November 30th, 2004


Rushing toward the exit

There was a system of savage storms rolling through St. Louis and Chicago when I was traveling on Saturday. It delayed flights. Agitated travelers with their fists grinding on their hips stamped their tired feet, yelling at gate agents. I had to laugh.

Once we finally boarded, grabbing my book, Chloe, Queen Of Denial out of my bag, I settled into my window seat. A young girl was scrunched next to me, her father on the aisle. A middle-aged black woman with a hack of a cough sat directly in front of me. It started out as a bumpy ride, never letting up on the turbulence. Each time the plane would dip or rock, the girl white-knuckled the armrest, the woman in front of me adding a whoop to her cough.

I smiled a smug smile. I knew planes don’t plummet because of air pockets or lightening. I knew even if we had crashed, we’d just end up on a tropical island with polar bears, a sexy doctor, and the will to make a new society.

I’ve never been afraid to die. My perceptions of it have changed, though. Possessing the arrogance afforded only the young, I believed it would never happen to me. Live Fast, Die Free was a patch I had sewn on my leather jacket when I was twenty-two, roaming in Berlin on angeldust. I burned life as hard and quick as I could, collecting reckless adventures in my pocket as if they were lucky pennies. Birthdays I’d never anticipated came and went.

And I find it kind of funny,
I find it kind of sad.
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had.

For most of my life, I’ve been dancing in the dark as though nothing could touch me, clinging to that arrogance, the capricious belief that it wasn’t going to be a final curtain. Losing Billy forever altered my attitude about mortality. Immediately afterward, a few therapists believed I had “suicide ideation” but I knew better. I wasn’t going to kill myself, not with a grisly gunshot or a hapless hanging or a splattered jump from a balcony. I’d just eat really bad food, smoke a lot of cigarettes, and surrender my seatbelt – the coward’s suicide.

I was bulletproof, anyway. After that, nothing worse could ever happen. Nothing.

I still believe the bulletproof part of the equation but I’ve begun to factor in all of the things I need to accomplish before I move on to the next step. I made a vow in my eulogy almost three years ago, one born from panic and sadness, a promise to keep Billy alive through good deeds in his name. I spoke of a foundation to help disadvantaged children, something Billy longed to do.

But I don’t know anything about kids. Nothing. I’m more determined than ever, though, to create a Foundation or Project or whatever it’ll end up being called but its agenda has changed into something that I can understand and embrace. It’ll still have Billy's name, front and center on the marquee, but I want to shape something that will help those trapped in crystal addiction. It’ll also have a dog rescue component. The two hardly sit on the same plate but I understand them. Better yet, I now have the resources and a time-honed clarity to begin the mission.

I’m no longer running toward the E-X-I-T. I’ll stop smoking soon which will inevitably lead me back to the gym, the calm of lifting until I precisely exhaust each muscle, and a better diet will follow. For the first time, I can see that red sign in the distance, looming in the dark. I can't read the letters yet, but I know what it says. It’s there, all right, but there’s no reason to hurry.

I have things to do.