In my early 20’s I was lost in a dark and violent heroin addiction. My life was narrow and small, without hope. I was lonely and sad, broke, the only relief was getting high. I remember snorting bags of China White in my Court Street Brooklyn apartment at night and then going for long walks through Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights ending up at the Promenade, the Manhattan Skyline like some far-off fairy tale land of kings and magicians, a land where anything could happen: a land of endless possibility.
I would stand there, high as fuck, and dream of the life I wanted: a life where I was a writer, where I wasn’t alone: I had friends and a boyfriend who loved me, family who could stand to be around me, a life where I didn’t steal and lie just to get by.
I could feel that fantasy life in me, burning through the darkness, trying to get my attention: like a coded message in the sky, or in the flamed lights of New York City, flickering in the neon, trying to remind me of who I really was.
During this time I read a book called Martin and John by Dale Peck. It’s a small book, a first-time novel by a gay writer my age who lived in New York City and in London. I remember sitting in café’s in the East Village reading that book and crying. Every word connected to me. In the acknowledgments he wrote a thank you to a café in London where he would sit and write.
I must have been 25 when I read that. I remember so clearly thinking, I want to be that guy. That writer sitting in a café in London. I want to sit in café’s all over the world writing.
I didn’t get sober until I was 42 years old.
It wasn’t till I was 49 years old, sitting at the Bach, a café on Hoxton Street in London where I would go to work on my book, that I realized: holy fuck! I got exactly what I wanted.
That’s the thing about life, I spent so much time running, so much time trying to hide from the pain and the fear, that I couldn’t see that life was pushing me in a direction, trying to send me down the path of who I really was. The only obstacle to that path was me.
This has been true for most of my life. The more I try to control and orchestrate, the more I try to force something, or to hide from pain, the more I allow fear to cloud my thoughts, the further I get from who I am supposed to be.
I am now, at 50, in a process of learning to allow who I am to unfold. Sometimes I wonder, what if I had gotten sober younger, or if I had been more focused, or if I had always worn condoms when I fucked (would I still be HIV negative?), or if I’d never used heroin, or stolen all those cars and money from my dad, or lied to my friends, what if I had never been any of the things I spent most of my life being: would I be famous now? Would I be successful? Or would I still be wandering down the lost path? Maybe all those things are the things that have brought me closer to myself.
I spent a year travelling back and forth from LA to London visiting my boyfriend Noah. Every morning we would wake up and he would go to work, and I would walk across the street to the Bach, books and computer in my backpack, and I would order a flat white and sit there and write. I started a journal called “Thoughts on Travel and Love and Life” and I wrote in it every day.
During the afternoons I would walk over to the Glory, and down to the canal and make my way slowly to Broadway Market and London Fields. I would sit in that park and watch people, strangers, as they went about their lives. I created elaborate stories about who they were and the lives they were living.
I also spent a lot of time worrying. About money. About Noah, about sex and being in a long distance relationship, about work, about all the endless things our brains find to latch on to and obsess over.
But I didn’t let those worries stop me. I would just start walking again, exploring a new city and a new people. Finding book stores and cafes, wandering through parks and museums, stumbling upon London Bridge and Big Ben and that Ferris wheel that still seems like a mystery to me: what Is that fucking Ferris wheel all about?, never really knowing what anything was until, while telling Noah about what I had done that day, he would tell me what each and everything I saw was, giving me history and context to my day.
I am a clueless tourist. I just walk, letting it all be out of context. I probably should have bought a guide book, or at least asked Siri, but I wasn’t there to see the “sights” I was there to experience myself somewhere new, somewhere so far out of context that the only thing recognizable would be me.
That is what travel is all about for me. When everything recognizable falls away, and the only thing left is yourself. You can’t hide anymore. Some days the loneliness was unbearable, the fear so out of control I felt stunned by it, but other days there was hope and joy and love. And I just kept walking my way through all of it, coming out the other side: because there is always an other side to walk out of.
I’m still afraid a lot of the time. I don’t always know where the money will come from to keep traveling, my boyfriend, who now lives in Berlin, is still 6000 miles away. I wonder how we will make it work, I wonder if I will succeed or fail. I’m 50 now. It is easy to believe life is no longer beginning, instead it is ending. It would be easy to get lost in these thoughts, to turn from my path.
But then I remember that day, sitting at a café in the East Village, reading Martin and John. I remember how badly I wanted Dale Peck’s life, to be that writer in some café in London, or Paris, or Amsterdam, writing. I remember going into the bathroom and snorting a line of heroin. I remember the sadness, the since of hopelessness. I remember thinking that I would never escape.
But I did escape. And somewhere out there somebody is sitting alone, feeling like they will never be able to have the life they want: they feel trapped: hopeless.
I don’t give a fuck if this sounds corny, I don’t give a fuck if I’m the cheesiest guy in the whole world, I just want to say this: we are never trapped. We are never without hope.
I am 50 years old. I am 6.5 years sober from a brutal 23 year fight with drugs and alcohol. I am HIV Positive. I should not even be alive. And yet here I am. Living the exact life I wanted at 23.
Think about that. What kind of fucking miracle is that?
And Hey! Go check out my book, Accidental Warlocks, on Amazon! Your Support Would be Amazing!