The idea of tomorrow seems too far away for the young mind to consider. I was young once too. I swore the fire from the bridges I burned behind me would light my way. But the light from the flames dwindled as I moved on, and when I turned back to see where I was—the light was gone, and it was too dark for me to retrace my footsteps and find my way back.
Closing winter, the sun returned with more warmth and the ground thawed. I was on the corner of Prospect and East Meadow Avenue. It was late afternoon and the sun was on its way down.
Across from me were the wrought iron bars that fenced around the grounds of the town park. Beyond the fence was a section of grass, then came a white, screen-like fence, which surrounded a large, blue-bottomed pool with dark blue lines that lay empty for the season. Further in the background was the kiddie pool, only its bottom was white.
Behind me was the Meadow Dairy on the southeast corner. Its white walls were perfect for me at the time. I was able to lean my back against the wall because my mind defied gravity; however, my legs were too heavy to move. On the northeast corner was a gas station and there was a small strip of stores on the northwest. Traffic lights dangled over the mildly trafficked intersection, and cars passed like whirring sounds of machine.
A long line of drool swung from my bottom lip. My hair was long and my eyes were half-shut. I could hear the world around me, but my eyes would not focus.
I was never a good drunk. I could never drink much and I never enjoyed the taste—but then again—I never drank for the taste. I drank for one reason and one reason only: To get drunk.
I could smell the aroma of burnt hair, which was obviously my own. Apparently, I singed the front of my long, reddish-blonde hair while trying to light a cigarette.
The taste of vomit was laced around my tongue and the ground, as well as the wall behind me felt as if it was slightly leaning off the corners of the world.
There was nothing to stop the ground from floating beneath me, and there was no way for me to stop the pleading inside of my head as I prayed, “Please God, make it stop.”
Officer Ude was a young policeman in our local precinct. As far as I knew, he was fresh in the neighborhood. He was mostly fair, and he was always quick with a warning.
Officer Ude knew me the same as I knew him. It was clear that we were on opposite teams. Ude was a young cop in the precinct and I was a young punk in the street. He saw me and my small group of hood-like friends as a nuisance. We were more annoying than criminal.
Ude had been questioning me for weeks about some graffiti, which was sprayed on the side of the Knights of Columbus building. Only, it wasn’t me. I never spray-painted anything on any building. Not because this was something I wouldn’t do; I never spray-painted buildings because I never had spray-paint, and besides, my money was spent elsewhere.
After wishing the world would stop moving beneath me, I heard a familiar voice, “You’re looking good.”
It was Officer Ude.
“What’s the matter? Don’t feel well,” he asked
“You look like shit.”
I wanted to answer, but there was no point. My mouth could not produce the right language and my legs could not provide the proper balance for me to stand up and walk away.
“I thought I told you to stay out of trouble,” said Ude.
I mumbled, “But I am out of trouble.”
“You don’t look like you’re staying out of trouble to me.”
I responded, “I’m just sitting down . . . and minding my own business,” which was true. But I was also sitting next to a puddle of my own vomit.
I was alone, but not by choice. My behavior pushed me out of my social circle, and more to the point, no one wanted to be around me. I was dodging some kids to keep from getting beaten, and I was on the edge of a new shade of loneliness.
I wanted to find a new place to spend time and new people to spend time with. But there was nowhere to go and no one for me to go with.
Ude warned, “You better get out of here.”
He ordered, “If I pass by and you’re still here, I’m going to put you in the car and show your parents what a good boy they raised.”
I agreed to move, but I did not move quickly.
I found my way down towards the dead end on Cambridge Street, which was a side street around the corner from the Meadow Dairy.
I moved through an opening in the fence at the dead end, and found myself in the old graveyard behind the old white church.
The gravestones were dated back as far back as the early 1800’s. Some, in fact, were dated in the late 1700’s, but my memory of the graves is unclear. I knew I could hide the cemetery and no one would bother me.
I knew I could find a place to sit on one of the old tombstones, and no one could see me. I could sit; drink, smoke, vomit, and no one would bother me.
Somehow, I thought I knew the answers. I thought I knew what I was doing and I knew what life was about. I thought I knew the angles and I thought I knew what to say. I portrayed an image to seem tough—but the truth is I wasn’t. The truth is I was frightened and awkward. I fought battles in my head that didn’t exist, and I lost to the ones that did.
I struggled to grasp the concept of sobriety. I knew what A.A. was, but I never knew what went on during A.A. meetings. I thought A.A. was a room filled with old, drunk men. I figured the cigarette smoke would be thick and curling at the ceiling. I pictured a room filled with old men, maybe some with white beards, white hair, yellow fingernails and yellow teeth.
I imagined they sat at tables with small glasses in front of them. I pictured men in flannel shirts, jeans, and work boots sitting in quiet rooms and talking about nothing.
I knew A.A. stood for Alcoholics Anonymous, which to me, meant this was the place drunks go because they could no longer drink socially or in bars. I thought A.A. was a place where people go; they sit down in their sadness and drink until they can drink no more. But the room they drank in was a safe haven because it was anonymous . . . so nobody knew about it.
But as usual . . . I was wrong
I spoke with an old friend yesterday. We talked about the wild memories and the names that tragically slipped away. We laughed about the crazy times and how young we were. I began to think about what we knew, or at least, what we thought we knew as kids. I thought about my young, bullshit strategies and my pointless revolution.
I thought of how I listened to angry music as if they were the perfect anthems to my arguments against life on life’s terms. I was so unbelievably and painfully lost—but I tried so hard not to show it.
The bridges I burned did not light my way. No, my light came from a different direction, and had I not moved away to become sober, I would have never seen it.
I belong this way, and while my opinions and visits to A.A. meetings have changed; I have been able to keep the light of truth burning inside of me.
By the way . . . My very first A.A. meeting was the most interesting .
When I asked, “When do we start drinking,” and after I explained what I thought A.A. meetings were for, I was met with a strange expression from the man leading me through the doors.
“What do you think this place is?”
I told him, “This is Alcoholics Anonymous. This is where people go to drink; only, no one talks about it because it’s anonymous, right?”
“You’re in the right place, kid.”
And I suppose I was . . .