If there is anything about a sunday morning that makes a person feel alone and lost, is that Sunday morning, coming down from the night before, still loaded from the night before feeling that the world is happening around you, while you pass through the day like a ghost, disconnected, discombobulated and removed from the only day of the week that I suspect doesn’t exist at all. There is something about a Sunday that is unreal, that time pauses, that never gets off the ground, or if it tries, is dragged down by the night before. My days of Saturday night partying are not quite over, but at least on hold, still, I am still capable of ‘smoking my brain’ as Kristofferson so eloquently put it, but at least it is just some Californian Sweet Haze, and not a fifth of 151 rum and a handful of pills.
That hair of the dog cure that is a curse, that steadies the stomach and clears the mind, but pushes the seeker of relief further down the path to some real drinking: drinking that leads to hands shaking and gorge rising, walls crawling and carpet moving misery, is sung in such a heartfelt meaningful way by Cash. His cover of Sunday Morning Coming Down, sung at Folsom Prison, is the love song of one man to a group of men who got trapped by that Saturday Night trap. Saturday nights that end up blanked out and crazy, waking up in a motel, or on a sidewalk, in someone else’s bed whose name you probably never knew in the first place, or most disconcertedly of all, in your own bed, no idea how you got there, undressed and bloodied. Billy was the expert in extracting himself from these sunday morning situations.
I would get a phone call from a panicked voice, deep like Morrison, panicked and lost, asking me if I knew anything, anything at all. I would tell him I knew he needed to not drink so much. He would wake up in a house of hostile people, no one to vouch for him. He would wake up in ditches being sniffed by coyotes to see if he was scavengeable. He would wake up in a different state to the one he remembered being in. He would wake up not know what would be waiting for him. He would wake up in jail, no Johnny Cash to serenade his insane actions, his lost life, his crimes or his kindnesses. I was never that much of a black out artist, and make no mistake it is an art. There is a skill and a creative act of genius to live a life without self control or a memory that works. People need soothing when you do not remember them, when you do not remember what has happened, or how it all got so bad or how it all went so wrong.
The laughing children, the normal people with normal life, the innocence of the day, the religiso posturing all conspire to make the traveller through Sunday Morning Coming Down feel separated and isolated. When I had small children, and had attempted to leave, living day to day in a shelter, my life ruined almost past fixing, I would walk past houses, seeing the lights on, hearing the televisions, the bustle behind the doors, the warmth, the normality. The safety. I would walk past and imagine installing me and the babies in there, living a life with the usual celebrations of birthdays and holidays. My way was always barred by courts that refused me a divorce and a settlement, by a husband that would not let me go or treat me with humanity, by my desperation. By the fact there was ‘nothing short of dying’ that could ever match the sound of the children crying, nor the shame of the fact I was living on pills and booze to keep myself level and functioning through the stress and insecurity, the fear and the indignity. My life was one long Sunday morning, that I could never come down from.
I still live my life looking for my ‘cleanest dirty shirt.’ It has been most of my life. I haven’t had regular access to a damn washing machine for almost 7 years. I wash tees in the bathtub, hang them on clothes hangers. I never wash my jeans. It is almost disgusting, but a life that is lived half dead, trying not to die, trying to claw my way through to Monday evening, is disgusting. I am in exile from society. I am not socially acceptable. If my jeans offend people, or my socks smell, or the taint of an addiction half tamed upset the Sunday morning strollers through life, I don’t really care anymore. I am just trying to live. I am making it through walking that tightrope.
“I had a shave. I got clean socks on.” Billy’s slurred voice came through the telephone. “Im looking good, honey!” The clink of the bottle, the “I’ll tell you this straight up” warning signs in his language speak of a Sunday morning that Saturday night never relinquished. A life lived in the sepia of alcoholic haze. Wasted. Hammered into place. Knocked out, loaded and fired up whatever was in the spoon. Part of me wants to go and rescue him, clean him up, put him in a decent shirt, comb his hair and clean his damn dentures, buy my old buddy a meal and shout at him about the booze. You see my self control is like an iron gate. His is a dam with holes in, not able to hold back the deluge of ethanol. Instead I told him where to get to some help at a Baptist Church, listened and soothed, and put on my best Hunter S Thompson growl: “Listen to me, man. Pull it together! This can’t carry on this way! What’s wrong with you. You are out of control. Dial it back, cowboy!” A thin laugh echoed down the line. Not that there are lines any more. Through the wireless ether between me and him. “You are alright, Detroit. I miss you honey. You are cool…you are cool.. It is just a Sunday Morning Coming Down, you know how it is. Ill just straighten myself up a little here. Get my wig on tight. This guy…this guy last night…real party animal…he had a bottle of 151. You know they don’t make it any longer.”
“So you remember what you were drinking and who you were drinking with?”
“Yeah, I ain’t gone to bed yet.”
“Goodnight Billy. Get some rest. Try to remember people care about you.”
The sound of tears being gulped down were like acid on an open wound. “I don’t like to hear you suffering. You put me through hell, you old bastard.”
“Sober up. Come down. Find the balance. Talk to me later. OK.”
And the sound of snoring rumbled my eardrums. Just another Sunday morning. Just another day that should not have been.