Cardboard can shield you - it can hide you, but it can’t keep you warm – it can’t keep out the snow and rain and the loneliness. Crying beside the railroad tracks won’t make the train stop and take you somewhere nice, somewhere beautiful. The tracks are laid down on an artificial beach of quartz rocks – I mean rocks big enough to have rock fights, or otherwise keep the fuckin’ creeps like me out your railroad-adjacent neighborhoods. I creep like Aqualung – sometimes I get that Iron Maiden night sky, sometimes I sit and drink under the stars like I own the whole goddamn thing.
One day I told my family I was going to leave and never come back. I regretted it immediately, but brinksmanship is a young man’s game, and now I just can’t go back. That drive raised me – even as it hurt me; even as I hurt the people I loved, I knew it was necessary.
(This pain is productive. This pain keeps me sharp and pointed.)
I decided to be free. I was too young to count it all up. I was not able to understand that when I wanted to be free I should have been more fucking cynical; asked – free from what? free for what? I’ve kicked off into some things that are worse than what I left behind – worse than the fucking hitting and the yelling and accusing, worse than interventions, worse than those infamous jails, institutions, and death the AA zombies were always threatening me with. It took me a long time to stop taking life-advice from the dead.
Don’t think that I have a lot of regrets. I don’t believe in that. Oh, it hurt – it hurt every relationship I had since then, and even the ones I have now. I couldn’t make enough amends to suit anyone. Which dopedealers, which people who trusted me do I make amends to? Grandma and grandpa know I stole from the church – begged and borrowed and stole from them. I cursed their god and betrayed their trust and lied. I also hurt people physically – a lot of people. I have broken fingers and hands and knees and toes, plunged sharp objects into sensitive areas of flesh, burned beat threatened and intimidated people in the furtherance of collecting some goddamn drug money which only goes back on someone else’s pile. That’s not what wakes me up at night in cold sweat. It’s the family. When I left the lifestyle, no-one noticed really. It hurts a little more that my family didn’t really notice that I wasn’t around much.
I chased my wife – another older woman I fell in with, or fell on, fell into – I chased her out to New York state. Best thing for me, really. I hit bottom far from home, in the bus station in Buffalo – standing in a half-inch of water, cutting my boxers off in a stall, because I’d worn them since Kingman, Az. – and since I had also shit myself a little bit. It didn’t work out with Beverley anyway. I guess you can only hit a woman so many times before she don’t want you around. I just knew if I told her I loved her, if she looked in my eyes like I always wanted, she would say “you’re forgiven.” Someone would tell me I was good. I never had enough of that. The truth is, my wife had retreated all the way across the country, knowing I was too weak, or too drunk, or too strung out to come out there and try to convince her to work it out. She did, temporarily. I think she was impressed that I actually tried to save myself – tried to save ...us.
I fucked it up, of course. One night we were eating toasty sandwiches and drinking our toddies with scotch, and she began talking about how she had doubts it was going to work between us. I’m a toxic person, and I still have drug and dependency issues - not to mention that there was a 28-year age gap between us. I was 22, she was 50. She always brought that up, and yet she always welcomed me; with a closed heart and open legs. (I always thought of Janet back in Kingman – I was 16, and she was 32 when she seduced me.)
I could’ve lost my cool – I’d done it a hunnert times before, could’ve thrown the Christmas tree out the window, like I did before. I simply told her all she ever did was complain about me. I told her I was going to bed, and tomorrow, I’d appreciate a ride somewhere where I could get on the bus. I wanted to go off by myself and drink myself to death. I didn’t tell her that. I didn’t tell her about the darkness in my heart, and how much I was hurting inside. I couldn’t mention all of that – I was 23, and frankly, I felt a lot of stupid feelings and street-cred about going insane. It sounded restful. I had made good (enough) on probation in Arizona (although they’ll never get any money from me – not again), and so I didn’t have to go back to Kingman. I ended up in a boardinghouse kind of thing in Elmira, NY. I thought, “Man! - what a perfect place to go and do myself in!”
Of course, that was a fucking facade. More cardboard. It can cover you up, it can keep you off the wet ground, but it can’t tell you you’re good. It can’t tell you you’re worthy. It can’t say that it’s insanity to try to heal your broken heart by running from Janet in Kingman, AZ to Beverley in Dansville, NY. Neither one of them really loved me – not the way I really needed – not the way I had in mind. I wasn’t going to kill myself. I wanted, really, to do a thousand little bags of dope – to drink a pallet of cheapass beer. I wanted to go until I gave up. My despair would lead me on down into the hell I was promised, after some fucking tawdry attention-getting suicide attempt, gone all wrong because no-one wanted to fucking bother with me no more. I didn’t want to die – I wanted to not want what I thought I had wanted, to have Janet/Beverley love me (in a way that I was incapable of returning, of course). To get taken out in some kind of goddamn tore-down, over a couple of women who would never be able to provide what I needed. I remembered cutting off my boxers, standing in probably piss. Could’ve used a slab of cardboard just then.