When Johnny did not return my first emails and calls after my return from France I went back to Al-Anon. I also initiated conversations with some trusted friends of mine, including a professional therapist, and with friends of Johnny’s. Before I left, Johnny’s younger brother Peter and I had been talking about the possibility of a formal intervention to confront Johnny on his drinking and to offer him help. Everyone agreed that it would be useful to have a professional and that it was necessary for Johnny’s brother to be present.

Three days after I returned Johnny called me. He was still holed up and drinking and largely incommunicado. He said he was “depressed.” He said he was calling me “out of respect.” He returned to the theme that his deceased brother David knew what to do and what to say to him and that I didn’t. He mentioned that David would call him fifteen times a day and I wouldn’t. Damn straight — who wants to call someone fifteen times a day? When I invited him to talk about his depression he said not a word. When I said “I love you,” he said “That’s what you say.”

As soon as I told Peter that Johnny had called me, Peter reneged on coming down to take part in an intervention, rendering an intervention useless.

On July first BART goes on strike, so I have more time off work and no income: with no commuters coming through the station there is no one to sing to. There is no one to sing to for tips, but I make it to a singing session five days later. When I arrive the hostess asks after Johnny and I tell her there is no news. Then a few others come in and start singing drinking songs. I refuse to sing songs in praise of drink at this particular juncture and I do not want to talk to one of the singers, my ex-fiance, about what is going on with Johnny. In order to avoid my uncomfortable feelings, which I don’t feel I can express at the session, I start eating chips. I sing and chat and joke with the others. I don’t know if anyone notices how much I am eating. I am not savoring each chip carefully and slowly, enjoying each taste — I am eating in an effort to swallow my feelings. I am vaguely aware that my eating has a compulsive quality and I think at least once that I should stop, but I do not want to stop.

After I return home I start to practice the other compulsion I suffer from, that of scratching off scabs. When I have a small scab I run my fingernails underneath its edges, trying to loosen only the dry scab over the healed skin, trying not to trigger bleeding of the unhealed wound beneath. If I cannot tolerate a feeling or a thought or a situation and I happen to have a scab, watch out — I will worry it. Although I have moments when I will stop, when I will wash the wounds with soap and water, I will go back to picking the scabs again eventually.

I investigate my compulsions in my writing over the next two days, turning my attention to them, telling what I understand about them. Mostly I know that these self-destructive habits surface during times of trouble. I am somewhat surprised to see them appear when I have been meditating, attending Al-Anon meetings, calling friends, learning new songs, reading spiritual literature. All I can say is that these compulsive habits emerge during times of deep trouble when every healthy thing I know how to do is not enough. Perhaps this is how Johnny feels — he may have, somewhere inside, a sense that his drinking and isolating is bad for him, but may also feel that he has no alternative, that nothing else is working to help him deal with uncomfortable feelings. I do not know that this is his internal experience — I’m just speculating that his experience may be somewhat similar to mine.

The next day, a friend calls me and starts telling me, unasked, what I should do about Johnny and his drinking, from giving him an ultimatum on the phone to removing myself from his life entirely. I have not asked her for advice. Sure enough, during our conversation I start scratching the wounds I have just cleaned. Here it is again: uncomfortable feelings and compulsive behavior. Agitation and conflict with people I care about trigger the behavior. When I get off the phone I note that I need to slow down and breathe and get peaceful again, using writing or sitting meditation to settle myself down. And I continue to struggle with my own behavior over the next day.

Two days after the singing session and spending some time with my compulsions the BART strike ends on Monday morning and I go back to busking in downtown Berkeley. I also hear from Johnny’s brother who wants to do something, but still doesn’t want to come down to the Bay Area. Instead he calls various friends of Johnny’s: he wants someone to go out to check on Johnny. I am still holding the line, saying I will not go out to Johnny’s alone, but I will go if someone goes with me.

By Thursday Johnny’s old friend Eric has agreed to drive out to San Leandro. He says he’ll take me to find out if Johnny is alive. I meet Eric at his house and we drive to Johnny’s.

Eric parks the car. He and I approach the Marcella St. house. The living room curtains are drawn, but I can hear the sound of a television.

I knock on the living room window and call, “Johnny.”

“Who is it?,” he calls back.

“Sharyn and Eric,” I say.

We hear the sound of bottles hitting the floor as Johnny gets up from the love seat under the window. Clink, clink, clink. Eric and I look at each other. Clink, clink, clink. It sounds like sixty bottles falling; perhaps it is only twenty, perhaps it is nearer to a hundred like the song my Dad used to sing, “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, Ninety-nine bottles of beer, If one of those bottles should happen to fall, ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall.”

Johnny shuffles into view. He has opened the wooden inner door, but leaves the metal security door in place. The metal is closely woven, like some outdoor tables. Through it we can see that Johnny is dressed. He has some facial hair, but not six-days growth. I forget to look at his feet to see if he is wearing shoes. He reeks of beer, or the house does, or both.

“You can’t just come over here,” he says.

Well, we did, didn’t we?

I say, “Johnny, no one could reach you. We came to see if you were alive. Lots of people care about you.”

“I’m alive,” he says.

“I see that,” I say. “That’s a good thing.”

Eric retreats to his car to wait for me.

“I’m depressed,” Johnny says. “I talk to Deborah every day.”

Deborah is his “therapist.” She used to be his therapist for real. Now she is a friend. I am completely mystified that she doesn’t seem to confront his drinking. I think, “At least he has a lifeline. Better a defective lifeline than no lifeline at all.”

I say to Johnny, “I feel like part of you wants me to rescue you. I can’t rescue you.”

“I don’t want you to rescue me,” he says. “I have to do this myself.”

“You need some help, Johnny. I’m glad you have Deborah.”

“You were depending on me,” he says. “I let you down. I’m sorry.”

I don’t say anything. What could I say? If I agree that he let me down, he might feel worse. I can’t say he hadn’t let me down. So I say, “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time. I love you.”

At some point Johnny refers to my decision not to call him every day because it breaks my heart. It seems to bug him that I won’t call him every day because he does not answer his phone, which makes me anxious.

His temper flares in response to something I say. “Now we’re covering the same ground,” he says.

I just look at him.

We stand there in silence. I have nothing more to say. Then I rescue him, asking “Do you want me to go?”

He says “Yes,” so I leave.

On the way home, Eric and I discuss the visit, “He didn’t tell us to fuck off,” I say. “And he thanked us for coming. Thank you for driving out here. At least we know he’s alive.”

Eric drops me off at my house in Kensington. I thank him again. He tells me to take care. Then he leaves.

I feel much better knowing that Johnny is alive, that he hasn’t died alone in his house.

I call his brother, who isn’t home, so I relay what happened to his brother’s wife. She tells me she feels encouraged because Johnny wasn’t as savage as he could have been. She says they continue to pray for him.

“Maybe your prayers are making a difference. He’s still alive and he managed to be civil.”