Paul’s widow and dogs came to live with us while I floated through the days in a valium and vodka fog. Then my mother got cancer on the spine and I had to go to New York. She was in a terrible hospital in Jamaica. The ER looked like a war zone, cops handcuffed to guys they had whacked or shot or something. People splayed out on trolleys, bleeding, crying, throwing up. No one could tell me what was going on with my mother. I was meant to stay for three weeks but stayed for six. She went to some adjunct surgery rehab unit. I visited her there and it was full of very old and nearly dead people. Every day they had a recreational activity. One day I went there was an Elvis impersonator. The worst ever. Most of the elderly folk just nodded off in their wheelchairs. One didn’t move the whole time and I thought she had died, during a really bad rendition of All Shook Up. One guy threw an incontinence pad at him. Not full like, but still. All the people in the room were too sedated to clap, or maybe it was because he was so bad. Another time there was a country singer. He got a better response. One guy, he must have been 100, sang along to every song and did a smashing duo of “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life. ” The singer said, “I know people make fun of the song, but it’s deep and meaningful if you listen very carefully to the lyrics.” Most were comatose so they didn’t, but I still think its a bit of a shit song.
My mother was also going through steroid withdrawal at one point. This made her strong and angry and she threw stuff and begged me and my sister to get her out of there. To establish if she were really crazy or just steroid crazy, they sent a shrink who asked her where she was, what day and year it was , and who the vice president was. She got them all right. I was so loaded I didn’t know any of em. Bidet? Boden. Bodrum? The other guy, the white one who says nothing. That was the best I could do.
I came back to London under the impression she was not long for this world, even if she could name the veep. The docs said the prognosis was poor. Within a few weeks I tried to go back to tie up loose ends, but wound up throwing up (I never throw up) in the bogs at Heathrow, I think I overdid the pre flight jitters drink and drugs, and I had to go back out of customs, I do remember the customs lady saying, “We’re expecting a storm. If you miss this flight you won’t get on another” I said that was OK. I can’t remember anything about the trip back to the family house. I do remember staying a few days and when I started to piss thick syrupy stuff, and all my clothes hung on my yellowing emaciated frame, I had a great idea. I would move out. I would move to a bedsit, just like when I was young, and I would clean up and come back all fresh and new and make pies and help with homework in a nice way instead of the mean shouty way I was not helping. I went to the High St and looked in the handwritten notices in Hamdy’s newsagent. There was a bedsit going for 60 quid a week. This seemed impossibly cheap. I went to look at it. It was a very cold room with wall paper falling off with damp. There was no heating. There was a two plate electric ring for a cooker. Bars on the windows, and very little floor space after the bed. The loo was downstairs and also freezing and you fed 50 p pieces into the metre for a very shallow, cold bath. There was a damp wardrobe. The bed sank heavily in the middle, even if you weighed six and a half stone.
I love it, I told Dennis the landlord. It’s just for a while. I moved in, covered the walls with pictures of friends and family, mainly dead ones, and went to Hackney Central to find a dirty doctor. A dirty doctor usually treats crack whores, but if you pay him 50 quid he’ll write you a script for whatever you want.
So my weeks had a kind of rhythm to them. I would get up and go to the Somalian internet cafe. They called me Michelle Obama. The head guy took me to his house in Tottenham to meet his wife because she had no friends and could not speak English. I cooed drunkenly over his baby and every day I put money in the jar to save starving Somalian children.I would take my pills, drink, and write. I wrote a fair bit of shit, book length. I sent it to a publisher who said I would regret saying what I said about my children. The gist of it was that I wish I had not had them, because I could no longer look after them, but it was angrier than that. That kills me now, to write that out. I love them with every fibre of my being. I knew my presence was fucking them up, but perhaps my absence was as well. I couldn’t work out which was worse. It seemed better for them for me not to be there at that time.
This exodus lasted a little under a year. I went half heartedly to a groups with a view of getting into some sort of recovery programme, but I was terrified of losing my safety net. From the earliest I could remember, my favourite sound was the rattle of pills in a little brown bottle.
I spent my 50th birthday looking for door knobs and kitchen fittings with my friend Helen, who got me flowers, which I stuck in their paper in the sink, where they stayed for about a week. It was pretty much my worst birthday ever. Looking at kitchen fittings for my friend’s kitchen. I tried to get a job helping a woman who was wheelchair bound with ME. She said I looked like I needed the chair more than her. I house sat for a friend and sliced the top of my finger off on a mandolin slicer. I bled all over her bed and had to go get sewn up at A and E. I told the doctor not to give me anything that didn’t mix with Russian Standard. He gave me some hard ass psychedelic painkillers and they knocked me out proper for a few days. I saw dancing bunnies. I actually thought I had died, but I couldn’t find any of my dead friends, only dancing bunnies.
Then my friend Helen, who works with addicts, she got me an interview with the drugs and alcohol team run by the council. They don’t have that much funding but if they think it’s pretty bad, they raise the money. It was strange situation, but not so strange. I had to have rehab lessons. A guy, a dude, he was like Huggy Bear, he said rehab was “some scary shit, you gotta watch your back, don’t rat on people who use, don’t use yourself but don’t rat, and watch your arse. You get real sick the first week they don’t give you the drugs. It’s some bad shit, you got shit comin outta your mouth, your arse, your ears, all that poison, man, then you feel OK, but you still want the shit ,I won’t lie.”
This was very different from the woman I saw at an interview at the council. Same building I was married in, same building we registered Paul’s death in, same building Paul was married in. Well, right next door. This woman gave me some brochures. They looked like hotel brochures. Nicely made up beds, jugs of water, people sitting in circles, looking well.
“You get to choose?”
“And you pay?”
I looked through them. One was by the seaside in Bournemouth. I had been there on a family holiday once and wondered why all the people on the beach were not Martin Parr seaside beetroot red and fat, but pale and thin and sickly. Very soon I was to be one of those pale, sickly thin people on the beach. I said to the lady, “Ill have that one. I know the seaside there. When I am better I can swim in the sea.”
“Look, it’s not a holiday.”
“I know, but when I get better, it’s a nice place to be better.”
There was no answer to that. She said that one had a good rep and it was a good choice. Gazza the footballer went there. Well, maybe not a great example, but he was doing well at the time.
I had to wait a few weeks for all the forms to go through. You only find out the night before you are going. I paid Dennis a few months rent in advance, tried to pack a suitcase but was so pilled up I fell out of bed onto the hard edge of the suitcase and broke two ribs. I called my friend K who called an ambulance. The ambulance guys said they can’t fix broken ribs. They have to fix themselves. I fell asleep in the suitcase and K came to take me to Paddington in the morning. I was on my way to rehab and shit scared. And in enormous pain. Don’t ever break your ribs if you have to take a rattly train trip. Don’t take drugs. Don’t do anything I ever did, except have kids if you can. That’s something I will never ever regret and I hate myself for having regretted it just a bit, when I was on drugs.
My kids rock. Whereas I was something that crawled out from under a rock. Marry a good guy or gal. I did that too and don’t regret that, though I am sure he did. If you are on drugs, do try to get off them. Try hard. Quit, and stay quit. Dance every morning. You can’t dance well if you are on drugs, even if you think you can. You can’t, you look like an asshole on drugs, dancing. TBC