One of the last things I said to Jimbo, aloud anyway, was that I wasn’t going to his funeral. This was as he moved the last of his things into the back of his Honda Accord from Myrtle Street. He was leaving the sober house in the middle of the night — only it wasn’t the middle of the night. It was closer to eight. It may as well have been the middle of the night, though, since he was bailing on the rent he owed Tommy without telling anyone. Trying and failing to keep it hush hush. He had been flirting with the idea of leaving for a few days, which meant that he’d already made his decision, but a few of us were trying to talk him out of it.
“Where are you gonna go, Jimbo?” we said.
Jimbo said he had his eye on a couch in a living room in an apartment in the West End. $500 a month. The guy who was on the lease was a former manager of the sober house where we lived. Nobody could really figure out the angle, which meant that the angle was clear as day. Jimbo had his eyes on another run.
They say in the rooms that you relapse a long time before you ever pick up again. In that regard, I’m not sure Jimbo ever really got clean. He was a big gorilla of a man. 6’2”, 230, and bearded with wild in his eyes. He’d recently become obssessed with going to the gym, and we all speculated that he was shooting testosterone into his ass, but hey — better to get swole than die with fentanyl. Jimbo was a delight to call your friend. He’d been kicked out of Myrtle Street early in the summer for buying Johnnies from another guy in the house, and gone on a hell of a tear, but we were all glad he’d made it back in one piece. When he was out, he’d apparently overdosed with some people he knew, but they’d brought him back with Narcan. He’d gotten the tip of a syringe stuck in his arm from God knows what — nodding off after shooting up probably. He’d left his brand new AC unit in our apartment when he got booted, and texted me one day in July to get it back. I don’t know why I didn’t say no, but I didn’t, and it went straight into his veins.
He’d made it back, though. He’d heard about how Chris had died in our bathroom, and he’d ODed himself. He said it put the scare into him. He was ready to do it different this time.
About a week before Jimbo left, my housemates and I were sitting in our living room being sober and boring when we hit on the idea of starting a pool to bet on people we thought were going to be the next to relapse. We never did start it, but we all agreed that Jimbo was the best odds. Maybe because we’d all been to more detoxes than we could count, or because we’d spent enough time living those odds ourselves — the simple fact is that if you keep doing what you were doing before your last relapse you’re in trouble.
And so it was that Jimbo was still hung up on an ex-girlfriend. So it was that Jimbo stopped going to meetings after about a week back. So it was that the little unpunished transgressions against house rules piled up. Jimbo got a shitty call center job, went to shows after curfew, and ruined Tinder for the rest of us. (On what was probably his last Tinder date, he drove half an hour to a woman’s house, brought her wine, fucked her, and left when she asked him to make her come.) And we let him get away with it, because what else could we do? How can a group of people who are barely keeping it together tell the most gregarious of all of them to dial it back for his own good? What sort of credibility do we have?
A good suggestion made in the rooms is to refrain from taking another person’s moral inventory. It’s something we all do anyway, but it’s probably best to keep it to yourself for the most part. After all, very few people react well to being told they’re fucking it all up, and even less so the person in the throes of addiction. So why risk it? Why risk inciting the unwell part of the brain into saying, “I’ll show you who’s fucking up!”
What you do instead is take your own inventory, and try very hard not to make the same mistakes you’ve made repeatedly. In the 12 Steps, this process is undertaken in the 4th and 5th steps. The 4th is your reckoning — as best you can muster — and the 5th is your confession. It’s all very Christian and American and confusing, and for a lot of people it arouses suspicion and skepticism. And maybe that scrutiny comes from a good place. But maybe trying to believe in something you don’t believe in at all is as sincere a gesture as you can make sometimes.
I don’t know.
What I do know is this — when I’d finished my 5th step with my sponsor, sitting on a park bench across the street from Starbucks, under-dressed for the crisp fall air in the early morning light, rushing through so I could get to work, he stopped me and said, “You can be very mean,” and I winced. I can be very mean. I’d already known that I could be selfish and arrogant and needlessly strident and deceitful and on and on. But I didn’t know I was mean. I thought everyone knew how kind I was. Or how kind I wanted to be. I thought that even if my ideals about the generosity of the human spirit didn’t always shine, at least it was clear to everyone how excellent those ideals were. Always. But it turns out I was wrong.
So when I told Jimbo as he was leaving Myrtle Street that I wouldn’t go to his funeral, I corrected myself, because that was mean — just needlessly mean. I said I was sorry, and I told him not to go one more time. And of course he left. And since we all know how this story goes, last week he died in that living room he was renting for $500 a month, alone and unwell. His roommate had been arrested earlier in the week during a standoff with police, so his body sat there over the weekend, rotting from the inside.
Everyone who knows him is shattered.
It’s probably not the case that a mental illness has a telos, but I can tell you from experience that it feels a whole hell of a lot like addiction wants you dead. When everything in your rational mind is saying, “Do not do this, you are going to die,” and that argument is just utterly steamrolled by your disease — that happens every day, all the time, all over the place. All of the accumulated wisdom of the rooms and the rehabs loses. It’s the reason people in recovery suggest taking things a day at a time — the implication being that it only takes a day to kill you. And while cliches and platitudes aren’t always sexy, and are sometimes so unsexy as to be anti-sexy, they occasionally have the virtue of being true. If you’re incredibly lucky, you might live long enough to know that in your bones. And if you’re not, for reasons I don’t get but I understand, I truly hope you find your peace. Because I will miss you terribly.