Memories From the Balcony – And the Horses Are at the Gate

There are people who we meet in life and albeit brief or if their stay in our existence is short or only temporary, no matter what happens to us afterwards or where our paths go off in different directions, these people will always be unforgettable to us.

I can see them now.
I can call them old friends and I can say that I knew them in a different lifetime. I can say that yes, we were young and we were wild, but not all of us were young. Not all of us were the same yet we were all going through the same process at the same time.

We were a group of men who were placed in a facility for a short period of time. We all had our own personal bouts. We all had our own traumas and scars and, certainly, we all had our own brushes with near death experiences. All of us were here to deal with our demons. While nobody was necessarily here on a voluntary basis, nevertheless, we were all in the same place and undergoing treatment for this disease they called alcoholism.

Man, I was just a kid. I was as thin as a rail. I was sickly and small and puny to say the least. I was also around a life that was deadly. I had scars that were deeper than men that were twice my age. My usage and dosage were more than the average and yet I wasn’t even at the legal age to drink at a bar.

Although years have passed and although a lot of time is between us now, I can say that there are people who I lived with for a somewhat short period of time who knew me so well. It was them who knew about my bouts. It was them who sat up with me when I was addressing old pains and it was me who they cared about.
It wasn’t about popularity. This had nothing to do with being cool in a crowd. It wasn’t about me sharing a bag with someone just to keep someone else from experiencing this thing we call, “Dope sick.”
No, this was about a group of men who were battling the same demons. We were all at the doorway to a new existence. Some of us stayed on the path. Some people decided not to let the lessons stick. Some are gone now, either dead by their demons, dead by their own hand or some have wasted away in their own sickness. 

I can see them in my head.
Do you know what I mean?
We went into this whole new idea of how to live. Some of the people I met were seasoned veterans.
Some were new to this thing they called “sobriety” and some, well –
they were just looking for a place to dry out or a place to hide from their bookies.

This is a story about a friend named Dan.
We called him Dangerous Dan the Marathon Man.
Dan was the greatest!
He was from a wealthy family. Dan was someone who certainly loved his alcohol. He loved his speed and his cocaine but more than anything, Dan loved to gamble.
This was his mainline fix. The ponies were his brand of junk and the races were Dan’s hypodermic needle – and just like that, the plunger would push down into his vein whenever the announcer screamed, “And they’re off!”

I was there the day he came in. Dan’s eyes were red and watery as ever.
And sure, Dan was drunk and high, of course he was.
That was supposed to be his last hoorah.
I was still new to the program. I was getting in line and following the rules.
I went to the meetings and the groups. For the most part, my rebellious phase was at a standstill.
There was no reason to argue anymore. Besides, I was stuck here.
It was either this or me giving lap dances in a cell with a much bigger man who wouldn’t honor the fact if I said “No!”

I knew this was part of a legal battle of mine; in which case, it was either this or the typical three hots and a cot mentality of jailhouse rules and jailhouse fights.
So me? I took rehab over jail.
So did Dan, by the way.

Dan was sure that no one could break him. He had been through this routine before. He was a nice guy.
Dan always had a smile. He always had a joke and he was always good to pal around with.
Dan also had a severe problem. He had taken more losses and more beatings than anyone I had ever met before.
His family always bailed him out. What I mean is whenever Dan got too deep into the bookies and when his debt was too high; Dan would go back to his family and ask for some time to get clean.
He would tell them about the bookies and his debt. Of course, his family would pay out the amount and Dan would find himself a place to stay for a 30-day clinical vacation. 

We all knew that Dan had no intention to stay clean. But more, Dan had no intention of quitting his gambling habit.
In fairness, and with all of the habits and junkie-proud bullshit, Dan was a really good man. He stood by me when I was having a hard time. He knew that I was just a kid.
Dan knew that the road I was going down was not healthy. He told me as plainly as possible,
“Don’t do it to yourself, kid.”
“You don’t want to end up like us!”

I had always wondered why older people would warn younger people and tell us to “Stay away.”
Meanwhile, they were doing the same things.
I knew someone who was needle-down into a vein in his arm and all the while, he was telling me, “Don’t ever let it get this bad, kid.”
Yet, there he was, pressing a plunger down into his pincushion arm that was infected and sickly.
Don’t ever let it get this bad . . .
That man is gone now.
But there were others like him.
There were others who literally threatened me and said if I ever catch you doing this “shit,” I’m going to kick your ass.
They said this while wrapping up their packages to keep their habits alive.
Meanwhile, there they were – doing the very same shit they threatened me to stay away from.

One night, there was a group of us in the cafeteria.
It was late and just before bed count. Dan gathered a few of us and wrote down names of different horses. Then he would pick three names from the hat. This was to see which horse would win, place or show.

What happened next was nothing short of amazing. We were able to forget our whereabouts for the time being. To us, this was like listening to a radio announcer. Only, Dan was better.
Dan called the race and mentioned every horse’s name while at the starting gate. He called them all out like a true announcer.
And there off . . .

I’ve only been to the track a few times in my life. On the other hand, Dan lived in places like this.
He called out the races as if we were all there.
We were all jumping around and hollering.
Dan called out the names of the horses as if he could see the race – his eyes were even closed while he announced the horses as they went around the track.
Dan’s voice was perfect, He sounded out with all of his passion and called the race with an almost 1950’s radio announcer’s voice. 
And there we were, a group of so-called drunks and junkies, betting on horse races that didn’t exist.
We were jumping up and down, screaming for our horses to come in and it was all fair.
There was no real money involved. While no, this was absolutely not a healthy moment – there was something that pulled us all together. 
Like brothers who went through too much.

In for a penny. In for a pound.
We lived together. We hurt together. Some of us decided to get sober together and Dan, well – who knows but if you ask me, this guy was aces.

Just to be clear, everyone swears that they’ll stay in touch.
We all say the same thing. We’re brothers. We’re family. Or, we’re boys now.
In for a penny. In for a pound.
If you ever need me, just call and I’ll be there for you.

Maybe we meant this at the time. Maybe we really did see each other as family.
And maybe Dan might remember me or maybe he wouldn’t.
Maybe he’s still alive. Or, maybe he’s not.
But this was more than 30 years ago. Anything could’ve happened.

It would be inaccurate to say that anyone I’ve met in places like this are either stupid or uninteresting.
No, I can say that I have met the most beautiful people in places of despair.

I know that I wanted to keep this lively and upbeat. But this treatment center was a hard place for me.
I wanted to end my life here. And I almost did, if you have to know the truth.
I woke up on the floor – still alive in spite of my own efforts.
Dan was one of the people who came up to me after “the event” happened.
He is one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life.
Dangerous Dan the Marathon Man.

Wherever you are . . .

Thank you. 

It’s true about what I said when the older warns the younger. It is also true that the translation is not what’s intended.
And more, telling someone to stay away from a drug or a certain practice to get their drug is more alluring than it is diverting. 

How I see this is different now.
Dan and people like him were saying that they resigned to an awful life; that this was them and for some reason, I was a person with hope.
They were telling me what they wished they had done from the beginning.
But to them, they were in too deep.
I had something that they saw and with this, people like Dan were telling me not to throw this away – even if they did – even if they wasted their own life or even if they threw away everything – as they saw it, they were irredeemable. And me? To them, I still had something left. 

Dan wasn’t irredeemable though.
He was a talented, charismatic and beautiful soul.
He just liked the buzz too much. He liked his scotch and whiskey and the bars too much.
He liked the cocaine highlights and the fast paced gambles more than he liked himself (maybe).
But I don’t judge.

I’m just thankful for the 28 days that I got to say hey, I know him.
He’s Dangerous Dan. He’s my friend.
Anything that comes after that is just unnecessary.

Be well, my old friend

2 thoughts on “Memories From the Balcony – And the Horses Are at the Gate

  1. Oh my goodness, what do I say? With tears running down my face. First of all, I salute your pen ✒️. Accurate Award 🏆 winning post 😔. Here’s a big hug 🤗 . Your life in Hell humbles me. Shalom 😔😔

  2. Pingback: Memories From The Balcony – And The Horses Are At The Gate - 💥Peace & Truth

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