in Tall Tales

Holiday Family Gatherings

Ivan is clean. His last binge lasted nine days, and he’s been clean ever since. That was five months ago. He’s waiting for me at the door. There’s a light in his eyes, his smile breaking out all over his face and he can’t stop laughing at everything, at everyone, at every word. Not mockingly – joyfully. There’s muscles all over his body where before there were only bones. He’s got a place to stay, and just finished school for a fork-lift driver’s license.
The girl in his lap looks up sneering, “What? Your friend shows up and all of a sudden you’re giggling like a little girl?”
I hadn’t seen Ivan since I took him away with my brothers. Not since he laughed and talked and slept and played and drank with us. He’s family now. We both know it. We are each others family. I’d stayed in touch through a friend, wept when I heard of his heart attack, and prayed desperately when I heard that he had started to clean up.
Ivan, my friend, it is good to see you. You are my Christmas present.
Visiting the drop-in was bitter sweet. Scribbles came up to me delighted, pulling me into a bear-hug, laughing and talking too fast. He’s clean too, he’s got a place, he’s gone legit, he’s a father now and he’s taking care of his baby. Scribbles looks like he’s made it. Nikita too, she’s doing well. Eric isn’t nearly as angry as he used to be he smiles and cracks jokes when I point at his long hair and beard and call him Jesus.
“All I know is that if people start deciding I’m some sort of icon to follow then the world is going to get really fucked-up really fast.”
That’s the good news. And then there are the others. Shaun was clean for eight months. He appeared in Toronto about three weeks ago and has started binging again. I talk with him but he’s sketched out. He’s a paranoid schizophrenic and when you couple that with a crack addiction it can be hard to have a coherent conversation. I was hoping he had gone away for good leaving this city and its demons behind. But he’s crashing and burning once again. Lexus buried her baby three weeks ago. She’s older now too, a little more open to being sorrowful instead of angry. I hold her for a moment and she kisses my cheek before she goes. And then there’s Becky. She was doing well. She was clean, looking for work, pursuing her dreams. Then, three days ago, she jumped in front of the subway train. Nobody really knows why. She was in a battle for her life… I guess she lost right at the very end.
In a way, I wish there weren’t so many kids that were thrilled to see me. In a way I wish I had come back to discover a place full of unfamiliar faces. I wanted to dream that the kids I knew had moved on, had healed, had been made whole, but a lot of them are still here, still fighting, still chasing highs and lows. And it’s sad but that’s life. So we just love each other, we delight it one another’s company until we part ways again. For one more day we know that we are beloved and then we say goodbye.
Yes, this is where I wanted to be for Christmas. God bless us, everyone.

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