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Over the last ten years I’ve sobered up twice and when I’m drunk there’s something that feels right about it. Regretful but righteous admission. Like I’ve landed at the job I was built for. When I’m sober, I am acutely grateful that I’m not presently drunk but I never feel like I’ve licked it. Never as if I have secured some guaranteed seat.

Recently The Tiny Greek in a Blazer and I have decided to shelve our relationship into a  clear “friendship”. No more boundary-less bullshit or half-assed efforts at love. Whether it’s true or not I regard her and our [so far fictitious] potential together so ardently, that I will not allow myself to operate as any less than the very best of who I can be. She deserves my best, so do I and so does our relationship. Suddenly I saw myself enabling something that was less than that. Love challenges you and demands that you behave better than you think you can, or would left to your own devices. The sustainable kind forces us to fight, to take on the best characteristics of one another and not the worst.

Intimacy should be protected. This thing is vulnerable in nature and the pairing of two is only out of the necessity for refuge. It’s about grabbing hands and jumping. And knowing that you’ll be dodging bullets as you drop.

One of my greatest fears is that I am supposed to be the crack head I initially started out as. The street and drug mentality is a vicious and seductive one. These people don’t have faces I’ve seen in the movies, they have faces I’ve seen next door and in the mirror. I’ve shared the institutional walls with them, they were my neighbors and friends – people I can still call by name.

When your head is stuck in that world, it’s only logical that your body is stuck too. I’ve always been afraid that my predetermined path is to the ghetto and what time I’ve spent off that constellational path is just by chance. A short detour – all roads still leading to OZ. Eventually I’ll fall again and find myself where I’m intended to be. I don’t want to believe this to be true I simply fear that it might be true.

Lifetimes ago I worked at a homeless shelter for female adolescents. Yesterday I was told that a 19-year-old girl who had been a client there for years overdosed in Brooklyn over the weekend. What is most heartbreaking to me about this is that she tried to get out and she could have. And then at 19, New York ate her alive and she died alone as a Jane Doe at Kings Country Medical Center. I told this story to a friend, who’s a nurse, and she said, “Yes but everyone dies alone.” And I suppose she’s right. It’s sort of all we have. Birth and death. It’s all yours, every man for himself.

When I met this kid, she was 14 or 15 and had been at the shelter for about a year. Her mother had died when she was young. What she had left was a drunk father and some older sisters who could never get their shit together long enough to take her home. She loved animals but our urban surroundings only left us with access to rats and squirrels. Out of the need to pass time we began sitting on the pavement in the parking lot, feeding the squirrels by stealing the nuts off the neighbors tree and pre-cracking them against the concrete with rocks. Then we would strategically map out trails with our bait, leading them to new places we hoped the squirrels would enjoy and find asylum. One afternoon she turned to me and said, “I dare you to eat one.” I looked her dead in the eyes, popped one in my mouth and said, “You should have tried coming up with a better dare.”

I spent the next couple years tucking this kid into bed, watching movies with her head on my lap, and telling her she was good enough to get out.

She was a resident until the place got shut down a couple of years later and we all disappeared into this giant thing. The girls went on into young motherhood, the arms of boys who beat them, jail, gas station jobs for the lucky, underworlds of addiction, ferociously progressive mental illness’ and death. Statistically it is not shocking. It’s right in line with what is projected for them. But somewhere – somewhere there has got to be choice or will or luck! It’s all so provisional it’s hard for me not to fight for love when I see it run so quickly by.

I’ve gone on a few dates with distinctly beautiful women and as they sit across the dinner table from me, I’m deafened to whatever they’re saying. I watch their mouths move and the way they play with their hair, casually touch my hand. The way the light flatters their face. And heartache washes over me as I think, I wonder what the Greek is doing right now.

– JT.

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