I used to party pretty hard. Did some stupid stupid shit. Should have died any number of times. From a variety of situations I put myself in or thought was a good idea at the time. It usually ended up with me getting half my hair cut and lying flat on the driveway somewhere with my keys in my hand, because I was always headed somewhere. Never been arrested. Though pulled over many times, in many states, even Nebraska once. And I loved to talk with cops when I was in the bag. Just to see where the line was. It was in my nature, and my nature was warped and ballooned by whatever cocktail I was enjoying at the time, that usually included, but was not limited to, some kind of depressant, maybe a psychedelic (or two), and some weed for good measure. Hippie-crack, you know. It never occurred to me what kind of exemption I was given.
Think of me as some kind of doughy dirty cherub. With squint-y eyes from my one hitter that kept me from flying off to Pluto. Self-medicating they call it these days. I thought it was a good time. You could not call what I did partying, in the truest sense of the word, not toward the end. Partying implies celebrating. What I was doing, was something else entirely. Gratefully, that is a long time ago now, and sometimes feels like another life, which it is, in some sense, but it feels fresh in my mind tonight.
When I heard of our departed Mr. Floyd being intoxicated and not in control of himself, my heart broke for the man, the times, and all of us on a whole new level. As a man with a problem. A problem beyond his control. That was never afforded the same tolerance I was given because of my simply being white. I guess I was lucky to be blessed with a Brillo pad Afro and a hack-i-sack in my hand when I confronted cops in my cups, stumbling, telling them my opinion on any number of topics. I was cute, you know. I was harmless. Plus, there’s not much of me. I’m 5’6″ on a good day. No. I’m harmless. I’m just being wild. But George… he was ‘a menace.’ ‘A danger.’
Neither one of us were either thing we were seen as. But in truth, he, like me, or any number of the people I know and love, was simply a man trying to get well the only way he knew now. He was a man who moved to Minneapolis to get a fresh start. Get that job as a trucker. And start over. Turn it around. It is a story I know all-too-well. And I hear often when I get to lead groups in residential treatment facilities as a guest artist facilitator doing writing labs. And these choices, or moves often referred to as “geographics,” is a common box to be checked on the road toward lasting recovery for those who find it. And that is why the news of his death at the hands of an unspoken and systemic evil that has beset our time as a plague worse than the one that has claimed 100,00, my heart broke anew.
But it needs to be said. The racial contract, when mixed with the disease of addiction and alcohol abuse, is a nasty-nasty one-two punch in our culture that has me accepting this recent addition to a club that should have ended with one member, that much harder. I understand why people want it to burn. And maybe James Baldwin was right about the Fire next time. There is a reckoning in our country. That has been coming for a long time.
When I read the transcript of the 911 call from the now famous store owner, I was impelled to do the only thing I knew how to do. Lend my pen, which has been steadied and sharpened and my eye and my voice to this. Maybe it helps move things forward by one fraction of one inch. I had taken my eyes off the prize. I see that now. But they’re back on it. And every time my heart breaks, I feel like it can’t break again, then it does.