Tuesday night, I was happy to be leaving class. Charlie and I had prepared and baked an organic chili-cheese-frito pie together the previous evening and I was looking forward to popping it into the oven, heating it back up, and enjoying it over some light conversation or an episode of Black Books.
I like to take advantage of semi-free moments by multitasking, so I phoned a friend on my way to the car, noting – with a certain relish – that I was only six minutes away from my parking meter blinking red.
“HEY! How was your day?” I bellowed into the phone, feeling lighthearted.
They replied, and we carried on nicely for another five minutes until – heading south on the interstate – I began to sense that they just sounded funny.
“Hey… what kind of medication have you taken today?” I asked casually.
They named something that I knew was prescribed, so no big deal.
“Anything else?” I pressed, my heart beginning to race.
“No…” but their no sounded weak.
“Are you sure?” I asked quietly.
“I mean, I smoked some weed…”
“Well duh,” I rolled my eyes at the car in front of me. “I know THAT. But what else did you take?”
And I think, now, that that was key; affirmatively demanding WHAT did you take instead of asking DID you take something else.
They said nothing, and nothing sounded worse than a response AND worse than a no, because the silence around nothing formed a sentence of its own. It said:
“Three clean years = blown. The timer restarts… now.”
I was furious. Mute tears streamed down my cheeks while the pressurized well of them squeezed my aching throat shut.
Neither of us said anything for two, possibly three minutes. We just hung on the line, feeling the tension and the devastation roughly intermingling with each other.
Then, a slow procession of questions sounded on my end of the line as I rerouted my trip and began navigating toward their house.
“How much?” (Mumbling.)
Then: “When?” (More mumbling.) Then: “A month ago? A MONTH? Oh my god… it’s been a whole month? This didn’t just happen?”
Then: “Why?” (I wanted to escape.)
Then: “Did you tell anyone you were feeling like using again?” Then: “Oh, you told one of your addict friends… k. And what did they say? …they said to be moderate? HA! So it made good sense to you to reach out to an addict for advice on your OWN addiction?”
Then: “Did you ever think of telling me?” (No, I was too embarrassed… too ashamed.) “I get that, but isn’t it MORE embarrassing NOW — with me finding out like this? Wouldn’t it have been LESS embarrassing to just say, ‘hey, I’m considering doing this really stupid thing’?” (Yeah.)
I finally arrived at their house and let myself in. They were sitting at the table in the kitchen, hanging their head.
Alright, I inhaled deeply. You’ve got two options, Jace; you can either hold their hand or you can be real with them. I knew that I needed to choose a general persona, or route, and because I believed that, every other time this had happened, everyone else had simply coddled them, I decided to go with my gut.
The addict made a move to stand, and I stopped them.
“Oh no — don’t bother. No hugs. You will get no hugs from me today. Let’s talk,” I began, pulling up a chair.
“Where is it? The stuff?” Silence. “Is it in the trash?” (Nod.) “Is it at the bottom of the trash?” I laughed and smiled, not kindly. “Yeah? Let’s go FIND it!”
I stood up and stuck my left hand deep down into their trashcan, feeling all kinds of grossness come into contact with my palm and fingers until I felt what I was looking for.
“Ahhh, here it is. The evidence.” I walked over to the sink with it, washed it off, and then set it on top of the little, white wooden sill above the sink.
“How about we just leave it right here — right next to… NO, right on top of this cute jar of pomegranate jelly! Remember when we bought this stuff at the farmer’s market together?” I smiled. “Were you using then?” I asked innocently.
“I’m sorry,” the addict whispered.
“DO NOT apologize to me,” I replied, resuming my seat at the table. “This has NOTHING to do with me. You are hurting and disappointing yourself. Also,” I added, “I don’t want you to apologize because you think I want you to… I also don’t want you to say shit just because you think I want to hear it. I want to know what you REALLY think, and what you REALLY want.”
I folded my hands together, resting them on the table. “So?” I shrugged. “Is it fun?” I asked, feigning curiosity. “Do you feel good right now?” (No.)
“Huh… I don’t know if I believe that. I mean, it must be fun… you’ve been doing it for a whole month!” I reasoned. I glanced back over at the evidence. “Should I try it?” I whispered.
“NO,” they answered quickly.
“No? Why not? You’re having such a nice time… maybe I’d enjoy it, too, and then we could do it all of the time… together!” I hardened my gaze.
The next hour basically passed like this. It was no fun for anyone, and it felt like the exact opposite of a pleasant, chili-cheese-frito pie night. I made the addict something to eat, because they hadn’t eaten all day, and while I constantly questioned the harshness of my approach, I urged myself to stick with it. They need consistency and firmness right now — stability, I told myself. I also clarified, with the addict, how things would be, moving forward.
“Look. You’ve lied to me. And you know how I feel about lying,” I sighed. “I can’t control whether or not you use, but I DO deserve your honesty and transparency in the matter, so – in the future – you have to tell me first. Be frank with me, be real with me, before you start using, and at least give me the opportunity to talk through it with you, because we are too close for the stupid shit YOU do to just affect you… it impacts both of us. And if you lie to me again,” I continued, hating the words even before they reached my lips, “this friendship will HAVE to be over.”
I shook my head at the addict, feeling sadder than ever. I’d never been so disappointed in someone. “I’ve been hurt too many times already. I’m not going to watch this become another toxic and spoiled relationship. I’d rather just let it end. You understand.”
I looked at the person and thought, you thief! You pretender! You stole my friend away from me and then proceeded to parade around like you were that person. You are not. You couldn’t be. You’re a counterfeit, a shadow. And then I asked myself, how did you NOT notice before now?
“You’re a beautiful person,” I continued. “Buoyant, joyful, sweet and inspiring. I love your soul, love it to death. So it is absolutely criminal for you to present yourself to the world, and to me, so whitewashed — like a freaking ghost. There is nothing to escape from. It is better to be here and to feel your feelings than it is to disassociate and feel nothing at all,” I whispered. “Feelings are beacons — indicators of who you are, what you want, what hurts, what needs to change… they’re necessary. Even the sad and bad ones. Just… stay here,” I pleaded. “You’re safe with me.”
I left, and I really can’t tell you who felt more heavyhearted that night.
The next day, the addict told me that they were going to attend a recovery meeting. I told them that I would go with them, but I asked them to please stop by my work first. They did, and when I saw them, I handed them a twenty.
“Use $10 to buy a plant of some kind. Just drop into the Lowes down the road and pick whichever one you like the most. Then, take it to your house, and put it in a place you visit frequently… maybe the kitchen or dining room. Give it a name and take care of it.”
I paused. “And then, know this: The day you poison yourself again, you have to poison the plant, too. Pour bleach on it, throw a rock at it… whatever; just do something that will really hurt it. Going forward, you have to treat it the way you treat yourself, because what you do to you doesn’t just affect you.” I looked them in the eye. “Don’t want to hurt the plant? No problem. Be kind to yourself.”
“And don’t forget to bring me my change,” I smiled.
They sent me a picture of the plant they chose an hour later — it was a Cypress.
“Oooooooh… NOW, you better be EXTRA careful, because Cypresses are my FAVORITE,” I warned them.
The day of the recovery meeting and plant mission, I was so exhausted and depressed when I woke up that I seriously couldn’t fathom going to work (or even putting on pants).
You’ve got dresses in there, a voice near the back of my head suggested jokingly, indicating the closet.
Yeah, but I don’t wear them to WORK, I answered it, annoyed.
Then, I sat upright in bed.
…well why the hell DON’T I?
Backstory: There was this whole Great Gender Identity Crisis of 2015-16...
I thought of my friend and their bravery — striving to recover from another bout with the same addiction. They at least have the courage to face what they’re afraid of; to channel whatever small amount of energy they have left into protecting themselves from themselves. It was admirable.
And then I thought of myself and how I’m addicted to things that society looks down on less (or even exempts from judgment entirely); stuff like sugar, coffee, and relationships…
I asked myself how these are really any different, and considered whether or not I was being honest about and brave in facing these addictions. Do I view them as harmful and in need of obliterating/taming, or do I simply dismiss them because they aren’t a hard drug? It was hard to say.
Well I can AT LEAST muster the guts to wear a dang DRESS to work, can’t I? I challenged myself.
And what’s funny is this: I avoided wearing a dress or skirt to work for about a year after I became okay with these articles of clothing, but slipping the dress on and then donning it at the corporate office on Wednesday morning… well, it didn’t feel weird at all. MUCH to my surprise, zero awkwardness ensued. I received a few compliments on the dress, actually (which made me feel sliiiiiiightly uncomfortable), but other than that, it was just really comfortable to wear, and you might even say that wearing it was… (looks around, shifty-eyed)… fun.
I texted a picture of the dress to my friend, the addict. “Wearing a dress today because of you,” I said, knowing they’d understand the significance.
Earlier today, I called this friend and asked: “Was I too harsh with you?”
“No,” they answered quickly. “If you were me, you’d understand what a relief it was…” they paused; I stared at the brick wall of the coffee shop in front of me, waiting.
“Once you knew and we talked about it,” they said slowly, “I wasn’t alone anymore.”
I think that this friend’s lovely little Cypress incited just a bit of jealousy in me, because I felt inexplicably compelled to get a plant of my own yesterday morning. 🙂
I stepped into Lowes about thirty minutes before it was time for me to clock in and perused the plants for a while. I couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for, which makes sense, because I didn’t exactly know what I was looking for. Inspiration, I guess. I noticed a plant wilting in the corner of a display, and while I felt a small tug towards it, I kept walking.
I eventually encountered a free employee and decided to ask him, “In an office environment, what type of plant would thrive?”
“Hmmmmmmm,” he breathed, picking at the gage in his ear. “I can think of two kinds: a peace lily, or some bamboo.”
Peace; I’ve been dwelling on it recently.
“Show me the peace lilies, please!”
He walked me over to them, and they were very… decorative. Not really my style, but… for the sake of peace…
He left me alone so that I could select one of them, but seconds later, I could see him returning towards me in the corner of my left eye, a potted plant in his right hand.
“I’m sorry — those actually aren’t peace lilies. My bad. But this one is. Now, it’s not doing so well,” he apologized, gesturing towards it, “so if you want it, I’ll give it to you for like three bucks.”
I looked at it; it was the plant I’d noticed ten minutes before, the wilty one!
Holy shit, I thought to myself. I’ve met another soulmate, and it’s a PLANT!
“I’ll take it,” I said, reaching for her.
As we were on our way to the checkout register, he paused. “Wait — here’s another peace lily… it actually looks a lot healthier…” his voice trailed off as he reached for it.
“Nope,” I responded quickly, continuing to walk forward. “I’ll let someone else have that one.”
My friend, the addict, ventured out of his house and bought a nice, blue pot for her, and now she — Raita — is settling in nicely.
I think that plants are important for many reasons… but here are just three:
A. they purify the air,
B. they are cheerful to look at, and
C. they serve as an important reminder for us to be gentle, effortless, kind, authentic, and content with who we are and what we have. They don’t concern themselves with beauty standards, or what’s trending, or whether or not they’re the right color, height, or girth… they also don’t compare themselves with other plants, or envy other plants in any kind of way… they’re just – again – effortless.
It’s nice to have friends who remind you that you should take of yourself and that you should be yourself, because if you do these things, you’ll look as gorgeous, breathe as easily, and inspire as deeply as my magical plant Raita does. Raita, and her healthy, growing friend… the Cypress.
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