Category Archives: Crystal Meth

Diary of a Teenage Alcoholic

539857_4029166282634_278339798_n-1I 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.)

8 copyBack 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.

diary 1979I 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.

I’m Alive: Sober Musical Interlude #8

then and nowThe photo on the left was taken a little over a year ago, in the midst of my last methamphetamine relapse. The photo on the right was taken yesterday, ten and a half months into recovery.

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

Meth-Smoking Gun, or War of the Tug (NSFW)

addict

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.

PLEASE DON’T DIE: sober musical interlude #7

Generally, the sobriety-related songs I post on this blog are ones that I find inspirational, the kind of songs that I listen to as encouragement as I live my life, one day at a time, as a clean and sober man. “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone…” and “ooh child, things are gonna get easier,” are the kind of lyrics that fill me with hope and joy, and give me strength to continue this oftentimes challenging adventure in sobriety.

Sometimes, however, I need to hear a song that reminds me of what it was like when I was using, when I was the anti-Midas:  turning everything I touched into giant piles of shit and sadness.  This song, “Commercial for Levi,” by the alternative band Placebo, perfectly captures the sadness, the darkness, and the indiscriminate hyper-sexuality that I experienced when using crystal meth.

As I’ve written before, I’m a chronic forgetter: in the past, when I’ve managed to put together some clean time, I had a propensity to conveniently forget what it was REALLY like out there, and would find myself continually relapsing because I’d romanticize my relationship with speed. For all it’s dangers, my crystal meth binges felt like some fast-paced, edge-of-my-seat paranoia themed NC-17  thriller movie. In which, of course, I was the star.  Sobriety, however, can sometimes feel less like a sexy action thriller and more like C-Span 2 with its frequent lack of drama and pervasive chaos.

At these times, when I find myself longing to be back in Crazy Town: The Movie, I listen to this song and it’s dark, dirty lyrics. Its cryptic title is a nod to the band’s sound technician, who once saved lead singer Brian Molko’s life when Molko stumbled – drunk and stoned – into the path of an oncoming car.

So, for all my friends (and  all the people I don’t know) who continue to struggle with addiction – and recovery – I echo the song’s simple sentiment: Please don’t die.

(lyrics below video)

You’re the one who’s always choking Trojan
You’re the one who’s always bruised and broken
Sleep may be the enemy
But so’s another line
It’s a remedy
You should take more time
You’re the one who’s always choking trojan
You’re the one whose showers always golden
Spunk & bestiality well it’s an Assisi lie
It’s ahead of me 
You should close your fly
I understand the fascination
The dream that comes alive at night
But if you don’t change your situation
Then you’ll die, you’ll die, don’t die, don’t die
Please don’t die
You’re the one who’s always choking trojan
You’re the one who’s always bruised and broken
Drunk on immorality
Valium and cherry wine
Coke and ecstasy
You’re gonna blow your mind
I understand the fascination
I’ve even been there once or twice or more
But if you don’t change your situation
Then you’ll die, you’ll die, don’t die, don’t die
Please don’t die x 4

Follow Jesus or Go to Hell

 

BillboardJesusNOVEMBER 2006:

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 promiseI 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.

I Love You, Jonathan Bierner

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.

Sequoia Camping Trip, August 2012: Jonathan B. (left), Me, and Mykee B (right)….these guys help keep me clean and sober every single day, and have been there for me without fail when I’ve needed a shoulder, a sounding board, or just a hug. I love them both more than words can express.

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.

http://jonathanbierner.com

Sober Musical Interlude #3

“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.

‘The Advocate’ of Total Bullshit

me and pThis is something that has been bothering my conscience for a long, long time. For eight  years and one month, to be precise.

Late in 2004, my then-partner (now husband) Patrick – a minor celebrity of sorts in the gay community – and I were asked to write an article for the gay publication “The Advocate.”  The angle of the article was to be parallel stories: mine would be about my struggles with addiction, and Patrick’s would detail what it had been like – as someone who had never used hard drugs –  to love and live with a meth addict.

Since I had been off the pipe for several months and felt “cured” of my addiction, I agreed to the proposal, and Patrick also acquiesced. We both knew how crystal meth was devastating not just our own home, but the community at large. We  felt  that perhaps by sharing honestly the struggles we had faced  thus far with my addiction, we might potentially help someone, somewhere, feel less alone.

page 1

Unfortunately, I had failed to take into consideration the serious toll my recently-ended, months-long meth run had taken on my ability to remember words, let alone put together sentences. Paragraphs seemed too gargantuan an undertaking, so this article, on my part, is so poorly written it makes me cringe when I read it now. I’d pulled some nice florid passages from my journals, tried to tie that together with a basic narrative, and failed miserably in my estimation. That, however, is not what I need to apologize for..though I do.

What I’ve shared with only very few people is that by the time our story hit the newsstands (and the internet, which I’d completely forgotten to consider, and which has since made employment very, very difficult – *slaps own face*), I’d already relapsed big-time.  I end the article by telling the world of my Miraculous Deliverance From Addiction!  Like it was just that easy, anyone should be able to do it.

Then and now, I felt like I was lying to the world, and every letter we received thanking us for telling our story was like being stabbed in the heart with a shame-spike.

ishot-2132151

In fact, by the time the photographer for the magazine showed up at our home to take the photos to accompany the article, I’d already been back on the pipe for two or more weeks.

Years later, when I finally reached the point of desperation…the point where I knew I would die if I used even one more time…. it took real work to get clean and sober. It took surrender, it took humility, it took some mighty fear-conquering. It meant forcing myself to talk to people like myself, and it took being willing to admit to them that I knew very little about staying clean, and then…the hardest part of all…it took asking them for help. In other words, it took some serious fucking work. And it still does, every single day. And it will for the rest of my life. I know that now.

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So I want to offer this long-delayed apology to anyone I might have hurt or misinformed (or kept in their disease for even a minute longer than they should have stayed there) by implying that salvation is something that just, you know, happens. Maybe it does, on occasion…but as regards meth addiction, or any addiction I suppose, please believe me now when I recommend that you not sit around and wait for it to show up, as I put it, “miraculously, and out of nowhere.”  That ending was total bullshit. That wasn’t deliverance, it was a momentary  break between binges. If you’re struggling with addiction, ask for help. Please.

I am really, truly sorry.

(CLICK HERE to read the embarrassing original Advocate article)

 

Sober Musical Interlude #1

Sinéad_O'Connor_-_How_About_I_Be_Me_(And_You_Be_You)

“The Wolf is Getting Married” can be found on Sinead O’Connor’s 2012 release “How About I Be Me and You be You?”

If you follow this blog (and thank you SO much if you do)  you know that I write dark, depressing stuff full of angst and anger and, well, as my husband puts it: “meth, death and bated breath.” The reason for this is because it’s the way I process feelings like guilt and shame for all the wreckage i’ve caused in my life and the lives of those who care about me. And believe me, there’s been so much wreckage I could tattoo “brought to you by Irwin Allen” on my forehead.  But here’s the thing: I don’t want anyone getting the impression that I am a depressed, miserable person. Even in the midst of the melodrama I write about were many, many moments of joy. My dogs, my husband, long walks, time spent with family and friends.

I also want to let you know that the last eight months have been the happiest of my existence. I’m restricted by tradition, so I can’t provide specifics as to why or how, but let me say this: I am learning, at the bruised-fruit age of 48, to like myself. I’m not talking about my looks, or my career, or my belongings…all the things I have mistakenly thought were me and which caused great despair as one by one, they began to disappear.  I’ve learned to let myself be loved even on the days when I feel utterly hideous and unloveable. I’ve learned that being kind to others is a far more uplifting and productive pursuit than sitting around hoping others are going to be kind to me. There are still days when the thorn-bush has roses, but overall, I’m feeling extremely optimistic.

Which brings me to a favorite of what I call my “sobriety songs,” The Wolf is Getting Married by the amazing Sinéad O’Connor, who became one of my personal heroes the moment she tore up that photo of the pope on Saturday Night Live (I have my issues, as does she, with the roman catholic church).  The title is an obscure Arabic expression meaning, loosely translated, “a break in the clouds.”  The song seems to have been written for, perhaps, a love interest. When I listen to it, I think of a collective of people: my family and old friends who have always loved and supported me (even when I was stumbling around like an early Walking Dead prototype.) I also think of all the new people in my life: the sober ones – particularly my new Tuesday night family – friends who are guiding me and helping me and crying with me and rooting for me and loving me, until I can transition from mostly liking myself to actually full-on loving myself.  I also think of my trio of spiritual advisors who brought me home to my higher power.

Their smiles make me smile. Their joy gives me joy. Their hope gives me hope. I am so absolutely surrounded by love these days. Maybe I always have been. But I’m actually able to register it now, and it’s powerful. There’s been a break in the clouds, and the sun feels fucking amazing.

I used to have no wolves around me
I was too free, if that’s possible to be
No safety, is what I mean
No solid foundation to keep me

But the sun’s peeping out of the sky
Where there used to be only gray
The wolf is getting married
and he’ll never cry again

Your smile makes me smile
Your laugh makes me laugh
Your joy gives me joy
your hope gives me hope

 

VIDEO: Room 233

A piece about one of the darkest days of my meth addiction, as read to a hundred friends and total strangers at the storytelling show “Taboo Tales,” 8/30/2011 at the Zephyr Theatre, Los Angeles.

Just one of my many Adventures with “Pitiful and Incomprehensible Demoralization”…Unfortunately, the incident described in this essay turned out to not be quite enough to keep me away from meth forever. That, I suppose, is the difference between a true addict and a recreational drug user.  This go-round with sobriety has been different for me, namely because I am no longer an atheist…as I so proudly declare in the hubris-filled coda of this video.

I’m frequently asked why I share this kind of stuff so publicly….and the answer is that the adage “we are only as sick as our secrets” holds absolutely true for me.  I learned from the great Heather Morgan, my writing teacher who has supported me since I began taking her classes years ago, that  the act of reviewing the situation, composing a narrative and, occasionally, trying to find the humor in even the blackest of moments is an act of self-healing for me.  Once I’ve written it and shared it, it stops weighing me down with shame and the fear that if anyone knew this or that dark secret about me, they would recoil in disgust.  I’m certain many people have recoiled, and think less of me. But I’ve learned that the people who truly love me still love me.

Now, if anything horrible…say, hidden camera sex videos (one of my huge personal fears) or naked photos pop up on the internet at anytime in my future, not a single one of my loved ones are going to be shocked by my drug-fueled indiscretions.

Please forgive the graphic nature of this video, and more importantly, please forgive the crazy hair. Note to self: don’t do that nervous ‘run fingers through hair’ thing while waiting to take the stage.

We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it…….

Machete, Moonlight, Madness: part one

IMG_4296_Tree_People_3I drop the curtain, and reflexively retrieve the pipe and torch from the bedside drawer and take another deep hit.  I replace it, and quickly move to the window on the north side of the house, yanking it open, no longer cautious about being seen, knowing I’ve already been located, knowing they are already on to the scent and are closing ranks around the small house.  As expected, one regiment stands flanking the carport roof directly in front of the house. This time, they have cleverly intertwined themselves in the branches of the huge cypress trees that line the driveway, their bodies contorted as they seek to disguise themselves within the twisting branches.  I meet the menacing gaze of one of them for a brief moment, drop the curtain and begin pacing the room, beginning to sweat even as cold fear sweeps across me.

Adrenaline courses through my body and my thoughts switch to survival mode.  Though no direct communication has been established, somehow, telepathically perhaps, the people in the trees have made it known that their intent, this time, is not simply to frighten me back to a psych ward. This time, they intend to finish this game of cat and mouse once and for all.   My anxiety level is already elevator-ing up, up, up, when I remember Patrick and my visiting mother and sister in the other room, on the other side of this locked door, completely oblivious to the danger that now surrounds all of us.  Another message arrives, fully formed, in my brain:  They intend to kill everyone in the house except me, knowing that by leaving me alive, and high on meth, I will surely be held accountable for their murders.  Having this much of the drug in my system would render fully incredible any claims of innocence.  This new information hits me hard and quick, cutting through the thick tweaker haze and eradicating any indecisiveness.

There is a small, heavily wooded canyon opposite our house, and several months ago I had discovered a small, secluded area that was perfect for smoking my pipe whenever Patrick was home and I did not want my current binge to be discovered.  The last time I walked there, about a week ago, I had stumbled upon an ancient, rusted machete that had been left behind, perhaps by one of the city park workers who periodically move through the canyon doing brush clearance.  I had taken it home, feeling certain that some unseen force had guided me to it, for reasons that at the time were unclear.

I now retrieve the machete from under the bed where I had hidden it, it’s purpose now rendered obvious, and open the bedroom door, moving quickly into the living room, brandishing the rusty blade.

sink-0191 It is less dark in the living room than in the bedroom, and as conversation suddenly stops and all three faces turn to meet my wild-eyed gaze, I can see their eyes and mouths comically pop wide as they register the 18-inch blade I’m waving above my head.

“They’re out there,” I say, trying to keep my voice steady, trying not to panic them, but desperately praying they will, this time..for once... cooperate.

Patrick rises to his feet.  His initial angry reaction is quickly replaced by concern, and he tries to coax me into putting the machete down, but I ignore him and move quickly past him, yanking closed the drapes in the living room, and then those in the dining room.

My mother and sister have no experience with the Tree People, nor have they witnessed any of my epic panic attacks they’ve brought on. They have been safely four hundred miles away during previous encounters, and they sit, mouths slightly agape, stunned.  Patrick, however, has been through this before, and his concern is rapidly shifting back again to anger.

“Put the machete down,” he says, adopting his “let’s reason” voice.

“Who’s out there?” my sister asks, and she sounds nervous.

No one is out there,” Patrick says to her, perhaps a little too sharply.

We’ve been through this before, of course, and it has become clear to me over time that Patrick is utterly incapable of seeing the People in the Trees.  Clearly they are hiding from him, keeping their existence known only to me, in an attempt to discredit my sanity.  If only he would look a little harder he would see, I am certain of this.  His anger and frustration at my inability to stay clean have stripped him of any vestige of his former, super-patient self.

Theresa, my sister, looks from Patrick’s tense face to my sweaty one, and rises from the couch and strides to the living room window, pulls the curtain open and stares outside, making absolutely no attempt to hide herself from the eyes of the tree people, who have now quietly congregated in the small garden adjacent to the front window.

tree window“There’s no one there”, she says decisively, turning her gaze to me, still standing, vulnerable, in front of the window.  Over her shoulder, through the glass, a tall, menacing figure that was once merely a pine tree glares directly at me.   I rush the window, grabbing her by the shoulder and pushing her aside roughly, simultaneously yanking the curtains closed.

Get down, you fucking dumbass!” I screech at her, and her face registers shock more than offense.  I have never yelled at my sister like this, and she is first stunned, then angry.

“Hey!” she retorts, barely achieving the tone of indignation she  must have been trying to convey.

“They’re everywhere,” I screech, waving my arms and the machete and feeling like a demented Gladys Kravitz dealing with a trio of obtuse Abners.

“Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there!” I continue, and though I hear how illogical the words sound, I’m utterly convinced of their truth.

I am terrified, and I do not know what to do next.  I cannot let them hurt my family, cannot let them hurt my dear, sweet Patrick.  I am frustrated, knowing that we are doomed, knowing that my family will be killed, that I will be sent to prison, decimated by grief,  and certain that every single person who has witnessed my steady decline into addiction will hold me responsible.

Patrick continues trying to reason with me, adopting a softer tone.  My mother joins him, and I retreat to the hallway, sink to the floor, still holding the machete.  I tune them out, trying to think of a way out of this.

The idea crystallizes suddenly, and I am certain I have found a way to save my family.  I must sacrifice myself.  There is no time to ponder the logic of this decision, or even fully consider it’s potential effectiveness.  I bolt to my feet and stride quickly and purposefully across the house, past Patrick, Theresa and my mother who sit huddled together, still looking stunned and nervous.

I reach the sliding glass door, unlock it and stride out into the rapidly darkening yard, waving the rusty blade in the air.

“Where are you going?” I hear my mother call, her voice wildly uneven.

I ignore her, and move forward towards the swimming pool, stopping at its edge and slowly turning around in a slow circle.   The yard is a veritable jungle of vegetation, lined with thick hedges, fruit trees and overgrown brush.  The tree people line the yard, resplendent in their green finery, surrounding me on three sides, glaring, judging, mocking, hating.

“Come on! Take me!” I yell, a methed-up version of Father Karras from The Exorcist, glaring back into their eyes, daring them.  My fright has turned fully to anger now.

gazebo

“Cowards!”

They make no move, and I continue to gesture at them with the big knife, sharp-pointed jabs as I turn slowly, making deliberate eye contact.

I single out three females, cleverly disguised as tall, wild sunflowers growing above the gazebo, and head in their direction.  The wind shifts slightly, and they begin to dance, almost mockingly, undulating back and forth slowly, their eyes fixed on mine.

Suddenly, anger overwhelms me, and I rush to the side of the house and drag out a small aluminum folding ladder.  I pull it to the gazebo, open it and clamber up on to its roof.  The structure is very old, and it sways slightly as I move towards the phantom sunflowers, swinging the machete and swearing loudly.  They are out of reach, too far up the hillside for me to attack, and I eventually give up, turning around and surveying the yard once again from my perch.

My sister and my mother have come out onto the patio, and begin asking me to come down.  I refuse, and demand that they get back into the house for their own protection. Finally, tears running down both of their faces, they do.

After half an hour of pacing on the roof, I hear a commotion inside the house: dogs barking wildly mixed with the voices of strangers.  I freeze momentarily, fearing that the invasion has begun. I swing myself down from the gazebo like an insane gymnast, almost impaling myself with the giant knife, and head toward the sliding glass door.

I open it, step inside, and see that the police have arrived.

(continue to part two)

Trojan Choker

WHITE BOY ON TOP OF THE WORLD

I’m hunched up on the hillside next to our house, fully enclosed by the long, thorny vines of the giant Bougainvillea, their purplish flowers dotting my field of vision.  The morning sunlight backlights them, so to my tired, red-rimmed eyes each one appears as a glowing, translucent orb. In my hand is a prescription bottle.  I open it, peering inside at the four Ambien tablets resting at the bottom.  I lift the bottle and take them all, working my dry mouth to summon enough saliva to swallow them.

smokeMy pulse, quickened by the fight with Patrick and subsequent dash out the bedroom door and jump over the retaining wall into the giant bramble, is finally beginning to slow when I hear the first siren.  There is no shortage of sirens in my neighborhood, as the Highland Park Fire Department is not far away.  This one, however, grows steadily louder as it climbs Mount Washington, until it is wailing not twenty feet below me on the street.  It ceases suddenly, and I hear other vehicles pulling up and stopping sharply, doors slamming, voices rising unintelligibly over the crackle of two-way radios.  When I hear the herd of footsteps tramping up the cement stairway leading to our front door, I climb to my knees and part the branches.  I see a small fire department truck, not the kind to fight fires, but rather the kind that is summoned for medical emergencies.  More ominously, two black and white police cruisers are also parked down there, one in front of the fire vehicle and one in back.

I retreat back into the safety of the bushes, and try to think.  I have three options, as I see it.  I can go back into the house and try to play this off as a misunderstanding, as another overreaction of Patrick to some minor domestic disturbance.  This has worked before, with varying degrees of success, but I know how bad I look after several days with no sleep, and it’s unlikely I can pull off the indignant, wronged and totally sane domestic partner defense.  My second option is to make a run for it, up the hill and into the wild, undeveloped hills above our home.  This idea has it’s advantages, namely the complete avoidance of police officers.  However, I’m wearing only a wife-beater and a pair of tight bikini brief underwear, and even in my exhausted state I decide that this is probably not a practical choice.  I have just decided to go with option three, to stay silent and hidden in the giant thorny bush, when the French door from our bedroom swings open and I hear Patrick saying:

“He’s in there.”

I hear grunting as someone, or a couple of someones, hoists him or themselves up onto the waist-high retaining wall, and start parting branches.

I’m terrified of cops, primarily because I’m pretty much always in possession of a fair amount of illegal substances, but also because of the clubbing I received from one of them at a protest rally when I was in my early twenties.  I know how some of them can turn ugly and mean in a heartbeat, and after that clubbing I carried around on my skull a lemon-sized reminder of that instant capacity for violence for more than a week.

1_90023582757_1I immediately offer myself up, crawling towards the hands.  I emerge from the brush to find two uniformed officers staring at me. I feel like a textbook case of meth addiction, a male version of Margot Kidder, who was pulled from her own set of bushes not far from here. I know these cops have  probably seen everything insane there is to see, but I still detect the glance they give each other as they instantaneously recognize what I am. Not who I am, or who I used to be, but what I am: a wide-eyed, jaw-grinding specimen of Tweakus Americanus.

I drop down off the retaining wall and into the garden outside our bedroom. Standing there in my underwear, I give them a half-hearted, “hey there” wave and a “shit happens” look I hope they’ll find disarming. I’m not sure who’s supposed to make the first move, so I just stand there with my hands protectively covering my crotch area, while they stand there looking back, almost bemused.

“Are you going to give us a problem, or are you going to come inside?” one of them asks.

Probably both, I think, but I quietly agree, and all three of us fumble our way down the hill, over the retaining wall, and into my bedroom. They are giving me that look I’ve seen before, from other cops, from emergency room doctors, from mental hospital workers…but can never quite define.  Disgust?

curiosity?  Amusement?  I’m not sure, but I know that it makes me feel very small.

And a little angry. Which isn’t surprising, since meth always makes me quick to rage.

I can hear Patrick out in the living room, talking loudly to someone.  His voice is measured, but I can detect a hint of hysteria in the words that spill out just a little too loud and a little too fast.  He is recounting the events of this morning, and I want to get out there, fast, to counter his accusations, to present my side of the story.  The problem, however, is that the Ambien are starting to take effect, and the room begins to sway and canter crazily, my vision blurring.

Can I get dressed?  I ask the cops in the room with me.  They look at each other, then one tells me to go ahead, but do it quickly.  Trying to maintain balance, I pull on the pair of jeans I wore yesterday, and the day before that, and quite possibly the day before that, followed by my favorite blue t-shirt that is wadded up on the chair in the corner.  Breathing slowly and trying not to pass out, I get down on my knees and retrieve a pair of sandals from under the bed.

Once dressed, the two police officers motion me out of the bedroom, and I carefully, keeping one hand on the wall and the other outstretched for balance, shuffle my way out to the living room where Patrick has just ended a sentence with the words “I’m scared for him.”

Patrick, along with three Fire department emergency medical workers, turn to look at me.  He looks as stunned as I feel.

I immediately launch into my standard “this is all a big misunderstanding” speech, the one that has worked so many times in the past, but my voice comes out slurred, my tongue thick in my mouth.  There is a noise in my head, a great white whir that grows louder, like the whomp, whomp, whomp of an approaching helicopter, that makes it almost impossible to hear my own words, so I stop mid sentence and start again, from the beginning, but am interrupted by one of the EMT’s, who motions for me to sit down.

I do so, and he sits next to me and begins asking me questions, which are almost impossible for me to understand with the whirring noise in my brain.  He is fading in and out of my vision, as if he were on a television screen and someone was rapidly rotating the brightness/contrast dial.

I feel a blood pressure cuff being velcro’d onto my right arm, but I don’t even look, reserving all my focus to stay upright, to hear the questions I’m being asked, and god willing, give the right answers to this pop quiz that will decide if I’m staying, or if I’m going.

I must nod off for a moment, because the next thing I’m aware of I’m standing by the front door with my hands behind my back, and I’m being ushered out into the bright morning sun.  I’m being supported on either side by the firemen, and they are slowly guiding me down the long stairway towards the street.  It is then that I realize my hands are not just behind my back, but are actually cuffed.  I struggle through the brain haze that wafts across my consciousness like giant billowing drifts of fog, and voice protest.

defaul2“Calm down,”  one of the men says sharply, and his grip on my arm tightens painfully. I give up trying to speak, but twist my head around to see Patrick standing in the doorway, stone-faced as an Easter Island statue.

I feel the angry hatred rise up through the fog, and shout back to him “See what you did? You did this! I fucking hate you!”

They walk me to the back of the ambulance-like emergency vehicle, and I am dimly aware of a small crowd of neighbors up the street, watching The Meth Freak of Mount Washington in yet another bravura engagement of his long-running one-man surrealist play.

I want to scream “ What the fuck are you looking at?” but the tight grip on each of my biceps reigns me in, and instead I hang my head as the door swings open and I am roughly, and awkwardly, hoisted into the back of the vehicle, where I am deposited on to a padded bench that runs the length of the inside.  My ass lands on my cuffed hands, and I yelp with pain as the metal cuts into my wrists.

“Can you loosen these?” I ask the two EMT’s who have climbed in with me and closed the door behind them.

They ignore me, and begin discussing their lunch plans as they take their seats.

I squirm a little, trying to find some relief from the cuffs, and finally, dazed, turn my head to look out the back window as the small parade of vehicles begins to descend Mount Washington.

I close my eyes, and try to make sense of it all through the thickening  haze in my head.  How many days had I been up?  Three, I think.  Maybe four? No, three…because  I know I started partying after work on Friday, my plan having been to stop on Saturday night so I could spend Sunday recovering and make it to work this morning in a relatively functional state.  I remember that Saturday night came, and the little plastic bag still had some crystal in it.  There, of course, was the primary flaw in my plan.  I have never been able to stop when there was still some product left in my possession.  I should have planned better, should have smoked more of it, so that the binge would have had a clear, delineated ending.  Instead, I had kept going, and it had culminated in a huge fight with Patrick, running to the bedroom, grabbing the Ambien, and dashing out the side door and up the hill and under the bush.  I had only taken the Ambien in a desperate attempt at sleep, to gain entrance into the only sanctuary from Patrick’s anger and the impending hallucinations.  Patrick, not knowing there were only four pills left in the bottle, had called 911.  Weary, I let the fog roll in again, aware only of the disembodied voices of the EMT’s and the stinging pinch of the handcuffs.

When I next open my eyes, I see that the verdant greenery of my neighborhood has been replaced by the concrete and steel of an industrial area, and once again the fog clears just long enough to permit a sudden realization.

We’re heading towards downtown.  The County Jail is downtown.  Even in my ambient-induced, dream-like state, I know there is nothing good waiting for me in that part of Los Angeles.  All the other times I’ve been escorted out of my home, either by Patrick or the police, the vehicle I was put into has always headed north, towards Pasadena or Glendale.  Memorial Hospital, Huntington Hospital, lockups of a more upscale persuasion, and as I have proven on multiple occasions, extremely easy to escape from.

My eyes close again, and do not open until I feel the vehicle stop.  It isn’t until the back door swings open and I see that we have arrived at a hospital emergency room entrance that I feel a sense of relief.

Not Jail.

I don’t recognize this hospital, and squint my tired eyes against the bright light to find something to identify my exact location.  And there it is:

USC Medical Center.

As I am led, still cuffed, to the admissions desk, I look around me.  This place is crowded, and has an air of general disrepair about it.  The waiting room is filled with people, almost all of whom are black or latino, sitting on hard plastic chairs.  This is a world away from the comparatively posh, upholstered and carpeted emergencies rooms of other hospitals I’ve been taken to.  Almost every pair of eyes in the waiting room is fixed on me, and I wonder if it’s because I’m the only white person in the room or if it’s because of the handcuffs, or the combination of the two.Los_Angeles_County-USC_Medical_Center_(Emergency_Entrance)-1

I can barely speak now, can barely hold my head up, but I fight to stay upright.  Fortunately, one of the police officers I dimly recognize from our earlier encounter on the hillside is speaking to the clerk behind the big, busy desk, so nothing is required of me besides being upright.  And even this is probably voluntary, I assume.  I could easily give in and collapse, but even with the Ambien distorting my thoughts and vision, I understand that this is my last chance to argue my way out of this, to prevent being put on a 5150 hold, which will guarantee, at the very least, a three-day stay in the psych ward.  I’ve heard stories of the USC psych ward at AA and NA meetings, and none of them have been pleasant.  “Snake Pit” is the descriptor most frequently used.

Still, even when I’m escorted to a partitioned area, and given a seat in a molded plastic chair, I immediately fall asleep despite the continued burning pinch of the handcuffs and my desire to work out a plausible, possibly exonerating explanation.

When I come to, I am surprised to find that I am now lying down on and bed, on my back with my now-numb hands still secured behind me.  Have they admitted me?  My eyes pop open and I scan my surroundings.

I am lying on a hospital gurney and I am surrounded on every side by other people on others.  Some are handcuffed, some are not.  The large, bright room holds at least twenty of these rolling beds, and they have all been neatly lined up in rows, one against the other, like some bizarre hospital version of a crowded valet parking lot.  I am near the center of the room, surrounded by the rolling beds and their human cargo.  There is no space between the gurneys, which means that in order to reach a patient in the back the orderlies must first roll out the beds in the closest rows, extract the gurney with the correct patient, and th en fill the space again with the beds that were removed, creating a new space in the front of this parking lot of damaged, fucked up, freaked out paranoids, psychotics, drug addicts and weirdos.

Straining my neck to look around, I see that once again, I am the only white person in this slider-puzzle of human suffering.  Some of the others, like me, are handcuffed or have their wrists tied with plastic tie-straps to the low chrome rails of their rolling beds, while the luckier ones are unrestrained, and these I envy for that tiny freedom of being able to clasp their hands to their foreheads or cover their eyes and pretend they’re somewhere else.

There room is filled with a  cacophony of moaning, crying and swearing.  I turn my head to the right, and look into the face of an elderly black man, who lies with his head thrown back, his mouth wide open.  He looks like he might be dead.  I swivel my head to the left, and meet the gaze of another black man who seems to be staring at me.

He looks angry.I experience a momentary flashback to 1986, when I was 21 years old, and walking up the steps to my zoology class at California State University Stanislaus.  It was a beautiful spring day, and I was feeling good, which was unusual for those pre-coming out, quiet-simmering-anger living-a-lie days.  A black man, who I had noticed around campus primarily because he was one of the very few students of color among the almost all-white student population, was sitting on the concrete bench outside the doors of the Science Building.

I was about to say hello to him, something I rarely did because of my almost crippling shyness, when he spoke to me first.

He said, in a tone that sounded half-sarcastic and half-contemptuous:

Hey white boy.  You look like you’re on top of the world. I bet you think you got it made.”

Even though he was making direct eye contact with me, I looked around to see if he could possibly be talking to someone else, but I was the only one in the vicinity. Shocked by the aggression in his tone, I simply put my head down and continued on to class.  However, I couldn’t pay attention to the Zoology lecture because all I could think was, “What did he mean?”

In time, I came to understand that with my blonde, preppy appearance, I was a walking embodiment of our society’s racial inequities.  But when it happened, it confused me, because I rarely, if ever, felt like I was on top of the world, or that I had it made.  I worked at Sears, I sold lawnmowers, I was struggling with my sexuality, and I had to wage a constant battle to not give in to the self-loathing that always seemed on the verge of overtaking me. Though I didn’t know it, I was only two years away from my first serious suicide attempt.

The man’s assessment of me puzzled me for years, wondering if I should feel guilty for being white and for the advantages in life that simple fact provided me with. I wondered, if this man saw a sense of privilege in me, someone so terminally insecure, did the rest of the world see me as confident? Was it that easy to fool people?

I wonder now, staring into the eyes of this different black man, if he too thinks I’ve got it made, even with my four-day beard stubble, sunken cheeks and red puffy eyes, speed-bump riddled arms handcuffed painfully under my back, stacked like so much kindling in the psych ward of a county welfare hospital.

Without warning, I feel laughter rising up from my chest.  I can’t stop it, and I turn my eyes away from the man on my left and focus on the fluorescent light panels of the ceiling, trying to repress the building tide of church giggles that are starting to overtake me.  The ludicrousness of this entire situation, the animal grunts and screeches, the swearing, the screaming and the crying filling the room is suddenly too much, and the dam breaks.  I start laughing hysterically, unable to stop myself, half-frightened of calling attention to myself and half-unable to give a shit.

I can hear the man to my left screaming obscenities at me, but I just close my eyes and keep laughing, tears rolling down my cheeks and dropping down to be sopped up by the thin cotton sheet covering the gurney.

“I’m on top of the world!” I yell between snorts of laughter, to the ceiling, to no one, to everyone.  “I got it made!”

“Shut up, faggot!” snarls the black man.

leo_titanic_king_of_world-jpgI steal a glance at him, wondering if he can actually tell I’m gay or if this is just his insult of choice, and our eyes catch briefly before he lunges for me, but with his hands and ankles restrained he is unable to do anything but rock and bounce his own gurney as he arches and lurches for mine, his face snarling with rage. He looks ludicrous, like a great, enraged flopping fish.  He also looks dangerous, but I am so tired, so caught up in my own hysteria that I only laugh harder at his futile attempt to reach me.  Suddenly exhausted, my laughter subsides, yet the obscenities being shouted at me from less than two feet away continues.

A pair of orderlies, noting the commotion, begin frantically pulling gurney after gurney out of the jigsaw puzzle, trying to reach us before someone gets hurt…most likely me….and the whole incident seems so suddenly hilarious and insane and comedic and bizarre that I continue laughing until it feels like I might choke on my own tongue.  The flopping angry fish man continues his struggle to reach me, but I’m not worried at all, even with those giant, nicotine-yellowed teeth snapping only inches from my left elbow.

I’m on top of the world, I think. I’m safe. I got it made. No need to worry, here come my white-coated minions to do away with this barbarian presenting a clear and present danger to my super-lucky ‘really got it made’ white-boy self.

Then suddenly, from nowhere, the sleep deprivation overtakes me, and I’m unconscious before the orderlies even reach me.

My First Monster

Oliver O'Grady - Facebook Search 2019-03-10 12-56-25.jpg

Turlock California, 1978: Sacred Heart School eighth grade class photo, awkward me on left, O’Grady on the right.

 “I’m writing a letter to each person that I have offended sexually in the past.  I do want to apologize to them.  But I don’t want that to be just a simple statement. I think that they…basically, what I want to say to them is that it should not have happened. It should not have happened.  If I could invite these people to come and meet with me, one on one, and give them the opportunity to talk to me, tell me what I did to them, I need to hear that and I think that they need to say that. I can’t say that it’s hard to do this, and I’m happy that I am doing this.  It’s going to be an interesting reunion, and I really, really, really hope they come.”  I won’t be quoting scripture, I won’t open with a prayer, I don’t expect people to hug me when they leave.  I hope they might shake hands with me, and say, ‘yeah, it’s over right now.’ And I’ll let them get on with their lives, and I’m sure they’ll be happy to let me get on with mine. And I’ll say Godspeed, and I hope I’ll see you all again real soon.”

                                                      Convicted child rapist, Father Oliver O’Grady

May, 1978

Turlock, located in California’s Central Valley can be a hot bastard of a town, even before the official arrival of summer.

My eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Shive, stalks back and forth in the front of the classroom, waving a piece of chalk and droning on about something history-related. She is completely oblivious to the fact that her twenty or so students slouch half-asleep at their desks, rendered lethargic by the high-carb cafeteria lunch we’ve all recently finished choking down.

There is a sharp knock on the door, and every head in the class pops suddenly upright, straining to see through the rectangle of wired glass above the doorknob.  Mrs. Shive looks momentarily annoyed, then strides to the door, chalk still held out to her side, and opens it a crack.  After a moment’s private conversation, the door open swings wide, and her somber face has gone suddenly sunny.

Father Oliver O’Grady strides – no, bounces – into the room, and every twelve and thirteen year old is suddenly wide awake, smiling wide at the unexpected appearance of this small-framed, hyper-white skinned priest.

Father O’Grady had arrived suddenly at Sacred Heart School last year, and his presence had revitalized a school atmosphere that until then had been informed primarily by the stodgy, semi-alcoholic rein of Monsignor Alvernaz,  a tall gaunt Portuguese priest with a  humorless, Jacob Marley-esque visage inspired near-terror amongst the student and faculty when he was sober and severe embarrassment when he not.  Father O’Grady, or Father Ollie, as he insisted the children of Sacred Heart call him, was a small, wiry man with a heavy Irish brogue and an incessantly jovial demeanor that reminded me, absolutely, of the Lucky Charms leprechaun.  Black Irish, my half-Irish grandmother called him, although with his whiter than white skin I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.  Perhaps it was his black hair, which was slightly receding from his wide, pale forehead, save for one kewpie-doll like curl that hung forward, sticking to the white skin and giving him an almost cherubic appearance.  He had brought joy to Sacred Heart, a youthful enthusiasm that had won everyone over, students, parents and most of all, the nuns.  Even Sister Rose, our school principal and perhaps the most-hardboiled of the teaching nuns, was not immune to his boyish charms.  “oh father,” she would reply, blushing and nearly giggling in response to one the playful ribbings he would give her.  No one else dared joke with Sister Rose, but Father Ollie seemed supremely confident in his ability to engage and delight everyone, even this often cranky old woman.

“Hello, Children,” Father O’Grady says, waving his arms to quiet us down.  Being called “children,” when we were so close to starting high school, would normally rankle. Coming from Father O’Grady, however, it didn’t sound demeaning at all.  Even the toughest boys in our class worshipped Father Ollie, as evidenced by the increased number of boys volunteering for Altar Boy duty in the previous months.  Father Ollie was fun, Father Ollie was a priest, yes, but Father Ollie was also our friend.

“I am here to ask if any of you would like to help me out with CCD this summer,” he began, with his oddly over-pronounced way of speaking.  “I’ll need a couple of you for just a few hours on Saturday mornings.”   CCD, short for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, is basically Sunday School for the catholic students who attended public schools, except it is taught on Saturday mornings here at Sacred Heart.  The public school kids, who do not study religion as part of their daily coursework, are required to attend CCD in order to be eligible for the sacrament of confirmation at the end of the eighth grade.

Despite his popularity, this request is met with a stony silence.  Not a single hand is raised, the thought of waking up early and spending Saturday mornings in a classroom during summer vacation keeping every arm glued firmly to every side.

Father Ollie seems momentarily disappointed, and turns to Mrs. Shive as if seeking support.  She gives us a “come on, help Father out” look, but that’s it.

“Okay, well promise me you’ll think about it, and come see me if you’d decide you’d like to help me out.”, he trills, a little disappointment evident in his lilting leprechaun voice.

When I hear his voice, I can help visualizing the Lucky Charms leprechaun: “Blue Moons! Pink Diamonds!”

Later, after the 3:30 bell has rung and I’m heading down the long beige hallway towards the parking lot and my mother’s waiting Cadillac, Father Ollie steps suddenly into my path.  I tend to walk with my head down, staring at the terrazzo tiles, so I almost bump into him before I realize he is there.

I lift my head to look into his smiling eyes.

(Yellow moons! Pink stars!)

“Andrew” he says, and I like the way it sounds when he says it, all Irish-ey.

“I’d really be pleased if you would help me out this summer. Do you think you could?”

(Magically delicious!)

I’m trapped.  Of course I like Father Ollie, and of course I have nothing planned for any Saturday morning this summer, or for the rest of my life for that matter.  I’m completely anti-social, one of the shyest kids in the entire school.  I have only recently begun to make a concerted effort to speak in front of my classmates, having remained pretty much silent since I’d been ridiculed for my heavy long island accent upon arrival at Sacred Heart late in the fourth grade.  For several years, I’d only spoken when called upon in class, and even then I had done so with a conscious flattening of my vowel sounds, swearing to God himself that I’d never, ever again open myself up to attack for accidentally saying “Dawg” instead of “Dog” or “Jawwz” instead of “Jaws.”  Father Ollie has always seemed keenly aware of my lack of peer interaction, and has gone out of his way to demonstrate both his affection for me and his empathy for my social plight. That his hands have wandered seemingly absent-mindedly across the front of my school uniform pants during one of the hugs he would frequently give me would leave me feeling slightly confused, and strangely aroused in a confused way, I’ve chalked up more to my own confusion about my burgeoning homosexuality than to any malfeasance on his part.

I want to tell Father Ollie that I’d love to help him, but that I’m too shy around other kids, especially public school kids that I don’t know.  I want to tell him that I’m afraid they’ll laugh at me, that the taunting and name-calling had finally subsided a bit amongst my classmates, and that the idea  of it starting anew with a bunch of strange kids absolutely terrifies me.

But instead, wanting to please this funny little man, I find myself saying,

“Okay, Father.  I’ll ask my mother if I can.”

Good, he says, and gives my shoulder a squeeze.  He smiles at me, and maintains eye contact until I smile back.   The smile is genuine.  I put my head back down and head out to the long maroon colored Cadillac, my mother smoking her cigarette behind the wheel and my sister Theresa already in the backseat with her friend Mary, who lives around the corner from us.  I climb into the passenger seat, shove my book bag down by my legs.  I push a Linda Ronstadt cassette into the tape player, trying to drown out the chattering and squealing of the two third-grade girls in the backseat.  My mother seems to have a lot on her mind, which is pretty common these days.  Our family restaurant isn’t doing so well, and it’s affected the dynamic of our family in a hundred depressing ways.  The only good thing is that it’s curtailed my mother’s annoying daily habit of cheerily inquiring, “How was your day?” on the ride home from school.  When she asks me this, every fiber in my being wants to yell, “Well, I almost got beat up twice, I only got called faggot three times so that’s good, no one called me fat ass today, and I only intentionally fucked up one test to avoid being called a a nerd. And how was yours?”207708_1058054606699_6567_n

As Linda sings of going back one day, come what may to Blue Bayou, my thoughts return to Father Ollie.  He sought me out, I think.  There were tons of kids in that hallway, and he picked me.  I think of the smile he gave me, the twinkle in his dark eyes as he squeezed my shoulder.  He likes me, I think.  I’m not used to people liking me, not because I’m unlikeable, but mostly because I work so hard at being invisible.  Even my teachers, except perhaps Mr. Jackson in the sixth grade, seem to look right through me.  I like it this way, usually.  The fact that Father O’Grady thinks I’d be a good assistant, which sounds important, and that he singled me out from all the popular, athletic boys, makes me feel good..  He sees me.

“Mom,” I venture, when we’re halfway home. “Father O’Grady asked me to help out with CCD on Saturday mornings”

My mother is thrilled.  Anything that will give me something to do besides working in our restaurant this summer is a welcome idea to her.  Over the years, she has made many futile attempts at socializing her shy oldest son.  Judo lessons (three uncoordinated classes before stopping, no argument from my parents), art classes (not too bad), and worst of all, a disco-dancing class at the YMCA, where I hung at the back, doing a halting, chubby-kid version of the bus stop while secretly hating Ricky,  a lithe, gymnastic fellow future homosexual whose expert moves in the front row and confident kick-ball-changes made me cringe in shame at my own stumbling efforts.

“That’s great”, my mother says, beaming.  She, like everyone else in the Sacred Heart community, adores Father Ollie.  In devout Catholic families, having a priest over to the family home is tantamount to hosting a foreign dignitary, and Father Ollie has spent a good amount of time in our dining room.  Easter Sunday, Christmas Day, or just a regular old Sunday after mass, the priest has held court in our little green tract home, my grinning Grandmother at his side, clasping his arm in response to one of his just slightly off-color jokes, hand to her heart, “Oh Fathering” all over the place.  We serve him lasagna, and eggplant parmigiano, and homemade cannoli.  Though I’m generally not allowed at the table with the grownups, and we’ve never actually had a real conversation until today’s exchange in the hallway, he has always given me a smile and a warm, “Hello, Andrew!”  No one calls me Andrew except Father Ollie and my grandmother, and I like it.

I find myself actually looking forward to helping out with the CCD classes, and am relieved when Father Ollie tells me the next day that before we actually begin the classes, he will need to meet with me privately for the next few Saturday mornings so that he can go over what will be expected of me.  It reassures me that I’ll have a chance to learn what I’ll be doing before CCD actually starts, knowing that I’m less likely to look foolish in front of a roomful of seventh-grade strangers.

That Saturday morning, my mother takes me to the school adjoining Sacred Heart Church, and finding the doors locked, I wait on the brick steps, my mother standing by in the car until I get inside safely. At 9 am sharp, Father Ollie emerges from the adjacent rectory, wearing his black shirt, black pants, white-collared getup.  He is one of the few priests at Sacred Heart who seem to wear their priest uniform constantly.  Monsignor Alvernaz can often be seen shuffling/stumbling around in a cardigan, polyester leisure pants and white golf shoes, but not Father Ollie.  He always looks like a priest.  He waves to my mother, who waves back before backing out of her parking space and driving away.

Father pulls a ring of keys from his pants pocket, unlocks the door, drapes an arm around my shoulder and guides me in front of him and inside the building. It is unusually cool and quiet inside, and we proceed down the hallway, his arm still around my shoulders. The heavy doors swing shut behind us with a reverberating clank, and the shadowed hallway swallows us up.

Bathtub Angels

Years of  experience have taught me that my crystal binges can be paused only by one or more of the following reasons: running out of product, a spiral into full psychosis due to sleep deprivation, or as in this instance, a feeble, fought-for orgasm that temporarily shuts down my meth-propelled libido.

In my dark home office, I collapse back into my big, black leather desk chair, and tear my burning eyes away from the flat screen monitor.  The strangers fucking on the screen now elicit feelings of revulsion, despite the fascination they provided for countless pay-per-view hours. I quickly command-w the window away, and survey the tableau before me: lube thickly coats the mouse, carbon-black fingerprints transferred from the burned bowl of the pipe spot the glossy pine surface of the desk and white apple keyboard, making it look like a crime scene, post CSI-visit. I have no idea what time it is, or to be honest, even what day it is.  I started this run on Monday so – this must be what – Wednesday? Thursday?  I try to count the sunsets and sunrises that I was barely aware of, and can’t find a number. I’m so addled I don’t even think to check the date and time in the upper right corner of my computer screen.

I pull my naked body from the sweat-sticky chair, and finally leave this stinking office that has begun to feel more like an amyl nitrate-scented tomb.

Locking the bathroom door behind me, lights on but dimmed, I run a bath, making sure the water is good and hot. As the tub fills, I look in the mirror and startle at what is reflected back at me.  My face is gaunt, a reddish lawn of stubble covering the lower half of its pallid surface.  A blood vessel has burst in my left eye, a dark red blotch in a field of bright pink. I light a small votive candle before turning off the overhead light and step into the tub.

The hot water burns my ankles, and I gather into a crouch, lowering myself slowly.  As I slowly extend my legs, the hot water touches the MRSA sores on the tops of my thighs.  The sting is momentarily unbearable, and I clench my jaw and squeeze my eyes shut against the pain.  As my body fully submerges, the pain overloads my senses, shorts itself out and is suddenly reduced to a tolerable sting.  With a grateful exhalation, my body, stiff from days of speed-induced fight-or-flight muscle clenching, begin to relax.  I help it along by tensing and releasing first my toes, then my feet, legs, fingers, and finally my arms.  The crackling of joints is accompanied by a muffled, rippling sound that resembles Velcro strips being pulled apart, as too-long compressed tendons suddenly stretch taut.   Finally, I arch my back slowly, feeling the individual vertebrae sharply popping free from each other like the giant plastic linking beads of a Playskool child’s toy.

My hands wander absent-mindedly to my thighs, my nails scraping at the thin scabs that have formed over the abscesses.  The one on my right leg is the size of a quarter, and it sits alone on its canvas of white skin. The sore on my left thigh is smaller, perhaps dime-sized, but is far more sinister, as it is connected to an even smaller eruption near my knee via a thin, varicose-like vein of infection that snakes between them. Scraping away the healing scab of any wound once seemed counterproductive, but in this life I have been living, the scab only traps the infection, and necessitates yet another trip to urgent care and a nauseating lance and drain procedure.  In my current bizarre reality, it is better to keep the wounds open. Once they are fully saturated and softened by the bathwater, I use my thumb to rub the scabs away.

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I grab the bottle of betadyne from its perch on the rim of the tub and squeeze a good amount of the brown disinfectant into the water, not as an attempt to heal the sores, which I know is hopeless without yet another trip to the hospital and a days-long regimen of intravenous Vancomycin (aka, “the antibiotic of last resort”)but to potentially ward off any new infections just waiting to invade any microscopic opening in my skin. I apply some of the disinfectant to my face, remembering last month and the giant, lemon-sized abscess on my right cheek. I am certain that I contracted this MRSA (“The Superbug,” I’ve also heard it called) from the filthy bed sheets of my dealer, the last time it had been necessary to trade sex for crystal meth.

Raising my eyes, I do not see any faces coalescing in the fog of steam between the tub and the ceiling.  Floating faces, strange, brooding ones I do not recognize, have been my constant companion in any darkened room, having made their first appearance approximately a year into my addiction. I am grateful for this rare respite, and my eyes move from scouring the candlelit mist over the tub and down to my body, its speed-chiseled planes and angles distorted by the water. Even now, even with the sores glowing red and ragged like bullet wounds, I admire the absence of fat, noting the tautness of my belly and the way my abdominals ridge my belly and the way my groin muscles stand out, angling towards the tops of my hips with geometric precision.

Leaning my head back against the rim of the tub and closing my eyes, I try to slow my still-speeding mind, fighting the reflexive urge to move, forcing myself towards calm, willing the hot water to suck the careening energy impulses from my body.  Hours of watching pornographic movies has so thoroughly saturated my brain that I can not completely remove the images of rutting strangers from my thoughts, and I must consciously restrain my hands from wandering back to my dick, which could potentially start the cycle all over again.

A cool draft wafts over me, and my eyes shoot open.  I look to my right at the louvered windows over the vanity, squinting into the darkness outside, looking for the eyes I am certain are staring back.  As I try to focus my eyes into the distance outside the window, I sense movement above me, a sudden swirling of the mist hanging over tub.

The first being materializes slowly, a small, gauzy, slow-spinning tornado that descends from the steam and alights on the side of the tub.  Diaphanous, yet still possessing a hint of sculptural solidity, a pale semi-opaque hologram, it is perfectly proportioned, but less than a quarter of the size of a full-grown human. There is no question about the nature of this creature, as the stereotypical feathered wings sprouting from its shoulder blades twitch and quiver as if moved by an unseen breeze.

So many hallucinations over the past several years have rendered such apparitions fairly mundane, and I am not remotely shocked as three more identical creatures waft down in similar fashion from above, also alighting on the tub rim so that there are now two on either side of my prone body.

My initial reaction is one of gratitude: that these are not the usual grimacing gargoyles that both haunt and hunt me when I am using. I take a moment to study their faces. Displaying none of the scowling disdain and judgment I’ve come to expect from my drug apparitions, they remain impassive, unreadable.

My favorite game to play with the creatures that visit me, before my bravado wilts and I slip into hysterical, hiding-under-the-bed panic, has been to try to make them laugh, and on very rare occasions I have been able to illicit a restrained, reluctant smile from some of these faces that glare at me, inches from my own. Though these angel-like beings bear no signs of malevolence, I still attempt a joke.

Using my very limited knowledge of sports, I crack wise with, “just so you know, I’m a Mariners fan.”

They react to this, but instead of smiles, I detect great sadness in their eyes.  What is this? Compassion in my hallucinations? Where is the hatred? The silent ridicule? The unspoken, panic-inducing psychic messages telling me there is a gunman standing outside my window? That death is imminent? That it is time to kill myself and rid the world of my sickness? This sadness they seem to be experiencing makes no sense to me, and I instantly feel completely ridiculous for having made such a weak joke.

I notice a translucent tear rolling down the misty cheek of the one closest to me, on my right.

I am moved, a little embarrassed by this display of concern.

“Don’t cry”, I say, and turn to look at the apparition nearest my left shoulder.  Completely silent, it simply lowers its head, slowly moving it back and forth in an expression of great sadness as it seems to regard the open sores on my legs. Their concern makes me want to reassure them.

“It’s not that bad,”  I say, “They’ll heal, eventually.”

As if in response, their heads pivot slowly until they are all looking up and away from me, toward the shower head protruding from the wall.  I follow their gaze, and realize that the shower head is gone, and in its place is the glowing, also Obi-Wan-as-hologram-like face of my grandmother.  My grandmother, who died before I could see her one last time because I decided to keep partying one extra night instead of visiting her. A spasm of guilt and shame passes through me, mixed with a feeling of strange comfort that she is here, if only in hallucinatory form.

Her face is stern, though stopping short of anger.  This is the expression my grandmother used when she didn’t know how to express pain, pursed lips and set jaw of a her stoic Irish approach to life and its difficulties. I also detect great sadness in her eyes, magnified by the giant, coke-bottle eyeglasses that cataract surgery back in the mid-seventies had necessitated. I immediately move my hands to cover my privates, and red-hot shame courses through my being.

“I love you, Nan,” I say, and I am filled with sorrow, grateful to see her but horrified that she is seeing me like this. Had she been watching me these past days, soaking up porn, pulling toxic smoke into my lungs and masturbating like a fiend?  The thought makes my stomach churn queasily.

Before I can say anything else, before I am able to make any sense out of this situation, the creature furthest from me on the right suddenly extends its ghostly arm and grips the curved, chrome waterspout – just inches from my toes – and with a deft twisting motion, yanks it from the wall, leaving behind a dark, jagged hole in the cream-colored tile. Its removal is achieved in complete silence, and I wonder again, momentarily, why sound is always absent from my hallucinations.  The creature hands the dismembered waterspout to the apparition closest to me on right, my who holds it just inches from my eyes, rotating it slowly, giving me time to examine its chrome surface as it reflects the candlelight.

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As the spout slowly gyrates closer to my face, I immediately intuit that things are about to turn ugly.  I’ve been tricked.  I look back at the sad faces surrounding me, expecting them to have mutated into horrible, grimacing monsters while I’ve been distracted, but they have not changed. Still, sadness.

The spinning waterspout demands my gaze once again, but it is difficult to focus on it because it is so close to my eyes, a silver blur.  It moves away from my face, and I see with shock that it is no longer a waterspout.  It is an object I haven’t seen in ages, but remember well from my days of owning a beat-up 1982 Chevy Cavalier.  It is now a steel motor oil spout, the kind I used almost weekly to feed cans of 40 weight oil into my car’s ulcered engine. The puncturing spike is clearly visible, in fact, its shining sharpness is exaggerated in size.

I sit upright in the tub, panicked, water sloshing. I try to climb from the tub to throw on the overhead lighting – which almost always stops my hallucinations – but my legs seem paralyzed.  The oil spout stops rotating, the spike level with and pointing at my chest.

“Patrick!” I scream, before realizing that he is out of town, being funny on some movie set somewhere.  His absence, of course, is what made this at-home meth binge possible.

I look to my grandmother, wanting her to stop whatever is about to happen, but she avoids eye contact. I want to ask her to intercede, but the words won’t come. I know that I deserve whatever is about to happen, because I am a disgusting, horrible, deviant, terrible person. I know it, she knows it. Though my moral compass was dropped, stepped on and crushed beyond recognition years ago, I still retain a small understanding of the concept of justice. Whatever is about to happen to me will be just that, and I, the condemned man, must confess my guilt.  Still, I stare at my grandmother’s sad eyes with my own, hoping for reprieve. Instead, my grandmother nods her head at the apparitions, a silent assent.

This thing is about to go down.

Terrified, I look to the ceiling and begin reciting Hail Mary’s rapidly, in the same machine-gun way I did as a boy trying to get my penance out of the way as quickly as possible.

“Hailmaryfullofgracethelordiswiththeeblessedartthouamongstwomenandblessedisthe…..”

A proud, almost defiant atheist in times of clarity, I have learned that just as with a foxhole, there is no room for godlessness in the midst of a meth freakout.

An odd…though not painful… feeling in my ribcage stops my praying, and I look down to see the oil spout is now being pushed into my chest. There is no pain, it sinks into my body like a spoon into jello. I wait for blood, but there is none.  Instead, I sit and watch as a slow trickle of thin, brownish, foamy liquid begins to trickle from the spout and into the bath water, slowly picking up speed until it is a veritable geyser splashing the water below. There is a gurgling, and then it suddenly stops.  I feel pressure in my chest, getting stronger by the moment.  There is no actual pain, just an uncomfortable feeling that is akin to a balloon being inflated slowly beneath my ribcage. Then, with equal suddenness, the spout explodes, as the pressure forces a clog through.  Great clots of shit-brown muck stream forth, and in them I can see, clearly, paramecium-like organisms squirming alongside humongous bacterial creatures which hit the water swimming, then dart, feathery, beneath the Betadyne- clouded surface of the bath water.

I can feel my body emptying, can feel the upward rush of toxins and  drug residue being sucked from my extremities, into my chest cavity, out the spout and into the water.  I bend my knees and stare, dumbfounded, watching as the sores on my thighs slowly shrink, their bacterial epicenters being sucked dry from within.  When the skin is completely smooth, I begin to cry.

“Thank you,” I whisper.

After what feels like several minutes, the spout gives one last gurgle and then runs dry.

I lay in the tub, and as my breathing returns to normal, I realize that I feel something I haven’t felt in ages: clean. I also feel great calm, the 78 rpm of my thought patterns are now spinning at a leisurely 33 1/2, the constant, behind-my-eyes film-loop of pornographic images has been paused.

I look back to my grandmother, to tell her again that I love her, that I miss her, and that I’m sorry. I want to thank her for this purification. She is no longer there.  The shower head is, again,just a shower head.

Still surrounded by the winged quartet, silver spout jutting from my chest, I close my eyes, and say another Hail Mary – this time slow, measured, the chirps of early-waking birds accompanying my recitation as I slip into the finally-welcome oblivion of sleep.

The People in The Trees

NOTE: INSANITY AHEAD: A short, totally CRAZYPANTS story I wrote in 2003 – in the midst of my addiction – about The Tree People.  If you don’t know what Tree People are, consider yourself very, very lucky.  This is so badly written it makes me cringe, but it definitely shows the delusional/psychotic state of mind of a meth addict in active addiction. Yup, crazy time.

danutreeThe trees rustle with their movements, and only on rare occasions can I see them fully. They move in my peripheral vision, jumping from tree to tree, or standing stock-still, fading in and out of their bark-and-leaf camouflage. The wind carries their voices, but I can not decipher the words. It is via some strange form of telepathy that they convey the daily orders I must follow…. or suffer some horrible, indeterminate consequence. Most often they require atonement, and I kneel on the hillside, eyes closed, under the giant Bougainvillea, silently asking their forgiveness for my dark-sex-drug behavior, for the shameful atrocities I commit on their sacred soil.

My partner, who does not use methamphetamine, can not hear them, and as much as I argue with him, refuses to concede their existence.  I try every form of rationale to get him to understand: the arrowheads we’ve found in the dirt in our yard, the centuries of American Indian settlements that the small enclave of Mount Washington was  built upon.  When I attempt to point a Tree Person out to him, he says he doesn’t see, and grows angry at my insistence.  Meth, it seems, has opened some strange doorway that allows me to peer into their world, and it saddens me that the People in the Trees are not yet comfortable enough with this man I love to make their presence known to him.

I’ve divined, somehow, that austerity and simplicity are the hallmarks of this hidden race of people, forced by the encroachment of modern civilization to move underground, and they have learned to live, unnoticed, among us. This is not to say that they do not appreciate a Winchell’s Old Fashioned Chocolate doughnut now and again. It is a fact that I have shared with no one that they regularly devour the five or six I leave for them on a tray each evening behind the pool shed, my own version of a peace-offering. Though I have never witnessed the devouring of these offerings,the scattered crumbs and overturned tray that I discover each morning is testament enough to their gleeful orgy of consumption. Occasionally, I will  test the breadth of their palates and purchase a cinnamon roll or an apple fritter. These too have proved very popular with The People in the Trees. It is this generosity on my part, I believe, that has facilitated my recent ability to understand many of their whispers and ability to psychically  divine their needs, intents and moods.

shedThis pool shed, at the far end of our yard, away from my partner’s suspicious eyes,  has become a chapel of sorts, the place where I can most clearly hear their words. They have made it known to me that this is where we will most safely begin the process of communing. Inside the shadowy structure, lying prone in an inflatable pool raft, I  catch quick glimpses of them peering in at me, quickly, deftly, with a stealthy skill that they have honed from centuries of hiding. They have learned, somehow, to make their whispers resemble the swishhh-sound of wind through branch, and I have learned to tell the difference.

Still, as clever as they may be, they are not immune to some trickery on my part. Though they are masters of camouflage, they are not a deceitful people at heart and therefore  susceptible to the manipulation I am a master of. In the shed, lying back in the purple pool raft, I pretend to speak on a cellphone, telling elaborate stories with great, fanciful detail to the imaginary person on the other end. Gradually, I lower my voice, until the Tree People outside the shed must move in closer to understand my words. I am extremely proud of turning the tables this way: it’s about time THEY strain to

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hear MY words! This trick yields no clear view of any member of the tribe, yet I can clearly hear them scuttling across the roof and sliding oh-so-slippery quiet down the side of the hill behind the shed. I can see them in my mind: brown-skinned, angular faces pressed up against the flimsy plywood walls, eager to hear the latest exploits of the The Bringer of The Doughnuts.

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