(Please excuse my shifting pronoun use in this entry, should there be any, I'm not sure what direction I want to go with it and I don't really care.)
I've been in Columbus, WI for longer than I had hoped and will be here a bit longer. I can't continue any graduate work for awhile so I'm kind of just coasting. There hasn't been anything here that I would call awful, but nothing super promising either. Since I got out of jail in 2011 I've just been waiting, laying low, working on my recovery and trying to do good wherever I am able, when I'm not able I just aspire to non-maleficence. To that end I have been mostly successful and so, in that, this time has not been a waste. I'm sure when I look back on it I will feel satisfied.
Last summer I found a volunteer gig at a local thrift store and charity. I would go in three times a week and help out with whatever they needed. It wasn't long before I could see that I was quite useful around there. Good folks doing good work... but not all of them are what anyone would call, "able bodied." I have a few years of able-bodiednessedness left. I can also make decisions, add and subtract and speak eloquently... mix that with a guy who can, "hey carry that over there!" and it was a good fit. A few months ago that turned into a paid position.
I met a man who was a few months older than I and we became friends pretty quickly. Our pasts were very different. You would think he and I probably didn't have much in common and near nothing to talk about, save for, "Uhhh... how are we going to get this giant fucking piece of garbage entertainment center down this lady's stairs so she can feel good about making a donation that we're just going to dismantle and throw in the dumpster?" But we ended up having quite a bit to share with one another. We both liked some of the same music. We shared a similar sense of humor. We we're both able to toggle working hard and working soft appropriately, an adapted skill which we had tuned to an artisan level. We had both touched the splintered pieces of a destroyed life. We'd both had our trains derailed several times and had found our way back. We shared a similar world view... the one that you have after life has kicked the shit out of you over and over again... It's a peaceful kind of attitude that rarely lets you take too much very seriously.
We understood each other, we worked well together and genuinely enjoyed the time we spent together. I logged lots of time in that truck with him delivering furniture to people, moving foodstuffs around, picking up donations. I'd buy him a sandwich most days from the grocery store deli and we'd sit in the truck in the Pick N'Save parking lot and eat. We talked about all kinds of stuff, we laughed quite a bit. We talked about relationships, we talked about addiction and our experiences therein, we talked about how we got here and how we were doing. It's pretty rare to find a dude that's comfortable talking about deep stuff with another dude. Generally speaking, male sounding boards are rare to the point of full blown artifact... even in the vastness of the internet... but in real life? In a town of 5,000? This was a blessing.
I knew he was using and I knew it was intermittent but also, based on his recount and the observed withdrawal, quite serious. He would tell me about his intentions to do the right things in his life about his family and with regard to the drugs. I remember listening and grinning, then cocking my head and shooting him a quizzically intense eye and saying, "Right... but what's your end-game here?"
We had so much in common that way.
We knew exactly what we were doing but had no fucking idea what we were doing. An addict can get desensitized to it, the life, pretty quickly. Things that are absolutely insane, terrifying and lethal exist in our life, when we're using, in a pretty routine way. Think about what it would be like to eat out of a 5 gallon bucket full of cheese balls, except a couple of those cheese balls are deadly. Those are the kinds of risks an addict will take. Yeah, it's not super likely we'll get a dirty cheese ball if we just have a few today... BUT THE POINT IS WE'RE STILL COOL WITH EATING OUT OF A BUCKET THAT HAS POISON CHEESE BALLS. There's a couple things going on here that foster the desensitization. 1st, we've been here before and we're back. On my 29th birthday I was in the hospital with a .48 bac, catching a "banana bag," and a lecture. I walked out of that ER with a promise to go to treatment and a colorful lecture of my own the same night. I was drinking the following morning. 2nd, part of us just doesn't care. We're partially in denial about our mortality, but partially indifferent about our mortality. At my darkest, large pieces of me was hoping that I just wouldn't wake up, that I would slip in the shower, or that I'd rupture a vein. There's a part of us that accepts our use as a form of passive suicide. It's just a fact, an addict willing to use is, at least partially, okay with dying that way. It's the same part of us that hates everything we are.
I talked with him directly about his use and my thoughts about it several times, painting the horrible picture, reframing at ever turn, guiding him through thought experiments, pushing him all the way to the end of the tragic movie he was starring in. These conversations could get pretty intense and they were therepeutic for both of us. I recall saying to him under a month ago, "You're a grown man, you're going to do whatever you want and it's your life to ruin. Listen bro, I have your back, but it's important that you understand that if you continue, this is how your story will end. This will be your undoing." He responded by saying, "What do you mean my undoing?"
"You know what I mean." I said...
I was right.
"Did you hear the news?"
"... is no longer with us."
No I hadn't heard (thinking he quit).
And there I stood... awash with numbness, 10 feet from the last place I saw him, with my hand on a four wheel cart that we had pushed 1000 times.
I spent the next few hours assembling shelves and frantically rifling through files in my brain, searching for weak welds in our experience that mark points at which I could have prevented this. "How could you know everything you know and have seen all the things you seen and not stopped this... now your fucking friend is dead, now some kids don't have a dad, now some parents don't have a son... and now there's nothing you can do. Now he's gone." Obviously this isn't my fault but it is impossible not to wish you'd done something, literally anything, burned his fucking house down, to stop this.
There is no good here, only tragedy, only waste. Just the feeling of relentless, unforgiving force, pushing life along. Nothing is worth this. There is no lesson learned from this that is possibly worth the price. He no longer has the ability to fight for his own life. He will not see what comes next. His adventure is over. Life pushes on without him.
Life... one speed and only forward.
Someday, someone that cared for you will walk into a room and remember the last time you were There. Then they will be forced to understand that room with you Not There.