The Ghost of Ricky Smith Pt. II
One of the earliest blogs posts I wrote was called "The Ghost of Ricky Smith." Ricky was an ex-classmate and -junkie I knew in grad school, an old New Yawker, with a surly disposition, who battled his demons, drugs, and one fucked-up past, which included, among other things, his mother shooting his abusive stepfather and once getting stabbed in an alleyway, like, 14 or 47 times. Ricky died a few months before I left Florida from complications of, well, life.
A couple days ago, one of Ricky's old friends got a hold of me, and yesterday another one of our mutual friends from grad school and I touched base about this, and about Ricky. And the "ghost" part of the above title still proves apropos, since Ricky is still around in a lot of ways. And not only because of the friends and people who knew him and all that, or even in the broader sense that because he, too, was a writer, his work will live on. No, Ricky's presence is a little more ominous that that.
I still don't like talking about my brief relapse, even though it's now been more years after than before, but I know that's part of it. Moreover I think that the specter of Ricky is really about the life not lived, how close I came (and still fear coming) to ending up like he did, dying in an apartment, alone, not found for weeks, slumped over a keyboard, still trying to finish a life's story.
Part of this, of course, is perception, my skewered intepretation of just how miserable and lonely Ricky was in his final days, which these recent conversations with friends of Ricky's have helped dispel. At least somewhat. But if you knew Ricky, you know how...tormented? troubled? fractured?...he was. Self-destruction is a shared trait in all addicts, and the question, after you run long enough, merely becomes a question of how fast and soon is now? It is going to end badly, and the worst part is the "end" isn't always the dying part. In fact, that's the good news. The real tragedy here is being the walking dead, and I don't mean in the cool new AMC show sort of way. It's walking around with a death sentence, carrying the scars, both seen and unseen, that make you feel ugly and unlovable; it's the knowing the rotten things you've done that you can't shake, the people you've hurt, the repercussions of a selfish lifestyle that you can't, for the life of you, understand as you get older. What made you think you were entitled to shirk responsibility and act with reckless abandon, scorching the earth with everything you touch. At the time it made sense, somehow. Life is too hard. I can't go on. Whatever and whatever more. But, later, when you get some semblance of what life is about, start to, against all natural instinct, mature, you can't reconcile those two worlds, and it's fucking torment. And you have nobody to blame but yourself. And that is the worst part. Because until this realization, you had everyone else to blame:
--your parents, society, friends who'd done you wrong, the fucking government. Which was all bullshit all along. Only now you know it. Add to that the scourge of disease and stigma and whatnot, those memories you can't shake, and it can make you one unhappy mutherfucker.
And I don't have that. But I came close. Oh, so very close. And just its ghost scares me shitless. It's like being sentenced to 50 years in San Quentin, or waking up paralyzed from the neck down, a Johnny Got His Gun sort of existence, the horror plot of the man trapped in a coffin, buried alive.
I guess knowing this shit is what makes you truly appreciate a second chance if you're lucky (blessed?) enough to get one. Maybe you're not supposed to be able to shake those unpleasant memories or shed the fear that somehow, however irrationally, that you may find yourself in the midst of it all again. Perhaps it needs to stay that big, black unpleasant ball you don't touch. You just have to let it hover there. That is your burden. That is the price you pay. Ain't nothing in this world is free. Least of all second chances.