I am no expert on the subject, but I know the punch-in-the-gut feeling of being caught in the middle, a friend hurting desperately, searching for a way out. He is the saddest drunk I know. He can go for months without a drop, but one beer leads to a 24 pack. I don't know how it is physically possible, but somehow he can down them in about two hours, usually with a harder drink or two in the mix. As intoxication increases, his mood plunges, but always the next drink promises relief. Then guilt sets in -- and he has now sucked back enough courage to take the next step. It has usually been drugs -- prescription or street drugs -- in massive doses. Then my phone rings.
A slurred voice, "I'm not gonna bug you no more, man. I'm gonna do it right this time." He uses a pay phone. He refuses to say where he is. He laughs at my questions, then sobs, "You don't know what it's like, man. You don't know."
The abuse starts then, anger at me, insults and cursing. "Why don't you just butt out and let me die?" He forgets that he made the phone call. He forgets that I have tapped every resource, activating a whole emergency response team each time he has done this. He forgets that I am convinced his life is worth saving.
I'm hard pressed to tell him why his life is worth saving in any way that he can comprehend, especially when he is drunk. I'm hard pressed at times to tell myself why his life is worth saving. But I've watched him grow. I've seen the intervals between crisis stretch longer and longer. I've seen him find joy in life and seen glimmers of hope for his marriage. I am convinced he still has something worth living for, something to give to his family. A one night binge is a poor thing to die for. He is worth so much more than that.
Love for a punch-in-the-gut type of friend is a strange thing. One thing is sure -- it is a verb, not a noun, an action, not some cozy feeling. The following poem expresses truth in ways that prose seems to fail me. Written between crisis that came too close together, with little healing time for either of us between, it is part of a self-distributed collection titled "Let Heaven Weep."