Yesterday was my first sober Thanksgiving since 8th grade. I felt a bit shaky, like a man awaking from a 25-year coma, forced to relearn all of the mundane rituals in his life. Or like a tourist setting foot in a strange land. Old Colony Ave., the main street outside my house, was post-apocalyptic quiet when I went out for my morning cup of coffee, but still I stood tepidly on the sidewalk, across from the Dunkin Donuts, waiting for imaginary traffic to pass by.
I have been sober for fifty-one weeks, but yesterday felt like day five all over again.
When I woke up that morning, at a little past 9:00, my first thought was panic: Fuck! Bill’s gonna kill me! Oh shit…oh shit…He’s probably already at work! I probably have twenty missed calls from him! Bill was my old supplier—not quite a dealer, not remotely a friend, just a guy I used to know who procured a certain drug I liked. Rather than sell me quantities of this drug for profit, Bill would only sell me one dose per visit, at cost. His condition was that I drive him and his dog to the park near his house, in Waltham, for one hour, and then drive him to work at Home Depot by 9:00 AM. This meant I had to arrive at Bill’s by 6:30 AM, which meant I had to leave my house by 6:00. If you’re trying to calculate the timing in your head right now, don’t bother. Just trust me. I did it every day. If there’s one thing you can count on from a junkie, it’s that he will always show up for his fix on time.
My second thought was Wait…it’s Thanksgiving. Home Depot is closed. Bill will be at home. He’ll be pissed that I didn’t show up earlier, and he may ignore my phone calls, but he’ll be home. I can drive to his house and knock on his window. And if he’s not home for some reason, I can drive around the area looking for him. And if he’s not in the area, I can just sit in my car outside his house and wait for him. I have time. I don’t have to be at my sister’s until two, and I can always be late.
My third thought was Wait…I’m sober. I don’t do drugs anymore. And then I laid back in bed feeling sad. For almost fifteen years, Thanksgiving had been a drug-and-family sandwich: I’d meet Bill in the morning and get my fix, enough so that I could endure four hours of family time at my sister’s house. Then afterward I’d go back to Bill’s for another dose, settle in, blast off, eat pumpkin pie and watch the late football game with Bill, sitting in a dark living room that smelled like a mixture of dog farts, old slippers and used gauze. Then I’d walk outside into the cold night with a cup of coffee, smoke a cigarette and think to myself Life’s not so bad. It’s pretty damn good, in fact. Happy Thanksgiving. I love you all.
I pulled my blanket up around my head, forming it into a Jedi’s hood. Through my bedroom window I saw the sky—light blue and clear. Planes departed from Logan airport, shiny metal fuselages glistening under the sun. People were traveling to loved ones. Fireplaces were being stoked. Kids were sprawled out on couches, searching through texts, while parents prepared meals. The smell of turkey and butternut squash permeated through first floors and hung in stairwells. Countertop televisions broadcast pre-Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage, the tin-sounding audio of commentators channeled through one small speaker. Teenagers were at high school football games; college students were still upstairs, sleeping off hangovers. People everywhere, all over America, preparing to give and receive.
This Thanksgiving I opted to stay home while my family splintered off into other parts of the country. I politely declined any invitations to join friends, extended family and co-workers for their festivities. I had planned to enjoy the silence, to see a couple movies, hit an AA meeting, sit by my electric fireplace with a good book and a cup of something hot.
It seemed so picturesque in theory, but I had underestimated the power of the past.
I could call Bill. It is Thanksgiving after all, a day of reunion, sometimes of reconciliation, usually of overindulgence. But I haven’t spoken to him since I went into detox, and I deleted his number a few days after I got out. Still, I know where he lives. I could drive over there and knock on his door. It would be awkward at first; I’d tell him about my progress and how I was “cured” and thus able to enjoy certain things in moderation. Then he’d give me some drugs and I would enjoy them. We’d take his dog to the park, like the old days, stopping for coffee along the way. We’d pick up the Boston Herald and the New York Post and read them in the park while his elderly dog limped after squirrels and rolled in leaf piles. Then I’d drop him off and go home, maybe see a movie, then go back to his house later in the day for leftovers and the late football game…and another dose…just like the old days. It’s Thanksgiving, after all. A day of honored tradition, of old friends. Of not being alone.
I could do that, but I won’t. I forfeited my rights to indulgence fifty-one weeks ago. All that remains is my soul and my values, and today those are both intact, and for that I am grateful. And thankful.
PS - I promise the next post will be funny. Happy Thanksgiving.
Daniel Pellegrini is a recovering drug addict with an aggressive form of chronic bowel disease. That means he can't take painkillers after undergoing rectal surgery. He's here to show you just how beautiful life is.
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