Heavy rain falls in waves upon the roof of my house. I swear this sound is the opposite of an alarm clock. Teams of raindrops run down my rooftop like little footsteps running in big gymnasium. The dull roar of this pitter pattering on my roof, the chattering raindrops that hit my skylight above my head, and the droplets of rainwater that roll down the bay window in my loft; the view outside—the gray sky, the hardly swaying tree branches that move in a gentle rainy wind and the empty street known as Spook Rock are all so peaceful and quiet.
Today is Sunday.
The rain changes intensity and I could be satisfied to do nothing else but sit in my pajamas with a cup of coffee in hand and look at the mountains from the window at the back of my house. Today would be a good day to stay in—watch movies, nap, or lay back and listen to the sound of absolute quiet.
I am taking inventory today. By inventory, I do not mean counting the things I have in stock, so to speak. I mean counting the things I have that cannot be bought or sold.
A difficult part of sobriety—or long-term sobriety is watching people I knew fall from their position and slip away. I have to be cognizant that what I have is something I worked for and a lack of awareness can lead to an unfortunate forgetfulness. I have to remember who I am by realizing where I come from. And if I am to keep what I have; then it is important for me to understand what it means to share what I have.
A tall thin man, well-dressed and middle aged, would come from his Chelsea apartment to sit at a table set up by me in the basement of a Church at a lunchtime meeting. I knew this man well. I knew about his life and about the course of his sobriety. He was an inspiration to me, which was too risky to admit. At the time, I was young and small-minded. I was socially insecure.
I admit to my judgments and my inaccurate homophobic beliefs, which led to an inaccurate view of people who were in fact, braver than me and quite possibly better as well.
The tall thin man was flamboyant. He knew me well enough to laugh when I spoke. He knew me well enough to shrug off my ignorance. He knew that I was at a crossroads. The tall thin man knew that I struggled with an image that I used as a mask to disguise my fear.
I was of everyone around me. I was emotionally weak and socially intimidated. Instead of admitting to my fear or the discomforts of social awkwardness, I wore an easily transparent suit of armor. I pretended to be intimidating and ready for an all-out war. I wore this image to hide behind instead of honestly defining my fears and simply laying down my insecurities to let them go.
I envied the tall thin man. I envied the fact that he could still smile. I could say something so absurd or cruel and ignorant, and yet, the tall thin man never changed his step. I would see this man at the 12-Step meetings on 31st at noon. He never failed to show up. He never failed to behave as himself. He never stopped or paused in what I saw as his openly brave display of who he is.
I envied the tall thin man because he was brave enough to behave as he was. He never portrayed himself as anyone else. I envied the tall thin man because I was too frightened to be so open. I was too frightened to admit that I was afraid. I was too petrified to admit my weaknesses and too fearful to allow myself to be vulnerable or open to anyone at any capacity deeper than surface level. Simply put, I was scared to be transparent. I was scared that everyone could see right through me and I was scared of feeling like a victim. I would rather victimize instead of be victim, which is why I behaved as I did.
Broken down and struggling, I was humbled by my poor choices. I was losing friendships and losing a relationship with a girl I pretended to love. I was too afraid to let go, or “Surrender to win,” as they suggest in the 12-step rooms. I was stuck in an imaginary battle where the only enemy was me . . .
The tall thin man approached me near the Church on 31st between 7th and 8th Avenues. He asked if I were okay. I listened to this soft spoken, gentle man’s voice.
With all my displays of anger and outrage as well as ignorance and aggression; the tall thin man showed kindness.
The tall thin man was not physically strong by any means. He was very feminine. He wore a sheer, ascot scarf around his neck, large gold, diamond rings on his fingers, loud jewelry with bracelets around both wrists and several gold and glittery necklaces around his neck. He was very well groomed and smelled from a delicate hint of cologne. He wore large dramatic sunglasses and tailored suits with expensive loafers on his feet. He was an artist and musician and partnered with the same man for many years.
The tall thin man had seen the world. He had seen the streets of Paris and the Eifel Tower. He had been to Rome, Spain, and played piano in spots throughout Europe. He was not famous, but he was on the border of fame and spent time with well-known actors. He never pretended to be strong or anyone other than himself. I saw him as physically weak. To me, the tall thin man was a mark. He was someone I could take advantage of. I saw him as an easy target. Although his physical appearance may have been frail or limp-wristed, the tall thin man was stronger than me. He was braver than me too.
In spite of my loud and obnoxious way; the tall thin man approached me when I was down. This was during one of my worst times in sobriety. I used to tell people to stay away from me. I would tell people to, “Leave me alone, ” but the tall thin man ignored this and asked if I was okay.
“You know, Ben,” said the tall thin man in a way as if he were explaining something simple to an overly complicated person.
“You don’t have to be angry all the time.”
When the tall thin man said this, I felt the blood in my veins spin through my body. I felt a surge of hate pour through my system. I wanted to hit this man. I wanted to punish him for speaking to me and explaining something so obviously true.
“I used to be angry, said the tall thin man.
“Oh, I used to be a vicious queen,” he called himself.
“But now I’m just me. And as soon as I allowed myself to be that . . . everything worked out to be okay.”
I thought to myself, Who would I be if not angry?
How would I defend myself?
Who would I be if not the person I pretended to be?
And who would like me if I was just ordinary or like everyone else?
What would I do if I surrendered or let go?
What would I do if I saw myself for who I was; afraid of everyone and my own shadow and scared to be exactly as I am?
I was afraid of feeling unaccepted. I was afraid of not being cool, or beautiful, because when it comes down to it—everyone wants to be beautiful.
Everyone wants to be included or regarded. Everyone wants to be invited and wanted. As for me, my fears were this: What if I wasn’t invited? What if I wasn’t included or regarded? What if I wasn’t accepted? Or more accurately, what if I was unacceptable?
I admired the tall thin man. I admired that he was able to still show such great strength. Then again, I was not so strong that I could destroy him with words. Certainly, there was no physical threat; however, I was weak-minded and frightened. The tall thin man saw this and in spite of my cruelty; the tall thin man showed mercy on me.
We had a long talk, the tall thin man and me. We walked up 31st Street to 5th Avenue. I listened to the tall thin man speak and touch on the obvious fears, which I believed were absolutely hidden.
He told me a poem that was written by a famous friend whose name was kept anonymous.
“A bell does not ring until you ring it . . .
. . . a song does not sing until you sing it
and love in your heart was not put there to stay . . .
. . .for love is not love until you give it away.”
I never forgot this poem. There was so much meaning to it. I was lonely and angry. I was fighting a battle that never existed. I was trying to prove so much, but in the interim, I did so little for myself or for those around me.
I have what I have because of friends like the tall thin man. I have what I have because of friends that were not afraid to share pieces of themselves with others.
A few days back, someone asked me about the subjects I write about. They asked, “Why would anyone write about those things and then post it someplace where anyone could read?”
I spent most of my young life and adulthood running from my fears and trying to impress people. I lied about myself to look “Tough” or “Cool,” but none of the stories I told ever worked. Opposite of better, I felt worse because I knew they were all lies.
Portraying yourself as brave in a lie is more cowardly than retreating from even the smallest threat. I don’t want to be a coward anymore. I don’t need to be brave or impress anyone. I just want to be me.
And days like this one; days when the sky is gray and the rainfall hits the rooftops to act as an anti-alarm clock—these are the perfect days for a moment of inventory and to remember an old friend.