Drawings from the Halfway House: Portraits from the earliest days of my sobriety.

Sue at Fellowship Mar 9 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThe 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.

Michael at Fellowship April 11 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesMy 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.

Scott at Fellowship June 27 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is Scott.

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?

Rebeckah.

A ferocious, feisty girl from Queens, drawn April 7, 1989. She was so young, not even twenty. This is from a photocopy; she kept the original.

Julia at Fellowship May 7 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesJulia, my friend and roommate, who I called “Jewel”.

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.

Me and Julia at Fellowship April 7 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI also did a drawing of Julia and I in the room we shared.

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.

Ray at Fellowship March 191989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is Ray.

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 incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

2 thoughts on “Drawings from the Halfway House: Portraits from the earliest days of my sobriety.

  1. Pat Ketchum

    I’m really glad to see these. I don’t know if I met any of these friends or if they were from before I moved out there. I’m gkk ok ad to see them and your drawings.

    Reply
    1. Suzanne Forbes Post author

      I think you might have met Julia? Michael went back to New York after he finished at the house. So did Rebeckah. I lost track with people who went back to the city pretty fast. The news was almost always bad. Remember when we went to see Emily in the hospital in downtown St. Paul after she had been in the city? She had HIV, and her injection sites had become horribly infected. She survived unlike so many though, all thanks and praise to the Goddess

      Reply

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