The first thing I started drawing, when I arrived at Fellowship House in St. Paul, was the people around me.
This portrait of a woman named Sue in the living room of “The House” was drawn on March 9, 1989, so I had only been sober 41 days, and only at Fellowship a few days. Newly sober, I was still completely determined to be a comic artist, and wanted to get back to practicing. Sue reminded a lot of my teenage bestie GIlly.
My beloved friend Michael. Michael and I shared a connecting bathroom in the last month we were in the house, as “Senior Peers”.
He was a marvelous professional Broadway singer and dancer; we went to Alvin Ailey together. I loved to hear him bustling in the bathroom, making fabulous. He was so handsome, and posed so well! I think I drew those kinda ’80s design elements of the circles to reference the stage. His T-cell count was ok when I was last in touch with him, so I very much hope he made it to the next generation of treatments.
I don’t think I slept with him, but it looks like I would have liked to?
A lot of the guys at the house wore those preppy Hamptons shoes. Dockers maybe?
Most of these are photocopies; we had a copy machine in the office at the halfway house, so I could make copies and the subjects kept the originals.
He was the renegade scion of some rich Florida family. I was like, if they didn’t want you to be fucked up, they should not have named you “Fell”. May 7, 1989.
A ferocious, feisty girl from Queens, drawn April 7, 1989. She was so young, not even twenty.
My heart aches, to think that most of these people are probably dead. The relapse rate was incredibly high.
She was lying on the hill behind the house (which was the old Schmidt brewery owners’ mansion) in the early Spring sun. People used to come lounge on the “Beach” as we called it and wait for me to draw them.
Being a single mom and a working-class lady, she was orderly and had her shit together, despite the whole alcoholic thing. So she found my sloppiness and chaos astounding. However, this was a day when we’d both gotten packages from home (thank you Mom!!!) and so the mess was truly a remarkable thing to witness.
He was a kind, haunted, deeply depressed man; he killed himself not too long after I made this drawing. This is a photocopy; I gave the original of the drawing to his family, who were glad to have a picture from the last year of his life.
A lot of people I knew in treatment killed themselves even in the first year.
A lot of them relapsed. A lot of them had HIV or AIDS. And hepatitis. The odds for recovery from chemical dependency are very, very poor. I know I’ve been incredibly lucky, and I’ve been living on borrowed time since I was 22. But I’d like to keep living, and working, anyway!
So I am on total self-isolation, with my husband, and expect to remain so indefinitely. For months, possibly. If I have to stay inside for a year to survive this, I will totally fucking do it.
I’ve been doing fine without alcohol and heroin since 1989, surely I can manage a year without outside!
Only one of these portraits had ever been photographed; no modern media record of the rest existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever. And of course, I am the only person who knows when they were made and why, the story of the people in the pictures.
As a highly-vulnerable person with asthma and auto immune illness, it seems more important than ever to document my life’s work. Not morbid, just pragmatic!
I am so grateful to my Patrons on Patreon, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.