I have a friend that’s changed my life. In fact, I may actually know my doppleganger…that is if I were a 50-year-old man with a doctorate degree. Okay so that term is a little loosely interpreted…hmmm yeah, it may need to be thrown out, but he still changed my life, so let’s forget the dramatic naming and just focus on that, shall we? Cool. Keep reading.
Tom grew up not far from where I did in LA, he finished school and went on to become a writer. He was an active part of his community and had a vivid imagination that led him to write some great pieces of work, both fiction and non and through that process met and married his great love.
Tom and his wife moved to the west side of Los Angeles and had our timelines met up we would have been neighbors — I don’t use that term for rhetoric sake, we would have been actual neighbors…as in the walk a couple doors down to borrow a cup of sugar and apologize that my dog crapped on his lawn, kind of close.
Hearing Tom tell his story for the first time I was stunned by the reality that not only were Tom and I quite similar, his life was better. He had what I want for myself one day; the opportunity to write to a listening audience, a semblance of stability and community near the sea and a great love to share it with. I would have surely looked at his life with envy and admiration had we met 8 years ago, but we didn’t, we met today. And today Tom has none of these things.
While in the throes of writing and success my friend lost his wife and shortly thereafter, as he states, “lost his mind.” Tom began drinking to cope with the utter heartbreak and loss he felt in his soul and soon found himself with nothing; no career, no house, no great love. “Just like that, it was gone.”
[“Just like that, it was gone,” I think to myself. How many times have I holed myself up in my room wallowing in angst and heartbreak over minor losses? How many times have I had one too many drinks in an effort to drown my fear or discomfort? I am no different than this man and would be a damn fool to think I’ve been granted immunity in this life. But for the grace of God go I…]
With few options left, Tom put what little he had left into a backpack; a couple manuscripts, some clothes and a few pieces of memory and moved himself to the streets of Skid Row, knowing that at least there he wouldn’t starve.
Today, Tom is still struggling; the demon he calls Alcohol still takes him over sometimes, as does the one named Mental Illness, but he’s still fighting. “Some days I don’t recognize the man looking at me in the mirror,” he states, “and sometimes I do. I just hate him because he’s still so lost.”
Tom is not wrong, although his self-hatred is something that breaks my heart, there are days when I don’t recognize him either. Days that it’s hard for me to remember the man I do know. But his eyes bring me back, they always remind me. Those days I remind Tom, sometimes in a way that sound more like a command than a heartfelt plea, that he has come too far and fought too hard to give up now.
And so he states, “today, I won’t.”
“Well good, then neither will I.”