17 November, 2004


I remembered something important today…

Chris is 28, always laughing, will give you the shirt off his back along with any money in his wallet. He is a beautiful painter. He picked it up three years ago, went from houses to boats. He gets on great with his family, talks all the time, always with his contagious laughter. He has a five year old son he loves. He also smokes meth.
He is painting the boat across the gravel from me.
We met one night when I was in bed reading. He came and rattled on my hull—the naval doorbell. I couldn’t guess who it could be, only who a few folks in town. I opened up the hatch and there stood Chris. He was trying to recruit me to go to the store with him to buy beer; I only later learned he didn’t have an id. I thought it so unusual for a stranger to walk up to me at eleven o’clock at night, that I decided to go with it, through on some clothes, shoes, and jumped ship. I spent the next few hours drinking beers on the Joker.
The Joker was hauled out so Chris could give the topsides (part of the hull that remains above the waterline) a new paint job. The weather for the next few weeks would turn out not conducive for painting and Chris would stop over to chat from time to time. He told me about the bad weather and all the lousy help he had fired—now it was just he and his brother. I said, if he needed help, I’d love the work. Deal.
Chris’ brother Jeremy, who is also on the job with us, nineteen y.o, also does lots of drunks. He told me that he used to break into lots of cars to steal stuff. He has no delusions of intelligence, which, I think, is an important thing to know. He is a nice kid though. Chris’ stepmom and her boyfriend both shoot meth. Chris’ dad died of a meth overdose. Chris’ stepmom and boyfriend are staying with Chris on the boat. They are nice. She talks a lot. He only tells stupid drug related jokes. He isn’t all with it either.
Tonight, Chris came over and sat on my boat with me for a few minutes and told me a lot of this stuff, about the drugs and his dad and family. He was so candid. He was a little drunk, but he was himself, laughing and happy. He said, when he used to shoot up, he would do it so the needle would pierce the skin—he showed his left arm—right below the tattoo of his son’s name, as close to the name as he could get. I didn’t understand; “Why Chris?”
“So it would hurt, “ he said.
“So then why do it?”
“I think I just wanted to hurt myself, I guess,” then his laughter, “I guess that’s why I don’t do it no more.” (Use a needle he means, he still occasionally smokes it.)
I thought about his family who I had been getting to know. I hadn’t known he had a son. He told me a story about a dream he had had, a terrible nightmare, something about a fire and his son trying to wake his mother up. Chris was in Kodiak AK at the time. He grabbed a bag and went straight to the airport. He spent $700 to get home so he could see his son. Just because of a dream.
He loves to paint. He knows he’s good at it. He thinks his work is beautiful. I think it is. He’s good about teaching me how to do it. I put the primer on the transom today. God, I was so excited to do it. It was great. We listened to some rap music, Too Short, rapping about “bitches” and sex. They seemed so natural listening to it, laughing, “this is a love song.”
Chris came over to borrow a few bucks until tomorrow, payday. They all ran out of beer. The talk was good though. He told me he loved me—in a fraternal way.

I remembered that maybe above all else, I feel most myself when I listen to people tell me their stories. I am a collector of stories. For me, stories light reality; they show me something tangible where I had only been able to surmise before. I know Chris. I can feel his story, but until now I had never experienced the life of people who lived in the culture of hard drugs. We like to stereotype and assume from the outside what and who these people are. But Chris is my friend; he loves to paint; he does meth, and so does his whole family. I am richer for him and his story.

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