Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day three hundred and seventeen ... The changeover.

In eight days I will be a homeowner.

It all happened so fast I can barely remember it, regardless of if it was just last month that I signed the first set of papers.

Now is the fun part: the changeover.

I get to call all of my service providers up and give them my new address to make sure that there will be a smooth transition come November 21. Some of them were easier to do than others; some of them are giving me a hard time.

But this is a lot less stressful than the time I moved from my last house. 

Because back in the summer of 2000, I was given pretty much the same choice that I had been given a little over ten years prior by my mom and aunt: clean up or get the hell out.

I'm not going to name names because I'd rather not make my friends uncomfortable. It was something--as I have looked back on it many times in the past--that I would have done if it had been myself who was making life miserable--not to imply that I wasn't, I just never saw it that way.

I was told, by the two people who I lived with, that they wanted to have a house meeting. I said okay; whenever they wanted was fine. It seemed a bit strange as we never had meetings.

I had just brought home a six-pack of Corona, popped the top on one, smushed a lime wedge through the bottle's narrow mouth, and taken a big slug. 

My housemates appeared together, looking serious.

"Al, we need to talk to you about something."

That didn't sound good.

Because we lived together and talked about a lot of things. Many of those things I couldn't really remember, but we spent a lot of time in and about the vast apartment in downtown Northampton.

"Um ... what about?"

"Why don't you come and sit down."

That sounded much worse.

So, I grabbed my beer and sat on the couch--my nerve endings vibrating mercilessly and my face becoming flushed both from the precious alcohol doing its job and from my blood pressure rising--as the body language and positioning of my two housemates began to take on the air of orchestrating something that had less the air of a discussion, and more the feeling of an arraignment.

I took a long pull on my beer and placed it on the large, round coffee table.

"Al, the long and short of it is ... we want you to move out."

"What? You can't do this to me! It's my fucking apartment!"

"Al, we can, and we are."

"But ... "

"Well, we're actually giving you a choice."

And I knew what came next.

"You can either stop drinking and seek counseling--legitimate, proactive counseling--or you have to leave by the end of September."

And I just slumped there in the couch and stared at the dark maroon walls in the near distance between the two of them and let my eyes glaze over as I chewed on a tiny piece of lime pulp with my front teeth; it made my tongue curl.

They went on: "Al, we're tired of cleaning up your messes; we're tired of you eating our food; we're tired of not being able to bring people over to the house because we never know how far gone you're going to be; we're sick of it, and we want you to make a choice: get sober, or get out."

And I looked at each of them, then back at my beer, then at the walls. I got up, grabbed my beer, and went over to the kitchen; I poured what was left of it in the sink.

"You're right," I said. "Here. Have these beers. I'm going to get my shit together."

And I went down the street to get a newspaper--mostly for the classifieds.

I don't know what I was trying to accomplish by giving the beers away. I guess I just kind of wanted the conversation to end and I didn't want to cause any more of a scene than I already played a major part in. But I gave them to my housemates and decided to start looking for a new place to live. At the time, I suppose, I wanted to move out anyway and this not only made that easier, but it also gave me a new focus to direct my attention to.

I cut down on my drinking.

I put more effort into my music.

I became easier to live with.

And then I found the apartment from where I am currently typing this precious memory into my computer.

And I remember telling one of my housemates that I had found a place, and how I wouldn't need to stay in the apartment for the full two months they gave me; I was moving at the end of July.

"So, you're not going to try to stop drinking?," one of them said when I told him the good news on the street downtown.

"Oh no, no, no," I answered, "I'm going to quit, man. I just need to do it in new atmosphere. I need a change anyway and this seems like the best move for all of us."

"Okay, Al. Whatever you want to do. I just want you to take care of yourself."

And I spent the rest of the month talking, as I was wont, to anyone who would listen. I told everybody what was going on and I told them how I don't blame my housemates; I said I would have done the same thing if it was me. And by saying that, I wasn't so much admitting that I was wrong as I was making the whole thing seem like a good idea regardless of the fact that I was giving in and moving out rather than staying there and cleaning up.

And I found this great apartment.

I moved in with the help from my friends--including the two who now had an extra room in their place--and in not too long of a while I was back to my old tricks, up and running, like nothing had ever happened.

And that lasted from August of 2000, to a year from this coming December, in varying periods of intensity, through many attempts to change, consisting of a seemingly endless litany of ups, downs, peaks, valleys, and blackouts.

I remember hearing the phone ring at my apartment for the first time. 

It was my new number. 

It was my new phone. 

It was my mother.

She had called hoping to be the first and, seeing I didn't have an answering machine yet, she knew that if she called often enough that she would catch me there.

She wanted to see how my move went and how things were going. She never made me feel awkward. She never passed judgement. She wanted the best for me. She wanted me to be happy. And if there wasn't overwhelming evidence that excessive alcohol use was detrimental to a human being (or any life form for that matter) then she would have encouraged that as well. 

I can't explain how excited I was hearing the phone ring, through the window, from outside my apartment. I remember running up the stairs and picking up the receiver. It seemed like it weighed twenty pounds. It had such power and significance. It was a new number, a new address, a new place to lay my head, and a new place to dream.


"Oh, hi sweetheart (she almost always called me sweetheart), I'm so glad you're home."

"Hi Mom."

"How's the new place? Aunty and I are so excited for you."

"The place is great, mom. I love it. It's perfect. It's small, it's clean, it's quiet, and it's all mine. I'm going to really get my act together here, I can feel it."

"Oh, Alex, that's music to my ears."

"Mine too, ma. Mine too."

But it was the same music. 

It was the same song. 

I had played it a hundred times before. 

Only now it was playing in a new venue.

I hadn't changed at all. I had just shifted the placement of the familiar and destructive activities. 

And now, a little over eight years later, I am ready to leave.

But when I leave, I'm bringing something with me. I'm bringing a sense of peace. I'm bringing contentment. I'm bringing a whole new way to live. And I'm bringing the memories of a multitude of visits from my family. 

Each time they would come over it was an event. They would arrive. I would bring up the grocery store worth of provisions that they never neglected to provide me with. I would make sure one of the trips up was a slow one, as I stayed behind my mother while she cautiously ascended the one steep flight of stairs that I'm sure my aunt cursed for her sister's sake (because of her two knee replacements) but my mom never would; she was happy to live through whatever obstacles may lie at the foot of her son's independence. And I would finish bringing up the bags and put in the freezer what needed to be kept frozen. The rest sat in their crinkly plastic bags. I would offer them a cup of tea and they would always refuse and opt for some cold water. Then they would sit in front of me on the couch and we would visit. They always made a point to gush at how I had such a flair for decorating and how clean and ordered my home was.

If they only knew.

And as I was saying, I am almost done wrangling with the gas company, the cable company, the electric company, and, of course, the phone company.

And when I plug the cord in for the first time next Friday it will be a strange feeling. Because I know that my mother would have made it a personal mission to be the first one to call me. She would have had it marked on the calendar for weeks. She would have woken up that day and been almost as excited as me. She would have gotten herself a book to read and planted herself on the couch. She would try the number every few chapters, shifting her attention from whichever fictional characters she had been getting to know, to the one very real main character that she created. She would have her reading glasses on at the tip of her nose as she slowly, carefully, and ceremoniously pressed each number, finally putting the carriage up to her ear, waiting for the steady, consistent ring. 

And she would do that, as often as it took, until she heard the pop that signaled a response on the other end.

And she would beam, smiling, knowing that I was there.

She would congratulate me with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat.

And this time she would know it was different; we both would.

The same old song now somehow sounds correct.

Because I finally learned the chords.

I patiently memorized the words.

And I finally care what it sounds like.


Thanks for reading.



Anonymous said...

It sounds great man. That's a big deal, good luck.

hayes said...

Congrats Alex - let me know if you need anything - I've got a warehouse full of furniture.


ps - my word verification to sllow comments is 'really' - ironic day at blogger?

guess said...

Wonderful story..Take the steps..walk the walk..move on down the road..
Looking good FREDZO!!! Enjoy the new house..are you doing Thanksgiving???

F. Alex Johnson said...

Thanksgiving, not so much. I'll be spending time with friends at their places. Gotta' wait on some fine furniture before it's good for dinner parties.

Christmas though ... that's a whole different story.

Thanks to you and all the others who have sent good tidings my way. Peace and good will to you and yours.