The Last Time

I wish I knew it was the last time. But that’s the things with last times, often you don’t know. This was the case when we walked through the doors of the church for a funeral.

The pastor’s voice broke several times during it, as he was close with the deceased. Sniffles echoed in the sanctuary, as the eulogy was given and a murmur of laughter rolled through the small crowd gathered when the funny stories were shared. It was heartwarming, despite the pain.

We didn’t go out to lunch with everyone afterwards. I regret that now.

The funeral might as well as been for all of us too.

A man had a rather odd sport of fashioning the Bible into a weapon. I heard whispers of him in a forge, grinding off the sides until the blade was sharp enough to shave hair and long enough to severe an aorta. He wasn’t some Christianized version of Jack the Ripper; he simply used it defensively, not offensively. The take away message was don’t get too close: you’ll probably leave in an ambulance. At least, that’s what all the others did.

I saw first hand the wounds from the biblical knife. I saw the blood seeping through the bandages. I saw the script for hardcore antibiotics to keep infection at bay. I always seem to carry iodine preps in my purse and so I hand them out liberally on the down low. If you say enough words, I’ll show up. Better to prevent an infection than to treat one, I say.

It wasn’t just a few apples with worms. “Fold,” one of the prominent ones said, as if they were at a poker game. They had plenty of chips, but didn’t like the game. No ace to get that fourth card. They cashed out before any blood was shed. Nonetheless, it didn’t change anything.

A duel happened. And then another one. And then I found myself silently cheering on another one who put all their pain in words. I heard that mic drop all the way over here. This could have been a rap battle had it taken place in the back room of a bar in Detroit. There would have been fights outside afterwards.

And then silence.


There’s always silence.

With the world in the current state of affairs, I haven’t heard much. I’m not in those circles anymore, but the circle is broken now, more like a wavy line that just sits there.

If I could repair it, I would. I’m a peacemaker by default, so all of this strife is very contrary to my nature. And yet, the wounds are not mine to heal. And confronting my sword-wielding friend? “I wouldn’t waste your breath,” one said slowly as they absentmindedly touched the raised scar over the wound that never seems to heal. “They’ll deny everything.”

How does one more forward? I will be the first to admit the cognitive dissonance that I feel needs to be addressed.

But how?

My thoughts drift back to the funeral, the last time we were all together, comforting each other, united under a common purpose. I long for those days, especially after this past year of absolute madness.

But I can’t claim I didn’t know the score anymore, I’ve seen too much, I’ve heard too many things.

And now I’m caught again, between the past and present.

I’ll evade getting sliced and diced. I know how to dance this dance.

The Battle of Overwhelm

It’s been so long ago, I don’t remember the circumstances, but I do remember how I felt.

And oh, how I feel it again.

My freshman year of college I started my stagehand gig and this particular evening was a bad night. Things went wrong. I remember getting back to my dorm room, still shaken. I couldn’t turn my brain off. I paced my room, attempted to sleep – it was after 11pm and I had an early class the next day. My stomach was doing flip flops and I was nearing the inconsolableness that anxiety always seems to attract.

Yet I was able to articulate what I needed: comfort.

But from where?

I didn’t drink at the time. I was single. All my friends were asleep – it was a school night after all. I knew I needed rest and didn’t have any business wandering around campus in the middle of the night waiting for it.

And then, his words echoed in my head: AJ, a fellow science nerd and Christian who lived down the hall from me (I lived on a co-ed floor), a kind and gentle soul, had said anytime I needed anything to come by, his door was always open. He was safe.

His door could be seen from my own, we were practically neighbors. I knocked gently. His roommate was usually gone – as was mine. AJ opened the door in his pajamas, took one look at me and said, “Are you okay?”

“Not really, I had a bad night at work. I can’t sleep.”

AJ nodded. “Come in.”

I did and turned to him. “Do you mind if I sleep next to you tonight?” It was a bold statement from someone like me. I’d only slept next to one other person, who if he’d have any romantic inclinations towards me, we’d be a couple. But AJ was different, we hit the friend zone so hard, there was nothing even remotely romantic there. He knew all this, as we had talked a lot about our romantic woes and hopes.

“Of course, Sim. I was just getting ready to turn in.”

“Thank you,” I said, already feeling the tension release.

And so, that night, I slept next to AJ, both of us fully clothed, with his arm around me, resting in the comforts of friendship.

My head hit the pillow and I was out.

It was one of those moments I can still recall nearly 20 years later: the sheer comforting presence of another person.

And this week, the waves keep coming. I managed to get my head above water to grab a lungful of air before the next wave came – until I started breathing in water – my time at the surface was not long enough to expel the aspirated water and take on new air. It’s such a scary thing, especially when your body gets tired.

While I have a built in comfort system, the Burgundy region of France is part of the reason I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks on the couch. I managed to get some sleep mixed with weird dreams, a relief in these times. I awoke with a start at 5am on the dot, a full hour before my alarm would go off. I tried in vain to get myself back to sleep, and finally gave up. I wrapped myself in my Kenyan blanket and went out on the back porch; I didn’t particularly care who saw me. It was too early to care.

It was right at dawn: a hint of light shown in the sky.

“Waiting for the angels of Avalon, waiting for the eastern glow.”

I smiled for the first time in days.

As I sat down and listened to my devotional, the tears returned. The scripture passage was about Jesus on the boats, telling the fishermen to let down their nets after a fishless night and they caught a bounty.

I wanted Jesus to show up at my workplace. It was the cause of nearly all my woes, like that bad night backstage so many years ago. I craved that peace only He can bring.

I needed an AJ to show up and reassure me in a calm voice all was going to be okay.

Nonetheless, the proverbial ocean spat me out of the tumult and onto a beach Friday night, five hours after I was scheduled to leave my shift. Waterlogged and exhausted, but breathing on my own, I ended up walking several miles before going home in order to work out all the stress and to find some semblance of order.

I watched the sun dip below the horizon.

“The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom and walked the night alone.”

When Life Hands You Lemons

Despite growing up in an alcohol-friendly first generation American household, I joined a SBC church and avoided alcohol like the plague through high school. In fact, I left a theater cast party once because they decided to bring liquor into it. Nope! I was living the sober life and nothing was going to change that.

I went to Illinois State, a college known for its drinking habits and still managed to avoid all alcohol freshman year. I simply wasn’t interested. I was still plugged into SBC life and I never quite understood what all the fuss was about drinking.

And then I met Jim, my college sweetheart. He introduced me to all my vices.

Thanksgiving 2001 was my undoing.

My parents were renovating their kitchen, so they weren’t celebrating Thanksgiving. My sister had gone off with her boyfriend to his family’s Thanksgiving; I decided to do the same with Jim’s family.

Friday, however, things took a turn. Jim decided to host a party with his close friends who were in town at his Dad’s house – alcohol would be present – Jim drank now and again. He knew I had never experienced it before and asked if I was comfortable with it. “Sure,” I said as I was slowly coming into new experiences. “I’ll try it.”

What changed? I don’t know. Perhaps it was my shifting perspectives as a sophomore: I was ready for new experiences and thinking outside of the box I had previously found as my boundaries.

Jim left with the guys to get the alcohol – all of us were under 21 at the time, so we had to rely on the over 21 brothers of friends. I had no idea what to ask for, but Jim knew what to order. “Trust me,” he said. “I got you, sweetie.” I had no expectations of the night, except maybe to catch a buzz.

Not too long after, the boys arrived back to the house with the goods. While they were gone, I bonded with Jim’s friend Deborah and we became fast friends. Such good friends, we even got an apartment together a few years later.

“Gonna start you off easy,” Jim said, as he handed me a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. It tasted like lemonade with a bit of an aftertaste. Half way through that – I was just sipping on it – the group decided to do lemon drops. That’s where you take a shot of vodka and then immediately bite into a lemon covered in granulated sugar.

The cheap vodka stung. Whew! That was some strong stuff! I never thought of biting into a lemon as a relief, but that’s exactly what it was. I did two of those in a row.

And then, I felt it.

The song “Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies was playing in the background and I have forever linked that song to this moment. Every time I hear that song, I am immediately transported to Jim’s Dad’s basement in Decatur, Illinois. He’s giving me that goofy smile of his and handing me another Mike’s.

A couple of drinks in, I was flying pretty high. Everything was funny. Everything sounded like a good idea. Jim’s friend was hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing at his jokes. I’m am by nature very protective of my personal space, yet I found myself leaning against my newest friend Deborah, who was also fairly intoxicated.

Jim suggested I drink some water and I did, but I had another Mike’s. Or maybe it was left over from my one before. I wasn’t sure.

The lemon drop went down easier now.

Jim was drunk, but his other friend was drunker. This friend decided the best spot to pass out was at the bottom of the staircase. I managed somehow to get his arm over my shoulders and upstairs to the couch; in that action, I cemented my status as the den mother of drinking parties, which I still am to this day. (I would spend the rest of my college days assisting this friend after he passed out).

Jim and I fell asleep on the basement futon sometime after 1am. Or was it 2? Closer to 3? Mike and his Russian friend with the lemons had me losing all track of time.

I woke up the next morning feeling quite sick. Oh no. “Jim? I think I have the flu.” I was nauseated, my head was pounding, I felt like a train hit me. And everything – especially eating – felt like a bad idea.

“It’s not the flu, you’re hungover.”

“I’m not hungover,” I protested. “I have the flu.”

“You don’t have the flu, Simonne. You drank a lot last night.”

“I did?”

Jim sat next to me on the futon. “You did. Do you remember?”

I nodded. “I remember everything, but I didn’t think I had too much. I was definitely drunk though.”

Jim smiled. “You’re not used to this. Here, have more water. It’ll make you feel better.”

I spent the morning drinking water and could finally choke down some McDonald’s mid-day. I still felt like I had the flu.

And that’s how Vice #1 began.

I became a bottom shelf vodka drinker – screwdrivers – (cheap vodka and orange juice) defined my college experience. I certainly didn’t tell anyone I was drinking at church, although one of my church friends was an avid beer drinker and we used to go to bars together.

Even now, any time I drink too much, I am hungover the entire next day and nothing helps it.

Tonight, I find myself drinking alone at a brewery, as I write, sipping local brews, not much stronger than the Mike’s Hard Lemonade of that Thanksgiving break so many years ago.

Over the years, my personal relationship with alcohol hasn’t changed much: I enjoy it and have never passed out, blacked out, or done anything I regret under the influence. My tastes are refined now: I prefer Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka on the rocks instead of a Mike’s Hard Lemonade any day. Sometimes I indulge, but not often. Some of my favorite people in my life are alcoholics – both in recovery and denial – so, it’s a very fine line to walk.

While Jim and I are no longer in contact, I hope for a day where I see him in a bar and I’ll send over a lemon drop and pay for his tab and sneak away without a word.

He’d know it was me.