To say you are my drug would be inaccurate (and cliched). You are not a foreign substance to which my body has become addicted; you are an essential component of my survival. You are food. You are water. You are air. I need you, literally, and in your absence I suffocate. I spend every moment of every day that you are not with me struggling for air, my lungs constricting, my throat spasming, darkness creeping in at the edges of my vision. I feel myself slipping away and think This is it, this is finally the end, I can’t do this one more second – but then you grace me with a thought, a memory, a gift of mere recognition and I take a breath! I gasp in relief! I weep in gratitude! And then you are gone again and I choke once more on the vacuum you leave behind. This is not addiction, this is starvation.
Yes. You promised. And yet here I am, as alone as I was before you came. You are gone and I wait like a fool for an end I swore to you I would not hasten. Please, darling, could you keep this one promise, could you do just this one thing for me? I asked so little of you while you were here and you know it. You owe me this. Please, don’t make me break my word to you by breaking yours to me. I can’t wait any longer.
Tomorrow, he thinks as he pours another glass. Tomorrow he will go dry.
Tomorrow, he thinks as he swallows another pill. Tomorrow he will get clean.
Tomorrow, he thinks as he sucks off another stranger. Tomorrow he will become celibate.
Tomorrow, he thinks as he drinks; tomorrow, as he injects; tomorrow, as he whores himself out. Tomorrow.
If I wanted, I could never feel anything again. If I wanted, there are a hundred different ways to shutdown, to shut out, to numb myself beyond all care. Yet I do not want this. I choose pain. Pain means lucidity. Pain means you can think, that beneath the torment you are still in control. Every dull ache or sharp stab of white-hot pain means my body still fights. Could I spend my final months or years in a medicated haze, pretending that I’m not rotting inside? I could. I won’t. I would rather experience every moment of agony with the acute clarity of the dying than relinquish even a moment of control. My lover chooses to drown his sorrows in whatever cocktail of liquor and opiates works best that day, but not me. I choose awareness. I choose pain. I choose to face the end without flinching.
We don’t talk about that night. Maybe I dreamed it. His fingers through my hair, my head in his lap… was that really him? Is he capable of such gentleness? Such selfless compassion? Withdrawal turns your senses inside out, so I could easily have hallucinated it all; it wouldn’t be the first time I lost the ability to determine dream from reality. The memory seems too clear, too complete, to be a fantasy, though. I remember the bad along with the good – my racing heart, the cold sweats, the vomiting and uncontrollable trembling. Surely if I had imagined his presence, I would also have imagined myself less of an embarrassing wreck, right? Wouldn’t I have at least omitted the parts where I wept like a child? But that’s what makes it feel impossible: I remember it all, and I remember him beside me the entire time. He took the bottle from me and could have left me to suffer through the storm alone, a fitting punishment for a pathetic addict like me, but he didn’t. He stayed. He held me as I shook so I didn’t bruise myself on the bathroom tiles. He murmured kindnesses I know will never leave his lips again. Could I have imagined it all?