We met in outpatient, but we didn’t really get to know each other until the tunnels. She was caught-you-staring, under-slept, a couple of days past her last dose. I was long-sleeves-all-the-time, tiger balm scent, blurry-eyed side effect. It was: sharing trauma in early morning semicircle. It was: vending machine routine and too-strong-too-much coffee. It was too much and never enough. We were: in there for indeterminate lengths of time, just waiting, collecting chips from AA vet/counselor. We talked when we had to talk.
Down in tunnel-dark, light slices past manhole cracks, like peeking up through vertical keyhole, decaying stink, and I never really saw her until I could barely see her at all.
She was gargle till it’s only mouthwash, can only be mouthwash if you ask. I was take everything possible, imbibe the world if you can, blackout, try to die, come back to yourself and do it all again. We both came to in backup reset state, glitching through reality’s walls, bug fix coming but no word on when, just trying to move on. It was real agony. Beautiful labor. I loved the idea of her more than I loved the thought of my death. Progress.
Manhole liberated by strategic crowbar. Always carried it with her, she told me. And down there, hidden away, the under of everybody, and the snaking, tunneling worlds that are always terrifyingly just beneath our feet. The crypts centuries-kept, stone-wall-ruined, tunnel sarcophagi down there, and all the people that the underworld can and does house. Making contingency plans for moving down there if and when it ever came to it. Missing appointments to be down there together, sleeping among stalagmites and calcified dreams.
Both of us, under fluorolight, alive despite our best efforts, still here, incredulous at our own survival, and patching in memory’s holes with newfangled sobriety. The audacity of wanting to get better. And the inevitable chest tightness, dry mouth, emptying cup after cup of too-strong-too-much coffee, my definition, yours being that coffee can never be too much of anything, and both of us wanting to be in a place before this great fog of being, this mandated outpatient program, these burning stomachs and blurry eyes, all the ways in which are bodies are failing us. What we wanted, in the end, was to be clean just one more time in our lives. Just one more time.
Dipping in and out of moonlight cracks past sewer covers, ladder rungs falling up or climbing down, forking, snaking tunnels that we’ve gotten to know on nocturnal adventures, and how if you breathe in real slow and stare out into all that black, for just a moment it’s almost like you’re floating, hovering, imperceptibly shifting in space, and it’s warm and inner-bright, just the way we feel when we’re down and out together.