Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Three Years After

Today is the third anniversary of my Cousin Joey's death. When he died, I wrote about his passing. I am re-publishing what I wrote at the time. I have some misgivings about doing so.

I'm somewhat of the thought that putting these words out here again is self-serving. It's raw stuff - some of which makes me uncomfortable in the re-reading - and the urgency I felt then is obviously not present three years after the fact. In the end, I've decided that the piece needs to be seen again, the reason being that it is the most suitable prelude to the piece I will be posting here tomorrow.

To be clearer: I have a new post, concerning Joey, that I want to publish tomorrow. It may not convey the feeling I believe it should without this re-print preceding it.

After this re-print, there's an addendum. If you've read this before, and don't wish to do so again, please feel free to skip down to the end.



I saw him on Friday and he was clean. I swear he was clean. I've spent enough time doing drugs and hanging with people doing drugs to know. He was absolutely clean. And he wasn't jonesing. He was relaxed and happy. And clean.

This morning I got the call that he was dead.

They say he overdosed. Or, at least, that he was on something when he died. It doesn't make any sense.

For all of his adult life, Joe was in and out of jail. It was almost always drug-related in some way. He had serious substance abuse issues. And if I had received the phone call at any other time during the previous 25 years, I wouldn't have been shocked. Today, I'm shocked. For the first time ever, I truly believed he might be beyond his problems; that he might have a true chance at making his life over. And now he's dead. And they say he overdosed.

I can't get my head around this at all. When we spoke on Friday, he was as upbeat as I'd ever seen him at any time during the past 25 years. He talked about his job and how much he liked it and how much money he was making. He talked about visiting his 13-year-old son and going back-to-school shopping with him, being able to buy him some nice things for the first time in years. He talked about coaching the softball team at the halfway house where he now lived, and how much he liked the responsibility of doing so, and how much fun he was having being the authority figure and a good example for the guys on the team.

And now he's fucking dead.



My cousin Joe was sweet and kind and generous and loving and beautiful, when he was sober. When he wasn't sober, he was an asshole. That's the bottom line and he knew it. I think the biggest difference between the two of us is that I was a happy high and he became depressed and violent. When we sat together in my living room on Friday night, talking, before MY WIFE got home and before my mom and stepfather arrived, he told me that he finally realized that he was a nice person. He said that he knew I'd been telling him that for years, but he had heard it from so many other people lately, he finally believed it. He said that knowledge had made all the difference recently. And he sounded like it really had made a difference.

Whenever he spoke in years past about cleaning up and finding religion and turning his life around, I always had the gut feeling - proven true in every instance - that it wasn't completely true. I always prayed that it WOULD be true, but I never fully believed. This time was different. It was the first time I had the feeling that he really was turning it around and that everything might be OK for him.

Motherfucking dead.


We sat together eating Chinese food on Friday night. My mom, my stepfather, MY WIFE, me and Joe. We had a really good time. We laughed a lot. Joe had just gotten a cell phone about a week earlier and it was one of those that took pictures. He took pictures of all of us and asked some other folks at the restaurant to take one of all of us together. I suppose those pictures are lost now.

He showed us all a picture he took of his son, Nathaniel, earlier that day. He's a big kid. He's 13 years old, I think, and going to be playing high school football this year. He's already an inch taller than Joe and wears a size 13 sneaker. He's playing, as you might expect, on the line. Joe was mighty proud of Nathaniel.

He has another son that he wasn't able to see because of his many problems. It ate him up. He had said that the judge in the case told him that once he cleaned up, he should come back and re-apply for visitation rights.

That was another reason for him to stay clean. It makes no sense at all. He had every reason to not fuck up. Aside from life reasons, he had to know that he was subject to testing at the halfway house and that he wouldn't be able to hide anything.

No sense at all.


The plans thus far are for no service and a cremation. I don't have a say in it. If I did, I'm not sure what I'd do, but I know that Joe talked at length about God's love for him. He was currently a member of something called The Church Of The Nazarene. I don't know anything about the organization, nor do I know where Joe may have attended services. It feels wrong, though. I understand the expediency, but I know that's not what he would have desired.

Did Joe have a right - does Joe have a right to what he desired? Did he forfeit that?

There is going to be an autopsy. No results yet. No definitive answer. If I hear that the results show he fucked himself up again, I'll accept that because what else is there to do other than to accept a stone cold truth? But he had other medical problems. He had diabetes and high blood pressure and hepatitis. He was taking meds for all of those things. Couldn't it be that he was clean and just died from a combination of bad circumstances and bad health? I'm hoping for that result. I want Joe to go out clean. I want for him to have been on the right track. I want to believe.

Joe fucked up a lot in his life. He was also fucked with a lot. According to his writings, which he did at length while in jail and in recovery programs, he was severely abused as a child. There is no corroborating evidence; no one else saying the things he says happened did happen. Lots of people who fuck up invent circumstances to explain why they fucked up, make excuses, embellish things. I don't think Joe did. I've read a good part of what he wrote. It has the ring of truth.

And he never compromised in telling me about what he had done to land himself in jail. I asked him about his latest stint, on Friday, and he laid out how he screwed up, in self-damning detail.

True or not, an abusive childhood was no excuse for the things he did. Lots of people have bad childhoods and they lead productive, honest lives. But, a couple of bad breaks here or there, and not as good a support system, and I'm where he was. Joe stole things and lied and got into violent situations. He did drugs in volume. I'd be a hideous hypocrite if I beat him up for it because I've been there and done that. But it's because I've been there and done that, that I saw him on Friday and I knew he was clean and I finally had real honest-to-God hope for him.

And whatever I felt on Friday means nothing. Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.


When I ran for state rep, Joe held a sign for me and worked a polling place. He was a member of our wedding party. When I was in bands, Joe was my biggest fan. He had a tattoo - he did it himself - of one of my band's names. Quite a few years back, he played with me on the Bombers softball team for one year and he was a good player and a good teammate. We talked Friday about his playing again for the Bombers next year, after he finished his probation. I was looking forward to that.

He was a regular reader of this blog and he thought way too highly of my writing skills. When he left our house on Friday evening, he had a hard copy of one of my pieces to read on the train home. You'll find a couple of comments of his if you read the archives. He was more complimentary in person...

I wrote a song last month. When I wrote it, I was just talking about my experiences. I actually wrote it because someone else I know is having some problems and I wanted that person to know that I knew what they were going through. The day before I saw Joe for the last time, I was writing music to go with it and re-reading the lyric. I thought about showing it to him when he came over on Friday. As I said earlier, he was a fan of my music. I thought that he might find this hitting a place in his heart.

It's still a bit rough. It's best read as one continuous line, with the urgency and attention deficit of a rabid cocaine user. The title is "Dead End".

Line after line after line after line
After line after line after line up my nose
Wash it down in the back of my throat with
Straight shots from the bottle of vodka I chose
When I went to the liquor store moments ago
It was just after scoring an 8-ball of blow
And I know it's no good and it gets me nowhere
And I'm broke and a loser and nobody cares
If I die on the street just as long as they're paid
And I don't leave a clue and I'm starting to fade
So I open the bag again pour out two piles
And chop up a couple of powdery smiles
That I know I'll need more of that I can't afford
And I don't give a damn because I'm fucking bored
And I've traded my life for a chemical friend
And I'm running head on into a dead end.


OK, I've let out some of the anger I'm feeling about this. I feel like I should cry, but I haven't so far.

When I got the phone call this morning, from Joe's sister, MY WIFE gathered from the bits she heard on our end that Joe was dead. She came up to me and put her arms around me. I'm sure she expected me to cry then. I didn't. I came close at one point while writing this, but I still haven't. There's something inside of me that needs to hear the autopsy report, I think. Until then, it's too confusing. I still can't grasp the idea that Joe might have overdosed. I want to hear that he didn't. Then I'll cry.

I don't know what I'll do if I hear that there were illegal drugs in his system. I know I'll still be sad, but part of me will not want to validate Joe's choice to fuck up one last time.

I know that an addict's brain works in such a way as to look for excuses to fuck up. I've been there; I've done that. Being in a great place in your life can be seen as just as good an excuse to do stuff as being in a bad place. In a bad place, you figure you've got nothing to lose and fuck the world. In a good place, you figure you can afford to lose a little bit of it and it won't make a difference. You figure you can enjoy a bit and then get out with your life still in a good place.

You do not expect to not have your life, good or bad, at all.


My prayers... My hope is that Joe is in a better place. As he walked out the door Friday, he gave me a big strong hug, kissed me on the neck, and said, "I love you, Cuz."

Me, too, Cuz.


Here's the new stuff, some of which is condensed from two follow-up postings I did back at the time of Joey's death.

The autopsy came back showing that Joey had, indeed, died from an overdose. He had a wake and I cried at it. He was a troubled soul, too sweet and loving - when sober - to not shed tears for when he was in a damn box. He never did anything to really harm me, in any way, through all of whatever dealings we had together.

The photo at the top of this piece, of Joey and my mother, was taken on the night before he died (at the Chinese restaurant where, as it turned out, he had his last supper.) His face, overall, is a happy one. The eyes, however, haunt me. There seems to be pain, a small pleading for help. I may just be reading that into them knowing what I know now.

And now, having set the scene, I can post the next piece. Thanks for your patience and understanding. Please come back tomorrow for something entirely new, written by Joey himself.


Buck said...

Words fail, Jim. This is the first time I've read this piece and it just oozes with pain. I'm hoping tomorrow's piece will reveal you've come to some sort of accommodation with Joe's death but I somehow doubt it. Some things in life just ain't "acceptable."

Peace, Brother.

Michelle H. said...

I have read this before, but it deserved a re-reading.

The raw emotion you express is telling at a time when things had looked to be getting better in his life. I can't imagine the shock of what it must feel like to lose someone in such a manner and wish I had the right words to ease some of the pain you might still be feeling. But know you have all my good prayers and wishes.

Jazz said...

I hadn't read it. What a goddamn waste.

Brian Miller said...

a sad tale suldog...i really am at a loss for words otherwise, but await tomorrow...

Desmond Jones said...

Of course, I wasn't here 3 years ago. This is raw, and true; thanks for this.

I've had occasion to lose relatives 'too soon' - including a 'favorite' cousin who trashed his life with drugs, and eventually spent years in prison for a drug-influenced murder. . . And my birth-mother's adopted daughter, who died of an overdose a month before her 21st birthday.

I don't in the least mean to put my own pain on a level with yours; I only mean to say, I understand, and I share some of your space. . .

Expat From Hell said...

'Dog: I am blown away by this. The good thing is, I am in the right place to read and feel this. Being on a personal retreat, I can take Joey's heart around these woods like a strange sort of rosary. Your heart, too. Which bleeds all over this page, my friend. Will be back to read tomorrow's post.


The Good Cook said...

I just came upon your blog via Expat's...

I stared at your cousins face for a very, very long time. I think you are right. There is something about his eyes. A pleading. An asking... for what? Help? Forgiveness? Mercy?

I'm so sorry for your pain. But I am hooked on your writing.

Wishing you, and Joe, Peace.

Hilary said...

I'm so sorry for your pain.. for the loss of your friend and cousin. Addiction is a very ugly thing. I've known of too many who have lost their lives to it. I'm looking forward to reading tomorrow's post. You're in my best thoughts.

Chris@Maugeritaville said...

Wow, very powerful story Suldog. I missed it the first time around so thanks for reposting it.

An odd coincidence. My current post is about the death of a close friend. Weird timing, eh?

JennyMac said...

Raw...honest...deep. This is an excellent well written piece of pure emotion.

Eric said...

I hadn't had the opportunity before to read it, so I'm glad you re-posted this. It's really great writing, and you do him great honor.

I am truly sorry for you loss, and I hope you eventually find peace, where you can think of your cousin and smile fondly at the memories.

Karen said...

I hadn't read this before. I'm so sorry for your loss. I too, was hoping for the autopsy results to be something other than overdose, and when I got to the end and found out otherwise, a chill went up my spine. Poor Joey. Poor, poor people who are addicted.

The Things We Carried said...

My prayers... My hope is that Joe is in a better place. As he walked out the door Friday, he gave me a big strong hug, kissed me on the neck, and said, "I love you, Cuz."

Me, too, Cuz.

This is a hrd read, but something that needs to be read, heard, swallowed. This has me in tears. I can only imagine how many people share a story like Joey's and like yours.

You loved him and he knew it. You knew he was more than what held him captive. So much more than that. This is what often gets forgotten about people who are addicts.

I look forward to the post tomorrow. And I am glad for the reposting of this post. My dad was an addict and I have never thought about what he was before he was that.

Elaine said...

This was a fantastic piece of writing and as Buck said, it oozes with pain. I'm so sorry.

I looked into Joe's eyes too. They look warm to me; but I obviously never knew him. I did look at the hands longer though; the grasp.

I'll be back tomorrow to read Joe's words. Hugs Suldog. x

Thumbelina said...

That was hard to read.
For you.
For Joey.

But mostly for me.
The pain of watching some one you love destroy themselves and everything around them when they have the world at their fingertips...

Powerful writing again my friend. You're right - it's in his eyes. But it is only hindsight which makes us see.

Hug for you friend.

lime said...

whether or not you had to preface tomorrow's post, thank you for being willing to share this, then and now.

this sort of loss is not easy to make sense of even if you knew better than most where joey was coming from. i'm so sorry that you had to endure this and struggle to sort it out. i do pray that your heart has found some measure of healing. i pray that continues.

sandy said...

friend recently parted from her daughter in law . It's too difficult to watch too much emotional tug of war,,she's always on self destruct the cocaine and booze mean more, sad

Shrinky said...

Oh Jim - hugs to you, bonny lad. I never saw this piece first time around, I am glad you let me see it now. It's painful enough to lose someone you love before their time, but when it is (intentionally or unintentionally)by their own had - that is a whole other wound to deal with. I know how raw that gets. I so hope the time passed since has been kind enough to ease the shock and grief some.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

My first reading, what a crying shame. I thought of his sons.

Mushy said...

You're just good...that's all there is to it.

♥ Braja said...

You're right, Jim....his eyes are pained and pleading. They raked my heart....I'm so sorry....

Char said...

Sul, so sorry for your pain. I have a neice that, I'm afraid, is headed for the same ending. So helpless, when all you want to do is help


Ericka said...

it is just as powerful this time 'round. you have a gift for expressing yourself - thank you for sharing.

my cousin routinely loses to alcohol, and he's just a shadow of the person i remember. it hurts, deep inside, to even look at the shambling wreck he is now. i'm sorry you're hurting too.

Jeni said...

Kind of eerily strange that you should repost this piece tonight, that another of my fav bloggers wrote about her neighbor of over 20 years having had a fatal heart attack just last night and I spent the better part of the day at church, helping to serve the funeral dinner for a lady I used to babysit her and her siblings back in my teen years. And, if I can finish the posts on my reader and still be awake enough to do a post, that was going to figure in my post tonight as well.
Will definitely be looking for your follow-up post to this one. And, I too agree with your theory about the look in your cousin's eyes as I've seen that same look in my nephew's -a time or two when he's been clean.

Carolina said...

I don't know what to say. A very sad story.

Daryl said...

Sad. I went back and looked at his eyes, I think there's something there, a sadness ...

This is a beautifully written post, Sully, I feel your pain and sorrow and I suspect even after 3 yrs its not lessened.

I am not big on religion or the hereafter but I hope he rests in peace.

Lola said...

His eyes, yes... pleading.

Thank you for re-posting this, because I am new here and I would have missed it. I have never read a better written eulogy for a loved one. I am still trembling.

Thank you for allowing us in your life, in Joey's and your pain. The honor you do your "cuz" is immense. But the fresh scars his passing away has left in your heart are still visible. Still bleeding. I'm sorry.

He is in God's love now, and his eyes are no longer pleading. They are smiling, peacefully. Finally.


GreenJello said...

I agree... his eyes tell the real story.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

He had a beautiful soul with such potential - It is very sad, Sir, that life and evil squeezed it out of him - I hope his kids are able to surmount this and remember only what they wish to treasure, and I know that you, Sir, have it within you to know that you did the best that you could to help him through, but in the end he made his final choices on his own... Bless you, Jim x