Death by Addiction

Juls had a knack for making wherever she was elegant, fresh flowers, candles, handmade soaps – little touches that transformed common place to magical. I loved going to her home for a cup of coffee or simple meal she always found a way to elevate the experience.  It was never about showing off – money – pride – or some baseless motivation, it was a respite from the ordinary. The saddest part of my weekend was walking into her home and finding all the special things, the cups, plates, candles, soaps, an empty vase on the table… but the magic was missing – the energy that was my big sister. There was a haphazardness to it all, as if she had all the pieces but just couldn’t put them together – my sister died two weeks ago, but taking it in I realized she had been missing much longer. 

I spent the weekend sorting through the physical remnants of her life while trying to reconcile a myriad of feelings – anger, sadness, recrimination, and in flickering moments of honesty relief. My sister didn’t die of an overdose, but the corrosive nature of addiction killed her just the same; you see not all addicts die with a needle in their arm or a carelessly spilled bottle of pills next to them. My sister died on the floor of her small bathroom… alone. I hope it was quick and painless, but I know that’s my selfish attempt to absolve the guilt dancing just out of reach… odds are it was neither.

I have heard all the platitudes – don’t be an enabler, addicts have to reach rock bottom, it’s a choice, helping is just codependency – I have parroted them oft enough myself and as true as these are… I have to live knowing that they are also a convenient excuse for apathy. I loved my sister, but I am faced with the reality that the physical manifestation of my love was clearly inadequate while it mattered. It was easier to insulate myself with these protestations than reach through her addiction and love her in a tangible way that may not have saved her, but would have given her some moments of happiness. I wasn’t able to change her addiction and at the end her death was just a reflection of her journey – but I should have made the effort anyway.  

There is a brutal finality to scooping ashes out of a simple box surrounded by those caring enough to be there… no what might be, could be, or should be – just a fine grey dust eddying into a series of smaller vessels – reminders of what once was. I have heard it said none of us escape alive, but whether that end is in a velvet lined box surrounded by friends and family or on the counter of a lonely kitchen consigned to a simple urn – the result is the same. There is value in the experience, in the loss, in the reflection, in the memories – not about addiction, death, or the physical remnants, but about love and the brief flicker of time we all share in this space…  

My sister was an accomplished artist among many other things, I found this in her bedroom – not sure if it’s her work or not, but it speaks to me of transition… leaving life behind – the tree a metaphor for life if you will… it seems fitting in a melancholy whimsical way…

Life on the Net

So, I spent about an hour on FB this morning and this is what I came up with… Has your life become an internet meme? 

Do you think to yourself, I should do something I love cause then I’ll be happy? Broke, living on the street, un-showered but fucking happy as hell! 

Are you tired of reposting, reposting, reposting… so some kid you don’t know can get better – wouldn’t it be nice to have an update on that shit – AMEN?

What about having to look at all these food pics that you know you can’t make and neither can the asshole that posted it and besides didn’t you just spend $300 on some super shake solution that tastes like shit?

Politics – just fuck all of them…

Olympics – yeah fuck them too – well except the Russians – cause anyone that can drill a hole in the lab wall and pass clean samples back and forth deserves a fucking medal…

Motivational posts – seriously you are trolling FB all day – I don’t think they are working on you. 

Your baby, puppy, kids, blah blah blah – do I even need to say it? We are all glad yours are so much better than everyone else’s! oh and fuck off…

You’re so blessed – fine we get it now stop rubbing that shit in our faces

You blessed someone else – fine you’re the greatest person in the world now stop rubbing that shit in our faces

You’re kneeling, standing, crawling, running, walking whatever shut the fuck up – we’re all just trying to get through the day… just leave everyone the fuck alone already

Happy everything, hope you have a wonderful fucking day – do I really need to keep hearing about it? 

Since obviously no one will tell you – you suck at relationships cause you’re an asshole stop posting about it please… it’s definitely your fault

Stars and Stripes…

I’ve heard all the arguments, the passionate defenses, and angry protestations… and I agree with all of them, every one… but I agree because I believe this country, we as a people have it within us to collectively define, embrace, and demonstrate the best humanity has to offer not in spite of our differences but because of them.

You can say the flag is a symbol of oppression, freedom, colonialism, democracy… and you would be right because we have the choice to define it in the way that represents our present circumstance and understanding – not everyone’s just our own.

For me though this isn’t a symbol from the past, it isn’t owned by a particular ideology, it doesn’t represent a singular belief system – no it is the very tapestry of this land – those stars represent all of us… every beautiful square foot of this country from the concrete jungles to the snow covered peaks – and those stripes… they were where we started not where we are ending.

That flag is big enough to be knelt in front of, to be saluted, to be burnt, and to be draped across the box of someone you know, someone that lived in your town, on your street, or in the bedroom down the hall.

So no matter your ethnicity, color, creed – if you just got here or if you were here before the rest of us, we all have a choice, we can accept the same old tired arguments that aim to separate and strive to keep us from our full potential or we can choose to make an individual choice about the type of person we want to be and by extension the type of nation we will become.

Do you believe that flag is big enough to cover all of us… because if you don’t then it isn’t the man kneeling on the sidelines, the millennial protesting in the streets, the water protectors at Standing Rock, the men and women that work shoulder to shoulder every day, the immigrant searching for a better life, or those that wear the badge on their chest or flag on their shoulder that are the problem…

Just one man’s opinion…

Moments

The sky blossoms a kaleidoscope of color – the heat a lover’s embrace on a winter morn… It’s only a moment, but in that moment the realization of a thousand other moments… the compression – expansion – dissipation of time itself… a horn blows – the traffic moves and it occurs to me we have no moments to waste…

Independence Day

I wrote this about fifteen years ago and have for the most part dragged it out every Fourth since then… this afternoon I’m halfway home sitting in a much to luxurious hotel room in Chicago looking out over a city I love to visit…. the staff takes good care of me here, most are immigrants working hard on this “holiday”… I take the time to listen to their stories when they are willing to share… It’s the true story of freedom – independence – the pursuit of opportunity this country still represents to those outside clamoring to come in… I think about my trip East from Seattle this past week – the beautiful country I have passed through – but also the blatant racism in so many small towns where Native Americans are treated as second class citizens – how do we embrace “…all men are created equal…” when we look the other way uncomfortably? Maybe these are questions without simple answers… I think probably, but I believe when we stop asking we have conceded point and the bright shining example we should and could be is tarnished a little more…

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The sweet smells of cotton candy and caramel corn dance through the early evening air mixing with the laughter of children and the soft murmur of a thousand conversations. The sun begins its slow descent and you can feel the anticipation thrumming through the stadium. As the sharp cadence of the Color Guard recedes the lights go down and the first shells burst in a spectacular blaze of color and thunderous sound. I lean back in my seat and let the show assault my senses.

Independence Day, a day of celebration, a day of remembrance, a holiday so simple yet so fraught with the complexities of modern day politics and the ever-shifting landscape of international policy it should challenge us to examine its true meaning. In its purest form we celebrate the courage, vision, and perseverance of our forefathers. They created a new nation with their very blood and infused it with a set of ideals and beliefs that has not only become a rallying banner for democracy everywhere, but a siren song for the oppressed and downtrodden the world over. ‘We hold these truths to be self evident…” the power of these words shaped a nation and challenged the greatest imperial power of the time. They also set an inescapable responsibility for us as a people, we cannot embrace our history, our independence, carry on our annual celebrations and displays if we ignore the balance of our declaration: …” that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We have taken this responsibility upon ourselves and have found opportunity in our history to rally to it: The fascism of the Axis powers in WWII, our vigilance against the insidious creep of Communism during the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Jihadist of the Middle East and in defense of those most vulnerable within our own borders. These political and military battles may represent our collective will, but the achievement of our independence was built on the personal efforts and decisions of those men and women who chose to shoulder the burden of, not only defeating our imperial masters, but also investing themselves in the creation, nurturing, and guiding of our country as it took its first steps on the path to greatness. Too often it seems that the ideals our founding fathers espoused have become the fodder for today’s self-serving political machine. It unfortunately transcends party and pollutes the purity of the democratic process. We must always remind ourselves of those “self evident truths” and understand that the preservation of them is a personal responsibility.

The final rumbles are fading into the distance and the last vestiges of smoke have cleared, chased across the horizon by a warm breeze. I take my daughter’s hand as we begin the slow walk to our car and I silently rejoice in the fact that she will grow up in the greatest country in the world. I promise myself to teach her the history of Independence Day so she can one day become the conscientious steward of our freedoms that is the legacy of our citizenship.

Two Vases

A good friend was telling me a story about an abandoned home where the folks had left their “parents” or maybe “grandparents” cremated remains behind… that seemed incredibly sad and lonely to me… I imagine a conversation something like this…

Two Vases

Time ceased its count long ago
And the voices have faded
As the dust deepens on this lonely perch

I feel you near me dear
Do you remember my kiss
Now it’s just the two of us

Long passed are our days in the sun
The sand soft beneath us
The kids playing in the surf

I remember the stars above
The singing of a mountain stream
Marshmallows by the fire

It seemed so long I waited
Now you sit beside me
Matching vases in the shadows

Time ceased its count long ago
And the voices have faded
As the dust deepens on this lonely perch

The Order

The steam rises in soft plumes out of the chipped ceramic coffee mug while the thin napkin, folded just so, absorbs the first drops of condensation beginning to journey down the side of the hard-plastic water cup where the square cubes of ice seem to joust for position.

Johnny studies the sturdy plastic menu with an intensity usually reserved for things of much greater comport than the overwhelming selection of egg and hash-brown combinations pictured. Melissa twirls her pen over the yellow pad, “Melissa” isn’t really her name but the faded tag had been carelessly left behind attached to the uniform shirt her manager had tossed her way that first day seven months ago and she had never bothered to change it. She had long settled on answering to hey girl, you, or just about anything else – Melissa would do.

“I think I’ll have the ham and cheese omelet, grits, and raisin toast dark,” Johnny finally intones carefully replacing the menu in the metal brackets next to the napkins, bottle of Texas Pete and stacks of foil jelly containers. It was a serious decision he thinks to himself, everyone knew breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

Melissa nods with equal seriousness, “Yes sir coming right up,” she answers not bothering to write it down, Johnny has ordered exactly the same meal every morning since she started, and who knows for how long before that. “Ham and Cheese plate, grits on the side, raisin well,” she hollers at the cook…

Memories from a Georgia Cotton Field…

The bracken and small trees have overgrown the banks and begun to cover the top of the berm if you look closely you can still see the glint of steel tracks embedded in the coarse grass, the creosote ties have splintered and rotted no longer holding the rails in tight straight lines. The cotton fields extend on either side for hundreds of acres the red Georgia dirt baking in the late September sun – the bolls now dry and brown have split, their sharp claws clinging to the silky puffs loathe to give them up. The memories of a lonesome steam whistle mingle with the sharp cracks of the whips and the soft moans that linger in the quiet stillness of a fading afternoon.

Adelaide wipes her brow with the back of a hand, her mahogany skin’s a crisscross pattern of scars and creases never quite healed from the hundred sharp cuts the bolls inflict – the shadow of the overseer approaches and she bends back to her task hurrying forward hoping to avoid sharp sting of the leather through her thin cotton dress. She steals a glance over, Billy still lay where he had fallen, no amount of whipping was going to raise him up and they’d left him as an example to the rest of them, the men would bury him later but not now no now was for pickin’ 200 pounds didn’t come easy the second time through a field.

The green machines lumber along voraciously scavenging the white puffs in front of them, small strays play across the ground in their wake as they march forward. Along the tree line long bales wrapped tight in plastic keep the cotton from escaping, large enough to fill a tractor trailer they wait patiently for the long bed trucks to carry them onward. Gone are the picking bags, the cotton baskets at field’s end, the crack of the overseer’s whip – but the cotton remains and the soft glint of a steel track – and the memories of another day…

Author’s Note: I was traveling through Georgia this past weekend, past many a cotton field and old train bed… they spoke to me of times long past, but not forgotten.

Wonderin’

I sit here wonderin if the worlds gone to hell
Got Tom Petty playin’ the stories we could tell

I cant find the words to splain the way I’m feeling
And I don’t know how to stop starin at the ceiling

So the tears fall and the memories keep flowin’
And there aint nothing for it but to keep goin’

Cause I sit here wonderin if the worlds gone to hell
While Tom Petty’s playin’ the stories we could tell

Reflection on impermanence…

It can be hard to see from inside ourselves, but your life is your masterpiece and yes we are only fleeting and embody the very essence of impermanence, but in that short time we create, oh do we create and those creations have the power of permanence, they influence, they are love, hate, joy, sorrow and each one leaves a mark on those around us… that small ripple multiplies, its passed on and becomes part of the collective consciousness of those we interact with… so don’t focus too much on the moment for it is only that – a moment, but take solace in the masterpiece that you are…