I’ve struggled about this blog post more than any other I have written. It has been a couple of days since I found out about the death of my friend James. How could I convey what meeting him and the brief season he was in my life meant to me, to my recovery, to my life? At a meeting tonight for my program, the topic was “What we want for our lives today versus what God wants? What are we willing to accept?” I shared about James, hoping it would help others as James helped me, as I hope I helped him. So, here is what I said, simply this.
In early December I got fired from a job that I thought was the answer to many things. It was going to prove I was no longer a fuckup, no longer sick and irresponsible, to my family and friends, both sober and not, new and especially old friends, “Look, I am BACK!” I was still in a state of bitterness and anger about getting fired when I got a call about a seasonal job decorating homes for the holidays. In a very chic high rise, I met my coworker for the day, James. He opened the door and looked like an angel, Botticelli hair, a wide smile, a beautiful man. We started talking and he asked how I came upon the job and I told him, honestly about losing my job and what I thought it was going to have done “for” me and how troubled I was now. How could I face everyone, I had rallied behind the job, put myself into it and failed. Now what?
James listened and asked me some hard but fair questions about real friends and why did I care what people thought. He asked me if I was spiritual, if I believed in God and didn’t I think I was more than my job? He also told me about his own reasons for working the job we shared that day. How he had just broken up with his partner and he hadn’t slept at all last night. He didn’t drink last night or take any pills to help him sleep, he said and for that he was glad, but tired, still. He was “kind of a mess today,” he said and as he stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, said “Hey, keep an eye on me, OK? I am really out of it and I need to stay away from the ledges today.” I said it couldn’t be that bad and that everything was going to be OK. He replied “I’m not sure I believe you.”
When he came back in (yes, I stood in the doorway with him) I told him that over a year ago I had nearly drank myself to death. Hospitalized for 2 months my family had been told I wasn’t gonna make it. And yet, there I stood, talking to him about some stupid job I had lost and being worried what “people would think.” I told him about my recovery, my program and my Higher Power. He surprised me by saying he too, had a “Big Book” and knew the very place where I attended some of my meetings. That he thought maybe that was just what he needed, to examine that part of his life and get real about it. He reached out towards me, grabbing me and hugging me tightly. It was very unexpected and he started to cry, telling me “I think God sent you here today, like an angel, to help me. Thank you.” I was stunned as waves of realization swept over me. I told him that it was I who was thankful, that I thought that he was the angel sent from above to help me see.
Later that night at a meeting I shared about the day and meeting James and how I came to realize God’s plans are always on pointe and He knows better than we do, the whys of the world. I continued seeing James everyday for weeks, but we never did get to a meeting together. He was politely resistant to my invitations and as life will do, we saw less of each other. But I kept trying. My last message to him was about that coffee “date” we had talked about.
2 weeks ago tonight, James jumped off of a building to his death. I cried all day when I heard and continue to be overcome with waves of emotions and questions. He and I met at a crossroads. In the ensuing 4 months, my life has taken a turn for the better. I am stronger, more centered, more serene and I hold a 9 month sober chip in my hand, in my heart, in my soul… as a symbol of that. James’ life did not take the same path. Whatever he found or did not find led him once again to the ledge of a building, with tragic, horrible consequences. That first day changed me forever. And I am forever grateful.
That day I learned things DO happen for a reason, we just don’t always know what they are at the time; sometimes we never do. I know that had I not been fired, I would never have been at that job and never have met James. Would I have learned about God’s will, grace and power and that critical lesson of acceptance? I cannot say. But I did and it was because of James. I only pray he took with him something from that day too. And that I will understand one day why James made that fatal decision. Because I don’t understand it today, and I am angry. I am heartbroken.
In the end though, I remain grateful. For every second we shared, every smile, every ornament hung and for the card I gave him with a little girl holding a balloon shaped like a heart. I’m glad I followed my heart and have no regrets. Nothing was unsaid or undone.
James, my sweet Boticelli angel, this is for you. Thank you, keep watch over me, OK? Keep me every day from the ledges where I walk. Until we meet again. – Johnny