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  • I was bruised and battered and I couldn’t tell what I felt
    I was unrecognizable to myself
    I saw my reflection in a window I didn't know my own face
    Oh brother are you gonna leave me alone and wastin´away
    On the streets of Philadelphia?

    I walked the avenue till my legs felt like stone,
    I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone
    At night I could hear the blood in my veins
    Black and whispering as the rain
    On the streets of Philadelphia

    Ain’t no angel gonna greet me, its just you and I my friend
    My clothes don't fit me no more; I walked a thousand miles just to slip the skin…

    The night has fallen, and I’m lyin’ awake, I can feel myself fading away
    So receive me brother with your faithless kiss, or will we leave each other alone like this
    On the streets of Philadelphia?

    Written by Stanley Marvin Clarke, performed by Bruce Springsteen for the movie “Philadelphia”

    Coming out of the V.A. Depression Clinic, I was full of hope and ready to make a fresh start at life. Prior to my two months in there, I had been a dead man walking for 3 solid months, mostly on the streets of Philadelphia. This song, which was about a man dying of AIDs in Philadelphia, immediately reminded me of those days when I first heard it. I loved the movie that it opened, and am proud beyond belief to say that my own father had a role in that movie, albeit a minor one – he was one of the PFlag protesters outside of City Hall in a scene in that movie. He was out there while he was beginning the process of dying from prostate cancer, doing what he did all his life – standing up for what he felt was right. But, back to me on the streets of Philadelphia.

    Completely devoid of any hope for months, I had slept as much as I could each day, watched as much T.V. as I possibly could, went out for several hours each day, taking the bus down on the corner to the High Speed Line in Haddonfield, NJ, into Center City Philadelphia, where I pretended to be looking for a job. I was collecting unemployment, so each week I had to submit a form that said where I was looking for a job. For the first and only time in my life since the age of 5, I didn’t really want to work. I really just wanted to die. I had completely lost my will to live. Not too many people will probably be able to relate to that, but there I was. Life was just too much for me to take, at that point. I was simply played out.

    I had forced myself to stop drinking and taking all forms of drugs. That was my deal with Dad when he and Mom offered for me to come back home. No drinking, no drugs, you are welcome here until you can gain some traction. I committed to that, and I honored that commitment. But, within 2 weeks of stopping, I found life to be completely unbearable. My God, I hadn’t realized I’d gotten this bad. Mom had helped to place me in a V.A. Rehab in Central New Jersey, but I could only handle a couple of days in there. The rest of the veterans there were not really serious about sobering up, and I didn’t want any negative influences to change my mind. I was done with all that stuff. I got right out of there. Next, I tried an Outpatient Program in Burlington, “New Routes”. It was a daily program. I’d hitchhike up to it, about a 20 minute drive and an hour and a half to thumb to. They were more sincere there, but I quickly determined that I was too far gone for them to help me. I was too messed up. These people could talk about what was going on with them. Could describe what they were feeling, complain about their day-to-day struggles. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t find words to describe “I just want to lay down and die”. I had no vocabulary for that. I had too many things that I had done while I was AWOL, things I had done on my ship, for which I carried a deep burden of shame that I could not describe, nor rid myself of. I felt broken and I felt completely damaged beyond all hopes of repair. How does one describe that “feeling”?

    So, after a month of New Routes, off and on – I’d only show up 2 or 3 days a week, but they tolerated my spotty attendance – I just stopped going. They couldn’t help me. It was useless to waste my, and their, time going up there. I just stayed up until 3 in the morning watching late night movies, slept as late as I could possibly sleep, then got up and went into Philly. I just walked around the streets of Philadelphia, aimlessly meandering. Sometimes, I would wander into the Noon AA meeting, where I would just sit there, because nothing anybody said seemed to relate to me. The coffee was o.k. People were nice to me. But, I wasn’t looking for nice. I wanted to die.

    Sometimes, I would go to brother Ken’s apartment in Center City. He’d given me a key. He had a job. He was on his feet. He’d joined the AA program, and his life was getting better. Like me, he’d just gotten out of the service – he’d been in the Air Force – but, he’d already made a bunch of friends in AA, whereas I just couldn’t connect with anyone. I was so isolated. Ken was as helpful as a brother could possibly be – but how do you help someone who just wants to die? Give them the key to your apartment!

    There I would sneak peaks at what Ken was reading, brew a cup of coffee with his Melitta Filter, chain-smoke 5 or 10 cigarettes, then turn on the gas oven, and stick my head in it until I began to get light-headed. I can still smell that gas. That light-headedness. You don’t forget these things – even after 35 years. Whenever life might seem to be difficult, remembering that time makes it seem not all that bad. My main concern was, after I went out, the apartment would continue to fill with gas, and Ken would come strolling in from a meeting, smoking a cigarette, and get blown up. That was that, then. I couldn’t even do that right.

    Heading back to New Jersey on the high speed line, I’d jump off at the last stop before the Ben Franklin Bridge. That would be the way to go. Jump off the bridge. I would die on impact with the water, jumping from that height. I would begin up the long climb towards the middle peak of the bridge. This would be easy, clean and simple, just climb up onto the rail, push off, and call it a life. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Uh-oh, one problem here, one thing I hadn’t thought of. That goddamned High Speed line train ran along the side, and stuck out a ways. Not sure I could clear that on my jump. I’m not looking for messy, here. I don’t want to involve anyone else in my final scene. A swan dive into the Delaware is one thing – landing on a train track, getting partially maimed, then waiting for the train to come along and finish the job, most likely derailing the train and messing other people up. Not good.

    These were the thoughts that would occupy my mind as I continued to walk to the Jersey side of the bridge. I would then turn around, walk back, reconsider whether I could clear those tracks, and wind up dejectedly walking down the slope on the Philly side of the bridge, one more failure to pile onto a lifetime of failure. By the time I got back home, I would be worn out. Suicide contemplation is tiring business!

    One night, very late, 1:30 a.m. or so, looking at the Philadelphia Inquirer’s T. V. Listing for a rerun movie I hadn’t seen yet, my eyes drifted over to an ad I’d not seen before. It read like this:

    ARE YOU DEPRESSED? (Does Nixon need a friend? What a dumb-assed question, am I depressed? Fuckin’ A, I’m depressed! Whaddya gonna do about it?)


    O.K., I don’t have anything else to do – no good movies on. Too wide awake to fall asleep yet. So, I go down the list. At the bottom, it says “If you answered ‘Yes’ to 3 or more of these questions, you may be clinically depressed!” Well, I passed with flying colors! I answered yes to 10 out of 10. Finally! I’m a winner. I’ve done something right! Hey, guess what? I’m clinically depressed!!! Aren’t you proud of me?

    There was a phone number to call, to inquire about a special study being conducted by the University of Pennsylvania. I called it the next day. What did I have to lose? I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t going to end it, much as I wanted to. I wasn’t finding work, mainly because I didn’t want to work. The doctor got back to me. Found out I’m a veteran. “We’re conducting an in-patient study at the V.A. Hospital in Philadelphia. Why don’t you come in?” So I did.

    This was where I found my desire to live again. I did not get well right away. That would be much later. But, in that ward, on the 7th floor of the V.A. Hospital, the lithium they put me on, the counseling they provided to me, the camaraderie I found with the other patients there, all conspired to give me the desire to want to live again. No matter how bad it ever got after that, and I still had 6 more years of an uphill battle before I found a way to live that was sustainable, I found a desire to be alive and a hope for my future, that I had somehow lost six months before.

    I will always be grateful for that experience.
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