My current literary love affair is with memoirs. I find myself utterly moved by the stories, experiences and words of other people – women specifically – who mirror some of my addictive behaviors or can teach me new perspectives through the wisdom of their own journeys. My newest infatuation is with a book called Whip Smart: The True Story of a Secret Life by Melissa Febos. In it, she describes her struggle of balancing school in New York City with a heroin and cocaine addiction, a pastime she pays for from the spoils of being a professional dominatrix. This story speaks to my own sexual fascinations and my own specific needs to numb which used to rule my life.
In one scene she describes walking from the subway to her next ‘session’ with a client. She has just come from her dealer and holds her next fix in her pocket. She walks past a common room at a dorm and sees students through the windows, studying, catching up for finals, socializing. What she says next sent a needle of recognition directly into my heart — ‘A part of me belonged there, and sometimes I could feel how I was killing it; I could feel its deprivation in me like a great, sucking wind, an inverted scream. A part of me wanted to be good, to believe that I inherently was, and that everything would be okay, in warm places without secrets or the endless craving that drove me outside at night to fill a hole that was never full. But my craving was real, not only for drugs but also for things that could only exist in the limitless world outside those cozy windows. I knew I’d have to quiet some other inconsolable part of myself to live in that safe world and wasn’t at all certain that I could, even if I’d wanted to.’
This resonates with me oh, so much. I can’t possibly count the number of times I’ve felt like a worthless, dirty junkie watching any number of cozy moments from the outside. I remember my days of drinking alongside an active alcoholic, feeling like the secret of his addiction would swallow me whole just as easily as he swallowed his beers. I remember watching him stumble, sip, chuckle, sip, and stumble again on his way to the bathroom night after night. I remember sensing his cravings and wanting, wishing, willing them to stop. Of course, no amount of my energy would ever be able to console the inconsolable part of him.
I believe we all carry something in us that cry out. Parts that perpetually hurts. I think that by default or maybe some sort of emotional osmosis, he melded with the grief stricken parts of me that fed into my addictive behaviors. Some of the habits I gleaned from my time with him remain with me now. I still have cravings of my own. I still, from time to time, feel like a nasty little miscreant, pressing my nose up against the cold glass as I covet what others have on the inside. I used to delude myself into thinking my relationship with someone as addicted as him was what I wanted, even deserved. I believed that I would find, with him, what it meant to exist on the safe, cozy side of life. I tried that for a while, but it continued to spiral out of my control. Some of the bad times still haunt me – broken furniture, spilled beers, angry words – but it wasn’t all bad all the time. Even now, some of the verbal expressions that were hilarious and so him still fall out of my mouth from time to time. Relationships leave their mark on you. The good and the bad. For me though, the bad parts of it had a hold on me for a long time.
As the years have gone by, I’ve processed all I could think to process around my relationship with him and I detached. I moved on. I got over it, little by little. But, occasionally, nostalgia would get the better of me and I would peek at his pictures on Facebook. He got married in 2016, to the woman who came into his life right after I left it. He seemed to be doing really well. I was happy for him. I hoped very much that he would have a fulfilling life with her and find some peace. I hoped that she could give him what I couldn’t, whatever that was.
I got a call two weeks ago from one of his friends who I stayed in touch with here and there over the years to tell me that my ex had died. Cause of death was liver failure. The wave of grief I felt was immediate and strong. I was so surprised with how big it felt. I hadn’t spoken to him in years. He was married to someone else, I’m in love with someone else. It didn’t make any rational sense for me to feel so consumed by learning he was dead. I didn’t think I had the right to mourn him.
But mourn him, I did. I got right into the depths of grief for a few days and sat in the muck of all the complicated stuff I didn’t realize I still carried with me. I immersed myself in memories of him – without drinking to numb the pain I might add – and looked at old photos, remembering all the laughs and honest to goodness good times we had together. I laughed and then I cried. When I cried I thought about how sad and untimely his death is. He was just 41 years old. The heartbroken places within him were never able to be soothed or quieted. I knew I couldn’t save him, but some naïve part of me prayed that he would somehow find a way to save himself. Knowing that he couldn’t and it killed him makes me so very, very sad.
I went to his wake with my supportive and emotionally stable boyfriend by my side. I faced his family who did not like me very much by the time he and I were breaking up to pay my respects. His mother was very surprised, but touched to see me and cried into my shoulder. I hugged his widow whom I had never met after hearing her say, ‘you’re that Annie’. I offered my condolences to his stepmother whom I adored and his father who stoically pushed me away towards the end of the line. I knelt in front of his smooth black coffin and cried my own private good-bye to him.
It was a terribly emotional experience and it was tough, but it was 100% worth it. The more you grieve, the better at it you get. It’s like anything else you do more than once; you get more experienced and more practiced. I, for better or worse, know this to be true. I didn’t know how to let go of grief when I was younger. But after walking through a wake for someone who played a large, dysfunctional, often fun, complicated and toxic role in my life, I am fully capable, if not eager to let go.
I left the funeral home feeling shaky and…..relieved. It felt like a fog was dissipating, not lifting, but slowly disappearing. I felt his power over me go away. It left no trace or whisper of its existence, it was beautifully and simply gone. Just as he is gone. His death, as with any other, brings an acute sense of finality. A somewhat ugly chapter finally, at long last, closed.
I’m leaving all the mucky, murky mess of that time in my life behind me. (Truth be told, I thought I had already done that…but life can always surprise you.) I’m letting go. I have so many good, warm, cozy and safe things to look forward to. I’m still adjusting to how rife with fertile potential my future is. It’s process for me, but a process I am so excited and satisfied to be a part of.
I hope you can Rest Peacefully. I will miss you and hold the good times we shared in my heart.