Meet me in Santorini

I ran into Scotty the night before I was admitted to SummitRidge Hospital for mental health and addiction treatment in November of 2007. It was our first time alone since we had stopped seeing each other. We sat in his white truck and listened to the new Kanye West album. He expressed how the same songs that had come to my aid in the recent weeks without him were keeping him going as well. He apologized for the way it ended and kissed me, but it was too late. I climbed out of his truck and off into the night. That night was a blur. Well, the whole year was a blur. The next morning I checked myself into rehab. And that was the last time I saw him.

He attempted to contact me while I was being treated, and shortly after my parents had my number changed. On the day before Christmas Eve, I was notified by phone that Scotty died in a Tennessee hospital. After many attempts, he had finally done it. It was Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. I immediately went down the street to my best friend Donovan’s house, my second home, where the news was confirmed. I rode with him to get wine with his fake ID, and Incubus’ Wish You Were Here came on the radio. Sunroof open, we shouted the lyrics, chugging white zinfandel.

I spent my entire Christmas break wasted and hysterical, only obtaining respite after the start of the new year, when life and grief could return to a dull hum. I was suffocated by the festivities surrounding me. How could I possibly enjoy anything about this time of year? And how could anyone with any sense? I repeated this for the next decade. Holding my breath from October to January.

Last year was my first Christmas without alcohol since his passing. While pulling boxes of decorations from storage, Donovan found a tree topper in the attic of his 100 year old house that had belonged to a former resident. We had lived in the house together for a few years and never come across anything left behind from its past, but Black Santa was right on time. Upon my enthusiastic reaction to his discovery, Donovan said that I could keep him. And upon recognizing a newfound peace, I decided I wasn’t mad at Christmas anymore.

After Thanksgiving this year, I knew I wanted to bring home my first Christmas tree to let Black Santa really shine. When I was a child, my mother started a tradition of giving ornaments to my brother and me each holiday, and I held onto the majority of them despite my apathy. Now every memento and keepsake I come across is sacred, and I’m baffled at these resurfacing memories of my childhood. Of joyful Christmases in the nineties. Before scoliosis. Before my first sip of alcohol. There are many milestones behind this tree: living alone, Dexter & Ruby’s first Christmas, my nephew’s first Christmas, my first Christmas.

I have two tattoos for Scotty. Santorini on the inside of my left ankle is in remembrance of his life and our painstakingly elaborate plans of running away to Greece from our troubles. The semicolon outside my right wrist is honoring his death and my decision to keep living. I’ve posted a tribute to him for the past decade, mostly through tears and slurred words. And now the most healing part of this experience, of actively choosing recovery, has been through the connections I’ve made with others in sharing stories and experiences. It feels like there’s a new generation of people who are generally fed up and seeking more from life than alcohol can fulfill. It’s not enough anymore. Grief- human and animal, mental illness, and addiction are no longer such taboo conversations. If anyone is suffering from one or more of these, please don’t hesitate to find someone who you can confide in. That person can even be me.

Flashing Lights- Kanye West

Author: Cayce Tiedemann

Multidisciplinary artist and writer in Atlanta

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