Addicted to Everything: The Man On the Train

There are times, when strolling through my sunbright life, flanked by light and love, that a creeping nausea begins to grow, and a snarling, smoking version of myself starts to whisper in my ear.
Publish date:
June 18, 2012
addiction, addicted to everything, random stories

The problem with being sober is that you always know pretty much how things are going to go. There are no teleporting blackouts, no chance friendships formed with other blurry, pinballing strangers that ricochet you to strange parts of Brooklyn, no more parties found because you knocked on a tinted car window through sheer druggie radar and the guy inside was holding, and selling.

I had a book of questions once, the kind of thing drunken 19-year-olds flip through at dorm parties, and I remember pondering a page that asked whether you would rather have a relationship that is comfortable and predictable, without any problems, but is more like a friendship, or a passionate love that is fraught with tumult and fighting.

At the time, I chose the latter.

Life after sobriety is, for me, the calm after the storm. I always wake up in my own bed these days, with all my belongings. This is good. This is also less exciting than waking up on Coney Island, which is where my train line takes you if you pass out on it long enough. I never wake up to roller coasters anymore. But at least I wake up.

The choice, the would-you-rather that seemed so clear when I was younger, was effectively taken away from me when I lost the ability to protect myself while drinking -- when it became clear that if I continued on my current trajectory, I would, eventually end up dead from an overdose, accident, homicide or suicide. The choice became death or a tamer kind of life, which is a choice I suppose, but a shit one.

But I still have fun. My closest girlfriends now are also former fuck-ups and party girls; secure enough in our sobriety to joke about how much we'd love to eat some pills on a given bad day, to imagine how quickly our friendships would dissolve if we picked up again, each of us too focused on our individual bottle or bag to maintain a connection.

I appreciate my life much more now, but the tumult still sounds good to me. Drama and dark, slithery, scummy bar corners, pressing my body parts against dead-eyed people I'll never see again, reeling into situations through sheer oblivion, no feelings no thoughts no inhibitions. There are times, when strolling through my sunbright life, flanked by light and love, that a creeping nausea begins to grow, and a snarling, smoking version of myself starts to whisper in my ear. This isn't us, this isn't our life, this isn't what we do.

On Friday nights, I go out with said girlfriends, heading back to the train by 10 or 11 through a city made crackling and alive with weekend energy. Sometimes I get frozen yogurt or duck into Forever 21, just wanting to keep the expectant air on my shoulders, just wanting to eke a little more life out of the night.

Last week, on the ride home I read my book, intently enough that I didn't notice until halfway there that the guy a bench over had vomited, effusively, clearing out a large swath of train with a slick of watermelon red slush. His head slumped forward, a trail of drool leading to his suit. The vomit spread disproportionately across a large expanse of train as if he had puked while sliding down the length of the train, or slid around in his vomit like an ice skater. Most of the train was quietly observing him.

Eventually, a woman stepped forward and placed a stack of napkins on his knee; another offered him a bottle of water to splash on his face. I was surprised, found myself wondering if anyone had ever offered me such little kindnesses. I had a visceral memory of sliding into a crouch to puke "discreetly" in the train station one brownout night, grasping a column as I bent over the tracks.

I'd woken up at strange stops before; pieced together later that I must have been riding the train for hours, was suprised to find myself visibly unmolested, to still be clutching my purse. I had probably been this guy before, the one everyone is watching out of the corner of their eyes, looking at each other and shaking their heads slightly.

A stop before mine, he managed to stumble up from his seat, wobble around in a few shaky pirouettes before finding his way to the door. Momentum carried him forward for a few steps, long enough for the doors to close, before he tumbled backward, falling against the train, which was about to pull away. Women screamed and gasped in unison. Everyone froze, sure we were about to witness a man's death. The moment seemed to hang forever.

And then someone on the platform pulled the man back, grabbing him a second time when he again bounced back toward the train. "Away from the train!" we heard her yell as she pushed him into a seat. The train moved down the tunnel; we craned our necks until we couldn't see anymore. A few people laughed. I thought I might cry.

My dinner pressed on my stomach as I let myself in to my dark, quiet house. I wanted to, but I didn't throw up.

Follow my boring life @msemilymccombs.