This is a paper I have written for my English class. It is a narrative essay and I thought I would share it here, with you.
This story starts with addiction, and not the, “Oh my god, I just can’t get enough of those peppermint-soy-latte-pumpkin-cheese danishes; I ate two yesterday.” No, I mean the other kind; the kind that nestles into your brain, determined and willful, expecting to stay a while; a parasite that wears your face and commands your every thought, it forces you watch as you give your life over to it. Mine was a love story: a strong young man with a lifetime of pain, genetically predisposed to weaknesses of a self-medicating nature, meets the sophisticated lady—she was soft, and white, came in a little plastic baggie—and I loved her. She, and she alone, made me feel smart, funny, even happy; she made me feel alive. It was her whispered wishes that I would honor, her acceptance I craved.
I snorted it, I smoked it, I devoured it. I crammed it in my nose and stuffed it in my pipe; I stood for days in puddles of my own sweat while scratching and picking at invisible bugs racing across my flesh. Day in and day out, I lived with a clenched jaw and a bent brain; I fell so far and so fast that by the time I realized I was at the bottom I could only see one way out. I used charcoal that first time; I spent the evening filling and refilling a wine glass until the bottle was empty, and then I filled a small grill with those presoaked briquettes, took it into the bathroom, lit the fire, and sat back to wait for the sweet relief. I waited for the air to leave the room and my wasted life to hitch a ride but for whatever reason, it didn’t take. I awoke the next morning with a throbbing headache and a persistent heartbeat; I was, yet again, a failure.
I tell you these things not to illicit your sympathies; I do not need your understanding; I do not want your pity. This is not a confession; forgiveness cannot help me now. I share these skeletons from deep in my closet in order to reveal just how he saved me.
It happened by pure chance; a friend found him at three months old and brought him to me. I can’t say how long he had been out there; all I know is when I first saw him he was shivering with fear. His eyes, large and brown, searched my own; he seemed to be looking for malice in them and was not convinced it wasn’t there. I approached him slowly, trying to show him I could be trusted, and when I had properly introduced myself, I picked him up. His tongue shot between his low hanging jowls and licked any and all available skin it could find—a habit that it still practices to this day. I took him to the pet store and bought him some food and a collar, some toys and a bed; he licked me all the way there and all the way back. The veterinarian told me he was a full blooded Boxer and that he was playing host to a few parasites, but they were easily eradicated. I named him Sloppy Joe, and he would save my life.
He weaseled his way into my heart in no time; I could no longer spend every moment locked behind a closed door holding my breath and listening for unseen antagonists. He needed walks and socialization, he needed food and love, he needed me; my hunger for dope didn’t stop but it did slow down. He and I spent sixteen Saturdays at a training school that was much like a dance class. I learned to lead, and he learned to follow; he was smart and picked up every new step as though it were natural. He was endlessly in the passenger seat of my truck, going to the park or the beach; sleeping next to me; or sitting and staring at me for endless hours.
When I would lock myself in my room and scratch my self esteem into little lines of love, Joe would scratch at the door; if I smoked away the day he wouldn’t get food or water, and when I came slithering out of the room at last, those big brown eyes always made me feel like walking, talking rubbish. But it was more than just that: all the guilt in the world couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty back together again; here was this living, breathing thing that relied on me. If I wasn’t there to fill the bowl, he didn’t eat—suddenly, I was wasting more than just my own life. And on days when suicide would be my very first thought when I opened my eyes, it was his need, his joy, his energy, that made me shake it off. While I couldn’t summon the strength to care whether I lived or died, I cared very much whether he did or not.
There is no malice in his heart; he wants only to love and be loved—and eat, can’t forget the food. He is regularly around a friend’s chickens and has never once tried to hurt one; the same for cats, babies, rabbits; anything is a friend to Joe. He is a pure being, and if I had broke him the way I had been broken, I really would be all the awful things I fought so hard not to believe about myself.
There was no epiphany, no burning bushes or lightning bolts; there was no thundering voice from the heavens that changed it all for me. It was a slow and arduous struggle; I would tumble from the wagon face first and land in a three day binge, but eventually I took off my junkie jacket and slipped my neck from the noose I wore there. I did the work, you’ll not hear me say that he made me give it up, but he did make me want to. I haven’t invited that little white tramp into my life for over six years now, and Joe says hi.
This past Sunday I finally got out of bed around noon, my head was swaying back and forth like a tether ball dancing at the end of its rope after being discarded in the middle of a game and stuck in a lazy arc. My tongue wore a layer of fuzz; it tasted like a dust bunny had climbed up on my chest while I was sleeping and defecated in my mouth. All this a byproduct of the vicodin I had been eating the night before.
I had been invited to dinner and when I arrived my friend was just stepping onto her front porch to smoke a cigarette. We stood talking while she smoked; her dogs were inside demanding their hellos, and we had a good chuckle at their insistence; I hadn’t seen them in a couple weeks and they are among my biggest fans. As we stood discussing what we wanted to eat, I leaned against the handrail that juxtaposed her front porch steps; it was of the wrought iron variety and had been painted a glossy black so many times that it almost looked like it was melting. Seconds later, with not so much as a warning shot, the rail gave way and sent me ass over teakettle in the slowest half second ever recorded. Lightning ran up my arm and set off sparklers in my brain; I had broken my finger and had known it instantly—even though I would wonder many times that night if I hadn’t been a little overzealous in my diagnosis while I waited the doctor would verify that it was indeed broken in the Emergency Room later.
So, I felt like I had been run-over when I got up Sunday morning and made breakfast my first priority; I fed Joe and made myself an egg sandwich in the hopes that some food would settle down the lava in my belly. After breakfast, I ate another pain pill despite the warnings from my good sense, and as I sat down on the couch, Sloppy Joe began to cough. He had developed it a couple days before but it wasn’t anything to really worry about; he had had kennel cough once before when he was young, and it is as simple as a couple of pills to be rid of, inconvenient but nothing that couldn’t wait until Monday. It was a weak and dry cough, more of a cuh-cuh-cuh than a hak-hak-hak; it sounded like he had an itch in the back of his throat; I made a mental note to call the Vet’s office first thing the next morning.
Then something happened that changed everything: his last cough in a string of four or five ended a little rougher, and as I watched, he coughed up a small puddle of blood that was almost purple. And again, as I went to fetch a paper towel to clean up, more blood, not as much, but blood just the same, and the same slightly purple color. I made a frantic call to a friend because the vicodin and my racing heart both told me it was a bad idea to drive, and we raced to an emergency vet’s office.
I sat in the waiting room googling things like “dog coughing blood” and “blood cough dog” and hated everything I read in the results, until they ushered me into an examination room. As soon as I sat down, I could smell feces; I couldn’t see any, but the smell seemed to be coming from the walls and it made me think about the poor animals that came and went in a place that was built to deal with the issues that couldn’t wait until Monday. The doctor that was seeing to Joe was one that I had never met before—this was my dog’s first full-fledged emergency—but when she walked into the room her face told me what I was worried her lips were about to. She looked like she was fighting tears: quivering lip, red puffy eyes, a slight shake to her hands; by the time she started talking, the words buzzed by my ears like fifty little flies.
I caught them at random, “Worst part of my job.”
“…several masses in his lungs…”
“…not much time….”
“…just keep him as comfortable as we can until…”
I was given some pills to help him be comfortable and keep the pain down until he decides his time has come; right now, he is still eating and acting normal, except for the blood on his lips, and the doctor assured me it wasn’t yet time, but soon.
I don’t normally wax sentimental; it does nobody any good for me to live in the past, but in a real way, Sloppy Joe saved me from myself and now I can’t save him.
One day soon I will be saying goodbye to my best friend, who, at times, felt like my only friend. He made me want to be a better person and I owe him this anguish.