A couple of weeks ago, John and Mary stopped through on their way from Florida to Nashville.
I first met John, whom I affectionately nicknamed Grundy (based on the old “Super Friends” villain Solomon Grundy, mostly because he’s massive and prone to vacant stares that reminded me of that titular swamp zombie), when we both started working for the newspaper in Myrtle Beach, S.C. We were roommates for a while, before his future bride moved down from Ohio. Even after the two were married, we remained close, and we had a lot of fun together before my addiction sent me plummeting into the abyss.
I think it’s disingenuous to pretend that we go from drinking and using to rock-bottom addicts and alcoholics in a matter of hours or days. In recovery, we need to be wary of the obsession of those good times we once experienced; the Basic Text even cautions against “that fixed idea that takes us back time and time again to our particular drug, or some substitute, to recapture the ease and comfort we once knew.” We’re consistently urged to “play the tape all the way through,” but after a certain amount of time in recovery, I believe we don’t need to cue up a tape.
We’re not fooled by the idea that we can ever go back or drink and use successfully, but neither do we deny the fact that in the beginning, we had fun. After all, if it was, from the beginning, the soul-destroying exercise in dereliction and self-destruction that eventually became, many of us would probably have slammed on the brakes the first few times we used. Unfortunately, that’s the insidious nature of addiction; it’s like a fisherman, allowing us to take the bait and run for a while before it sets the hook and begins to reel us toward certain doom, slowly and inexorably.
I don’t spend a lot of time waxing nostalgic about the good times, but neither do I deny that I ever had any. John was a part of them, but unlike many of my old friends who backed away and did what they felt was best to protect themselves and their hearts, he never left my side as I marched toward the bitter ends. He drove me to rehab the first time, and when they wouldn’t admit me because I had used the night before, he drove me to the nearest airport and put me on a plane back here to Knoxville. When I was finally admitted, he drove an hour on the weekends to lift my spirits, and when I relapsed after that first stint, he was still there.
He never cosigned my BS, and he never pulled any punches when it came to telling me what I needed to hear. But he was a loyal friend, and he never failed to show me that he loved me, even when I loathed myself. When I finally made it to the rooms for good, he was one of my biggest champions, and Mary — whom I also nicknamed (“Maw,” for her motherly patience and kindness in dealing with all of her husband’s goofy roustabout friends) — was always a friend and a surrogate mom, even from afar. We drifted apart geographically, but they remain two of the most special people I’ve ever known.
A few weeks ago, I met them for lunch in downtown Maryville, and as soon as I saw them both, I immediately flashed back 20 years, when life seemed simpler and my disease was in its infancy and the world seemed like a big playground for a couple of young guys living in an apartment a block from the beach. I thought about Terry and Christina and Joe and Sinclair and Ling and Bill and Betsy and Craig and all the times at Neal’s, our favorite bar. I thought about the night we marched 20 blocks up the beach, banging on tom toms while Joe played guitar, singing Everclear songs to staring tourists. I remembered camping trips and late-night parties and concerts; deadlines and budget meetings and the stuff that journalism used to be.
I thought about the laughter and the joy and the self-assuredness of youth, when we thought we would live forever and rehabs and hospital stays and broken hearts and dying parents were the stuff of nightmares that could be delayed to some distant point in a future that didn’t matter nearly as much as the right-now. I’m pretty sure all those things flashed through his mind, too, and when we hugged once again, with Maw smiling and shaking her head, all of the pain he helped me carry seemed to drift into the blue skies of early spring like a lone balloon.
I’m grateful, so very grateful, to have a handful of friends that have been with me throughout this journey. John and Mary are two of the best a man could ask for, and even though they live several hours away and life has pulled us in different directions, that friendship is as real and true as it ever was. We’ll never recapture the ease and comfort we once knew, but that’s OK. We’ve settled into something different; something older and wiser and more meaningful than anything I ever thought possible back then.
Here’s to you, Grundy and Maw. And here’s to all of you who think of old friends and smile at days gone by and the love that still binds you together.