The sadness of knowing someone you once cared about and loved as a human being is no longer human, that their drug taking or out of control drinking has taken them wholly, consumed them totally, left an empty shell with a monster inside wearing the face of your friend, is sometimes too much to bear.
This is the sadness of the black out drunk. They don’t know what they did, what they are doing, who they are, or where they have been. When Billy blacks out he says and does things that that not-blacked-out-billy never would. He threatens to kill people and animals. He gets nasty and dirty and mean. He says stuff that is not like him at all. I think I have heard almost my last report of him. The calls are no longer from him, but from police that have lost him, courts that he hasn’t turned up to, friends that have tried and failed where others have too, and those who tried to help but failed, as I failed: in love, in assistance, in dragging his deadass back from the drinking hole he poured his life into time and time and cursed time again.
I might be trash, I might have blacked out now and again (haven’t we all?), but I am not that kind of monster. My monster turns it all inwards towards itself, or writes dark songs, or writes and grabs sheathes of paper, entire novels and books of poetry that took years of my time and creative energy and throws my life into flames. I might be trash but I have never threatened to kill or maim or hurt or destroy anything or anyone except myself. I might be shit, but I have never hurt a human or an animal, nor wanted to. My weapons are shaped like 26 squiggles on a page, or fly out of my mouth in streams of inventive invectives. I am a scold not a killer. I have a mouth like a venus fly trap. Leave me be and I am quiet and even interesting, trigger my self-protectiveness and I end up hating myself when I have said things I can’t take back. I might burn yer couch down when my cigarette drops out of my fingers on the nod, but I am not going to be up and active and causing trouble. Most of the time.
I am an escape artiste not a brawler. I am a lover of the poppy and the nod and the blissful trips down the lethe into the realms of the shadows where people talk in further rooms about Michelangelo or Michael Stipe and how low can you go low low lower into the grave. I hold my cards close to my chest, then show my hand to the world. These are the days of open hand, I suppose. These are the days of laying myself on the line. Those graveyard straps that lower the traveller along down the line into the Kingdom of Hades. Lower until you are hanging with the pomegranate eaters and stripping the bark from the trees to try and suck the sap out of a life spent a little changed, a little altared and sacrificed in the dark to stranger goddesses and darker matters. Slightly insane, perhaps. A little left of center. Never quite belonging to yourself. The reality of life is reduced to eating when you are not hungry for food, just the continuance of life. Drinking when you are not thirsty for anything except oblivion.
Dollars buy happiness in increments of months spent watching the river flow carrying all love, all hope, all passion and desire, desperate and dark though it may be, downstream to the mouth that spews out the vile whiskey bile along with any possibility, dissolved and disparate, a molecule of suffering amongst all the other atoms of violence of thought and action, addiction and desperation, to go swimming in a sea of ethanol. My bottle of rum. Your bottle of whiskey. My bottle of laudenum. Your bottle….your bottle on the bottom of the river, turning into smooth sea glass, worn and green, clear and jagged edges smoothed away by the tide and time. Who needs religion when there is the church of Tennessee whiskey and sweet Jamaican rum! All hail the Prince of numbness! Fall at the feet of the goddess of glorious relief! Take the edge off. Remove the roughness. Smooth the tears from the cheeks. Not one drop to fall! Until that moment of sobriety hits, that clarity click, that awful stomach churning, mind melting hand shaking life destroying realization that the party is over, and the bill needs to be paid.
Romancing the bottle cannot last for long. It is a fine balance of time and getting on the program. The dedicated drinker always has a program that keeps the bit in their mouth, and their head straining against the crop and lash of the physical demands of their addiction, racing full tilt towards the inevitable expanse of wide blue yonder where the program falls apart and dragged kicking and screaming into the bright unforgiving light of sobriety. Reeling in a life that the bottle has taken is no mean feat, no easy task.
No, I never saw myself as much of a drinker. I drank in binges and batches of weekends lost to the southern comfort, then when this stupid disease took away the wheat and grain, to rum and potato vodka, to tequila and sweet amaretto liquer that I secretly loved and poured sticky shots of into chipped mugs in campgrounds and parking lots. I never did master classy. No, I was never much of a dedicated drinker until the point where I tried to chase Billy down the ethanol rabbit hole, chasing after him like a half cut Alice. Eat me. Drink me. Ten foot tall with a red telecaster. My self restraint shrunk into an evil dwarfish speck of nothingness. In my naievity I presumed that I could retrieve my oldest friend from that bottle’s grip, if I could just wrestle it off him. Match him. Best him. Deep in the Kingdom of the Bottle, in the romance of the favored medicine of poets and artists, of the lovers who are too sensitive for this cruel harsh, hard world. The romantics who need the vaseline on the mirror, the sandpaper rub of the drunken king against all the edges of their psyche and their suffering are a messy bunch. Emotionally incontinent once they are in their cups, as much as they are physically incontinent. I took to putting down black plastic bin bags on the mattress instead of swimming in puddles of toxic alcoholic man piss. I nursed him and my own glass of rum.
When one day I woke up shaking and puking, the room swimming, walls bending, and creepy creatures emerging from the curtains peeking out from the depths of hell, beckoning with bony fingers, sinuous bodies heaving and encroaching upon me, sending me screaming for help, and he came in, sneered and threw a bottle at me in distaste, I realized my journey into the bottle had gone too far. I couldn’t grab him out, all that was going to happen was I was going to lose me. I am not a drinker. I am an alcoholic. Almost three years dry.
I can’t drink with friends. I can’t have just one. I can’t risk a cheeky little snifter. I went too far, and that kingdom of the bottle is always going to be in the rear view mirror, just in view, not far enough away. Once that door is open, it cannot be closed. Drinking socially is a privilege I lost. It was not wholly altruistic. I had always drank. Can’t get a bag, get a bottle. I just had never taken it into the realm of the Delirium Tremens before. The judge of the kingdom is a cold hearted stone cold sober gentleman. I suspect he has been there, done it and worn the Johnny Cash tee shirt: Life sentence. Not even a shot to take the sting out of a day. Life.
What is numbing in smaller doses, what is relief to a point, beyond that point lays torture. The crying drunk trope is real. I tell him to get a grip on himself, to pull himself together, but the emotions are unleashed. Pain. Anger. Violnce of intent and thought and action. The bottle is his master, his King. His life. His everything. He weeps begging for help down the telephone line. I tell him I tried. That is the stone cold truth of it: I tried. He got me out of Japan, I tried to save his drunken ass. I failed. He succeeded. Here I am in my nice bright apartment, surrounded by pillows, sitting in my pjs, not feeling very well, but comfortable and clean and fed and content with a joint of my favorite super silver haze on the burn. I feel guilty.
I feel guilty as I look out of my window at the people who are still stuck out there. My unhoused next door neighbor sleeps under his tree, shielded by a white car, his face against the cold dirty sidewalk of the filthy street, ass naked and exposed to the people who pass by…or look out of their windows, holding a hot cup of tea. He sits there with his good thick foil, cut to just the right size – well done to the harm reduction clinics, I recognize some good kit when I see it – smoking his fent, then passing out. You can’t even call what this new shit does ‘on the nod’. There is no blissful nod. Just lights out. I look out and want to cry: I got lucky. I left that world and now live in between worlds, not there nor here, just somewhere in between in sweet comfort and clean sheets. Since I got this new mattress my back has been bearably painless. I was regularly cripped with back pain sleeping outside. Last night I looked out there, and admit staring to make sure he was breathing. I must get some narcan. I sure as shit am not going to sit here and watch someone die of neglect out there, and yet I am allowing Billy to die of neglect up there somewhere to the north.
The movie reel starts up again. The slaps across the face, the shoves and pushes, the harshness, the drunken knife against my throat that time he blanked out and pulled a blade on me. He wanted my handbag, convinced I had drugs or money that he decided he wanted, despite the fact the cash that was in there I had earnt by cleaning hotel rooms for a week, cleaning shitty sheets and used vibrators out of a Washington motel’s rooms for five bucks an hour, cash. This country takes the absolute piss out of people who are undocumented. The money I earnt, eight hours of scrubbing and shit, for $40 and an attitude of gracious pursed lipped “I am a citizen doing you, the nothing who is not legal on the ground I am owed and due and assigned, a favor. you may clean my room for slave wages.” I needed to feed the kids. Billy had drunk the food money. I smiled and thanked her to the point of obsequiousness. Hand wringing desperation. thankyou thank you thank you thank you….I held onto the fabric strapof my bag, he pulled out his switchblade, and the point up to wards my neck, tried to cut the bag off me. The strap was too thick. The knife slid up towards my jugular. I had escaped Japan only to be killed by the cavalry. Billy lurched forwards. The knife ran across my neck. Cut, but not badly. I throw the bag towards him. “Here! Take it!” He took the money and tore the twenty into two pieces in some drunken symbolic half cut pathetic shit. He thought he was artistic. He was just pathetic. The Boy passed me a tissue, the red seeping from my neck and staining the white with the shame of my bad decisions.
The next day I asked King Drunk if he remembered. He played it off as ‘drunken billshit’, and blamed me for not ‘playing nicely’. Excuses. Downplaying. Gaslighting. I hope he is suffering, yet I can’t take not knowing. I take phonecalls, increasingly from strangers, telling me he stopped breathing and was taken to hospital, or that he was stabbed somehow and the cops came. Calls from young men who are drinking with him or old men who piss their pants and stagger along with him, from the drunken and desperate women who mother him, and the old biker friends who try to save him and fail. You cannot save a man who is determined to throw himself off a cliff.
Every act of heroism helping me out of Japan, every life he saved and every life he lost, every moment of friendship, every mile of the road, every month of the trip, every campfire and buffalo, every wild turkey gaggle and half buck-nekkid snuggle, every truck stop and casino evening dropping out of view on the highway we shared and the world he let me into, every drop of booze and pill and bag and new york walk. Every spike, every pipe, each and every joint and all those hot knifed hits he held out for my grateful lips and lungs. Every tin can vase and all those wild flower bouquets, every mountainside drive and moonlight walk. Every speck of laughter and happiness, and sober simple enjoyment. Every time he encouraged me to write, every song he inspired and every time he moved my fingers on the fretboard, teaching me how to play guitar sullied and destroyed by the bottle.
I hope it was worth it.