My hair is black. I am 13. I get kicked out for wrecking my dad’s jeep. Hop on a bus to Holland Park. Eat LSD with my two first loves, Somer and Andy. Spend the day wading in the drainage ditch behind Loaf N’ Jug and dye my hair black.
Andy died when we were 25. After his funeral, I knew I wouldn’t go to another. I’m not designed for goodbyes. There have been 6 or 7 since. That I know of. One of the most recent was Joaquin. He got into a high-speed chase on the highway in Georgia. I made the mistake of reading the news comments. Things like, “good riddance, one more dirtbag off the street” and “at least he killed himself.” I want to hold his face and say, “I’m so sorry you ended like this.” Like Joyce used to hold my face and say, “Your addiction is over there In the corner. Do you see it? Its doing push-ups. Getting stronger and stronger every day.”
I guess her addiction was getting stronger every day too. I couldn’t miss her funeral though. Because she saved my life. For Joaquin and Andy we were all just kids. I know some of us got harder as we grew up and I got out. But, I still see them as we were at fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen.
This 13-year-old girl still lives inside of me. This girl wrecked cars and used her lunch money to buy pints of 90 proof peppermint schnapps because it was under $5.00 and she needed it more than she needed a meal. This girl watched her friend shoot dope in their grandparent’s basement. Smoked crack with 50 year-olds who looked like they were seconds away from a heart attack. She hitchhiked up and down HWY 115. She won the “sharpest tongue” award at an alternative school that tried to mandate she go to AA as a condition for enrollment. But they weren’t the boss of her. She slept with her bra on to record what might have, or what might not have, happened to her any particular night. Because this was more realistic than not drinking into blackout oblivion. Often with strange men old enough to buy her liquor.
Its 19 years sober today. I honor this younger self that made it and my loves that didn’t. Those still dying now.
Often I feel like I live in two worlds and I don’t fit into either. You can’t see the kinds of things I saw and not be impacted. Part of me knows others have seen worse and feels like I should be over it. But its all there whether worthy or not.
What I notice is it mattered that my parents had resources to help me when I asked for help. That my white privilege awarded me placement in rehab rather than juvie or worse.
What stuns me is my life. That I still live as fast and hard as I can because I should be dead. That I’m doing my life’s work in a community of radical misfits and it’s the closest to feeling at home.
What overwhelms me is my friendships. All of them. From those, I was lucky enough to collect at 13 to those I’ve collected in the last few months.
What shocks me is that I am trusted with any of it. That I can still wake up and decide, “no, not today” and it feels as vulnerable to live inside of this life as it did on February 18, 2000. I was seventeen.