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Demons Who Drank With Me: Sober Musical Interlude #4

As part of my recovery, I try to find songs that inspire me and provide a sense of hope for the future.  I add them to my “recovery playlist” on my ipod, and occasionally share them here. There are times, though, when I need to hear a song that reminds me of what it was like when I was using. As author/philosophist George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who can not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

I am a chronic forgetter: in the past, when I’ve been clean and sober for a respectable amount of time, I ‘ve tended to  forget how bad it was when I was “out there.”  I’d begin to regain a sense of power over my drug use. I’d stop investing in my recovery, and slowly (or sometimes at the speed of light) slip back into my disease.

With Table for One, the typically provocative singer/songwriter Liz Phair eschews controversial lyrics and viewpoints, crafting instead a first-person account of one man’s life as an active alcoholic. Though crystal meth was my drug of choice, the feelings this song elicits are pretty much the same ones any addict feels when living in their disease: loneliness, shame, hopelessness.

This time, I’m going to remember to not forget.

Give it a listen (lyrics below):

I’m walking down in the basement
I’m leaning on the washing machine
I’m reaching back through a hole in the wall’s insulation
I’m pulling out a bottle of vodka
Replacing that with a pint of Jim Bean
I’m lying down on the floor until I feel better

It’s morning and I pour myself coffee
I drink it til the kitchen stops shaking
I’m backing out of the driveway
And into creation

And the loving spirit that follows me
Watching helplessly, will always forgive me

Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring down all those demons who drank with me
Feasting gleefully
On my desperation

I hide all the bottles in places
They find and confront me with pain in their eyes
And I promise that I’ll make some changes

But reaching back it occurs to me
There will always be some kind of crisis for me

Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring back all those moments they stole from me
In my reverie
Darkening days end

Oh, I want to die alone
With my memories inside me
I want to live that life
When I could say people had faith in me
I still see that guy in my memory

Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring down all those people who drank with me
Watching happily
My humiliation

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.

Sober Musical Interlude #2

Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child, things’ll get brighter
Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child, things’ll be brighter
Some day, yeah
We’ll put it together and we’ll get it all done
Some day
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
Some day
When the world is much brighter

‘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.

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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.

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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)

 

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

Night of the Vesuvian Pussy

ishot-1147551I’ve heard it said that idleness is the Devil’s Playground, and if that was true I was about to make a mad dash for the swingset.

I had been working at least 40 hours a week since I was thirteen years old – first at my parent’s deli, then seven years selling lawnmowers and large appliances, a short stint at the Gap, followed by 5 years at ABC, another 5 at the Shoah Foundation, two producing videos for the internet, and finally the past year directing the AIDS marathon.  Each of these jobs followed the other in quick succession, with little or no down time in-between.   That added up to over 25 years of non-stop employment, and I was ready to relax and live off the fruits of my – and Patrick’s – success.

Thanks to Patrick’s years on the “Ellen” sitcom, for which he earned per episode what I had sometimes managed to earn in an entire year – we had enough bank to be able to relax a little, to take things as they came, to avoid panic at the prospect of unemployment.  This, for me, was a luxury I had never known before, and I embraced it with open arms.

Throwing a duffel bag into the trunk of my car one early spring morning, I kissed Patrick goodbye and headed down and out of the leafy canopy of the Chevy Chase Estates, a few left turns, onto the 2 freeway north, to interstate 5 and up and out of Los Angeles.

Ostensibly, I was making a trip up north to see my grandmother, who was dealing with emphysema and had recently begun a steady decline.  It was hard to think of my grandmother, that tall, strong second-mother figure of my youth as anything but invincible.  We had a special relationship – I was her first grandchild, but having been born to a mother who was only 15 at the time, my grandmother had assumed responsibility for most of my early parenting while my mother finished high school.  She referred to me as “her oldest and dearest,” and although it was always said jokingly, it annoyed the hell out of my brother, sister and cousins.   I was looking forward to visiting with her in her small suite in her new retirement community.  But first, I had decided, a detour.

I was looking forward to seeing David, it had been over a year since our last meeting.  He and his boyfriend James had purchased a house in Fremont, and were hosting a housewarming party to celebrate the acquisition.  It promised to be, as any party David threw or even attended, a blast.  Sunroof open, the warm southern California air rippling my hair, I blasted the stereo, Maria McKee forgetting what it was in him that put the need in her, Johnette of Concrete Blonde wailing about walking in London, talking Italian, singing in Sydney.

Of all my friends from the old Modesto crowd, I missed David the most.  We had bonded years ago, one rainy day when a mutual friend brought him over and five of us had ‘shroomed together in my then-boyfriends rented bedroom, the heaving, pulsing walls covered with Depeche Mode posters and the Technicolor air vibrating with the sounds of Yaz.  David was my first male friend of any real significance, and I loved him more than I’d ever loved a friend before. Kindhearted, hilarious, a wonderful mix of smart and occasional goofiness, my handsome friend was desired by both men and women, yet he never seemed to be fully aware of the mesmerizing affect he had on people.

At that time, David was using every ounce of mental determination he possessed to be heterosexual.  His girlfriend back then, his high-school sweetheart Rhonda, loathed me. Perhaps this was because I was proudly gay and she felt I was a threat to her boyfriend’s heterosexuality, or perhaps it was because I had once called her a cunt – ungallantly, yes, but deservedly – at the Burger King drive-through window where she worked before I learned she was David’s girl.

David had tried everything to please his fundamentalist parents, going to church, singing in the choir, dating Rhonda, marrying Rhonda, even having a child, an amazingly adorable little boy he named Scott.  I always suspected David was gay, but as his friend I respected the path he was on, his difficult journey towards acceptance, and never brought the subject up to him. This was a measure of how much I treasured his friendship, as at that point in my life a studied lack of respect for all things deserving of it was one of my calling cards. David was the good boy everyone loved, I was the bad boy who pretended not to give a shit who liked me or not.

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David’s struggle with his orientation ended abruptly when, after confessing his feelings to a pastor at his church, he was subjected to what may be history’s least successful exorcism.  He was tied to a chair and prayed over by the male members of his congregation, who implored the gay demon to leave their brother’s body and free his soul of its toxic, sinful influence.  Refusing to untie him to allow him to relieve himself, he passed out after ten or so hours and pissed himself.  This experience so humiliated and degraded him that it had the opposite effect:  the rainbow-colored demon took full command of David’s mind and body, cruelly forcing him to divorce his wife, indulge in acts of sodomy, and relegating him to a life of happiness, self-acceptance and honesty.   When he phoned me and told me of these developments, I had jokingly shouted a hearty “Hail satan!” into the handset.

The drive up the 5 between Los Angeles and the Bay Area must certainly be one of the most monotonous routes anywhere in the contiguous United States, over 5 hours of nothingness stretching away on either side, punctuated only by the occasional rest stop or gas station.  By the time I pulled up to David’s house in Fremont, my legs were cramped and my right butt cheek ached from sitting on my wallet.

I gathered up a stack of CD’s (David and I never saw eye-to-eye on music, he preferred the gay-oriented dance shit that I loathed, and I cottoned to alternative or rock), retrieved my duffel from the trunk and climbed the raked driveway to the front door.  The house, though small, was adorable, perched on the side of a hill in a sweet middle class development probably dating back to the forties. Reaching the front porch, I turned around and was rewarded with a view that stretched out to the bay on one side and across the Castro Valley on the other.  Some hideous audio of the techno variety throbbed and thumped its way through the front door.

I gave the door two sharp knocks, and knowing it couldn’t be heard over the music, entered without waiting for a response.   I found David in the kitchen, pulling beer cans from their cardboard case and loading them into the fridge.  He looked up, and an enormous, boyish grin filled his face.

“My brother!” he exclaimed, embracing me.

“My brother.” I replied, hugging back.

“I missed you, dickhead.” I said, employing my favorite nickname for him.

“Show it to me.” he said.

I didn’t have to ask him what he was referring to.  Years of road trips, clubbing, smoking pot together in rooms both familiar and strange had provided us with the ability to communicate using a kind of psychic shorthand, interpreting this kind of non-sequitur with the ease of a master linguist.

“Come on.” I said, and we walked back out to the front yard.

“Oh my God, it’s beautiful!” he said approaching my car and slowly circling it.

I’d had the car for only a few months, a Mercedes C-Class that I had just leased, and I got a small thrill that David, an avid fan of luxury cars, appreciated it as much as I did, was happy for me.

This was one of the things I loved about David.  Long ago, I had learned that most of my old friends from Modesto did not want to hear about any good fortune I may have experienced since moving to Los Angeles.   This was often hugely disappointing, as I still often had difficulty believing the circumstances in which I sometimes found myself.  By Los Angeles standards, the things I had done and the people I had met perhaps were fairly unremarkable, but for someone like me, someone who just a few short years ago was selling extended warranties on riding mowers to grizzled, over-alled farmers, they seemed remarkable, sometimes unbelievable.  It was such a disappointment to not be able to share these experiences without being made to feel as if I were somehow bragging or worse, exaggerating. Even writing these words I feel a slight cringe.

So I learned, when it came to my small-town friends, to downplay anything that might be construed as either boasting or name-dropping.

“We spent New Years at Lisa Kudrow’s house” became “We just hung out with some friends.”   “I’m on tour with the Chili Peppers” became “I’m traveling for business,”  and something like attending the Emmys was best left entirely unmentioned.  Though I felt like I was sometimes selling myself short, since I had worked my ass off to get where I was, it just made things easier when dealing with most people from my Modesto years. .  Eventually, most of these old friendships fell by the wayside anyway, replaced by Los Angeles friends who understood that these events, though interesting, were nothing more than the by-product of working in the entertainment industry and being partnered with a working actor.

David, however, was different.  Just as I was thrilled for all his successes, his escape from fundamentalism, his graduation from IT school, the purchase of his home, he was equally thrilled for me, and rather than feel threatened by or jealous of the circumstances of my life, he got a kick out of them.   I loved surprising him, inviting him to premieres and bringing him backstage at concerts and introducing him to the bands  My favorite example of this was when he had come down to Los Angeles the previous year for a visit.  Knowing when he’d be arriving, I had invited some friends over, and then gone grocery shopping, asking my friends to greet him when he arrived and entertain him until I returned.   When I arrived back at my house, I found David’s car parked out on the street and entered the house to find him in the living room, looking slightly pale and stunned and having a conversation with Cheri Oteri and Paula Abdul.

He was in heaven the entire weekend, and it made me happy to see him so excited.  And of course, as everyone instantly does, the two famous ladies adored him.

“What color is that, exactly?” he asked now, squinting at the vehicle.

“I don’t know.  I thought it was blue when I got it, but apparently it’s green.” I said, and we both guffawed at the ridiculousness of my abject color blindness, something he had teased and playfully tormented me about for years.

“I’m so happy for you.” he said, and embraced me again.

“Thanks, Dave…I love you,” I said, squeezing him back.

“I can’t believe you’re driving a Mercedes, you fucker.” he laughed.

“I can’t believe you’re a homeowner, you dickhead,” I countered.

“You wanna drive it?”

“Fuck yeah!” he said, and I tossed him the keys.

We drove through the winding hills of Fremont, horrible dance music from the station David selected bouncing out of the twelve bose speakers and escaping through the opened sunroof like audio vapor, joined soon by vapor from the joint David produced from his shirt pocket.   We drove for about twenty minutes, David loving the experience and me loving David’s loving it.

driving-high-whenistoohighStoned as fuck, we returned to the house, and after making him give me a tour of his new home, began getting the house ready for the party.  Three hours until guests would begin arriving, and we set to work moving furniture back against the walls, stringing speaker wire out into the backyard, filling the kitchen table with bottles of booze and setting up strobe lights in the living room and bedrooms.   At some point, David’s partner James, a shy, handsome former navy officer who had lived for months at a time on a submarine and was some kind of high-tech genius and a genuinely lovely man –  who clearly adored my friend –  arrived home.  I gave him a hug and dragged him out into the backyard to share the rest of the joint.

Dusk came, and the guests followed.   The crowd was, as it always was at one of David’s parties, pleasantly egalitarian.  Well-groomed gays, grunge gays, straight preppies, gay preppies, straight tattooed punks, gay tattooed punks, motherly older women, fatherly older men, both femme and butch lesbians, artists, and the occasional silicon valley type.

The house was soon packed with this cross-section of Bay Area humanity, and soon I was doing a couple fat lines of coke in the garage with Roger, a sweet and very sexy gargantuan-mohawked, tattooed punk I’d met on an embarrassingly sexually-uncontained-on-my-part trip with David and James to the Russian River a few years back.  After reminiscing about my incredible lack of discretion (drug-fueled, of course) and the hearty applause I’d received from those in neighboring tents when I emerged in the morning, I began working the crowded party, mellowing the cocaine rush with shots of Jaegermeister, and the hours ticked by. Plastic cups piled up in corners, crepe paper streamers detached and hung sloppily from the walls.  A thin, blond-haired twink latched onto me at some point, obviously stoned, even more so than me.  I don’t think I even asked his name, but when he began asking me to fuck him, I snagged a condom from David’s night table drawer and lead him down to the front yard and into a cramped storage area under the house and obliged his request.  I thought briefly of Patrick at home and was momentarily flooded by a wave of guilt. Even though we had a sort of semi-fluid, unspoken  “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding indiscretions, we could certainly not be classified as swingers and both valued monogamy.  He just happened to be a whole lot better at it than I was.3491484147_4ebe747716

The fuck took less than ten minutes, and when we were finished I left him there in his drunken stupor and stumbled out, up the stairs and back through the front door, and noticed that the room was thinning slightly, all of the more responsible types having departed, leaving only the hardcore partiers to continue.

I found David in the kitchen.

“I have a surprise for you.” I said.  “Come with me.”

He followed me into his bedroom and I went to my duffel bag in the closet and retrieved a plastic bag containing an eight ball of crystal from one of its pockets, along with a thin-glassed bubble pipe and a small, yellow butane torch lighter.

“Oh my god.” said Dave. “Is that coke?”

“Nope, it’s Tina.” I said, using the gay slang for the drug.

I see a look of concern pass over his face, but it quickly dissipates.

“Shit, that’s a lot.”

“Yup.”

“Can we share it with some of my friends? Would that be okay?” David asked.

“Sure.  You go get them and I’ll get the pipe ready.”

David stopped and turned back around to face me.

“We’re going to smoke it?  I’ve never smoked it before.”

David, who was usually as game as I was to experiment with new experiences, seemed a little hesitant. Pot was David’s mainstay, and I suspect the idea of smoking a meth pipe was pushing the boundaries of experimentation for him.

“It’s great.” I said.   “You’ll love it.  Go get your friends.”

Soon, there were about twelve of us in the small room, gathered around the edges of the bed, people David selected who he knew would want to be included.  It was surprising to me then, and embarrassing for me now to remember that I was the only one of that select group who knew…or admitted to knowing… how to smoke speed from a pipe, and I had to demonstrate for them, how to slowly roll the bowl while the white crystals vaporized, how not to burn the contents, and emphasizing with the solemn firmness of a college professor the importance of not rolling it so far that the boiling liquid could spill out the small hole in the top, a common, and sometimes painful, first-time speed-smoking faux pas, particularly for those who are already high on weed.image130

I saw in  a few of the faces ringing the bed a trace of disgust, the similarity of the ritual being so close to that of the crack head, but everyone partook despite whatever misgivings they might have, any revulsion being tempered by the communal nature of the act. Images of Halle Berry in Jungle Fever imploring “I suck your dick good for five dollars, honey” were pushed aside by the illusion of camaraderie, the certainty that this bedroom-bound posse were safely insulated from that kind of fall from grace.  This was a party in a lovely suburban home, not a drug den in South Central.

The pipe circulated, with a few intermissions to reload it, until it had made the full rounds several times, at which point people began to slip back out of the room to rejoin the main party.

“Wow, that’s intense,” David said, smiling at me.

“I know,” I replied.

“When did you start smoking it?” he asked

“ A few months ago…I like it so much better than snorting it.”

“I can see why,” he said through a smile that would stay on his face for the next 12 hours.

In the intervening years, I’ve done much for which I feel guilt and shame.  Introducing a roomful of people, of David’s friends, to the act of smoking meth ranks among the most spiritually punishing of my memories.  If I’d known at that time the path that smoking crystal would soon lead me down, I wouldn’t have done it.  But I did.  And I still agonize, wondering how many of those twelve people also became addicted.  The odds are pretty good that at least one of them did.

David’s parties generally lasted until the early morning hours.  This one, however, newly charged by the crystal rocket fuel, went on until the following afternoon.

When my cell phone had begun buzzing earlier, I had simply shut it off.  I knew my mother had been expecting me to arrive in the morning, as did Patrick.  I knew that we had planned to spend today with my grandmother, and that she was waiting for me.  But I also knew that my grandmother spent most days alone, and that whether our visit happened today or tomorrow would hardly matter to her. A small wave of guilt coursed over me, but I brushed it aside, promising myself I’d give her extra attention, that I’d even take her to Starbucks, oxygen tanks and all,  for one of her most recently acquired passions, a venti mocha Frappucino. I knew that I should call, but I also knew that if I spoke to either of them they’d be able to tell immediately that I was using, and I didn’t want to revisit the “go to a twelve step meeting or get out” ordeal of last month.  I would just tell them that there had been a miscommunication, and that my cell phone battery had died. I’ll promise I’ll work on being more responsible, I’d say, expertly feigning humility and regret.

Once the speed had been introduced, the gathering had taken on a decidedly sexual nature, the disinhibiting libido-enhancing effect of the drug clearly in evidence.  By four AM of the second night, the crowd consisted tumblr_lamsi3PUNM1qcvdh0o1_500primarily twelve or so of us that had shared the pipe and some others who were tweaking on their own or still flying high on coke. A small orgy spontaneously erupted in the spare bedroom, participants coming and going and trying to come for hours, the entire affair taking on a decidedly late-career Pier Paolo Pasolini flavor.

At one point, I discovered David and two other gay men sitting indian-style in a row facing the fireplace.

On the hearth, a butch dyke named Angela (with whom I had earlier discussed computer software marketing) was kneeling next to her femme girlfriend, also named Angela, who was naked from the waist down with her legs splayed far apart.  Butch Angela had three fingers in femme Angela’s vagina, and was rocketing them in and out with the speed and precision of an industrial power tool.  The femme Angela’s head lolled back on her shoulders, seemingly oblivious to the small audience in front of her.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“She’s trying to prove to us that women can ejaculate.” explained David, turning his head toward me and taking a drag off his cigarette.

“Oh,” I said, and never one to pass on an educational opportunity, took my place in the row of spectators.

It was only moments later that the prone Angela began to moan, her legs tensing and her bare feet grasping for purchase on the reddish carpeting.  Butch Angela’s hand sped up even further, a whirring blur between the other girl’s thighs. An avid consumer of straight porn, I sensed what was coming, so to speak, and moved back a few feet.   The others, possibly too high to sense danger, remained in position like oblivious tourists on the blue front row bench at Sea World.

Great jets of clear liquid pulsed out of the girl, arcing up and forward, landing on the carpet between her legs, and quite tragically, on the forearms of the gay guy directly in front of her.

“Fuck!” he screamed, lurching backward and falling over in his attempt to escape the Vesuvian pussy in front of him.

David looked back over his shoulder at me and remarked, in the droll way that only David could, “fuck is right.  I just had this carpet cleaned.”

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When daylight finally arrived, I awoke from a fitful half-sleep in a giant tangled heap of sleeping, nude gay men, comforters and pillows on the floor of the small second bedroom.    Rubbing my eyes, trying to get my gummy contacts lenses to free themselves from my corneas, I stumbled around the destroyed house gathering my belongings, and then snuck into David and James’s room to say goodbye.

After stopping at McDonalds for coffee, I finally turned my cell phone back on.  Many, many text messages were waiting for me, from both Patrick and my mother.  Sighing, I decided not to read any of them, and dialed my mother directly instead.

She answered on the first ring.

“Mom” I said, “I had my phone turned off, I just saw that you sent me a bunch of texts.  Is everything okay?”

Expecting her to start raging at me, I was surprised to find silence on the other end of the line.

“Mom?”

“Andy, where are you?”

She doesn’t sound angry at all.  I begin to feel relief.

“I’m on my way, I’ll be there in about an hour. Sorry I forgot to call and tell you I wasn’t going to be there, I was just too tired to drive and decided to wait until this morning.”

Okay, she says, calmly.  It’s so out of character for her, this almost tranquilized delivery, that I begin to get concerned.

“What’s going on, Mom?

“Nothing.  Just drive carefully.

Clearly, she’s not mad at me, because my mother has never been one to hide her anger.  But there’s something else going on, but I can’t make sense of it.

Because my head still isn’t completely clear, I decide not to press it, and after hanging up drive to Turlock as quickly as possible, trying to come up with a story that would appease both Patrick and my mother, just in case I need one, and decide keeping it simple is best, that’ll I’ll stick with the “just forgot, phone turned off, Sorry to worry you,” plan.

When I arrive at my mother’s house, I see that there are quite a few cars parked in front, only two of which I recognize, my sister’s and my brother’s.

Entering the house, I hear conversation in the kitchen stop completely as the front door closes behind me.  Rounding the corner, I find my entire family, including some cousins, seated around the kitchen table, all of them silent, all of them staring at me with blank expressions I can’t decipher.

An Intervention? Already?

Then, my mother is moving towards me, putting her arms around me, and suddenly, intuitively, instinctively, I know. I already know.

I’ve identified as an atheist for years, but deep down, I still believe in God.  I believe that he is cruel, and vicious, and vengeful. He is a God who tricks, and taunts, who allows six million jews to be murdered on the whim of a single lunatic, who invents things like polio and who puts child-molesting priests into the direct path of young children. Knowing all this, I also know how God has written the next line of the ridiculous screenplay that is my life.

“Honey,” my mom says, squeezing me tightly with her big, soft arms, “your grandmother died last night.”

MUSIC SWELLS, FADE TO BLACK.

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.

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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