It’s such an unbelievable coincidence that – if I were someone else, reading this – I’d probably call me a liar but… this is a painting inspired by Donnie (my roommate for five of my months at Tranquil Shores) and I was all set to feature it in my blog entry for last night when – at the last minute – I decided the image was too blurry and that I should write-up a different piece instead. As I found out within seconds of opening my eyes this morning, Donnie is dead.
It’s against the rules but I (very sneakily) recorded my coin-out [the ceremony to honor completion of a treatment plan]. And I’m really glad I did it because it’s nice to listen to every once in a while. I just listened to Donnie’s segment and it made me smile pretty big. The first words out of his mouth were “You know how to push my buttons better than anyone I’ve ever known in my life.” And the reverse was true too. I don’t know that I’ve ever been angrier with anyone than I was with him just one week prior (the day that I painted this). But as he went on to say, “We have some things in common. We’re both drug addicts, we both hate each other, and we both love each other.” Which kind of hits the nail right on the head. Back when he said it, I was a little disappointed ’cause – as much as I had an equal part in our conflicts – I always just wanted us to be friends. I was a little sad that he chose to acknowledge the darker part of our relationship in that moment. But – looking back – he was doing exactly what I always say is so important: he painted the full, honest picture. And I’m really grateful for that.
The title of this painting is mean as fuck. Donnie had a family up north that, in his addiction, he had almost completely lost touch with. It hurt him so much that – before I had met him – he did a six month stint of inpatient treatment in which he kept his kids a secret. The day that I made this, I said a lot of fucked up shit to him but I didn’t ever say anything about that. As mad as I was, I didn’t want to take it that far so I used the painting to get my meanest thoughts out of my head. The first sentence of the caption, “the world’s not black and white,” is an allusion to a conversation I had earlier in the day, when I asked Tracy under what circumstances it would be okay to burn a person alive. When she told me it’s not ever okay to set another human being on fire, I said “that sounds like the kind of black-and-white-thinking characteristic of mental illness, Tracy. In this world, there exist shades of grey.”
The night before, I had taken a shirt that Donnie had given me and went out to a parking lot at the end of the block. [I was allowed by this point to go on short walks if I signed in and out]. I set it on fire, let it burn for a minute, stomped it out, and then took it back to my room to paint some text on the back: “WHAT I LACK IN EMOTIONAL MATURITY, INTELLIGENCE, AND LIFE SKILLS, I MAKE UP FOR IN PUSH-UPS!!!” That, I figured I could get away with – especially since I had been working out a lot too around that time so (while it was definitely my “Donnie shirt”) the statement could have easily been applied to me as well. After things cooled off and we weren’t mad at each other anymore, I showed it to him and he agreed that it was pretty funny.
Someone once told me that real friends fight. That if you’ve never gotten into an argument with a friend, you must be bullshitting each other an awful lot. And that’s what it was always like with Donnie. We didn’t argue about nonsense. It was always about real, serious shit. We’d call each other out when one of us was fucking up. And (naturally) – since we were both smarter than everyone – I’d constantly have to tell him when he was wrong about me and he’d constantly have to tell me when I was wrong about him. But we always seemed to work it out and get back to a good spot. Probably because each of us was always right about the other (and wrong about ourselves), even if it took us a minute or two to realize it. We were pretty good at keeping each other in line.
Which isn’t to say that we were constantly at each other’s throats. After we both moved into the real world and weren’t roommates anymore, we didn’t get into it like we used to. I even stayed with him in his new apartment when I came down to visit once. But even before that, as roommates, we got along more often than we actually fought. I can’t even count how many nights we sat up in our apartment talking out everything going on in our lives. There were days when I felt like I’d accomplished nothing or had no meaningful interpersonal connection with anyone – until just before bed when Donnie and I would have one of those conversations. And I know I helped him too ’cause he’d tell me so. Shit – for his first two months, I talked him down from his constant “I’m leaving THIS Friday” every week! We got our sponsors together. Did our fourth steps together. We were never “best friends,” hanging out all day; we didn’t like any of the same shit. I liked drawing and punk rock; he liked football and Hoobastank. But we were close. There was one week when I was overwhelmed with thoughts of self-harm. “Is there someone you can reach out to before you do anything to hurt yourself?” Tracy asked me. “Yeah,” I told her. “Donnie.”
Last year, when I wrote all those Christmas cards, I had the foresight to snap photos of some of them before I handed or mailed them off (for posterity or [whatever]). I just checked and – sure enough – I have a picture of Donnie’s. I’m struggling to admit it, but the tears are welling up. I wrote something in his card about faith, which reminds me of something I used to say back then: that I had more faith in Donnie than anyone. I really thought he was gonna “make it.” The last words in the card reflect that too…
I’d say “do good” but I know you will anyway.
Love you, buddy.
It feels like a goofy thing to say but … all things considered, he did do good. He did a lot of good. And I’ll miss him. I already do.