I’m telling you right now, I never pretended to be a grown-up. Just so we’re clear.
From some secret e-mails and comments I received yesterday, I get the impression that I’m not the only one having trouble with friends. The difference is that I will stop at nothing to embarrass myself publicly by airing such immature, gaudy-colored laundry on my proverbial clothesline. But if you can live vicariously through my humiliation, it’s all worth it. After all, I have this candid, ugly-truth-telling reputation to fulfill.
I’m like that spoiled little princess who can’t sleep when there’s a pea under her pile of mattresses. I tongue the tooth-ache, pick the scab. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Okay, you get it.
I told Bearbait yesterday that I’m dreading tonight. I’ve been asked again to “tell my story” at an AA meeting, a meeting with a special focus on those with HIV. It’s a rather small meeting, maybe 20 people, and my very very close friend goes there every week, as I do. Of course, he’s HIV-negative, which isn’t the issue at all. The issue for me is that I’m pissed at him but I want to appear calm, wise, and super-well-adjusted. I want to sound, at the end of my story, like I have all my shit together and that I am a sparkling pool of serenity and inner-peace. Which I’m not.
My very very close friend was so crucial to my success in early sobriety, and I usually mention this when I tell my story. But guess what? I don’t want to mention that tonight. Because I’m pissed. Because he’s playing a game and I hate games. And because even in the structure of the game he is breaking his own rules. Not that I’m playing the game. I’m not, I tell you, I’m not!
Isn’t that silly? Don’t you just want to pat me on the head and tell me “awww, that’s a cute DogPoet. Evwything is gonna be alwight. Now go take a nap.”
When I tell my story I usually talk about what’s going on in my life now. You know, the joys and the challenges. I can’t really talk about the challenges tonight, without sounding bitter and vindictive and passive-aggressive. Not that I would ever be any of those. Not me.
Actually, I think that testing positive was a milestone in more ways than one. At the time, my mother was still alive; it was another 7 months before she died. When I was actively using drugs and alcohol I often gave her tearful confessions, trying to elicit as much sympathy as possible in the hopes that revealing all of my problems would somehow explain and excuse the mess I was making of my life. When she was diagnosed with ALS I tried to get sober, mostly on my own. It would be another year before I became demoralized enough to slink into an AA meeting and ask for help.
I look back and wince at the spectacle I made of myself during that year. It was my way of seeking help, I suppose. But I was blind to the effect such confessions had on my mother, until her partner became exasperated and wrote me a very terse e-mail asking me to keep my confessions to myself, because my mother would get so upset that she couldn’t sleep at night. I still remember filling with hot shame as I read that e-mail. “Fuck.” I thought, “I am such a fucking loser.”
But I was also angry. If I couldn’t tell my mother the truth, who could I tell? Although she would live for another two years, I lost my mother in stages. I lost my confidante, and I lost my parent. She became, slowly, someone who needed my care. I lost my mother’s voice when the muscles that controlled her speech stopped working. The dementia wore away her sharp intellect. Her written sentences became shorter, and after many months, nearly incomprehensible. She’d get one word stuck in her head and she’d write it over and over. No amount of questions or gentle prodding could push her from that stuck spot. The woman who was my mother was changed beyond recognition, but she was still my mother, and she still needed us. And even at the end she was, at her core, the same generous, warm, funny soul she had always been. She gave everyone hugs, several a day. If you happened to glance her way she’d raise her arms and you’d lean over her in bed, wrap your own arms delicately around her, and accept her hug.
Man, I miss her.
At six months of sobriety I broke up with my partner of five + years, and I didn’t tell her. At nine months of sobriety I tested positive, and I didn’t tell anyone in my family. For once I could see that sometimes the truth hurts more than it helps. I finally had enough sense to see that I needed other confidants during that time.
And my very very close friend was my confidante, and I miss him very much right now. Oh, I know we’ll be okay. Enough time will pass and this will look in retrospect like the tiny bump in the road that it is.
Funny, I started out writing about him and I ended up writing about her. Who knows what it is; her birthday on December 21st, or this being the first Christmas without her. There’s nothing quite like losing your mother. In many ways the world becomes a colder place, but without her I’ve had to grow up. I’ve had to make my own family, with a rag tag bunch of queers and alcoholics. Like any family they sometimes drive me nuts. But I need them, I love them, I can’t get by without them.