Monday morning, 7:30 am, my phone was incessantly dinging with text alerts. I groaned, stuffed the damn thing into the nightstand drawer, rolled over and went back to sleep. My friends know I am not awake at 7:30 am and there is no way in hell I am going to respond to their texts.
At 8:30 I’m woken again, this time by a muffled ringing. Whoever is calling got the voicemail, hangs up and calls again. Now I’m pissed. It’s one thing to be annoying. It’s another to be relentlessly annoying.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and retrieved the phone. There were four texts, two missed calls and a voicemail. All of them from the 415 area code, which is San Francisco, my hometown. I recognized all the numbers as belonging to friends in the fellowship, but the lone voicemail is from an ex-girlfriend who I haven’t talked to in years. This is not good news. It’s not like folks in recovery call en-masse to say that someone has graduated college, gotten a better job or is just doing really well and not using drugs. No, this kind of drama is always about tragedy. I didn’t even want to know who and what its about, but in the end I couldn’t help myself. I read the texts.
7:26 am, John: “Curtis died. I’m in shock.”
7:32 am, Anita: “Thought you’d want to know. Curtis killed himself.”
7:33 am, Carlos: “Curtis is gone. I’m so fucking angry.”
7:47 am, Tammi: “Call me, it’s important.”
I didn’t even bother listening to the voicemail. I already know what’s up and hearing my ex’s voice wasn’t going to make this situation any better. What I didn’t know was why the hell Curtis killed himself.
I got up and brushed my teeth and all I could think about was Curtis. I’ve known the man a long time. We met when I was a counselor in rehab and he was a client, and over the years since then we became friends. I watched him get off drugs and slowly put his life in order and the last I’d heard he was a drug and alcohol counselor. As I made coffee in the kitchen I seemed to remember him recently posting on Facebook that he was all crazy about scuba diving now. There were photos of him in the tropics. He was underwater in a diving mask, tanks on his back, surrounded by schools of brightly colored fish and coral reefs in the background. He got married a few years ago and I couldn’t make it back to SF for the wedding. Now I was hit hard with regret. Seems like I never have time for old friends. We always say we’re going to get together, make plans and then never do. Now Curtis was gone. Gone forever, and I’m having trouble actually believing it.
I looked though the address book on my phone. Searching for a mutual friend who was Curtis’ best friend. I didn’t have a number for him, so instead I logged onto Facebook and sent him a message asking what happened. Not the most personal way to inquire how a friend died. But it was all I had.
He almost immediately got back to me.
“He was depressed! But this was not expected. He left his house dogs and cars got his ass to the Golden Gate Bridge and fucking jumped…no note. When I speak to his wife later I may get more details. Just Gutted…”
I didn’t even know how to respond to this. Curtis made it through the hard years of early recovery, or so I thought. The last I checked he had over 10 years clean and sober. How the hell did this happen? What about all the seemingly happy photos and posts on social media? Him and his dog, him and his wife and kid, him in shorts smiling from a sandy beach paradise.
Curtis is not the first friend I have lost in recovery. Sadly he probably won’t be the last. But he is the first loss that I didn’t see coming. There have been others that just couldn’t get it. Relapsing and going out. Getting stuck out there, then when it got really bad—as it always does—they would come back and raise their hands at a meeting as a newcomer, again. But those addicts and alcoholics—you sort of always know they’re here on borrowed time, and the news of their deaths is never that shocking.
Judging by outward appearances, it looked like Curtis had his life together. He’d gotten off drugs, he worked in treatment, he got married. He even had pets. It just proves you never really know what’s happening when it comes to someone’s mental health. Still, I’d like to think he would have gotten in touch before things went south. But that’s probably just my ego talking. What the hell could I have done? With both our lives so busy, I can’t remember the last time we just hung out together outside of an event or a meeting, or even talked on the phone.
I can’t imagine the pain his wife and child are in. His family and close friends. I feel for them all, and I feel for Curtis. When the shock from loss calms down we can all start the grieving process. But for now it’s too soon, and so confusing.
I took my cup of coffee out onto the balcony. It was a bright sunny day in downtown Los Angeles. El Niño was supposed to be flooding the streets with rain, but all we’ve had are a few days of thundershowers. Then back to more of SoCal’s notoriously perfect weather. I raised my coffee in a toast to Curtis’ spirit in the sky. Why the sky? I have no idea. I don’t believe in heaven, but I have to believe Curtis is in a better place than the darkness that drove him to take his life.