HARD ROCK BOTTOM OF MY HEART
I don’t want the sole purpose of this blog to be about my alcoholism but they say write what you know, so here I am. The problem is that the blade of the sword that dangles over my head was tempered with whiskey and every single Polaroid memory is stained with the rings of sweating beer cans and yellow nicotine. The light of day fades the stains, and the pictures too. It seems you cannot lose one and keep the other.
A voice in my head keeps telling me to write about my relapse and I keep trying to ignore it, but here we are. I hope you take away something from this as I am certain you know someone who suffers addiction. This will be a series of missives, as I believe it will be too much for one sitting. Too much for either of us.
I would like to take this time to apologize to Cathy and Augie for the pain this might reintroduce, as they have never heard the sordid details. I considered proffering my mugshot and thought better as it may cause hurt to those close to me.
I hope to leave these pages heavy with weight I no longer wish to bear. I imagine it will be with me forever.
I dislike talking about this even now. I don’t want to do this.
I had taken my son to an end of school party in Point Clear and had several hours to kill before I had to pick him up. The last words out of his mouth when he left the car were a cautious “behave dad”. Even my son knew I was in trouble.
I can’t really remember the chain of events save for my stopping to pick up my first four beers but I don’t really guess it matters. I do know I was listening to R.E.M Driver 8 when I was pulled over for going around a road block in place for a festival downtown. I was in a hurry apparently to pick up my son, even though I had no idea where I was or which direction I was supposed to be going. I could still hear the refrain; Driver 8 take a break, we can reach our destination….though we’re still a ways away… blaring from the car as I lay prone after falling while trying to perform the field sobriety test.
I’m not going to disclose how many times I’ve been arrested for being drunk but I will offer that if the total of my arrests were Popeye’s Chicken, the girl at the counter would encourage me to make it a meal deal because it would be cheaper even if i didn’t want the coke and biscuits.
It’s always the same waking up in jail. First, it’s cold. Second, you realize where you are and try to go back to sleep to escape the shame, but you can’t go back to sleep because you have to piss away the liquid that landed you there in the first place. I panicked when realized I had left my son abandoned at the party. It’s not easy finding out what time of day it is in jail because there usually aren’t any windows. I found out from a fellow sad sack that it was eleven in the morning on a Saturday.
The corrections officer brought me a bag with the requisite white underwear, socks and medicine my sister had delivered that morning. Mechele knew I was in jail, good. That meant she had Augie so I could breathe a little easier. The only thing I knew for certain that morning as I sat on my bunk was that I was in deep trouble, hung over and didn’t want to be in jail.
My heart condition is such, that very often I am in atrial fibrillation which can cause me at times to gasp suddenly. Also, my mechanical heart valve makes an audible tick tick tick..all the time, but especially when you mix alcohol with blood thinners as I had done the night before. The jailer came by to check on me and heard me gasping before i saw him approach. “Barnette, you okay? It’s going to be all right. ” He thought I was weeping. I’m okay, I said, turning to face him after he opened the door to the cell. Sometimes my heart makes me gasp for air, like the hiccups. I’m in afib and that’s making me breathe funny. If you get closer you can hear it’s out of rythm. He moved closer. “Are you saying you are having chest pains?”
The ambulance arrived at the jail quickly considering all of the main thoroughfares were barricaded for the festival. The jailers were nervous about an inmate in afib and I did nothing to assuage their fears. The EMT’s listened to my heart and looked at each other in alarm. My baseline is odd because of my condition but I didn’t volunteer that information. My heart rate was well over 200 which was due to alcohol and my meds. Although it was a short trip to the hospital from the jail, the EMT gave me nitroglycerin to be safe. I knew better but was mute.
The hospital was more of the same alarm and they hooked me up to IV fluids to rehydrate me and performed an EKG. I was handcuffed to the bed and a police officer stayed by my side. Eventually, the second in command of the jail came to visit and we talked while the hospital ran tests. By now they had obtained my files and the sense of urgency had abated.
The jailer came back later and relieved the police officer who had spent nearly his entire shift watching me. He held a large bag with my belongings and a sheet of paper. ‘The judge has issued you a signature bond. You are free to go when the hospital releases you. Just be in court in two weeks. You seem like a decent guy, start going back to those meetings and get yourself healthy again.” He uncuffed me and offered his hand. I took it and promised I would.
The hospital tried to tell me I couldn’t leave without a ride but I was having none of it. Augie was safe, but Cathy undoubtedly knew what had happened and would certainly be on the next flight from Arizona. Time to make tracks. A geriatric security guard tried to stop me at the request of the cardiac nurses. ‘Am I being detained?’ I firmly asked the gentle looking old man who clearly wanted nothing more than to be someplace that wasn’t in front of me. “Well no….” he said, his tone better suited for telling his great granddaughter she couldn’t have a cookie so close to supper time. Thank you then. Goodbye.
I took the fire stairs and exited through a side door trying to look like a visitor leaving the grounds on a beautiful spring day. The sun felt wonderful after sixteen hours of institutional cold. When I had dressed in the hospital, I saw eighteen dollars in my wallet and I had nothing but time. I ripped off the hospital bracelet and turned north on the sidewalk. The Piggly Wiggly was two blocks away, and they had beer.
To be continued…