Sunday, June 1, 2008


An interesting consequence of the particular circumstances of Pierre's death has been my exposure to a phenomenon called 'Amends'.

Now, I am sure, to many this will seem like an observation a long time in coming, especially given the fact that Pierre was a known drug abuser and died as a result of injudicious drug use and a failure to understand the consequences of that abuse, both for himself and those who loved him.

I mean, realistically, we might have been introduced to the '12 Steps' in a formal way long before B. came to use us to obtain his 9th level merit badge or coin or whatever they reward the 'Steppers' with these days. No, the truth of it is, I have known about the 12 Step program, as many people do, apocryphally, in stories that others have told me about AA and the quasi-religious 12 step program that is at its core.

So, though I have 'friends' who are in AA, not only do I not have an alcoholic 'in recovery' in my immediate life, I have never actually known anyone well who is, or has made known to me, a 'Stepper'.

This is telling, since it is proof that we never induced Pierre to enter such a program, though he did go through a drug rehabilitation program that required certain elements of the Steps to be observed, or at least acknowledged, like connecting the actions of an abuser with the feeling of the loved ones who are hurt by the abuse, but the specifically Christian elements of the program he rejected out of hand, and, I confess I did nothing to reverse.

Nor do I, at this moment, think that I might have been able to influence him in that way, as if the fatal die had been cast long before the drugs actually entered his life. That is another story. Nonetheless, I see that I had an opportunity to explore the 12 Steps and perhaps let it slip away.

Or did I? It turns out that the steps came looking for me. When B. called Valery to ask if he could meet with us to make 'amends', my open skepticism and pre-judgment disappointed Valery considerably, and she counseled me, wisely, not just to 'reserve judgment'--my term, which obviously implies a final judgment--but not to judge at all. 'It's his show,' she said, and quite rightly. Now it was her turn to be skeptical as I agreed with her and promised not only to be nice, but to remain open to B. and his pain and allow him to grow through whatever phase it was he was going through. After all, it it seemed a simple task to meet with him and listen.

Interestingly, the first day he was supposed to call us at noon, to set the time and place to meet, but at twelve there was no call. Then one, then two o'clock came and he finally called to say that he had been delayed but could meet now. Valery told him that the day was not good for us, but honestly she was protecting him from what she sensed might have been the very reaction I had promised not to have. It isn't as if she didn't trust me. It happens that, these days, we do not trust ourselves with the very deepest and rawest of emotions. We are healing around the edges, and we must, for now, leave the center open and tender while we shrink the wound. Her instinct was right, and we left till the following day our encounter with 'Amends'.

Now I should say that to me, the delay was merely a bit of evidence that the old abuser habits--not respecting others people's space and time--had not left young B. I still feel the same way, now that I've been 'amended' so to speak. I think it a simple matter to call when you say you will call and show up when and where you say you will show up. It's one of the most basic courtesies we offer one another. Or don't.

Not wasting someone's time and resources can often be as sensitive a gift as not giving one something that is essentially unwanted. Like, say, a matching pen and pencil set or, an 'amend', perhaps. Courtesy for others is the most basic building block of adulthood. Frankly, we all know people who have have undertaken yet failed at this very challenge, and live their entire lives as though they are one-character plays, the rest of us be dammed. These are the abusers, and even if it is only our time they can abuse, they will indeed do that. If we let them.

Not to exaggerate, though, as this sort of 'abuse' is not only at a very low level, but it is also a common discourtesy that we share in this modern era. Nonetheless, I find that I do not, for anyone's sake, have to be abused, even in the smallest way. I may choose to avoid those people who would waste my time and energy or worse. And if I do, can anyone blame me?

Now I'll not start a crusade against drugs, nor will I harangue innocent youth for the failures I too have faced. No, it's more a matter of resignation, a recognition that the time and energy I have left is best dedicated to those who will use and appreciate them wisely. For reasons of self-preservation, I shall keep those resources to myself and resolve to spend them on Valery, Madelaine, and, for example, for Pierre's best friend, Sean, who has proved in almost every way to be the opposite of our potential penitent. Even before he met us, B had yet to actually demonstrate that the hour or two we were about to give him would even be worth it.

If it sounds as if I had my doubts on meeting the boy at a local restaurant with Valery and Maddie, I'll admit, I had a few. I did my best to remain open and neutral, even as I felt my heart sink on seeing him. The first thing I saw, honestly, was the silver crucifix he had dangling out mid-chest and this gave me pause. Understand that I have no particular feelings about the crucifix either way. I am not put off by it, but the public display that a crucifix represents is, or at least was in this situation, disappointing, because it made me wonder who the intended audience is for the public affirmation achieved by wearing the Cross(or Star of David, or any religious symbol). Fortunately, he made no mention of religion, and my discomfort on that count was for naught, though on other counts it quickly became clear that we were faced with someone who was, as Valery had so presciently observed, working on his own 'show' and was not, in the end, verily interested in our feelings at all.

For one thing, one of the first things he told us was that after Pierre died, after the wake, and all the words of hope that were offered and promises made to change lives, B. went and not only binged on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, but managed to nearly kill himself the way Pierre had. Hmmm. After being released from the hospital, he went to rehab for the seventh time.

It didn't take.

He fought with another inmate on the first day and was expelled. He justified this by explaining that he'd exacted, in this lovely moment of violence, a debt owed Pierre by some low-life dealer now in rehab himself, vainly trying to salvage his own miserable existence. That meant nothing to me. I don't want revenge. I want Pierre.

So after that, another binge and another, count it, eight, trip to rehab! My impression? Here's a guy who really likes rehab! Addicted to the 12 steps? Yep.

Eight is, apparently, not enough.

I say this not to put him down, which is why I haven't named him, but I can be honest here. Nothing in his eyes, or in the movement of his hands seemed to support his words. He made his 'Amends', and asked what he could do to 'make things right'. He went though the motions, and we allowed it.

And why not? What were we supposed to say to this? Do I even want to have any more to do with a pathetic creature like this? No. I had one of my own, and would now, do almost anything to have him back, but it shall not be.

So, in the end, we gave the young man the blessing he had come for, though, I confess, Valery's spirit was and is always so much truer than mine. She always knows the right path through these moments. I left her hand on the tiller, so to speak, as we maneuvered through the perilous waters of making 'Amends'. The relief in his frame when we asked nothing of him was most visible. The conversation, though it focused on him and his hopes and plans, gradually steered towards the door.

There was little to say after that, and though I heard him recite his plans, it was just a recitation, honed in many hours of 'group' and long nights laying awake, plotting escape. In fact, I fear that B will never escape. Honestly, after we said goodbye on that bright Memorial Day afternoon, I do not expect to see him again.

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