The Thinnest of Threads

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| This is the 235th story of Our Life Logs |


I’ve always heard people say that nothing good ever happens after midnight. For the longest time I found that to be true of my birth. Born an hour and thirteen minutes into December 13th, 1986, the temperature afforded my welcome a mere ten degrees. In Claremont, New Hampshire that morning I joined a union equally as cold. My mother, a guidance counselor in the Army, and my father, an Army recruiter, wed a month after finding out I would accompany their winter stress. My father was a womanizer, and upon my mother’s discovery of a new affair, we would pack up our belongings for a new state and a “new job opportunity” as we were always informed, and of course, a new love interest my father was bound to find.

My father’s appetite for adultery eventually landed us in Kansas in the middle of nowhere. Kensington, a town of five hundred, was where I could play with minimal supervision. My weight, however, had lots of supervision. “We could try a diet,” my mom would softly urge. “Wouldn’t it feel nice to be skinny like the other boys?” Her persistence had me wondering, “What’s wrong with how I am now?” That, paired with a little girl at the swimming pool asking why I wasn’t wearing a bra with my swimming trunks, and a multitude of other childhood cruelties, were a dangerous cocktail for low self-esteem early on.

I found losing weight and keeping it off to be impossible. I found the only thing I could accomplish when dieting was disappointing everyone around me. I finally found a comfort, at the tender age of 13: vodka. This delicious elixir of orange juice and what smelled like rubbing alcohol was my path to feeling good. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t get a girlfriend. It didn’t matter that my father seldom tried to bond with me or even give my existence a nod. None of it mattered. I found my place in the world, to have a bottle nestled in my hands, carefree and laughing. I’d never been happier, but also, I’d never been in more danger.

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The years of my adolescence were a roller coaster, from one extreme to the next, and back the pendulum swings. As anyone’s teenage years will prove, there is a lot to discover about who you are. I, like many others, exited those years still asking those questions. One minute I knew I was destined to be a youth pastor, the next I knew God never existed in the first place and my only solace in life was alcohol and women. At 17, I was in the youth pastor phase which on top of my full-time grocery store job, brought on a lot of pressure. I found myself in a desperately silent place mentally with little guidance to illuminate anything.

Enter my two sounding boards: Jacob and Wyatt.

I found an absolute bond in them through the youth group. We became inseparable. I was a senior and they were only freshman, but that didn’t matter. They brought sound into my silent misery and made me feel wanted, for once in my life. Jacob, especially, had this grin that he’d get when we hung out that was an odd combination no one else could seem to pull off. The perfect mixture of “Let’s get into some trouble” and “You’re right where you need to be.” He always had a way of making everything okay. His satirical grin always let you know you were about to have some fun, and everything was going to be alright. He was a small piece of Zen in human form for me. He balanced everything out and made me feel safe.

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A roller coaster of stories exists from then on. I left Kensington a week after high school graduation. I fell in love, fell out of love, became a cutter, was in a heavy metal band, was in a church worship band, decided I didn’t believe in God, moved to New Hampshire, moved to South Carolina, moved to Kentucky, moved home, found alcohol again. There isn’t a particular order of those events (excluding the moves), but in them, a lifetime of stories that took just three years to cultivate.

In 2009, I started working with my father at a local grocery store as the Assistant Manager. I hadn’t seen Jacob or Wyatt for three years and I couldn’t tell you the last time we talked. Certainly, neither would want to hang out with me-or I thought, as I liked to drink and smoke by now. They both graduated high school the year before and surely had moved on to bigger and better endeavors.

One day, while I was at the only gas station in Kensington, I ran into Jacob who was indeed still in town! We chit-chatted and then he said we should hang out sometime. I felt like such a weird shell of a fraud. “Uh, yeah man, we could. I don’t know if you’d really dig who I am anymore to be honest with you. I drink and stuff now, I’m actually here to buy a pack of smokes.”

Then I saw the grin.

If you knew Jacob, you knew the grin. As it spread across his face, I knew he was still the same Jacob I knew and loved. He confided in me that he, too, was also a “cool kid” now. He pulled out a Camel Turkish Royale to share with me, we laughed and talked and picked up right where we had left off.

Thus, continued our legacy and with it came a million fun stories, a lifetime of memories. There was the time we stole a fire extinguisher from some weird house party in the middle of nowhere. Or the time he was making fun of me for owning a hair straightener, so I threw a cup in the shape of the Kool-Aid Man at his face. We walked through hell and made it fun, spending almost every day together.

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With Jacob (right) after one of our more memorable escapades.

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In 2011, I met my wonderful wife, Jacqueline. When I saw how well Jacob and Jacqueline got along, I knew she was the one. However, as time moved on, Jacob and I spent less and less time together, having to substitute our face-to-face drinking with drinking and texting or drunkenly leaving the other guy voicemails we would each regret the next day.

I started a family and he continued to live day by day.

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With my best man, Jacob (right), on my wedding day, October 2011.

In January 2018, my family and I decided to move three hours south. Before we left, I had my last conversation with Jacob in person. It didn’t go fantastically. He was dabbling in some things I didn’t think need dabbled in, and he did not appreciate my advice. We lost touch.

On the other side, my wife decided in this new place that she’d had enough of my drinking. She said if I wanted to keep my family, I had better figure some stuff out. The next day on January 23, 2018, I went to my first AA meeting. The program wasn’t all roses and fun, but it made me feel better, it made me feel like I finally wasn’t alone in this.

Every day when I got off work as a truck driver, I’d try to call Jacob. But each time brought his voicemail. Voicemail. Voicemail. Voicemail, a pattern maybe? I missed him dearly and wanted to share with him what I had found. We tried a joint attempt at sobriety two years earlier and neither one of us got out clean. I figured this time at least one of us had a little leg up and could help the other guy. But every day, voicemail.

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Four months and sixteen days since my last drink.

On Friday, June 8th, my wife, sick at home, started calling me on repeat while I was at work. I’ll get it in a second, I thought. Then my big sister started calling me on repeat, urgent-seeming text messages started to appear, even one from Wyatt, “Call me ASAP.”

I called my sister and finally discovered what all the fuss was about.

“They found Jacob dead this morning, he hung himself. I’m so sorry.”

I believe I responded with “WHAT?! I have to go, I love you.” I might be wrong about that, I wish her voice and the horror and heartbreak it brought were as forgettable to me as my response. Unfortunately, occasional days still rear their ugly head where I find myself in the exact same spot, on a Friday, as I work the same route I was working that day, and I can hear her reveal his departure almost audibly.

I expected many things to come out of that phone call. I had tried to play out in my head how I would react to any of these different scenarios I planned for. I did not have a contingency plan for this one, though. Empty of any resolution, empty of any sliver of humanity I had ever known, I wept.

I drove home, and the scenery melted by, nothing mattered. I made it home and collapsed into my wife’s arms, like a small boy who’d overheard his friends making fun of him. I cried and cried and I begged her to tell me why, why was this fair? Why would he do this to me? This isn’t fair, why doesn’t anyone else understand that?

We got everything ready for the three-hour trek North. I sporadically collapsed in tears while Jacqueline tried to offer me some semblance of comfort. She asked what I wanted to eat, I said, “Fried chicken. I would really like some fried chicken, you know?”

I felt at the time I was operating out of some cool Zen place, everything was fine, we just needed some food. The truth is, who knows where we operate from in a situation like that? It’s essentially our soul’s fight or flight protocol.

Fried chicken. In a time where the whole world has stopped spinning and nothing makes sense, wet is dry, up is down, some fried chicken sounds nice. Soggy, I shoveled down the colonel’s eleven herbs and spices in silence while I stared out the window, wondering how I was going to face his family.

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I walked around the serene farm. A scene I hadn’t taken in sober since high school. I lit a cigarette. I almost visibly saw Jacob running between the grain silos with a blow gun. We used to have these blow gun wars, Wyatt, Jacob, and I, real madness. Real darts, too. I could hear his laugh, I looked around to see where he’d been hiding. Of course, this was all some sort of sick joke my head was conjuring.

The next week and a half melted together and I found myself back on the farm, holding the ashes of a person I loved more than words. I spread his ashes with everyone else and drove back to my new reality. A new reality where my best friend was a memory and I had to still somehow stay sober.

Everyone had a watchful eye on me from the second the news broke. I could feel their eyes and hear the gulps in their throats. No one wants to tell someone that heartbroken to stay sober, to deal with the pain, so they watched and waited.

My poor wife. She was lied to, cheated on, and put up with so much more by marrying a drunken child. She finally had a light at the end of the tunnel. She put her foot down and finally started to see fruit to all the effort, all the insecurities, all the pain, and it all hung on a very thin thread.

But I wasn’t giving up this time. Each day, I put my own shoes on, no one else’s, and kept walking because I needed to. For myself, my family, and for Jacob. The difference this time around was that I wanted it. For me, it’s not about winning something or working for a victory: an engagement ending in such triumph. To triumph on this journey, I mustn’t press towards an end, towards a singular goal. I must push myself every day, the way an Olympian pushes their body, feels the burn. We must feel the burn in our souls, put the work in, and take no shortcuts.

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It would be inaccurate to tell you this has been an easy year in my life. It would also be untrue of me to tell someone they are ready for this journey, too. I know this, because I have told myself that same myth repeatedly. It all depends on the person. To live a life like I had been, avoiding all pain by numbing it with substance every single day, isn’t living a life at all. Once you truly want it, you can walk through even the darkest of circumstances, deal with them however you must, and keep on the path you were. We are meant to feel, to hurt, to heal, and continue the odyssey.

When you wake up tomorrow, tell yourself “Just today.” The day after that, “Just today.” You will be amazed where those two words and a present mind can take you.

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Getting my rallying cry ‘Just Today’ tattooed on my legs before my one-year sobriety, 2019. (Artist credit: Logan Casimir at Sinners and Saints Tattoo Co., Wichita, KS)

 

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This is the story of Randy Dues

Randy lives in Kansas with his wife and their two children where he enjoys kayaking, yoga, and cheering on the Red Sox with a full house.  After developing a low self-esteem from childhood cruelties, Randy fell into alcoholism at the age of 13. After a lengthy period of sobriety, he fell back into alcoholism at the age of 21.  This continued for ten years.  After accepting he had a problem, and finally gaining some successful sobriety time, his best friend committed suicide. This could have threatened Randy’s chances of sobriety, but he pushed through the loss and is now one year sober. He is striving today to be the man that his family and friends can be proud of.  His new chapter in life is beginning with a new career in freelance writing and journalism.  This chapter was made possible by his loving support system and a tenacity that he has never found anywhere else.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on January 2, 2019.

| Writer: Randy Dues | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

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