Short Story – I had to commit to the journey or the finish… I wasn’t even sure what that meant when they told me to check one box.
“Only check one box. If you check both boxes they’ll send you to the back of the line and you’ll have to start over,” a shaggy man in a red flannel whispered.
I glanced around the open space at people sitting and standing – everyone around me looked like the shaggy man – as some filled out forms and others sat in rickety chairs held together by wire and clothespins.
“What is this place?” I whispered back. I felt like I had been running for my entire life what with my palpable exhaustion oozing out of me like a stench-filled puss and I was surprised, shocked really, that after all that running this is where I ended up.
He furrowed his brow and slunk his shoulders and I got a strange vibe.
I leaned in closer and asked in a barely audible voice, “Is that what happened to you?”
He nodded twice as his shoulders drooped so low I thought he’d fold into himself and then his eyes shifted to the left.
Naturally, I too, looked left and then saw an enormous and elongated creature leaning against a textured wall that looked like rice, but how could there be a wall of rice? It made no sense – none of this made sense. This creature had six limbs yet it stood upright with twelve eyes (I counted) and all it did was hiss and spit at anyone who moved too slow.
Was I dreaming? Was I fucking high? What the hell was going on?
Finally, it was my turn and I bid my strange friend ado as I walked up to the long table and stated my name.
“Which is your commitment? The journey or the destination?” one of the three creatures at the table asked, holding a box to its chin.
“Why do I have to commit? What if I change my mind?” I answered. A stabbing pain shot up my spine and I wiggled as I tried not to fall to the floor.
“Which is your commitment?” a second creature asked after holding a box to its chin.
A million thoughts flashed through my mind in a second but the biggest one was: How could I commit to the finish when I had no idea what I was starting? What would be between there and here? What if I just ended up at the finish and I hated it?
“I commit to the journey,” I stated and puffed out my chest and looked in all twelve eyes.
There was silence followed by a growing buzz of voices.
The creature stared at me and then placed the box on the table and raised four of its limbs to the air.
My heart raced as it climbed out of its prospective spot and lodged in my throat. Damn, I’m a goner.
“Only rare specimens commit to the journey. Good luck Mr. Walker,” the creature hissed as it held that box to its throat.
The air swirled and popped and then I fell through the floor into the black.
Personal Essay — In my bedroom on a warm, summer day – listening to Pink Floyd – ‘The Final Cut’ – I laid in bed, bawling my eyes out while I wrote on pieces of loose leaf paper about how much my life sucked. I had gotten the cassette tape from a boy who had no business being friends with someone my age. Looking back, I’m pretty sure he was a creepy lover of tween girls, but we stopped talking by summer’s end, so it didn’t matter.
Anyway, at thirteen, I didn’t really understand the concept of suicide. I just knew I hated my life, I was ugly and no one loved me.
Back to the pieces of loose leaf paper. I don’t remember verbatim what I wrote, but I still have vivid flashbacks of being in my childhood bedroom – painted sunflower yellow – while posters of heavy metal bands, Madonna, and a pennant for the 1980 Phillies crusted those walls like a prerequisite to an underage life crisis. Sitting beside the stack of Motley Crue, Def Leppard and Pink Floyd cassette tapes were my trusty stuffed animals adorably named Donna and Leo.
The paper was atop whatever magazine I had that day… probably a music magazine as I kept replaying and writing the words down that boy said to me:
you’re ugly. I don’t like you. you’re too weird. I tricked you.
I found a razor blade in my dad’s top dresser drawer at some point previously. The steel was now hot between my thumb and finger — I had held it so long just staring at the words on the paper, it felt like a part of me. Those words had to be factual, after all. I mean, I was thirteen years old and didn’t fit in with anyone; hell, even my parents didn’t pay me any mind. Those words made sense; they made everything fit.
I waited until the title track to the cassette tape came on: The Final Cut.
This is absolutely one of the saddest songs I know. I played it over… and over… and over… until I was able to sing the song while I sobbed all over myself and the words on the paper. I took that razor blade and cut my right wrist… then my left.
They weren’t large, gaping wounds (those would come later in life) but more so little slits surely significant enough to bleed. There I was sobbing and bleeding for what seemed hours (more like forty minutes) waiting for someone to come in my bedroom and tell me I was none of those things on the paper. I needed to hear someone tell me I was worthy and loved… even at thirteen years old.
At some point, the written pain on paper became suffocated in my blood; surely I would feel faint and start to die at any moment. I needed a do-over.
I was carted off to my paternal grandmother’s – a seasoned woman who smoked long cigarettes and drank vodka and orange juice – where she gave me vitamin E pills to burst open and rub on my wrists.
I assumed (from watching after school specials I guess) that after a kid tries to die on purpose, that maybe we talk about it or take me somewhere to talk to someone…
The truth was, teen suicide wasn’t a thing then. All I got for my first suicide attempt was bandaged wrists and some lousy vitamin E pills… oh, and all my Pink Floyd tapes were taken away, because yeah, it was the music’s fault.
As a former trainwreck of society, I dumped my share of toxic damage on many loved ones and even a few strangers while sifting through my twenty year ‘it’s not me, it’s you’ phase. It was something I was ashamed of after a sober realization in the middle of the night when I sat up in bed screaming, “I am a monster bound for a sweltering hell!” But after successful and even a few unsuccessful amends to those tied to my ‘train tracks of redemption’ I see my part in all of it. When I was still actively using, I wore a mask of self-righteous indignation, and I destroyed anyone who didn’t cosign my bullshit.
Fast-forward eleven years, and through hard work, determination and a lot of ‘for fuck’s sake’ moments, I have seen the error of my behavior and have now crossed the bridge to unwillingly watching non-sober people try to live their non-sober lives.
I am not talking about people who drink casually or have wine with dinner a couple of times a week. Drowning in addiction is a terrifying thought… and it isn’t something that becomes apparent immediately, which is more terrifying. Most times, we have no idea there is a problem until it is too late. Although every knock on the door is a storm of chaos and turmoil saying “What’s the worst that could happen?” we do not possess the ability to recognize we are the eye of that storm until it literally destroys our life.
“But for the Grace of God, there go I.”
I am currently working on a memoir because my story is important; it is important for me to write as much as it is important for people to read. Hell, it is possible as you read this you know someone who just cannot get their shit together – maybe they hide bottles in the house and car – or maybe it is you. I share my story to help those who are still sick and suffering.
When I run into a new version of the old me, I have to stay and deal because honestly, these people are put in my path for a reason. While my initial thought is to get this person in a sober headlock and bombard them with catch phrases, famous quotes, and literature, I am confident this will just scare the shit out of them, so I have to resort to stern subtlety.
Stern subtlety: Not cosigning their bullshit but not making them feel inhuman.
I have someone in my life right now who refuses to understand that while bad things don’t happen every time they drink, every time something bad does happen, they were drinking. And I want to grab this person and shake them and somehow get footage and lowlight reels from when I was their age and in a whirlwind of chaos, but I can’t do that.
I can’t save her.
I have to remind myself I cannot save anyone… salvation lies within, my friends. Instead, I have to sit and listen… really listen… and yeah, maybe throw a few slogans their way if the opportunity arises, but mostly I just sit and listen… and hope like hell they get it sooner than later.
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” J.K. Rowling
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Chaos was my sidekick since I was about four years old. I was always pushing the envelope in disturbing ways from shoving an eraser up my nose when I was seven to putting toothpaste on my eyelids when I was nine… I was one of those “What would happen if…” kids.
Later, it was me coasting down my grandmother’s driveway and into the garage on roller skates. There was a half-inch lip where the concrete floor of the garage raised above the driveway. I coasted down; watching the lip draw closer I thought, “I’m not lifting my feet. I want to see what happens when my skates hit that lip.” (Even as I write this over thirty years later, I am shaking my head – what the hell is wrong with you, girl) Needless to say, I hit the lip, went airborne and landed on my knees and face – and I had boo-boo’s to prove it.
I cried and wailed… my grandmother came running. “What happened?” I told her my story of pain and even at ten years old, I embellished it, peppering in imaginary details to make it sound more dramatic.
My grandmother was not buying any of it. “Well, what did you think was going to happen, you stupid ass? Get up. Brush yourself off and go get a Popsicle.” I did just that and when I saw my friends later, I told them my embellished Daredevil story of self-inflicted boo-boo’s and how I must have been cruising down the driveway doing at least twenty miles an hour!
It was the last time I cried over physical pain, but it was not the last time I intentionally created chaos to get attention. Later in life, I found emotional ways to create chaos and keep the drama flowing in my life. “Hey, over here! I am a human trainwreck but I’m cute so come and love me!”
I created chaos because I had to compartmentalize all the weird, icky and dangerous feelings I had inside that didn’t sit well with me. Being an ACOA besides an alcoholic/addict, I had a double whammy of stunted emotional growth. So when things got chaotic in a way I didn’t understand, I would make them more chaotic by inserting my own melodrama, thereby making sure that all that weird inner shit really did have something to do with me instead of me just being a victim of circumstance.
It took me a long time to realize that most of my chaos was self-created, even after I got sober in 2006. I had a real case of the ‘woe is me’ sniffles until I finally stopped self-sabotaging and realized I truly can be my own worst enemy.
So if you are anything like the old me (who still tries to poke her train wrecked head into my life from time to time) and you are surrounded by chaos more than peace, maybe take a long hard look at the center of it all.