I don’t know where I’ll sleep tonight or wake up tomorrow. I couldn’t even attempt to guess where I’ll be in a month. Life is uncertain and scary (sometimes). I just used “frozen yogurt” body wash and that’s really, really funny.
I’ve got six or seven hours to drive today. I’ve got more friends than I can count. There are a lotta people out there that love me and a lot of people that I’ve got warm, fuzzy feelings for that (I think) approximate (or
maybe even are) that same kind of love.
Hey, Jacksonville – if I’ve been sayin’ I’ll hit you up when I get back, that day’s right around the corner. I been gone so long but I’m coming “home” and it’ll be at least two weeks before I bail “for good” and move on to whatever’s waiting for me outside of Florida.
Check me out – talkin’ like I’ve got a clue! Making a “plan!” As if things have ever worked out as I thought they would.
Here’s what I do know: (1) I’ve got so many stories, dark/light, beautiful/fucked up, egocentric, and otherwise from this last month or so that I’m really excited to get back to writing (publicly) real soon. (2) I got a bunch of new art to compliment and round up all my stories. (3) Some of this shit’s gonna make people feel weird, some is gonna make me uncomfortable, but I’m committed to being honest about what I’ve recently been up to, experienced, and how I’ve felt about it. (4) Chris Hembrough is the best friend I could ask for and I wish I could take him with me. Spillane too (OBVIOUSLY) but I’ve gotten to connect with Hemmy in such an outstanding, positive way this last month.
Yesterday, there was a tragedy. I’m not gonna get into it just yet but I wanna say this: we didn’t need a tragedy for me to be writing this way. It’s been on my mind for two weeks already and while there were some beautiful moments in the aftermath of the accident, there were plenty more, long before anything went wrong and even in between the time of the crash and the time it came to light. So as fucked up as it strikes me to describe it as at all “natural” or “good,” it felt very much like a natural extension of everything that’s been happening. And I think it was good for both of us, at least insofar as the roles that it lead us into. It also prolonged my stay in the area for one extra day. Now that I’m off, we’ve both got our own adventures and trials ahead of us. I’m pretty confident that we’ll both be kicking the shit out of them.
Death and loss feel surreal sometimes, we can feel the pain of the people we love almost as intensely as our own. I’m not sure what I’m getting at so I’m gonna stop until I can take the time to process and write about everything that’s been 2014 so far, in a less stream-of-consciousness kinda way…
We live on quite a planet. Let’s celebrate.
“Don’t know if I can keep up but I try god dammit.”
Here’s the drum head I made for Rational Anthem. Adapted from my painting, “Autobiography.” (It’ll also be featured on all of their summer merch and their new record cover; more on that later though).
Rain. Tent started leaking. Put things under the table for cover.. Moved some paintings inside. Ground was flooded when I got back. A lot of stuff is very likely damaged. Trying to figure out whether the appropriate respond is to kill myself or to just laugh it off.
Right now, all I can really manage is to smoke cigarettes in the rain, listening to The Credentials with a blank expression.
It was my first expressive art therapy group after Tranquil Shores readmitted me. The theme was grief / loss… and I chose to paint a giant glue bottle, chasing down some kids, trying to get them to sniff him… (I had my reasons – and I’ll get to them, I promise). It was a scene I remembered from a cartoon we watched in fifth grade. It’s stuck with me not because it was effective but because it was so incredibly stupid and condescending – even to eleven year olds! We laughed through the whole thing. It was a big dumb joke.
Regarding anti-drug messages – in the short span between my discharge and return, I received some that were just slightly more powerful. I called a friend that had been my regular dealer whenever I was in Sarasota. She said she was in the hospital. Chris and I picked up some things for her and went to visit. After a particularly strong shot of heroin, she had nodded out at the wheel and flipped/rolled her car. Her scalp was torn off, her teeth were knocked out, her neck was broken, and her body was filled with broken glass. She survived but it definitely didn’t seem to be a “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger situation.” What didn’t kill her left her a fragile mess, now forever at risk of paralysis or death.
Later that night, I saw something cryptic on Facebook that seemed to imply the death of my friend, Mitch. That familiar flood of panic and dread rose up through my body and swelled into my head. I called a mutual friend in Delray…
I struggled to get the words out. “Is… um – is… is Mitch… ?”
“Yeah. He is.”
(You know the feeling…)
I had only met Mitch nine months prior; he wasn’t my best or oldest friend. But we had been in the same “small group” at Wellness Resource Center and had gotten to know each other really well. I liked him a lot. And there was another reason his death affected me as it did – a reason that didn’t really have anything to do with Mitch or my relationship with him, but that hit me on a really deep, personal level. I’ll save that for another time.
Drug addicts (particularly heroin addicts) die. And those that don’t – by virtue of their association with other addicts – get to witness a lot of death. But death isn’t the only kind of loss (it’s just the most permanent). I lost a lot in the midst of my addiction. A relationship with the girl I was about to propose to, my record label (which was sort of my whole fucking world), my integrity, and plenty of friends – to death and otherwise. So why was I sitting in expressive art therapy group (during grief/loss week), painting this stupid cartoon bottle of glue? I had my reasons, but I still felt pathetic.
I grew up as a snarky, cocky, little fuck. I had all the answers, I knew all the tricks, and I was always ready with the cynical, witty little quip. But now… now I had to be… something else. Desperation forced me into a corner where the only choices were to change everything or die. I was gonna have to look at the world with a new set of eyes and address it with a new tongue. If everything isn’t shit – and I’m not the shitty little kid – then what is it? And who am I?
The loss I was grappling with at that moment – and I mean really grappling with – was a loss of identity. Or a perceived loss of identity in any case. I was extremely grateful to have had the epiphany consequent to my discharge; I was really grateful to have been readmitted to Tranquil Shores. I was feeling upbeat, optimistic about the future, and sort of (dare I say) happy. And that was really fucking my shit up. I was friendly, and positive, and I felt like the biggest impostor on the planet. I wasn’t pretending, I wasn’t faking — but I felt like I must have been and I just didn’t know it.
At some point in that first week back, I actually asked everyone in group: “Be honest with me. Please. The way that I’ve been since I got back – positive, smiling, all that – does anyone think I’m full of shit? Like – does anyone suspect even a little bit that this is an act? You can tell me. I’m not gonna be upset.”
“Sam, there is one person who doesn’t believe you,” Tracy said.
I knew it! There was no way at least one of my peers hadn’t gone to a counselor to complain about the way I was acting. After all, this “transformation” was unbelievable! How could anyone buy into it? But was Tracy going to actually out this person? Unlikely but maybe this would goad them into coming forward themselves.
I nodded: “It’s okay, I understand absolutely.”
“It’s you, Sam. You’re the only one that doesn’t believe you.”
How did I not see that coming? I just kinda shook my head. “Okay. I guess if… I don’t know.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Seriously though? Nobody else?”
Everyone assured me that they believed it and they were happy about it. Which was nice but didn’t totally squelch my skepticism. It was another couple months before I’d be able to really set it aside (and I still have little questions with myself every now and then) but I think that was the point when I was able to stop grieving the loss of my identity or (maybe) started to recognize that I hadn’t really lost anything after all. Nothing of value anyway.
I still get to play that snarky little character sometimes – he’s just less of an asshole than he used to be. (His jokes aren’t mean anymore). And I also get to play another character now: the kind, loving friend that actually gives a shit. I think I’ve struck a pretty good balance.
One of the albums I released through Traffic Street Records was the first full-length by The Credentials. The first song in particulalar has meant (and continues to mean) a lot to me.
“Nice Girl / Coffee Shop” by The Credentials Rolled down the footbridge, waited for the light Like giving up on all my dreams or finding out a friend had died
It seems like anywhere I go from here won’t really take me anywhere.
Our fingertips are numbing from the cold and how we make it go away
The deafening silence, alone in our heads, won’t leave us alone
So we hope that our friends can relate to that feeling
That weight on your chest, walking back home across the turnpike again
I saw her standing there behind a counter across the street I crumpled up a flier in disgust and in defeat
You see, I’m sick of knowing what it is I want out of this life – and fucking up While all these assholes mill around and can’t decide
Same old story, drunk and bored
We trudge on through the slush and stormy weather Wishing superstitious fears would go follow someone else.
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. – Sam
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.