There was very little left of me. I was sick in more ways than I could tell you. I was physically unwell. I was mentally frayed and frazzled like the end of an old tattered rope.
I could not keep my thoughts together. I could not keep anything together, let alone, maintain an appearance of normalcy. It was clear to everyone that I was unraveling and falling apart.
And for the record, my parents tried. They really did.
My mom didn’t know what to do. Neither did my Father. He was Pop, The Old Man, which are all wholesome and respectful terms of endearment; however, in full disclosure, at the time, The Old Man was frustrated with me, the same as I was frustrated with him.
We wanted to get along but the obvious was just too obvious. It was always clear that I had struggles. I was never a good student and since I had dropped out of school, it was clear that I would never have the opportunity to be a student at any point going further. The Old Man saw me as a waste of my talent but I had no idea what my talent was. I could barely read.
The Old Man’s biggest frustration with me was the way I carried myself. My speech was poor. I mumbled. My words sounded lazy to him, as if my brain was permanently relaxed from what The Old Man called, “All that shit you put into your body.”
There wasn’t much left to me. I was like the special needs kid. I needed to be treated specially, in which Mom was the enabler and my Father was the enforcer.
The Old Man and I wanted to get along. Deep down, we both wished we could find a way to fix this, but neither of us knew how.
I think before going forward, I need to detail a few things. It will help you to take a minute here. Take a breath and try to imagine the scenery of each story I am about to share with you.
If I am to be descriptive to the point where you can see and feel this—then I want you to clear your head for a second. I want you to imagine the sound of the beach and the waves as they fold upon the shoreline.
The beach is an important connection for me. It is important because this place was the only place where my Old Man and I could connect.
If I am to bring my point across to the level where this chapter has the intended benefit then I need to transfer every bit of emotion so you can see, hear, and feel everything that happened at this time.
Ever since I was a small boy, the beach and the ocean has always been significant to me. The Old Man was the same way. He loved the ocean. He loved to fish. He loved boats. And so did I.
For me, the ocean was like a symbol of the Earth breathing. Waves come in to wash the shore, and then return back to take sediments from the sand, and then place them out to sea.
I love the way the ocean looks. I love the beach too, especially when it is empty and vacant. I can be me here.
The Old Man created a tradition with me. No matter what was going on in our life, no matter what our relationship was like, whether we were on good terms at the time or bad, come New Year’s Day, my Father and I would go to a beach called Point Lookout. And we would walk the beach for hours, counting the dead seagulls in the sand, picking up things that washed upon the shore, and talking about things like Father and son.
There was no animosity allowed on this day. This was the morning of the New Year. This was the day for a fresh start.
Although this tradition began when I was very small, there was a tradition of my own on this day, which I never spoke about or ever told anyone.
Each time we went to the beach, I would be sure to step directly in some of his footprints. The reason is because I always wanted to follow in my Father’s footsteps.
He was always my hero. I always loved him and I always admired him. My Old Man was the best person I ever knew.
We just didn’t get along. We couldn’t get along. Neither of us knew how to relate to each other. We were both stuck in our resentments. We were stuck in our frustration. We didn’t know how to communicate very well.
The truth is we wanted to get along. We wanted to be able to love each other, to interact, to talk like Father and Son. We wanted to be close. But towards the end of that summer in 1989, I could barely hold my own head upon my shoulders.
There was no hiding my habit—even denial is not this blind. It was clear there was a problem. I was placed on medication to “Help” me but I abused this.
But ah the beach, the ocean, she was always still there for us, which is why we talked about fishing and fishing trips because at least we had this. At least we had the memories.
There is one that I remember in particular. I was trying to get The Old Man’s attention for a while. I was still in grade school but the trouble was clearly underway. I used to try and get The Old Man’s attention but with business being what it is and The Old man being a business owner, time was a rare and precious commodity.
I remember the day he agreed to take me fishing. I remember the two of us took the tackle and the rods and we went to the bait shop on Merrick Road. I remember we went to a place called Wantagh Park—and we walked all the way down, away from the pier and the others that fish the usual spots.
This was a beautiful sunny day. I remember. The sky was clear and blue and the sun was high and hot. The wind was calm and the breeze was as gentle and soft as a baby’s breath.
I remember standing in the water of the bay along the shoreline. I remember The Old Man, standing not too far away. The sun beat down upon his olive skin, salt and pepper hair, parted to the side and waving in the wind. His eyebrows folded downward as if to express his deep thought.
A plane flew passed in the distance with an advertisement trailing behind it—the echo of the small plane’s engine rang in the background. I could hear the sounds of the sea. I could feel the sun upon my face and the coolness of the ocean on my legs.
I waded in, up to my knees, but I accidentally stepped on a seashell that went straight into the bottom of my foot. I was bleeding and yes, this hurt. And yes, I told The Old Man but no, I would not allow anything to get in the way of this. I would let nothing stop this moment between me and my hero, The Old Man, my Father.
I bled and I hurt but the moment was too perfect. In fact, the moment itself was almost like a painkiller, and better than any drug I have ever experienced.
There we were, Father and son, fishing in the bay with the sun on our face. This was our connection. This is where I saw him happiest. He was happiest near the ocean.
Actually, the happiest I ever saw my Father was the day I caught my first fish at a place called Shinecock Canal, out east on Long Island. This day was not as pretty though.
The sky was gray and overcast. The wind was cold as ever. There was no one else around because it was too cold to fish; however, The Old Man decided to bundle me up with mittens, doubled up on my socks, warm clothes and stuffed me into a big, puffy blue coat with a hat knitted by my Grandmother and pulled over my little ears.
It was cold and I was uncomfortable but I knew this moment was too important to complain. The Old Man baited my hook and sent the line down to the bottom.
We were fishing for flounder. And me, I was too young and small to understand what I was doing. The canal was quiet. The wind would move through with the sound of a whistle.
I cannot say if I remember anything else. I can somewhat remember The Old Man giving instructions as to what to do, how to reel the line, and what to look for, but as I mentioned —I had never gone fishing before. I was too young and small. I could hardly express myself in full sentences, let alone understand what to do when a fish bites.
The Old Man was talking, perhaps telling me stories —truth is I don’t know nor do I remember. However, I do remember him looking at the tip of my fishing rod and saying, “Wait a minute . . .”
He tugged on my line and remarked with excitement, “You got a fish!”
He was so excited that his cheers broke the silence. I recall the sound of Canadian geese which were in the water nearby, and their wings flapping hard to fly away in response to The Old man’s loud and proud outburst.
He cheered me on. “Reel it in, kid! Reel it in!”
And I did as I was told.
I reeled in so happily. I was not as excited as the Old Man yet, I was more excited because he was so proud of me. I was so moved by his pride that I recall the idea in my head, which was, “I always want him to be this happy with me.”
The fish was a small flounder. It was too small to keep but still, this was my first fish. There is no picture of this or photograph anywhere. No, there is only the pristine value of memory and the picture in my head of me as his son and The Old Man, my Father, so happy and proud.
Actually, as I type this, I can feel a warm movement beneath my skin. I can feel my blood moving. My eyes are welling and watering with emotion. I can even picture the stillness of the old canal and the gray sky and how it mirrored across the surface of the water. I can see The Old Man, back when he was younger and I was still young.
Aside from this moment, and aside from this connection, the only other connection The Old Man and I had going for us was golf.
This is not to say that I was good at golf. No, it is safe to say that I was pretty terrible at golf. But we would still play. I would go and do poorly and The Old Man would try and coach me to play better.
We were good here if you know what I mean. These things we distractions and the only connections we shared, which does not mean that I particularly like golf so much—it just means The Old Man liked golf and I was always looking to find some kind of connection with him.
We used to play a game called Long Ball/Short Ball, in which I would always play the ball closest to the hole. My father would always play the ball that was farthest from the hole. This helped us move along quickly. We would hit from the tee and I would play the ball closest to the hole, which would give me a chance to hit as best as I can, learn, and not hold up the group that played behind us.
We always played at this one course at a place called Cantiague Park. The course was small, only nine holes, but this place was perfect for us.
One day, I stepped up to the tee at the fourth hole. The Old man was quietly coaching me. Mind you, this is a golf course, so the mood is quiet.
He told me how to stand and how to look at the crevice of the ball. My biggest problem with the mechanics of my golf swing is that I always lifted my head and sliced the ball or hit the ball poorly.
But not this time. No, I was looking just like my Old Man told me to. I was listening to his every word. I took my practice swing. I recall the stillness of that morning. The grass was wet and oh, so green. The sky was slightly gray and the mood was so very quiet.
I approached the little white ball. I stood at the tee and slowly began my backswing. The Old Man calmly coached me from the side.
My eyes were focused on the sweet spot of the ball. I was about to switch and come through with my swing. I can recall the swooshing sound of the club as I swung it around.
I can recall the clink of the ball as the wood from my club smashed it just perfectly. The ball shot out, high, —so high that we nearly lost sight of it in the gray clouds. And it went long and it went far. And The Old Man jumped up and screamed so proudly.
“What a shot!”
“What a shot!”
He was so proud. He was so happy that he broke the code of quietness on the course and screamed with pride. I swore I always wanted him to be this proud of me.
I didn’t play as well for the next holes. But the rest of the day was saved because The Old Man continued to remark about my shot from the fourth hole. I even got to play my own ball because my ball was nearly on the green and closer to the hole than my father’s.
Now, in fairness, if you can’t see this or if you can’t hear the sounds of which I described —then you can’t know the meaningfulness of this moment. This was our connection —but in the August of 89, I remember The Old Man tried to buy me a golf bag with new clubs. There were golf balls in the pockets. There were all kinds of accessories. This bag was a big bag—a nice one too, with a new set of clubs.
He came into my room to show me. The only problem was the dope in my system. I couldn’t lift my head from the pillow. I couldn’t meet him where he was. I couldn’t even speak.
I recall most the expression on his face, and the sense of rejection he must have felt. He left my room and took the clubs with him. He put the bag next to his, which was outside the door to my parents’ bedroom.
He left my room and closed the door behind him. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t show excitement. I couldn’t even lift my head from the pillow.
God, I wished I could have done something. I wished I could have been healed right then and there and gotten out of bed.
I wished I met The Old Man with the excitement this moment deserved. I wish I had known how crucial time was, this way I wouldn’t have wasted as much of it.
There was a piece of me that wanted to get up. Actually, all of me wanted to get up to share in the joy. But the problem was I couldn’t. I couldn’t even get my head up off the pillow.
This is what heroin did for me