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…

For My Big Sis…

It’s Thursday evening and I am reflecting on the project I just finished in Phoenix, my flight is going to be late getting into Dallas… which means another night away from home. Modern technology allows my phone to be connected even at 30,000 feet – I’m watching the sun set through the window of 6A when I receive the message that my older sister has died…

There’s no positive way to get news like this, no way that makes it easier to absorb, so I watch the sun set and whisper goodbye – I foolishly hope she was at peace, as if somehow that makes it better, changes something… 

When we lose people the tradition is to polish their lives up, make them brighter – better than they probably were – I won’t do that with my sister. Her life is who she was and I loved her no matter the season. 

Julianna was seven years older than me, for as far back as I can remember she was “Lani” a leftover from the days before I could pronounce her name. She was my big sister – introduced me to rock and roll, David Bowie, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, and the best of the seventies. She taught me about girls and nursed me through my first teenage heartbreak. When I moved to Virginia after our mother died she helped me get settled in a new home and city. It was her couch I slept on when my young marriage was falling apart and she encouraged me to work it out. Life took us in different directions and our relationship was reduced to holiday and birthday phone calls, promises to get together and reminiscing about the “old days”, but she never stopped being my big sister. 

They say not to speak ill of the dead… whatever that means, life is messy, complicated and … her journey was long, but I maintain worth the trip in the end. She explored life – the good, bad and the ugly if that’s not too cliché – a national level equestrian rider, a debutante, she eloped with a Naval officer at eighteen, lived free and hard all over the world, divorced and then started a new life. She loved the simple elegance of a vase of flowers, a properly set table, and the energy of a live concert. She was a mother of an autistic son and champion of autistic children’s rights, a business woman, artist, drug addict, but more than anything Lani was my big sister… 

Goodbye sis, I love you and I miss you… turns out none of the mess mattered in the end… 

Remember to hug the ones easy to love a bit closer and the ones hard to love even closer than that… You see when it’s done all you’ll have is the memories and as sweet as they may be it’s a poor substitute for time spent together…

Joe

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

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…

Two Cases of Jam

A somewhat true story lightly based on actual events…

The whole thing was fucked up Ashleigh thought to herself, the sulphurous breeze rushing through the Ford’s windows whipped her long brown hair haphazardly across her bronze shoulders, she ignored it lost in the hum of the tires and the static of an AM country station out of Jessup. It had been almost two weeks since she had been headed to the Lil Cricket for a pack of Marlboros – she had gotten sick – twice – in the stained bowl tucked in the back of the store between the stacks of Styrofoam cups and cases of Mountain Dew – a pink plus sign later she had run not knowing where she was headed or even why. Now two hours from the Florida border with less than twelve dollars in her pocket she still wasn’t ready to accept that all of this was real, but home was still home.

They say fate will find you where you are, and you can’t hide from your destiny; but she would be damned if she wasn’t going to try. She hadn’t wanted any of this, hell you couldn’t be more careful than she had been. Two more positives in a CVS bathroom had confirmed that God must have some kinda fucked up sense of humor – it had only been one time and not much at that she thought with a sad smile, hell they weren’t even really together. Should have learned my lesson with the last asshole, she thinks to herself picking up 17 South and heading toward the Georgia border. She didn’t have a destination, but she couldn’t face any of them and the only thing she loved in Florida, her dog Charlie, had died in an accident so she sure as hell wasn’t going home. It just wasn’t fair she had dreams, plans, places she wanted to see this wasn’t supposed to happen, not now… not ever she cries as the hot breeze sweeping off the Carolina low country dries her tears and the miles sweep by.

The roadside sign promised home-made baked goods, local vegetables, and boiled peanuts; it wasn’t much more than a lean-to-shack a few feet off the road – grass growing through the gravel pull off betrayed the lack of traffic. She can hear the tick and ping of the engine cooling as she heads inside in search of something cold to drink. Eyes adjusting to the dim light she can barely make out the ancient black woman in the corner, “Come in child all is well…” She doesn’t say anything else and Ashleigh isn’t sure if she had even heard her right, and she was pretty damn sure all wasn’t well and wasn’t going to be anytime soon. Forty minutes later and a few miles down the road with two bottles of water and three jars of homemade elderberry jam she still wasn’t sure it had been real but the gentle clink of the jars in the seat next to her were reassuring in a strange way.

She ate shrimp in a parking lot in Statesboro wishing the a/c worked her feet folded under her a sweet tea sweating in the cup holder. Taylor county had peach trees ripening in the afternoon sun as far as she could see – pulled off on the shoulder she wandered down the rows picking a few of the low hanging fruit listening to the silence around her. A couple miles further on at the farm stand she added two jars of fresh peach jam to her collection. A day later she had hiked up the base of the Toccoa falls listening to the roar of water drowning out the noise in her head, standing in the mist the drops of water shining like diamonds in her hair as the sun set behind her she had cried again. On her way back to the car she had wandered through the college – a life she had thought about before life had happened.

She spent two days in Helen, a Bavarian style little town nestled in the North Georgia mountains, eating brats and pretzels – dancing with the old men in their lederhosen she was almost able to forget, but she had finally headed West with three jars of apple butter added to her growing collection. She spent a night camped out at one of the big lakes along the North Carolina border listening to the night birds and an orchestra of frogs singing her to sleep, Waffle House for breakfast and she had headed Southwest towards Alabama stopping in Rome debating whether to continue further West. As it happened she had accumulated another two jars each of strawberry and cherry jelly along the way – she was up to eleven jars now.

It was in a small diner outside Bowden Corners when she started to question herself, it had been nine days since she had left and although she hadn’t reconciled this whole having a kid thing yet, she also knew this odyssey wasn’t going to last forever. Climbing behind the wheel she heads East her jars clinking in floorboard next to her, she had moved them into a box two days earlier. The pecan orchards flash by, the long rows of tall stately trees quiet sentinels to her inner struggle. The orchards give way to the open fields of the few remaining cotton fields sprinkled throughout the red dirt, the puffy boles ripening in the late summer sun a testament to simpler yet harsher times. She can smell the lowlands and the paper mills as she approaches the coast and the way home.

She carries life with her and with a wan smile she realizes her life is on a different trajectory, one she couldn’t have imagined and had never wished for but that had found her nonetheless. There were conversations to be had, plans to be made, and a life to figure out. The road stretches out before her leading her home, forward, and into a future unplanned but still hers to define… and she has jelly lots and lots of jelly.

Kandi Kane

– A Christmas Story –

The flamingo pink had faded to a shade closer to Pepto and the stucco was cracking and chipping in a dozen places, it didn’t matter though no one frequented the Pink Pony for its curb appeal. Kandi pushes off the wall taking a final drag on the diminishing cigarette she had bummed off Nigel, the stucco leaving a dimple effect on her soft skin. Time to get back inside, Nigel didn’t care if you took a “break” but he would be looking for a cut if you were more than a few minutes. It had been a good month though – December usually was, but any month you didn’t have to spend on your knees to make rent was a good month in her book. The sad string of multi-colored lights tacked around the door and the line-up of Christmas inspired names were the only nods to the holiday. She had chosen first – Kandi Kane – cause her plain jane eastern Iowa looks and “Heidi” didn’t inspire a man to drop twenty on a lap dance.

Like most little girls she had grown up with bigger dreams than her opportunities could fulfill. It had been three years since she had left the little nothing farm town for the big city where those dreams were all going to come true. Why her mother hadn’t stopped her was still a mystery – well maybe not, her mother had a hard-enough time taking care of herself, never-mind a teenage daughter with wants no waitress’ tips were going to quench. Nigel had seen her coming a mile away, fresh off the bus, small town blues, and nothing but a decent set of tits and legs to her name – “Heidi, you know like in The Sound of Music,” she had told him. He had laughed in what had seemed like a cool British accent at the time, that was now just annoying. She had only found out months later that there wasn’t any “Heidi” in The Sound of Music.

She holds the pole and kicks up her heel before losing the red sequined bra – mustering what passes for a smile she struts over to the three drunks sitting stage left, bending over to pick the singles up she gives them a good view of her goods, hoping for another few bucks but not really caring either way. These guys are all regulars and more interested in their beer than her boobs. The place is empty by eleven and Nigel cuts them all loose early with a slap on the ass and a Merry Christmas! Wrapped in a hoodie and carrying her heels in one hand and bag in the other she catches the #3 bus home. She leans her cheek against the cool window and hums along to radio… “jingle bells, jingle bells…” – “Merry Christmas mom,” she whispers to the dark brushing a tear from her cheek.

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…

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…

Thoughts on Irma – The Aftermath

*This is a five part piece – I encourage you to start with “Thoughts on Irma #1” and read forward… JC 

It’s been three days since Irma turned North and hit our little town dead center, about half of us have our power restored, a few stores and restaurants are opening back up, but normal still seems a fair bit off. There are long lines at the few gas stations that have fuel and those that fled early are unable to return for fear of running out before making it home. On every street the steady whir of chainsaws fills the air from dawn till dusk and the scent of fresh cut wood is inescapable. The piles of limbs and brush line the avenues and side streets, growing in stature as the once mighty oaks fall to the blade, some as much five or six feet across having seen hundreds of years – now lie dead in the unblinking sun. Leaves cover the ground and streets like fall in New England – an unexpected blanket of green.

As evening approaches folks start to return to their homes, grills are fired up, candles lit, and the rhythmic chatter of a generator punctuates the still air. It’s hot and humid, the air lies heavy and still – not even a hint of breeze as if the wind had exhausted itself earlier and now is slumbering somewhere far from here. It’s not quiet but the sounds are all different, no TVs, no music, even the traffic has disappeared – they have been replaced with the hoot of a hunting owl, laughter from a few doors down, the tireless chirp of the lake frogs, and the stray bark of a lonely hound.  News is exchanged on the sidewalk and the interaction of neighbors harkens back to an earlier and simpler time.

Life is already moving on, the inescapable pace of today’s society can’t and won’t wait for our emotions, anxiety, understanding to catch up. It’s going to take time to fully process this experience, we talk about it – sharing the memory, the feelings, coming to grips with this brush against our mostly ignored mortality.  Today we hung the pictures back up and moved the porch furniture back into position – symbols of normalcy. The electric is back on – something we celebrate with embarrassed restraint as there are so many still waiting. Tomorrow will bring a trip to the grocery store to replace the provisions that have spoiled in the unforgiving heat and life’s mundane routines will begin reasserting themselves.

I imagine it will take weeks to fully restore all power, services, and cleanse the landscape of wreckage and in that time we will exchange our stories of that night and come to grip with our personal lists of would have, should have, could have – but the reality is our psyche will only allow a tepid remembrance lest we live on trapped by the understanding of our insignificance.

Thoughts on IRMA #4

Dawn is finally breaking – grey streaks begin to penetrate the darkness. The wind is still present, but reminds me of the summer thunderstorms of my childhood, not the incessant fury of last night. I am sure analogies will abound today – our 24 hour news media trying to convey the experience and those mavens of disaster over at The Weather Channel with their hundreds of campaigns under their belts explaining to us just how it was. I understand, but the reality is so much different than their LL Bean protected forays into the “heart of the storm”.

It would take pages and pages to capture what last night was like – I honestly can’t imagine what a CAT 3, 4, or 5 might be like. The wind and rain had picked up its intensity around midnight, I hadn’t contemplated it being able to get much worse than it was – I lacked context, but that’s no longer the case. We lost power around 1AM about the time the eye wall was approaching our town, our neighborhood, our house.  You see on the TV it’s just a dot on a map, but the reality is it’s the four walls and the person next to you – and the fury and ferocity isn’t directed anywhere else – its personal.

The battering gusts of wind had been coming in waves for what seemed like hours, each subsequent rotation with increasing intensity – until it all blended together into a singular focused battering ram, which is when the power went out creating all consuming inky black. I understand with much greater clarity now the destructive power of wind like this – it’s an unstoppable force – there is a constancy that is maddening in its consistency. I think that may be the most difficult part to deal with emotionally – the simple fact that at the height of things there simply is no break, no where you can escape to, no way to stop it – and it is everywhere for hours…

We lay in bed in the dark holding hands, I’m not ashamed to say it was terrifying – if the power of nature doesn’t intimidate you – well you simply haven’t been paying attention and the arrogance of humanity has penetrated your being. The winds song is the background beat, the bass track if you will it sets the tone for everything else. Now layer in the creaks and groans of the house – you truly have to experience it to understand, but it seems like it is going to come apart around you – the percussion of blowing transformers, falling trees and debris clattering off the windows round out this symphony of destruction that has no intermission. We exchange fitful attempts at sleep finally settling into a semi-conscious state that seems almost dreamlike.

I must have drifted off at some point, because the winds had died down and the windows were no longer rattling, greeted by the soft grey of the coming dawn I began to fill the coolers with whatever food could be salvaged from the fridge and freezer hoping the ice would hold us long enough for the power to come back. Its already getting warm and the day promises no escape from the heat and the unblinking sun that is Florida in the summer. I’m already missing my morning coffee and the prospect for a cold glass of ice tea is pretty bleak. Soon the calls and text messages will come in earnest from those scattered all over the country waiting to hear that all are safe, the check-in with local family, friends and neighbors will follow shortly after. It may take days or even weeks for some to return to normal – air conditioning, carefully manicured yards, the erasure of impending anxiety – but the experience can’t be expunged – the greater understanding of how truly insignificant and powerless we are as mother nature decides our fate with no concern for our opinion or preparation…