Author Archives: andy nicastro
I came out of my mother’s womb a shy kid. Even the earliest photos of me as a toddler show me peeking out from behind my mother’s legs, one hand half-covering my face. If there’s a yet-undiscovered ‘confidence gene,’ mine was certainly missing or at the very least, tragically mutated.
For a long time, I had believed that my pubescent encounter with the man the Central California newspapers dubbed “The Hannibal Lecter of Pedophile Priests” had ‘turned’ me gay. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I began to understand that I had been born gay, and that feeling of being different was one of the root causes of my shyness. It was that shyness, not my gayness, that had painted a “molest this kid” target on my forehead.
I didn’t have many friends in high school. I knew a lot of people, and a lot of people knew who I was, because I was appointed co-editor of the Turlock High School newspaper, The Clarion, my sophomore year. I didn’t have anyone I could truly confide in, though. My yearbooks are full of year-end wishes to “have a great summer” or “to a guy who doesn’t talk much but seems nice” kind of sentiments..but not one of them indicates that anyone during those four years knew me on a more than cursory level.
There was one notable exception, however: my girlfriend C____, who from my junior year on I paraded around campus in all her big-breasted, blond beauty like I was the Grand Marshall of my own “See, I love pussy!” parade. Even C_____, however, didn’t really know me. In retrospect, I did love her, and we dated for three years. The sex was frequent, but less a product of actual desire than a continued reflexive reaction to any homosexual feelings that might arise. A fantasy about a male classmate would illicit shame and self-disgust, so I’d use C_____ to prove to myself that I could, in fact, have ‘normal’ sex. I cared about her deeply…I’m not a sociopath…but I think I cared even more about protecting myself and my image (I’m sorry to this day for all the women I used in that manner, and where possible, I’ve tried to make amends for that behavior.)
Back then, on the outside, I tried (probably unsuccessfully) to exude confidence and masculinity – driving a Chevy Stepside pickup truck (replete with roach clip feather dangling from the rear view mirror) and growing a cheesy porno ‘stache – but on the inside I was a seething cauldron of anxiety, self-pity and rage. I hated myself, and every moment of my high school life felt like a charade. My only goal was to get through those years without my secret being discovered. The secret being that I was damaged goods, that I often fantasized about the other boys on campus, and the secret that not a week went by without my fantasizing about killing myself.
I recently found my high school diary. Reading it now, I realize that even though I kept this journal as a way of getting my feelings out (some pages are filled with nothing but raging expletives directed at schoolmates, my parents, pretty much the world), I was lying even to myself. One typical over-dramatic entry laments the necessity of taking drugs to fit in with my classmates. I had to have known this was bullshit even as I wrote it. True, the small group of people I could have gained acceptance from were the potheads, but it wasn’t my lack of experience smoking weed that kept me ostracized, it was my own inability to be authentic and to let my guard down. In this same entry, I also express a desire to change schools. I also must have known, intellectually at least, that starting over again at a new campus with an entirely new cast of strangers wouldn’t have solved anything, yet there it is, in my stupid loopy 14-year-old handwriting.
This particular diary entry reaffirms, more than anything else, the fact that I was an addict long before I discovered crystal meth in my late thirties. I’m already looking for excuses to escape my feelings, either via chemicals or, as it’s referred to in the recovery community, “pulling a geographic.”
“My parents said I couldn’t run away from everything,” I wrote in 1979. How wrong they were. I could and did run away from everything, for a long, long, long time. Though I came to terms with my homosexuality in the mid-eighties, I continued to run from everything else for two more decades. Had my parents said instead, “you CAN run from everything, but eventually your legs are gonna cramp and you’re going to get exhausted and fall down and everything you’re running from is going to catch up to you and beat the holy living shit out of you,” then that would have been completely accurate.
For the longest time, I had difficulty in recovery. I refused to admit I was an alcoholic (crystal meth was my only problem, after all, I’d never crashed and burned and ended up in a psych ward from too many Screwdrivers or Greyhounds, my drinks of choice), and I defiantly told anyone who would listen that I “became” an addict at the age of 37.
Of course, I’d conveniently forget that fact that when i’d work at my parent’s restaurant, as young as 13, I’d sneak into the walk-in refrigerator and chug Gallo Vin Rose straight from the gallon jug because it calmed me down. I’d forget the time in my mid- twenties when my friend Rich and I got drunk at a party in San Jose and ended up being kidnapped by a gun-toting drug dealer (and subsequently driven, along with a van filled with drag queens in bridesmaids dresses to the End Up in San Francisco, where we were abandoned at 5 AM.) Or the time in my early twenties when two drunk friends and I spun out on the San Mateo bridge, almost crashing through the guardrail and into the water below. Or the time….actually, there are too many times to recount here. The point being, I’ve always been an addict. I was probably born an addict. I’m also an alcoholic, I’ve belatedly come to realize. I know that if my drug of choice didn’t exist, if pills and coke and all other narcotics were not available, I’d be the biggest, swaggering, stumbling, beer-breathing, gin-blossomed alcoholic ever.
On July 7th, I will celebrate one year of sobriety, God willing.
The past eleven months have been about far more than not using drugs or drinking. They’ve been about working on conquering the self-hate. To stop keeping secrets. To stop lying to myself.
This year, I stopped running. Out of breath, beat-to-shit, I stood still in my tracks, turned around, and faced the oncoming monsters. For eleven months, I’ve stared those fuckers down. They still want to chase me, to get me running – but as long as I stay perfectly still and do battle with each as they attack, I can defend myself (and my sobriety). Without all the running, my energy is returning, and the fighting gets a little easier each time.
Yesterday, the monster that tells me I’m fat and ugly and too old to have any value did a job on me, leaving me bruised and beaten. I didn’t run, however….not to my dealer, not to self-medication, nor to seek validation through sex.
Instead, I stayed and took my lumps.
Today, I am planning my counter-attack.
I plan on knocking it senseless. With prayer. By helping others. With self-esteem via esteemable action. And though I may never actually kill this demon – I’ll probably battle it the rest of my life – recovery has given me the tools to outsmart it.
All I have to do is use them.
A year ago, I thought I looked great. I was thin. My face had some angles. I could wear the same size pants I wore in high school. Sure, I was covered in tiny red speed bumps, and yeah, I’d shaved my head because I was convinced the CIA or the FBI or some other nefarious shadow organization was tracking me with tiny wire transmitters attached to my scalp, but who cared about that when all my jeans hung from my hipbones in that cool, sexy way?
Now, looking at that photo on the left makes me cringe. That guy looks like Nosferatu with stage 4 cancer.
Though I’m not thrilled with the way I look in the photo today – i’m far too self-critical, still – the difference is amazing. The guy on the left looks dead. The guy on the right is ALIVE.
The guy on the left lived in a world of darkness, deception, paranoia, anger, sadness, sexual depravity and absolute, overwhelming sadness. The guy on the right wakes up to hope, lives in the sunlight, is healthy, is optimistic, and lives in a world filled with God, recovery, love, good friends, purpose, optimism and – on most days – joy.
I’ll be turning 49 soon, and though the thought of creeping so close to 50 years old is nerve-wracking, there’s also much gratitude. After more than a decade of off-and-on abuse of my body, spirit and mind, I am looking forward to celebrating a miracle: I’m Alive.
I’m alive – and the world shines for me today
I’m alive – suddenly I am here today
Seems like forever (and a day), thought I could never (feel this way)
Is this really me? I’m alive, I’m alive
2006: My addiction had long since chased away what had once been a fairly large circle of friends, even the most tolerant and empathetic among them having run for shelter. There are a finite number of late night, meandering phone calls about phantoms hiding in heating ducts or people living in the trees that a sane person can tolerate, and though their retreat pained me, the lack of interaction with the outside world seriously reduced the amount of acting I had to engage in to simulate sobriety. The only notable exception was Rebecca, who, four years after meeting in my first rehab, was still sober. Still, justifiably, even she was forced to maintain a distance that wouldn’t threaten her sobriety, sending an occasional email inquiring about my well-being.
As long as I kept my meth-smoking to a relative minimum, around six times a day rather than the previous 15 to 30 minute intervals, I was able to function fairly well, and would spend the day on the computer or meandering around the house and yard, slightly glassy eyed but otherwise presenting a countenance of relative normalcy. After years of Patrick discovering my hiding places with the skill of drug-sniffing airline customs canine, I now kept my pipe, torch and stash cleverly concealed on a small, inner ledge beneath the vanity in our bathroom. To find it, one would have to open the cabinet doors below the sink and reach a hand up and in to find the hiding place that was just wide enough to hold the paraphernalia. It was certainly my most clever hiding place to date. Several times a day, I would lock myself in the bathroom and retrieve them, careful first to turn on the water to mask the sharp, pronounced clicking noise of the butane torch. As an added precaution, I would set a pair of toenail clippers on the counter. The sound of toenails being clipped mimicked almost exactly the sound of the torch, and I wanted this decoy ready to point to should Patrick overhear anything. We had reached a point in our relationship where I fully expected him to have his ear pressed against the door, listening each time I used the bathroom. I had also reached a point where I knew that there was nothing I could say to him about this, his lack of trust being completely justified by my continuing relapses and the accompanying lies and creative fabrications.
I looked forward to the days when Patrick would have some acting job or other that would get him out of the house, and I would use those times as an opportunity to smoke speed all day long with impunity, enjoying the liberating feeling of being able to lay my glass pipe, torch and little zip loc baggie of crystals on a glass plate next to the bed. I would spend the day luxuriating in the sensual feelings that the speed engendered, seeking out and devouring the most graphic porn I could find, inhaling amyl nitrate and masturbating with frenzied, futile abandon.
For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play.” Partying, in the meth lexicon, has nothing to do with the mainstream celebratory or cake-and-candle connotation. Rather, it is a euphemism for using speed: one, two or a cluster of jittery, clench-jawed, sweating men who have been reduced by crystal meth to the status of animals, each desperately trying to satisfy his chemically-distorted, darkened, and amped-up sexual desires.
Although I had always been comfortable with sex, and certainly never prudish about the act and its many variations, this sexually compulsive behavior was something of an entirely new order . It is deeply embarrassing to admit to this particular obsession, and few meth addicts do. I’ve read account after account written by the users of this drug, and very rarely have I read explicit accounts of this very common, albeit deeply shame-inducing activity. Wikipedia, in fact, in its entry for Methamphetamine lists “hypersexuality” first as a side effect of the drug’s use. Admitting to homelessness, criminal activity in support of the habit, even insanity is far less embarrassing than confessing to behavior that most would consider lurid, at best. Meth users, particularly gay meth users, often confess to being sexually indiscriminate, but few will cop publicly to the details of their wallowing in the murky shallows of depravity. Yet the proliferation of gay personal ads containing the acronym “PNP” demonstrates the ubiquity of this phenomena. For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play”. For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play.” Partying, in the meth lexicon, has nothing to do with the mainstream celebratory or cake-and-candle connotation. Rather, it is a euphemism for using speed: one, two or a cluster of jittery, clench-jawed, sweating men who have been reduced by crystal meth to the status of animals, each desperately trying to satisfy his chemically-distorted, darkened, and amped-up sexual desires. A search of the M4M (men for men) section of Craigslist, using the term PNP will generally produce hundreds of results for the Los Angeles area alone. Having participated In many of these “parties” over the past several years, the twisted logic of my tweaker brain now pathetically rationalized these masturbatory marathons because they allowed me to stay faithful to Patrick.
Often, I would get so lost in the world of self-pleasure that I would lose track of time, jolting sharply back into reality with the realization that Patrick was due home momentarily. The sense of time’s passage is drastically distorted by meth use, and I often found myself in this situation. I would then wage a strange battle: attempting to reach climax and still have enough time left over to rid the house of all evidence of how I had spent my day. Each jerk stole precious time from the forthcoming cleanup regimen, and this anxiety, coupled with the erection-diminishing nature of the speed, ensured that I’d invariably lose what I had come to think of as the War of the Tug.
On really bad days, having run out of personal lubricant options, I would use Vaseline, which required a chemical cleanup rivaling that of the Exxon Valdez .
Sweaty, heart pounding, I’d admit defeat and leap from the bed in a panic that would scare all three dogs into a chorus of barking, running about the house cleaning in what I thought was a systematic way, trying to rid it of any detectable residue of my solitary debauchery. Most normal people understand that sex sometimes requires a little cleanup afterwards: a greasy hand print on the headboard, a spot on the sheets that requires laundering. The cleanup effort required following an extended tweaking session is a very different prospect altogether.
Heart pounding with the fear of discovery, expecting to hear Patrick’s key in the lock at any moment, the first step was to strip the bed of the lube and sweat stained sheets, and stuff them into the washer along with the clothes I was wearing, if any. The next was to return the drugs and paraphernalia to their hiding place. Following that was a frantic, room to room Windex rub-down. It is truly astounding the number of household surfaces a tweaker can touch in a five or six-hour period, and Patrick knew from past experience what a smear of lube on a doorknob most likely meant. During the days spent alone like this, it seemed like every surface in the house became coated with a film of whatever water or oil based lube I had been using. On really bad days, having run out of personal lubricant options, I would use Vaseline, which required a chemical cleanup rivaling that of the Exxon Valdez . Windex in one hand, a wad of paper towels in the other, I’d proceed deliberately from one side of the house to the other, spraying and then wiping down everything my hands might have come in contact with during the day: the telephone handsets, remote controls, doorknobs, thermostat, light switches. This task completed, I’d turn on the bedroom ceiling and spray Fabreze to mask any lingering odor of amyl nitrate, then quickly jump into the shower and rinse the sweat, with its tell-tale cat-urine like odor of metabolized meth, from my body. The final step was to floss and brush my teeth fanatically to remove the similarly rancid mouth odor caused by the drying effect of the speed.
Patrick would arrive home, tired from a long day at whatever he was doing, to find the house smelling perfumed, the washing machine churning away, and me sitting, fresh-scrubbed on the couch in the tv room, pretending to be fascinated by whatever show that happened to be on at the moment. It is indicative of the level of deception I practiced that I also made sure I was watching a tivo’d show I’d already seen, in case he decided to join me. That way, I’d be able to answer any questions about characters or plot should they arise. I would feel a wave of guilt for this deception, but that didn’t stop me from rising from the couch to give him a warm welcome, offering to make him dinner, or regaling him with made-up stories about how I had spent my day.
“I cleaned the whole house,” I’d say, neglecting the part about having done it in a 10 minute, bug-eyed, speed-induced sprint.
“And I’ve got a load of laundry going.”
At night, because sound carried further, I would forego using the butane torch and use a regular Bic lighter instead, although it often resulted in both a burned thumb and a blackened pipe from the black carbon the smaller, less intense flame produced.
One night, after having avoided using for several weeks, making a grand show for Patrick of my desire to once again clean up my act, I slipped into the bathroom just before bedtime. Earlier in the day, I had paid first a quick visit to my dealer on Croft Avenue in West Hollywood, and then to the Smoke Shop at Santa Monica and Vine. Now, I retrieved the teenager of meth and the thin glass pipe from their hiding place on a small ledge inside the cabinet below the sink. At night, because sound carried further, I would forego using the butane torch and use a regular Bic lighter instead, although it often resulted in both a burned thumb and a blackened pipe from the black carbon the smaller, less intense flame produced. Sitting on the closed toilet, I lit up, inhaling the white vapors. After several deep tokes, I grabbed a wad of toilet paper, moistened it and rubbed it around the receptacle end of the pipe, or bubble, as it is often called. This trick cooled the pipe and helped to quickly re-solidify the clear, liquid speed into a solid white mass that could not spill out the top, while also removing the layer of thick black residue the lighter had produced. I re-hid the pipe, placed the Bic lighter in the pocket of my bathrobe that was hanging on the back of the door, flushed the toilet for effect, turned off the light and joined Patrick in the bedroom.
To the non-addicted, the act of using a drug that revs up energy levels and sends the mind into hyper-drive immediately before bedtime would seem irrational. Rational behavior was already a thing of the past for me, however.
I crawled into bed next to Patrick and turned off the bedside light. Whispering a “good night,” I turned away from him and onto my left side, letting the euphoric effect of the speed wash over me. My eyes wide open, staring at drapes dimly backlit by an outdoor street lamp I began what promised to be an eight-hour ordeal that had, by now, become tortuously familiar. One of the side effects of the speed was the tendency of my body to twitch or jerk involuntarily in it’s dopamine-jacked flight-or-fight state, and my solitary focus was to stay still, an almost impossible endeavor. Too much movement, too much tossing and turning, and Patrick would certainly clue in immediately, blowing my cover of mimicked sobriety.
I laid there for hours, absolutely incapable of sleep, my body tensed and clenched from the physiological flight-or-fight response meth creates. Fortunately, the speed also creates the ability to hyper-focus, which worked to my advantage in this situation as I studied the drapes in minute detail, refusing to even shift my legs for fear it would alert Patrick to the fact that I was still awake. Finally, sometime around 1 AM, I was unable to resist the need to move, so I admitted defeat and slipped out of bed slowly, doing my best to keep the mattress still. Once on my feet, I glanced back at Patrick and noted with relief that he was still sleeping deeply, snoring gently. Moving stealthily around the bed and out of the bedroom, I closed the door behind me, putting resistance on the doorknob as it twisted closed to it mitigate the deafening sound of it clicking shut.
After a visit to the bathroom to retrieve my stash from its hiding place, I continued – light-headed – into my office, avoiding areas of the hardwood floor that I knew would produce a groan or squeak. Sitting down in the black Aeron chair in front of my desk, I gave the mouse of my iMac a shake, and squinted against the sudden flood of light as the monitor awoke from its slumber. Activating an alarm clock program that would notify me silently at 6 AM and allow me to sneak back to bed before Patrick woke, I proceeded with the focus and single-mindedness of a cat stalking its prey to navigate my bookmarked porn sites, starting as usual with the aptly named Smutnetwork.com. Once there, my senses began folding in upon themselves as my dopamine-saturated brain absorbed image after image, video after video, with hedonistic abandon. Everything else, my surroundings, even the sense of my own physical presence, was surrendered to oblivion. Click, click, click, ad infinitum. Images of sexual acts that, without the influence of the meth would be of absolutely no interest to me, or perhaps even mildly revolting, were scanned, registered and devoured as sustenance for my insatiable meth-propelled libido.
Page-view by page-view, the hours slipped by, my wide, red-rimmed eyes soaking up the porn like a sponge. Periodically pausing to take a hit from the pipe and then concealing it again in the top right hand drawer of the desk, my hand trembling and cramped, I worked the mouse around its pad, my synapses firing a hundred miles an hour. Time sped away from me and after what seemed like only twenty minutes, faint gleams of pre-dawn light began seeping through the louvers of the IKEA mini-blinds.
A faint breeze touched the overheated, yet clammy skin on the back of my neck, jolting me from my dark reverie. Startled, I spun my desk chair around. Patrick was standing in the darkened doorway, his eyes still thick with the confusion of sleep, watching, assessing.
For Patrick, it had deeply sinister implications. A meth-smoking gun, if you will.
Although almost imperceptible, I clocked the changes in his face as he registered the situation, the almost undetectable change in his expression still clearly conveying shock, sadness, anger, and most worst of all: disappointment. Catching one’s partner in the act of pre-dawn masturbation is, for most couples, simply an awkward moment, if that. For Patrick, it had deeply sinister implications. A meth-smoking gun, if you will. His eyes moved from my hand, still in my crotch, to the pornographic image glaring out obscenely from the computer monitor.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I stammered.
“Apparently,” he said simply, his voice devoid of feeling. He maintained uncomfortable, accusatory eye contact for a long, sad moment, before abruptly turning and walking back down the hall.
When I was ten, my mother walked me and my sister down to the small playground of the apartment complex we were living in. There, we witnessed two young boys…maybe five or six years old…. fighting, clumsily tugging at each other’s clothing and trying to land punches from the odd angles they were contorted into.
A woman in her late twenties stood nearby, yelling as if at a prize-fight.
The meth haze clears for a moment, and tears form in my eyes. SHIT. Then, I’m running back up the hill to the emergency room entrance. I pass the security guards and get to my mother first.
Moonlight, Machete & Madness Pt. 3 (conclusion)
Walking quickly, I soon reach the perimeter of the hospital. Huntington Memorial is a fairly large complex, and I am unsure of exactly where I am. The streets are dark, and very few vehicles are out. There is a slight chill in the night air, but I barely feel it, my adrenaline-enhanced heartbeat keeping my body temperature slightly raised.
Looking around, I spy a row of single-story office buildings across the street, flanked by overgrown landscaping. I scour the greenery carefully, looking for signs of tree people, and am relieved that I see none. I dart across the road and approach the building, duck-walking quickly under the low hanging branches of a large shrub, and scuttling back into a small clearing between the building and the bushes that line its brick side. I slide down the cool wall into a sitting position, completely concealed. Safe – at least temporarily.
Pulling the bag of crystal from my pocket, I hold it up to inspect the contents. I am gratified to see that more than half of the teenager – the ridiculous slang name given a bag containing a 16th of an ounce – remains. I suddenly remember a comic greeting card I once saw, with a cartoon lady waving a cartoon checkbook and exclaiming, indignantly: “I can’t be overdrawn…I’ve still got checks left!” And so it is with me: despite my spiritual bankruptcy, the binge can’t be over if there is still crystal in the bag.
My hand trembling, I reach my thumb and forefinger into the bag, pinching several large shards of the glass-like substance. For a quick rueful second, I think of the pipe and torch I left behind in my bedroom. I have always preferred smoking these crystals, which delivers the drug in a slower, more languorous fashion, as compared to the sudden jolt that accompanies snorting, slamming or ingesting it. Careful not to drop any, I put my fingers into my mouth and deposit the bitter, tangy rocks at the back of my throat and swallow quickly, working my dry mouth in an attempt to build up enough saliva to get them down.
Carefully re-sealing the bag and pushing it back into my pocket, I slump back against the cold wall and wait.
It seems like only a few minutes before the freight train comes rumbling toward me. My body, accustomed to the more gradual introduction of the drug, is overwhelmed by what is at least the equivalent of two full bowls. This large quantity, which would normally take me many hours to smoke, is now being absorbed all at once by my long-empty stomach.
There is a roaring of white electricity in my head, and a multi-colored light show begins to dance behind my closed eyelids. My extremities numb, while at the same time a ribbon of heat slowly unfurls itself through my core, starting in my groin and working its way up through my chest. The heat engulfs my heart, and I can feel it pounding furiously against my ribs as I open my mouth, gasping for air. The feeling of sexual euphoria that has played such a large part in my addiction usually builds slowly when smoking, but now it rolls over me in a tidal wave of dopamine-overloaded sensuality.
The heat ribbon continues up, past my chest into my brain, burning its familiar path to my pleasure receptors. I begin to writhe slowly, twisting my neck and head in rhythm to the pulses of electricity that jolt from my brain back into my body. Gasping for air, eyes clenched, I roll onto my side on the cold earth as my entire being is engulfed in primal spasms, as my libido is launched into hyper-drive and suddenly, utterly consumes me. Completely unaware of where I am, who I am, I have been rocketed to a place of absolute, blind ecstasy, where once again I will take up extended residence on that small plateau that precedes orgasm.
After a period of time that feels like several hours, but past experience tells me has probably been closer to thirty minutes, the freight train finally rumbles past, and I begin to sense the cool air moving against my damp, heated body. I slowly extract my hands from the waistband of my cargo pants, where they have, as always it seem these days, found themselves. Despite the total sensual immersion, actual orgasm has not been achieved, nor will it anytime soon, part of the Faustian deal the tweaker makes with his drug of choice. The very same drug that brings one to the height of sexual transcendence also impedes physiologically any release: erections are a thing of the past, orgasm a goal rarely achieved.
I open my eyes, attempting to regain my bearings. Although the initial rush of the speed has passed, my disorientation continues. It is as if the brightness and contrast settings of the world have been adjusted to high. The dim, filtered glow from the streetlights that permeate the bushes is almost blinding in its intensity, and the shadows have become, deeper, darker, visually impenetrable.
As I lie there, the whispers soon reach my ears, originating somewhere deep within the now almost visually indecipherable tangle of branch and bush. My peripheral vision detects a rippling of the shadows, and I realize that during my sexual reverie, the tree people have found me.
Seconds later, I am stumbling my way down Pasadena Avenue, my gait loping and disjointed from the numbness in my legs, my only objective being to stay in the dim glow of the streetlights and away from the shadows beyond them, where I can sense the tree people gathering to watch this awkward, one-man parade. I have no sense of direction or destination, I simply continue to move, turning left onto a residential street lined with upscale, old-money Pasadena homes. Trees are everywhere, there is no escaping them, so I continue moving, tripping frequently on the imperfect panels of sidewalk lifted and cantered by the giant roots below. I have no idea what time it is, but the lack of cars on the street tell me it is probably well past midnight. The street curves through the wooded terrain, and eventually the houses on the left give way to a steep, tree and brush covered embankment, falling away to the Arroyo Seco riverbed at the bottom.
I immediately cross to the right side of the street, nearer the streetlights and the comparative safety of the homes that line it, their well-manicured lawns and neatly trimmed landscaping providing fewer hiding places for those who are hunting me.
I pause for a moment to rest, and through my blurred vision, I detect movement above me. I look up, squinting, into the shadowy, branchy canopy of a huge live oak tree directly to my right. The great tree sits dead center on the lawn of an elegant brick two-story home, it’ yard dimly but fully illuminated by expensive Malibu lighting. The branches of the huge, ancient tree span far out over the roadside, joining up with the branches of other huge trees nearby. Squinting upward, I struggle to decipher what I am seeing. The whites and blacks of light and shadow, the organic shapes of branch and leaf slowly arrange themselves into sensibility, and suddenly, I see it. I suck in my breath, and sink to my knees in front of the great tree, as if in prayer, and my wide eyes slowly scanning the terrible, terrible sight less than twenty feet above my head.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Note: I am not the only person to have seen the Tree People. Many meth addicts have observed them, and they are a well-documented hallucinatory phenomenon common to users of this drug. In the past, following previous encounters, I have researched them on the internet and was stunned to discover the similarity of experience from one user to another. I once saw a one-hour documentary about two Midwestern teenagers who, high on crystal meth, wound up lost in a snowstorm, completely disoriented. Their ordeal was captured on several rambling, confused cell phone calls the couple made to 911. The teenage girl, her voice panicked, pleaded with the operator to send help.
“There are lots of Mexicans and African Americans….and they’re all dressed up in these cult outfits!” she wailed.
“They’re taking the cars and hiding them in the trees!”
“Hiding what in the trees?” asked the confused operator.
“There are hundreds of them! Two hundred!” the teenage girl shrieked. The couple, in the throes of the drug, were unable to provide accurate information to pinpoint their location, and soon froze to death after setting out on foot to evade the Tree People.
In the past, having come down from the drug, I have tried to convince myself that I had hallucinated every terrifying thing. However, I haven’t always been able to shake fully the feeling that what I have seen – these tree people – are real. A small part of me believes that the drug has lifted some sort of veil between the physical realm and the spiritual one, and that what I am seeing, the same thing so many other meth addicts have seen, is truly and terrifyingly authentic.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Now, what I see above me seems to confirm the truth of this strange conviction. The canopy above me is alive with the creatures, but what stuns me is something else, something I have never seen before, in all my many encounters with this bizarre race of people. I am staring at a vast network of bridges and platforms set amongst the branches, spanning out on all sides, connected to adjacent trees, a huge masterpiece of engineering. I am looking up into a virtual city, stunning in its complexity. I slowly move my gaze from treetop to treetop, realizing each of them harbors its own set of platforms, connected by wooden scaffolding and rope and plank bridges, a multitude of Swiss Family Treehouses of Terror. It is as if another layer of the veiling between this world and theirs has been peeled back, revealing further, more elaborate details of their existence.
A vast assembly of Tree People line these arboreal sidewalks, their twig-like fingers grasping conveniently placed, rough-hewn safety rails, looking down upon me. As ever, their faces are judgmental, angry, yet motionless. The sheer number of them, coupled with this crystal-clear view of their aerial, sylvan metropolis is so overwhelming that all fear is pushed out of the way by awe and amazement.
“Jesus Christ,” I say too loudly, studying the incredibly intricate details of construction. “This is amazing.”
A dog begins barking and a just a few moments later, the front door of the house opens. A woman, one hand at her chest clutching her white bathrobe closed, stands behind a screen door and peers out at me.
“Who are you?” she demands. “What are you doing?”
I look at her for a moment from my kneeling position on her lawn, and use a head gesture to indicate the veritable city in the treetops.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” I ask her.
She is silent for a moment, studying me, and I turn my gaze back to the branches, marveling.
“Go away or I’m calling the police!” she says, as the small dog yaps near her feet.
I turn and look at her again, and she is wearing a mixed expression of concern and confusion.
“Don’t worry ma’am,” I say politely with what I hope is a reassuring smile, struggling for something to say, some piece of information about myself that might soothe her, let her know that I pose no danger.
“I used to work for Steven Spielberg,” are the words that finally find their way out of my mouth.
The woman seems neither pacified nor impressed. She stares dully at me for a moment before announcing, “I’m calling the cops,” then closing the door, muffling the continued barking of the dog.
I stay on the lawn, gaping up at the strange civilization hanging over me, and I feel defeated. The complexity of these creatures and their feats of amazing engineering and magical concealment convey, finally, the absolute futility of trying to defeat or evade them. I simply sit there, completely overwhelmed, waiting for them to engage, for them to slither down the great trunk and take me. For reasons unknown, the creatures simply continue staring at me, but make no move. Occasionally, a slight breeze moves the air, rippling their leafy robes and tunics.
Suddenly, I hear the sound of a car coming around the curve of the street, behind me. I tear my gaze from the treetop and see a black and white police cruiser approaching, a bright beam of light from a side-mounted spotlight bathing the roadside as it approaches. I jump to my feet and sprint across the street, leaping over a small, foot-high stone wall that runs along the top of the steep embankment. I land on my feet on the sloping hillside, but they immediately tangle in the thick carpet of undergrowth. I lose a shoe, and go tumbling head over heels down the dark slope, tearing my pants and scraping my arms and face. I land with a thud, deep in a thicket of wild ferns and ivy, and I lay there, panting, waiting to be discovered. From my prone position, I can see the beams of flashlights at the top of the hill as they pan the ravine, passing over me without pausing. The voices of two policemen are barely audible over the watery rush of the small river below me, and I hold my breath, waiting for them to descend. The flashlights work the hillside for long minutes, but finally, they are gone.
I lie there, my heart racing, the meth almost completely numbing the sting of the wounds on my arms and face. I feel trapped, the Tree People are everywhere, and I am again at a complete loss. They seem to be making no move toward me, and the entire darkened ravine is ominously quiet, save for the sound of the moving water.
Overcome with a sense of hopelessness, I reach my hand into my pocket and find the packet of speed. It is too dark to see it, even with my fully dilated pupils, but I can feel the still fairly substantial contents through the plastic, hard and lumpy. My mind fogged and my body already filled with the toxic substance, I consider the potential lethality of what I hold in my hands. Despair, guilt, shame and self-loathing collide all at once, and I unseal it and bring it to my mouth, shaking the contents out and into the back of my throat. I’ve heard many times that suicide is option of the coward, but I don’t believe that’s always true. Removing pain and suffering from the lives of loved ones by eliminating its source seems like a very practical, perhaps even slightly noble solution. I skim the inside of the bag with my finger, picking up the powdery residue, and lick it clean with my tongue. Dropping the baggie, I close my eyes and wait for it to hit.
I think of my niece and nephews, of my mother, and of course, Patrick. Having long ago forsaken religion, I still attempt to recite a “Hail Mary”, but the prayer sounds strangely disjointed to me, and I’m certain I’ve left out a line or two. My last conscious thought is the realization that my body will be probably be eaten by scavenging animals before it is discovered, and then I am sucked back under the wheels of the freight train as it returns. There is no pleasure this time, only great, racking full-body spasms and the certainty that my heart is about to explode in my chest.
In what I am now certain is a dream, I find myself standing shakily on the embankment, surrounded by a legion of bushes and trees and the strange smallish, tree people inhabiting them. They stare at me solemnly, watching and observing my attempts to stay upright. The hillside is gently bathed in the pre-light of approaching dawn. “Have you seen my other shoe?” I ask a short, squat bush whose resident tree person seems, somehow, less judgmental than the others. It remains silent, and I move on, the dreamscape shifting in the rapidly increasing golden light. I begin to move up the hill, but am again suddenly overwhelmed by spasms, my body tightening in a cramp that seems to start at my feet, jerking its way through my entire body. I begin to retch, great hacking waves that produce nothing. I am overcome by a wall of lightheadedness as the hazy dreamworld around me rocks and rolls in undulating rhythm.
Then, in an almost filmic smash-cut, I am running down a long corridor paved with asphalt, following a white line past tromp l’oeil murals of suburban orderliness lining the long walls on either side of me. Huge, metallic prehistoric beasts race down the corridor in both directions, blaring terrible trumpet sounds as they zoom past. Somewhere, a dimmer switch is slowly turned up and the corridor grows brighter with each moment, illuminating a beautifully painted ceiling of bright blue and gray. As I move forward down this surreal hallway,I pass a man walking a dog on my left, and he calls out to me, his words unintelligible. I wave to him, smile and keep running, one-shoed, squinting into the ever-increasing light that grows in intensity until I am blinded by the whiteness.
The dream jump-cuts suddenly, and I am now sitting, inexplicably, in the back seat of my mother’s minivan. Patrick is driving. My mother is riding shotgun, her hand pressed against her forehead, sobbing softly while Patrick caresses her arm soothingly with his right hand. On the seat beside me, reinforcing the bizarre, dreamlike nature of my current state, sits our wire-haired terrier mix, Shekel, who looks rapidly from me, to Patrick, and back again. The bright glare of the morning sun glints sharply off the car window, blinding me again.
I turn to look at Shekel, who is staring at me.
“You fucked up again, didn’t you?” says the dog. Despite his harsh words, I am grateful to see compassion in his watery black eyes.
A flash of light and he dream shifts once more to a kaleidoscope of chrome and white and glare. I suddenly become aware of pressure on left arm. In the distance, I hear an agonized, hoarse screaming, echoing as if shouted into a canyon. A small circle of color in the center of my bright, white field of vision grows wider and then wider still, until it becomes a woman’s face – dark complexion, stern – hovering over my own. The field widens even further again to include a strange man, in some sort of uniform. The man is tying my arm to a silver bar of some sort, and I suddenly recognize the screaming voice as my own, hurling obscenities. I note that my body is thrashing, bucking and jerking against the hold of four-point restraints. The woman’s mouth moves, and the words seem strangely out of synch with the movements of her lips.
“Hold his arm still.”
A sharp pricking of my left forearm, and within moments, the dream begins to fall in upon itself, the alternating concentric rings of reality and delusion constricting and expanding, until they eclipse each other fully, and I slide back into darkness.
Last week my husband and I celebrated the third anniversary of our wedding on April 12, 2010, in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. Attended by friends and family and filled with laughter and tears, April 12 will always be our legal wedding anniversary.
Today, however, is a much more important anniversary. April 19, 1994 is exactly 19 years to the day since my husband and I went on our first date. It’s this date I prefer to celebrate. April 12, though filled with great memories and marked by papers filed and all the legal mumbo-jumbo, is essentially the day that we were finally able to get married, having stupidly waited too long and being blindsided by Prop 8. Like most gay couples who have been together for a long time, it feels like short shrift to say our wedding date is in 2010, because if we’d been “allowed” to get married like straight people, I suspect our wedding would have taken place sometime around 1998, and i’d be telling people that i’ve been married for fifteen years rather than three.
I first saw Patrick Bristow on my first visit to The Groundlings theatre sometime in 1993, and was BLOWN AWAY…like, draw-droppingly blown away…by his improvisational comedy skills. Like, genius x 100. Plus, he was adorable in sweet, quirky way. At the time, I was dating a gay porn star and – ludicrously – wondering why I never seemed to be able to hang on to a relationship. When I saw Patrick in his first improvised scene that night (some lake-side tryst with fellow Groundling Jennifer Coolidge that involved knitting) and when he’d made me laugh harder than I ever remembered having laughed before, I thought to myself, “THAT’S what I want in my life.”
Our mutual friend Kim Everett-Martin (Thanks, Kim!) introduced us when we joined the cast for dinner after the show (where I also met the guy who’d become one of my dearest friends, box office manager Mike Sweeney) and the rest was, well…a long, frustrating, drawn out ordeal of me pretty much stalking Patrick for nigh on a year, up to and including taking a job I didn’t need as house manager at The Groundlings just to have more opportunities to make him fucking notice me.
Nothing seemed to work. He was pleasant, but barely paid me any attention at all. Which, of course, only made me more determined.
Finally, one Sunday night at the Groundlings Mike and I got a little drunk in the box office and I finally worked up the nerve to actually ask Patrick out. I think Mike was as surprised as I was that Patrick agreed to the date, and walking home together down Sierra Bonita on our way home from work that night, Mike…who had known Patrick for several years, told me: ‘Patrick’s a good one. Hang on to him.”
He is. And I have.
Since falling in actual love on that first date at Farfalla Restaurant in Los Feliz, this man and I have shared some amazing times…we’ve traveled the world, we’ve both had career highs that neither of us could have anticipated, we’ve been blessed with wealth and with nice cars, AMAZING friends, and our lives are rich with the love of two families who have never made us feel like a “gay couple,” always just A couple…not to mention four nieces and nephews who have never known a life without Uncle Patrick in it.
There have also been some truly terrible times: the deaths of his parents, the suicide of a nephew. Financial hardship, the forfeiting of said nice cars. Medical crises, and of course, my years-long addiction to crystal meth, during which he was never a doormat: if I was willing to work on myself, he was always there for me. Even when he was protecting himself by changing the locks on our home, I never doubted his love for me. And when I was screaming at him in a meth-fueled rage, telling him how much I hated him, I have no doubt he knew I loved him.
So even though we were only “allowed” to get married three years ago, and still aren’t recognized in our own state as a married couple, this wonderful, evolved, spiritual, and plain damned FUNNY man – the only person who can make me laugh when all I want to do is cry – has been my husband for a long, long time, despite what it says on our Connecticut marriage license.
Sometimes, when I tell people my husband and I have been together for 19 years, the response is one of astonishment. Frequently, I’m asked how we’ve managed to stay together. First, I usually advise them, put aside your bullshit “requirements” for a spouse: Handsome. Blonde. Dark and swarthy. Successful. Swimmer’s body. Nice car. Whatever you think is your ideal is probably not ideal. For years I’d chased the archetypical, masculine, GQ magazine ideal of a mate. Sometimes I got them. Sometimes they were wonderful, like an early boyfriend of mine, Kevin. Most of the time, however, the person inside the archetype couldn’t live up to their own hype (and I’m sure a few felt that way about me as well.) If you’d told me in my early dating years that i’d find true happiness with a quirky looking, wiry red-headed guy, I would have scoffed. What I saw in Patrick that first time at the Groundlings was something I didn’t even realize I wanted. No, needed: gentleness, humor, intelligence. Something instinctively told me that this was someone I wanted to be around. I went with my heart and not my preconceptions. Patrick too had to push away his expectations of a partner: the reason he barely talked to me that first year before our date is because he assumed I was a shallow, West Hollywood pretty boy (don’t laugh, in 1993 it wasn’t as ludicrous an assumption as it sounds now). He was in search of an intellectual type, a more sophisticated and less obviously insecure type. We both listened to that quiet voice coming from our hearts.
Staying together is the hard part, of course. I’m not sure how we’ve done it, to be honest. I do know that we make allowances for each other’s humanity, that we worked hard early on to communicate honestly. We’re patient with each other regarding our differences (he loves classical music, I tolerate it. I freak out about getting older, he couldn’t care less, etc, etc, etc.), and we celebrate our similarities. We understand that we have a richer life together when we each have our own, and then come together to share our adventures. But most of all, we honor our commitment. Whatever happens. And I mean, whatever. There have been a lot of ‘whatevers,‘ believe me. But we process them knowing that we have to solve the current problem with the end result being “staying together.” Breaking up is never an option. As Patrick once said about our relationship in an interview with The Advocate, “Commitment only counts when you need it…and that’s when it’s the most difficult to maintain.”
My husband just got home tonight from being on tour for three weeks with the adult improv puppet show he co-created with our friend Brian Henson of The Jim Henson company, and it was a long and lonely three weeks. Even though he’s jet-lagged crashed in our bed already and we haven’t had much time to catch up, it’s not really necessary. Knowing that he’s curled up in a near coma in the other room, snoring away loudly while being snuggled by our three dogs who have also missed him terribly (he’s the nice daddy, i’m the disciplinary daddy), once again, our house feels like a home. OUR home.
There is so much love under this roof . And you know what, any of you who feel icky just reading about gay couples? There’s far more love and friendship here than there is sex, not that you should be thinking about that anyway. I don’t immediately picture straight couples banging uglies, and you shouldn’t be thinking that about us. Unless you enjoy it, of course, in which case feel free, hypocrite. We’re just two people committed to taking care of each other, supporting each other, and being there through..well…richer or poorer, better or worse.
I love you, Patrick. Until death do us part.
Screw Prop 8: Happy actual anniversary, my husband, my best friend, the most amazing human being I’ve ever known.
It’s your turn to do the laundry, btw. So glad you’re home.
“I have never experienced another human being. I have experienced my impressions of them.” – Author Robert Anton Wilson.
It is one of the many sad by-products of human nature: the more brutal and prolific a killer is, the more likely he or she is to be enshrined in infamy, bestowed with awe/fear-inspiring nicknames, and garner legions of morbid, gore-crazy disciples. The names Charles Manson, The Night Stalker, Jack the Ripper and The Green River Killer are forever enshrined in our lexicon. Conversely, only a few victim’s names are easily recalled (Sharon Tate, for example), while those of Kristina Weckler, Elizabeth Stride, Kelly Ware and countless others are remembered only by grieving family members, police officers intimately involved with the case, or hardcore true-crime buffs with particularly muscular memories.
In 1998, my partner and I had just purchased a home in the Chevy Chase Estates in Glendale. I had recently become interested in the true crime genre, and was voraciously devouring Darcy O’Brien’s “The Hillside Stranglers,” a compelling account of the brutal, late-70’s murder rampage by Los Angeles cousins Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi that terrorized the city and held the world in its thrall. It was extremely disconcerting, some thirty-odd pages into the book, to read that the third victim of the depraved pair had been discovered only yards from the house into which we’d just moved.
Overcome by morbid curiosity, paperback in hand, I walked down the front pathway of our hilltop home and made my way up Chevy Chase Drive, until I located the spot described in the book. Referring to the paperback in my hand, I read O’Brien’s words:
“Between the golf course fence and the road lay a deep drainage ditch, then a steep embankment, then a metal guard rail about three feet high. They swung the body out over the guard rail, trying to heave it into the ditch. But she landed heavily and rolled with a rustling of leaves down the embankment about fifteen feet and came to rest against an invisible guy wire.”
There was the guard rail. And there was the wire with the steel guard at its base, some twenty years later, still rising out of the leaf-covered ravine. This was, beyond a doubt, the right place. Having once visited Auschwitz, and having stood on the same platform that so many unfortunates – including several of my friends – had poured onto from countless railroad cars, I recognized the feeling I was experiencing now: the almost tangible sense of sadness associated with being in a place where something horrible had once happened.
I stared at the spot for several minutes before heading back to my house to continue reading, where I soon learned that the Los Angeles girl who had lived 21 years of hopes, frustrations and dreams – before that night she was kidnapped, tortured, killed and dropped on this hillside – had been named Lissa Kastin.
The book offered a grainy, black and white photo of Lissa and it was, to be blunt, unflattering. A three-quarter view of a face that looked too round and too large-nosed to ever be called pretty was the only image presented of this young woman. Somehow, the homeliness of the photo made her tragic ending seem even more pathetic. The description of her final hours…both horrific and nauseating…saddened me deeply. Reading of her final torment while less than a mile away from where she had been tortured and strangled, and only yards from her interim resting place, removed the comforting filter of distance usually present when reading about the ugliness of murder.
“From time to time as they drove towards Glendale, Lissa Kastin continued to protest, and when at last Bianchi pulled into Angelo’s driveway and cut the motor, she refused to get out of the car. But Bianchi coaxed her into the house, suggesting that she had no choice, which she did not.” – excerpt from The Hillside Stranglers, by Darcy O’Brien
The book offered little detail on her life: she worked at a restaurant called The Healthfaire on Vine near Hollywood Blvd., she lived in an apartment on Argyle near Dix street; she was health-conscious and wanted, like so many other 21 year-old Angelenos, to break into show business. I barely knew this girl, yet I felt strangely connected to her. Perhaps it was because we had both ended up, through quirks of circumstance, in the hills of Chevy Chase Estates, where my burgeoning meth addiction had already, even in its infancy, brought me into contact numerous times with the dark underbelly of Los Angeles. Or perhaps it was just a vague sympathy I felt for the girl in that unattractive photo. Whatever the reason, I found myself on the internet, researching everything I could find out about her. Aside from a few stories in the LA Times that noted that she and several other victims had lived in or near Hollywood, there was very little information. I also noted that in almost all of what little did exist, her name had been spelled incorrectly, as Lisa Kastin. In fact, even in the written indictment of Angelo Buono for the murders of ten young women her name had been spelled wrong, adding for posterity yet another layer of indignity to the brutal conclusion of Lissa’s life.
Years later, long after we had sold the big house on the hill and moved away from the conservative surroundings of Glendale and into our current home in the more bohemian climes of Mount Washington near downtown LA, I continued to think occasionally of the pudgy, moon-faced, and sadly doomed Lissa Kastin. Once, having told another true-crime aficionado about having lived at the place where the third victim had been discovered, she screwed up her face, thought for a moment, and then replied: “Wasn’t that the ugly girl?” That sickened me a bit, and I bizarrely began to argue in defense of this person I’d never met. However, with little evidence to counter my friend’s assessment, I realized that Lissa Kastin would always be regarded by true crime fans as the Unattractive Victim of The Hillside Stranglers. This was the girl, according to O’Brien’s book, with the unshaven legs, the girl whose killers had deemed too unattractive for their usual modus operandi and so had devised more horrific means of violation. To me, it seemed like the ultimate heaping of insult upon the ultimate injury. Perhaps it was this, the continued degradation of this young woman even after death and my sympathy for her, that kept her in my thoughts long after I’d forgotten details of other crime victims from the pages of other true crime books.
“From that point on the procedure was the same as with Judy Miller, except that Angelo worried that this girl might fight, so he kept her handcuffed and cut off her clothes with a big pair of upholstery scissors. Naked, she appealed to neither cousin. Angelo especially was put off by her unshaven legs and derided her as ‘some kind of health nut.'” – excerpt, The Hillside Stranglers by Darcy O’Brien
Not long ago, having watched an abysmal film version of the Strangler story, I googled her name for the first time in years and discovered that a second photo of Lissa Kastin had been introduced to the internet. The difference between the grainy, black and white photo circulated after the crime and this one was enormous. This had been no ugly girl. While perhaps not a great beauty, the photo that I found showed her in full, crisp, color: standing by a brick storefront on Melrose Avenue flanked by two friends, and it would be no great stretch to describe her as “cute.” They are all wearing t-shirts that read “L.A. Knockers,” the name of the modern pop-dance troupe she had belonged to. She looks off into the distance, a cascade of dark curls falling over her shoulders. There was so much life in this photo, and for the first time, I felt like I was seeing the real Lissa Kastin.
Further googling lead me to a Youtube video of a late 70’s performance by the L.A. Knockers. They were a campy, not overly polished but highly enthusiastic and clearly committed troupe of young women having a balls-out good time. It was strange – almost shocking considering the impressions I had gleaned of Lissa Kastin over the years – to imagine her strutting onstage with them. Yet, clearly, not only had she danced with them, but the L.A. Knocker’s blog states that she was among the founding members. This girl, who has been in and out of my thoughts for years, had just undergone a radical image transformation in the space of five minutes. This girl, who was already dead for more than ten years before I even moved to Los Angeles, and who I have been fascinated by despite knowing so little about, was suddenly, if only momentarily, alive again, smiling and dancing to 70’s disco music. All former impressions of this girl whose body had ended up near my front lawn were wiped away.
I found myself annoyed that so much detail regarding the lives and personalities of her killers was part of the public record, while so little effort had been taken to accurately convey even a portion of the joyful personality I was seeing in this one new photo. I was able to imagine her now not as the black-and-white, tragic sad girl, but as a flesh and blood, full-color human being. Even if this new perception was based only on a single photo and therefore possibly a false perception, It mattered only to me that it was a better, and probably more accurate fiction than the one the media had led me to believe about this girl I’d never met, yet somehow cared about.
It continues to dismay me that the mention of the names “Hillside Strangler” or even Bianchi and Buono will elicit recognition from anyone who is old enough to remember those years. The name Lissa Kastin, however, will usually draw a blank stare. And although I suspect few will really care, if the subject ever comes up again I will be sure to say that she was cute, in a unique way. I’ll tell them that she was a dancer, and I’ll do whatever small part I can to humanize this young woman – who had family and friends who loved and cared about her – and who has been reduced by news accounts to a statistic and by true crime literature to an unattractive girl who had the misfortune to not be aesthetically pleasing to the monsters who raped and killed her.
As someone who spent years saddened by – yet, blindly and stupidly believing – the unflattering characterizations of this young woman, it’s the very least I can do. And I when I look at new photographs of victims that are found on the pages of the LA Times on an almost daily basis – like little newsprint ghosts – I will remind myself that any impression I glean from them is only a captured split-second of a full and hopefully rich life that has been wiped away forever.
Forward to the 4:27 mark to watch Lissa Kastin performing with Los Angeles-based avant-garde dance troupe “L.A. Knockers.” She’s the girl on the far left.
Last night, I dropped acid with my buddy Brett.
Okay, that’s not technically true: we grilled some chicken, drank Italian sodas from Trader Joe’s and watched Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element – but in sobriety, watching that film totally counts as an acid trip.
I can’t speak for Brett, but I know I had a great time. Great conversation, great company, a mind-trip of a movie. AND I got to bed at a decent hour. AND I remembered the entire evening when I woke up this morning. Even more astounding, I didn’t do or say anything last night that I need to be ashamed of today. I kept my clothes on. I didn’t accidentally or intentionally break anything. I didn’t humiliate myself or offend my guest in any way. And perhaps best of all, it was a one hundred percent vomit-free evening.
I had a good time last night and woke up today without a headache. Before 9 AM.
When I opened the sliding door into our backyard to let the dogs out for their morning pee, this is what greeted me:
Bright sunshine, the smell of jasmine, and the knowledge that I am blessed beyond comprehension. It truly is springtime: in my backyard, and in my heart.
Tomorrow will mark nine months of complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and my world just keeps getting brighter.
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin’ for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Look all around, there’s nothin’ but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin’ but blue skies
I am in crisis.
Not only am I apprehensive about the future of our society, I am downright sickened and revolted by what has been going on right under my nose my entire life.
Heterosexuals are NOT the innocuous, wholesome people they pretend to be. I’ve not really been a champion OR an opponent of the cause of Heterosexual Marriage – the truth is I never really gave it much thought. Until now, that is.
All of my life I believed that heterosexuals…who i’ve tolerated rather patiently, I must say…were a little odd. Maybe “odd” is the wrong word. Let’s say, boring. Yes, boring is a better word. All that nine-to-five, 2.5 kids and a picket fence stuff just never interested me. Probably because it all just seemed so exhausting. But who was I to take a stand against them? Even my parents were heterosexuals, so I just accepted the status quo, believed them when they told me what they were all about, and never really investigated.
I’ve talked to Jesus about it over the years, because..and this has always been hard for me to admit….I am the only one in my family who is a normal, red-blooded homosexual. There, I said it. It feels good to be honest about that, finally. My brothers and sisters, who I love dearly in spite of their affliction, all reproduce at an alarming rate. Jesus never really answered me directly, so I listened to the pastor at my church who told me that I had to keep loving them because they can’t help who they are. So, I’ve done my best to love them and respect them as human beings and have avoided even thinking about what it is they do with each other’s body parts at night (just typing that made me heave a little.)
Last night, however, while in the midst of writing a highly technical spec article for the Journal of Animal Husbandry, I innocently typed into the Bing Images search engine the innocuous search string ‘woman + sucks + horse + completion.”
The images that presented themselves upon hitting the return key are now forever burned into my consciousness.
Shocked, reeling, and thoroughly nauseated, I wanted to turn away. I wanted to scour my eye sockets with Ajax. I wanted to beat myself about the head and neck with the ornamental dildo/ashtray my partner and I received for our traditional wedding last year.
Regaining my breath as my spinning world began to right itself again, I found myself questioning everything I’ve ever taken for granted about the Lifestyle of the Heterosexual. THIS is what heterosexual women do when left to their own devices? when allowed to sexually express themselves? I recalled my late Aunt Becky who lived on a farm in upstate New York and how, when I was little, she’d put me on one of the ponies and let it trot me around the corral. I now suddenly remembered (with the clarity only the distance of 40 years mixed with the recent viewing of bestiality search engine photo results can provide) the way Aunt Becky had stroked the pony’s mane and lovingly said it’s name before heading back over to the chicken enclosure to do God only knows what.
My suspicions grew. Suddenly, I had more questions that needed answering (except the one about the popularity of dude ranches as vacation destinations, that one has finally been put to bed.)
All these seemingly wholesome heteros walking hand and hand in the mall, aggressively smiling out from tv greeting card Valentine’s Day commercials, positively FLAUNTING their genial milquetoast relationships, bouncing little smiling white-toothed progeny on their shoulders….surely they couldn’t ALL be perverts, could they?
I had to know. I’d avoided this for far too long.
Bracing myself, I pulled my desk chair back up to the computer, and after steadying myself with a deep breath, began to compose in my brain the search string that would answer the question for me. I had to come up with just the right words if I was going to find the key to this shadow existence of the socially upright, so-called “respectable heterosexual,” so after about four seconds of deep and careful thought, typed in the phrase that magically presented itself to me, almost fully formed:
‘Tupperware + party + gang bang.’
And there it was: a hidden world of deviance revealed in all it’s burped and sealed-tight glory. Was nothing sacred to these filthy animals?
Suddenly, on a mission, I began what turned out to be a three-hour search frenzy that culminated at 5 am with the search string ‘Two + Girls + One + Cup.’
The sun is coming up now, illuminating a world that looks so different to me today (part of that, I suppose, is due to several hours of non-stop projectile vomiting.) I see now the danger of allowing Heterosexuals to marry, to celebrate their sickness in some depraved mockery of our own sacred same-sex rites. If I allow straight marriage to happen without taking a stand, then I am, by my silence, advocating the practice of tentacle sex (that’s something they do, I swear to God. I saw it on the internet.) And tentacle sex is something I will NOT allow.
So, I implore you, my homosexual brothers and sisters, take a stand against Heterosexual Marriage. Let these deviants know that you’re on to their “normal by day, sex fiends by night” ruse. Do your own research, don’t trust me (if you need some good search strings, let me know.) Write your representatives in Congress. Post on Facebook. The world has to know what these sick bastards are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms and on public transportation really late at night.
But first you must take the most important step: look your straight friends in the eye and say loudly and with great conviction, “I’m on to you. I know what you do in your bedroom. I SAW IT ON THE INTERNET.”
Then, immediately inform them that you will no longer be asking them to ‘care’ for your dogs the next time you have to go out of town.
THEY MUST BE STOPPED. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for their children. And if you can’t do it for their children, do it for the horses or the tupperware.
IMPORTANT NOTE: when searching for images, do not be fooled by the copious amount of anal sex these heterosexuals are having. It’s the only normal thing they seem to do, and even THAT they’ve taken to excess. So don’t start feeling sympathetic or thinking of them as human like us just because they have SO MUCH ANAL SEX. Ignore the TONS AND TONS AND TONS AND TONS of anal sex these sick heterosexuals have and the photos they love taking of it, it’s only an attempt to look normal like us. And we’ve been fooled for far too long.
final note: this, of course, is SATIRE, a response to conservative idiots spewing this kind of bullshit for far too long:
The Ford Explorer glides down the Grapevine, the nickname given the last giant slope of the mountain range that separates Southern California from the state’s Central Valley. We dive headlong down through the perennial blanket of grey clouds that hang, depressingly, over this place in the winter months. It is late November, and I am headed back into a cultural and emotional wasteland of vineyards, orchards, endless pastures and bland, uninspiring towns with bland, uninspiring names like Earlimart and Goshen. I am heading into the valley of my youth, the place I struggled for years to escape. I am heading into this place that evinces only feelings of hopelessness, despair and floundering restlessness. But perhaps most agitating of all: my mother is driving the car that is taking me there, against my will.
My head resting against the passenger window, my tired eyes half-register the still-familiar scenery as it passes by: the angled furrows of plowed fields creating a strobe-like visual effect: grain silos, occasional clusters of cattle, and an abundance of weathered Christian and Pro-Life billboards, one of which proclaims block-letter loudly: “Follow Jesus or Go to Hell.” With its wealth of agriculture – endless expanses of orchards, cattle ranches and vineyards – a stranger might find this part of the Golden State charming, at the very least. There is nothing remotely charming about it to me, though, having grown up gay and closeted in this dust-bowl-migration-settled, ultra conservative, west coast buckle of the bible belt. To me, living here had always felt like being involuntarily enrolled in an intensive, years-long study of The Art of Not Belonging.
I steal a surreptitious glance at my mother, studying her through a thick haze of lingering antipsychotic medication and simple exhaustion. I see a nearly sixty-year old woman who I love dearly, and my heart breaks for a moment as I think of the pain and worry I have caused her. The sadness is immediately replaced by a bitter resentment, and I realize that I blame her, on some level, for this journey I do not want to be taking.
If she hadn’t been so willing to agree…no, collude with Patrick’s demand that I go directly to live with her instead of coming home with him, I might have been able to convince him, once again, that I would change. I’d get clean, I’d go back to program, I’d do anything. I promise. I promise. I mean it this time, I’ve learned my lesson! Instead, upon being released from the Psych ward at Glendale Memorial just a little over an hour ago, walking through the parking garage with Patrick and trying to tear the plastic ID band from my wrist, I noticed my mother up ahead, standing next to our Explorer.
Which, strangely, was parked next to our CRV. Why were both of our cars here? Confused at first, happy in that moment to see her, I started to speak.
“Mom? What are…” Then, I noticed that the back of the Explorer was packed to the roof liner with my belongings. I saw, among the hastily stuffed-in piles of clothing pressed against the back window, the grey power cord of my iMac snaked along the glass like some bizarre modern art meets herpetology exhibit.
So, it was done. After 13 years together, our home was no longer going to be my home.
I had thought about resisting, about gathering some of my clothes and belongings that were within arms reach (why, thank you – so convenient!) stuffing them into a bag and heading out on foot to Sycamore Park near our Mount Washington home. I’d slept on occasion in a small gully at the back of the park that backed up to the 110 freeway a few of the times when Patrick had grown frightened of my behavior and changed the locks. Even in the summer, though, it was a noisy, sad, uncomfortable existence, and I had little desire to seek refuge there on a cold winter night.
I turned and faced Patrick, and said icily, “Fuck you.”
I waited for the pain to show on his face, the usual sharp flinch, the heart-breaking “please, I love you, don’t talk to me that way” crinkle of his eyes. By now we were both fairly used to this routine. But this time, all I saw was steely resolve in his eyes, in the angry set of his jaw.
Shit, I thought. He’s serious this time.
Then his eyes had suddenly welled up, and as he opened his arms and took a step forward, I had my words ready: another “fuck you,” for certain, and maybe a “don’t you fucking touch me, you bastard.”
Then, I realized he was moving to hug my mother, not me. Then suddenly they were both crying, holding each other tight, shaking and sobbing and annoying the living hell out of me.
They’re crying? I’m basically being kidnapped…yes, kidnapped – freshly freed from a weeklong lunatic pajama party – and forced to move back to fucking shithole Turlock with my mother and they’re crying? What kind of bullshit was this?
I wanted to punch them both, grab them each by the hair and clank their heads together hard, three stooges-style. Instead, I climbed angrily into the passenger seat, started to pull the door closed, then stopped to yell hoarsely, “you’d better have all my stuff in here or I will drive back and fucking steal every fucking thing you own, you stupid motherfucker!”
Now, as the Explorer forges north into the valley, I feel another surge of anger at this woman who has been interfering for so long in my private life. Every relapse, every hospitalization lately has ended with a visit from my mother. Her visits are so frequent that I’ve become jealous of the close relationship she has formed with my partner, even as my relationship with him has deteriorated. Huddled at the kitchen table, talking in whispers, a clearing of throats and sudden silence when I’d enter the room. Conspiracy, it felt like. Still feels like.
Fortunately, in this moment, I am too numb to lash out at her. The last three weeks – the meth binge, the psychosis, the police, the involuntary commitment and the inundation with sedatives and antipsychotics have been so completely enervating, so absolutely soul-destroying, that there is no fight left in me. Finally, I am out of options, I have burned every bridge, and I am too depleted even for tears.
I redirect my gaze to the two lanes of Highway 99 as they fly by under the hood, and my hazy consciousness drifts, fighting off the panic and despair that threaten to overwhelm me completely. I can’t beat back the feeling that I am heading in the wrong direction, in every sense. Literally, figuratively, metaphorically, emotionally, physically. The sense of failure, the sense of loss, grows with every mile that we place between this vehicle and Los Angeles…and Patrick. But I can’t think about Patrick right now, because I know that what he is feeling at this very moment is not despair. I am as certain as I am of anything right now that what he is experiencing is a feeling of relief. Relief that I am now someone else’s problem, relief that he can focus on putting the building blocks of his life back together – without fear that the giant, ham-fisted toddler I’ve become will knock them over again.
Turlock gets closer with every minute and it is almost too much to comprehend that I am going back there, involuntarily, to live with my mother. I am returning in disgrace to a place I’ve regarded with resentment and distaste for as long as I can remember. I am broke, I am sick, and I feel like I will never be right again. Too much has happened, too many people have been hurt, and I have disgraced and debased myself far beyond the human spirit’s capacity to heal. It feels as if I am being driven to my own death, and the greatest sadness I feel is the knowing that death probably won’t come, that I might actually have to live through whatever it waiting for me at the end of this drive.
I’ve learned over the last few years that even death doesn’t take me seriously: I’ve courted it, pleaded for it, smoked, slammed, fucked and sucked my way towards it. I’ve fallen into comas on it’s doorstep, but have always been pulled back at the last minute by some intervention, some quirk of circumstance: Patrick arrive home a moment before the flatline, a crack team of paramedics, a skilled surgeon, or the simple genetic factor of a former runner’s horse-strong heart.
I startle as I see a face in the reflection of the sunlight in the windshield, glaring at me, gently shimmering along with the light. I close my eyes, open them again, and it is gone. The faces have been with me for years now, watching, judging, condemning. Always silent and vaguely malevolent, they have stared back at me from mirrors and other reflective surfaces. Gradually, over the years of my methamphetamine use, these faces have grown more threatening, and have slowly become more three-dimensional, more solid in form, often half-human, half-animal. Recently, I have begun to hear them whispering to me. Urging me to suicide, reaffirming my worthlessness, heartily concurring that I have no good reason for which to live. The antipsychotics dished out in the mental ward over the past couple of weeks – the Seroquel, the Risperdal – successfully diminish these apparitions and their voices, but have not eradicated them completely.
The drive continues in silence, and at some point I fall asleep, lulled into slumber by the continued monotony of the landscape.
I wake up when the vehicle stops, three hours later, and I realize we are home. More precisely, we are at my mother’s house, the house I grew up in and which I still reflexively refer to as home even though I’ve not lived there for over 20 years. I silently vow that I will never, ever make the mistake of calling this place home. Home is the house in Mount Washington, home is the house where my dogs Jane and Steve and Sherman live.
As she turns off the ignition, my mother looks over at me, and she makes an obvious attempt to mask her concern with an overenthusiastic smile.
“We’re here,” she says, a little too brightly.
“Yup,” I reply grimly, looking away from her and back at the green, nondescript tract house.
“I know your brother is looking forward to seeing you,” she almost chirps, a cartoon Disney bluebird terribly out-of-place in this sordid pulp fiction reality.
structurally, the house is exactly as it has always been, since it was built in 1976. The contents have changed over the years, walls repainted, floors re-laid, but the essence of this house and the people, situations and emotions it held are still stunningly intact. The presence of my father, who was divorced from my mother years ago and has since moved to Louisiana, is still apparent in the some of the disturbingly bad Do It Yourself work. Small things – crooked bookshelves, an unevenly tiled bathroom floor – still provide stark evidence of his apparent inability to wield a level or read a tape measure correctly.
My younger brother, Rob, greets me in the living room. He and his fiancé have temporarily moved back in with my mother while they save money to buy a house, converting the two-car garage into a large living space. His welcome is almost too cheerful, as if he’s been practicing it in the mirror to make it sound convincing. I study his eyes, and I discern immediately that the figurative “Golden Boy” sash I’d worn for so many years is no longer just stained and frayed, but has vanished completely. I have always been the one in the family who tried everything, and succeeded at most of it. I was the individualist, the non-conformist, the sexual adventurer, the one who shared exciting stories of a life lived without fear or provincial, prudish limitations.
Now, I am the sick one, the jobless one; the one who makes our mother cry.
My almost-two-decades parole from this place – my own personal hell – has been rescinded , and it is time to begin paying for my sins.
Rebirth, resurrection, renewal. As I approach the end of my third trimester of sobriety, I can’t help but note that the timing of this holy day…my first wholehearted celebration of Easter Sunday since the age of thirteen….seems absolutely perfect.
I too feel reborn. I’m learning to experience real joy for the first time in years, without drugs or alcohol.
I am so grateful today.
This song should require no explanation. Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, meet my beautiful friend Maria:
The man who helps me stay clean and sober every single day has begun his own blog. Please give it a read, and perhaps a follow: http://jonathanbierner.com
Though I can’t talk specifically about how I’ve stayed clean and sober for nine months, I can say that after ten years of failed attempts, THIS time around, miracles started happening almost immediately even before my sobriety date of July 7, 2012. It actually began months before, when my lovely friend Maria introduced me to her friend, Phillip. Phillip and I quickly became friends as well, and when just a few months later I found myself drowning – yet again – in a meth-induced ocean of psychosis and despair, Phillip is the person I reached out to for help.
Phillip then introduced me to what I call my Tuesday night family, where I found people like myself, people who are facing the same struggles and who will love me until I am able to love myself. (I’m getting there, btw. After nine months, I’m starting to feel the relief of liking myself. Loving myself is close on its heels, though, I can feel it.) Not long after meeting this amazing group of people, Phillip needed help moving out of his home in the Hollywood Hills, and one day in late July of this year, I met Jonathan for the first time. We were charged with moving a refrigerator out of the basement of the house and up an incredibly small, rickety wooden outdoor stairway to street level. The stairs jogged back and forth three times at sharp right angles, making it a nearly impossible task (The 110 degree temperature and 6,000% humidity that day didn’t help a bit either, nor did the fact that I was borderline emaciated and a bit addled, having so recently abandoned the pipe.)
It was the most unpleasant of circumstances, but this guy Jonathan, wiry and handsome, made it tolerable with his sense of humor and hilarious, wry asides. Later, riding in the U-Haul truck together to a storage facility deep in the San Fernando Valley, boundaries worn away the exhaustion of a day of intense heat and physical labor, we began to talk.
The commonality of experience was almost mind-blowing, and before the day was over I had asked him to be my guide as I began to navigate the choppy waters of early sobriety.
He’s walked beside me these past nine months every step of the way, and has quickly become more than just a friend. He is my family: taking my phone calls whenever I need his guidance, sharing his wisdom and strength with me, and calling me out on my bullshit when it’s necessary. Also of great importance is his ability to make me laugh, even when crying feels like the more logical option. The truth is that I couldn’t do this sobriety thing if I couldn’t laugh about it on occasion, or find a bit of over-the-shoulder amusement in some of the pitiful and incomprehensible situations my crystal meth addiction placed me in.
Yesterday, Jonathan celebrated eight years of clean and sober living. He marked the occasion with an incredibly honest, brave and intensely personal Facebook post and blog entry of his own. I want all of you to know this amazing man who has played a large part in not only saving my life, but enriching it and opening my eyes to the joys of living a clean and sober existence Please give it a read and leave a comment of encouragement, and follow it if you enjoy reading smart, brave writing. Also, if you enjoy my blog even a tiny bit, you could also thank him for that, because without him I would never have found my way back to my creativity.
I love you, Jonathan.
Last night my niece sent me a chat message on Facebook, asking how she should respond to a schoolmate who is opposed to gay marriage based on..get this..the belief that allowing gay people to get married poses a threat to the world’s population. I’m currently on painkillers for a kidney stone the size of a buick, so my response was less than coherent. This is the letter I’m sending her today – before I take my Norco – to expand upon my sad efforts last night:
I want to take some time to respond properly to your question, now that I’m wide awake. But before I do, I just want to let you know that you are one of the brightest, sweetest, prettiest – and even more importantly – compassionate human beings I’ve ever known.
It saddens me that your incredibly evolved spiritual and humanistic views put you in direct conflict with many of your schoolmates who have been taught by their parents that being gay is either a sin, an illness or some form of depravity. When you listen to these other kids blathering on with their incredibly stupid viewpoints (like the one you asked me about, regarding the threat to ‘future population’ if gays are allowed to marry), I need you to remember this:
Do you see those signs with the words “nigger” and “God demands Segregation?” Those signs were created by the past’s equivalent of your misguided friends. Do you see those white people standing up for the civil rights of the black people? That’s the past’s equivalent of YOU. What your ignorant friends are doing is called “taking a stand on the wrong side of history.” You, on the other hand, are firmly planted on the right side. And the reason it’s the right side is not just because you’re on MY side, it’s because you have facts, research, empathy and compassion to back your position up.
What your friend said was so completely devoid of critical thought that I’m almost embarrassed at having to respond to it, but I will. Allowing gay people to marry will have no impact on the future population of the world. Allowing gays to marry does not make more gay people. It just allows those of us who are gay and in committed relationships – like your Uncle Patrick and me – to celebrate our commitment to each other (it will also allow us a whole bunch of rights and financial benefits gay couples have long been denied, but we’ll save that for another message.) People who are not gay won’t suddenly TURN gay just so they can get gay-married. The idea itself is, well, idiotic. The very fact that your friend is concerned with population dwindling in a world that’s already severely overcrowded shows that she either has no grasp on reality, or perhaps was dropped on her head by her (straight) parents when she was but a wee homophobe.
Arguing with these kinds of people serves no purpose. It certainly feels good at times, for me anyway, to call neanderthals on their idiocy. It rarely changes their minds, however. It just makes them take a firmer stand and cling even more tightly to their antiquated and indefensible beliefs. You can point out facts all day long, quote study after study that shows that children of gay parents are just as well-adjusted – sometimes even more so – than those with straight parents (though let’s be clear, ANYONE can be a terrible parent or enter into an ill-advised union…being an idiot or an a-hole is not the exclusive bailiwick of the heterosexual, I’ve known MANY gay people I wouldn’t trust to care for a chia pet). You can go on and on and on with facts, and while some might be receptive to them, many will just ignore them. Because they’re not dealing with facts, they’re dealing with feelings. And feelings, fortunately, are not even distantly related to facts.
It can be frustrating to know that you are on the side of right when you are surrounded by ignorance and bigotry. But take some satisfaction that you stand not only on the right side of history, but with some amazing people who were persecuted for beliefs that challenged the status quo: Martin Luther King, JFK and perhaps the most radical progressive liberal of all time, Jesus Christ. To name just a few.
Do me a favor: write about the experiences you’re having right now. Write about the stupid things people are saying, and how you feel about it. I want you to be able to look back in, say, twenty years and see how absolutely right you are, and how absolutely disgusting the viewpoints of your contemporaries are. When I was very little, black people could not marry white people. And that was just fine with a whole lot of the US population. Now, however, only the most rabid of racists still espouse that view. I guarantee you that in 20 years, very little will have changed: the fabric of society will not have been torn apart by gay marriage, Heterosexual marriage will still exist, and the world will not have been destroyed by some cataclysmic hellfire act of God (well, those things might happen, but not because of gay marriage. I think global warming would be a more likely culprit. Which is semi-ironic because that’s another thing many stupid people don’t believe in.) The one thing that will be different is that two men or two women getting married will just seem, well, normal. In twenty years, mark my word, the country will be looking back at today and saying, “I can’t believe gay people weren’t allowed to get married!”
I guess that’s all I have to say, except hang tight and just try to surf right over the stupidity, because wading through it can get EXHAUSTING. Trust me. Stay on the right side of history – with this issue and ANY other civil rights issue – and you’ll be just fine. It’s not always the safest place to be, but it’s where most of the good people hang out. And the good people always prevail..though it can take a lot of work, a lot of fighting, and a lot of sticking to your guns even when it seems hopeless. So glad you’re fighting alongside us. To quote your sign-off last night on our FB chat, “I’ve got your back, Jack.”
PS: Oh, and the next time one of your schoolmates tells you something as (I’m trying really hard not to use the ‘R’ word) dumb as “gay marriage will destroy the population,” I want you to recite…word for word…the following:
As part of my recovery, I try to find songs that inspire me and provide a sense of hope for the future. I add them to my “recovery playlist” on my ipod, and occasionally share them here. There are times, though, when I need to hear a song that reminds me of what it was like when I was using. As author/philosophist George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who can not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
I am a chronic forgetter: in the past, when I’ve been clean and sober for a respectable amount of time, I ‘ve tended to forget how bad it was when I was “out there.” I’d begin to regain a sense of power over my drug use. I’d stop investing in my recovery, and slowly (or sometimes at the speed of light) slip back into my disease.
With Table for One, the typically provocative singer/songwriter Liz Phair eschews controversial lyrics and viewpoints, crafting instead a first-person account of one man’s life as an active alcoholic. Though crystal meth was my drug of choice, the feelings this song elicits are pretty much the same ones any addict feels when living in their disease: loneliness, shame, hopelessness.
This time, I’m going to remember to not forget.
Give it a listen (lyrics below):
I’m walking down in the basement
I’m leaning on the washing machine
I’m reaching back through a hole in the wall’s insulation
I’m pulling out a bottle of vodka
Replacing that with a pint of Jim Bean
I’m lying down on the floor until I feel better
It’s morning and I pour myself coffee
I drink it til the kitchen stops shaking
I’m backing out of the driveway
And into creation
And the loving spirit that follows me
Watching helplessly, will always forgive me
Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring down all those demons who drank with me
On my desperation
I hide all the bottles in places
They find and confront me with pain in their eyes
And I promise that I’ll make some changes
But reaching back it occurs to me
There will always be some kind of crisis for me
Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring back all those moments they stole from me
In my reverie
Darkening days end
Oh, I want to die alone
With my memories inside me
I want to live that life
When I could say people had faith in me
I still see that guy in my memory
Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring down all those people who drank with me
“My life, it don’t count for nothing / When I look at this world, I feel so small / My life, it’s only a season / A passing September that no one will recall”
In just a few short years, I went from working for the great Steven Spielberg and touring with The Red Hot Chili Peppers to sleeping in public parks. Now, as I begin rebuilding my life, I have a tendency to judge what the future might hold for me by comparing it to the accomplishments of my past. Though I’ve mostly reconciled myself to the fact that I may never live that kind of heady life again (and perhaps that’s for the better), there are still days when I look back with intense regret about the career I singlehandedly destroyed. There are also days when I wistfully ponder where life’s travels would have taken me if I hadn’t hijacked myself and set a course straight for the gutter. On those days, today being one of them, I listen to this song. Her gorgeous warble sounding like some strange breed of angel, Iris Dement brings me back to reality, and keeps me focused on the one thing that truly matters in this frequently troubling world: love.
My life, it’s half the way travelled,
And still I have not found my way out of this night.
An’ my life, it’s tangled in wishes,
And so many things that just never turned out right.
But I gave joy to my mother.
And I made my lover smile.
And I can give comfort to my friends when they’re hurting.
And I can make it seem better,
I can make it seem better,
I can make it seem better for a while.
(Continued from part one.)
The two uniformed cops are engaged in conversation with Patrick, and before I enter the house I discard the machete in the flower bed beside the door, vaguely recalling a news story about an LAPD officer who had shot and killed a homeless man who had approached him wielding what turned out to be a cell phone. Even in this state of mental disorganization, I’m certain that entering the room carrying a two-foot long machete would be ill-advised.
All eyes turn and fix on me, and I immediately realize what has happened. Patrick has summoned them while I was ranting on the gazebo roof, and the brief flash of hope – that they have been called to help repel the invasion of the tree people – is dispelled as soon as I read the expression on their faces. Caution and wariness. They’re here to take me away, I brilliantly intuit, and though I’m starting to panic, I work hard to prevent it from showing. I’ve practiced for years the art of appearing normal when high, and have become very good at it, able to fool Patrick, friends and even employers with relative ease. Well, for short periods of time, anyway.
Surprisingly, the officers, both men, one Caucasian and the other Hispanic, seem kind.
They motion me over calmly, and I move into the living room, shooting a look of angry betrayal at Patrick, who looks away, his face stony.
“Listen, Andrew,” the Hispanic one begins. “I understand you’re using meth,” and his voice surprisingly devoid of judgment. “Is that true?”
I nod, understanding somehow that this is not the time to discuss the tree people and their threats. I’ve tried many times to convince others of their existence, to no avail, and there is a part of me that understands that this would certainly be yet another futile attempt. The objective at the moment is to keep them from taking me away, and I work hard at appearing calm and reasonable.
“Your partner believes you’re a danger to yourself at the moment,” he continues, and out of the corner of my eye I observe a leafy, shadowy creature through the front window, slithering closer to the glass for a better view. I sense that the army outside the house is reveling in my predicament. I am trapped: to say something, to implore them to take a closer look at the trees and bushes, will cement the certainty that I will be leaving with these policemen.
“I’m not a danger to…” I begin, but the officer interrupts me.
“You have two choices,” he says. “Either we take you and bring you to County, or you agree to go to the hospital with your partner.” His tone makes it clear that argument or negotiation are not options.
“And believe me, you don’t want to go to County,” he finishes.
My jaw, already speed-clenched, tightens even further as I struggle to maintain composure. I look angrily, in turn, at Patrick, my mother, and finally my sister, trying to convey with my eyes the betrayal I am now feeling.
I agree to allow Patrick to take me to a hospital.
“Good. Make sure we don’t have to come back here again, because next time I won’t give you a choice”. His voice is surprisingly gentle, but it is clear he means what he says.
The cop turns to Patrick and says simply, “good luck.” Patrick thanks them, and they leave. I watch them, illuminated by the front porch light, as they descend the front stairway. They are completely oblivious to the stock-still creatures staring down at them from the trees and from behind bushes only a few feet away. Though far from happy, I am relieved that the cops have left without major incident. The many episodes of “Cops” that I have watched, juxtaposed with the relative mercy they have shown me, causes me to wonder momentarily if they recognized Patrick, and whether his minor celebrity status has just saved me a trip to the county jail. This kind of thing has happened before, but in more genial circumstances: wink, wink, here’s an upgrade to first class, wink wink, these drinks are on the house. As vile as the concept may be, and as embarrassing as I usually find this kind of treatment, i’m grateful if this, in fact, is what has just happened.
Less than fifteen minutes later, I am in the back of our Honda CRV. The walk to the car was torturous, as the tree people watched from the shadows and gloated at my situation. “Got you again!” was their unspoken message. As the car backs out of the driveway, my irritation at being forced into this unwelcome journey is overshadowed by the relief of escaping, if temporarily, the terrible monsters, who have congregated on the front embankment of the hillside for a clear view of the departing vehicle.
The ride to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena takes less than 15 minutes, the traffic on the 110 freeway surprisingly light. I am fairly composed, all things considered, and my gaze is directed out the window into the darkness of the arroyo as it rushes by on my right. I am fidgety from the speed, but remain silent for the duration of the ride.
We arrive, pulling into the concrete parking structure adjacent to the emergency room entrance. Patrick pulls the car into the first available space and removes the keys from the ignition. After everyone is out of the car, and before Patrick can lock it, I jump back inside and use the automatic door locks to seal myself in.. Patrick hits the unlock button on his keychain, and I push the lock button. Lock, unlock, lock, unlock, lock, unlock…this goes on for quite a while, and like a horrible child I just smile as his face grows more red by the moment. I can almost see cartoon steam emanating from his ears. Eventually, my timing is thrown off and he wins, the door is open, and we are yelling at each other. Afraid to go home, where the tree people and the police wait for me, I loudly, and quite ludicrously, demand to be driven to a hotel.
It only takes a moment for our yelling, and the intermingled semi-hysterical shouting of my sister and mother, to attract the attention of two security guards, who run towards us.
“hey! Hey! What’s going on?” they demand angrily, their faces scanning each of ours, trying to make sense of the situation.
Without preamble, Patrick points to me and says, “He’s on crystal meth.”
I offer no resistance as I am escorted through the garage, up a walkway and through the automatic emergency room doors, flanked by guards who grip my biceps roughly. The guards stay by me as Patrick informs the intake nurse of the situation and provides them with my insurance information. She looks over at me, and as with the police, I expect judgment, but her thoughts are inscrutable. This is not true of the guards who continue to glare at me with blatant mistrust and a fair amount of “go ahead, try something” bravado. Although I’ve become accustomed to being looked at this way, a small shimmer of shame flows through me as I realize every pair of eyes in this comically crowded waiting room is fixed on me.
I steal a glance at Patrick, and he looks exhausted. Our eyes meet for a moment, and then he looks away. I flash back to previous emergency room visits, long before this nightmare began. I think of our second date, 9 years ago, when I suffered an unfortunately-timed kidney stone attack (which I first thought was horrible gas pains, and I was completely humiliated), and he escorted me to the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai.During that visit, he held my hand as I endured wave after wave of excruciating pain, telling me to hang on, coaching me to breathe through it, and finally, hilariously, resorting to improvising a short song about kidney stones in a somewhat successful attempt to distract me. I had fallen in love with him then. Part of it was the humor – I’d never dated anyone so quick-witted and funny before (well, okay…there WAS Kevin, but I’d predictably torpedoed that with my infidelity, after which he’d done the right thing and excised himself from my life years before), and so…empathetic? His big green-blue eyes and quirky bright red hair made it seem like I had my own magical, guardian angel/ leprechaun watching over me and keeping me safe.
“Nicastro?” a voice calls out, and I look up to see a nurse with a clipboard scanning the room.
“Nicastro?” a voice calls out, and I look up to see a nurse with a clipboard scanning the room.
“Right here!” Patrick responds..too loudly…in my stead, getting to his feet more quickly than I do.
The security guards scrutinize me as I follow the nurse through a set of double doors, and to my great relief, they do not follow. Perhaps grateful to pass the torch of my guardianship off to professionals, Patrick also remains in the waiting room. The emergency ward itself is a long, wide corridor of frenzied activity, and it is clear that there has been a lot of misfortune this evening. An unseen baby screams out in angry pain, and nurses and orderlies hustle in all directions, trying to avoid collision. I am led to and deposited in a small, sterile room to the right. It contains only two plastic chairs and a compact countertop with medical supplies stacked neatly on it – swabs, cotton pads, a stack of green, kidney-shaped plastic bowls.
Before she leaves, the nurse affixes a small, opaque plastic bracelet to my left wrist. I don’t bother to read the words written on it.
“Someone will be in shortly,” she says, and departs.
Amazingly, I am alone.
I sit slumped in the chair, my jaw working itself, teeth grinding slightly from the speed, and try to figure out what my next move will be. What will I tell the doctor when he arrives? Will I go to jail? This is my first encounter with real authority while using, and I am absolutely unsure of the consequences of admitting that I have been smoking the drug.
Half an hour crawls by, and I’m still alone. Sitting still is hard for me under the best of circumstances, doing so in full tweak mode is next to impossible. I pace the room, occasionally stealing a glance into the hallway through the door’s small glass window. I shove my hands into the pockets of my cargo pants and my right hand brushes something at the bottom. I retrieve it: it is the packet of crystal I had placed there earlier in the afternoon. I have completely forgotten about it, and my initial joy upon discovering it is quickly replaced by concern. Being high in a hospital examination room may not earn one a trip to the county jail, but being high AND in the possession of illegal drugs certainly would.
My immediate thought is to hide the bag, to secrete it in the room somewhere before the doctor arrives, but before I can act on this, my addict instincts kick in and I decide that I want to use some. Now. I come to a decision quickly, and I move decisively, opening the door to the small room and stepping out into the hallway. I try my best to look relaxed, and walk left, in the opposite direction of the waiting room, where I assume Patrick, my mother and my sister are still waiting.
I turn corner after corner, trying to assume the confident step of someone who belongs, who might actually even work there. It takes a few minutes, but after pushing through several sets of double doors at the end of several different hallways, I walk outside onto a deserted loading dock.
end part two (of three)
Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child, things’ll get brighter
Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child, things’ll be brighter
Some day, yeah
We’ll put it together and we’ll get it all done
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
When the world is much brighter