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The Weight-ing Game

scale

photo by Rob Meese

I currently weigh 192 pounds.  45 days ago, at the end of my last meth binge, I weighed 165 pounds.  That’s a substantial weight gain in a very short period of time, and it’s freaking me out, so I’m doing what I now do to deal with feelings that scare me: I’m going to write about them, humiliation be damned.

I discovered bingeing and purging back in the early 90’s, when alcohol was still my drug of choice.

It happened by accident, sort of…following a wild night of sweaty, shirt-off dancing at West Hollywood clubs like Rage or the now-defunct Studio One, I’d cruise through a Taco Bell drive through on the way home and hunger-order a bag full of food.  Back at my apartment, I’d gorge myself on the carb-fest, trying to soak up some of the alcohol still in my stomach.

The first time, I vomited because I had to. Just too much to keep down while in a horizontal sleeping position.  I noticed, however, that in the morning I felt better physically then I usually did following my previous booze and taco supreme over-indulgences.  Less bloated, less headache-y.  And remembering how easily it had all come up the night before, with just a minimum of effort on my part, I wrote a brain-note to myself: try that again next weekend.

And I did.

My addict brain assured that within weeks, I was bingeing and purging with alarming frequency, and not just following nights out at the bar.

I was twenty-seven years old, and was just beginning to discover that my body could no longer live on a diet of Pepsi and fast food without gaining weight, the way it had done in the past.

I was also in the midst of dating, and frequently. As an insecure gay man shopping in the frequently appearance-is-everything meat  market of Southern California, I fretted and obsessed (more addict behavior) about every pound that I would gain, certain that my love handles would be the one obstacle that would prevent me from finding the true love I was sure I deserved.

And so it went, crash dieting, failing at the crash diet, bingeing, eating gluttonous quantities of McDonald’s french fries and Hostess Sno-balls and anything else I could get my mouth on, an alternating out-of-control ,savory-sweet-savory-sweet mastication orgy of self-loathing and despair, followed by the violent, shameful but “I’m back in control” retch of the purge.

This went on for years, though, like much of my addictive behavior, it would subside for periods, often for several months in duration. But it would always return when the insecurities resurfaced.

I became obsessed with the unattainable goal of physical perfection, and the shallowness of that pursuit gradually replaced any concept of spiritual evolution that might have existed before. I began to value myself more for how I looked than for how I behaved.  

In other words, my body became more important than my soul.

Even after I was officially rescued from the choppy waters of the dating pool by my wonderful partner Patrick, the old bulimia demon would occasionally pay me a visit during times of intense stress or when I went to pull on a pair of pants that were suddenly so tight they’d make my legs feel like giant polish sausages.  That feeling of disgust at myself, that inner monologue would assert itself, loud and on repeat:

you’re disgusting. You’re fat. You eat too much, you eat more than normal people eat. You are so weak, did you have to have three helpings of macaroni and cheese last night? What are you, a fucking child?”

GET RID OF IT.

I went to therapy, at Patrick’s insistence, and it provided a measure of relief, though never total remission. I learned some tools that I would occasionally utilize, and more frequently ignore. My weight would fluctuate from bone-thin to stout to chubby, and back again, over and over.  I fucked up my body in profound ways, my metabolism never quite being able to assess its base line and constantly trying to compensate for my self-destructive behavior.

body-fat-percentageAt one point, I even resorted to undergoing liposuction: one of the most painful and truly unnecessary tortures I’ve ever put my body through. I can barely write about that ordeal without cringing, both from embarrassment and recalled discomfort.

Finally though, I found a cure for my bulimia: crystal meth.

I didn’t start using meth as a method of controlling my bingeing and purging, it was simply a positive side-effect of not having any appetite at all. The pounds dropped away, I would pick like a finicky child at any food on my plate.

While my weight stayed low, and the voice  of the binge and purge demon was temporarily muffled, other…and more vicious…demons took its place, setting in motion the chain reaction of decades-long damage that inspired this blog in the first place.

The nature of meth abuse is that one rarely eats at all while using, so when one ceases using, the body is in starvation mode and instantly begins to cling to every calorie, every drop of moisture, and bloat and instant weight gain is the result.

Today, I have 45 days of recovery under my belt following my last relapse. They’ve been 45 incredibly difficult days, filled with residual fear and paranoia, self-hatred over my seeming inability to grasp my programs of recovery, and a sense of desperate clarity that this is perhaps my last chance to get it right.

They’ve also been filled with a new sense of God in my life, of hope, of rigorous honesty, and of an often-overwhelming sense of gratitude for those around me who have supported me – and continue to support me – regardless of my cataclysmic fuck-ups.

I am also now battling the binge-and-purge demon once again: that voice that is telling me that the 160 pound, meth-addled Andy is the better, more attractive Andy.  The voice that is telling me that I have no self-control, that I will never amount to anything If I can’t even control my eating. The voice that silently whispers to me “do a little speed. no one has to know, and you’ll be able to fit into those jeans again in no time. You’ll be fine, just manage it a little better this time.”  Of course, that voice is lying to me, because I am utterly incapable of doing speed without anyone knowing, and of course I have absolutely zero ability to manage my meth use. I am powerless over that addiction, and manageability is the very hallmark of my drug use, whether I’m using it to get high, to lose weight, or for any other bullshit reason my tricky brain comes up with.

I’ve been steadily climbing up out of the pit of relapse, hand over hand, feet finding tentative purchase from which to push myself up higher towards the Sunlight of the Spirit.  I will not let the binge-and-purge demon drag me back down.

I still have the tools I learned in therapy a long time ago that will help me deal with my body issues today, to find peace with this nearly 25 pound weight-gain I’ve achieved in only forty-five days off the pipe. I’ve been reading voraciously the stories of those who have also battled eating disorders, and am currently in the middle of actress Maureen McCormick’s brave memoir, “Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding my True Voice.” These stories, and the inspiration I glean from them, are another of my tools to combat my bulimia.

But I have an even better tool, one that I’ve learned in the programs of recovery I use for my other addictions: prayer.

Today, I pray that I can love myself exactly as I am. Today, I pray that I can set myself free from the bondage of self.  Today, I pray that I can stop comparing myself to others negatively.  Today, I pray for the ability to recognize that I am fine just the way I am, and to understand that there are those who struggle with weight because of medical conditions, genetic pre-dispositions or other factors, and that my obsession with body-image is just as self-destructive as any chemical I put into my body.

I pray for constant appreciation of the fact that who I am far outweighs what I look like.

Today, I offer a prayer of gratitude that I still have a body that functions, that is healthy and that has not only been the mode of conveyance for my spirit for 49 years, but has also weathered and survived the punishments I’ve long inflicted upon it.

Today, I am 192 pounds of pure gratitude.

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Beware the Deviant Heterosexual

I am in crisis.

Not only am I apprehensive about the future of our society, I am downright sickened and revolted by what has been going on right under my nose my entire life.

Heterosexuals are NOT the innocuous, wholesome people they pretend to be.  I’ve not really been a champion OR an opponent of the cause of Heterosexual Marriage –  the truth is I never really gave it much thought.  Until now, that is.

All of my life I believed that heterosexuals…who i’ve tolerated rather patiently, I must say…were a little odd. Maybe “odd” is the wrong word. Let’s say, boring. Yes, boring is a better word. All that nine-to-five, 2.5 kids and a picket fence stuff just never interested me. Probably because it all just seemed so exhausting. But who was I to take a stand against them? Even my parents were heterosexuals, so I just accepted the status quo, believed them when they told me what they were all about, and never really investigated.

I’ve talked to Jesus about it over the years, because..and this has always been hard for me to admit….I am the only one in my family who is a normal, red-blooded homosexual. There, I said it. It feels good to be honest about that, finally. My brothers and sisters, who I love dearly in spite of their affliction, all reproduce at an alarming rate.  Jesus never really answered me directly, so I listened to the pastor at my church who told me that I had to keep loving them because they can’t help who they are. So, I’ve done my best to love them and respect them as human beings and have avoided even thinking about what it is they do with each other’s body parts at night (just typing that made me heave a little.)

Last night, however, while in the midst of writing a highly technical spec article for the Journal of Animal Husbandry, I innocently typed into the Bing Images search engine the innocuous search string ‘woman + sucks + horse + completion.”

The images that presented themselves upon hitting the return key are now forever burned into my consciousness.

vintage-wedding-cake-toppers-1 copyShocked, reeling, and thoroughly nauseated, I wanted to turn away. I wanted to scour my eye sockets with Ajax. I wanted to beat myself about the head and neck with the ornamental dildo/ashtray my partner and I received for our traditional wedding last year.

Regaining my breath as my spinning world began to right itself again, I found myself questioning everything I’ve ever taken for granted about the Lifestyle of the Heterosexual. THIS is what heterosexual women do when left to their own devices? when allowed to sexually express themselves? I recalled my late Aunt Becky who lived on a farm in upstate New York and how, when I was little,  she’d put me on one of the ponies and let it trot me around the corral. I now suddenly remembered (with the clarity only the distance of 40 years mixed with the recent viewing of bestiality search engine photo results can provide) the way Aunt Becky had stroked the pony’s mane and lovingly said it’s name before heading back over to the chicken enclosure to do God only knows what.

My suspicions grew. Suddenly, I had more  questions that needed answering (except the one about the popularity of dude ranches as vacation destinations, that one has finally been put to bed.)

All these seemingly wholesome heteros walking hand and hand in the mall, aggressively smiling out from tv greeting card Valentine’s Day commercials, positively FLAUNTING their genial milquetoast relationships, bouncing little smiling white-toothed progeny on their shoulders….surely they couldn’t ALL be perverts, could they?

I had to know. I’d avoided this for far too long.

Bracing myself, I pulled my desk chair back up to the computer, and after steadying myself with a deep breath, began to compose in my brain the search string that would answer the question for me. I had to come up with just the right words if I was going to find the key to this shadow existence of the socially upright, so-called “respectable heterosexual,” so after about four seconds of deep and careful thought, typed in the phrase that magically presented itself to me, almost fully formed:

‘Tupperware + party + gang bang.’

And there it was: a hidden world of deviance revealed in all it’s burped and sealed-tight glory. Was nothing sacred to these filthy animals?

Suddenly, on a mission, I began what turned out to be a three-hour search frenzy that culminated at 5 am with the search string  ‘Two + Girls + One + Cup.’

The sun is coming up now, illuminating a world that looks so different to me today (part of that, I suppose, is due to several hours of non-stop projectile vomiting.) I see now the danger of allowing Heterosexuals to marry, to celebrate their sickness in some depraved mockery of our own sacred same-sex rites. If I allow straight marriage to happen without taking a stand, then I am, by my silence, advocating the practice of tentacle sex (that’s something they do, I swear to God. I saw it on the internet.) And tentacle sex  is something I will NOT allow.

ishot-1205441So, I implore you, my homosexual brothers and sisters, take a stand against Heterosexual Marriage. Let these deviants know that you’re on to their “normal by day, sex fiends by night” ruse. Do your own research, don’t trust me (if you need some good search strings, let me know.)  Write your representatives in Congress. Post on Facebook. The world has to know what these sick bastards are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms and on public transportation really late at night. 

But first you must take the most important step: look your straight friends in the eye and say loudly and with great conviction, “I’m on to you. I know what you do in your bedroom. I SAW IT ON THE INTERNET.”

Then, immediately inform them that you will no longer be asking them to ‘care’ for your dogs the next time you have to go out of town.

THEY MUST BE STOPPED. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for their children. And if you can’t do it for their children, do it for the horses or the tupperware.

Thank you.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  when searching for images, do not be fooled by the copious amount of anal sex these heterosexuals are having. It’s the only normal thing they seem to do, and even THAT they’ve taken to excess. So don’t start feeling sympathetic or thinking of them as human like us just because they have SO MUCH ANAL SEX.  Ignore the TONS AND TONS AND TONS AND TONS of anal sex these sick heterosexuals have and the photos they love taking of it, it’s only an attempt to look normal like us. And we’ve been fooled for far too long.

final note: this, of course, is SATIRE, a response to conservative idiots spewing this kind of bullshit for far too long:

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…….

My First Monster

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

                                                      Convicted child rapist, Father Oliver O’Grady

May, 1978

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I lift my head to look into his smiling eyes.

(Yellow moons! Pink stars!)

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

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

(Magically delicious!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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