There is something to be said about people that go through a lived experience with each other. Same as I will never forget the kids from the neighborhood, and same as I will never forget the first time I listen to Led Zeppelin at the back of a middle school’s empty football field, and the same as I will never forget the first time I was in a fistfight or the last time I stepped out a courthouse, it would be impossible for me to forget the people I lived with, long ago, in a lifetime, far, far away.
It would be remiss of me to say the people I met so long ago had nothing to do with the person I have become now. And should I see any of them now, regardless of how much time has come between now and then, I would embrace them as brotherly now as I did when we were close.
Treatment time is an interesting time. There is a closeness that comes along quickly. Perhaps, this is because times are emotional. Maybe this is because the shared experience would be something that no one else could possibly understand.
There is a language that is built between friends that creates a bond of closeness that is stronger than any connection before it.
Maybe it’s the late night talks or the talks after groups. Maybe it’s the knowledge of each other that no one else has; it’s the things you see and the experience you witness as someone next to you reveals things they’ve never dared to tell anyone else.
There is also a feeling of comfort and a sense of familiarity that cements this bond, in which, I swear, years can pass or even decades, and still, the memory of this experience leaves an unforgettable and indelible mark that will never be disregarded. at least, not by me.
John was a little older than me. Neither he nor I had heard anything about each other since our last time after my relapse. I never knew him when he was younger or before his trip into rehab.
We grew up in very different towns and both in different lifestyles. Perhaps, if we never met the way we did, Johnny and I might have never been close at all, but again, Johnny and I went through 28 days together. It was by chance that we saw each other, years after discharge, walking along 8th Avenue by 36th, near the clinic. He was him and I was me.
The only difference is I stayed the path.
Johnny did not.
The first time we saw each other, Johnny was in a bad way. He was sick as ever, eyes glowing, and looking like “Dear God, just get me through.”
I met Johnny at a later time by Columbus Circle. It was summer and the winds were just right. We were at the end of the day.
Of all things I can say about my city, the one thing I can say without mistake is New York City is beautiful in the summertime.
There is more to see than what most people know; the park, the girls, the people that walk by, and the feeling in the air is all beautiful to me.
In fact, a friend of mine who I will only name as Phil was an old-timer. He used to take his wife to Lincoln Center at sunset and slow dance to the music which came from the performing arts center. And same as me, Johnny loved the city too.
Johnny knew that I was on the other side of the fence, which was fine. He knew that I was playing it clean and that he, obviously, was on the other side and nurturing a habit.
What amazed me most about him was his inability to see his own worth. Johnny was always charismatic, good looking, and it was said by many that, “If you couldn’t get along with Johnny, then you couldn’t get along with anyone.”
The hard part was seeing the muted haze in his eyes; as if his charisma was being held captive, in which, I could tell Johnny was still in there, somewhere.
We reminisced about the days in treatment. We talked about the people we lived with and the counselors. We talked about the pranks we played on other people and the fact that yes, we were much younger then. Times were easier. Life was easier. This was certainly true.
There was something poetic about this moment. I was me and Johnny was Johnny, but above all, we talked the way old friends.
It was not about being clean or high. This was not the case at all. We talked like two friends that went through a crazy time with each other. We sat on a bench near Central Park and laughed about the people we lived with.
We kept it light, until . . .
Johnny asked, “Remember the day they brought you back from the hospital?”
I didn’t answer. I just listened.
I listened because I knew what Johnny meant. He was talking about the time I tried to hurt myself in the worst kind of way.
“You were always a good kid,” he told me.
“I just don’t think you ever knew it.”
Johnny explained, “Plenty of guys cried for you that day.”
“These were grown men. And you know who I’m talking about.”
I told him, “I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah, well I’m telling you now.”
Then he told me, “Shit, almost everyone in our group cried.”
“And you, shit kid, you had no idea that people actually cared. You always thought everyone hated you. But you were wrong.”
I swear, this was poetic. I swear there is something healing about the city, the people that passed by, the cabs, and the smell from the hot dog cart, which was not too far away
“I even heard you told Mathias that you thought no one would even notice if you were gone. But you were wrong about that too.”
Mathias was a friend of ours that died after he left treatment.
Johnny and I talked exactly the way we talked back then. And I suppose for the moment, this alleviated something for him. I suppose this alleviated something for the both of us. More than anything, I suppose it is good enough to just feel human every once in a while.
This was years ago. And who knows where Johnny is now?
Who knows if he made it or if he is still on the dangle, nodding out somewhere, or dead? It is rare that stories like this end well. However, this does not mean i can’t ever be hopeful.
I find myself awake sometimes, late at night and all around me is sleeping, except for me of course. I have grown to accept this as part of my life. In fact, this is why I have a compilation of journal entries, which I’ve entitled, Bedtime Stories for Insomniacs.
But moreover, I am awake some nights, thinking about a million different things. I think about life and the craziness of youth. I think about the so-called “Poor unfortunates” who are “Not at fault,” or so I’ve been told. I think of the list of names, which are many and I think of people like Johnny and the solemnness of their surrender to a life they couldn’t get away from.
We were young once, Johnny and I. There was a time before the drug took hold. There was a time when I needed my friend and he was there for me. I will never forget that
I will end with this:
There is a poem I wrote that is based on different people that I knew in different aspects of my life.
Everything I write about here is true; however, it would be dishonest of me not to mention that this poem is made up of a combination of events and pays tribute to people from my past
There I was, lost.
I sat down to feel a warm rush move through my body.
My mind folded in, sinking down,
and the room, man . . .
the room slowed to a beautiful crawl.
The outside of my small world was irrelevant –
I was brought to the light of a chemical resurrection.
A light bulb swung, dangling from a fixture
glowing in the center of a dim room,
and I could smell the sickness from my vomit
which didn’t bother me
I was unmoved
I was weightless,
like a loose cobweb swaying in the breeze,
fine to be as I was, safe in my little cocoon
But dig it,
I loved the way my euphoria pushed reality to the side
I loved how it melted the hard sounds and softened the sharp edges of my life.
It euthanized the positions between stress and boredom
and switched my vision into something soft
This is when I noticed Vince in the room.
He sat nearby as I watched him prepare.
Vince told me, “Never let it get this bad, kid.”
This was like the elder warning the younger,
but I never understood why.
I mean, we were both here at the same place,
doing the same thing . . .
Vince told me, “You should kick.”
He said, “You should find the book, or something.”
And by the book, Vince meant the Bible
Vince carried the Bible with him
He would recite verses
He quoted scriptures
and I would listen because
the ones Vince chose
always seemed to fit the times
Sweat rolled down the bridge of my nose,
I returned from the haze
Emerging from my nod,
I re-entered the room
and Vince was back at it
About to shove off, he said,
“He who follows me shall not walk in darkness,
but have the light of life.”
Vince’s eyes were half closed and watery
His posture bent and drifting downward
He preached, “I am the door.”
“I am the bread of life.”
“I am the good Shepherd…”
And then God the Father spoke to me
in my dreams
I saw my poison and sin
materialize in weeping angels
falling from grace
I could almost hear them dying, the angels
sabotaged in warm explosions,
pulsing through my veins
Then light came in, like Genesis
I swallowed a piece of sunshine
The mixture of powder
answered riddles of reality
but they never quite explained themselves.
As Vince preached,
“Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me in all the days of my life;
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord,
I thought to myself, “I hope so Vince . . .
. . . because this sickness is incredible
Just know that wherever you are now
My prayers are on your side!