They say Spring is the time of rebirth and new beginnings. No more dreary winter days. Death, cold, darkness. Though for myself I never thought the first weeks of Spring were anything that special, in fact the only thing coming to life are usually my allergies this time of year. I wonder what Winter did to get such an infamous reputation in the literary and art worlds. I suppose it’s only natural for us to connect death with winter: the trees, flowers, foliage, even the insects. Woodland creatures hide away in hibernation. Most people tend to prefer to stay inside when it’s cold anyway. Of course, in spring it all comes back to life, the blooming flowers, the buzzing bees, the growing leaves. You see people on the streets, and you think to yourself by god I didn’t realize there were so many people living in this neighborhood, who are all of you? It’s not that I don’t like Spring, the nicer weather and sunshine does help the mood, but this time of year there’s always a bitter taste left hanging in the breeze and honeysuckle. The day has only just begun, but the sunlight seems to mock me. Nostalgia is a strange friend, for at times it feels comfortable and needed, but at other times it feels rotten, even almost as if it betrays us.
The time is eight in the morning. The day April 15th, 2019. I think I’ll get a cup of tea at O’Ryan’s. An Irish dinner, not too common. Good family, good man. Lost his so to the drink a few years ago. A true Irishman’s death some say today. I find it insensitive, but O’Ryan has a good laugh at it now too, maybe a coping mechanism. Been there done that I’ve had my bout with alcohol. First AA meeting– Hello my name is Roland O’Rourke. Never thought I would be sober twenty years later. Old friend, what would you say if you could see me now? Would you be happy for my sobriety? Hell, I’d make sure you were sober too. Bet you never thought raving Roland would be ordering water at the bars. It’s a better way of life. The birds, I can hear them singing. Milly should be waking up now. I wonder how she feels this morning. Does she have secrets she has hidden away from me? Perhaps today isn’t as beautiful to her either, or maybe she appreciates it for what it is. Feels the sunlight and can be reborn from the night. What if someone told you that this was the last time you’d feel the rays? What if someone told you that you wouldn’t awake from night. Someone robbed you of your sunlight, something. The naysayers would say you gave it away, that you slipped into the night of your own choice. My father told me the same thing about my alcoholism. He’d tell me that I was killing myself—he scoffed me when I went to rehab. “Can’t handle a wee drink eh?” he would jeer. He would wave his bottle in my face as he condemned me for being unable to handle my liquor. He died a drunk, I won’t. Amazing I still hold that with my after so many years. It took me longer to accept that addiction isn’t a choice. After you died, Old friend, I fell in a dark pit. The alcohol didn’t change the fact that you would never come back. I think I was trying to avoid my life, trying to avoid grief. It all catches up.
I see so many different kinds of people throughout the day, all working and going somewhere. There are construction men and women in the street over, repaving it. Fix it up make it look new. Years of damage erased with a fresh coat of tar. They may get hungry and go to the deli across the street for lunch. In there they’ll get a sandwich made perhaps, maybe they’ll see the manager, then they’ll exchange money to the cashier. All kinds of people must come and go getting their lunch. Doctors, lawyers, nurses, office workers, teachers, going in and out without realizing who they’re passing. But what about this man stumbling as he walks: is he drunk? Is he a man or an alcoholic, husband, father, brother, or office worker? Any of these people could be an addict. Who’s helping them? Who’s ignoring them? When you were alive, so few knew of your struggles. Did the doctors and pharmacists know where those prescriptions would lead? Look there, outside of the deli is a woman in a lab coat, I recognize her she’s the pharmacist who I get my medicine from. I don’t know her, but I know her. Does she wonder what I do with my medicine?
Evening hangs low on the horizon and I feel the pressure of the past. You know, Old friend, I bet you’d be surprised to know I’ve remembered for all these years. Though, who’s to say how you’d feel. I could speculate all I want, but you should know that you have been remembered after all this time has passed. Whitman comes to mind on days like these—and how these days have collapsed into years. You were a good man, misguided at times, but you followed your heart, or at least tried to. The details don’t matter in the end, and after all these years I don’t blame you. Whitman could see the beauty and worth in all men and women, all people. I sing for the worker I sing for the fisherman I sing for the painter I sing I sing. I sing for the lost. Lost in the wilderness. Here we are put on this earth and for what eh? I’d say to meet good people, make connections. I sing for the addict; I think Whitman would too. He would sit on the side of the street with those suffering. He’d look beyond the signs that say were we are from and what’s our race, origin, religion, gender, sexuality. He’d sit down and talk maybe he’d sit down, and he’d see the person who’s trapped in the addict. He wouldn’t enable. I try to be like him, I try to see the beauty in every blade of grass. And friend, you were an exceptional part of the field. You know, you know after all these years there are still feelings I’ve yet to sort out. With so much time it seems laughable, but I will say I do truly accept what happened. But, forgiveness rests on me like the sidewinder.
Old friend, do you remember when life had color? Do you remember the smell of the new spring honeysuckle? Do you remember what the night was like? And the day after? Did you see the sunshine in the morning did you feel it touch you skin? Or did the breeze as day slipped into dusk caress your cheeks? Did you feel anything when the moonlight pierced you to reveal the image of a broken man? Had I only been fast enough—I must stop this line of thinking right now. I’m too old to think of what I could have done, where I should have been, if I should have done this or that or if this action would have led to this outcome. Would you call me a fool for putting the blame on myself for all these years? Would you have told me that I was taking on too much like always? Of course, I’m not too blame it’s not my fault, it’s not your fault, it’s that drug that substance the dealer the government no it’s the drug the drug and only the drug.
I must confess, after all these years I’ve accepted that questions don’t always get answers. I’d turn back time if I could, but I wouldn’t know to where. What moment? To stop you from the first injection. But what about the factors that led up to it? We know they’re all excuses when we choose harmful coping mechanisms…but no one chooses to become addicted to drugs. There’s something under the surface always, even if media paints it as kids or deadbeats just trying to have fun. We’re all running from the emptiness inside. But we choose wrong paths and then just end up…no this isn’t the mind frame I want to greet you in today, not today but Old friend I think about all of this so often. The night you overdosed on heroin will always stand in my mind frozen—it can’t be avoided. I’m not mad at you—you feared your life and thought that the drug could help. Or maybe you knew it wasn’t helping.
I’m sorry Harry, but I admit I still can’t understand any of it after all these years. I try to reason I try to grasp I try to find the truth I try to find the center, but I’ll never know, and I’ll never find the answers. I stop all what if’s as they pass through my mind because they all only lead to feelings of guilt, condemnation, indifference, sorrow. Every year on this day and every moment I think about you I’ll always wonder what could have been if you were saved. What if I got you to rehab, what if I—no. Stop mind. You’re gone, you’ve been gone. Your addiction took you. I won’t romanticize the tragedy or look down on it. You died but not in my memory. I remember you before the addiction, back when you and I were both children and you smiled with childhood innocence. That is what I want to remember.
Here Lies Harrison Slater.
Rest in Peace
November 18th, 1954- April 15th, 1999.