Love in the time of corona virus is hard enough. Everybody is forced simultaneously closer together with their immediate family for longer periods of time, whilst the minor cast in your own personal tragicomedy is cast out to a six foot perimeter, thus being both suffocating and lonely at the same time. A disastrous combination.
Leaving Billy was actually easier than I thought it could ever be, and he made it easier yet to keep him away once I removed myself from our shared quarantine. As funny, loving, kind and eccentric as he is, he can also be vain, devoid of the ability to embrace reality whilst leaving the day to day business of mundanity entirely to whichever adult is there to pick up his slack. You can blame the booze, you can blame the drug-damage. You can blame a personality defect. You can even blame his poor mother. But what Billy will never allow, is to blame him. Most of us regain a measure of self responsibility after we recover from addiction. Not Billy. Billy demands that nothing, absolutely nothing is ever his fault or responsibility. He holds up his addictions as a banner he rides under that reads, in neon sharpie, writ large, “Billy is not to blame.” Cause, you know, he is always right. He is right when he lies. He is right when he doesn’t lie and that unadorned truth causes pain. He is right when he is wrong, and he most of all is right when you are. In short, he is a nightmare.
The wheels had been coming off for a while. He has a brain tumor which has been there a long time, that he refuses any treatment for yet refuses stubbornly to die from with any haste, citing the inalienable fact that he hates doctors, and they both try to kill him and won’t give him enough drugs anyway. He declares over and over again that I am his doctor. Putting all the responsibility, once again, onto me. All the mental, emotional and physical cost of keeping him alive, once again, onto me and off him. He has tried in recent ‘its the end of my life you have to talk to me’ phone calls, to suggest that I and only I can save his life, because if I return he will stop drinking, he will cooperate with me. He will allow me to take care of him again.
Caring for Billy had become a full time job. Persuading him into bathing, cleaning his clothes, reminding him to eat. The deterioration of my oldest friend, the result of years of hammering his serotonin receptors, his heart and his mind had caught up with him and was overwhelming me.
This is the reality of when drugs and alcohol do not kill you. You don’t become a hero. You don’t magically transform into a Rimbaldian Knight of the order of Spacefarers and Psychonauts. You don’t start exuding the works of Jim Morrison through your very pores. You do not develop a Burroughs-like stoop with a Hunter S Thompson smile whilst producing reams of gonzo journalism on an ancient typewriter and hitting the secret chord that David played that pleased Adonai so greatly. You do not fall into the perfect pose that Patti Smith leant back into as she accelerated through Gloria leaving nothing but the scent of burnt rubber and the feeling that something bigger than all of us were in the room. No. You deteriorate. Your memory fades. Your wit becomes less acute. What opened you up in your youth, now shuts the door on reason and insight. You become a blathering fool. I fear the only hope for the aging wanna-be-shaman is to bundle up all that experience and vision into whatever pile you can manage to carry, and drag it out with you, through the doors of perception, back into the crystal clear perspex prism of sanity and sobriety, and try and tell everyone back home what it is like out there in that vast expanse of space. Rockn’roll man is out there all alone on the vast plains of experience, White Rabbit blaring out of the ditch while he itches his nose and complains of nausea not enlightenment.
I have tried a few times to write about those moments in time that adventurers have sought since the opium eaters haunted dens dressed in silk road finery and scented with the faint acid vinegar aroma of death in the bag. I try and conjure up that feeling of rushing through space and time, flying with the spheres, you weightless, the orbs around you multicolored and dense, luminous and numerous, until you are forced back onto this parched earth wholly burnt, gasping for breath, with Billy slapping your face a little too roughly and telling you to get the heck up and start walking it off. There is no point. There is nothing there to grasp onto, and it was all so very long ago.
I grew up. Billy didnt. He remained frozen in time, a Peter Pan with a Huckleberry smile.
The final argument revolved around the word malicious and a traffic stop (which when you are undocumented can be absolutely catastrophic) caused by his ex wife deregistering the camper from his old address, and the only address he had to register anything to, and something that was agreed that he could do. She didn’t even warn us.
I was, as always, wrong. My feelings, as always, were not valid. And still he clung onto me, demanding both my acquiescence and my guardianship. I was to both have no opinion and look after him. Not only that, he shoved me. He shouted at me. He slammed things around me. He left purple marks on the top of my arms, as he grasped me in his old-man tougher than Clint grip, stronger than a donkey whilst being as unsteady as a new born fawn cruelty. Then he told me to get out. To pick a car park. To choose a hotel, to pick a church, but he had had enough, I was to get out of his life and what was more, after over five years of living with him, with over twenty years of friendship, as vulnerable as I am, after helping him, caring for him, I was standing on his fucking floor.
So I left. I asked him for time, after all, leaving, packing, going somewhere after so long was not that easy. I asked him for a few days to get out of his life and his camper. He baulked. He shouted. I am not someone anyone can smash and bang and shout around. He knows that more than anyone. Of years of real deadly abuse in Japan, I flinch. Billy no longer cared if I flinched, I don’t think he ever really did.
So I packed my son’s bags alongside him. I packed mine. I grabbed notebooks and clothes, my travel cup.
I went to haul out my Martin that he had given me years before. He put his hand over mine. The Martin stays with me, he said meanly, his face contorted in an attitude of contempt. I reminded him it was mine, it had been mine for years, it was a gift to me ages ago. That it had been my guitar since forever. He pulled it out of my hands and shoved it roughly into the space by the bed. I wondered if I might have the Norman instead? Or the Seagull? No. I would have no guitar, especially not the one I bought with me.
It was not much, not much at all. A friend, seeing my distress, got me a cab all the way out of there, and here I am. In a shelter in the city. I have my son. I have a guitar once again, after a sad few months without one; its not the Martin, but no one is going to try and take it from me. I have my self again.
Billy started drinking heavily the second I left. He sold the Norman for booze money, the Seagull went the same way. The Martin? He defaced the ancient beautiful Martin, that I had cared for so lovingly, with sharpie. He smashed it against the ground. He carved into it with a knife. He ruined it. Then he lied and told me he sold it. I found out what had happened, because like all good drunks, Billy could not keep up with what he had said happened. This is not so much a requiem for a dream, but a prayer for dead guitars.
I am not much one for material things, but guitars are different. Guitars are special.
“Ill stop drinking if you come back to me. I love you, Paltry, I love you, stop being a brat!” he whined pathetically over the phone, almost as soon as I had gone and on loop ever since. His mood turned sour quickly, as it always does nowadays. “Have you got a boyfriend? what is his name?” now demanding, angry and alarming. I explained that no I did not, and even if I did it would be none of his business. I explained that we were done talking for today. “Just talk to me nicely, lets just talk about something fun. You know what I say, there’s something that happens when we talk.
He sends me links to schmaltzy songs by country-ish female singers that make my gorge rise. I tell him gently that we are over, it is finished. I offer my friendship. My friendship with limits. I explain that while he is drinking, while he is a drunk, I reserve the right to put down the telephone at any given moment. That I will not see him in person. That I will not allow myself to be a psychic punchbag. That, when I cannot take any more, I will protect myself by shutting down, cutting off the line, and leaving him to his cups.
Then he says something quite extraordinary. “You are not a lesbian. I refuse to believe it.” He knows that I have had love affairs, romantic and physical with other women. He knows me. He has known me for almost as long as I have known my adult self. He is over twenty years older than me. I’m both amused and appalled. “I do not have a girlfriend either. I have no interest in being in a relationship with anybody.” These words seem to give him hope. I would rather scoop out my eyes than get back with him.
He pushes the point. “I don’t believe you were ever really a lesbian. I don’t like gays. I’ll tolerate ’em but I don’t like ’em.” This is the Billy that I left. The brain tumor having pushed out reason entirely for a hardline reading of HIS Christian Bible. “They are going to Hell, you know that, Paltry. You are going to Hell.” I feel immediately hurt and furious at the same time. A man seeking to define me, to tell me what I am and what I am not, to deny me, yet again, the simple right to exist. I have to control the pitch of my voice and the tone of my reply, otherwise I fear I’ll just call him disgusting and slam the phone down. And, after all, this may well be his last day. The last time I speak to him. After all this is his death party, his bottle and his river.
Instead I ask gently that he really thinks I’m going to Hell. He demands my repentance. Mr. All-that-is-righteous has spoken. This is the deterioration. A strange mix of Christianity, white supremacy and drunken homophobia. Or maybe quite common after all…My son with his soft demeanor, brown skin and delicate features told me quietly that Billy had informed him a while before we left, that it was ok, that he, his step-father, didn’t think of him as Japanese, as Asian. He considered him white. He also explained to us both that Jamie’s grandparents were both in Hell. Billy expected praise for this. What he got was me and the boy high tailing it out of there. This was not the old punk that I used to know. This was not my sweet little adventurer. This was not the kind, gentle man. This was totally not him, yet had become more him than anything since the tumor, the strokes and the booze took hold of him.
I had not wanted to come out to my son. Billy insisted on it, he did it anyway. He told him in a furious drunken rage at nothing in particular. Out of the frying pan into the fire. I grew up with homophobia. Being a lesbian was never an option for me. In order to fit in I would have to be straight. I settled for an uneasy bisexuality in which I longed for the touch of other women. I have no interest in men. Finally free of pleasing other people, almost the worst, but not quite, already happened so many times that I have become immune, if not brave, it has simply ceased to matter. I am who I am.
I figure I won’t ever have another relationship full stop. There is no romance left in life. I am not quite certain how much life there is left for me, anyhow. But I do know this for a fact. A man will never be allowed into my life in any other capacity than a friend or a son, not now, not ever again. I am done. I am finished trying, pretending, getting beaten and abused. I am done coming last in everything, every consideration and having to be grateful for it.
So, here I am. Who I am is not who I used to be, but who I really always was. I suppose I lost the right to call myself a lesbian, whilst trying to please just about every other person out there in an effort to protect myself, whilst instead making myself supremely unhappy. I still have so much to lose, and everything to hide. But not that. No one else gets to decide for me. It is all a bit too late, really.
I tried to call Billy this morning. To shelve all of his abuses and his offensiveness and put my disgust on the back burner, and check and see if he was alright. There was no answer.
It really is all a bit too late, isn’t it?