Every Direction is North

I haven’t written about my addiction or my recovery for quite some time now. There was a time when it was by far my favored topic, but having been sober for twelve years now, the immediacy of it has faded, and I started to run out of new ways to write about it. And also it just gradually became a part of who I was, I no longer had to think about not drinking or how strange my past had been, because sometimes the past gets so long ago, it’s like it happened to somebody else.

However, since moving to Harrisburg, a few things keep pushing it back to the front of mind. (if you aren’t familiar with my story. here’s what’s relevant to this post: the day before I got sober, the rehab I was in dropped me off at a homeless shelter in Harrisburg, I spent all day walking around the city, ended up drinking, then got sober for good the next day.  I wrote detailed posts about it.  Part one is here and part two is here.) Karla and I now live just a few blocks away from the Bethesda Mission, the homeless shelter I couldn’t bring myself to sleep in. I also frequently walk past the Midtown Tavern, the last bar in which I ordered a drink, the last place I relapsed. Looking back to the version of me from that day, to the me that walked around the city of Harrisburg, for hours and hours and hours, contemplating what to do with his life, and then  to the me now, it is just a boggling and staggering transition. When I put myself in the shoes of that man, that poor, sad 25-year-old man who saw no way out, who somehow thought that his life was over despite all the options still left open him, I feel as though I am peering into the window of another person’s mind; who was he? Where has he gone? He was so troubled but I love him.

We’ve lived here for about four months now, but it was just last week that I for the very first time rode my bike over to the Bethesda Mission. I stood on the sidewalk where I made a phone call to a cab company that would take me to Carlisle, where I would get a room at Motel Six and drink my very last beers. The payphone is gone, but I found the holes in the wall where it had been anchored, and I stood in that same spot, and I felt the weight of time coalesce around me. I walked out to the curb, where I had stood on a much colder day twelve years ago, and waited what seemed hours for a cab to come. I remember there’d been an older man standing there with me, although he wasn’t waiting for a cab, and we struck up a brief conversation, but I don’t remember anything about it now. I looked around me and tried to remember what has changed in the scenery. Were the buildings different then? In some ways it seems so recent, but only the most fragmented memories remain.

Life isn’t a Hallmark card, and things don’t always turn out great.  Happy endings are not only the exception; they’re downright rare.  I don’t believe in any overarching system that raises humans out of the dungheap of existence–we live brief painstaking lives and then are thrust into a meaningless void.  But while we’re here, strange and beautiful things are bound to happen.  Time plays jokes on us but then draws back curtains we didn’t even know were there.  Suddenly we are standing beside younger versions of ourselves, older versions of ourselves, our loved ones, suddenly everything converges and every direction is north.  If it means anything I don’t know what it is; time is a wisp, a phantom, an unseen train in the night: the steady conveyance.  Versions of ourselves form, drop off behind us, vanish like they never existed.  Who were they?  We’ll never know them.

I stood there on the curb by the homeless shelter and looked achingly toward the house I live in now, just blocks away.  Only two more hours until Karla and our boy get home, and I was desperate to see them.

2 Responses to “Every Direction is North”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Good stuff

  2. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    Revisiting such a poignant spot of pavement and knowing without a doubt that’s the same chunk of rock that housed you at one of your lowest points at one of your highest has gotta be better than the high you were chasing from booze. It’s rare to be able to do things like that, but when they happen it is quite magical.

    Whoever plans these sort of things (you living mere blocks away from the shelter at a 180 degree improvement in your life) planned it this way. It’s not God though. It’s Barry Corbin.

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