We called him “Satellite Mike”, but I never knew his real name. I heard that at one time he had a family, house and a good job, but all of that was taken away by alcohol and drugs. For many years he’d struggled with his addictions, and had been in and out of 12-step groups, rehabs and detoxes. By the time I met Mike, the abuse had left him with brain damage, what we in ‘the rooms’ refer to as a wet brain, which is almost like a perpetual state of drunkenness. This condition robbed him of his ability to think clearly and this left him unpredictable: it was a little scary, but could be interesting.
I would occasionally give Mike rides to and from meetings…and although this meant that we had to ride with the windows open (as personal hygiene was not high on his list) I enjoyed talking with him, hearing stories of his drunken adventures, and the fantasies created by his sodden mind. Yet these talks also left me feeling very sad, as I could see flashes of the man he once was…before the Addiction carried him away.
Satellite Mike he had been trying to find long term sobriety for years, but every time he would get a few weeks or months of clean time together, he would feel better and decide that his problems were not that bad, and he would go on another bender. Once he told me that he regretted not taking advantage of those opportunities to find sobriety early on, when he still had a chance; but when I knew him, he was so far gone it was hard to tell whether he was drunk or not.
We put up with Mike in the program, understanding that when he disrupted a meeting, or flipped over a table at the diner, it was because his brain was pumping out bad chemicals. As a reward for accepting Mike, we learned a lot from him as Mike was a true power of example…a warning of what was waiting for us, if we became complacent, or let our guard down…if we ever came to believe we could handle (or even deserve) our next drink or drug.
When he was going to meetings and sticking to his treatment plan, he lived in transitional housing provided by a non-profit group called Project Hospitality, whose goal it was to help people who were struggling with Addiction. When he was not sticking to his program Mike would just disappear; sometimes he’d be in a hospital, once he was locked up in jail for a short stretch, other times he was just off on a bender, perhaps sleeping in the Ferry Terminal or on the streets of Manhattan. Eventually however, he would come back to the meetings, looking sheepish, asking for rides, food, cigarettes and forgiveness. He came back because he knew that there was no where else for him to go.
Satellite Mike was living in one of these transitional housing units when he went on his final drunk. I never learned how much of what happened was due to the amount of drugs and alcohol in his system, and how much was due to the damaged already done to his brain…and in the end it really did not matter.
One cool and damp spring night, after being kicked out of a bar, Mike began roaming the streets of Staten Island, yelling at cars, and accosting passersby. Finally, he got it into his head to play “bull fighter” with city buses, out on Victory Boulevard; he waved his coat like a cape, and was heard yelling “Toro, toro!” Several buses missed him, but as he leaped out of the way of one bus, he landed in the path of a second bus, that could not stop in time, and he was gone.
In the years since he died, I have often wondered if Mike meant to get hit by the bus that night, if that was the only way he saw to end the misery caused by his damaged brain, and the horror of not being able to drink without pain, while not being able to get Sober either.
Our lives can be filled with stress, and hard choices, and things don’t always make sense. I worry about my daughter and how well (or poorly) I have done raising her as a single father, my relationship, my job situation, financial troubles and the future; and there are times when the physical and emotional pain has felt overwhelming, and I would like to escape life on life’s terms for a little while; it is at times like these when the bottle (or rather several bottles) can tempt me to go off track.
When I feel this temptation, it is memories of people like Satellite Mike, Rocket Jack, Sal, and so many others (in and out of the Recovery community)that we have lost to Addiction to drugs and alcohol. I think of all the lives destroyed, the trust lost and the tears shed, and though I am sad for their loss, I am grateful for the lesson they taught me…that it doesn’t get any better out there. I also think of those who faced tragedy and unimaginable pain in their lives, like Al, Ted, Anne Marie and so many others who did not give in to their pain and were able to stay sober and help their loved ones heal, and through their example, taught us that while it can be difficult at times, life is good and better faced head on, and sober; because sober we do not have to face the challenges of life alone, because God is always with us, in spirit and in the example of those who have gone before us.
It is these people who have gone on before us, who remind us that there is always a bus waiting for us to slip-up and jump in front of it…and that but for the grace of God that we are spared those last few years of literal Hell, and instead are given a new lease on life…filled with hope and the love we share with each other.