On October 1, 2000, it was too much again. Too much of fill-in-the-blank fear; hopelessness, loneliness, alienation. Another three weeks of white-knuckled sobriety doomed from the beginning by my need to do it all myself. A desk drawer full of phone numbers that I never opened; well-meaning business cards from well-meaning strangers whose faces I could never connect to their names. My partner at the time out of town, an empty apartment filling with my need to breathe again, my need to gasp out loud and just give in, just fucking give up.
My dealer with the borderline psychosis had crossed his line and fled the city, back to the Midwest. So I did what I had done so many times before; I logged on. The boys these days make it easy for you: party has a whole new meaning. Party and play; alliteration and an image like a high school gymnasium strung with crepe paper and balloons. Yeah, let’s play. Typed the words into the search machine; party, PNP, tina. A list of like-minded men scrolled down the screen. Click, scan, click. Their stats mattered less on nights like that; just find someone generous enough, someone who’ll share.
His house on a hill above the Castro; shallow thrill breathing on the ride there; here we go here we go, yeah let’s get lost. He answers the door and maybe he’s alone or maybe he’ll surprise you with another boy, another one needing to breathe. Maybe his monitor is glowing in the dark; maybe your picture’s still up on the screen. Or maybe the room’s lit blue from the television; flesh bending and thrusting mutely so the circuit CD can synchronize to your heartbeat. A glass pipe or tinfoil and a bic; please thank you; suck in that nasty chemical cloud, that bitter drip at the back of your throat, the one you’ve grown to love.
The blood pumps and you can breathe now, you can laugh and be bigger than you are, you can wrap around him, flesh bending, get lost in him on a bed in a dark house. Get lost but come back quick, come back for more, over and over; the flick and the spark and the flame and the smoke and the suck and the hold and the blow, again and again. Heart pumping faster than the music, vision blurring at the edge, roll with him and dive down into it, running from the dread.
They’re always done before you; they lay still and disappear and you don’t want to end but the edges of dawn push through the blinds and you’ve fucked it up again. A new day dawns and you’re back where you began, no, further back; three steps, ten steps back. The blue screen of flesh contorting endlessly, pulling you back, keeping you up. Creep out into the street, light too bright. Hurry, hurry, run home. A bottle from the corner store; a morning drop to dull the edge, two blue pills to wash down and a call to work; sick again.
On October 2, 2000, I pulled the baseball cap down low over my face and went back to that flourescent-lit basement. Still the good little boy, showing up to make coffee for the group, can’t let ’em down. As they trickled in I kept my eyes to the floor, setting up the sugar and tea, arranging towers of paper cups, nodding at their greetings.
But Lee looked me in the eye. Lee asked “How are you?” and it was all over me; in my eyes, on my face; the sickness and the dread and in that second I finally gave up.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I told him, and I cried in spite of myself.
It was Lee who pulled Bearbait aside, it was Lee who said can you help Michael, it was Lee, my spiritual cupid, who gave me my sponsor, and though Lee later disappeared, I stuck around.
I called my sponsor and listened to his voice, and though I could not tell you what he said, it was how he said it that cracked through the wall; his voice a hand I grasped tight.
And when I couldn’t breathe I called him instead, and he showed me how to breathe differently, and how to be helped. I gave up and he pulled me into the raft. And here I’ve been; sometimes better, sometimes laughing. Around me are others who’ve shown me how. And some of them leave, but some of them stay. And you’re there, and we tell each other stories; through the day, through the night, and there’s no room here for fear.
“I finally became a man
singing among the flames, accepted
by friends who find their place in the night,
who sang with me in the taverns,
and who gave me more than a single kindness,
something they had defended with their fighting hands,
which was more than a spring,
a fire unknown elsewhere, the natural foliage
of the places slowly falling down at the city’s edge.”
Happy Birthday to me.