I can no longer watch TV shows or movies where a character is severely alcoholic or severely drug addicted. It has ceased to be interesting or amazing. I no longer marvel at the realism of say, Leaving Las Vegas, the execution of the character flawless. The humor is now lost to me. And instead I’m angered and more than a little tired.
In film and TV depictions of the families and friends of alcoholics and addicts are well meaning but straight-laced. We are the people who cannot have fun, cannot let go. We don’t understand and we never will sort of depictions. We can’t relate. We are liars. We are inauthentic. Didn’t we once have a drink with the alcoholic? Didn’t we once share a joint? Something? We’ve turned our back. We are assholes. The addict. The alcoholic. They’re the true believers.
She calls us ‘normies.’ She doesn’t like to be around ‘normies’ anymore. She called me a normie. She reminds me of an animal with rabies. Go near and she will bite. And it won’t be a small bite. It will be savage and deep and jagged. Stitches and shots will not be enough to fix the wound. That’s what you get for being a normie.
There is no great conversation to be had. This part has gotten simple. Our interaction is about dissolution. Devolution. How long from first interaction to anger? How long before a door is slammed and someone leaves? The art of our interaction takes no longer than three minutes. Tops.
Anything can set her off. She reaches back to an old memory. She blames you for not being there. She pulls forward into present time. What have you got for me? She says. One minute with her is as grueling as a 90 minute work out. My muscles are tense and sore and worn. I have brought her food in case she hasn’t eaten. Want to come in for a minute to see my bare apartment and empty bottles? She can no longer speak without sarcasm. It is all that is left to her.
I gotta get back, I say. My kids are by themselves. It doesn’t matter to her that you made a special trip out here to see her. THat you didn’t feel like going out again once you got home and got the kids fed. She wants to hug you and she smells like an old Saturday night before smoking was banned just about everywhere. She blames you for that. Once when she went to hug you she tried to hit you. Your body remembers it even more than your mind and you cannot hug her. Not now anyhow.
She senses this. They are good at sensing things. They know when you don’t want to be there. When you don’t like them. I try and remember the person I loved who is not here and not present in this stranger’s body. Is she in there somewhere? Can we exorcise this demon out of here? Would I respect her more if she were a functional alcoholic? A functional addict? Am I just a monster for not getting it? For being unwilling to be embraced by this embodiement of collective failure?
She failed herself. She blames us. And by us I mean everything and everyone in the world except her. You did this to her, she says. And on days when you’re tired, you fall for it. You cry all the way home. You miss the person she was and think back to when you last saw her.
The last time I saw my little sister was January 1, 2000. She could still laugh and hang out and dance. There was a series of unfortunate men. She never blames them. They put up with her, she says. But in early 2000, she’d just got home from Europe. SHe traveled by herself. She had been brave. She thought on her feet. Since then all of life had become a struggle. I hold that time in my heart. That was the end of the line.
That was 15 years ago. Friends tell me that even then the drinking was heavy and the drugs showed on her tiny unearthly thin frame. But I didn’t know what we were looking for then. It hadn’t occurred to me that she would become that person in everyone’s family (there’s always one), who can’t get it together.
It’s an old story and I shouldn’t be writing it, except I have much to write right now and this. This is blocking it all.
She has her ways of getting to you.