I’ve been thinking about my friend Hector Luis… He didn’t make it. I think about Luis a lot, often. When he died his wife found a number it his wallet, my mom’s old house phone. We’d not seen each other in 20 years, but he always told his wife to call me if he got arrested or in trouble. When she called I was humbled and sad. Deeply sad.
I’m not so sure how we became friends. We met unloading a truck. We worked in a grocery store. He was older than me, married, had a kid. We were sitting in the nose of a trailer full of canned food and huge fifty pound bales of sugar and seventy-five pound bags of rice; drinking warm beer on a really bad for hot summer day. It must have been one hundred and twenty degrees inside that trailer. It was the kind of job on a day that hot when even the boss, a world class dick on most days, made something of apology for making us do it.
I was a skinny, white kid on acid, looking for whatever it was acid heads sought: peace, truth, stars, wisdom; carrying a copy of Carlos Castaneda’s “Don Juan” with me everywhere. One day I just found myself in the same place at the same time with this dark, viscous, drug and weapons dealer from the Bronx, packing a Saturday Night Special. I think I wanted to be a little more viscous, I didn’t like or trust the whole acid head-hippy thing, and Luis wanted to be a little less of the earth and more of the stars. He wanted me to lift him up. I wanted him to pull me down.
Luis and I used to sit in his father’s car, pop a handful of Seconal and split a quart of Clan MacGreggor scotch, to take the edge off, then go to AA meetings. Then we’ d split another quart after and commend ourselves for getting sober. It was a long time after our time committing crimes against man and God ended before I actually even envisioned the possibility of sobriety, before I considered it even possible.
I’d been clean 5 years when I got that call from Pat, his wife.
Even with his long list of crimes he was a fundamentally better personality than me. To this day I’ll never understand why some of us never cross that line again and some do. Sobriety is a razor thin line, veiled in a transparent sheet. Impossibly easy to cross back over into madness.
When I heard he had died I didn’t have the time or the connections for pills. My plan was to simply become profoundly drunk. It wasn’t a decision, it wasn’t a need or a hunger, it was as if I was being led. The liquor store was strange, like a scene from another life. I’d forgotten how to walk in, find the cheap stuff, in the half gallon bottle, pay for it and leave, crumpling that bag around the throat of the bottle, feeling that pathway in my hand. A weapon in my hand. A tool of distraction and my destruction. The drive to the cemetery was silent. Even the voices in my head and the million memories of this fucked up Puerto Rican refugee from the Bronx had gone silent. I could still see him, sometimes I called him Pancho. Short, stocky, strong as mule, jet black hair and a handlebar mustache. He was almost as handsome as he often tried to convince the ladies he was. But he scared them, he scared me. He scared himself.
You could always sense the tension, the pending explosion. He’d light a Marlboro and his black eyes would glow with rage, and I’d know we were off again, another battle, another score to settle, another deal to go down. His life was plagued by idle threats. He hated white people and often, daily, told me I was the whitest motherfucker he’d ever met. He’d talk, late at night when we were both totaled about His grandmother and how she was from Guayama, the town of witches and how he had witches blood and he was cursed. Some days I believed him. Tonight as I drove to the grave I believed him.
I walked to the headstone, it was small and off to the side of a cemetery of rolling hills and stones dating back to the 1700’s. An inscription read “loving father,” he was, though his son frequently said he hated him. I sat down on the still fresh dirt and I cracked the bottle open. I took a long, deep breathless draw on the bottle. Immediately I tasted the rage in my throat, immediately I was at war again. I didn’t drink vodka I blended with it, and I passed into insanity instantly. The crazy bastard, the one I had successfully suppressed, thought dead, silent for years was alive and open for business. I took another long draw from the bottle, from the sexy neck. I could feel my body fighting to reject it, but I needed it in me. I needed it now.
Suddenly, I was there, just as I’d left it. A fucking putrid mess, full demon forces in attendance. I could smell his death, I could feel his death. I felt a punch to my chest, pushing me back against the headstone. I began to puke out the poison, I was pushed back across the razor thin line, through the veil. Fleeting glimpses of sanity rose in me, holding the long and no longer sexy neck, I slammed the vodka bottle into the headstone, watching as the clear liquid and ten thousand shards of glass flew in a hundred directions. I pummeled the cemetery dirt with my hands until the knuckles bled, cut from the dirt and the glass. I sat back and cried, and wailed hard at the passing of my friend. My partner in crime. My brother.
I fully understand the tenet of gratitude, with regard to sobriety. I could never fully apply to my life after Luis. I still to this day think something, a cut in the fabric of time, a cosmic mistake, allowed the demons to take the wrong guy. I know who I am. I’ve no more reason to be taking this breath than my friend. A roll of the dice, a quick and poor decision and a life gone, buried in the cemetery dirt like it never happened.