It was only a few days before Christmas . . .
After a long drive from the farm and visiting The Old Man in the hospital, I went back to my two-story cape, suburban home. All of the rooms were the same, except for mine. The couches in the living room were no different from how they were before I left and went away for treatment.
The kitchen was the same and so were the dining room, bathroom, and the television room. I walked into the house where I grew up after only being away for four months, and though I knew this house well, and though I knew its every crevice, every hiding space, and every sound the floors would make when the house settled in the late hours of night—there was something unfamiliar about this place.
I was allowed to leave the farm for 24 hours and come down to see my father. But I was not alone. Brian was a senior member on the farm. He had been there nearly one year before my arrival. He was a friend, but not someone I could relate to. He ate properly; he did not slouch while sitting in chairs. He said things like, “Yes, please,” and “Thank you.”
He had ambitions of becoming a Priest. He dressed plainly and spoke clearly. He did not have a street’s attitude, nor did he speak about the way he “Used” to be. He never bragged about drug binges or spoke about street fights. He was simply undecorated. There was no image or loud versions of pride with him; however, this did not mean he was unaware. He knew who I was and what to look for. He understood the behaviors of a junkie—he knew because he was one too.
He was my sponsor, which meant I was to report to him if there were anything I needed to share or speak about. He was to direct me in the ways of sobriety—however, I struggled when speaking to him because I was too locked into my own aggressive ideas on how to be, look, think, and act.
Nevertheless, it was better to have someone with me than be alone and left to my own devices . . .
Brian accompanied me from the farm to the hospital. We were driven down by Father Anthony and we were to return the following day. I was not alone for more than one reason. First, I was extremely raw and vulnerable in my early sobriety. It would not have taken much for me to fall over. Second, Brian came to support me. He came to be a shoulder to lean on, which was strange because the friends I previously kept were always selfishly out for themselves. But Brian and the members on the farm were not like that. They said things like, “Good morning,’ and they asked questions like, “How are you?”
Brian came along while I spoke to my family. He said little, but perhaps he said little because he knew there was little to say in times like this.
The Old Man was in a regular room. He was on the mend after his heart attack. He was sitting up in bed. His coloring was not gray or ashy. In a sense, The Old Man seemed pleasant, and he was happy to see us. He greeted Brian and they spoke for a short period of time before Brian and I returned to my family’s home.
As we settled in for the night, I walked up the stairs and opened the plain, wood colored door into my bedroom, which looked nothing like I left it before heading off to treatment. The bed was gone, but my dark, almost wine-colored dresser was still there. The holes in the wall were closed up with sheetrock and plaster. I once kept these holes hidden from view because I once used them as hiding spots for my stashes. But now they were sealed and whatever remnants of hidden drugs or paraphernalia still reside, hidden in those walls, and closed up behind sheetrock and paint.
My bedroom closet with sliding closet doors was nearly emptied of all my things. There was a pair of cookie monster slippers on the top shelf from when I was very young. The otherwise empty shelf stretched above a grayish-white wooden rod with a few empty wire clothing hangers—and that was it. All of the posters were taken down; all of the black-lights were gone—the hole in the closet where I kept two large jugs of cheap gin was empty.
I stood in the doorway, looking at the hardwood flooring and scanning the place where I once called my bedroom. I felt distant.
It was as though I were out of my own body and looking at a crime scene which depicted the story of my own death. No, there was no fallen body with tape-outlines to detail my death’s pose. There was no yellow tape with black lettering, which read, “Police Line Do Not Cross.” There was only memory. There were only visions of who I was, and for the first time, I was able to see my own insanity.
I remembered the moment when no one was home but me. I had gone on an overnight binge and the cocaine bugs settled into my system. I barricaded the door because I believed the police were outside and coming in to get me. I used my front window, which was covered with blinds and a large black tapestry as a peephole to look out from.
It was wintertime and I had the side window open, which led out to the roof of my garage. Each time the paranoia set in or the imaginary sounds or whispers took place, I quickly ran over to the window with half of my body dangling out in case I needed to escape.
Meanwhile, white powder laced a small mirror on my floor between the wall and my bed. My longhair was matted with sweat and my skin was horribly pale. My lips were blistered from burning against a glass pipe.
There was blood leaking from my nose; my eyes appeared zombie-like or possessed, and the only real mirror in my room hung on my wall and reflected the truth of my appearance.
I never liked that mirror. I never liked the way I looked while standing in front of it. It showed too many truths and imperfections, and no matter how I tried to distort its reflection—I could not get away from the truth of what I saw.
Coincidentally, that mirror was the only item in my bedroom that remained unmoved.
My bedroom smelled different to me. It did not smell clean or dirty, but it was different. The scribbling on the walls from my youth, which was also hidden with posters, looked faded. And very much like the mirror—each detail of memory that flashed was a reflection of who I was.
The blood I spilled and the scars I received were clear to me. I saw the mixture of my own sickness. I recalled the moments of sadness as well as the crazy times, or the darker times.
I recalled the moments when I tested the strength of my flesh with the corner of a razor blade. I tested the boundaries of life while dragging the corner of that razor blade dangerously close to my wrist in practice for an act I wished I could attempt.
Standing in the doorway, I saw all of this. I saw exactly who I was. I stared at my bedroom, which no longer seemed as if it belonged to me—or perhaps, for the first time, I no longer seemed as if I belonged to it.
After a few minutes, Brian came up the stairs behind me.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah. Just looking at my old bedroom,” I answered.
We walked in my room and I felt the beginning of an internal conflict—or a conflict that was earlier overridden by the sadness of my Old Man’s heart attack. I stepped in and heard the floor creek. I stood in front of the mirror hanging on my wall. I looked at its dark, wine-colored frame, which matched the dresser, and looked at my own reflection.
I looked at it with the same expression as I used to have when I was sick. I suppose I used to look at it this way to see if I could get away with who I was or if the reflection was kind enough—I suppose I looked at the mirror to see if I could conceal or at least somewhat hide the truth of my insanity.
Fortunately, my reflection improved. I did not look the same. However, the sickness was still clearly visible to me.
The insanity was still there. I could see it. I could see my sickness in the reflection. I could see it in my eyes, and as I looked, I wondered how I never noticed how desperate I looked before. Or, perhaps I did notice how desperate I was. Perhaps I knew exactly how desperate I was—and this is why I tried to stay intoxicated or emotionally detached and medicated.
“Come on,” Brian said. “Let’s go get some sleep. We have to go visit your father in the morning and then Father Anthony is going to come pick us up and take us back to the farm.”
“I’ll be down in a minute.”
I looked at my old telephone, and that too was familiar and strange. It was silent but speaking to me in quiet temptation. I could have picked up that phone and called anyone—I could have called anyone I wanted to. I could have called one of my so-called old friends and have them come get me. I could have picked up the phone, left while my mother, brother and Brian slept. I could have hit the streets of Brooklyn and been back before anyone knew.
This is how I knew I was still sick.
Before leaving my town, I saw a girl who I once cared a great deal for. She and I would talk regularly, but when my behavior slipped too far from the edge, she and I rarely spoke.
I picked up the phone and thought of the numbers I could to dial. The numbers of all or any connection to my sickness were flashing—almost screaming at me to dial them.
I pushed the first set of numbers that came to mind.
She responded in a voice as if to explain she never thought she would hear from me again.
“I just want you to know I’m okay now.”
“What are you doing home?”
I answered, “My father had a heart attack.”
“Are you coming back?”
“I’m just down for the night,” I explained.
“I’m not staying.”
“Good,” she told me.
“Go back and get away from this place.”
She did not tell me to get away because she did not miss me. She did not want me to go away because she did not care or like that I called. This was not the case. She told me to get away because she knew that if I stayed, I would have stayed exactly as I was. And had I stayed—the reflection I saw in the mirror would have never improved.
As I turned to leave the room, I noticed Brian was still standing at the doorway.
“Come on,” he said. “It’s time to go to bed.”
I shut the lights in my room.
I looked around one last time before leaving,
and then I shut the door behind me . . .