Bullet of Sobriety
How the tragedy of my uncle's suicide led to my own personal salvation.
This is an award winning essay I wrote while attending South Seattle College. The assignment was to write a personal narrative. My teacher asked me to please submit it to some writing competitions, I submitted to two and placed in both. I think without this experience, Carry Yourself, Girl, would not exist. It is definitely a major moment of significance that fuels my art, my blog, and everything that has led to the selfmade woman presented before you. Some moments in our lives affect us forever.
2016-1017 Stan Chu Writing Award - Runner Up
2017 League for Innovation - Honorable Mention South Seattle College
Rebecca L. Baker
Teacher: Jennifer Moss
January 16, 2017
Conflict Narrative Essay, Final Draft
Bullet of Sobriety
The climax of summer 2006 was the first annual Punx in the Woods to celebrate the first successful year of Punk Rock Baseball. Thirty-two people and three acoustic guitars headed down to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest for a four day blur of camping, music, and laughter, fueled by as many cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon as we could fit in the back of a Datsun B210. We celebrated our freedom like untamed animals; if drenching my vegan cousin in a cooler filled with three day old hot dog water was an indication of a good time, then we were throwing the greatest party of our lives out in the middle of nowhere.
My phone was dead before we set up camp on Friday, and even if the reaches of reception had been what they are today, the Datsun didn’t have the means to charge it anyway. I was greatly enjoying my disconnection from society.
It wasn’t until late Monday evening, when my hangover had nearly subsided, that my phone started going off like a rocket once I connected it to electricity. My missed call list felt like a mile long and my ears were flooded with an insane number of voicemails begging me to call home; my uncle had locked himself in the bathroom and pulled a Jackson Pollock with his .45 while I had been kicking up dust and dancing topless around a campfire just over twenty-four hours prior.
I don’t remember how I got to Oregon, what day it was, or the trip to the funeral home. I do remember my chauffeur was Phil, my uncle’s oldest childhood friend. I also remember the square glass tile wall of the entryway to the building and the wood door that led to the viewing room. It was old, with a small brass knob. It reminded me of every shitty apartment or duplex I’d lived in as a child, cheaply made, with scary monsters screaming at me from the darkened wood grain stains. I hated it almost as much as I hated what was waiting to greet me on the other side.
I entered the room alone and closed the door, my fingers lingering on the coolness of the brass. Looking much like a sick person combined with a piece of wood, it was hard to believe that corpse was all that remained of my uncle. I had been the last to say goodbye before the cremation, and his body was already beginning to turn. His face was a light blue-grey and his skin was a clammy icebox, almost burning the warmth of my fingertips. It didn’t seem real.
I traced the stitches of the exit wound using the fingers on my right hand. For as much as I grieved the loss of my uncle, in that moment, I only saw myself. I saw the pain and emptiness of my own life combined with my own failed suicide attempts. I made a mental note that a gun was more permanent and faster than the unsuccessful overdose during my mid-teens had been. I saw all his cruelties and joys mingling with my own and I remembered the last time I’d seen him alive.
It was two years prior. I had slept on his couch for a few weeks, waiting for the marijuana to leave my system so I could piss clean for a job. At first it was fun, pounding beer for beer, as we shared an eighteen pack after work. These moments always led to my favorite heart-to-heart conversations about life and family. However, somewhere between his daughter clinging to me like her salvation and begging me stay because “Daddy is nicer when you’re around,” him trying to recruit me as his “dealer I can trust,” and witnessing the constant abuse he put his children’s mother through, I decided it was time to move out. I could barely care for myself, let alone be the savior of another.
A friend drove me over to pick up my things after I’d been gone a couple days. My uncle was high on meth, but trying to play it cool when we arrived. I’d been embarrassed my friend had to see that, so I grabbed my shit and bounced quick as I could. The wild look in his eyes during our last living moment together still haunts me to this day.
As I stood above his corpse in the viewing room, all of these memories flooded my brain and mingled with his voice, “Be good kid. You’re smarter than the rest of us. Go make something of your life.” It was clear nothing more could be gained from this final encounter, so I left the viewing room behind and stuck close to Phil the next two days.
The afternoon of the final viewing led us to my uncle’s favorite bar with Phil and a small group of friends they’d grown up with, sharing stories and talking about the finer points of his life. I was sitting quietly, nursing the only beer I’d ordered. For the first time during a crisis in my life, I had no desire to drink. I couldn’t shake that it had only been a few days since I was M.I.A. due to a drunken bender when my family needed me the most. I also didn’t feel comfortable listening to people talk about what a great guy he was when we all knew very well that Dr. Jekyll had a monstrous Mr. Hyde. Mourning never seems to be a good time for honesty, so I felt it best to keep my thoughts to myself, especially since I had been living a similar self-destructive path.
After a couple days enveloped by family and funeral preparation, which included packing up the house filled with my uncle’s belongings, I needed a break. Hanging with my hometown drinking buddies wasn’t exactly anything I was up for, so when an invite to an open couch and reconnection with a friend from school came my way, I retreated to the outskirts of town almost immediately. The last time we’d crossed paths was at least three years before in a Portland alleyway. He had smelled strongly of urine and was muttering things about Jesus and Mary while jacked up on a speedball injection. I was drunk and couldn’t take my eyes off the duct tape keeping his tattered jeans and Rob Zombie t-shirt together. That encounter didn’t last long, and after a while, I thought he’d eventually wind up on the list of friends taken from me by overdose. I was happy to be wrong.
When I first arrived at my friend’s trailer, a wave of uncertainty crashed over me. I hesitated slightly before knocking on the rickety screen door. Considering the state I was in and the cloud of addiction that we shared, I didn’t really know what to expect from this encounter. I started to get lost in the dust and rusty squares of the netting in the screen. My ride drove on out of my peripheral view as an old familiar figure began to take shape at the door.
The strung out, filthy, gibbering twig who had been holding himself together with duct tape had been replaced by a plump and happy man. I’d always loved his smile, even in school. No matter how bad the kids would pick on us, I could always get him to shine ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat from Alice In Wonderland. This smile was even wider. All my fear and hesitation washed away, and I immediately felt safe and at ease in the company of my friend.
We talked until the sun came back to greet our side of the world. I met his pets, and his lovely wife. We enjoyed food, water, and each other’s company in what was his second chance at life. He’d gotten sober not too long after I saw him last in the alleyway, and was working hard at remaining that way. He was the only person I felt comfortable to tell about the way I felt at the bar with my uncle’s friends and the sudden foreign desire to not drown my sorrows in pints and bottles. It was a conversation I still cherish to this day.
Of all the topics we covered that night, from school to street days and more, nothing stuck as much as the bit of wisdom he shared before sleep took him over, “Becka, it really sounds to me like you’re done with alcohol. The only one who can truly say for sure is you, but I will say to you what my sponsor told me when I first got sober--Life is so much more beautiful when you’re all the way in it.” Then he hugged me tightly and retired to his room. Those words became my counting sheep as I drifted off to slumber, “Life is so much more beautiful when you’re all the way in it.”
I spent the next ten months without a relapse and the next five or six years to follow battling my addictions. Today, I have over four years of continuous sobriety, and life is different in many ways: I have deeper connections with my family, I’ve experienced Europe twice now and accomplished many other life goals that have finally come off the “someday shelf”. Self-care is a major priority (physically, mentally, and financially), and I was continually present and aided in every detail when my grandma passed, May 17, 2015. Every day, I work harder to be a person I can rely on, so those I love can rely on me. My friend was right; the longer I stay dedicated as an active participant in my life, the more beautiful my life becomes. I now understand that every breath I breathe is a gift, and I’m ever so grateful for it.
My uncle, he taught me how to drink and how to behave badly. He taught me how to give people the finger and how to rock and roll. He taught me how to be angry and resentful at your life, but he also taught me the one lesson he was never able to grasp for himself: how to change and how to achieve more than your lot in life dictates for you.
My life is an exit wound that is continuously healing as it bleeds out the gunk I don’t need. There is more damage inside than I may ever be able to fully recover from, but I will fight to see the better day. When I lost my uncle, I lost the man who was most like a father to me, but I also lost my blinders to the world I had been living in.