Saturday, March 29, 2008

You Were a Photograph


Last Thursday:
He stood tall, and proud, while he waited for the traffic light to change, to cross the street, and he crossed the insanely busy intersection of Irving Park, Damen, and Lincoln with not nearly the same amount of foreboding I do. His eyes darted a bit, but his face portrayed that of a man who has calmly looked into the eyes of death and said not today, but if I have to tomorrow, I'm ready.
I fucking hate crossing that intersection.
I know when I cross the street there, I tend to convey a look, to the drivers coming toward me, of someone who would undoubtly use the last of their strength, if I were to be hit, to drag them out of their car and erase their face with the pavement. I know I would scare myself if I were to ever see that picture of my face, so I make a conscious effort to minimize the daggers shooting out of my eyes.
The death of the traffic-disobeying bicyclist a few weeks ago, at that same intersection, doesn't help matters much.
The tall and proud guy walked to the bus stop where I was waiting, to catch the same bus I wanted. He reminded me a bit of the Daniel Day Lewis character in In the Name of the Father, who, while decked out in the hottest 1970's duds, pathetically exposed his involvement in a crime he got paid well to do, by walking down the gloomy, dirt poor street he lived on, in said duds.
This guy's clothing was as close as you could get to a 2008 version of a super-cool 1973 outfit, right down to his perfect Bay City Rollers haircut. He looked adorable.
I read no irony on his face, no pride, nor contempt to the less fashionable around him, just a sense that he enjoyed this role he played on the bus this day.
Being a lover of fashion, I try my best to keep up on the trends, but I realised, looking at this guy, I hadn't been paying attention to the fashion world very much lately, because he was that convinced his outfit was right.
I decided there could be no irony on his face, because he wasn't born til the mid eighties, and he hadn't lived the 70's fashion like I had, and I was looking at him now how I'm sure people my age did when I was 20, when I wore my 1960's duds.
We both rose at the same time, to get off at Sheridan Road, and then I saw his hand.
Wow, he has white skin. I thought to myself. There is a rash of doughy looking guys on the bus today. This is the third guy I've seen with skin that looks like it's just been kneaded and floured and is waiting for the oven.
Wait, no, that's not skin. He has an artificial arm.
I saw nothing in his bearing or expression that broadcast his artificial limb. I was dumbfounded. Could I ever move about the world the way this guy did? Minus one arm, but with total confidence and humility? I doubted it. I doubted it because I was getting ready to have a long and dragged out pity party for myself, because of finding out that morning I have to wear glasses, because I'm middle aged.
Now I have to cancel the party.

In early 1989, I lost it. I mean really lost it. I went with B to Jim and Christine's new apartment on Sheridan, by the El stop, to hang one Saturday night. I've been seeing that stop a lot lately, because I've been taking the train to work again. I wonder, how many times I will have to pass that stop without traveling through a time tunnel?
I always found it odd that Sheffield becomes Sheridan Road by the train stop. Right by that other strange street, Alta Vista Terrace, which looks like a little piece of London dropped into Lakeview. That part of Chicago holds many ghosts for me, and I cannot think of that area without picturing it cold and rainy. In those dark and gloomy little apartment buildings, I spent many nights wasting time til the sun came up, with friends and enemies, often times, but not always, hating every moment.

I spent a lot of time in that neighborhood back then, but I was afraid to take the train from that stop. I still did it, Look at me! I'm tough! but I was sure I would be murdered before the train arrived.
B and I spent many nights with Jim and Christine, at their various apartments, but this night I couldn't take it any more. I couldn't take their stupid drug talk. Someone brought up H, wishing they had some, or just wanting some, and someone else chimed in agreement, and this went back and forth for a few minutes, til I flipped out.
"Are you fucking nuts! Bob just died! B is still a wreck because of it! He fucking ODed! And you idiots want some? You're assholes!" I screamed at them til B dragged me out of the room.
"What are you doing here?" I screamed at him, as I tore myself away from him and stormed out the back door. I waited for him to come after me, which he did, and I told him if he didn't leave with me, not to come home. He didn't.

"B, let's go to NA. Or AA, or whatever A there is. I know they can help us. We can't stop this, B. Drugs have taken over our lives. Bob's dead, and look at us! We're worse off than we were before. We have to try and do something!" I said to B.
I couldn't believe the words that had started coming out of my mouth lately. I never talked about anything; I never told B or anyone how I really felt, but here I was doing it. Something took over me. Maybe it was my love for B, and wanting to stop his downward spiral. My subconscious knew I had to break out of my silence, and try to save his life.
I couldn't convince him to go to NA or AA for his problem. His. I didn't have a drug and alcohol problem. I was just broken. Fucked up. I wished I was an addict or alcoholic. Those seemed like an easy problems to solve. Mine were much more complicated than that. But I must say, it did feel right to ask him to go to NA or CA or AA with me, and I felt this feeling of 'exposing a truth' about myself to B. I told him I would go for him, hoping it would help me, too.
I couldn't convince him to go, because he heard the meetings were about God, and God forbid our lives became about God, because that is so much worse than what it was really about.
I did understand the heart of his argument: the homophobia that wears a 'God' mask, but I was used to seeing that mask, and felt I could go on pretending it wasn't there, if it meant I could be shown a way to live my life without drugs and alcohol.
But we didn't go. We never went. I did make a secret promise to myself, in 1989, that if I did any drugs ever again, I would get some help. I made that promise because I told Brad let's go to NA or CA or AA, not you need to go.

A few weeks later, I had to ask B to move out. I hated asking him to leave. I know he was at Jim and Christine's because of drugs, and I couldn't handle it any more. I knew if he didn't leave, neither of us would live to see 1990. He didn't put up much of a fight; he knew it would end badly if he didn't. He didn't even move into Jim and Chris's place; he moved to Milwaukee, with someone there he still kept in touch with. I asked him why he didn't move in with Jim, and he just looked at me with a look that said I'll die there, without saying a word.
This is about life and death. I said to him, without saying anything to him.

A playlist for those grey, gloomy days on the Northside, for the class of '84...


American Girl said...

My guess is that if you lost a limb, walking around un ashamedly like a Bay City Roller would be easy. Facing such a monumental loss must provide a person with a lot of perspective. Hell, look at the perspective you gained when you lost Bob. Sarah

Aaron said...

Does the perfect Bay City Rollers haircut mean he had one of those feathery mullets?? If so, it WOULD be hard to believe he kept a straight face...

I think after a while, the artificial limb probably becomes a fact of life and no longer anything to be self-conscious about...also, young folks are awfy resilient! They can adapt to "acquired handicaps" very quickly.

Wow, you had a lot of epiphanies in 1989! I just bought a Laurie Anderson album and some new sweaters...:-)

I think by making B. move out, along with what you told him earlier, you may have saved him...