The needle slipped in so easily
And created a profound change.
I was sickened first from the hepatitis my patient transferred to me
But there was more.
A madness that turned me from normal
To having long periods where no rest could be found
Despite the narcotics, the barbs, the benzos.
My unwanted companions for 13 long years.
And between the hyperactivity,
Bone-crushing depression for which I sought help
From amphetamines, cocaine, meth.
Over that decade plus,
I treated myself, a fool for a patient,
Having more and more trouble
Modulating these foreign moods
Which had become commonplace and routine.
4 marriages, 3 divorces,
Another marriage on the rocks.
And becoming habituated to my chemical compounds
At one time thought of as friends but now enemies.
It was this fourth marriage on the skids
And my separation from my son that wore me out finally.
I chose the barbs as my exit tool.
Lying there conscious of the fact that I needed to remember to breathe.
Somehow a friend I had known from years’ back
Just happened to show up,
Just happened to find me in a stupor,
Just happened to act rapidly to call 911,
Just happened to.
I was comfortably numb during the resuscitation,
I really have no recall until I was transferred to Rehab
For detox and a 30-day drug and alcohol program.
After detox I was diagnosed…
Bipolar 2 was the name they gave me.
“And, oh, by the way, you have AIDS, too.”
I recall the perfunctory way the doc
Just slipped that test result in front of my face
And said only, “Don’t do any more drugs.”
Not noticing how dumbstruck I was
Offering no compassion.
Perhaps he knew the relationship of AIDS to Bipolar?
But I uncovered it and thought back to 1977.
That gave me insight.
Whenever I’m sick
It’s best for me to create a mental picture of my illness.
So now I had one.
A link back to that patient in 1977
The one with dementia
And weight loss
And cryptococcal meningitis
After all those years I had, unknowingly,
Made one of the very first AIDS diagnoses.
A dis-ease I had given myself!
Despite tremendous personal, financial and professional issues,
Despite the cognitive impairment that went with that diagnosis,
Despite the endless array of varying combination of pills and potions,
I aligned myself with the BEST practitioners I could find.
I followed treatment plans to the very letter.
I enrolled in experimental protocols.
I struggled to survive
Not one, not two, but three
After 25 years, it finally paid off.
The lynchpin was dumping the “drug of choice”
And starting an atypical and two antidepressants-
An SSRI and SSNI.
I suddenly became calm
And normal like I hadn’t been since before the fateful day
Back in 1977.
It was almost as dramatic as flipping a light switch
And flooding an unfamiliar room with light.
To see the unseen for those thirty plus years.
To be back in my own skin again.
To achieve normalcy.
After those eighteen years of work
The rubrics cube of me was finally aligned correctly.
Today, I’ve been in the same relationship for over a decade.
Today, I’m residing at the same place for fourteen years.
Today, I’m an effective father and spouse.
Today, I have personal responsibility for myself
And my remission.
Today, I engage in activities that are congruent with my nature,
Which is that of an intelligent, empathetic, resourceful person,
Able to deal effectively with life on life’s terms
And share my successes with those who would have them.
Recovery IS possible
As long as one has the capacity to work hard
And their healthcare team
IF I could do it
That means it IS possible
Like anything of value
It requires effort
And, I’d guess, a bit of luck.
I was on my way
To a place I grew up in.
I knew I was on the right road-
The big mountain was right where it was supposed to be…
The Brothers had lost most of their snow-pack
In the waning throes of that summer day.
But…the spidery cranes and laborers
Carrying sheet rock to and fro,
The skeletal web of girders and concrete
Everywhere I looked…
Not a familiar sight at all.
The bookstore now a high rise…very disorienting.
Gone was the PETCO
Where Ms. Kiddy had her nails done.
Gone was the old tavern
Where we’d drink and sing karaoke
And brunch together on Sundays.
Was this actually the right place?
It was so
All over the city…
Places I’d visited many times…Gone.
Yet, in the midst of all that change,
There it was…Easy Street.
The familiar breakfast,
The records now replaced with CDs.
But Paul was there, and Alice, and Scott;
Teresa even made a cameo.
The same but different.
In the midst of change,
We ate, we talked…
Even went by the old house, still there.
Just like clockwork…
The winter has begun.
Bumbershoot is over, winter’s upon us.
Oh, we may have a few more decent days
Of Indian summer
But winter’s coming.
So, there’s a real strong marine push today.
And here we were, Felon, my dog, and I
Walking down to the alley
And coming towards us
A guy I knew from my brief stint in the 76 store
This guy used to visit frequently
During a shift – say 12 hours and 2 or 3 visits –
And always make the same buy,
The fortified beer…one can…in a bag
Perhaps he needed that to be healthy
Which he always appeared to be.
I knew him from the church,
Ozanam House for the Chronically Homeless.
He had a nice warm bed and three wholesome meals a day.
I wondered if he didn’t actually need that frequent drink
To keep the ship aright
But that would be another story.
So…me, Felon one way, this man the other in the alley…
And it was the first time I ever saw his feet.
(The counter obscured view from the waist up when we’d interact at the mart)
And as we came slower towards each other,
He and Fel lock eyes…you see, they were buddies.
Fel loped his happy dance toward him and both sets of eyes brightened.
He had to re-ask Fel’s name, and each time he chuckles when I say “Felon”
“Like a criminal”, just to translate
He always says, “Oh, he’s not a criminal!”, with a great big smile.
And, not sure how he comes ready with pepperoni stick in pocket,
But he does, every…well almost every…time
Today, tho, I saw his feet…first time…
He had a Reebok on his right foot
And a Rockport on the left..
And while he and Felon were exchanging hugs and kisses,
I longed to get the “story” of that mismatch.
“Business on the left, party on the right” came to mind
An old comedy routine
At it’s inception a sociological statement about a type of haircut,
But topical here, it seemed.
And, of course, me, the storyteller reached inside to my things…
How I became “branded”.
And here’s the one I made up here…
Once upon a time…
And the story was about this man,
Living on $756.00 a month plus food stamps.
He has shelter but this costs him dearly
Fifty-six bucks left,
At about $7 a can,
He needs that extra cash from his pension
To stave off those infernal shakes.
And, so, shoes take a different place in his life. Amen
Whew! He’ll just make it! On the beers.
They walked along together,
Or I should say he walked…the dog lingered
In areas where the scents were just too intriguing.
And the sun-kissed morning that was so pleasant
Beckoned the dog to dawdle.
“C’mon, C’mon, boy!”, he would exhort.
The dog heard but did not listen,
Digging in all the more.
“You’re dilly-dallying. C’mon!”
He’d keep exhorting the dog.
“Let’s go! Let’s go home!”
This spot, that pole, a bush, wet with urine…
All of these beckoned the dog,
Too precious to pass by.
Carrying too much dog information to gloss over.
“I’ve got a bag of shit in my hand!”
He said, falling on deaf ears.
The dog added his organics to a post
That, from the look of it,
Was a favorite of dogs who’d passed by earlier.
Sort of like the dog would hit “Like”
On a Facebook post he’d fancied, if that was a thing for dogs.
He pulled, he tugged.
Finally, as accorded by the dog’s schedule,
The dog lumbered on beside his master, home.
There we were, all together again.
Some there we had not seen for decades.
There was still a recognition,
But the gray hair, the bent postures,
The weight gain, the heavy jowls…
But when we were all together,
On that glorious Summer evening
Backyard bar-b-q, drinks, dinner conversation,
That’s when the magic happened.
We were suddenly transported back in time!
It was 1978 all over again.
The house on Puget Sound.
The upstairs apartment in the subdivided house.
Alice in her Bo Peep costume
And Alpha, the unshorn poodle, her sheep.
Or the big house at 3708 41st Ave SW
Full of people in that wonderful kitchen.
Drinks in hand, passing the pipe.
Speakers blaring and Da Fish
Spinning the tunes.
Or the double-wide in Rochester,
The place where everybody was told
To just drive down the pock-marked dirt road
Until they were sure they were lost,
And then go 100 ft farther and they were there.
Or on the island with a pirate, a rainbow, Peter Pan…
Standing in the room next to the big loom.
Venturing out to the Sound
Whose depth we knew was deep
But a ways out toward Southworth.
There, in the backyard on Belvidere
It was like time travel.
The decades melted away completely.
We were right back where we had been
The last time we were together.
That seems to me to be the magic
Of good friendships.
That time machine of feelings.
And we were certainly good friends, that.
All growing while not changing one bit.
And, still, as tight-knit as we were,
There was room for new husbands,
Assimilation and elevation to full status
So that, next time, these newcomers would be old friends, too.
Many people get confused by topics of Divine Grace and Mercy.
Whenever I am confused
(Which is often…)
I re-read the eighth chapter of the Gospel of St. John
(Who the Mormons believe was actually alive when Joseph Smith had his revelation…interesting fact?)
It’s the story of the woman who was caught in adultery.
Many of us have heard the story…
“Let those among you who are without sin
Cast the first stone…”
Is the famous line we may be familiar with.
So, OK…that line has almost been turned into a cliché
Which is a bit dangerous
As it doesn’t allow
An “unpacking” of the truer and deeper
Meaning within the story, as I see it.
So, allow me to unpack it in my way.
As Christians, we’re asked to believe that
Jesus was consubstantial
With God, right?
Let’s start with that premise.
In our day and age,
Adultery is kind of tacitly accepted
As an ugly fact of our modern lives.
But what about those men standing there
With their stones in hand?
What was adultery like to them?
It was on the top ten list
Of things NOT to do.
Along with killing, covetousness, not honoring one’s parents…
And the Law that Moses says he got from God punishes all those by death.
So, that rabble,
Standing, waiting on the edges of the pit
Staring down upon the woman caught in adultery
Were as incensed as we were
About Bundy, McVeigh, Tsarnaev. So, hold that thought for a moment…
Adultery was that big a deal.
Maybe even more, as, in that era, women did not enjoy the same position
In society as men did…
So…a dirty, rotten, inexcusable sinner…AND a woman.
There they were, in that frame of mind.
Jesus, consubstantial with the Father that made all those rules
As well as the punishment
Associated with this infraction,
Taught this lesson…
“Let those among you who are without sin
Cast the first stone…”
And then, after shaming every man there
Poised to hurl their deadly rocks…
Well, they all left, one-by-one, eldest first.
But there was still one more lesson to teach.
After everyone had left
Leaving only this gravely sinful woman and this consubstantial man
He asks, “Where is everyone? Isn’t anyone left to accuse you?”
“No sir,” says this Bundy, McVeigh, Tsarnaev-like creature.
Then this man, consubstantial with God…
Says, “I am not going to accuse you either.
You may go. But, don’t sin anymore.”
The consubstantial being to the One who made the “rules”
And, according to Moses, the punishments,
That entity just up and forgave her?
Is this how it’s supposed to work?
Is this, then, the lesson?
It seems pretty clear to me. I wonder what so many are missing?
I sat with the example in front of me
And studied it.
With a bit of trepidation I began.
“A” and “a”, I wrote,
Carefully copying from the example.
It looked OK. Pleased, I felt my confidence growing.
After all, I was only in first grade – cursive wasn’t on the curriculum until second.
But I had always been precocious – I could read Ferdinand the Bull at age 3.
I went to “B”…then “C” and on,
Copying capital and lower case.
By the time I got to “T”, I was on a tear, copying letters with ease.
After I finished, I surveyed my work. It was lovely.
I was so proud.
Since I loved critique –
Actually praise –
I immediately decided to show my work to Mrs. Renzema,
My first grade teacher.
She had been with me since kindergarten – we didn’t even move classrooms.
Just a pack of five and six-year olds
Crammed into the same room.
I boldly went up to show her,
Fully expecting her to lavish praise on me.
What I got instead was a scolding!
“Rickey, this isn’t first grade work!
You must not do that!”
I was crestfallen. And confused.
Here I had excelled past my level,
And all I received was chiding.
This had NEVER happened to me before!
I had come to expect praise for advanced work.
I wasn’t quite sure how to process this.