It’s an absolute certainty that if you’re in recovery long enough, you’ll start to internalize the concept of taking things a day at a time, and you’ll begin to realize what it means to plan your plans without planning the outcome. The past eight months since Jack’s death have taught me many lessons along those lines, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been significant bumps in the road.
Bump one came when Johnny, Jack’s friend since childhood, died an alcoholic death. Going to that funeral and memorial service jostled something loose in me that had been rattling around since Jack’s wake, though I can’t say what or how. It was just difficult, being around so many people who loved an alcoholic so much and yet lost him anyhow. It reminded me too much of how much I still missed Jack, and losing someone so closely aligned with him was a double whammy.
Bump two came when I was on vacation on Fire Island, when one of the mainstays of the halfway house where I attend meetings died suddenly of a stroke. One moment he was eating lunch with a friend, the next he was dead, in the middle of a restaurant. I considered coming home for the funeral, but the logistics didn’t work out. Terry, though, was someone who had been a pillar of strength for me, not only when Jack died but also through the multiple relapses and my decision to walk away. It wasn’t so terrible, though, until I came home and saw his widow. She was just absolutely wrecked and devastated, and it brought me back to the days and weeks after Jack’s death. Her 13-year marriage is hardly the same as my romance with Jack… and yet I had a vague understanding that what she was going through was/is something that no one will be able to help her through, not really. She will have companions but, largely, she is the only one who carries the hopes and dreams and intimacies she had with and about her husband.
Bump three was tonight, when I was at a meeting and there was an announcement that another friend of Jack’s — a man who had long-term sobriety but then lost it and struggled desperately to regain what he’d had — died this morning. He was found dead in a SRO residence, another victim of alcoholism. When it was announced, I involuntarily said, “Oh, shit!” quite loudly, embarrassing myself. But it was a reflex, an instantaneous thing over which I had little control. And I was shaken. Still am shaken. It’s just too much death.
I know I’m not supposed to think too far ahead, but lately I’ve had to think about what I want my life to look like six months from now, five years from now, fifteen years down the road. I can’t bear to think that my life will always be the way it is today — unemployed, on the verge of homelessness, no jobs in sight. Indeed, it can’t stay this way forever, given that there’s a limit to the generosity upon which I base my existence (unemployment income, food banks, etc.). But beyond that, this existential crisis simply cannot go on forever. There has to be a point at which I feel and truly believe that life has a purpose, and a happy one at that. There has to be some time when I don’t feel overwhelmed by the pressures and the burdens and the deaths and the multitude of losses. Because, if there isn’t, then what’s the point?
Lately I’ve been reading books set in, or about, or tangentially related to New York City. It is a fact that I will one day live there — unless I die before B. turns 16 or so, and I refuse to believe that will happen — and doing this allows me to feel a connection without being there. I can consider history and narrative and neighborhoods and culture and a thousand other things about the city and, yet, still live in today. I have become a master of dealing with things a day at a time, but in order to do this, I desperately need a light at the end of my tunnels. NYC is that light for me, which may be why I need to visit there so frequently. Maybe in doing this, I’m planning the outcome too much. I don’t think so, though — I am planning the plan (moving there), and leaving it up to my faith in the universe that my life will unfold in a way that makes that work. I think.
In any case, it’s a sad night tonight. I’ve grown tired of going to that halfway house for meetings, largely because it’s such a vivid reminder of the things I’ve lost rather than reassurance of how much I’ve gained (as it once was). That may change over time, and I do keep going back there despite my misgivings. I suppose it’s because those are the people who know me best, who’ve seen what I’ve overcome, not just by getting sober but since then as well. They are Jack’s people, which is okay most of the time, but they are also people who struggle and get old and — often, it seems — die, sometimes sober, sometimes not. Really, it’s just life, a day at a time. And I can make the plans to foster friendships and grow close to people — the alternative is ridiculous, really — while taking it on faith that I’ll get through the night if I lose them.
This is what I need to remember over the next few days, as I go to yet another wake and yet another funeral: death is the risk we take for living life fearlessly. And one among many lessons I’ve learned from losing Jack is that the possibility of losing people should make us love them more, not shy away from what’s standing right in front of our faces.