It was Friday so I drove up to Tranquil Shores for my session with Tracy and my weekly expressive art group with the kids that were still inpatients. Earlier that week, I had found an apartment in Jacksonville. When I told Tracy, she was really surprised. (I had been talking about moving, but it was just a few days prior that I actually started looking for a place, so it all happened really quickly). “Seriously?” she asked me. “Well, let me get the papers for your discharge.”
Somehow that hadn’t occurred to me: that moving away would mean I’d be officially discharged from Tranquil Shores. My life was about to change and it was just now registering. It made me sad. It even made me a little angry, though I’m not sure with whom. (Probably myself). It was a really great afternoon; everyone at Tranquil Shores couldn’t have been sweeter to me or more supportive. But… I didn’t wanna leave. I didn’t want it to be over and I guess I was as caught off-guard as Tracy had been.
After my session, I went into the art room for group. I felt good overall, but had that little streak of darkness in me. I got an idea in my head of a sorta vulture and I liked it. I wanted to draw something that lived off dead flesh – something sustained by failure.
But still sorta comic and fun.
(Especially relevant) status update: Heather’s friends are getting married in Englewood next weekend, so I won’t be too far from Tranquil Shores. On Friday, I’m going to drive up that way and meet up with a crew of kids I went to treatment with for lunch, and then I’m gonna go in for the expressive art group just like I used to. I’ve been really excited about it but am getting more nervous as it gets closer. It’s gonna be a totally new crop of kids. I’ll still know all the staff obviously, but it seems kinda strange to go to group with a bunch of patients I’ve never met before. I hope I don’t wimp out. I hope it goes well.
So smart I got life lessons dripping out my asshole (also: charm); pay me (…?)
Expressive art. Self-deprecating humor. The ninth painting of ten in my series, “The Weak End.” If you’re at all familiar with my work, you’ve already read everything that I could possibly say about this painting or the two days over which I worked on it.
I do, however, have a new (almost-finished) painting that will be featured here soon. In presenting it, there are three stories that I’ll want to share. Were I to include them all in a single entry, it’d be a little overwhelming. So…
The true story of my afternoon on April 28, 2012.
We met in a treatment facility that we had both transferred to from others. It was from her previous rehab that she knew Bill. He wasn’t a patient of theirs, he was an employee. He had clean time. (Emphasis on had). He started using yesterday.
J had a habit of not counting his money until he was back in his car. We didn’t have any money, but if we could find someone to throw in a hundred, we could pad the twenties with small bills to make it look like as much as three. We called Bill and he met us with a hundred dollars cash.
We had shorted J before but only by twenty or thirty and we’d always eventually (sort of) paid in full. In any case, we bought from him everyday. We were junkies; he knew we weren’t going anywhere.
I made the call and with her by my side and Bill in the backseat, we met up with J. As soon as we made the hand-off, I put the car in gear and drove off as quickly as I could without raising suspicion – but it’d only be a matter of time before he sat down and counted that money. He called within a minute. I had (I thought, slyly) taken a residential street so that he wouldn’t see us in traffic, but before I knew it, he was there. He slid around us, cut off our path, and was out of the car. I floored it in reverse, struggling to keep the car from backing into any of the others parked on the narrow street. He chased after us and almost grabbed hold of me through the window when I swung the car out into the intersection and into drive. His girlfriend had taken the wheel when he got out and she picked him up. They were right on us immediately and we proceeded to play bumper cars across the streets of Delray Beach, running every red light, driving on the wrong side of the roads. Our car was already beat up but his was really nice. Or had been earlier that day anyway.
As soon as J was back in the car, he was back on the phone. As we swerved around and into each other, I tried to reason with him. “It’s only two hundred dollars. Report the damage as a hit and run and turn it in to your insurance. This isn’t worth it.”
“This car isn’t insured or registered. It’s not even my plate. You owe me a lot of money – and the dope – and I’m beating the shit out of you.”
“I’ll get you money later in the week but I’m not giving the drugs back so you might as well give up now.”
I got us to the on ramp for I-95, but our car was old and slow. We didn’t stand a chance at outrunning him. Smashing the fuck out of his car hadn’t deterred him so I had to get creative. I swerved around other cars, trying to lead J into an accident that might actually slow him down.
“I’m gonna flip your car and kill you,” he said.
“That’s the only way you’re getting the drugs back. Chalk it up as a loss and give up before it gets any worse.” I was pretty bold for someone shaking so badly.
I tried a new technique: slamming on the brakes to take us from 90 mph to a dead stop in the middle of the interstate – counting on the cars around us to prevent J from doing the same. After a couple stalemates, where he pulled onto the shoulder up ahead to wait, knowing we had no option but to start driving again, I started to lose hope. How had we not passed a cop yet? How many other drivers must have called this demolition derby in by now? It was only a matter of time before this all ended verybadly – one way or another. And my fucking fuel light was on.
“My boys are getting on at Lantana and are gonna light you the fuck up. You and your girl are as good as dead.”
I guess he didn’t notice that we also had Bill in the back seat. (Quite an experience for someone so freshly off the wagon, huh?)
Eventually, somehow, I was able to lose him. After an exit, I tore across two lanes and into the grass back toward the off-ramp at the last possible second when I’d be able to do so and J wouldn’t without losing sight of us for long enough for us to turn and leave him guessing which way we had gone.
J didn’t follow and when I got to the first red light that I wouldn’t be running that afternoon, I eased into a stop with a police car right next to me. My headlight was dragging on the street in front of the car. The front bumper was partially detached and the back bumper was smashed in. The light turned green and the distance between us and the cop increased until I was able to exhale.
And then I laughed. We all laughed. A lot. It wasn’t funny but it was amazing in its way. As fucked up as all of it is in hindsight, in that moment we were triumphant and I was a hero. (Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but it felt that way). We had no right to be alive. It defied all logic that we were driving away, unscathed and with heroin. I dropped Bill off at his car and drove back to the trailer park where she and I were renting a windowless room with no door to the outside. I left the car at the opposite end of the park and we got out to walk. We lived at the entrance of the park and J’s house was only a mile down the road; I didn’t want to run the risk were he to go out looking for us.
We walked into the trailer, into our room, shut the door, and shot up. I don’t remember anything that happened after that, but the next day, we packed our shit to leave for Miami.
She might be scared, but that has nothing to do with me, my choices, my attitude, or my … how I’ve been.
I’m ambitious and I have confidence but moving out starts the ticking of the clock. It sets the deadline for my success or the date of my failure. Not moving out is what I’m comfortable with. But how long is it okay for me to stall intimate relationships so that I can enjoy myself (and do the things I want to without worry)?
Is it okay for me to be okay? Complacency. Fear. Priorities. GROWING UP. I understand far less than I let on. Strange that someone with all the answers in interactions has nothing but questions when alone.
That’s the text within this piece – painted in my Friday expressive art therapy group at Tranquil Shores. It was getting closer to the time Heather and I had talked about picking up and moving to Jacksonville. We were bickering a lot. I had asked her what was really going on. When she failed to come up with anything, I suggested that maybe she was scared about moving to a new city. After all, it wasn’t me. I’m itinerant! I’m punk! All we do is move. We have no roots. “I don’t live anywhere!” She, on the other hand, had never moved to a new city before so she was scared and that was making her irritable. Obviously.
But this was expressive art therapy and (in therapy) we don’t look at what’s wrong with other people, we look at ourselves. So that’s what I tried to do as I painted and – when I started writing – all of this suddenly came out of me.
God dammit. It was totally me. I was terrified. If I moved to Jacksonville with Heather, I’d suddenly be responsible for rent and utilities and who knows what else. I had been out of (inpatient) treatment for three months and thus far was doing great. I was supporting myself without having to give in to reality and get a real job. (Which – in hindsight – I realize may not have been all that impressive a feat considering that I had absolutely no bills to pay). But if I moved to Jacksonville and came up short on money for bills one month, all of a sudden, I’d have to admit that I was wrong. I’d have to get a job and acknowledge that I couldn’t support myself creatively…
Maybe I should just break it off and stay in Bradenton and live with Taylor’s family forever…? I don’t need a girlfriend or to be an adult or…
“Moving boxes and little else” is an acknowledgment that I had moved more times than I could count but was terrified to move forward.
But I did! And – so far – so good.
This piece is important to me because the process of creating it really was revelatory. I had spend a lot time thinking about this stuff and had gotten nowhere. After I made this piece, the bickering between Heather and I stopped completely. It’s pretty remarkable how much garbage sometimes lurks just below the surface (and how badly it can fuck me up). This piece is proof that art is essential to the maintenance of my mental health.
Here’s the song I quoted in this entry. It’s from the new Dead Mechanical album out soon on Toxic Pop (who split released the last DM full-length with Traffic Street (that’s my label, you guys!)) When I lived in DC, I spent a lot of time in Baltimore. When I wasn’t copping or shooting heroin, I was usually at a Dead Mechanical show. (Sometimes both!) But getting to see them play all the time was definitely one of the best things about living up there.
Here’s another song from the same record. Just ’cause.
Hit the Toxic Pop website to check out the album art (by Julie Benoit!) and pre-order the LP, which starts shipping next week. (I know the site says that it starts shipping in early August, but Mike (Toxic Pop) sent out an update changing the shipping date due to delays at the pressing plant).
This painting is currently for sale. Or – if you’re not a big spender – you can pick up a signed and framed (behind glass) print/poster that’s the same size as the original.