This is not about travel.
Have you ever been broke down, beat up, tore back—I mean wiped out, swinging from a greasy rope, “with no knot in it”? Have you ever had to admit total defeat?
This is not about travel.
Have you been 17 and scared? Have you been running, running from an unnameable blackness inside you? Have you ever found the thing that would save you, keep you, sing to you sweetly in the jagged alleys of adolescence, a song of calloused fingertips and swollen livers that lullabyed you into a half-consciousness that made everything more manageable? Have you ever fallen in love with a sickness?
No, no, this is not about travel.
Have you woken up, bloody-elbowed and wobbly-toothed? Have you walked through the house with kitchen knives in both hands, watched the walls bleed and the shadows twitch, recoiled from your own hungry pupils in the mirror?
And has life ever stepped like a steel toe on your chest? Have you ever laid choking and gasping on the bottom bunk, the weight pressing down, pressing, pressure (that’s how diamonds are made).
Have you ever realized that the thing you thought would save you was gonna kill you faster than what you were running from?
This is not about travel in the traditional sense—not the route between physical places. This is about a different kind of journey, a spiritual journey, but one where there’s no arriving, no achieving. Where, no matter how far down the path you get, you’re always the same distance from the ditch.
My last drink was like this: Sunday afternoon, the parking lot of a West Berkeley warehouse, “backpack beer”—the warm remains of yesterday’s 12-pack. It was a place we’d go to drink during shows at Gilman; it wasn’t my part of town, and I didn’t know where else to go. We’d taken the bus an hour, to buy a half ounce from the kids above the pet shop, walked a couple blocks west to chill out before the trek home.
But the spot looked different during the day, naked and stark, not shielded under a blanket of dark that obscured everything, made you less able to look at it, see it. We crouched beside a stairwell, I drank two beers, got the cuff of my jeans wet when I squatted and pissed.
We took the bus back to Oakland, through a spring afternoon I didn’t deserve. It was too soft, too aching, too bird-singingly pure. Spring break had come and went, and the fragmented remnants of the week-long blackout were still jangling in me, sharp as glass. School would be out soon, graduation was coming, and I’d wear a white cap, march single-file into a future that was only getting heavier, deeper, more liquor-soaked and desperate.
I’d go home and eat dinner. I’d sneak a glass or two of wine, to take off the edge that was already sneaking back. I’d bag up the half-ounce and smoke a little of what was left. Listen to some music, maybe write a little. I would not meet fate, would not break down sobbing in a wretched little ball as it all caved in, crashed down, crushed the very bones of me. I would not get sober that night.
Ten years ago today was the first day of my life.