The idea of tomorrow seems too far away for a young mind to consider. I remember because after all, I was young once too. I swore the fire from the bridges I burned would light my way. Eventually, the firelight from the burning brides dwindled as I moved on. When I turned back to see where I was, the light was gone, and it was too late to turn back. It was too dark for me to retrace my footsteps and I was unsure how I had gotten to this point. I was in deep and spiraling downward in an out of control sickness.
Closing of winter, the sun returned with more warmth and the ground began to thaw. 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 black wrought iron bars that fenced around the grounds of the town park. Beyond the fence was a section of grass. Beyond the grass was a white, screen-like fence, which surrounded a large, blue pool with dark blue lines that stretched along the bottom. The pool was empty for the season. Further in the background was the kiddie pool, which was also empty, only this pool’s bottom was white.
Behind me was the Meadow Dairy on the southeast corner. The brick wall was painted white and perfect for me at the time. I was able to lean my back against the wall while my head defied the laws of gravity but my legs were too heavy to move. On the northeast corner was a gas station with broken down cars parked on the side of the station, awaiting repair. Across the street, there was a small strip of stores on the northwest. Traffic lights dangled over the mildly trafficked intersection, hanging like colorful pendants, swaying easily in the gentle wind as cars passed in whirring sounds beneath them.
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 could smell the details on my day stuck in my nostrils and on my clothing.
I was never a good drunk. I could never drink much and I never enjoyed the taste. Then again, I never drank for the taste. I drank to be drunk. I drank because I wanted to laugh—I wanted to feel uninvolved and detached—even if it was only temporary, I drank because it balanced the scales, which to me had always seemed unbalanced. I drank to even the score and to level the playing field. This way, I had an edge. If the night was good, I was a winner. If the night was bad, I drank enough that whether things were good, bad, or indifferent, none of these things were important to me. Life wasn’t so bad at the bottom of the bottle. The problems at hand were less than important and I was less concerned with who liked me and who didn’t. When I drank, or did anything to balance the scales, I did what I could to find the ultimate sensation of nirvana. Nirvana—as in Buddha, the endless circle oblivious to pain and free from worry; free from attachment—unhinged in a state of bliss while drifting away in altered state of consciousness. I drank with purpose, and on this day, that purpose was fulfilled.
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 aroma from my last heave was beside me on the ground. Behind me, the wall I leaned against felt as if it was 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.
“Please God, just 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 friends as a nuisance. We were more annoying than criminal. We were too young to cause too much of a disturbance; nevertheless, we were troublesome and approaching the age where we would be legally held accountable for our actions.
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. Not this time. 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’re lookin a little pale, son.”
I wanted to respond, except there was no point in answering back. 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, “I am out of trouble.”
“You don’t look like you’re staying out of trouble to me.”
“I’m just sitting down and minding my own business,” I said, which was true. However, I was also sitting next to a puddle of my own vomit, drunk in public, and sitting out in the open.
I was alone but I was not alone by choice. My behavior pushed me out of my social circle. 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. Only, 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 Prospect
I moved through an opening in the fence at the dead end and found myself in the old graveyard behind an old white church on East Meadow Avenue. The gravestones were dated back as far back as the early 1800’s. Some, in fact, were dated in the late 1700’s. My memory of the graves is unclear—there was history for me in this place. I spent a wild night hiding in this little graveyard while a few of my friends howled and laughed about the hallucinations that come with LSD. I chose this place because I knew I could hide in the cemetery and no one would bother me. I knew I could find a place to sit on one of the old tombstones where no one could see me; no one would bother me, and I could drink more—I could smoke, vomit more, and no one would care.
This is what I meant by explaining I was lost. 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; I thought I knew what to say and who to say it to. I portrayed an image and tried to be tough. The truth is I was far from tough. The truth is I was frightened and awkward. I fought battles in my head that never existed, never happened, and never made me stronger. I was playing both sides of the game—sharpening my skills, and trying to play the role of someone that knew better.
I knew something was coming my way. There was a change in the wind, and I knew it was coming—only, I had no idea what the changes would be. I knew I needed to do something about my drug usage. Drinking, on the other hand, is a socially acceptable form of drug use. If I could not have one, at least I could have the other. I mean, how else could a person cope with life and all its troubles?
I struggled to grasp the concept of sobriety. I knew what A.A. was. I knew the letters stood for alcoholics Anonymous; however, I never knew exactly what happened at 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 white-haired me, thick, full bears, bushy eyebrows, and yellow fingernails. I imagined they sat at tables with small glasses in front of them. I pictured men in flannel shirts, or denim shirts, wearing jeans, and 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. I thought A.A. was a place where people go; they sit down in their sadness and drink until they can drink no more. In this case, the room they drank in was safe to drink in because it was anonymous . . . so nobody knew about it.
As usual . . . I was wrong on this one
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 it were the perfect anthems to my arguments against life on life’s terms. I was so unbelievably and painfully lost. With all I had, 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. Instead of the firelight from the burning bridges, my way was lit by spinning lights, perched on the roof of a police car. I did not surrender willingly or peacefully. To no avail, I was taken out of my element. Had this never happened; had I not moved away to become sober, I would have never seen my downfall as a blessing in disguise.
I belong this way, sober, 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, right?”
“Yeah, Alcoholics Anonymous. That’s right. But there’s no drinking here.”
“No,” said the man. “What did you think? You thought you were gonna drink here?”
I answered, “Yeah. I mean. It’s Alcoholics Anonymous. This is where drunks come to drink. Only, no one talks about it because it’s anonymous, right?”
The man leading me to my first A.A. meeting laughed.
“You’re in the right place, kid.”
I suppose I was . . .