Are there three words more misused and misconstrued? Three words more powerful? Three words that can wound the betrayed more grievously with their hollow echo?
I don’t know, but I fucking doubt it. I’ve never spoken those words lightly, and I’ve meant them whenever I’ve spoken them.
I don’t believe a person can stop loving someone the way you can turn off the light, despite how much jilted lovers and estranged family members might pretend. And I know time is a slow-won salve for myriad heartaches.
But Death has taken many of my loved ones, and because of that, I’ve learned that not speaking to a person close to you due to some petty shame or trifling anger (and almost everything is petty and trifling in the face of Death) might be something you’ll come to regret until Death welcomes you as well.
If there is something you should tell a person who has ever been important to you, please just tell them.
I’m speaking from my limited point-of-view here: white, male, straight, working class, punk rock by heart, redneck by trade (my neck is literally red from working in the sun.) It has been my experience that when individuals get knocked around by life a little harder than usual—and they are lucky enough to form bonds—they tend to form strong bonds with others who maybe have had a rougher go at it than most. I am extremely grateful for the blessings and opportunities in my life, but it’s taken me well over forty years to even begin to find some peace that is more than fleeting.
One blessing in my life is my friends. I grew up afflicted with crippling shyness and wretched self-esteem, which left me feeling socially awkward and highly uncomfortable in almost any social situation. When I gave in and started drinking at 18, it was like I found the cure for that affliction—but that’s another story. What I have always had is a solid group of friends. Where our society sees heathens, junkies, bums, drug dealers, psychos, and white trash, I see intelligent (in different ways—book smart ain’t the only one), determined, compassionate, protective, and up-standing human beings who’ve been down through thick and thin for decades. Maybe we go a year or two without talking, but when we do, it’s usually like we never missed a beat. When your life goes off the rails, when you behave like a junkie or a violent ass, when you’re fucking up so bad your blood relatives turn their collective back, and you look around and see those rugged fools who love you anyway and have empathy for you because they’ve been there and know how easy it is for a man to fall (pardon the sexist viewpoint), those are your friends.
I’m not saying they’ll condone your addiction-fueled destruction, or that you’re always going to see eye-to-eye. In fact, one has to have heart to keep rising up after every fall, and stubbornness often comes hand-in-hand with tenacity, and all this will lead to arguments, possibly fist fights, but you can’t be a pussy about this sort of thing. A good friend might tell you how it is, call you on your bullshit so to speak, or not loan you money because he or she doesn’t want to be the one who facilitates your final overdose. I value my friends for many reasons—they do their best not to judge me, they’ll show up if I need to protect my family with guns, they put up with my moody, bipolar ass and still love me, and many other reasons. I try to take care of myself and flourish so that I don’t have to stress them out by needing their help overmuch, and so I can be there the best I can for them when the time comes. One thing I’ve learned only within the last five years is the importance of taking care of one’s self in order to be of better service to others. That being said, we all need a hand up from time to time: I know I’ve had my share, and I’m grateful to have had the help.
Most of my friends have known more than their fair share of suffering (as if life were fair and suffering were doled out equally like pudding cups in a school lunch room). These tribulations, though difficult, have refined the spirits of my brothers (and a sister or two), making them the beings I cherish and respect today.
To all my brothers, you know who you are, thank you for the good times, the support, the camaraderie, and even just taking the time to sit and listen to me at my lowest—when I felt I didn’t deserve to keep breathing valuable air that an actual human might need—and hear me, actually hear me without judging me. Thanks for having my back in street fights, even when my drunken ass probably had it coming. Thank you for caring about my boys and sharing an understanding with me that has oft made me feel like an alien when I’m not kickin’ it with y’all. I hope I can be as good a brother to you as y’all have been to me.
October 2020 was the last time I would have a conversation with my mom. After nearly dying in 2016, she made a miraculous recovery from lung cancer, and enjoyed four relatively healthy years before the cancer returned. It happened quickly–in the space of a month she went from doing chores around the house to calling me to come over and lift her up the single step in her foyer. I was at work when she called, building a deck in the midst of a pandemic.
“I’m dying,” she said, her voice husky but free of fear. “I want to die.”
“I understand,” I said. I did. She’d fought like a savage to come back from the edge of death and debilitation the first time. She felt my disabled son still needed her. I didn’t want her to suffer any more. It was her choice to make.
“I love you very, very much.”
“I love you too, mom.”
“Stay in treatment. Your boys need their father.”
“I love you very much,” she said again. The air compressor kicked on behind me, making any further conversation impossible. I didn’t try to call back. What was there left to say?
For me, it was the natural order of things, painfully tragic, but natural. I felt a keen sadness for my grandmother, who had already lost a twin sister. Now she would bury her child. I can only imagine the horror of having to do that, and I have great admiration for anyone who comes back from losing a child.
My mom was the best parent I could hope for. She was compassionate, intelligent, driven, creative, and she loved me far more than I deserved to be. She taught by example. Even cancer and death were hers to overcome. She was utterly non-violent, yet when it came to determination and sticking it out, she was the goddamn baddest motherfucker I’ve ever met.
I love you mom. I wish I’d shown you that more when you were alive. We all miss you. Thank you for everything I am that is life affirming and good. I’m not sure too many people would’ve been up to the task of raising me as well as you did with what you had. And if you can read this, mom, Sammy is doing great, though he really misses his grandma.
I’m sure I had a weird answer in second grade when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grow up (if I grow up?), but my first firm answer was a rock star. Thanks to my wildly liberal upbringing and severe disconnect with reality, I held on to that dream until about 16. I remember meeting my girlfriend’s mother for the first time and she outright laughed at me when I told her I was planning to attend the Guitar Institute of Technology. I laugh (internally, of course) when I think about how wounded my tender self was when she didn’t take me seriously. Maybe if I played the guitar, at all, ever, I should’ve considered such a vocation, but that turned out to be a serious flaw in my plan. Plan B: writer.
I say that like I’ve ever had a plan B (I think when plan A fails and one goes back to planning, one ends up with a second plan A.) Punctuation nerds: do I have the period in that last sentence on the correct side of the parenthesis? I’d look it up but I have to get up and go to work at, sigh, my construction job in three hours. Fucking stupid planning anyway….
So yeah, there was some majoring in Art in college, and some consideration to becoming a physical therapist, who hates touching people, before dropping out completely, feeling utterly defeated by Howard Rosenburg’s design course, and resigning myself to a strictly blue collar future. It wasn’t until years later that I correlated my dad going to prison with my first college drop-out. I’m not saying it was his fault, but it sure didn’t make that fucking hellish class easier. Like dads are here to make shit easier. Ha! Ask my kids.
Here I am, 150 years older, and still “transitioning” into full-time writing. It’s not for lack of trying this time either. Then one day your junkie girlfriend nags at you to get off heroin (because she doing the superior drug), and you finally do, and realize you’ve been driving the car that is your life while mostly asleep. I crashed a literal truck that way–I do not recommend it literally or metaphorically. Now, the vague point. Why am I telling you this?
I was recently offered a union construction job (I worked in the union for over a decade), which pays a lot more and has benefits, and the people who I tell look at me like I’m a little simple because I don’t run back to the union. “That’s a no-brainer,” they say, or “that’s why it’s called ‘work,'” they say, forgetting that they quit the only construction job they ever had , if they ever had one, after one or two summers. I loved the union when I was planning on staying a carpenter. When all the union work dried up and I went back to college to fill the time and my belly (by borrowing lots and lots of money from the government and banks–fuck ’em, they fuck you all the time) I thought I was never gong back to construction. Well, plan B2: I want to publish a book before I die and survive any way I can, and I’m fairly certain I’m done with the union. I will probably keep doing side jobs because I do enjoy building stuff, but since the government and the banks are gong to do what they do best–hound and threaten me for the money they foolishly loaned me–I’d like to turn some profit out of this degree. But even if I don’t, and the banks take two-thirds of my money and the government takes the rest and kicks me twice in the balls, they won’t be able to take back my education.
A friend of mine killed himself recently, after he started hearing voices that would not go away, voices that urged him to hurt people, voices that kept him awake for five days at a time. I have trouble imagining how horrible that would be, and I have a fairly good imagination.
I didn’t cry when I heard about it, though I knew this man probably twenty years. I told a councilor we weren’t that close, but the fuck we weren’t. We may not have spoken constantly or hung out as much as we once did, but we were close. I started to worry there was something wrong with me–not only did I seem to have no reaction to his death, but now I’m minimizing it to some one concerned about me?
Well, it caught up with me tonight. That little talk about him triggered some tears. I had been subconsciously fleeing from the reality of the situation. While free writing, I found myself making a list of the people I knew who killed themselves, OD’d, were blown up fighting overseas, and this list was a lot longer than I’d thought it was. The recent suicide finally hit me, and I couldn’t stop crying for some time.
Life can be fucking ruthless man, matched only by it’s sublime wonder. I may be a lot of things– a junkie in recovery, undisciplined, bi-polar– but as of me writing this I am alive. I have this moment to not suffer. I have time perhaps to fulfill a dream, or just plain know gratitude for one more breath. But how much time? Clearly that shit runs out at any moment, so I shouldn’t put off anything. And I should use my time wisely, cherish it.
Life is good. I’ve too many blessings to count, and though I often lose sight of that, at this moment I recognize them and am grateful for them. I’ve struggled—really struggled—with drug and alcohol addiction for decades. I lost custody of my children, for which I doubt I can forgive myself; I’ve lost jobs, girlfriends, and blacked-out periods of lunatic time when something else was piloting from the cockpit of my skull. First time I tried cocaine, I thought 6 pm was actually 6 am and time for me to go to work. Once I figured out what time it was, clever boy that I was, I took my Rottweiler in a cab from the back of Lemmon Valley to the bar. I bet you can’t do that in Reno anymore. Anyway, when I got home, I smashed up the house I rented with my crazy girlfriend (I know it’s redundant). I have only the vaguest wisp of memory of doing that, but I do remember what she told me later: “You looked like you were possessed.”
I didn’t know then how often I would later rent out my brain like an Uber for demons (or hire them to drive? forgive the poor simile). I used to black out so frequently at the Jazz Club (ah, Fourth Street), I started running into people only my drunken beast-self knew. It was like having a multiple personality disorder. Crack a bottle and let the chaos in. Meth cured my alcoholism. Opiates cured my meth addiction. Shooting heroin not only almost killed me physically, but it numbed me into an emotional un-death. Once I started medication-assisted recovery, I started feeling again, and I was in awe of all the sensations I had ghosted in flight from myself.
I drink some still, but I don’t emotionally shape-shift anymore. I’ve seen demons and been in the presence of the divine—I didn’t need faith either: divinity was there and even as an atheist I could do naught but be humble before it. Laugh if you want to, if it makes you feel better. I have eaten more acid than most people have probably seen, but I’ll wager in blood when the time comes.
What I’m trying to scratch together out of this rambling is that I feel really fucking good. I’m far from cured, and I’m still bi-polar as ever, but the wounds, self-inflicted and otherwise, are healing. For the first time since early childhood, I don’t feel the constant, pressing need to escape my skull. I enjoy that which I have and value those people close to me (formally related or not, I call them “family”) more than some of them probably know. My kids still love me, and my life doesn’t feel like a waking nightmare or a series of car crashes anymore. I’ve been lucky enough to have the mentors I needed, and they were stubborn enough to put up with my lunacy. Joker resonated with me in a way that should make me uncomfortable, but damn it if I don’t spend most of the day laughing because I’m happy-ish, not because of a head injury.
What I’m really trying to say is thank you. Thank you God for having a sense of humor as sick as my own, thank you all my lovers for teaching me lessons I can’t forget (and not for lack of trying), thank you brothers for being down for life, and thank you teachers for giving me gifts I didn’t fully grasp the value of. Thank you mom for doing the best you could with your insane offspring and setting an example I can strive for, and thank you dad for teaching me the importance of a father, even if it was by showing me all the things a father should never do. Fuck you, dad, actually, but you really did make me a better father. And if you read this stumbling mess of words, thank you too, whoever you are.
I was slogging away in the triple
digit Nevada heat when I received one of those phone calls we don’t
want to get, yet keep the ringer on all night so we don’t miss. A
long-time friend of mine was beaten and left in the desert. He died
in the hospital.
collapsed in the dust amid my scattered tools. I sobbed, choked on
despair. I was slammed by that irrevocable sense of loss—the
emotion of death—of some palpable, human sensitivity being ripped
away. I wanted to vomit but could only cry in the middle of a
construction job site.
co-worker offered me a ride home. I tried to make jokes—it’s my
last defense against the devastation of tragedy, but I just kept
thinking of that goofy kid, a kid who got caught up in some bad shit,
but a kid struggling to breathe, blasted by the sun, bones broken,
lips split. I couldn’t wait for the numbness that inevitably follows
such emotional output.
It was all bullshit. I found out, after about an hour, that it was somebody’s fucking prank. Never have such diametrically opposed emotions shared space in my mind and body. Intense rage coupled with extreme joy. The re-contextualizing of reality brought about by a death coupled with deep shame at having been hustled. I was a sap, a rube, a fool, and I wanted very much to meet the author of this lie and have a frank and violent discussion about his antics.
a mindfuck. I was numb the rest of the day like I’d gone to a
funeral, but I had no reason to feel that way. I’ll take this kind of
resurrection any day over the death of a friend, but believe
me: it is a thoroughly enervating experience.
say this. To those of you yet untouched by death and illness and all
the shit that breaks us or engenders empathy in the human soul, think
twice before posting some false bullshit that people might take
seriously. Think of people’s mothers if nothing else. Maybe imagine
your mother hearing that kind of news. Or imagine one of us who cares
catching up with you in person.