For an Old Friend

It was hard to see yourself as blessed….I get that.
Your eyes saw what they saw and your heart was caught in the conflict.
Am I right?
They say, “It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” That’s from Mark 10:25
But you were not rich. I’m not rich either, but we both knew what it meant to serve two masters.

We’re the same you and me
…..too afraid to change
too afraid to let go
…..We’re too weak in faith
and too strong in doubt
so we held on to what we knew
we held on as if it were the only thing that made sense….

I sat on a park bench and waited for an old friend to meet me. It was 20 minutes passed the hour and I had given up hope that he would keep his word.
I was about to leave when I heard a familiar voice.
“What’s up, Kid?”
He looked the same, but yet, he looked aged and tired.
Since anonymity is important to me, names will be changed in order to protect the not so innocent.
But the story is real…
I knew C.J. from one of my stays in a treatment facility. He was tall and slim. He was charismatic and well liked. He knew me as a young punk. I was always in trouble and he was always there to talk me out of it. But somehow, the roles reversed. C.J. gave up and found himself back in the habit.
“You look good,” he said.  “It’s about time you put on a little weight.”
“It’s good to see you,” I told him.

There is a certain bond that comes from being “Away” with someone. In a matter of days, we felt closer to each other than we did with people we knew throughout our lives. We said we would always keep in touch. We said we would always be family, and though we never stuck to our promises, I knew C.J. as well as he knew me.
C.J. knew the gruesome details of my past. He knew about my childhood same as I knew about his. I knew about the injustice of his family and the needle he shared with his Old Man. I knew about the slow ritual suicide that killed many of his friends, as well as his own father, and I knew the deeper secrets that hid behind the skeletons in his closet.

“It’s a trip,” he told me. “If you asked anyone…they’d have all said you were gonna end up dead.”
“They said you were gonna end up dead and I was gonna be a counselor somewhere.”
“And now look at us. You cleaned up and I lost my faith.”

C.J. asked, “Do you ever dream about the place?”
He was referring to the center we lived in.
“All the time,” I answered.

I still dream about each of the three places I was in. I dream of my first 28 day placement. I dream about my 42 days at an adolescent facility, and I dream about my 11month stay on the farm.
In my dreams, I was sent back to refresh my skills. I had to go back to my old routine; I had to wash dishes and sit in counseling sessions.
The dreams are clear and often filled with the same people. I remember them when I wake; however, the memory fades when I try to recollect the dream as it happened.

I looked at my old friend and noticed the lifelessness in his eyes. I recognized the intense expression on his face when he remarked,
“Life was easier then.”
C.J. knew how to get sober. He knew the steps to becoming clean as well as he knew the steps to the methadone program.
“I remember the day you tried to check out,” he said.
“I remember when the ambulance took you away and they told me you tried to hang it up… it took a lot of guts to come back from that.”

The hardest part of redemption was understanding that I deserved to be redeemed. I never believed I could be better—or healed. I never thought someone like me would ever be anything more than a junkie, or a thief.
As I saw it, life was a cycle. If what goes around truly comes around, I believed my place was in the underbelly of that cycle, and whomever I harmed somehow deserved whatever I did.
“This is me,” I thought. “This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Other people could get well, but I never thought I could.

C.J. and I began to walk towards Columbus Circle. We talked about the days we spent together in treatment. We reminisced like old friends.
“I don’t know if I could do it again,” he said.
He felt he was too old and set in his ways. He was too afraid to let go and too afraid of being sick.
But I knew him…
I knew him well. Maybe C.J. never saw himself as blessed, but I knew I was.
I knew I was because in the depths of my sadness, I had a friend like C.J. to watch over me.

Sleep well, old friend.

“Therefore, if anyone is with me; he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.”

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