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Friday
Mar282014

I Understand The Addict's Liquid Cosmology

Today, I’ve been alive for 15,401 days.

*

When I try to imagine your 15,401st day, I see bottles. Lots of bottles and you are drunk. Angry. So angry that you’re crying. Yelling at the startlingly realistic figments of your imagination and I’m undoubtedly one of them. How I wish you would’ve called but that’s a brick walled digression. You are yelling, as you always did. Yelling at your mom, your ex-wife, me—all the people who failed the test you had rigged from the start. Yelling at the sun, the moon, and everything between. Yelling at the way things are, which is to say change, loss, and the relentless continuity of the never same river. You’re yelling at the water just for being water—because it won’t stay put.

I don’t know what song is playing. What books are by your chair?

But I’m familiar with the Buck knife you stabbed into your femoral artery in your inner left thigh. And I’m familiar with Dr. Vincent’s report of the blood stained walls throughout your apartment. When I try to imagine your 15,401st day, I see you—mad, ecstatic, frantic—smearing your hands through your leg’s fountain of blood and painting the walls. My God you are raving. You feel it coming now but, hysterically tenacious, you splash your life on the walls—one last exhibit—for as long as you can manage to hobble, limp, and scream. And because you taught me how to know you more than anyone else in the world, I can hear you, defiant to the last, screaming It’s a good day to die! Come on! Come on! It’s a good day to die! until the dark embraces your rage and they become the same thing.

*

Once, after you were kicked out of a treatment center in Pennsylvania, we stopped at a rest area in Ohio. Standing at the urinal in the wash of too much light—it smacked of an interrogation room—I started to cry, exhausted. What’s wrong? you asked, as if you didn’t know, and all I could bring myself to mutter was that mountains would never be mountains again.

*

I have never believed I would live this long, and so I never acted like it. A basic assumption informing my life has been that, if alcohol and drugs didn’t kill me, I would. I mean, seriously, how are people 42? How do they persist in all this waking up? The prospect of getting dressed, earning money, trading it for consumer goods, and the rest, on and on like an endlessly hungry ghost, seems untenable. But, lately, the image of myself as an old man—at first irritably and then irresistibly—has crept like a thief into the field of what I’m able to imagine. Maybe, I wonder, as this injured foot has stopped me from running, I will have a cane. The thought makes me smile, content. I will sit on a bench and talk to birds. Perhaps with a long white beard. Thinking slow thoughts, floating on memory, and stories—they never stop telling themselves—will seep from the wrinkled creases in my melted face. My eyes will be oceans that trail off into tired crow’s feet. Yes, I finally think, I will be an old man, and I will sit long and still until you can’t tell the difference between my breath and the wind.

And I will laugh! The river, man—it’s okay. Who can blame it for flowing? 

*

Once, when we took you to the woods to dry out, it was getting dark and we were lost. Me and Bryan dropped our packs, kneeled on the trail to study the map, and bickered about directions. I said left and he said right and when we looked up to consult you, you were crying, exhausted. What’s wrong? we asked, as if we didn’t know, and you said it was nothing, that you just appreciated our efforts to help you find the way.

*

I suppose it’s time now, today, to ask for your forgiveness, to make amends, and seek your permission, in spite of my failures, to become an old man. I was certainly not the best friend I could be. When you stormed off that day—the last day I saw you—I let you go, and I was relieved. I regret that relief. It didn’t hold. And I regret not chasing you into that bar with the same intensity of consideration that I’ve given to chasing you into death.

I regret my ill feelings of hatred.

I regret my failure to merely be your friend apart from the selfish desire to covet your so tenaciously earned magic. You were a seer, a poet, a force the likes of which few among us will ever cross paths—let alone be invited to study with. I am sorry that I failed in my role as your pupil to learn how to transcend that role and just be your friend. You deserved a friend. But I was greedy and selfish. I regret myself. So like an ice cube on a sidewalk in July…

*

There are ways and there are ways.

*

Some kids are walking a dog and the sun is setting. An old woman gets her mail and I remember something you said about Rilke by the refrigerator. It all comes together. I imagine myself sweeping the sidewalk in the midst of all this coming together as I sweep the sidewalk. I sweep up sand, litter, and misplaced pronouns. I don’t know how else to say it. Have I left anything out? I ask you. What can I do to make things right? There is joy in the ordinary work of sweeping.

*

You insist on discussing your faults but I will hear none of it. “I understand the addict’s liquid cosmology.” Words from a poem you wrote that today I sing back to you: I understand the addict’s liquid cosmology. My only wish is to remember and smile. To remain a witness to your life and tell your story. I will talk about you. I will write about you. When I’m an old man with a long white beard and a cane, I will sit on a bench and tell birds about you. And nothing as petty as your death will ever get me to stop talking to you because—guess what—the mountains, brother—they are mountains! And the river, man—it’s okay. Who can blame it for flowing? And there is—there really is!—a way out of the woods.

But this is only a beginning. Tomorrow is when I’ll truly begin to mend my separation from you. When I break through the wall and bring you along into the whole and seamless morning of our 15,402nd day.