(Originally posted August 8, 2014, since revised)
Back then, we didn’t refer to it as
Nobody had yet to recognize it as such.
The official term was “getting wasted”
or, more colloquially (if not quite eloquently) …
I had more than enough free time on my hands to donate a decent portion of my waking hours to it.
A simple enough process flowing freely through your day, one stumble-step leading to the next with the fluid precision of a three-dollar flea market Mickey Mouse alarm clock:
wake up… whenever; spend some extra time laying in bed adjusting to the lingering stupor; roll over on your side, swing your legs over the edge of your bed, place your feet on the floor; spend additional time sitting up in bed adjusting to the lingering stupor; stand up, gauge both strength and coordination; if / when sufficient level of efficiency is reached, proceed to bathroom at most easily manageable rate of speed (if risk of injury appears to be a major factor to be taken into consideration, this attempt may be more prudently accomplished on hands and knees); once in bathroom, assume position most suitable for inevitable projectile expectoration from appropriate orifice.
How easily the preceding steps go for you pretty much determines how you will handle the rest of the day, but one of the next stages will likely involve “the hair of the dog that bit you”, after which your life should predictably run on a badly programmed GPS until the next morning when you wake up… whenever, and repeat.
Of course, back then we didn’t have GPS. All we had, under the circumstances of which I metaphorically speak, were compasses on which the needle just kept spinning and topographic maps with contour lines that would shape-shift all over creation while you were trying to follow them.
I did it for years. Woke up not even having to thing about it. I just started up all over again, and one step just came immediately before the one that instinctively came after it.
There was so much I was trying my damnedest to forget: the death of my beloved uncle after three years of strokes, back when I was fourteen; the loss of my mother when I was sixteen to a year long battle with cancer, which was never fully explained to me until two weeks before she left us; the unexpected if not unforeseen sudden death of my father when I was nineteen, at college in Denver and first really starting to discover myself.
I was not ready for any of it.
When Ben passed, I lost it all. I couldn’t hold it in, couldn’t even weakly try to contain the pain and the fear and the overpowering loss.
Then my Mom was gone just as I was first coming close to moving forward without the most important, influential male role model in my life. I couldn’t let those feelings loose, couldn’t cry, couldn’t worry, couldn’t respond.
It was in ways an unfortunately initiated opportunity to start to get to really know my father, He had been a consistent presence in my life, a treasure trove of joyous memories, but just more difficult to read than Ben had been, not quite as accessible. My Dad was my father, my mother’s brother was my uncle, but Uncle Ben was The Man.
About a year after Mom died, Dad started dating casually and we actually went on double-dates every now and then. He felt like taking his lady to a fancy dinner, I felt like doing the same with my girlfriend, he offered to pay? Done deal. Nothing to read into it: he wasn’t bringing someone new into my life, nor I into his, but we just both felt like a monster steak at The Manor so the four of us would meet there.
And while we were waiting for my sister to actually, finally, somehow and somewhat unbelievably get married, we’d do dinner for two at least once a week at Rod’s or the Claremont Diner. We’d take in a show in The City, hit up The Pen & Pencil in the East 8os for steak and lobster and long heart-to-hearts. I was spending more than half my first year at college when I was first starting to really learn all he had to teach me.
When he died, midway through my second attempt at my first year of college, I couldn’t even acknowledge the feelings that were there. I wouldn’t dare. I was so damned punch-drunk from the previous losses I don’t even know if the capacity to be aware of those feelings was anywhere within me.
Except for the emptiness.
So then there was just me, and I made for marginally entertaining but hardly stabilizing company.
The people around me, all the ones who were supposed to care, the ones I knew all my life without them knowing me, saw me for what I could be rather than who I was, couldn’t understand who I was much less how or why I turned out to be that way. I was not nearly what they expected, not nearly fitting their standards or meeting their approval. And they never fully tried to understand why that was:
“Get over it.” “Get back to school.” “Get on with your life.” “Get a haircut.” “Get a job.”
The only solutions ever suggested to me. Sometimes phrased as a question, it always sounded like a sentence.
Almost every conversation I had with any of them started with “Well … have you been smoking that stuff again?” and went downhill from there.
I had never taken a moment’s respite to let all the disruptive emotions fly through me, to grab each one at a whatever time I could, confront them … and if I couldn’t beat them into submission, at the very least come to an understanding with them. Not since Ben. My mom. Dad.
Might have done me some good to just not give a shit.
It confounded me, frustrated me, hurt me that none of them ever seemed to enter that torturous factor into the equation. If they actually had, well that just made things worse because they obviously expected me just to ignore it.
Within a matter of months I had one foot stuck in a bong, the other sunk in a bottle, and all was superficially well. There was less hurt, less confusion, less pain.
Well now, of course there was!
There was less consciousness.
But there was still reality waking up inside of me each morning.
And I got into my routine so as not to let it out of bed. Nine years of hitting a twenty-four hour snooze button as soon as my first eye opened.
A brief yet bright romance fell apart, I had nothing left at “home” in Jersey, and with a barely-known friend but an immediate brother, I returned to the place I knew was going to be home. Return to some compassionate and non-judgmental people who had met me a year earlier without any pre-determined notions, accepting me as I was.
I finally went back to Colorado two years after I had initially left shortly after my father died, taking whatever I could fit in the car of any significance, me and my compadre sharing the driving and rolling, with our dogs in the back seat, with the monkeys on my back and the routine in my blood.
It went on for too long.
I was well on the way to becoming some town drunk everyone could point at. I knew it, didn’t care for it, but didn’t mind it ’cause it let me go on thinking, feeling, dreaming and believing anything and everything that served a pampering purpose.
Just needed to find the town.
I spent a wildly wasted but semi-productive few years sharing a place in Evergreen with the brother-from-another-mother, Kennedy Bryan “Grubsteak” Parker, Jr. (of the Llewelyn Park and Bermuda Parkers), who had left his girlfriend / “fiancée” back in Jersey to move to Colorado with me. Actually, I think it was more that he was her “fiancée”.
Bryan had gotten a job working as the head grill cook at a high-class yet not snooty restaurant, The Fort in Morrison, Colorado where the Great Midwestern Plain I had seen on the maps since grade school ran right up to the Rockies. It was a full adobe construction, heated only by fireplaces, an exact replica of the famous Bent’s Fort, a National Historic Site east of La Junta, CO.
I slowly started to divide my time between Evergreen and days at The Little Bear (the local freak hang-out) and meeting Bryan down in Morrison after his shift.
It was there I had found my town.
After the Jefferson County Sheriff in cooperation with the Denver Police and a wildly inept suspected informant I had set up orchestrated a pitifully choreographed, laughably staged and badly botched drug bust / raid at our Evergreen house (leaving us with no charges ever even filed – not even for the rifle and shotgun we had with the serial numbers filed off), I spent time shuffling around from one place to another, sometimes sleeping on whatever sprawled-out mattress someone had to offer: Indian Hills for a while, a few of the Morrison crash-pads, even sharing a pick-up camper at a trailer park with the sixteen-year-old son of a retired Marine Drill Sergeant.
The safety and sanctity of the home and sacredly introspective and revelatory times I shared with Bryan had been yanked out from under us based on a wild-eyed rumor involving a delivery of twenty pounds of weed that I had started myself to ferret out whatever snitch we had in town. The guy actually had the nerve to show his face in our newly discovered Den of Iniquity a few days later, and by the time I was halfway through asking him why he signed some bullshit affidavit that the Sheriff used for the bust, everybody sitting at the bar and the close-by tables had grabbed a pool stick.
We ran the cocksucker out of town , but the price was that whatever perceived sense of peace I was deluded into feeling slowly drifted away until the only place I felt at home was The Tabor Inn in Morrison.
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Even the most hard-core, long-time,
ninety-five proof alcoholic
is not drunk all the time.
Don’t expect me to be bat-shit crazy
every time you see me
or decide that I will be when you do.
neither should you be surprised.
J. K. R. Nash IV