Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Thank you, Matthew Perry



I read Matthew Perry's memoir last spring, months before he died. Apparently I'd put a hold on the audiobook at that time, as well. The library notified me it was available and last week I downloaded it.

In print it touched me. Hearing it, read by the author after his death, gutted me. Matthew Perry recounted how taking ketamine -- the drug that would kill him this past October -- made him feel like he'd been hit with a happy shovel and wondered if this is how it felt to die. Oh, Matty!

It was about this time that salacious revelations about his personal life began to emerge. He wasn't clean and sober, after all (obviously), though he clearly wanted to be. When he was using, he was careless, manipulative and abusive. No surprise there. He owned up to a lot in his memoir. It just all made me so very, very sad.

In this mood, I rewatched the Friends reunion. Seeing him with his co-stars, watching him at 50+ after decades of abusing his body intercut with clips from the show was jarring. He had aged so much faster than his co-stars, and participated in the special way less than they did. He wasn't well. Of course he wasn't. I thought it was because he'd recently had all of his teeth replaced, and maybe it was. But while Joey, Monica, Rachel, Phoebe and Ross now looked like older versions of themselves, Chandler looked like someone else entirely. 

My heart literally broke for this man. He wanted to be sober. He didn't like himself when he was using. He hated how weak he was, and how much his disease had cost him. I'm glad he believed in God, because I think his belief in Heaven will give his mother (his poor mother) and family some comfort as they mourn his death and the way he died.

I thought of my friend, Patrick, who is a recovering alcoholic. Why was he able to overcome addiction and Matthew Perry wasn't? I don't think it has anything to do with faith, or moral fiber or physical strength. Addiction is a disease. We don't assess blame when one woman dies of breast cancer while another doesn't. I don't question why thousands of people died of covid in November 2020, when I caught it, and yet I'm here.

People who are addicts make bad decisions. They lie to themselves and others. They can be abusive. It's part of the disease. Which leads me to this: If I can find all this compassion for Chandler Bing, why do I have none for Henry's husband, Reg?

Yes, Reg is an alcoholic who refuses to admit it. So was my darling Henry. I remember a disturbing conversation, before his accident, when Henry told me he surreptitiously sipped white wine before going to work every morning. That is not normal, though Henry swore it was because "this is Key West." I know Henry had been drinking the night the rode his bike into the side of a florist van. He always insisted to me that was "clear as a bell" at the time of the collision, but I know my friend. That evening he had gone to his writer's group (likely wine was served) and then spent two hours at the home of his friend, Sheri (whom I've never seen take a sober breath). I know what happened that night.

I have forgiven Henry because he suffered a traumatic brain injury. Because he has valiantly tried to live a normal life while physically unable to. Because as we speak, he is in his second month of being in a coma in a Fort Lauderdale hospital. He has paid for his alcholism. 

But my anger at Reg has been a mighty beast. Reg has never gotten Henry the prescribed after-care. Why? Because, I believe, Reg lives in terror that psychologists and social workers treating Henry would just naturally find out the truth about Reg's drinking and smoking (of all kinds). Who paid the heaviest price for this? Henry.

They had to sell their home in Key West to get out from under the bills. Why? Because Reg had slipped into a deep (and no doubt alcohol exacerbated) depression and stopped paying bills, reading mail, or answering the phone. Pro tip: Don't do that when you have a mortgage. Who paid the heaviest price for this? Henry. He was scared and disoriented every minute in Fort Lauderdale. Uprooting him like that was cruel.

Henry had a grand mal seizure last autumn, and treatment was complicated by all the alcohol in his blood. He should not have been drinking. He had no money, could not drive, and had forgotten how to use his own cell phone. How did he get the booze? It was in the house because Reg simply cannot live without it. Who paid the heaviest price for this? Henry.

Henry had begun falling out of bed onto the floor and slipping out of the house at night, in search of his brother, Raul, who is in Puerto Rico. It was the police who returned him to Reg the first time and then took him into custody the second. The hospital found bruises on Henry's hips and forearms and two tumors (caused by bruises) that were "smothering" his brain, all the result of bad falls on tile and cement. How did Reg -- who had engineered it so he was Henry's sole caretaker -- let this happen? Because when Henry was falling out of bed and leaving the house at night, Reg was sleeping it off. Who paid the heaviest price for this? Henry.

Yet Reg's Facebook page is a misty water-colored chronicle of his love for Henry. His tireless care for his husband. His selfless devotion. It used to make my blood boil to see Reg misrepresent reality in order to get sympathy, empathy, attention ... whatever. All at Henry's expense. 

Then it occurred to me: Reg wants this to be true. Desperately.

Just as Matthew Perry desperately wanted all of us to believe he was clean and sober. Because he desperately wanted to be clean and sober.

Duh, Gal.

I have always known that, as much as I love and miss Henry, Reg loves and misses him even more. I have tried unsuccessfully to feel compassion for Reg because despite my anger over how we got here, Reg's loss has been greater. So very much greater.

Reg is not a bad man. He is a sick man who made bad decisions and neglected Henry's needs because of his illness. Yes, Henry has paid the heaviest price for this. But Reg, who is still drinking, will have to live with this for the rest of his days. That, too, is a heavy price.

I don't expect to get over five years of anger overnight. But this insight has, to borrow Matthew Perry's words, hit me like a shovel. 

I do not want Reg in my life. He does not deserve to be. He has been cavalier and dishonest with me throughout Henry's ordeal, and that's in addition to the way he's neglected Henry. It is completely healthy for me to not want this man in my day-to-day.

But my rage is not healthy. Nor is it kind or fair. I don't have to call, email or text Reg to forgive and pray for him. Not because of the reckless, selfish way he's behaved. Because he is an alcoholic.

So, in addition to making me laugh and keeping me company during my every illness and operation since the 1990s, my friend Chandler Bing has taught me an incredibly valuable lesson.

Thank you, Matthew Perry. May you rest in the peace that you deserve.