T.S Elliot once wrote about the hanged men and swords of tarot decks, the threat of foreseeing doom or success casting shadows over his work in a mystical alloy of magick and art. I used to read tarot cards, laying down my Thoth deck in a celtic cross arrangement, peeking into the future and willing things to be different.
The languid poison of debauch was never far from the cards complaint. It sat there accusing me. Lethargic dripping in some kinda reflection of my mental and physical state at the time, prying open the secrets of my private Coleridgean world where sacred rivers of hash ran into the sea of poison that had become as necessary as oxygen to my body. I hauled myself out from under that spell many years ago now. I no longer read the cards, but I can see the writing on the wall.
My oldest friend, my sometime rescuer, Billy is going down one time, two times, never go down again, ducked under his own river, his made entirely of alcohol. He is drowning, paralyzed by Debaucherie Herself, his cups overflowing. I am far away from his descent, but not unharmed by it. Every drunken blacked out phone call to me is punctuated by a growing feeling of helplessness.
He has been a drunk almost his whole adult life. Sometimes a dry drunk with romanticizing the day when he would have a bottle by a lake and kill himself slowly and alone with booze. This dream was a source of immense comfort to him. He would talk about it. He knew the Lake he wanted to drink and die by, he knew what he would drink. He welcomed this event, planned for it, headed for it. Now he has his bottle and his lake and no one there to stop him, now he has been drinking for four solid months, going deeper and deeper into Debauch’s domain, his downhill run, now he is not having any fun at all. He goes into the DT’s almost as soon as he wakes, shaking and vomiting until he gets alcohol into his bloodstream. He sees himself as a drunken hero, a Keith Moon, a Jim Morrison. In reality the person I have been friends with for so long is not some Dionysian hero, but a sad, aggressive, dangerous piss-head with an over inflated sense of his own importance and artistic output. And I still love him. I cannot be near him and his total detachment from reality, his tendency to dig knives into walls, and need me to call the cops for welfare checks on him when he gets too upsettingly desperate. In fact, most of the time I cannot even bare to talk to him. He is in equal parts needy and spikey, funny and offensive. He has no self awareness at all, and is perpetually offended by those around him who simply cannot deal with his inability to control himself and his words and actions.
I accept at his age, and in his frail physical condition, this is most likely close to being the end for him. It is most likely going to drown him in his cups. The poison will win in the end. I try and comfort myself that this is exactly what he wanted. This is what he aimed for. It is so easy to lie to ourselves, isn’t it? I know the reality is far far away from his bottle lake fantasy. He cannot see, he cannot think, he cannot survive, he does not wash or eat or do much apart from make a racket with his guitar and drink and scare people. And there is nothing I can do about it.
He used to joke he drank because when he was drunk he didn’t have to think. Day after day after day passed where just keeping his boots strapped on was the main aim of life, apart from the only thing that really mattered: drinking. He wrote songs to booze. He lauded liqor. He idolized it. He put it up on a pedestal and worshipped at it’s altar. He was not fussy. He drank Everclear mixed with 151 rum. He drank white port. He drank bumwine. He drank whatever his current sponsor was drinking. He drank and drank until he would be hauled into the ER or the rehab center or jail, on a gurney, pale and thin and desperately unwell.
Billy could have been a rock star. He could have been an artist. He could have played baseball. Billy could have been a lot of things. What he chose to be was a drunk. He celebrated alcohol and its devotees. Shane McGowan is his hero. He looks up to him in brotherly awe. “There is a man who knows booze,” he would tell me whilst wistfully watching the great Irish poet in a bar, gently singing. I point out that Shane became famous and rich and so could drink exactly how he wanted. What is a man of Billy’s age gonna do when he never did much else? Complain. Demand. Live in a fake world where he still has possibilities, choices and dreams. Where there is a future. Where there is still love that he hasn’t managed to yet poison.
This is the problem for us travellers, us road people, those of us who do not settle down into a pattern of normality, but instead jump that street car, head on down the highway, and know how to build a truely soul restoring campfire. We drink. We get high. We carouse. We burn the candle at both ends. But not me. Not anymore. Not ever. Its not to say I dont look at my fellow citizens in their drug fuelled glory and wish that I sometimes could escape the brutal reality of my day to day life and predicament. The junkie on the nod exists in a temporarily more gentle, more buffeted plane that I inhabit. Of course I wish there was more cotton wool surrounding the iron fist of reality. But I guess I would rather see things as they are. I would rather fight to survive, than long to die a long slow debauched death.
Billy would complain to me in his long sober stretches while I was there to keep him honest, that he needed to change the channel. Ild roll him huge joints of purple kush, or pack his bong full of thickly crystalled durban poison, offering him a safer way to flip that switch. It would never satisfy him. I fear nothing will ever satisfy him again. But that is his choice, not mine.
I dread the phone ringing but am glad when it does, bringing news of irritation and sickness but at least life. I suppose I’m the eternal optimist. I haven’t quite lost all hope that he wont sober up and right his boat, head for clearer waters. Its a long shot while Debaucherie is overfilling his cups.
I feel like pulling a new card out of the pack, but I really don’t think I want to know what the future holds.