Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
Photograph Compliments of Annie Spratt
In the dimly lit corners of the art world, a dangerous notion lingers. A whisper that suggests one’s muse is found at the bottom of a bottle or within the fine lines of illicit powder. As I’ve journeyed through this world, I’ve encountered artists who’ve embraced this belief, thinking that their craft flourishes when fueled by drugs and alcohol. Yet, the haunting reality is when addiction strikes home.
My own footsteps have danced on both sides of this divide, and the clarity of sobriety has shown me the truth. No bottle or pill ever sharpened my creativity, no matter the siren’s call of the substance.
It’s not the occasional drink or high that indicates the wolf is at the door. It’s the seductive whisper of routine, of leaning too heavily on the crutch of intoxication, that ushers addiction into one’s sanctuary.
Table of contents
It was a different time and place in the 80’s…
A Bad Place
Across the worn kitchen table sat my friend, nearly unrecognizable in the grip of heroin addiction. His vibrant spirit was clouded, dulled by a haze that robbed the sparkle from his eyes. His usually perfect hair was now a lifeless tangle, the neat parting lost in disarray. The crisp attire that once spoke of his meticulousness was replaced by clothes that bore the stains of days, maybe even weeks, of neglect. A thin veneer of grime clung to him, echoing the grim battle he fought within.
This was no longer a tale spun from afar, a whispered narrative of heroin’s cruel grasp. This was reality, stark and unfiltered, a ruthless addiction kicking down the door and sprawling uninvited in the heart of our home.
“Bryan, I’m in a bad place.” I knew there was something wrong with Al. He hadn’t been returning phone calls. His gear had been sitting in the basement for months, that beautiful Les Paul and Marshall. “I’m moving to a new motel every two days, carrying a Ruger. But I leave the gun at my room when I’m going out on deals.”
“Going out on deals?” I’m aghast. “What are you talking about, Al.” I’m way out of my league, here.
“Bry, I’m dealing five to six grand of powder everyday. I keep the Ruger at my room and only take with me enough to satisfy each connection. I never carry cash to one; I’ve had a gun to my head a couple of times. You never know when a junkie is going to roll you.”
The kitchen walls of our band house echoed with the spirit of the mid-eighties, a time capsule bursting with vibrant energy. The notion of sharing this dwelling had seemed like the grandest of ideas once upon a time. Beneath our feet, the rhythmic pulse of the basement recording studio reverberated, an ever-present heartbeat. It was our sanctuary, brimming with music gear that was always within reach, a playground for our nocturnal creativity.
The house was a revolving door of friendly faces, an open invitation to laughter, and a parade of girls fluttering in and out like a colorful swarm of butterflies. The air was infused with an intoxicating mix of youthful optimism and exhilarating anticipation. In those moments, life wasn’t just a series of days – it was a vibrant harmony, each note echoing with purpose and thrill.
When a group of individuals decide to pursue purpose together, the world is your oyster.
“I’m carrying four beepers. I never know when a deal is going down and I’m starting to get scared.”
“You’re starting to get scared? What the fuck, Al! You’re scaring the shit out of me. Why are you here? You can take your gear out of here anytime and good riddance.”
I’m no Goodie-Two-Shoes, never have been nor ever will be. But this: when your friends go down the path of darkness, what kind of purpose is that.
“Dude, I need help. I can’t do this anymore.”
I look at him in dismay. “What are you going to do? I want nothing to do with this. It’s too dangerous.”
“I need help.”
There was a haunting hollow in Al’s eyes, a lingering echo of the man he once was. His hands, trembling with an unseen burden. His voice, usually rich and strong, was now a mere whisper carried on the wind.
A bitter cocktail of nicotine, burnt paper, and stale sweat clung to the fabric of his clothes, a stubborn scent seemingly woven into each fiber. The fingers that once danced with nimble sureness across his guitar were now tarnished by a yellowish stain, testament to innumerable duels with the lighter. The baritone melody that once flowed effortlessly from his lips had given way to a gravelly rasp, his every word punctuated by a cough that seemed to quake through his core.
Once, Al had stood in the center of his world, but now he was on the periphery, looking in. His once vivacious spirit was now dimmed, consumed by a monstrous craving he couldn’t quench. His life had become a terrifying maze, and every path seemed to lead back to the very thing that was tearing him apart.
What If It Were Me
Photograph Compliments of Jonathan Gonzalez
I sank into the chair, my mind whirling in a tornado of emotions. Every instinct screamed at me to distance myself, to escape the wave of revulsion that crashed over me as I considered Al’s situation. But beneath the tumultuous storm, a steady heartbeat of loyalty pulsed. What if it were me?
Years of shared laughter, music, and dreams couldn’t be erased by the gnarled grip of his downfall. Our shared home, the band’s haven, echoed with hope and desire. It boasted five bedrooms, a pair of bathrooms, and an expansive basement, each corner resonating with the soul of our melodies.
There was physical space for Al, but filling it wasn’t my decision to make alone. Flickering shadows from the setting sun danced on the walls, mirroring the wrestling match in my head. I wasn’t the sole occupant of this place. Three other bandmates breathed life into these rooms, and their voices mattered. It wasn’t right, or fair, for one to dictate a decision that would impact us all.
“Bro,” I began, my voice faltering under the weight of the moment, “I… I can’t make this call alone. This isn’t just heavy, it’s a boulder.”
Al’s weary eyes pleaded with mine. “Just for tonight, can I crash here? I need a pause button, you know?”
A silent sigh escaped my lips. “Al, I… I wish it was that simple.” I shifted uneasily, my eyes darting around the room, avoiding his gaze. “This place isn’t just mine. The others, they… they deserve to know. It wouldn’t be right, sneaking you in like this.” My own words rang in my ears, sounding strangely mature for my twenty-something years, a sobering note amidst the discordant chord of our lives.
The desperation etched in the lines of Al’s face was a vivid testament to his struggle; yet, the painful truth lingered in the air – I couldn’t offer him refuge tonight. With a heavy heart, I guided him to the front door, its solid form a heartbreaking barrier between the warmth of our shared past and the cold uncertainty of his future.
Al’s steps were halting and uncertain, each shuffle echoing with a hollow loneliness into the swallowing evening. As the door closed behind him, a chilling silence filled the room. My mind teetered on the edge of a precipice – how would I navigate this tumultuous storm with the rest of the band?
The Band Meeting
The old, worn-out couches squeaked under our collective weight as we gathered in the dimly lit room, a quartet of mismatched notes that somehow harmonized into a beautiful melody.
Andy, our kaleidoscopic keyboard player, added color to our little assembly. Clad in his signature extravagant ensemble – a sequined blouse, paired with tailored trousers and platform boots – he was a captivating contradiction. His androgynous persona was as loud as his fondness for women, yet he was as at ease with himself as a swan on a serene lake.
Tobias, our bass player, was the counterpoint to Andy’s flamboyance. A man of few words, he lent a steady beat to our ensemble with both his bass and his personality. Just as his bass lines underpinned our music, his calm and reserved demeanor provided a grounding force amid our eclectic band.
Across from me, the silent tussle between Andy and Walt was palpable. Walt, a guitar virtuoso and electric vocalist, was like a mirrored image of Andy – their similarities breeding competition yet with a shared camaraderie. Their personalities, colorful and boisterous, could clash like cymbals in a drum set.
Then there was me, serving as the bridge that connected these disparate islands. My commitment to my friends, my desire to uplift and support them, was my driving force.
We sat, an assembly of diverse characters, linked by music and friendship. The silent tension in the room was as tangible as the crisp night air outside. I cleared my throat, preparing to drop the heavy note into our refuge.
“Guys,” I began, my voice a ripple disturbing the still water, “It’s about Al. He… he’s in a rough spot. He’s asked if he could crash here for a while.”
Andy’s expressive eyes widened, Tobias stilled, his usual rhythmic tapping on the couch armrest ceasing, and Walt’s fingers paused their unconscious strumming of an invisible guitar. The note was out there, hanging in the air.
Walt lifted his gaze to meet mine, his eyes piercing in their intensity.
“What’s the score with Al?” His question, while simple, cut through the room’s hushed silence. Walt had been indulging in a bit of a musical escapade lately, commandeering the Marshall Stack nestled in the basement. The thunderous roar of the amp was akin to an audible assault – where drums were a rolling thunderstorm, the Marshall Stack was a full-blown tempest. The blaring onslaught had been a relentless adversary to my playing, my ears becoming unwilling soldiers on the frontline of his sound bombardment.
“Al’s in deep shit,” I admitted, each word leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. “He’s dealing, and hooked. The path he’s treading… it’s leading him into depths he never meant to go.” The stark truth hung in the air like a dense fog, hinting at a reality darker than the dimly lit room.
Our friend was now a marionette in a dangerous puppet show, with substances pulling the strings, guiding him towards a precipice he’d never intended to approach.
Andy fixed me with a steady gaze, the usually playful sparkle in his eyes replaced by a glint of hardened steel. “And how does this tangle Al’s problem back to us?” His voice, often a melodious tune, had an uncharacteristic edge to it, a musical note stretched thin and threatening to snap. His expressive features, usually a canvas for flamboyant emotions, now bore an uncompromising sternness, a barricade against the encroaching chaos.
“He’s asked if he could find a refuge here,” I confessed, the weight of Al’s plight pressing heavily on my words. “Honestly, I don’t know what the right move is,” I confessed, my words wrapped in a blanket of uncertainty. “But I made it clear to him… I told him this decision isn’t one I can make on my own.”
A sigh slipped past my lips, my gaze drifting over my band mates, “You guys, this home… it’s as much yours as it is mine. Before we extend help, we need to be on the same page. All of us.” The words, laced with uncertainty and empathy for Al’s plight.
Walt’s eyes traveled upwards, seeking answers in the worn-out ceiling above us. “What’s the damage?” he finally let out, his words barely above a whisper.
I swallowed hard, my throat suddenly dry. “It’s a nightmare, Walt,” I admitted, my voice barely masking the trembling unease within me. “He’s dealing and using and putting his life on the line.” The gravity of the situation hung in the air, my words painting a bleak image of Al’s life spiraling out of control.
All of us had been Al’s friend for years. Some of us had played in bands with him. It wasn’t a surprise that he came to us for help.
Andy was the first to speak up, “Al needs help, real help. More than what we can provide.”
Tobias, always steady, nodded, “He needs recovery, not just a place to crash.”
Walt, always in his own world, suddenly seemed present, “So, we help him, but only if he agrees to go to rehab?”
I added my own thoughts, “Right. We can give him a place here, but only if he starts treatment. It’s the best shot he’s got.”
We all fell silent, a hushed tension enveloping the room. Andy scribbled something on paper and slid it across the table. We all leaned in, scanning the words, a collective nod sealing the unspoken understanding. The weight of our decision was palpable, setting the course for what lay ahead.
Photograph Compliments of Rayson Tan
In those first days, Al’s fingers danced across his guitar, breathing life into melodies we’d missed. His laughter echoed through the house, optimism tangible in shared glances and quiet moments. But the weeks passed, and so did his mood. Lights burned late into the night. Al’s eyes, once animated, grew distant and he became more and more disheveled. We waited in apprehension, sensing that things were amiss. And the day Tobias emerged from the bathroom, a charred spoon clutched in his hand, our hearts sank in unison. The realization was a punch to the gut.
We huddled in the kitchen, the weight of the decision pressing down on us. No words were needed; our mutual understanding spoke louder. It was Andy who found the strength to confront Al. His voice trembled, but the resolution was clear, “Al, we love you, but you can’t stay here if you’re using.”
Al’s eyes flickered with fury, sorrow, and a hint of desperation. “Who the hell do you think you are? You claim to be my friends?”
Silence draped over us, each of Al’s words hitting like a mallet. His voice rose, accusations spilling out, pointing fingers at everyone but himself.
Taking a deep breath, I responded, “Al, you know the choices you made. You’ve crossed the line, and we can’t have that here.”
With swift movements, Al retreated to his room, gathering his few belongings. As he shouldered past us, he spat out his feelings of betrayal. But once the door slammed behind him, an unspoken consensus lingered among us: we’d made the tough call, the right one.
As days faded into weeks and weeks into months, whispers reached us: Al, back on stage, radiating a newfound energy, free from the chains that once bound him. When our paths did intertwine, brief exchanges – a nod, a firm handshake – were underscored by his clear-eyed smiles, smiles that hinted at silent appreciation.
Ultimately, our role, that challenging note of tough love, was just a beat in Al’s grand composition. The real melody, the profound transformation, was a song only Al had the power to write. And write it, he did.
Can We Help You?
And In The End
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