**This is an edited version of an old blog post. My apologies to those of you who were kind enough to read it the first time around. All of the people mentioned in this story have long since died of alcoholism. And stubbornness.
I went to the liquor store twice today. Is that really what angels do? Because you know I’ve been called that repeatedly and I’m thinking there’s a whole population of people, myself included - who would disagree. Angels don’t buy people six cartons of cigarettes and a case of vodka, do they? Where does it say that angels are big fat well-meaning enablers?
Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t grow up around alcoholism. I got to know it as an adult, as a professional, a caretaker, and as a friend. I hate it’s guts. Which is why when Jesse asked me to make a liquor run this afternoon, I shot him down. I had just been to the liquor store for Barney whose usual is nine half-gallons of the cheapest vodka there is.
Back when I was doing similar runs for Steve, I once went off on the guy at the liquor store. He said he sold liquor to the same alcoholics every day, sometimes two and three times and it didn’t bother him one bit. I still can’t figure that out unless he was an alcoholic himself. I told him I didn’t know how he slept at night. He chuckled and lit a fresh cigarette off an old one. As it happened, he was a nice guy and listened to my ranting without taking it personally.
So for once, I refuse Jesse and suggest that he buy a bottle from Barney. A minute later (as usual) I reconsider and tell him to get his money and get in the car. He has the shakes.
Like Barney, I have spent years now watching Jesse’s health and his psyche deteriorate. We talk often but typically, I’m the only one listening.
He gets into the car and speaks immediately to Stella (my dog, a Pit Bull) who is riding solo in the back. Having been passed out much of the last nine months, Jesse and Stella barely know each other but she’s always happy to have someone new ride along with us. She welcomes him, rubbing her chin on his shoulder. We pull out of the driveway and he informs me in a very matter-of-fact tone, that he thinks he will die soon.
Since I’m already primed, I instantly agree with him and he looks at me with mild shock.
”You’re definitely headed that direction, I say. Do you want to? Die, I mean. Is it something you’re looking forward to?”
”I don’t care either way”, he says.
"Then you will", I concur. "And if you keep doing what you’re doing, it won’t be that far off, which I guess is lucky. Don’t worry," I add, "we’ll sit around once you’re gone and talk about how funny you used to be."
There is a long pause as we pass through the housing projects, past Steve and Brandy’s old liquor store and on down to Seventh.
"When is the last time you saw a doctor?" I ask.
"I can’t remember. I hate going to the doctor he says, but my legs are killing me and I can’t get out of bed."
"Do you think you’re depressed?" I ask.
He surprises me and admits that he is.
"So why not just go to the doctor and find out what’s wrong? Maybe it’s simple, like a pinched nerve or something. While you’re there you need to tell him you’re depressed and you want to feel good like you used to. Remember when you used to feel good?"
"They may not be able to fix your legs but you can feel better in your head about it. Maybe you’ll change your mind on the suicide by alcohol approach."
Then he blushes a little and of all things - giggles.
"What?" I ask him.
"The dog is licking my arm", he says.
I look and Stella has rammed her head between his seat and the door.
"Stella", I say in a half-hearted tone.
"It’s okay he says quietly, I can’t remember the last time a dog licked me."
"So you’ll go to the doctor?"
"Yeah" he says, "maybe they can figure out what the problem is. I can go to the V.A. Hospital."
We pull into the liquor store and he says he forgot his i.d. and do I mind going in after the booze.
"If you’ll watch Stella" I say. I don’t like leaving her alone in the car, not here anyway.
He hands me a fifty-dollar bill and I go again into the same store where thirty minutes ago I bought a case of vodka, and get one more half-gallon for him. The man behind me in line, a bottle of Jim Beam in his hand, offers me a penny to complete the transaction coin-free. I take a deep breath and hope Stella is able to cast a spell on Jesse by the time I get back.
She doesn’t of course but he does agree to go to the doctor, which might translate to progress if it weren’t for that bottle of Skol he’s about to share his weekend with.
"You’re a good friend", he says, getting out of the car.
"Yeah I know", I say after him. "I’m an angel."
(Note: Jessie died within a few weeks of this writing. The story, as it was told to me, went like this: his cornea ruptured, he fell into the bathtub, became unconscious and bled to death from the resultant injuries. His friends found him a few days later.)
Jesse (circa 2007)
"Lemme get a light from ya’," he said. She reached in her pocket for the brushed chrome lighter, once her mother’s, and handed it to him. He flipped the top open with his thumb and looked past it into her eyes for a second before striking the flame.
He pulled hard on the cigarette and studied her from the ground up before closing the lighter. Dodging a fresh curl of smoke with one eye, he said:
"Ain’t never seen no woman be carryin’ no Zippo.”
He pressed the lighter into her hand and held it there, “you ain’t like regular women, is you?”
She managed to suppress a blush and he pivoted on one foot and walked away, the hand with the cigarette dancing above his head to some imaginary beat.
"That dude over there put a spell on me", she said later.
"What dude?" he asked pulling the hammer back high over his head.
It rang the asphalt with a loud crack and sweat flew out of his hair.
"That guy in the white t-shirt" she said, looking over at perhaps twenty
(men in white t-shirts).
"Very funny", he said, swinging the hammer around again, and up.
"Seriously, if somebody’s giving you a hard time, I’ll kick his ass all the way down that street right there, if you want me to."
"No", she laughed, "that won’t be necessary, but thank you".
Jon Meacham remembers John Seigenthaler, who died last week at eighty-six: http://nyr.kr/1qDSt5E
“If journalism really is the first rough draft of history—the phrase is Philip Graham’s—then it requires at least a few practitioners with an epic sensibility and an appreciation of the possibilities of political life. Seigenthaler had both.”
Photograph by Mark Humphrey/AP.
Photographer Lalage Snow takes pictures of soldiers’ faces before, during and after the war in Afghanistan.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. — Robert A. Heinlein (via good)