Monday, September 18, 2006


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 14 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 and he kissed me on the neck and he said, "I love you, Cuz."

Me, too, Cuz.


Peter N said...

I am so heartfelt condolences....he would be proud of your post. He would! Take care..Peter

Sharfa said...

Ouch. So, so sorry. Either way, it's a tragedy. To die because he just couldn't stay sober, or to die just as he finally made it.

My heart goes out to you.

Suldog said...

Exactly, Sharfa. That's what I was trying to get at in my head, but haven't been able to, and you boiled it down to it's essence. Thank you.

And thank you for your kind words, Peter.

Sassy said...

This may or may not mean anything to you - but if he did know enough of God's love for him to even speak of it, just know that overdose or not, God still loves him. If he did OD, only he knows why. Either way, he's gone home to somewhere he'll never have to feel that inner pain and conflict ever again. My thoughts and prayers go out to you right now...I'll be thinking about you and your family today.
Much love,

Anonymous said...

I'm with you in hoping that in the end Joe was clean. Either way though, there are a lot of people out there who are thankful that you managed to clean up including those of us who know you only through your words online. I'm sure Joe had a lot of respect for you for that as well.

Take care of yourself,


Suldog said...

Thank you, folks.

Anonymous said...

Your writing in this piece expresses the pain you're feeling right now so clearly that it's palpable. You're in my thoughts and we're all here for you. Here's a hug, Suldog.

Ericka said...

i'm sorry.

my cousin is much the same: she cleaned herself up, fixed most of the problems with her life and was dreaming of moving on. then, at 30 years old, she had a massive stroke. she should have died. she would have, except my aunt can put the fear of god into anyone when necessary. she, not the doctors, recognized it as a stroke and she forced the hospital to respond accordingly. the hardest part of watching my cousin fight her way back, again, is knowing how close she was to being independent when it was all taken away, again.

whatever happened to joe, you have my sympathy - because it's the people left behind who suffer.

BklynSoxFan said...

My deepest sympathies to you and your family, Suldog. Joe's story sounds terribly familiar to me, as I lost a friend to drugs in a similar fashion.

My prayers are with Joe tonight.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. What probably makes it harder is that you just recently saw him. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Anonymous said...

You served him well with your words.
how it happened isn't important, that you saw him doing better was.

Suldog said...

Again, thank you all.

Melinda said...

I just read this post... so sad and shocking (beautifully written too, btw)... wanted to say something eloquent or insightful that would help you to feel better but it's clear that you'll be in emotional limbo until the results come in.

I hope that you are able to make peace with this one day - although I'm sure that you will never forget the part he played in your life or how his ended.

many condolences to you and yours

may you always remember the good times

endangered coffee said...

My condolences to you and your family.