Then it was time to matriculate, graduate, vacate the premises. It was Wuthering Heights Day, July 30, birthday of both Emily Brontë and Kate Bush. People who’d stayed the course were seen off in a format akin to ‘This Is Your Life’, which took place in the morning therapy group. I’d already been part of half a dozen of these seeings-off, and now it was my turn. Twenty people had left early, for various reasons, in the time I’d been there, whereas only a handful had completed, although I think inertia played quite a big part in my doing so – and, of course, leaving on Wuthering Heights Day would surely mark an upturn. Didn’t the Calendar know who I was?
So there we sat in the sun-flooded therapy-room, blanched by years of support. It was customary for the departing to give everyone a card, peers and therapists alike, which I did, reading them out as I sat there next to my counsellor, relieved and terrified to be leaving. Cards read, everyone fed back at me, saying stuff that, frankly, if it hadn’t gone in by now, wasn’t going to. My counsellor then recited a poem she’d chosen, as was also routine. She read, in her zigzag tones, a simple string of stanzas by graveyard-poet and mental-patient, John Clare, called ‘The Vision’. Her nod to my sight-condition, needless to say, moved me. Then, swivelling in dazzling beige, she handed me a gleaming heart-shaped key-ring, and a pencil with the word ‘success’ etched into it. Then Abigail, who’d been a good friend through my time there, presented me with a box of paints, a gift from the peers - as I’d shown great promise in the draw-your-own-future workshop.
An hour later, in the slot between morning therapy and lunch, I walked to the station, flanked by assorted peers, old and new, who waved me off as my train pulled away, and began its journey back to London. Being me, I’d not arranged for anyone to meet me at the other end, so, arriving solemnly at Paddington, I dragged my bag across the concourse, and got a taxi back to Shepherd’s Bush in a state of increasing trepidation. As various using landmarks passed me by I knew, unless I was about to have a Damascene moment, that I was doomed to be stubbly for the foreseeable future.
I opened the door to my flat, and it was dim and musty within, traffic singing Siren-like beyond deep-green curtains. I pulled one back with a dismal swish, switched on the hi-fi, which still had ‘You Are The Quarry’ by Morrissey in it. A box containing my reading-screen, laptop, and various clothes, sat taped-up on the floor, but I had no inclination to unpack. So, after carefully weighing up my life, the pros and cons of relapse, the pros and cons of recovery, and the various permutations of grey in between, I picked up the phone and rang Spike and Suzie, where I spent the entire night squandering what little money I’d saved whilst away, crawling home the next morning, almost suicidally depressed.
I spent most of the next six weeks in bed, not really washing or brushing my teeth, and eating whatever there was, or wasn’t, in the kitchen. On a money-day, I’d manage to get up and blow it all on crack’n’heroin. I was not the functional and productive member of society I’d been hoping to become. Occasionally, I’d open the curtains to indicate to neighbours I at least had basic motor-skills. Days and nights went by with the Discovery Channel repeatedly recounting the history of the longbow, story of the musket, or how, according to the Mayans the world was due to end in 2012, which helped a bit. I managed eventually to get to my doctor, and she put me back on antidepressants, and, after a few weeks, things went from near-suicidal to just wishing I could die in my sleep, without having to do anything, or at least before the next showing of ‘Extreme Archaeology’.
I’d kept in touch with a few of my ex-peers, including Abigail. She was now living in the town we’d rehabbed in, and invited me down to come and stay. This felt like a validation, of sorts. Even sealed in my flat, things began to feel a bit like life. I’d somehow not used for a couple of months, which was progress. I liked Abi, and was determined to tell her so when I saw her. She had Emo tendencies, and knew about things like Pavlov’s dog, and that bloke’s cat.
And there I was, on the train to the coast. Slough, Reading, Bristol Templemeads, and I was back in the backwater, the marshy heartland of the Druid Marketing Board. A text-flurry in a blackspot can be dangerous, but I deigned to tell Abigail I was looking forward to seeing her, and that I’d missed her, and part of it might have rhymed. My provider’s name flashed on and off - then a text from Abi read, ‘Don’t think so,’ which, naturally, I took as a stern dampening-down of my headstrong advances, until I realised it was probably the reply to one sent minutes before, ‘Do you want any milk?’
Then, on the platform, a vague embrace, and a stroll to the Waterstones with a coffee-shop in it. We even dropped in on the old rehab on our way back to hers. I didn’t want, but had a brief chat with my counsellor before leaving. She said she’d been ‘very angry’ to hear of my relapse, and believed it to be the work of my ‘rebellious child’. I vaguely appeased her pigeonholing, then threw a fish about self-parenting, said she’d made some valuable points, and left.
Later, Abigail and I were sitting in her room, Manic Street Preachers crooning in the corner, and I was determined I should tell her how I felt. My mouth was dry as sand, and I felt like I was being throttled – but, somehow, as the Welsh bards bawled, I managed to force up a jumble of words that just about got the message across. Having deciphered my gaspings, Abigail said she was flattered, but didn’t feel the same in that regard, but valued me immensely as a friend. I felt defeated, yet vindicated. But my plan was foiled. Maybe I’d pinned too much on it. Then I started crying, copiously. I went to the bathroom to regroup, returning apologetically to find Abi in tears, being consoled by a housemate, but apparently it was nothing to do with what I’d said, which, in my book, is a date.
The next day, I felt brittle and self-piteous, plus feverish, as if the pent-up passion in me was trying to sweat out. I announced my departure, making out it was purely for medical reasons - Abi and I hugged a vague goodbye on the platform, I hopped on board, and there was no need to worry about the Druid blackspot anymore. I seemed to half-exist again, and felt Emma, back in the office of olde, endorsing my ongoing quest for a basic level of affection, like a tick on a memo.
Back in the Bush, I returned to the drug service and continued regaling my counsellor with various views and grievances. I was glad, though, that she shared my opinion of my therapist-on-sea, and felt I seemed, in some ways, more damaged by the experience than helped. She was sad also that my plans to woo Abigail hadn’t come off, because she’d seen a change in me in the weeks before my visit.
But life felt empty, and there seemed little to talk about. I needed a course, some work, to flourish, see more people, but an empty life can seem so full you can’t move, and I ended up resorting to using, as much out of boredom as anything. I was still showing up at NA meetings, sometimes even AA, because by now I felt so embarrassed to be seen in NA - then I tried a spell in CA (Cocaine Anonymous), but in none of them found a spiritual home, or even a gateway to one.
It wasn’t long before Christmas was upon us again, and my goodwill levels rose accordingly. One night, I was sliding about on the ice at two in the morning, on my way to the cashpoint, and then Faith’s. I hadn’t been there for a year. Would she even still live there? She might have been in treatment too, or somehow got clean in the drug service ten doors down the road. Maybe she’s rung the changes, gone sienna in the bathroom, Etruscan Sundown on the landing. Gerald, Faith’s lumpen ex, as if of wax, answered the door. He seemed semi-animated to see me, perhaps because he sensed a pipe. I stepped inside, as if back in time. Faith called out from the kitchen, but was apparently entertaining. Then Jacob emerged from the bathroom, where he’d been having some quality-time with a girl of his choosing, who now closed the door on proceedings. I felt like stone. Granite, I shunned the sculptor’s chisel, in favour of stasis, or maybe I just liked making phrases up about it.
Jacob was cordial, and furnished me with a pipe. He felt the need to tell me how displeased he’d been to see me with Dennis the previous day. He’d spotted us, outside the bookie’s, ‘going off, as if to score’. The next day, he saw Dennis asleep on a mattress at David’s, so crouched down, held a knife to his throat, shook him awake, threatening to slice him if he dares interfere with one of his associates again. There was something engulfing about Jacob’s eyes as he delivered his lecture. He gloated that Dennis had begged him for clemency, and that clemency was his to give. We smoked away in the living-room, with occasional help from the girl he’d been in the bathroom with, a stout Liverpudlian called Lesley. Then, once again, it was out into the icy wilds to hunt some cash. I was just grabbing the notes when Jacob decided we should relocate. Faith’s place was a dive, by all accounts. He’d have made quite a good estate agent.
Shackleton-like, we negotiated the fluffy downpour whirling about us, and, before long, ended up with a girl maybe had crack-psychosis. She’d chatter and move about, take a pipe, offer something sexual, then apply two lit lighters to her already stubbly hair, insisting there were bugs under her scalp, and could we see them, could we hear them? A ghoul on a crutch invited us away from her, upstairs to his place, which was equally peopled with assorted psychiatric evacuees, one of which Jacob knew, a moustachioed northerner called Carl, who told me he was a clairvoyant. It wasn’t long before he was punched in the face when smoking from a glass pipe. Blood poured and sprayed as he lunged around. The culprit raged into the hall, cursing, and out, smashing the door behind him. Jacob fashioned the seer a towel-turban, to staunch the wound. Hadn’t seen that coming.
By morning, I was back out on the ice, looking for the nearest cashpoint. A guy was begging opposite the BBC, a bobble-hatted figure I’d apparently met before. He asked me if I wanted to get something, introducing himself as Pav – maybe it was short for Pavement. I figured I may as well stay with him, rather than go back to Jacob and the psychic. Pav asked me if I’d keep an eye on his pitch, skidding off to tell a colleague he was moving on. I remained, lemonlike, shivering, white cane dangling like an icicle, pointing down to a slush-embedded Addis tub. I seemed to be good for trade, and when my friend returned, he said, ‘Hey, someone’s chucked a two-pound coin in.’ I was glad to have been of help, and now know how MPs must feel when they play homeless for an afternoon.
Pav scooped up the tub, and bad me follow. Round a corner, down some steps, and we were in someone else’s flat, knee-deep in hoarded rubbish. A sofa, covered in tired-looking blankets, could be discerned, although getting to it involved wading through newspapers, hubcaps, supermarket-baskets, bottles, cans, and god knows what. We crunched over and propped ourselves on an edge, as our host languished like a Beckett character in his own detritus. His name was Rod, and he told me he’d been an environmentalist. Seemed he took a lot of his work home. Said he’d been an extra in ‘Alfie’. Had a memento, somewhere.
Then I smoked some heroin and was sick in his indescribable toilet.
Well, that's today's episode done and dusted. As ever, here is a song for your consideration, just click on this youtube link, if you want to: Farewell To The Stairwell