Three times in the last week someone has approached me and tried to sell me something illegal. The first — a young man with dark complexion and a nervous hitch in his game — tried to make small talk with me as I walked by him with my dog. He was standing around outside of a bar and pretending to be in the middle of a phone call. The local police precinct is a decent line-drive away from the very spot where he stood.
“Yo, is that a pitbull?”
“I don’t like pitbulls – they’s killers and shit. Yo, you wanna buy some weed?”
“I got dimes. It’s pretty good.”
“No thanks. Not looking to buy. You know this is a bad spot, right? The precinct is right over there.”
“You a cop?”
“No. Are you?”
“Fuck no. Everyone smokes weed, son. I gotta get rid of these dimes. I’ll give you two for $15.”
“No thanks, man. Good luck.”
Weed Guy looks me up and down and then walks in the direction of the precinct. Me and the dog go the opposite way. I had never seen him before and I have not seen him since.
I’ve never been really good with the whole idea of “family” in any way. I am just not someone who is wired for any of the stuff that goes along with the word. At times I find myself thinking that maybe if I just tried a little bit harder or if I spent more time observing the way other families work I would get it in some way, but it just doesn’t click into place properly for me.
That entire paragraph is a lie.
The second person who tried to sell me something illegal was a homeless-looking dude in the McDonalds at the corner of Greenpoint and Manhattan Aves. I was walking by and decided in that very moment that eating a Quarter Pounder with cheese would totally make my sauntering down the block way more enjoyable for me. As usual, there were fifteen people in line and only two people working. The entire seating area in the restaurant was full of immigrant Poles sitting around and talking in their native tongue.
As a former drug user, I am well aware that the Golden Arches are also a YOU CAN SCORE DRUGS HERE beacon. As a former drug user who has been on the straight and narrow for a while now, I try to redact that knowledge from my head and just buy whatever awful foodstuffs I am there for and not think about anything other than “get in, get out.”
Junkies are interesting critters. They will study you for a few short moments, make an assumption/judgment based on their innate understanding of you as a whole person from that short period of time, and then pounce on you using that assumption/judgment as an avenue to create a discourse that will either lead to them selling you drugs or them begging you to tell them where they can get drugs. If you doubt me, please do spend some time in your local McDonalds. You’ll see.
I’m not sure if it was because I had pushed the sleeves on my hoodie up to my elbows, but the gentleman who was suddenly standing to my right as I was standing in line waiting to have my order taken took a look at my tattoos and bullied his way into conversing with me. Either I was already daydreaming about walking down the street with that burger being shoved in my maw or I had smoked too many cigarettes already that morning, because I should have been able to sniff him out when he was still a shadow in my peripheral vision.
“That’s some sweet ink, my man. You didn’t get none of that shit around here, did you?”
“I mean, you can’t get good work like that done around here at all. I don’t have any, but I seen plenty to know you spent a lot of money on them shits.”
“It’s not a cheap hobby.”
“Speaking of hobbies – you lookin’ to buy, man? I got brown. Small pieces.”
“You think you could help a brother out and maybe buy me a cheeseburger or a cup of coffee or something? I’m real hungry. Hard out here, bro.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Let me just place my order, alright?”
“Alright, cool. Thanks, man.”
I figure this will get him to ease off my shoulder and move back to wherever he was simmering – the promise of things to come. The young woman working the register asks if she can help me and I move to where she is and place my order for the burger I want to eat while walking down the street. I also try to order a cheeseburger for homeboy, but as soon as the words start to come out of my mouth he is standing next to me again, his stink so overwhelming that the counter girl puts her hand over her mouth and steps back away from the counter.
“Man, you think you could just spot me the money for the food? I don’t mean to be a bother, I swear. Times are just tough.”
“No. I’ll buy you a burger. Please just go sit down and I’ll bring it over to you.”
“I just really need that money, bro. C’mon?”
“Do it my way or get nothing. You decide.”
Mr. Brown shuffles off to a table near the door and starts chewing on his fingers. The girl behind the counter hands me a bag with my delicious burger and the one I ordered for Mr. Brown. I walk over to where he is sitting and I just put it on the table without making any kind of eye contact and walk out the door.
I saw him again this morning, asleep at a bus stop.
My parents are “buried” thousands of miles away from where I sit as I write this. My mother is interned in a very beautiful Zen garden type of area in a cemetery in San Diego. I have visited her three times since she passed away in 1996. This is something I sometimes struggle with, even though my adult brain is more than capable of parsing what “it” is. My father’s ashes are buried in a very small cemetery in the very small town of Melissa, Texas. He is interned next to the remains of the stillborn daughter of the woman he married. I have not visited him. I did hold the box that contained his ashes in my hands for the last time in the parking lot of the crematorium. I wanted to speak to his ashes but the woman he married and her son were standing right there in front of me with glassy eyes and trembling hands, so I said things to my father’s ashes in my head.
I sometimes feel as though there is no reason at all for me to think about where the remains of my parents are. I do the very best that I can to try not to think about it, to try not to think about what an awful and terrible son I am for not calling, for not writing or visiting. I try to delude myself with oddball logic like, they are with me in my DNA so traveling across the country to sit and stare at a marker and feel the things I feel all the fucking time is a silly exercise and not very frugal. There are moments when I want to steal a car and just rocket out west and sit in front of the markers and cry and yell and hiss at people for staring at me. I try to let those moments pass. I try to allow myself the room to have those moments and then I try to allow myself to move on.
They are only my parents in my memories and in my dreams.
The third person who tried to sell me something illegal was an employee for the gas company. He rang my bell and told me that my bill was past due and he had come to collect or they were going to turn off my gas. The bill was relatively small, so I paid him with cash I had on me. When he saw me pull money out of my pocket he then pulled an iPhone out of his coat pocket and offered to sell it to me for cheap. I did not buy the stolen iPhone.
Grief is probably the most unpredictable of human reactions. It’s like dusted weed –- you think you’re doing fine and then all of a sudden you are on the floor in the kitchen because the tile is cold and feels good on your face and offsets the heat in your tears and there is only one window in the kitchen and you know that nobody can see you if you hunker down real low-like.
Because of their proximity to important dates on the calendar, my parents’ deaths are like magnetic poles: my mother on Mother’s Day, and my father on my birthday. They come close to splitting the year evenly, which means I come close to splitting myself evenly. Oddly, as time has gone on it has become easier for me to accept my mother’s death — of course I get sad and feel her loss when I see others buying flowers for their mother in May, but it isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be. I am able to cope and put on a mask and act as if everyone loving on their mother doesn’t make me pine for my own. Plenty of practice at that, yes. What is surprising to me is how much I feel her loss piggybacking on how much I feel the loss of my father as my birthday approaches each year.
The last week or so I keep on finding myself reading and rereading The Four Noble Truths and spending time curled up inside of my own head trying to pound that wisdom into dust that can move around inside of my blood and keep me from wanting to jump off the roof. I keep on seeing their ghosts in my eyes in my reflection. I keep on wishing there was a phone number I could call so that I could hear them tell me things. I wouldn’t even mind if there was a recording somewhere of some of my worst moments, just so I could hear them talk to me again.
I understand this is a cycle. I understand this is all a part of a bigger motion, my own aging and facing the inevitability of my own mortality. I get it, I do.
I am not the best friend someone could have. I do the best that I can, but there are things that people go through that I am just not very adept at dealing with. I don’t handle dramatics very well. I’m not very empathetic when it comes to someone being upset about something they could have easily avoided had they really looked into themselves before making a poor choice. I’m a decent listener, but my filter is always off because I try not to have one for myself and reminding myself to put it in place when listening to someone vent is hard to remember. I have deluded myself into thinking I am patient, but I am not. I have also deluded myself into thinking that I can surf, which isn’t true. I cannot surf.
I am sometimes the type of monster who will sit and watch someone tread water for whole lifetimes because that is far easier than saying the one true thing which is “I don’t really care about your problem in the way you want/need me to.” I have deluded myself into thinking that by being this way I am helping people untie their own knots and they can find their own way to the surface and they can heal themselves. This is a brick wall that I have put in place to keep myself from pushing myself out into traffic. This is a self-defense mechanism that has kept me not only alive, but alive and looking forward as much as possible so that I may see what is coming for me and be prepared for that. The problem within that construct is that I always feel alone. I feel alone because I make myself alone. I make myself alone because alone is safe.
There are things that I am supposed to be doing and I keep on making excuses and conflicts out of nothing to make sure I am not doing them. This is called self-sabotage and it is my albatross. I try very hard to work hard and be a better person, but you can have all the self-knowledge in the world at your disposal and if you are wired like I am you will still find a way to fuck off and make excuses and not do the things you worked so hard to be lucky enough to do. You can put on masks and dance for people and follow through on things that you think other people want you to do, but the reality is that you will at some point [hopefully] understand what it is that you want to do and you have to stay focused and get that shit done. I try to remind myself every day that I am lucky and blessed and that I have worked very hard and all of these good things are things I deserve and that I need to be thankful and dutiful and do the things I am supposed to be doing, but then there is that tiny voice that starts inside of my belly and works its way into the front of my brain and it is always saying I don’t deserve shit and then I back down and go sit on the couch and stare at my dog and cry.
This is what is going on.
Tonight when I was walking my dog we came upon a very drunk homeless man who was crouched between two parked cars and shitting on the street. Sometimes I am amazed that I got off the streets and I am living the life I am living now. Sometimes I am amazed that I survived that part of my life. Sometimes I wonder if I really did.
I never felt like I fit with my family. For the most part, they are all gregarious and smart people who are overflowing with love and kindness. I tried, when I moved back to New York, to build those relationships. I tried to connect and become a part of a larger whole. There was always this thing inside of me that felt as though I had been abandoned by them when we moved out west. I knew that wasn’t the truth — my mother is the one who broke off a lot of the interaction and controlled the communication. She had her reasons. She had her demons. Now I have my own reasons. Now I have my own demons. All of the elders I actually looked to for guidance and understanding are gone.
This is not a blues song, this is just my truth.
Earlier tonight while I was standing in the kitchen washing the dishes, I made myself a promise. Well — maybe not so much a promise as much as I made a deal with myself.
I am going to be honorable.
I am going to put my head down and do the work.
I am going to be a better person.