I started this piece the night after I met a girl in Jacksonville. She was just visiting, from Tampa, but we went out once before she went back home. Over the next few weeks, we texted a whole lot and made plans to spend a night together the next time I was around Tampa. She may or may not have sort of had a boyfriend that she lived with. About a month after we had met, I was on my way to Sarasota for the premiere screening of No Real Than You Are. I invited her to go with me. She didn’t respond. I tried to call but she didn’t answer. I don’t know if I did something wrong or if the reality of my actually coming around didn’t quite mesh with her boyfriend situation, but I never heard from her again. That hurt my feelings, especially since it coincided with similar developments in my “relationships” with three other girls (all in the span of a couple days)! This particular rejection was the only one I didn’t acknowledge at the time ’cause it felt the worst and struck me as being the most petty / trivial. On the one hand, it was really casual and I obviously wasn’t taking it too seriously. On the other hand, I really liked her! I did my best to not let it get to me but it made the next rejection hurt that much more.
Luckily, I fell in love with another girl a few days later and everything was okay again.
Some less interesting details: I worked at this piece on and off for three months because I just couldn’t seem to get it to look like anything I could be happy with. Somewhere in there, I glued some cardboard and a piece of a reflective sun visor to it, even though I sort of hate collage / mixed media stuff; I just felt like I needed something to sort of shake it up a little bit. It’s also on a small canvas board (11×14″) – way smaller than anything I’ve got any interest in painting these days, but the board was given to me on a night when I didn’t have a fresh canvas with me and I figured I’d roll with it. I’m pretty sure I spent at least forty hours on this tiny little thing – every bit as much time as I spend on my
huge canvas paintings. I got the idea for the pattern in the lower-left (“mummy”) figure after painting the white slip-on shoes I bought at Walmart for ten dollars.
The first time I ever decided to make art for its own sake, the results were… mixed. It was more than a year ago and at no point has it grown on me…
Maybe that’s for the best though – that I dislike it so much. Maybe it’s good for me to have to accept that the one piece of art that I can’t ignore – that I can’t leave out of my story – is one of which I’m totally embarrassed.
It’s (very seriously) insane just how much something like acknowledging that this painting exists can fuck with my emotional well-being. Sitting here typing this, I don’t … – I don’t want to type it. I hate it. But I’m doing it anyway. As imperfect as all of this is – it’s a good exercise in humility. I’m not perfect, my website isn’t perfect, my stories and artwork are not all uniformly fascinating. Sometimes I’m just okay.
Okay’s not so bad, I guess.
If you’d like to buy this painting, I would love to get it out of my home. Hit me up. (And remember: it’s got historical value).
I was still inpatient when I made this. It was the product of the my first episode after “No Accident.” A full month had passed since then, which was longer than I could remember having gone without an emotional breakdown of one kind or another but I was still pretty disappointed with myself. If December 12th (the day I made “No Accident”) was my “emotional sobriety date,” this was most definitely my emotional relapse. I picked right back up with the kind of negative self-talk that had ruled my brain for most of my life. The body of the text reads:
I thought I found a place where I belonged. I wasn’t wrong. At the time. But time has passed and I don’t fit in here anymore. I can’t stall. I can’t adapt. I have to move on. Ready or not.
I’m already dead.
I don’t measure up. It’s who I am. It’s not sad. It just is. Nothing lasts forever and we can’t all be astronauts.
I’m not exactly sure what I meant with that last word. I’m sure it was an allusion to something I had heard (or something that had happened) recently. The rest of the text in the piece appears in bits and pieces, scattered throughout.
THIS MIGHT BE BULLSHIT.
It’s time for me to go home. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
Please break my hands and kick my fucking teeth in.
[I’m] tired of me taking up space and time.
Fuck my stupid fucking life.
No amount of any anything from me could ever be enough.
Tonight was the opening reception for my first art show. My emotional reaction to it was very much in tune with the painting I’m working on right now, so I’ll probably work it into that and share more about it once the painting is done.
In a few words though, the response tonight was such that it could very easily be interpreted as having implications that are either wildly positive and encouraging or terribly crushing and depressing. I’m working to get to a place of strictly gratitude though (and I’m almost there). To the people that did come out, I can’t thank you enough. Not just for showing up, but for really showing up. It means a lot to me. It’s keeping me going.
In early November, Alexis and I were “just friends” but it was obvious that something was going on. We walked into the room laughing, toward some empty chairs near Delia. “So when are you two going to get married?” she asked. “Pffft… What are you talking about? We’re just friends,” I said as we sat down. Alexis turned and whispered in my ear: “So… when are we going to get married?” I smiled. At this point, that kind of flirting was still a bit of a lapse in our usual insistence (even to one another) that this was a strictly platonic friendship. “Hmm…That’s a pretty serious commitment. I might need some time to think about it.”
A few minutes into the meeting, I motioned her in a little closer. “Okay, so here’s the deal,” I whispered in her ear, “We’re not allowed to be in relationships until we’ve had a year clean, right? So we can’t date until next August… Recovery: twelve steps, the last of which is “helping other addicts,” which is why – you know – the joke about fucking someone you meet in recovery is “the thirteenth step.” So – from that – you could say that the fourteenth step is getting married. So… 12, 13, 14: December 13th, 2014. By then, we’ll have known each other for two and a half years, in which we got our year clean, started dating, and then spent a year and a half together as a couple. 12-13-14.” I pulled back from her ear with a smile to see her reaction. She loved it. She looked giddy.
Alexis: I love you. I wish we could communicate like before but I guess this is how It’s supposed to be. I’m sorry for being a shit but I’ve been working out my own demons. It isn’t easy on my own but I’m managing. Will I get to see you again?
Sam: You can see me pretty much anytime you want to.
A: That’s not true. I can’t leave the county. Have you talked to Tracy since you left [Tranquil Shores]?
[Tracy was my counselor, as well as hers]
S: I didn’t leave. I was just desperate to get you to open up. And I was hurt and angry – feeling like you had locked me out. Feeling unloved, neglected, and rejected. So I was probably trying to fuck with you a little bit. To get a reaction out of you and get you to call me back for once. I’m sorry for doing that.
A: So you didn’t leave? You LIED TO ME? Played mind games?
S: Yes. And not that there’s any excuse for it, but that’s what I felt like you were doing to me when you’d disappear for four days. Or lie to me and promise that you’d call me at a certain time and then ignore my calls and just text me a day later. But like I said, two wrongs don’t make a right. You’re going through your own shit, I’ve got my shit. So – yeah – I’m sorry. I was hurt and desperate to get you to talk to me.
A: This is what our relationship has become?
S: Lexi, I didn’t do this alone. You can’t put it all on me. You practically ended our relationship on New Year’s Eve when you disappeared all week and then refused to tell me anything about what’s going on.
A: What have you been going through?
S: There was this girl that I was totally crazy for. We met up one night and I told her how much I loved her. She told me how much she loved me and how she knew it was for real. And I was so happy. I couldn’t wait to see her again. We made plans for NYE but she never called me back. And then, when she did – days later – she wouldn’t tell me anything about what was going on. But I knew something serious was happening because she also stopped going to groups and seeing her counselor (who she had always seemed to love). I didn’t know what was up, but I was terrified for her. Because I loved her and cared about her so much. Even a week later, she was still being spotty and still wouldn’t tell me what was going on. I would have told her anything but she wouldn’t tell me even one thing. It got to be more than I could handle. It hurt too much, worrying about what this girl was going through and at the same time dealing with the pain of being locked out by someone that I had bared my soul to and opened up in a way I never had before.
S: That’s what I was going through.
A: I’m not dead, Sam.
S: I know you’re not dead. But there were a few days where I was afraid you might be. And I’m still scared that you might be mixed up in something dangerous. But I’m not letting it get to me.
A: I’m here for you. Always.
S: Kid, I love you to death, but you can’t say that. You’re NOT always there for me. You won’t ever answer my calls or call me and you only respond to my texts half the time. But that’s okay. I accept that.
A: So because you’re assuming everything, that’s how you want us to be?
S: No. I want us to be partners. But I can’t always get what I want, so I’m settling for being your friend. To whatever extent you’ll allow me to be.
S: If I could, I’d see you every day. But if all you want from me is the occasional text, I’ll take what I can get.
A: We did see each other every day. We had that. I want to hear from you daily and see you.
S: Can I call you so we can talk for a minute?
A: Talk of what?
S: About whatever. I can just tell you about my weekend. I just like to hear your voice ’cause I miss you.
S: If you don’t want to talk on the phone, that’s fine. You don’t have to stop texting me just to avoid it.
S: Hey – by the way – did you see that picture of my Lexi tattoo?
A: What tattoo?
S: The ghost from the painting I made way back in October when I first started trying to figure out if I was in love with you or if I even knew what love was or if I was capable of loving someone. And – next to it – “14.” Because I did it on 1/2/13 (the same numbers in the same order as 12/13). So – you know – to complete the number: 12/13/14.
A: Where’d you tattoo it on your body? That’s seriously about me? Wow, Sammy.
S: It’s right above my right knee, in the only spot that I don’t ever patch on my jeans so that it’ll always show.
A: Where’s mine gonna be?
S: Wherever you want it to be. But you’d actually have to meet up with me to get it. Will I get to see you sometime this week?
A: Up until an hour ago, I thought you’ve been in Sarasota. I definitely crave and truly miss your energy. Why the ghost though?
S: In the painting?
S: This sound lame but (when I made it) it was because I felt possessed or haunted by doubt and uncertainty. And then (when I did the tattoo) – even though I didn’t doubt my feelings anymore and knew that I loved you – it made sense to reuse it. Not just because that was the first thing I painted about my feelings for you but also because I felt like you had disappeared. You were there one minute and gone the next. Like a ghost. Which was scary (like a ghost) because I thought you might be dead… like a ghost. And I was upset again – about something going on with us – just like i had been when I first painted it.
S: I miss you a ton, kid. I still think about you all the time. One of these days, you’ll have to let me come see you, or at least hear your voice. But it’s nice even just to text.
A: I’m laying in bed so I don’t sound cute right now. Sleepy and in pain.
S: You always sound cute but it’s okay if you don’t feel like talking. Sorry to hear you’re in pain. What hurts?
A: I pulled a muscle.
A: Think I may just be getting old.
S: Aw. I’m really sorry to hear that. I pulled a muscle in my arm that’s been hurting for a week now. Not bad though (sometimes not at all). I hope it feels better soon.
S: Yours, I mean. I hope YOURS feels better. Mine, I can manage.
A: Lol. You’re cute. We’re just linked and connected in some strange cosmic way I suppose. It feels good to talk to you. You make me feel at peace. It’s weird to explain.
S: You don’t have to explain a thing. Even if it’s just texting, you make me feel the same way. When I’m not losing my mind worried about you, you’re pretty much my favorite person on the planet.
S: And hopefully those days are done with. I’m gonna do my best to just hold it down and deal even if I can’t get in touch with you for days.
A: That’s where trust and faith come into play.
S: Yeah, you’re absolutely right.
A: Don’t lose your mind. And I couldn’t possibly be your favorite person. There are a lot more interesting people out there.
S: Well, you’ll have to introduce me to some of them then, I guess. I sure haven’t found them on my own.
A: Stop making me smile. It hurts.
S: So when I get my “vehicle” this week, you gonna let me come over and tattoo you?
A: What vehicle?
S: If I tell you, you promise not to make fun of me?
S: I’m getting a scooter. I should have it by Sunday. Not exactly a car, but it’s a start. Plus, I can paint it and cover it in stickers and stuff, so it’ll be REALLY, REALLY PUNK.
A: I love it. Fucking adorable and so totally punk.
S: So does this mean I can scoot on over and draw something under your skin?
A: I’m laying down now. It’s time I try to get back to a schedule of early bedtime, up early.
S: Okay, I should do the same.
A: I love you, Sammy. Sweet dreams.
S: Love you too, kid. Sleep tight.
If you’re reading that and thinking, “Nobody writes messages like that,” you’re half right. Mine are unedited but she writes messages like a normal human being (without “proper” capitalization/punctuation, with typos, etc.); so I changed that when I typed this up for… um… uniformity? Otherwise, it’s pretty much a straight transcript.
When asked about this tattoo, I don’t usually mention the girl – only that the ghost is my emblem for borderline personality disorder (as it came from an expressive art piece created in the midst of an episode / incident of particularly strong “symptoms” – and used in later pieces when I was either experiencing or commenting on the same). Both explanations are equally true (and very much related).
The first thing about this conversation that jumps out at me is the way I was trying so hard to be okay with what was going on, when I should have just turned my back and ran. She wasn’t in a good place and I had “fallen down” with girls in situations just like thisso many times.
Second: She says “That’s where trust and faith come into play” and I respond, “You’re absolutely right.” She was absolutely wrong insofar as she was suggesting that I should trust (and have faith in) her. And I knew that even then. But I chose to knowingly misunderstand her, which enabled me to agree with her. Because I did have trust and faith (or I was trying to have them anyway). Not in her – (she was obviously fucking up hard) – but in … everything, I guess. I was trying to believe that everything was happening exactly as it needed to (or – at the very least – the only way that it could happen). Whatever had happened so far, I was just hoping that she’d spin herself back into Tranquil Shores before shit got really bad.
In the last months of 2012, I was inpatient at Tranquil Shores and taking my recovery really seriously. My general mood and outlook were more positive and upbeat than at any point prior in my life; things were going well – most of the time. When they weren’t, it was bad. I had learned to deal with some emotional triggers but others could still set me off in an instant. I was breaking down in a mess of tears constantly [and, historically, crying wasn’t something I had done very often]. The treatment team was really happy with my progress but were discussing the option of adding an antipsychotic to my daily prescription. Personally, I was 100% on board with the idea at the time. The way I felt most of the time was great. I just wanted to stop falling apart for two hours every other day.
There was something else going on though that was tearing me up and that I wasn’t talking about. There was this girl. And though (for the first time) I cared enough about “playing by the rules” (for the sake of my recovery) to not turn it into a sexual relationship, we were very much emotionally invested in one another. And the kinds of little things that chip away at my soul whenever I’m involved with any girl (coupled with the shame of having to lie to my counselor to keep it a secret) were killing me.
Eventually, I came clean about the whole thing. Alexis denied it but she was leaving Tranquil Shores in a week or so anyway. That confession was the catalyst that finally kicked my recovery into gear (for real). There was no need to talk about anti-psychotics after that. When she left, still denying everything though, I figured it was all over between us. It hurt but what could I do?
In the last week of December, she got in touch with me and we started talking again. She still saw her [also my] counselor on an outpatient basis and she had gotten honest and confessed that everything I had said was true. We had both been advised that we shouldn’t be speaking with one another until we had a better grip on exactly what was going on between us, but I was so excited to find that she was no longer furious with me (and wanted to see me) that I didn’t care. On December 30th, I snuck out of Tranquil Shores and she picked me up down the street. At the end of the night when she dropped me off to sneak back in, I could have skipped back to Tranquil Shores; I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I didn’t get caught and we made plans to meet up again the next night: New Year’s Eve.
I played it cool and waited all day for her to hit me up. Nothing. I tried her phone. Nothing. And then four more days of the same.
She had relapsed… right? The night that we were together, she had told me that that it had been on her mind a lot but that she had held strong. That was the way I usually talked to people on the occasions that I had already relapsed, but I took her word for it. I had to because I so badly wanted it to be true. It was obvious now though. Our night together had been incredible. She apologized for denying everything initially (in fear) and said that she had been dying to talk to / see me, but needed to sort through her feelings first. She had done that though now, she said, and she told me she was more in love with me than she had ever been in love with anyone and that there was no doubt in her mind that her love was real, authentic, and deep. You don’t disappear on someone for five days after saying some shit like that. It wasn’t the behavior of someone “living a program.” I didn’t know what to do. She might be dead. [People that start shooting up again after a period of clean time have an incredibly high rate of overdose]. Two friends of mine had already overdosed in the last two months. I feared the worst and it ate away at me.
In those five days, I exercised self-discipline like never before. I only allowed myself to try and reach her once or twice a day and I kept myself busy and focused around the clock with my art and my treatment plan. I was a ball of anxiety but I was extremely proud of the way that I didn’t completely lose my fucking mind. I felt like I had bullets under my skin, bouncing around my skeleton… but I managed.
Late afternoon, January 5th, I got a text: “hi sammy.”
HOLY FUCKING SHIT.
“Hey! Where have you been? Are you okay? I’m so happy to hear from you! Call me!”
She called later that night. It was … off. She didn’t sound high, but she wasn’t exactly coherent either. Above all though, she stressed that I didn’t have anything to worry about – and she asked if she could see me tomorrow [Sunday] night. “Of course.”
Those weren’t my only plans for the day: Taylor was coming to visit. I had been looking forward to it for at least a month. I got all my little papers to my counselor, got them stamped, signed, approved, and sent over to property staff. Everything was in order. It was the first time I’d get to see her since Labor Day, 2011 – when we left San Diego on separate flights and, upon arrival in Florida, I immediately proceeded to overdose (intentionally) in an attempt to kill myself. [But that’s another story].
I’ve written a lot about overlapping things I’ve had with girls (especially in this stretch of time) but I don’t consider this anything like that. Taylor and I had dated and lived together for six years, but I had spent a lot of time looking at the relationship and was almost certain that I was looking forward to seeing my friend, Taylor (and not Taylor, the girl with whom I might still be in love). I wasn’t trying to “win her back” as I had back in 2011; this wasn’t romantic, we were friends. [Though this, too, is tangential – a subject for another time]. We planned her visit at 10 AM because she was flying back to Baltimore at 4 that afternoon. I was excited.
At 11AM, I called. Running late, she said. Okay – no big deal.
At 1PM, I called. No response.
At 4PM… she’s on her flight right now. She fucking bailed on me and didn’t even care enough to tell me.
And what do you know… I haven’t heard from Her all day either. We’re supposed to meet up tonight… I sent her a text. I tried to call. Nothing. I need to go for a walk.
I signed out for an hour [I had been at Tranquil Shores for five months so I had that privilege on a Sunday afternoon]. I walked down the street not knowing what the fuck I was even doing. I sat down at a bus stop and waited… to hear from her. I wrote her a short but desperately conflicted “please let me back into your life” kind of note. I sent it as a picture so that she’d be more likely to look at it (assuming she actually had her phone and really was just ignoring me).
No response. I walked some more. Sat at another bus stop. Decided to draw. I looked in my bag and took out the only medium and paper I had on me: crayons and a tattered envelope. I was trying so desperately to remain optimistic and see everything in the best possible light. Taylor’s bailing on me that day and this girl (that I was in love with)’s strange behavior and looming death… it all hurt but it had to be for something. If nothing else, I told myself, it’s practice; I’m getting better at feeling pain and not falling apart. When I live in the real world again one day, where I could quickly and easily numb out pain with heroin, these experiences will be what keep me from doing so. I will get through this and I will be okay. It’s another opportunity for growth…
Here’s the note that I wrote her just before I drew my little cartoon.
If you wanna know how things turned out with her, it’s in my statement for “Spoiler Alert.”
Taylor and I are pals and talk all the time (but never about why she didn’t show up that day).
I had to bring my scooter with me because I was going to be in south Florida for the next month. When I loaded it into the back of her car, I accidentally scraped the bumper. She was angry.
The document verifying that I had completed my community service was due with my probation officer that afternoon. I asked if we could stop somewhere to print it out before we left town. That was also a problem.
We were in no hurry and my probation was on the line. This was important to me. Why was it an issue? I didn’t understand. I was hurt so I didn’t insist upon it; I just got in the car, dejected.
We had a four-hour drive and in that time we didn’t speak at all. Eleven days after moving in together and just two days after the explosion of sunshine and fucking rainbows that was “Out All Day,”this is what came out of me… In bits and pieces, it says:
FUCK EVERYTHING. I’m ready to be dead now. This is a drain. I failed today. Can I say “everyday?” Fuck community service. Fuck being a responsible human being. Fuck the scratches on your stupid fucking car. Fuck our apartment. You make me a worse person. I’ll feed my negativity and roast in my fucking hate.
[If you’re not familiar with borderline personality disorder, that’s what it looks like]. Here’s what I wrote about this piece when I was done with it:
I don’t wanna share this ’cause I don’t wanna give people the impression that I’m unhappy. But fuck that. Real life isn’t a simple narrative on a straight trajectory in one direction. My art can say, “I couldn’t be happier,” one day, and “fuck everything, I’m ready to be dead now” on the next. That’s reality and I’m not into painting a picture of my life that’s any less honest than I’m capable of being.
This scribble isn’t exactly “art fully realized” but I held on to it like I would a photograph. It’s a document, an artifact, or a memory – and not a bad one. This was cathartic and it was an opportunity…
I didn’t have my website yet but I was already regularly sharing my artwork and (sometimes) related writings through my Facebook page. To that extent, my day-to-day and my emotional process had become a public spectacle of sorts. I always feel awkward acknowledging this but my art has come to mean something to people (friends, fans of my old record label, even total strangers). I’ve received more than a few emails and messages from people telling me how powerfully they’ve been affected by something I made or wrote. I’ve been regularly called “an inspiration.” [I feel especially awkward acknowledging that]. But it’s been amazing, encouraging, and – in turn – has truly inspired me. One consequence, however, is that I feel like I have a responsibility now. With this piece, I had a choice: Did I want to be some icon of hope or did I want to be honest about what my life, in recovery, is really like? In sharing it, I opted for the latter, and I’ve done my best to honor that decision every day since.
When I first added this piece to the website, there was a journal entry from that day (9/22/13) along with it. I later decided to make that a separate entry.
I alluded to this piece in “Titrating,” when I described myself as feeling scared, stuck, and trapped, but smiling. (See the red text in the background).
Like the pieces in “The Weak End” series of paintings, this (along with several others) started out as one large painting that I eventually cut up into a lot of smaller ones. Unlike that series though, all of the paintings in this series (“Your Higher Power is Literally Garbage”) were painted and repainted so much that they don’t really share much in common.
In the center of this piece is a strip of pink duct tape that I drew on, while riding in the car, because I had no paper. Yet another weird/poor drawing of a kid with fucked up teeth. It’s pretty representative of my belief that I’ve got a lot more willingness than I do talent (or even creativity).
As often as I feel “inspired,” I’ve got nothing. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have the need to create something. So I do. Because it’s good for me. It helps me, emotionally.
And if you read my last post, you know that right now is one of those occasions where I desperately need to create something. And I knew that I’d come to that conclusion if I wrote up the entry for this piece, which is why I chose to write an entry around “Pulp” first. I wasn’t ready to do what I needed to do to get better. But I am now.