Moonlight, Machete & Madness Pt. 3 (conclusion)
Walking quickly, I soon reach the perimeter of the hospital. Huntington Memorial is a fairly large complex, and I am unsure of exactly where I am. The streets are dark, and very few vehicles are out. There is a slight chill in the night air, but I barely feel it, my adrenaline-enhanced heartbeat keeping my body temperature slightly raised.
Looking around, I spy a row of single-story office buildings across the street, flanked by overgrown landscaping. I scour the greenery carefully, looking for signs of tree people, and am relieved that I see none. I dart across the road and approach the building, duck-walking quickly under the low hanging branches of a large shrub, and scuttling back into a small clearing between the building and the bushes that line its brick side. I slide down the cool wall into a sitting position, completely concealed. Safe – at least temporarily.
Pulling the bag of crystal from my pocket, I hold it up to inspect the contents. I am gratified to see that more than half of the teenager – the ridiculous slang name given a bag containing a 16th of an ounce – remains. I suddenly remember a comic greeting card I once saw, with a cartoon lady waving a cartoon checkbook and exclaiming, indignantly: “I can’t be overdrawn…I’ve still got checks left!” And so it is with me: despite my spiritual bankruptcy, the binge can’t be over if there is still crystal in the bag.
My hand trembling, I reach my thumb and forefinger into the bag, pinching several large shards of the glass-like substance. For a quick rueful second, I think of the pipe and torch I left behind in my bedroom. I have always preferred smoking these crystals, which delivers the drug in a slower, more languorous fashion, as compared to the sudden jolt that accompanies snorting, slamming or ingesting it. Careful not to drop any, I put my fingers into my mouth and deposit the bitter, tangy rocks at the back of my throat and swallow quickly, working my dry mouth in an attempt to build up enough saliva to get them down.
Carefully re-sealing the bag and pushing it back into my pocket, I slump back against the cold wall and wait.
It seems like only a few minutes before the freight train comes rumbling toward me. My body, accustomed to the more gradual introduction of the drug, is overwhelmed by what is at least the equivalent of two full bowls. This large quantity, which would normally take me many hours to smoke, is now being absorbed all at once by my long-empty stomach.
There is a roaring of white electricity in my head, and a multi-colored light show begins to dance behind my closed eyelids. My extremities numb, while at the same time a ribbon of heat slowly unfurls itself through my core, starting in my groin and working its way up through my chest. The heat engulfs my heart, and I can feel it pounding furiously against my ribs as I open my mouth, gasping for air. The feeling of sexual euphoria that has played such a large part in my addiction usually builds slowly when smoking, but now it rolls over me in a tidal wave of dopamine-overloaded sensuality.
The heat ribbon continues up, past my chest into my brain, burning its familiar path to my pleasure receptors. I begin to writhe slowly, twisting my neck and head in rhythm to the pulses of electricity that jolt from my brain back into my body. Gasping for air, eyes clenched, I roll onto my side on the cold earth as my entire being is engulfed in primal spasms, as my libido is launched into hyper-drive and suddenly, utterly consumes me. Completely unaware of where I am, who I am, I have been rocketed to a place of absolute, blind ecstasy, where once again I will take up extended residence on that small plateau that precedes orgasm.
After a period of time that feels like several hours, but past experience tells me has probably been closer to thirty minutes, the freight train finally rumbles past, and I begin to sense the cool air moving against my damp, heated body. I slowly extract my hands from the waistband of my cargo pants, where they have, as always it seem these days, found themselves. Despite the total sensual immersion, actual orgasm has not been achieved, nor will it anytime soon, part of the Faustian deal the tweaker makes with his drug of choice. The very same drug that brings one to the height of sexual transcendence also impedes physiologically any release: erections are a thing of the past, orgasm a goal rarely achieved.
I open my eyes, attempting to regain my bearings. Although the initial rush of the speed has passed, my disorientation continues. It is as if the brightness and contrast settings of the world have been adjusted to high. The dim, filtered glow from the streetlights that permeate the bushes is almost blinding in its intensity, and the shadows have become, deeper, darker, visually impenetrable.
As I lie there, the whispers soon reach my ears, originating somewhere deep within the now almost visually indecipherable tangle of branch and bush. My peripheral vision detects a rippling of the shadows, and I realize that during my sexual reverie, the tree people have found me.
Seconds later, I am stumbling my way down Pasadena Avenue, my gait loping and disjointed from the numbness in my legs, my only objective being to stay in the dim glow of the streetlights and away from the shadows beyond them, where I can sense the tree people gathering to watch this awkward, one-man parade. I have no sense of direction or destination, I simply continue to move, turning left onto a residential street lined with upscale, old-money Pasadena homes. Trees are everywhere, there is no escaping them, so I continue moving, tripping frequently on the imperfect panels of sidewalk lifted and cantered by the giant roots below. I have no idea what time it is, but the lack of cars on the street tell me it is probably well past midnight. The street curves through the wooded terrain, and eventually the houses on the left give way to a steep, tree and brush covered embankment, falling away to the Arroyo Seco riverbed at the bottom.
I immediately cross to the right side of the street, nearer the streetlights and the comparative safety of the homes that line it, their well-manicured lawns and neatly trimmed landscaping providing fewer hiding places for those who are hunting me.
I pause for a moment to rest, and through my blurred vision, I detect movement above me. I look up, squinting, into the shadowy, branchy canopy of a huge live oak tree directly to my right. The great tree sits dead center on the lawn of an elegant brick two-story home, it’ yard dimly but fully illuminated by expensive Malibu lighting. The branches of the huge, ancient tree span far out over the roadside, joining up with the branches of other huge trees nearby. Squinting upward, I struggle to decipher what I am seeing. The whites and blacks of light and shadow, the organic shapes of branch and leaf slowly arrange themselves into sensibility, and suddenly, I see it. I suck in my breath, and sink to my knees in front of the great tree, as if in prayer, and my wide eyes slowly scanning the terrible, terrible sight less than twenty feet above my head.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Note: I am not the only person to have seen the Tree People. Many meth addicts have observed them, and they are a well-documented hallucinatory phenomenon common to users of this drug. In the past, following previous encounters, I have researched them on the internet and was stunned to discover the similarity of experience from one user to another. I once saw a one-hour documentary about two Midwestern teenagers who, high on crystal meth, wound up lost in a snowstorm, completely disoriented. Their ordeal was captured on several rambling, confused cell phone calls the couple made to 911. The teenage girl, her voice panicked, pleaded with the operator to send help.
“There are lots of Mexicans and African Americans….and they’re all dressed up in these cult outfits!” she wailed.
“They’re taking the cars and hiding them in the trees!”
“Hiding what in the trees?” asked the confused operator.
“There are hundreds of them! Two hundred!” the teenage girl shrieked. The couple, in the throes of the drug, were unable to provide accurate information to pinpoint their location, and soon froze to death after setting out on foot to evade the Tree People.
In the past, having come down from the drug, I have tried to convince myself that I had hallucinated every terrifying thing. However, I haven’t always been able to shake fully the feeling that what I have seen – these tree people – are real. A small part of me believes that the drug has lifted some sort of veil between the physical realm and the spiritual one, and that what I am seeing, the same thing so many other meth addicts have seen, is truly and terrifyingly authentic.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Now, what I see above me seems to confirm the truth of this strange conviction. The canopy above me is alive with the creatures, but what stuns me is something else, something I have never seen before, in all my many encounters with this bizarre race of people. I am staring at a vast network of bridges and platforms set amongst the branches, spanning out on all sides, connected to adjacent trees, a huge masterpiece of engineering. I am looking up into a virtual city, stunning in its complexity. I slowly move my gaze from treetop to treetop, realizing each of them harbors its own set of platforms, connected by wooden scaffolding and rope and plank bridges, a multitude of Swiss Family Treehouses of Terror. It is as if another layer of the veiling between this world and theirs has been peeled back, revealing further, more elaborate details of their existence.
A vast assembly of Tree People line these arboreal sidewalks, their twig-like fingers grasping conveniently placed, rough-hewn safety rails, looking down upon me. As ever, their faces are judgmental, angry, yet motionless. The sheer number of them, coupled with this crystal-clear view of their aerial, sylvan metropolis is so overwhelming that all fear is pushed out of the way by awe and amazement.
“Jesus Christ,” I say too loudly, studying the incredibly intricate details of construction. “This is amazing.”
A dog begins barking and a just a few moments later, the front door of the house opens. A woman, one hand at her chest clutching her white bathrobe closed, stands behind a screen door and peers out at me.
“Who are you?” she demands. “What are you doing?”
I look at her for a moment from my kneeling position on her lawn, and use a head gesture to indicate the veritable city in the treetops.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” I ask her.
She is silent for a moment, studying me, and I turn my gaze back to the branches, marveling.
“Go away or I’m calling the police!” she says, as the small dog yaps near her feet.
I turn and look at her again, and she is wearing a mixed expression of concern and confusion.
“Don’t worry ma’am,” I say politely with what I hope is a reassuring smile, struggling for something to say, some piece of information about myself that might soothe her, let her know that I pose no danger.
“I used to work for Steven Spielberg,” are the words that finally find their way out of my mouth.
The woman seems neither pacified nor impressed. She stares dully at me for a moment before announcing, “I’m calling the cops,” then closing the door, muffling the continued barking of the dog.
I stay on the lawn, gaping up at the strange civilization hanging over me, and I feel defeated. The complexity of these creatures and their feats of amazing engineering and magical concealment convey, finally, the absolute futility of trying to defeat or evade them. I simply sit there, completely overwhelmed, waiting for them to engage, for them to slither down the great trunk and take me. For reasons unknown, the creatures simply continue staring at me, but make no move. Occasionally, a slight breeze moves the air, rippling their leafy robes and tunics.
Suddenly, I hear the sound of a car coming around the curve of the street, behind me. I tear my gaze from the treetop and see a black and white police cruiser approaching, a bright beam of light from a side-mounted spotlight bathing the roadside as it approaches. I jump to my feet and sprint across the street, leaping over a small, foot-high stone wall that runs along the top of the steep embankment. I land on my feet on the sloping hillside, but they immediately tangle in the thick carpet of undergrowth. I lose a shoe, and go tumbling head over heels down the dark slope, tearing my pants and scraping my arms and face. I land with a thud, deep in a thicket of wild ferns and ivy, and I lay there, panting, waiting to be discovered. From my prone position, I can see the beams of flashlights at the top of the hill as they pan the ravine, passing over me without pausing. The voices of two policemen are barely audible over the watery rush of the small river below me, and I hold my breath, waiting for them to descend. The flashlights work the hillside for long minutes, but finally, they are gone.
I lie there, my heart racing, the meth almost completely numbing the sting of the wounds on my arms and face. I feel trapped, the Tree People are everywhere, and I am again at a complete loss. They seem to be making no move toward me, and the entire darkened ravine is ominously quiet, save for the sound of the moving water.
Overcome with a sense of hopelessness, I reach my hand into my pocket and find the packet of speed. It is too dark to see it, even with my fully dilated pupils, but I can feel the still fairly substantial contents through the plastic, hard and lumpy. My mind fogged and my body already filled with the toxic substance, I consider the potential lethality of what I hold in my hands. Despair, guilt, shame and self-loathing collide all at once, and I unseal it and bring it to my mouth, shaking the contents out and into the back of my throat. I’ve heard many times that suicide is option of the coward, but I don’t believe that’s always true. Removing pain and suffering from the lives of loved ones by eliminating its source seems like a very practical, perhaps even slightly noble solution. I skim the inside of the bag with my finger, picking up the powdery residue, and lick it clean with my tongue. Dropping the baggie, I close my eyes and wait for it to hit.
I think of my niece and nephews, of my mother, and of course, Patrick. Having long ago forsaken religion, I still attempt to recite a “Hail Mary”, but the prayer sounds strangely disjointed to me, and I’m certain I’ve left out a line or two. My last conscious thought is the realization that my body will be probably be eaten by scavenging animals before it is discovered, and then I am sucked back under the wheels of the freight train as it returns. There is no pleasure this time, only great, racking full-body spasms and the certainty that my heart is about to explode in my chest.
In what I am now certain is a dream, I find myself standing shakily on the embankment, surrounded by a legion of bushes and trees and the strange smallish, tree people inhabiting them. They stare at me solemnly, watching and observing my attempts to stay upright. The hillside is gently bathed in the pre-light of approaching dawn. “Have you seen my other shoe?” I ask a short, squat bush whose resident tree person seems, somehow, less judgmental than the others. It remains silent, and I move on, the dreamscape shifting in the rapidly increasing golden light. I begin to move up the hill, but am again suddenly overwhelmed by spasms, my body tightening in a cramp that seems to start at my feet, jerking its way through my entire body. I begin to retch, great hacking waves that produce nothing. I am overcome by a wall of lightheadedness as the hazy dreamworld around me rocks and rolls in undulating rhythm.
Then, in an almost filmic smash-cut, I am running down a long corridor paved with asphalt, following a white line past tromp l’oeil murals of suburban orderliness lining the long walls on either side of me. Huge, metallic prehistoric beasts race down the corridor in both directions, blaring terrible trumpet sounds as they zoom past. Somewhere, a dimmer switch is slowly turned up and the corridor grows brighter with each moment, illuminating a beautifully painted ceiling of bright blue and gray. As I move forward down this surreal hallway,I pass a man walking a dog on my left, and he calls out to me, his words unintelligible. I wave to him, smile and keep running, one-shoed, squinting into the ever-increasing light that grows in intensity until I am blinded by the whiteness.
The dream jump-cuts suddenly, and I am now sitting, inexplicably, in the back seat of my mother’s minivan. Patrick is driving. My mother is riding shotgun, her hand pressed against her forehead, sobbing softly while Patrick caresses her arm soothingly with his right hand. On the seat beside me, reinforcing the bizarre, dreamlike nature of my current state, sits our wire-haired terrier mix, Shekel, who looks rapidly from me, to Patrick, and back again. The bright glare of the morning sun glints sharply off the car window, blinding me again.
I turn to look at Shekel, who is staring at me.
“You fucked up again, didn’t you?” says the dog. Despite his harsh words, I am grateful to see compassion in his watery black eyes.
A flash of light and he dream shifts once more to a kaleidoscope of chrome and white and glare. I suddenly become aware of pressure on left arm. In the distance, I hear an agonized, hoarse screaming, echoing as if shouted into a canyon. A small circle of color in the center of my bright, white field of vision grows wider and then wider still, until it becomes a woman’s face – dark complexion, stern – hovering over my own. The field widens even further again to include a strange man, in some sort of uniform. The man is tying my arm to a silver bar of some sort, and I suddenly recognize the screaming voice as my own, hurling obscenities. I note that my body is thrashing, bucking and jerking against the hold of four-point restraints. The woman’s mouth moves, and the words seem strangely out of synch with the movements of her lips.
“Hold his arm still.”
A sharp pricking of my left forearm, and within moments, the dream begins to fall in upon itself, the alternating concentric rings of reality and delusion constricting and expanding, until they eclipse each other fully, and I slide back into darkness.