me stirs, letting me know he’s still there. And he is hungry.

April 2010 – I make a call. The call that will change everything. The monster awakens.

December 2010 – My best friend dies.

2010-2011 – There are several large chunks of time I just can’t recall.

August  2011 – After almost 90 days clean, I use. Hard. Shortly thereafter I suffer a stroke and spend a couple of weeks in the hospital.

October 2011 – My cousin dies in front of me from an overdose.

October 2011 – I am hospitalized with pneumonia and put on a ventilator for several days.

October 23, 2011 – Day 1 sober.

February 2011 – My grandfather dies. I am lying in his hospital bed with him when he passes. It is both beautiful and devastating.

2012 – I turn 40. Jesus.

2012 – My health continues to deteriorate, thanks in part to my refusing to go back on meds. It’s a decision I struggle with on a daily basis. Mostly I ignore it and focus on writing, trying to finish this last project.

May 2012 – I have some decisions to make.

May 20, 2012 – 211 days sober. Stay tuned…

Terror, Revisited

I’m pretty sure I have an ulcer. The pain that has me doubled over radiates deep in my abdomen and leaves me nearly breathless at times. Nauseous almost constantly. I hate it. But usually I can will it away. Not so much will it away, really, as ignore it until whatever I’m doing at the moment distracts me enough to trick my brain into believing there’s nothing going on. That works most of the time. A fistful of Tums doesn’t hurt either. Not so long ago that would have been a fistful of Xanax and the pain that may be a physical reality would have been replaced by the warm and fuzzies that take over as those pills slid down my throat and worked their magic. Follow that with a vodka chaser and I was good for days. Too much to lose if I succumb to that remedy tonight. I know that. Still, the pain this night is as real as ever and I need to purge all these thoughts that are choking me tonight.

I hardly know where to start. It’s been overwhelming. I guess from A to Z. Beginning to end. Only not really. Easiest to most difficult. No. That doesn’t work either. How about I just start then?

I experienced my great crisis in my early twenties. Well, I guess it started earlier, but surely it culminated and became defining then. At that moment in my life I had reached the edge of madness; from that point on my life became an unending desert…a Faustian nightmare…and I began to see the world as a jungle, one in which I was perpetually unable to protect myself. The repercussions of that year, of that very night, have reached far and keep me bound still in their unyielding stranglehold. It is all drawn out so woefully. And there remains only the great solitude in the shadow of memory.

I survived that night to be sure. But I am vulnerable to the continual relapse that has me on the verge of terror or in fear of madness. I retreat then to the safety of the blank page before me. It is my valley of death which I traverse, the dark interval during which I lose my relation with the cosmos. It is the time of the Assassins. I no longer “vibrate with exultation,” as young Rimbaud said. I writhe and squirm with fear ad uncertainty. And it has brought me to this very place. This place where I now find myself laying bare my soul to the anonymous Reader, opening the wound and letting the blood flow. The blood. The virulent blood running, wreaking havoc though my veins. I find myself relaying to no one the truth of who I was then, the end of my life as it was, and the beginning of this journey that has haunted me for so many years.

It’s taken all my energy. I don’t have the strength, physically or otherwise, to fight it off. It has robbed me of sleep again and again and has finally landed me here.  Too afraid to close my eyes, too tired to keep them open. A crossroads. The stuff is so vague. In case. And did you know that. There is. And. Wait. Not. No. Sure. But maybe. And endless stream of consciousness. Or incessant babble. I’m tired. And weary.

This post hasn’t gone where I expected it to go. It hasn’t gone anywhere actually. Still, I’m loath to scrap it altogether. It’s what came out. It is what it is. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the happenings of the last few weeks. The last few months, really. I’m trying to establish a timeline of the insanity, but I’ve killed several million brain cells via my indulgence in this substance or that recently, and it’s only coming back in dribs and drabs.

I’ll try to make sense of it all later. Right now I need tea. It’s going to be a long night.