Full circle, maybe?
This coming Tuesday, providing that I don’t go out and get all liquored up and stupid this weekend, I’ll celebrate 18 years of continuous clean and sober time. I guess that means that my sobriety will be old enough to vote, or get drafted to go and fight a war somewhere. Maybe it just means that I’ve spent a long time living without a cocktail. Hell, I don’t know. Sometimes we complicate things too much, when they should remain simple.
What I do know is that I just moved into the Midtown Sacramento neighborhood where I was living when I got sober 18 years ago. In fact, I’m living directly behind the haunted Victorian where I woke up on a busted futon in my third-floor eyrie one Sunday afternoon in September 1992 cradling an empty quart bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey, to the tune of an Ornette Coleman album on the stereo (Free Jazz, the one with the Jackson Pollock cover that looked like my brain felt at that moment), with the late Bobby Burns keeping time between drum rolls and cymbal crashes on a set of drums we’d apparently loaded into my beater car and shlepped up the stairs earlier that day, before we got all drunk and demolished my apartment and I passed out.
Walking to the Weatherstone, where I spent a lot of time when I was living in the Victorian that summer while trying to get sober, takes me down the same stretch of H Street that I used to walk when I made my late-night treks to the corner bodega at 20th and H, which I used to call the Loser Magnet Market, for smokes, a fresh bottle and maybe a microwave burrito for some marginal nutrition. I got to where I was making the trip in my bathrobe, and old white terrycloth thing with an Aerosmith logo embroidered in purple on the breast, which I’d gotten as one of the many pieces of record-company swag that flowed my way when I worked as an editor and writer at this music magazine that the late, great Tower Records published, Pulse. I think I was trying to make some kind of Brian Wilson reference by wearing the bathrobe, but can’t remember really. Not sure.
Toward the end of my drinking, I remember one weekend afternoon, stumbling up H after finishing off a bottle of Jägermeister. Something was deeply wrong, and I realized that I was blind above my eyebrows, that is, from that point of vision congruent with my eyebrows and above, it was black. I had a lot of those kinds of days toward the end, and that summer, what had been a long career of just getting fucked up, passing out and then waking up turned into a terrifying ride downhill where I no longer could control my drinking, and I had to put alcohol in me just to settle my nerves, but when I did that, I was off to the races and couldn’t stop.
In my general dishevelment and disarray, I would have to stumble past a fourplex on my next block, unless I wanted to walk a block out of my way and I didn’t have the stamina or sustained focus for that task, so invariably I would run into this pregnant woman, who would go out of her way to accost me on the sidewalk. “You need to stop drinking, Jackson,” she would tell me. “I’m worried about you. You’re turning into a complete wreck.” Other people would later volunteer that they had visions of me pushing a shopping cart around the neighborhood.
That woman gave birth two weeks before I put the bottle down. I still see her around, and her husband, and the baby, who’s grown up to be a fine, strapping lad named Eli Perry. So Linda, and Jerry, thanks for being there on H Street when I’d stumble by so long ago.
Y’lnow, I’ve got a lot to be grateful for these days. Cool September mornings remind me of that. —Jackson Griffith