On Being Found

February 6, 2014 § 6 Comments

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“When I die, I don’t want to be found,” I say to Jeff in the car on the way to a concert.

He laughs. “What? You mean found at all? Like your body will disappear? That’s morbid.” He is used to the way my mind wanders to odd things, my dark thoughts, but he doesn’t get what I mean.

“No, it’s not funny,” I say. “Don’t be a jerk. I don’t want to be found dead.” He is quiet.

“Like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Like my mom.  Face down on the carpet. Or in the bathroom. The only people found dead are murdered, or they’re addicts.”

“Homeless people are found. Or people who have heart attacks,” he says. I look at him with the “stop talking” look. He stops talking.

This is the week my Intro to Lit class reads Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues.”  Do you know what the blues are?  I ask. They don’t really know. For real—they don’t know. I explain. I play Billie Holiday. I think they get it. Look at her face singing “Strange Fruit,” I say. “Like she’s about to be sick from singing the words.” How could they not get it?  I have to tell them what it means to “feel blue.” They get it. They just never heard it said that way because instead they say, “feeling some kind of way.” “Blue” is better, I say.

Blue, like the color you turn when you die, I think, but I don’t say this because they already think I’m kind of weird and depressing. I, of course, told them first thing that “only trouble is interesting.”

I go back, like a lot of my friends in shooting range of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s age, to the inevitability of death, the possibility that we will fall into this hole, the jolt of fear that all of our beloved addicts bring with them everywhere they go. Raise your hand if you have been touched by addiction, I say. Your family, your friends, your neighbors. Two thirds of the class raises their hands.  I suspect the other one third are better secret keepers. Maybe the addicts we love will fall back into the abyss and end up in the ground. It has happed to me. Twice.  I don’t tell my students this. I tell them that Sonny feels this pain and suffering for everyone through his music and lets it all go, even though I am not an optimist when it comes to addiction. Somehow, at least for the length of the story, Sonny lives. For Sonny, it’s heroin or music. For my mom and dad, it was alcohol and nothing creative, except maybe children.  Okay, it was alcohol.

Most ACOA’s I know are scared to death they will turn out to be alcoholics. Genetics, you know, which to the world equals weakness. Nothing to be done but to take it. “You’re not an addict,” Jeff says. “I’ve known you long enough to know that.” I believe him, but there is fear deep in my blood, of my blood. I tried Al-Anon, AA’s family group, but I shy away from groups, having grown up in one. Also, I think the privacy policy is bullshit. “It’s like an alcoholic family,” I once told a therapist. “You have to keep the addiction a secret. How is that any different from the shame of being in an alcoholic family?” I asked. “ Nobody’s ever put it that way before,” he said. “ I guess you’re right.” I love to be right. It’s one of the perks of being an ACOA.  But AA’s the only option I know of. How else do we deal with addiction, except some secret club, or a far away, hidden rehab? I have trouble giving everything up to some “higher power.” I have trouble saying I am powerless, because, actually, I’m not.  Until we realize this is not something we can be quiet about, that we can’t keep anonymity or secrets about, people we love will continue to die, and it will come as a big shock, even if it is totally predictable.

When my father fell off the yellow couch, into the floor with liver failure, and my mom didn’t know whether or not to call 911 because everyone in their small town would know; when my mother was found, face down on the white carpet, dead, I was in shock. The real kind. I didn’t want a drink, which people tell me is good. I wanted it to be untrue. I wanted it to all go away, to disappear, like any other secret. It didn’t.

Philip Seymour Hoffman haunts me. He is proof that we all want to pretend this isn’t happening to two thirds of the families we know. His death is proof that we are still ignoring the inside of things as long as the surface is beautiful—when the fact is, our beautiful lives could end, will end. When we die, we might be found alone.  And someone will feel a guilty sense of relief that it is finally over, along with impermeable sadness. I know I am right on this one.

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