This is my own account of addiction. Where it led me. How bad it became. How early it began, and how I eventually overcame it with a great deal of help and a great deal of destruction behind me.
Even with that I am fortunate. Some addicts never triumph, and some gain only momentary relief and spend a life bouncing back and forth between sobriety and addiction. Some die, many die. Many of the people I went through my addictions with are gone.
This is true stuff. It is hard to read in places, The language and situations are absolutely offensive and shocking in some cases. In nearly all of it, mine is the only name that is real.
Conversations with my fathers
Original Material Copyright © 2015 by Dell Sweet
All rights reserved, domestic and foreign
If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission, except those permissions that have been stated in this text. Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.
Special permission is granted to copy and use this text in any word amount, or in its entirety, for study, or a study aid in any state, county or privately run facility: Including state prisons, county jails, mental institutions, drug programs, sex offender programs, AA, NA, or any program where the aim is to share experience to promote healthy change and progress in men and women.
This is not a work of fiction. Names have been withheld and changed to keep the focus on the Addiction and the Addict, not the person or persons. The story is true.
Conversations with my fathers
Twelve years ago, after years of drug and Alcohol abuse I fell down completely. Destroyed the life I had and went to prison. I am not the sort of person who believes people should get a pat on the wrist and then move on. I didn’t always believe that. I went and I did my time because I was guilty. I worked at understanding myself and my addictions. With help and insight I got those addictions under control, and eventually I came home.
I want to say a few things before we begin. I believe men and women that commit crimes should go to prison and do their time. Whether they are lawyers’ sons, Judges’ sons, or some dirt poor kid like me. I don’t hate cops. I don’t hate C.O.’s. I don’t hate the judge or the prosecutor who put me inside. I don’t hate authority, society and rules. I was just never sober or straight enough to see that clearly. Going to prison for ten years changed me. Saved me.
There are depictions, explicit depictions of drug use, street life, sexual situations, alcoholism, prison life and more. I want you to understand that I wrote these situations as they were then. I do not believe now that drugs, prostitution, alcohol, promiscuity or anything else actually does anything for the pain that is buried inside many of us. It certainly doesn’t solve it. This was a different time too. This was a time, some of it early on, when a man could beat his wife and children and it was considered his business. If the cops were called in situations like that it was because of too much noise, not because they intended to do anything to the man. So when I write it, I am writing it from that perspective alone. I am not in any way endorsing or romanticizing it.
Lastly, this is not written to please anyone. I expect it would embarrass a few people in my family, maybe a few people who once knew me and think they probably still do know me. It was not written for people that committed crimes against myself and another family member that scarred us for life, although I want them to know, although we couldn’t speak then we have now. It was written for men and women who have become trapped in addictions, street life, crime, and are looking for a way out of that existence.
I have talked to many therapists, counselors, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Correction Counselors, convicted men, Correctional officers, Police officers, Doctors, Nurses, Civilian DOC employees both in and out of prison, Judges, and I listened to the things they said to me. I took the advice and help they offered to me. I didn’t do any of this on my own, and you don’t have to either.
Most of this is written in first person, but some is written in story form. Story form writing was a technique I learned that allows you to place some distance between yourself and painful events so you can gain clarity, and be able to discuss or write them out.
In AA, they say that addictions will take you to hospitals, Mental Institutions and Prisons. It’s true. They will. I have been in all of those places because of my addictions. But addictions are not responsible for the life I lead entirely, and certainly not responsible for the things I did. I may have used because I believe it solved problems, or to cover pain, but the decisions I made, I made because I wanted to make them, because I chose to make them.
I know those are hard words for some of you to hear. I have sat in groups when those words were given to me and I did not want to hear them, but the biggest part of healing, getting the poison out of you, is admitting the hard truths so you can move past them. So they do not own you any longer. So I want you to understand clearly how I feel, and what I learned about those actions.
Everything that follows actually happened. This is about my life…
Wendell (Dell) G Sweet January 28th 2014
My Earliest Memories
Written in story form and read aloud in group. A technique suggested by a counselor to allow me to write it out, but distance myself a little at the same time.
The morning was just under way. My Father drove the old pick-up truck slowly along the roadway. I think it was a 1960 Ford, something like that.
Fishermen: other vehicles; the road was crowded even this early. Galveston Bay was like a live thing. The saltiness of the ocean was in it. In the air, slipping up my nose as I stood on the seat top, balanced against the vinyl back as my Father drove.
The man’s body was at the edge of the water. My Father said, “Don’t look at that.” But of course he was too late. I’d already looked. I’d looked with my four year old child’s eyes that see much more than they are supposed to see. And I saw much. Things that didn’t make sense to me.
“Why is that man in the water?”
“Why doesn’t he blow his nose to get some of that slimy stuff off himself?”
“Why are those men standing away from him? Why are they looking at him? Why does he look so funny?” But I didn’t say any of those things.
“Okay, Daddy. I won’t.”
I did though. I watched as my Father left the truck, with me standing on the seat so I could see over the dashboard, and walked to the men who stood starring at the man in the water.
Later in life I found out that my Father had worked in the Air Force as a Medical Corps man, picking up the bodies of dead service men… Retrieving the dead. At the time it meant nothing, but later in life it explained why my Father seemed so comfortable handling the man’s body, helping to place the body on a stretcher. While the other men seemed upset… Ghostly… White… Angry even.
But I was only four years old. I watched and wondered my child thoughts. Who he was. Why he was. I had not seen enough dead people to even realize that that was what he was. I didn’t realize that the man had been dead until later in life.
At the time I realized something was wrong. Out of place. I may even have thought dead, but I didn’t understand dead. I only understood my Father, My Mother. My Baby sister who was not yet old enough to go for rides with my Father and stand on the seat and look out at the world. This man in the water, lifted out and placed on the stretcher that my Father helped to carry, was a mystery to me.
My father came back to the truck. “You didn’t look did you?”
He pushed the clutch in, the radio came on with a soft rush of country music. He shifted into first, pulled out behind the ambulance and we drove away into my memories.
Group room 321B Afternoon Group C.
The Counselor: “What was the purpose of that story? I mean, what do you think it was about?”
Me: “I… I think the guy in the water was the guy my uncles were talking about in the park the night before… It seemed odd that my father drove down there to the bay. He never had before. And it seemed odd that he would leave me there in the truck and get out to help.”
The Counselor: “Okay… I don’t know about this night before.”
“Other Inmate: “His uncles, and shit, were on his dad about some dude that owed some money, and they wanted him to take care of it… You were off Thursday… we talked about it Thursday.”
Me: “Which is kind of fucked up,” I added. “I’ve had the floor for two times now… It’s time for someone else to take a turn.”
The Counselor: “Okay… I agree… But we have to come back to that and … Uh, before I wrap it up… are you saying you think your father killed this man, and then drove there the next morning with you in his truck and pretended to find the body?”
Me: “I’m saying it seemed that way to me. I wrote the story out… I’ve written some others out. Like you said. Like they were stories about someone else, not personal, although I did write them as me, but it did give me some perspective and distance so I could be more honest as I wrote them. And that is the feeling I got…”
My Next Earliest Memories:
Written in response to direct questions from the therapist: “Tell me as much as you can remember about your early childhood. Places you lived, parental involvement in your life. Did you feel loved? Unloved?”
As I grew into my early childhood I saw my father less and less. My very first memories are from about the age of two. We were living in a trailer park in New Jersey while my father worked at a Wild West type of show. Sometimes playing in bands, other times acting the part of one of the citizens in the scenes that were played out on the streets of the little western themed town. The few times I can remember seeing it, it seemed real to me. It scared me.
I remember meeting a real Indian chief while we were there. He seemed like a strong and likable man to me. This is one of the few times I can remember my mother being there to raise us. I remember there was a rooster that terrorized me every time I went out to play in the dirt at the side of the trailer. I can remember my mother chasing it off, even throwing a pan of water at it. I remember a bad earache while we lived there, and a doctor coming to the trailer and treating me. Later in life, looking back at those memories it reminded me of living with a traveling carnival show. There were people coming and going all of the time, hard drinking, strangers around, it had a rough under edge.
From there we moved to Miami Florida. Things began to change there. My father played in more bands, worked sporadically: Odd jobs so that my mother had to begin the job of being the responsible adult and holding down jobs so we could live. There was just my one sibling and myself at the time, she was a year younger than I was. I cannot remember seeing her much at all during that whole time. I can remember crying for my mother, but her not being there.
My aunt lived in that area, and we were taken there daily. I can remember her telling me I was special and that I would be a star someday. That I had to do everything she said. Listen, practice.
My father was supposed to be watching my sister and me, but he would take us there and leave us with her. For part of that time we stayed with my aunt until we could get our own place. My father was supposed to be looking for work, but he would take off with my blood uncles every day, so it got to be that I never saw either parent for long periods of time. That would change on occasion when my father would take me with him to bars while he drank or played in a band or both. I would be at the bar with one of his girlfriends. It seemed perfectly natural to me.
My aunt began to sexually abuse me the first night. It continued the entire time we were there. Months. I didn’t know until years later that my sister was locked in a closet while this went on.
Eventually we got a place of our own and the abuse stopped.
A few months later my cousins came to live with us and the sexual abuse started again. Just different people. It ended a few months later when they were caught. They had us tied up. The cords were tight. Not really cords at all, cloths line. My sister and I were tied back to back. My cousins, a sister and brother, had already molested us for over an hour. I cannot recall where my mother was during that period of my life. She was gone a lot. I think she was working because he didn’t work. That’s all I know.
My father was around more often. I don’t know why. They, my cousins, had been squirting lighter fluid on the floor, lighting it, and then putting it out before it actually reached us. A game during the abuse. But they tired of the game because my male cousin stepped forward, squirted the lighter fluid on my sister and me and then lit us.
The door opened and my father ran to us with a blanket and put it out. We were still burned, but there were excuses as to what had happened, how it happened. I still have the scars.
For the rest of the time we lived there I would see those burn marks on the floor every day. It was a wooden floor. The burn marks were very prominent. The scars on my body were things I had to explain to doctors, lovers, and even myself. Standing in front of a mirror, trying to make sense of them, the motivation behind them.
FROM GROUP: Written out as responses to questions
What did your aunt do that first night? Write honestly about it. Try to remember everything that went on, how you felt, anything else you think is pertinent.
It was the first night we were there. I don’t know why we were there. She came into the bedroom I was in and had me get out of bed. She undressed me and told me she was getting me ready for bed properly, but all she did was undress me. She knelt before me as I was naked and started to perform fellatio on me. The door opened and my father stepped in and looked at her. He shook his head and she rose. He led her from the room.
I had the impression he and she were going to do what she had just started to do to me. No one said that, it was just the impression I had as a little kid. I got redressed and went back to bed.
The next morning she showed me how to please a woman. Her words. I have no idea how long it went on. Weeks, maybe a few months, maybe longer.
Recently I finally approached my sister about these things because it worried me that maybe she was sexually abused too. She said no. Every day my aunt would lock her in a closet. She never knew what my aunt was doing to me during that time.
My father never mentioned it to me or stopped it. I felt he had to know. That’s all I can remember.
More scattered memories:
From a work sheet on my childhood and the memories I had of it.
The balance of my preschool time in Florida I spent with my father in bars where he played, drank or did whatever it was that he did with my uncles. Some sort of organized crime stuff. Drugs? Gambling? I’m not sure. I know that I spent a lot of time with strange women he had relationships with. I assume now they were sexual relationships, but at the time it seemed normal that they should be there. Someone to take care of me… I expected it, I mean. I remember them holding me, calling me poor baby. I remember them and my uncles giving me alcohol: Laughing when I got drunk or sick.
The Night Before:
Psychologist (hand written post-it note stuck to five sheets of unlined, blank copy paper.): “I want you to write this night before incident out. Write everything you remember, your impressions of it.”
One night. Late. On the beach, some woman with big breasts. She kept holding my head against her breasts and whispering to me. We were alone, and then my father came and they whispered. Then he took her to a garbage can and showed her a bloody knife that lay in the can on some trash. The can was made of some sort of heavy wire mesh, welded into a circle, so I could see inside of the can. We left.
One other night. It seems connected though, maybe a day or so away. An argument between my father and my uncles. One uncle said, “Then why haven’t they found him?” I remember those words and then everyone looking at me. Then my uncle looked at my father and said, “You fix it.”
“Why?” My father asked.
“Because it’s necessary,” My uncle answered quietly. He was a very big guy. A body builder is how I thought of him. Tall, big muscles. He did those necessary things for bad people too. I had heard that often said even at that age. He collected debts for organized crime people.
I can remember a conversation later in life. I overheard it while I was playing cards at the cab stand one night. A guy was sent to collect some money a guy owed one of my uncles. He came back without the money and my uncle slapped him so hard he knocked him down.
“What I send you to do, you fuckin’ do it. It’s a necessary thing.” My uncle told him.
“Why is it necessary?” The guy asked. He wasn’t really bright.
“It is necessary because that cocksucker borrowed money from me and didn’t pay it back, you see?”
The guy didn’t question anything else.
When that occurred it took me right back to my childhood and my uncle telling my father to do it because it was necessary. I didn’t understand that kind of reasoning back then, I do now though. I am saying that years after the fact of course. That is the end of that memory.
The next morning was the ride in the truck with my dad and the dead man in the water. That is how the three events connect in my head.
My last memory of Florida is being in a bar. Sitting on the bar top with the lady with the large breasts there on a bar stool in front of me. She always held me to her breasts. I don’t know why. Some form of comfort to me? To her? Both? I don’t know.
A customer came in and complained about me being there on the bar. The bartender told him to shut up and mind his business. It was like he told him that and didn’t even look to see if the guy would shut up. He took it for granted he would and he did. The guy didn’t even order a drink, just walked out.
There was music from a jukebox. My father and my uncle were playing pool and drinking. Feeding nickels into the jukebox. The lady was humming something that was playing. She and the bartender were chuckling about the guy that had complained. The air was blue, and it was hard to really see the length of the bar because of all that cigarette smoke.
Some guys came in a few minutes later, got into a fight with my uncle and killed him. I found out later that my uncles and my father had crossed some people and this was not the first time they had come to get him. More than once they had come and he had beaten them and sent them back. This time they sent more men and one of those men wore brass knuckles.
I remember this event very clearly. The bartender had a shotgun behind the bar. There is a vague memory of knowing it was there. Like the bar was a rough place and more than once that shotgun had come out. The men were just drinking next to my uncle and my father. A short way away, down the bar. One guy was nearly as big as my uncle and they decided to compare muscles. Like a friendly contest between two guys drinking. I remember thinking my uncle would win. He was bigger, but when my uncle got his shirt up and over his head they attacked him.
It was very fast. The woman grabbed me. My father was scared and jumped back away from the fight. A guy got off the floor and threatened my father and he backed away further. The bartender was also scared. The shotgun came out, but it was over already. Someone said, “Better get that fuckin’ kid out of there.” Years later it dawned on me that they were referring to me. My father disappeared, the woman took me. Somehow I got home, I don’t remember how. I remember my aunt coming to our house crying. My uncle was in a coma for several days and then died. That was the end of Miami for us. Within a week we left for Galveston Texas.
I don’t have a lot of memories of Texas. The ocean, the seawall of Galveston Island. The Mexican people that seemed as plentiful as everyone else there, even more so in places, like it was really their country. I remember hurricane Camille coming at us. My mother walked me down to the seawall and the water was beginning to come over it. I remember thinking that was crazy because the beach was so wide and the water further away still. And the wall was tall, but the water was coming over the top of that wall and within a few hours Camille hit and pretty much destroyed the island.
My father showed up after the hurricane had hit. There was no access to the island yet, so he must have been somewhere on the island. I rode around in his truck with him, once again standing on the seat. I remember seeing a nearby trailer park. It was destroyed, there were dead people laying on the ground, in the wreckage, and other people stealing things from the destroyed houses at the same time. My father yelled at them. Some other men came and yelled too and the people took off.
My parents argued over the next few days. My mother was sick of following him from place to place. She packed us up and we moved back to New York.
The mental health unit. Thirteen, suicide attempt three:
I can’t remember when it all changed between my father and I. There was a time in childhood where I was still willing to forgive the fact that his sister molested me for a very long time, he knew about it and did nothing, as a kid it’s easy to overlook those things. Those are things you think about later in life. Things that will destroy you or cause you to try to destroy people around you if you don’t get them fixed.
I know we were okay. We owned a house. My mother and father were together. They were successful, I thought, but then my Dad used to take me for rides with him. He’d pick up friends, then girlfriends, then they would do shit in the back of the car. Right in front of me. He said, “Don’t tell your mother.” I didn’t, ever. Not even now. But then he left. Left us with no money, car, nothing. Just left.
I tried suicide for the first time the year before at about twelve, or just turned twelve. The time before that had been accidental. Sniffing glue and I passed out and stopped breathing for a few minutes. It was funny because my friend did nothing. Didn’t call for help, nothing. Squeezed some more glue into the bag and went at it. I have his word that I stopped breathing, but he was high and I have always wondered if that part was true. I tend to be a show me and I’ll believe it type of guy. If I don’t see it I don’t believe it. Maybe I’m not so much like that anymore, but I absolutely was for many years. The thing is, I started breathing again on my own and when I came out of that, I had this fascination with death. It just called to me. I can’t explain it any better. Maybe the release of all responsibility, pain, hatred. Maybe.
So not long after that I tried suicide. I took every pill I could find and swallowed them. Prescription pain pills, aspirins. A few hundred pills or so. And I washed it all down with alcohol.
I nearly died, but while I was in that place of waiting, where my body was away from me, I had no pain. There was no one that was hurting me, using me, trying to fuck me or rape me. Nothing. I wanted to stay there so bad. But they got enough stuff in me to make me puke most of the pills back up and I lived. Sick for a while, stomach permanently messed up, but alive.
They sent me to the mental Health after the second attempt that year, my third try at suicide. I was there for thirty days, an automatic hold, but they were constantly telling me that if they didn’t want to let me go they could keep me. My parents had signed the paperwork they needed. I can remember one or two groups. It was my first experience with group and I hated it. I was disruptive, refused to talk, told people to go fuck themselves and generally didn’t make any friends on the staff or any of the people there who were actually trying to get better.
I had two sessions of one on one counseling. I remember the counselor’s name, although I won’t include it here. A nice guy. Honest, straight forward. The second session is when things went bad. We were talking along and I felt comfortable with him so I told him I had been sexually abused. Everything stopped. He went and got his supervisor, the supervisor and he got into an argument outside the door, the up thrust being, which I heard through the door, there is no money in this, no way to pay the bill, we’re letting him go, so don’t explore that.
To be honest I wasn’t that surprised.
I spent my last few nights on the Mental Health Unit getting to know a girl a few years older than me. I was surprised at how alone they left us when they went off to do whatever they did. We sat in the cafeteria while she slipped her panties off and let me peek under the table. No one came in at all.
(Written out in story form)
It was summer, the trees full and green, and the temperatures in the upper seventies. And you could smell the river from where it ran behind the paper mills and factories crowded around it, just beyond the public square; A dead smell, waste from the paper plants.
I think it was John who said something first. “Fuck it,” or something like that, “I’ll be okay.”
“Yeah,” Pete asked?
“Yeah… I think so,” John agreed. His eyes locked on Pete’s, but they didn’t stay. They slipped away and began to wander along the riverbed, the sharp rocks that littered the tops of the cliffs and the distance to the water. I didn’t like it.
Gary just nodded. Gary was the oldest so we pretty much went along with the way he saw things.
“But it’s your dad,” I said at last. I felt stupid. Defensive. But it felt to me like he really wasn’t seeing things clearly. I didn’t trust how calm he was, or how he kept looking at the river banks and then down to the water maybe eighty feet are so below.
“I should know,” John said, but his eyes didn’t meet mine at all.
“He should know,” Gary agreed and that was that.
“That’s cool. Let’s go down to the river,” Pete suggested, changing the subject.
“I’m not climbing down there,” I said. I looked down the sheer rock drop off to the water. John was still looking too, and his eyes were glistening, wet, his lips moved slightly as if he was talking to himself. If he was I couldn’t hear, but then he spoke aloud.
“We could make it, I bet,” he said, as though it was an afterthought to some other idea. I couldn’t quite see that idea, at least I told myself that later, but I felt some sort of way about it, as if it had feelings of its own attached to it.
“No, man,” Gary said. “Pete didn’t mean beginning here… Did you,” he asked?
“No… No, you know, out to Huntingtonville,” Pete said. He leaned forward on his bike, looked at john, followed his eyes down to the river and then back up. John looked at him.
“What!” John asked.
“Nothing, man,” Pete said. “We’ll ride out to Huntingtonville. To the dam. That would be cool… Wouldn’t it?” You could see the flatness in John’s eyes. It made Pete nervous. He looked at Gary.
“Yeah,” Gary said. He looked at me.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “That would be cool.” I spun one pedal on my stingray, scuffed the dirt with the toe of one sneaker and then I looked at John again. His eyes were still too shiny, but he shifted on his banana seat, scuffed the ground with one of his own sneakers and then said, “Yeah,” kind of under his breath. Again like it was an afterthought to something else. He lifted his head from his close inspection of the ground, or the river, or the rocky banks, or something in some other world for all I knew, and it seemed more like the last to me, but he met all of our eyes with one sliding loop of his own eyes, and even managed to smile.
The bike ride out to Huntingtonville was about four miles. It was a beautiful day and we lazed our way along, avoiding the streets, riding beside the railroad tracks that just happened to run out there. The railroad tracks bisected Watertown. They were like our own private road to anywhere we wanted to go. Summer, fall or winter. It didn’t matter. You could hear the trains coming from a long way off. More than enough time to get out of the way.
We had stripped our shirts off earlier in the morning when we had been crossing the only area of the tracks that we felt were dangerous, a long section of track that was suspended over the Black river on a rail trestle. My heart had beat fast as we had walked tie to tie trying not to look down at the rapids far below. Now we were four skinny, jeans clad boys with our shirts tied around our waists riding our bikes along the sides of those same railroad tracks where they ran through our neighborhood, occasionally bumping over the ties as we went. Gary managed to ride on one of the rails for about 100 feet. No one managed anything better.
Huntingtonville was a small river community just outside of Watertown. It was like the section of town that was so poor it could not simply be across the tracks or on the other side of the river, it had to be removed to the outskirts of the city itself. It was where the poorest of the poor lived, the least desirable races. The blacks. The Indians. Whatever else good, upstanding white Americans felt threatened or insulted by. It was where my father had come from, being both black and Indian.
I didn’t look like my father. I looked like my mother. My mother was Irish and English. About as white, as white could be. I guess I was passing, but I was too poor, too much of a dumb kid to even know that back then.
John’s father was the reason we were all so worried. A few days before we had been playing baseball in the gravel lot of the lumber company across the street from where we lived. The railroad tracks ran behind that lumber company. John was just catching his breath after having hit a home run when his mother called him in side. We all heard later from our own mothers that John’s father had been hurt somehow. Something to do with his head. A stroke. I really didn’t know what a stroke was at that time or understand everything that it meant. I only knew it was bad. It was later in life that I understood how bad. All of us probably, but we did understand that John’s father had nearly died, and would never be his old self again, if he even managed to pull through.
It was a few days after that now. The first time the four of us had gotten back together. We all felt at loose ends. It simply had made no sense for the three of us to try to do much of anything without John. We had tried, but all we could think about or talk about was John’s father. Would he be okay? Would they move? That worried me the most. His sister was about the most beautiful girl in the entire world to me. So not only would John move, so would she.
He came back to us that day not saying a word about it. And we were worried.
When we came to the dam in Huntingtonville the water was high. That could mean that either the dam had been running off the excess water, or was about to be. You just had to look at the river and decide.
“We could go to the other side and back,” John suggested.
The dam was about 20 or 30 feet high. Looming over a rock strewn riverbed that had very little water. It was deeper out towards the middle, probably, it looked like it was, but it was all dry river rock along the grassy banks. The top of the Dam stretched about 700 feet across the river.
“I don’t know,” Pete said. “The dam might be about to run. We could get stuck on the other side for a while.”
No one was concerned about wet feet if the dam did suddenly start running as we were crossing it. It didn’t run that fast. And it had caught us before. It was no big deal. Pete’s concern was getting stuck on the little island where the damn ended for an hour or so. Once John and I had been on that island and some kids, older kids, had decided to shoot at us with 22 caliber rifles. Scared us half to death. But that’s not the story I’m trying to tell you today. Maybe I’ll tell you that one some other time. Today I’m trying to tell you about John’s father. And how calm John seemed to be taking it.
John didn’t wait for anyone else to comment. He dumped his bike and started to climb up the side of the concrete abutment to reach the top of the dam and walk across to the island. There was nothing for us to do except fall in behind him. One by one we did.
It all went smoothly. The water began to top the dam, soaking our sneakers with its yellow paper mill stink and scummy white foam just about halfway across, but we all made it to the other side and the island with no trouble. Pete and I climbed down and walked away. To this day I have no idea what words passed between Gary and John, but the next thing I knew they were both climbing back up onto the top of the dam, where the water was flowing faster now. Faster than it had ever flowed when we had attempted to cross the dam. Pete nearly at the top of the concrete wall, Gary several feet behind him.
John didn’t hesitate. He hit the top, stepped into the yellow brown torrent of river water pouring over the falls and began to walk back out to the middle of the river. Gary yelled to him as Pete and I climbed back up to the top of the dam.
I don’t think I was trying to be a hero, but the other thought, the thought he had pulled back from earlier, had just clicked in my head. John was thinking about dying. About killing himself. I could see it on the picture of his face that I held in my head from earlier. I didn’t yell to him, I just stepped into the yellow foam and water, found the top of the dam and began walking.
Behind me and Pete and Gary went ballistic. “What the fuck are you doing?”
I heard it, but I didn’t hear it. I kept moving. I was scared. Petrified. Water tugged at my feet. There was maybe 6 inches now pouring over the dam and more coming, it seemed a long way down to the river. Sharp, up-tilted slabs of rock seemed to be reaching out for me. Secretly hoping that I would fall and shatter my life upon them.
John stopped in the middle of the dam and turned, looking off toward the rock and the river below. I could see the water swirling fast around his ankles. Rising higher as it went. John looked over at me, but he said nothing.
“John,” I said, when I got close enough. He finally spoke.
“No,” was all he said, but tears began to spill from his eyes. Leaking from his cheeks and falling into the foam scummed yellow-brown water that flowed ever faster over his feet.
“Don’t,” I screamed. I knew he meant to do it, and I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Don’t move,” Gary said from behind me. I nearly went over the falls. I hadn’t known he was that close. I looked up and he was right next to me, working his way around me on the slippery surface of the dam. I looked back and Pete was still on the opposite side of the dam. He had climbed up and now he stood on the flat top. Transfixed. Watching us through his thick glasses. Gary had followed John and me across.
I stood still and Gary stepped around me. I have no idea how he did. I’ve thought about it, believe me. There shouldn’t have been enough room, but that was what he did. He stepped right around me and then walked the remaining twenty feet or so to John and grabbed his arm.
“If you jump you kill me too,” Gary said. I heard him perfectly clear above the roar of the dam. He said it like it was nothing. Like it is everything. But mostly he said it like he meant it.
It seemed like they argued and struggled forever, but it was probably less than a minute, maybe two. The waters were rising fast and the whole thing would soon be decided for us, if we didn’t get off the dam quickly we would be swept over by the force of the water.
They almost did go over. So did I, but the three of us got moving and headed back across to the land side where we had dropped our bikes. We climbed down from a dam and watched the water fill the river up. No one spoke.
Eventually john stopped crying. And the afterthought look, as though there some words or thoughts he couldn’t say passed. The dying time had passed.
We waited almost two hours for the river to stop running and then Pete came across.
We only talked about it one other time that summer, and then we never talked about it again. That day was also a beautiful summer day. Sun high in the sky. We were sitting on our bikes watching the dam run.
“I can’t believe you were gonna do it,” Pete said to John.
“I wasn’t,” John told him. “I only got scared when the water started flowing and froze on the dam… That’s all it was.”
Nobody spoke for a moment and then Gary said, “That’s how it was.”
“Yeah. That’s how was,” I agreed…
It was the Christmas holiday, or maybe Thanksgiving, I really can’t remember which. I do remember there was a Family reunion at our house. The Watson’s, my mother’s side of the family, what I thought of even then as the good side of the family.
The Watson’s loved their family reunions. Not that the Sweet side of the family didn’t too, it was just that the Watson family reunions were fun. Nobody punched anybody else. The cops never showed up… Well, except this one time.
I didn’t think I remembered a lot about that day, but as I began to write I realized that I did. I remember how the cops showed up after. After it was over. After nobody got killed. After my Father had left, gone, burned the pavement black with rubber out in front of the house with his two door Chevy. After. They never came until after. I wonder about that. Like, Why? They were close by. Were they afraid to come? Were they waiting for the bad stuff to end before they came?
Were they hoping no one got killed? Were they hoping we all got killed? Okay, maybe not the last, but I still wonder why they didn’t come.
The day started out okay. People, Watson’s, started to show up. My mother and Father were split up at the time. The day looked like it would be okay. Then my Father showed up too. He had not been around much at all. Here today, gone tomorrow. He didn’t really have a clear concept of separated. I think his concept was somewhere in that gray area that some men lived in back in the fifties and sixties. My woman, seems to explain it best. It took me a long time to get away from that viewpoint too. I had friends that grew up the same way. We just took it for granted that that was the way that life was. Fathers owned the house. They could hit your mother if they wanted to. They drank and sometimes stayed out all night long. They had girlfriends. They had tempers. They were men and they lived in an era where men did pretty much as they pleased and women were not much more than slaves. Children too for that matter.
I wanted to say that because I want you to understand the family unit I am writing about. The mindset of the people in the story. And if you did not grow up in those days I want you to know they were real. Maybe some kid somewhere had the Leave It to Beaver life. Or one like Opie in Mayberry, but where I grew up there was no such life.
That day he showed up. We were all surprised, but not that he showed up drunk, pissed off and murderous too. That isn’t overblown. He was murderous. He was, he just didn’t end up going there, but he nearly did. We were just surprised he showed up at all. In any condition, let alone on a day of celebration.
He came, he yelled, he sent everyone away in just a matter of a few minutes. Aunts, Uncles, Cousin Watson’s, and also some Watson’s who were no longer Watson’s. The girl cousins who had married into other families.
He chased them all away and then there was only us: My Mother, the four of us children, and my sister’s boyfriend.
For a few minutes it seemed as though he had spent all of his passion, all of his Alcohol fueled anger sending everyone away, but then he got angry all over again and the next thing I knew he was holding a loaded rifle. If things had seemed to be moving slow to me, and it seems to me as a kid they had seemed to be, that stopped right then. Things sped up to a ridiculous speed. Super-fast. Too fast. The next thing I knew my sister’s boyfriend and I were locked in my Mothers bedroom with my Father who kept putting the rifle to his head and threatening to kill himself.
I don’t know how long that was. An hour? Five minutes? It could have been either or neither. I only know an argument went on between my Mother and Father through the closed door. I had no idea why he was barricaded in the bedroom with us. My Mother certainly had no gun, or any other weapon for that matter.
Eventually my mother left to call the cops, having decided that she could not talk him out, and being afraid, as both myself and my sister’s boyfriend were locked in there with him. And as crazy as he was he just might have decided to kill someone, after all it does end up that way. Starts as a suicide ends up a murder suicide. I suppose, and I thought the same thing then too, that he had come to get my mother. Probably kill her, but her brothers got her out the front door and away and he decided to grab us. Thankfully he didn’t kill my uncles. Mom came back, but I think that he believed there were cops out there with her so he would not come out. So she left to call the cops, and as soon as she left (We did not own a phone. Back then a phone was a luxury) my father listened at the door, satisfied himself there was no one else in the house, laid the rifle down and walked out into the house.
I have no idea why he went, possibly to look out the windows and try to see if the cops were there yet.
The boyfriend looked at me and me at him. I grabbed the rifle, shot the bolt back, and sure enough it was loaded. Then I slid the bolt back and laid the rifle back down where it had been.
I don’t know what goes through someone’s head at a time like that. Especially a kid like I was. What I recall thinking was something like… ‘If I take out the bullet and he has more he may kill me for taking his bullet. Then the Boyfriend too.’ So when the boyfriend said to me, ‘Why didn’t you take out the bullet?’ I thought I had a great argument, but when I opened my mouth to speak it into existence it flew away.
I picked up the rifle, slid the bolt back, the bullet dropped out and fell into my hand. And then I remembered my argument. “He’ll kill us,” I whispered.
“Put it back! Put it Back!” the boyfriend said.
I had no sooner put it back in, laid the rifle back down, than my father had burst back into the room. The first thing he did was check for that bullet. When he saw it was still there he looked up at me and the boyfriend. To me that look said we were lucky we didn’t take, his bullet, but in hindsight, almost fifty years later, I wonder if it might have said… ‘Why did you leave that bullet in there? I left it here so you could take it out! Do you want me to die?’
You can read a lot into a split second facial shot trapped in your mind for fifty years. Believe me. I have, but the truth is I don’t know what that look meant. I never asked and about thirty five years ago when he died it became too late to ask.
The standoff between the outside world, there was still no sound on the other side of the door, and my father only lasted a short time longer. Without a word he charged out of the bedroom and then out of the house, leaving the rifle behind, since he had left the rifle behind we weren’t too afraid to follow him. He was out the door; in his old blue Chevy, and smoking the tires as he made his getaway.
Then the sirens sounded in the distance.. Then the town cop showed up along with a few other people. I suppose that even back then I wondered why they took so long to show up. Probably the same way my father wondered why we didn’t take the bullet out of his rifle, if he really did wonder that.
A few years later my Father passed away. Suicide? Stroke? Murdered? Those were all plausible theories that I have heard. I don’t know the truth. My uncle who found him might have known, but he changed a few things at the scene before he called the police and he’s dead now too.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had taken that bullet…
(Counselor: Write about the early drug use you have mentioned in group. When you first used, what it was and why you used it.)
I think the first use of alcohol had to be around 4. It was preschool. Sitting on the bar top as a little kid, getting sips of beer, or whiskey, they thought it was funny. I can remember them laughing about me drinking it.
Speed was next. Around eleven. My mother was dieting and using diet pills to help with that. I stole some, tried it and loved it. Speed sharpened your perceptions. Made you feel smarter, on top of the world.
I was about thirteen when I tried acid. By that time I was already alcohol and speed dependent. Speed, a drug that would twice come close to killing me before I was twenty one, was a daily habit. I had pretty much dropped out of school even though I was legally there, on the rolls, and I flirted with the idea of suicide on a daily basis. I sold drugs at that time, but the friend I had sold drugs for had wound up dead, so I was in between connections. I still had pot, speed, but I had heard about Acid.
From My Journal:
(I am writing this in a story form as I have written small sections of my life this way so I can look at them and be okay with them before I let them go, but also to learn from them. A counselor recommended it. You can write it as though it is removed from you. That way it is not as hard to write the really tough stuff, and you may be able to understand a lot more of your life this way. It worked for me.)
“I don’t really know him at all,” Dick said.
“Neither do I,” I admitted. “But, everyone says he’s the guy, so I called him and asked him.
“Yeah,” dick asked?
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s going to meet us down at the Olympic.” The Olympic was an old run down theater on the edge of downtown.
“When,” he asked?
“Now, I guess.” The truth was I hadn’t asked. I had been too nervous. We were up in my bedroom. Dick was my most recent friend. John Gary and Pete, my early childhood friends had fallen by the wayside.
John moved away after his father nearly died. One day the whole family just moved out of state.
Gary was older and had finally found older friends. Pete just drifted away. I got into drugs and alcohol, skipping school and working towards that first prison bid I had in me.
As I said, at thirteen I had more than a passing acquaintance with alcohol and speed. I did both whenever I could get them. I drank every day, or at least the days when I didn’t drink were rare. I was already at a point in my addiction where I didn’t really get all that drunk anymore, no matter how much I drank. And I was just a few weeks away from a serious accident at the county fair that would come very close to taking my life. Ahead of me, although I didn’t yet know it, was recovery from that accident, suicide attempts, life on the streets and near death there more than once too, but today I was trying to find my way in the drug world. Today was acid. I had two joints in my pocket and Dick and I each had a couple of bucks. Two dollars was the price of a hit of what they called blotter acid back then.
Neither of us had ever done acid before. Never had seen it. Never sold it, and we did sell pot so we could smoke some, or at least Dick did. I couldn’t smoke pot. It made me sick every time. So I used my money to buy Boone’s Farm Apple wine, or Strawberry Hill, Colt Forty Five Malt Liquor, cigarettes, diet pills (AKA Speed), and all the other stuff we shouldn’t have been doing. We knew, in short, nothing at all about acid, except you tripped. Whatever that was. It was supposed to be intense.
We left the house and headed toward downtown and the Olympic Theater.
For most of my childhood the Olympic theater showed adult movies all week long, and then cartoons and kids movies on the weekend. At one time it had been a grand theater. But that time was a long way behind it.
I saw it later in my life, a few years later really, and it was boarded up, ceilings fallen, and then I moved away for the first time and when I came back it was gone.
That place had always bothered me back then though. I would pass it on the weekends and the little kids would be lined up to go in and sit where the perverts had been sitting the day before doing God knew what. It made no sense to me. And the perverts didn’t really go away on the weekends. They hung around. I know. I saw one there one time that I had encountered as a younger child. One that had abused me.
Despite that, parents sent their kids to the Olympic Theater all weekend long. Probably to get them out of their hair. Have a little down time, who knew. It was a small town. It was supposed to be safe. And I suppose it was for most kids, but I never liked it. I never felt at ease with it.
So the little kids went to the Olympic all weekend long, just like we were doing, and the pervs were not the only thing out front. Drugs were sold right there at the sides of the doors nearly all the time. That was where we were going to pick up our purchase.
There was always a crowd, and it was easy to disappear in that crowd. Of course the pervs watched you, sometimes even propositioned you, but I didn’t know anything about that world yet, and wouldn’t for a few years until I ended up on the streets. Ironically, when I sold pot, I too always had the buyer meet me in front of the Olympic. Funny how I could feel one way about others doing that, yet justify in my mind that what I did was different.
We walked the eight blocks to the Olympic. It was early fall, cool, but not cold yet. The leaves were turning, but they were still on the trees. There was a wind. More like a breeze on steroids, but you could smell winter on that air.
Smell it. It was like that. Just like any kind of flower reminded me of death, that particular fall air reminded me of winter. And really, winter and death were always the same thing to me. It evoked depression in me. Summer was over… Dead… Gone away at the least. Gone for at least a year. And a year was almost a lifetime at that age, so it may as well been dead. At least it seemed that way to me then.
I saw Jeff standing in front of the Olympic. A leather jacket. Jeans. He practically screamed tough guy. We idolized him and imitated that look ourselves. It wasn’t more than a handful of years that he had left to live. He didn’t know it. We didn’t know it. He was going to be on the bad end of a drug deal in the near future. Get stuck with the time and then get stabbed to death shortly after that in prison over a bad drug deal there.
It’s funny, thinking about it now, where blocks of time, five years, ten years, seem to slip by so fast. What he had left to live was next to nothing, but back then, if we had known, we would have thought it was forever.
Right then, at that time, he was about to enrich our lives. Acid was the big time experience. And he was the way to score it.
I walked up like I belonged there. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” Jeff threw back. He looked at Dick and Dick nodded. “Hold this for me for a second, would you,” He asked? He handed me a small slip of paper.
“Sure,” I said. I took the paper.
“So…” He looked at each of us. “You got the money?”
“Sure,” I agreed. I pulled the two dollars from my pocket and passed it to him as we pretended to shake hands. He shook hands with Dick too. Some old Grandpa was checking me and Dick out, I threw him a finger. He looked away with disgust written across his face. I turned back to Jeff.
“Cool,” He said. “Well, I’ll see you. Let me know if…You know.”
“Uh huh,” I agreed. I watched his back as he walked off into the downtown district.
“What the fuck!” Dick said.
I looked at him. “What,” I asked?
“Where is it,” Dick asked?
“I figured he gave it to you,” I said, surprised that he apparently hadn’t.
“I can’t believe he screwed us,” Dick said. “I thought he gave you something.”
“He did,” I said, remembering the small slip of paper he had given me. I opened it in my palm. A cartoon Mickey Mouse printed on a small strip of thin, white paper. Nothing Else.
“It’s just a cartoon… A cartoon… It’s nothing,” I said after looking at Mickey for a few minutes. “He didn’t pass you anything either, I guess,” I finished.
“Great,” Dick said. He shook his head.
“Well, we got the joints,” I said.
“Yeah, except they make you sick almost every time.”
We were both dejected. We had maybe another two bucks between us. We could try again, but who could we call? If Jeff had stuck it to us, wouldn’t the next guy too?
“Well, we could stop by the doughnut shop. Buy some day old doughnuts and coffee. Then go get some wine, you get high, I’ll buzz off the wine, we’ll eat the doughnuts later, and the coffee will keep us up.” It actually seemed like a pretty good alternate plan to me. I had been more than a little nervous about the acid. I had heard about bad trips. Maybe this was for the best. We walked away back up State Street.
I was still holding the slip of paper in my hand. It amazes me that I didn’t crumple it up and throw it away, but something about it bugged me. We walked about a block in silence before it came to me.
“Hey,” I said. I came to a complete stop on the sidewalk. “Remember how some of those guys the other day were talking about blotter acid? How it was just a spot of color on a piece of paper? And those other guys were talking about Goofy and Minnie Mouse… Donald Duck? … Cartoon heads made out of acid… Like in the ink or something.”
Dick had continued to walk a few steps after I stopped, so he was stopped slightly ahead of me… Standing… Listening… Looking back at me.
“Huh,” he said and nodded his head.
“So… Maybe this is it,” I said looking at Mickey’s small head on the piece of paper.
“So how do we get it off,” he asked?
I shook my head. “We’ll eat the paper,” I said finally. Before we could think about it I ripped it in half, and handed Dick half of Mickey’s head. I shrugged, put my piece in my mouth and swallowed it. Dick did the same.
We stood in the shadows of an alleyway there watching the traffic pass us by.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Me either,” He agreed.
“I don’t know, Man,” I said.
“Yeah. Maybe he did get us… If so, we won’t buy no more pot through him,” Dick said. The guy we bought our pot from bought it from Jeff. Just about all the drugs in our little town came through Jeff who had a cousin in Syracuse that got them from somebody else. Who knew how many times they changed hands on the way to us. We didn’t.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Plan b?”
“Yeah, plan B,” He agreed.
We made our way to the doughnut shop just a few blocks further along and decided to modify our plan.
The doughnut shop was a cop hangout and the way we dressed, and our long hair, always pissed the cops off.
So we decided to buy doughnuts and a coffee to go, but to have a coffee there too. Just to sit there and piss the cops off. We were kids, I don’t know how else to explain how something like that seemed like entertainment to us. It was like we liked to tease them. A, ‘I know you hate us, but you can’t get us.’ or, as Dick used to say, ‘A big fuck you right at them.’ I have since come to have a great deal of respect for law enforcement. I didn’t in my youth though. It was good guys and bad guys. And in my screwed up thinking I was the good guy, cops were the bad guys.
There were three or four cops in there when we arrived, spread out along the curving counter top, eating doughnuts, drinking coffee and reading newspapers. It really was like another office for them back in those days, and I have never been able to figure this out, but they didn’t talk to each other. They didn’t sit side by side and shoot the shit as we used to say, as they ate, drank, read. No. They staked out little territories of their own. A little something on this side of them so someone wouldn’t sit there, a little something on the other side. It was weird to me as a kid, because I figured they all hung out, joked, and talked about catching the bad guys. Maybe they did, but they never did there.
It may be cliché in some cities when they talk about the cops hanging out at the doughnut shop. And really, now, it would be more than a little hard to do, there are no places like that, and they have an office right there in the car. Go through the drive through, pull out back and eat. But then, in my town, cliché or not the cops ate and hung out at the doughnut shop. No matter what time of day or night, if you had a problem just run down to the doughnut shop and get a cop. There would be one there.
We went in, picked out a bag of day old doughnuts, got our coffees, and sat down at the counter to drink. Like I said, we did that mostly to piss the cops off. It was their place. We looked like bad kids. Hell, we were bad kids. No way did they want us in their place.
We weren’t looking for trouble exactly, we just didn’t want the establishment, read that as any kind of authority, to rule our young lives.
We were sitting for less than five minutes when the acid hit us. It hit us both at the same time. We turned and looked at each other. Then, also, at the exact same time, we both became convinced that the cops were on to us. They knew without a doubt that we were tripping. In fact one cop kept looking at us non-stop. The paranoia was just starting.
We left, which was probably a good thing, and headed for my house. The hallucinations grew worse as we went. The tree limbs above us turned into leaf covered hands reaching down to snatch us from the street and eat us. And the worst, freakiest part of it is that we both had the same hallucinations at the same time. There was no calming influence from the non-hallucinating party.
To make it even worse our girlfriends, two sisters, discovered us at some point on the walk home and knew something was wrong with us. I was alternating between laughing hysterically and crying. My girlfriends face kept turning into a pig face each time she tried to kiss me or came too close. Eventually they left us alone and we got ourselves under some sort of control and decided to go to my house and lie low until the high became more manageable.
My mother was cooking dinner and listening to Walter Cronkite do the evening news as she did. She would pop into the living room doorway from the kitchen every few moments to see Walters face.
“Hi, Boys,” she said.
“Hey, Mom.” I was amazed how normal I sounded.
We sat down and tried to watch TV, but it quickly became apparent that Walter somehow knew we were high.
He kept looking at us. Winking, saying things only we could hear. Smirking at us. He knew alright.
We left the living room, went up to my bedroom and ended up listening to the Black Sabbath Debut album and the Stones. Good music to trip by. It seemed as though the bands were playing in our heads.
I tried to lay down, but the knotty pine bunk beds drove me crazy. The knots kept turning into eyes. Staring me down. I couldn’t look away, they followed me.
Time passed. Somewhere around five in the morning we began to come down. We drank the coffee and buzzed a little again on the caffeine, we left the house, met up with some older kids. Traded one of the joints for a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, then made our way downtown to Peanut Park where Dick got high on the other joint while I drank the wine and watched the sunrise…
That early part of that year I expanded into drugs big time. I sold pot at school, when I was there. In fact I would go just to sell before the first period started. Sell every joint I had on me, I was perfect for that, by the way, because I could not smoke the stuff. For some reason pot made me violently ill. It made me vomit, and I hated vomiting so I didn’t touch the stuff. So I would sell what I had to sell and then leave school. Hang around out back for a while, smoking cigarettes, get some high-schooler to buy me beer, or Boone’s Farm Apple Wine and then take off for either the river or the park for the day. Most of that time would find me with kids from the neighborhood. Dick was as badly addicted as I was, John, Pete and Gary, my other friends were not. That was what I had, those four guys and a few girlfriends that came and went.
Then I went to the local fair and out of the blue nearly got killed…
Available only through Amazon in eBook (Kindle) or Paperback.