The Lost Decade – Part 1 (the beginning)

SEPTEMBER 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

– W.H. Auden

I’ve sat in many dives throughout my life, especially in the last decade. I used to be enamored with Sheryl Crow’s lyrics to “All I Wanna Do…” in my twenties as I felt they reflected my lost year after graduating college, moving out west, and having no clue what to do. I found solace in a dive bar and enjoyed walking into the dark, smoke-filled air in the early afternoons, ordering my Jack and Coke and ruminating over these lines:

“We are drinking beer at noon on Tuesday, in a bar that faces the giant car wash. All the good people of the world are washing their cars on their lunch breaks, hosing and scrubbing as best they can in skirts and suits. And they drive their shiny Datsuns and Buicks back to the phone company, the record stores, too. Well, they’re nothing like Billy and me…”

I was lost then, finding comfort in a glass of alcohol and pack after pack of Marlboro Reds. Camel unfiltered if I was feeling European. For a year, I lived and loved being a rat in that bar. A young, pretty 20-something that the haggard bar flies would look at quizzically before returning to their own poisons and thoughts. I had a shit job making coffee in a tourist trap in a city where I thought I would be an artist, but the politics of the art world quickly dampened that dream. I loved escaping from my life and the harsh sunshine of the desert into the cool darkness of the bar and forgetting, with each sip, with each round, who I was.

Eventually, I pulled my life together and for years I moved forward, no longer stuck with a cigarette and a drink to help me through my days. And then the unimaginable happened. I became a widow at 33.

My husband and I did not drink. His vice was weed, and I enjoyed it just as much as he. The creativity it sparked in both of us was amazing. We would spend countless hours on art projects and writing and creating our future together. When he died, I could not imagine lighting a joint. I was too terrified of where it might take me, what memories might be resurrected, what nightmares it would inflict on my mind.

So, I went back to an old friend, and the one vice I knew would make him mad. Alcohol. I wanted to make him mad – I was so angry that he left me, suddenly and completely alone with too many responsibilities to handle. I needed something that would block everything out. Every emotion, every feeling, every tear that I knew I had to shed but if I began crying I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to stop.

And so began my decade that Auden speaks so well to in the opening verse of this post:

As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death

The unmentionable odor of death. I could not escape it. Not when I returned day-after-day to the empty, yawning house we had shared for 9 years. Not when all I wanted was a sign, a feeling, a smell, anything that would remind me of him and assure me he was not fading from my memory. That I wouldn’t forget the sound of his voice or the way his body felt against mine. I would sit on our back porch, the typewriter waiting for me to attack the keys, but my muse was gone. I stared at blank pages knowing that he was never to be again. I built a wall around myself to block out the world and sought escape via other routes. Alcohol became my best friend, but it wouldn’t be my only ally.  I would find other vices.

I was on a slow suicide mission because I didn’t have the balls to just end it as quickly as he had left me.

© Sorrow & Kindness

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