Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Alan Craig is the pseudonym of a (once again) recovering addict living on the East Coast.
At 3 AM my eyes snap open. It’s been about fifteen hours since my last fix, and I’m already edging into withdrawal. With a sigh I get out of bed and head down to the basement to make a cup of tea from my store of opium poppies.
My younger brother, Michael, takes offense when I remark that our once socially adept, ninety-two-year-old mother has all the conversational skills of a windup doll. I’m referring to the supply of one-size-fits-all phrases she uses to hide her dementia: “Fortune favors the brave,” “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” and “Every silver lining has its cloud” are her three favorites.
“Do you feel you’re a danger to yourself or others?” Dr. Lyman G. Glandy, head psychiatrist at Fairview Psychiatric Hospital, wants to know. He’s interviewing me for the first time since my arrival here three days ago. We’re in my room, a small, Spartan, dimly lit chamber with all the charm of a prison cell.
I’m sitting with my old friends Ron, David, and Neil at one of the tables along the back wall of what was once my favorite bar. We’ve been pals since we were in high school, the surviving members of a close-knit group. It’s always good to get together with these guys, but it’s impossible to do so without thinking about the friends who are no longer with us.
I’m sitting in a darkened movie theater, watching as Helen Mirren, portraying England’s monarch in The Queen, happens upon the stag the royal family has been hunting. The animal’s so magnificent he brings a lump to my throat. Not a shot has been fired, and already I’m a mess, my tear ducts revving up at the mere suggestion this creature might get hurt.
I’m sitting in my parents’ living room, listening to my older brother, Ben, tell the family how he’s recently discovered that his phone is being tapped. His tone is casual, even upbeat, as if he were discussing a stretch of unusually good weather.
I am sitting with my parents in a restaurant only a few miles from where I grew up. Our dinner conversation meanders like some venerable stream through well-worn and familiar channels. My mother does most of the talking. She talks about Ethel Nussbaum, who has breast cancer, and Doris Steinmetze’s son, who is now an ophthalmologist but is considering going into hair transplantation because the money is better, and the cruise she and my father took last summer to Norway, and how nice the retirement home is that they are planning to move into someday — but not yet, she says for what must be the hundredth time; we’re not ready yet.