I Don’t Want You To Die
The smell of alcohol drifted into my office. I must have missed the bell. I could hear the ramblings of a deep voice roll through the corridor. It was Bronsen. I stood up from my chair and readied myself for the scene. I never knew when he would come visit, as he wasn’t an official client, but he would pop in once or twice a week like he had been doing for the past eight months. I could hear Pam in her calm gram voice softly talking with him.
I turned the corner to see Bronsen slumped over Pam’s desk. The booze seeped through his pores, and wafted through the air. His grey hair shot in different ways, like he had fought through a storm to make it through the office door. It was a beautiful summer day. His jacket slung off his shoulders, and a brown bag peaked out of his back pocket, the jean material stretched around a 24-oz beer.
Pam, sat plumply in her chair and gave him looks of empathy. She’d smile with her rosy cheeks one minute sparking hope and then nod her head with empathy as his illegible story prevailed. She’d say phrases like “I’m so sorry to hear that” and “Well what can I do for you?” Pam held the same smile, respect, and demeanor for every person that walked through the door. She was a saint, and every child that came in wanted to sit on grammy’s lap.
“What’s going on Bronsen?” I popped in. I always made time for him no matter what I was doing. He was the man you would see slumped on the street in his own urine and booze. Or maybe you wouldn’t see him. You would walk past him and not even glance. Don’t feel bad. None of the local shelters would help Bronsen, because he didn’t care to get sober let alone maintain it. Outreach programs and case-managers forgot about him too. Or should I say, gave up.
Bronsen attempted a reply, but failed. A bit of drool pooled around the corner of his mouth. He tried to smile his 4.5 teeth but tears flooded his eyes. While this may have pulled an empathetic response from some, I knew it was time for hard-love.
“Bronsen, you’re a mess. You need to stop doing this to yourself.” I stood sternly. I was not impressed. We had gone over this so many times; I had offered to bring him to detox, and to stay with him. He was afraid of being alone, but he was stubborn and would never admit it.
At 45-years-old he looked mid 70s. We had developed a trusting relationship over the past 8-months, and I probably was the only one who could speak to him in this way, without him escalating. He knew it came out of a place of love.
“You know what Rae? What in the hell do you know what it’s like!” Tears flooded down his face in frustration, “What do you even know?.. What it’s like? To withdraw? You ain’t know nothing!!!” I glanced over at Pam. She nodded her head.
“Bronsen, want a cigarette? We’re going to take a walk.”
My heels clicked along the side walk as I pulled a pack of cigarettes from my purse. I lit a cigarette and handed it to him, knowing full well he did not have the hand-eye coordination to light it. I lit one for myself. We must have looked like an odd pair to the outsiders, but I never cared. I did care about Bronsen. We stopped in the usual spot in the lower parking lot and sat on the edge of a guard rail.
“You know what Rae? What in the hell do you know what it’s like.”
“You just don’t get it. You don’t.” He said sternly again.
I stood up, turned to face him. I looked deep into his painful eyes. I held my cigarette in my mouth and pulled up my sleeves, baring my scars.
“I used to shoot up to 8 bags of dope a day Bronsen. See this?!” I pointed to my left arm where an IV should go, a vein couldn’t be found today. “And see this?!?” I pointed to the crook of my right arm. “I didn’t get these because I don’t know what is like. I lived it. I fought through those flames of hell. The aches, the pain. The days I just wished I’d overdose and could only see darkness. The fire that thrust through my pours to get a fix so I didn’t want to saw my own legs off from the withdrawals. And know what Bronsen?!? The only withdrawal that will kill you, like actually kill you, isn’t crack, it isn’t heroin, it isn’t prescription opiates, its f*cking alcohol. And I don’t want you to die.”
I took a drag.
“I watched my mum die from it. I watched her seize out. I watched her hair go grey and blood seep through her pours as her internal organs shut down. I watched as she drown in her lungs. I’ve seen three people die, my kid’s father included, from heroin with my own eyes and at least they go out from sleep. Alcohol is one of the most painful deaths I’ve ever seen. I just prayed my mum would stop breathing, as every breathe she took was severe pain from slowly drowning in fluid.” I waited. But Bronsen said nothing.
“So don’t tell me, I don’t know what it’s like. Don’t tell me that I don’t know what addiction does or how hard it is. And you know what? Heroin doesn’t define me.” I stopped and ripped a drag from my cigarette.
He looked up at me. “Someone like you?”
I was taken aback.
“What do you mean someone like me? We all have a story, we all have baggage, we all have history. It doesn’t define you. You live. You fight. Do you know how I got to where I am now? By not choosing death, by choosing life. Is it easy? No. Do you know what’s easy? Continuing this way, and having a poor pity me party. Well guess what Bronsen? The party is over. I have been trying to help, but I can’t help you unless you want to help yourself. It’s you who makes the choice. And you have to keep choosing sobriety. Are you going to have set-backs and mess-up? Yah probably. I’ve tried to quit smoking numerous times but here I am, smoking away. Have I given up? No. I will keep trying. You have been drinking most of your life, and it’s going to take most of your life to overcome it. But I don’t want you to die. I care about you. But YOU need to care about YOU.” I paused and took another drag.
There was a long silence. I fought the tears reliving those dark moments of my life. Bronsen wasn’t a bad guy, in fact he was one of the most kind souls I have come across. I remember one hot summer day, a man driving a luxury car got a flat right outside of my office. It was early morning and he was probably on his way to work. He stood in his suit and tie, scared to change the tire as he didn’t want to mess up his designer clothes. Bronsen didn’t just walk by. He saw this man in need. Bronsen offered help, laid on the filthy streets and changed his tire so the business man didn’t dirty his suit and could get to work.
Another time we had been delivered a pallet of food for the soup kitchen. Due to the low bridge, the truck had to park far away. The truck driver had hurt his back and was struggling to move the food with the cart. Bronsen again, took two hours of his day lifting all of the donated food and carrying them the blocks to the soup kitchen.
I looked at Bronsen one more time as I took my final drag.
“I don’t want you to die.” Tears streamed down my face.
“I’m ready.” These words rang in my ears. Bronsen said it. For the first time in 30-years of drowning in alcohol, he was ready to try to detox. I nodded my head and in silence, we walked to my car.
“I don’t want you to die.”
*All names have been changed for confidentiality