For nearly eight years I lived with an Annie Lennox-sized hole in my life, though, during that time, I wouldn’t have been able to identify it as such. There were lots of holes in my life—some were metaphysical, others were metaphorical, and still others were as obvious holes can possibly get. Like the one I woke up to every morning in the wall on the other side of my bedroom—a small cavity of blackness I’d created after heaving a beer bottle one night in a lone drunken rage. I was upset by the fact that my best friend, with whom I was living, was not, in fact, as in love with me as I was with her.
But that’s a long story. And for eight years after college, there were lots of long stories. Longer ones. At one point I enjoyed a loving relationship. But eventually my partner stopped enjoying it. What, with all the drinking I did, all the amphetamines I took, the up-all-night stupors, the too-hungover-to-hike mornings, the states of mid-afternoon panic I’d display upon realizing there was no beer back at the house for later that night.
During the majority of that time, I didn’t listen to Annie Lennox. Not intentionally, at least, though I did hear her version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” play over the speakers of a bar once. I didn’t dare get excited though; I figured I was the only person who could hear it anyway.
But then the end came. The end of my drinking and pill-popping days.
There was no great catalyst that inspired my decision to get clean and sober, though I was penniless, broken-hearted, with growing medical debt due to the numerous trips to the ER I’d made for either overdosing or allowing myself to get so dehydrated I passed out. But none of these problems directly resulted in my decision to sober up. I was accustomed to them, actually; I assumed they’d always be a regular part of my life. An occasional nuisance, like having my period or going to Old Country Buffet at the behest of my mother.
To this day I’ve never really able to define what, precisely, prompted me to get clean and sober. I guess I just got shit-faced enough one night to consider giving up getting shit-faced.
But let me back up to just before “the end,” to when I experienced a sort of death rattle with my drug and alcohol use. I suppose I had a hunch I was about to quit—or die—so I went at it with the fervor of a mating male honeybee. I consumed as much as I could. Not unlike going to Old Country Buffet at the behest of my mother.
And this is when Annie Lennox came back into my life.
During the death rattle, I got really into making photo collages. But only at three in the morning. Even on work nights, just a handful of hours before I had to go teach science to middle school-aged boys on the autism spectrum, I’d buy a twelve-pack of beer, pop a couple Adderalls, and start guzzling. By three in the morning, I’d be manic with artistic furor, hunched over cut-out magazines, cigarette butts, beer cans, and mismatched socks spread across my bedroom floor. I lived in a literal pile of trash.
I made a photo collage for Missy Elliott, another for Ani Difranco, and a third for Dave Navarro. Yes, for them. I was convinced I’d one day hand over my masterpieces in person. Probably because I was already touring with them, you know; reading from my memoir about growing up Baptist in Indiana (where there are lots of buffets) as their crowd-warming opening act.
It occurred to me I should make a photo collage for Annie Lennox. I don’t know why it had taken me so long to come to this conclusion. I can only guess that, in hindsight, I’d been avoiding caring about her again.
So I ordered a packet of clips from some eBay user in the UK and, once they arrived, got to work creating my Annie-Lennox-death-rattle-photo-montage masterpiece.
What better soundtrack to creating such fan art than Christmas carols?
So, mid-May, I made Annie Lennox’s photo collage to the tunes from Annie Lennox’s A Christmas Cornucopia album.
Which wasn’t great, by the way. Annie’s holiday enthusiasm actually disturbed me at first. Especially amid her rendition of “Angels from the Realms of Glory” (“Angels We Have Heard on High”). She belted that refrain with the same gusto the old woman who used to eye me from the choir loft at church did. This woman—a stout, little silver-headed beast—would be singing, her jaw dropping open and quivering like a piranha’s, from the pulpit during service, with her eyes locked on little ol’ me the whole time, narrowing, widening, narrowing again.
Perhaps part of what prompted me to get clean and sober was the fact I kept making myself uncomfortable. There I was, listening to Christmas tunes that brought on long-repressed psychologically painful memories while living in my own personal trash heap making photo montages from said trash heap.
But I found Annie’s version of “The First Noel” mesmerizing. It, too, made me uncomfortable (The whole album did, to be honest. Again, it was May.), but only because it reminded me of being a kid at Christmas time, running around the living room with my little brother who carried a blue purse at the age of two—this little denim clutch with a wooden handle. He’d put lint in it, cat fur, pieces of rogue trim from the Christmas tree. And he’d show me what he’d collected later at night, after we were both worn out from running in circles. I loved looking at his little trash collection.
And now I had one of my own.
The Annie Lennox photo collage took a total of two weeks to finish—fourteen nights of manic gluing to Christmas carols.
And then the end came. And I was done.