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Follow Jesus or Go to Hell

 

BillboardJesusNOVEMBER 2006:

The Ford Explorer glides down the Grapevine, the nickname given the last giant slope of the mountain range that separates Southern California from the state’s Central Valley.  We dive  headlong down through the perennial blanket of grey clouds that hang, depressingly, over this place in the winter months.  It is late November, and I am headed back into  a cultural and emotional wasteland of vineyards, orchards, endless pastures and bland, uninspiring towns with bland, uninspiring names like Earlimart and Goshen.  I am heading into the valley of my youth, the place I struggled for years to escape.  I am heading into this place that evinces only feelings of hopelessness, despair and floundering restlessness.  But perhaps most agitating of all: my mother is driving the car that is taking me there, against my will.

My head resting against the passenger window, my tired eyes half-register the still-familiar scenery as it passes by: the angled furrows of plowed fields creating a strobe-like visual effect: grain silos, occasional clusters of cattle, and an abundance of weathered Christian and Pro-Life billboards, one of which proclaims block-letter loudly:  “Follow Jesus or Go to Hell.”  With its wealth of agriculture – endless expanses of orchards, cattle ranches and vineyards – a stranger might find this part of the Golden State charming, at the very least.  There is nothing remotely charming about it to me, though, having grown up gay and closeted in this dust-bowl-migration-settled, ultra conservative, west coast buckle of the bible belt. To me, living here had always felt like being involuntarily enrolled in an intensive, years-long study of The Art of Not Belonging.

I steal a surreptitious glance at my mother, studying her through a thick haze of lingering antipsychotic medication and simple exhaustion.  I see a nearly sixty-year old woman who I love dearly, and my heart breaks for a moment as I think of the pain and worry I have caused her.  The sadness is immediately replaced by a bitter resentment, and I realize that I blame her, on some level, for this journey I do not want to be taking.

If she hadn’t been so willing to agree…no, collude with Patrick’s demand that I go directly to live with her instead of coming home with him, I might have been able to convince him, once again, that I would change. I’d get clean, I’d go back to program, I’d do anything. I promise. I promiseI mean it this time, I’ve learned my lesson!  Instead, upon being released from the Psych ward at Glendale Memorial just a little over an hour ago, walking through the parking garage with Patrick and trying to tear the plastic ID band from my wrist, I noticed my mother up ahead, standing next to our Explorer.

Which, strangely, was parked next to our CRV. Why were both of our cars here? Confused at first, happy in that moment to see her, I started to speak.

“Mom? What are…”  Then, I noticed that the back of the Explorer was packed to the roof liner with my  belongings. I saw, among the hastily stuffed-in piles of clothing pressed against the back window, the grey power cord of my iMac snaked along the glass like some bizarre modern art meets herpetology exhibit.

So, it was done. After 13 years together, our home was no longer going to be my home.

I had thought about resisting, about gathering some of my clothes and belongings that were within arms reach (why, thank you – so convenient!) stuffing them into a bag and heading out on foot to Sycamore Park near our Mount Washington home. I’d slept on occasion in a small gully at the back of the park that backed up to the 110 freeway a few of the times when Patrick had grown frightened of my behavior and changed the locks.   Even in the summer, though, it was a noisy, sad, uncomfortable existence, and I had little desire to seek refuge there on a cold winter night.

I turned and faced Patrick, and said icily, “Fuck you.”

I waited for the pain to show on his face, the usual sharp flinch, the heart-breaking “please, I love you, don’t talk to me that way” crinkle of his eyes. By now we were both fairly  used to this routine. But this time, all I saw was steely resolve in his eyes, in the angry set of his jaw.

Shit, I thought. He’s serious this time.

Then his eyes had suddenly welled up, and as he opened his arms and took a step forward,  I had my words ready: another “fuck you,” for certain, and  maybe a “don’t you fucking touch me, you bastard.”

Then, I realized he was moving to hug my mother, not me. Then suddenly they were  both crying, holding each other tight, shaking and sobbing and annoying the living hell out of me.

They’re crying?  I’m basically being kidnapped…yes, kidnapped – freshly freed from a weeklong lunatic pajama party – and  forced to move back to fucking shithole Turlock with my mother and they’re crying? What kind of bullshit was this?

I wanted to punch them both, grab them each by the hair and clank their heads together hard, three stooges-style. Instead, I climbed angrily into the passenger seat, started to pull the door closed, then stopped to yell hoarsely, “you’d better have all my stuff in here or I will drive back and fucking steal every fucking thing you own, you stupid motherfucker!” 

______________________________________

Now, as the Explorer forges north into the valley, I feel another surge of anger at this woman who has been interfering for so long in my private life.  Every relapse, every hospitalization lately has ended with a visit from my mother. Her visits are so frequent that I’ve become jealous of the close relationship she has formed with my partner, even as my relationship with him has deteriorated. Huddled at the kitchen table, talking in whispers, a clearing of throats and sudden silence when I’d enter the room. Conspiracy, it felt like. Still feels like.

Fortunately, in this moment, I am  too numb to lash out at her.  The last three weeks – the meth binge, the psychosis, the police, the involuntary commitment and the inundation with sedatives and antipsychotics have been so completely enervating, so absolutely soul-destroying, that there is no fight left in me. Finally, I am out of options, I have burned every bridge, and I am too depleted even for tears.

I redirect my gaze to the two lanes of Highway 99 as they fly by under the hood, and my hazy consciousness drifts,  fighting off the panic and despair that threaten to overwhelm me completely.  I can’t beat back the feeling that I am heading in the wrong direction, in every sense.  Literally,  figuratively, metaphorically, emotionally, physically.  The sense of failure, the sense of loss, grows with every mile that we place between this vehicle and Los Angeles…and Patrick.  But I can’t think about Patrick right now, because I know that what he is feeling at this very moment is not despair.  I am as certain as I am of anything right now that what he is experiencing is a feeling of relief.  Relief that I am now someone else’s problem, relief that he can focus on putting the building blocks of his life back together – without fear that the giant, ham-fisted toddler I’ve become will knock them over again.

Turlock gets closer with every minute and it is almost too much to comprehend that I am going back there, involuntarily, to live with my mother.  I am returning in disgrace to a place I’ve regarded with resentment and distaste for as long as I can remember.  I am broke, I am sick, and I feel like I will never be right again.  Too much has happened, too many people have been hurt, and I have disgraced and debased myself far beyond the human spirit’s capacity to heal.  It feels as if I am being driven to my own death, and the greatest sadness I feel is the knowing that death probably won’t come, that I might actually have to live through whatever it waiting for me at the end of this drive.

I’ve learned over the last few years that even death doesn’t take me seriously: I’ve courted it, pleaded for it, smoked, slammed, fucked and sucked my way  towards it.  I’ve fallen into comas on it’s doorstep, but have always been pulled back at the last minute by some intervention, some quirk of circumstance: Patrick arrive home a moment before the flatline, a crack team of paramedics, a skilled surgeon, or the simple genetic factor of a former runner’s horse-strong heart.

I startle as I see a face in the reflection of the sunlight in the windshield, glaring at me, gently shimmering along with the light.  I close my eyes, open them again, and it is gone.  The faces have been with me for years now, watching, judging, condemning.  Always silent and vaguely malevolent, they have stared back at me from mirrors and other reflective surfaces.  Gradually, over the years of my methamphetamine use, these faces have grown more threatening, and have slowly become more three-dimensional, more solid in form, often half-human, half-animal.  Recently, I have begun to hear them whispering to me. Urging me to suicide, reaffirming my worthlessness, heartily concurring that I have no good reason for which to live.  The antipsychotics dished out in the mental ward over the past couple of weeks – the Seroquel, the Risperdal – successfully diminish these apparitions and their voices, but have not eradicated them completely. 

The drive continues in silence, and at some point I fall asleep, lulled into slumber by the continued monotony of the landscape.

I wake up when the vehicle stops, three hours later, and I realize we are home.  More precisely, we are at my mother’s house, the house I grew up in and which I still reflexively refer to as home even though I’ve not lived there for over 20 years. I silently vow that I will never, ever make the mistake of calling this place home. Home is the house in Mount Washington, home is the house where my dogs Jane and Steve and Sherman live.

As she turns off the ignition, my mother looks over at me, and she makes an obvious attempt to mask her concern with an overenthusiastic smile.

“We’re here,” she says, a little too brightly.

“Yup,” I reply grimly, looking away from her and back at the green, nondescript tract house.

“I know your brother is looking forward to seeing you,” she almost chirps, a cartoon Disney bluebird terribly out-of-place in this sordid pulp fiction reality.

structurally, the house is exactly as it has always been, since it was built in 1976.  The contents have changed over the years, walls repainted, floors re-laid, but the essence of this house and the people, situations and emotions it held are still stunningly intact.  The presence of my father, who was divorced from my mother years ago and has since moved to Louisiana, is still apparent in the some of the disturbingly bad Do It Yourself work.  Small things – crooked bookshelves, an unevenly tiled bathroom floor – still provide stark evidence of his apparent inability to wield a level or read a tape measure correctly.

My younger brother, Rob, greets me in the living room.  He and his fiancé have temporarily moved back in with my mother while they save money to buy a house, converting the two-car garage into a large living space.  His welcome is almost too cheerful, as if he’s been practicing it in the mirror to make it sound convincing. I study his eyes, and I discern immediately that the figurative “Golden Boy” sash I’d worn for so many years is no longer just stained and frayed, but has vanished completely.  I have always been the one in the family who tried everything, and succeeded at most of it. I was the individualist, the non-conformist, the sexual adventurer, the one who shared  exciting stories of a life lived without fear or provincial, prudish limitations.

Now, I am the sick one, the jobless one; the one who makes our mother cry.

My almost-two-decades parole from this place – my own personal hell –  has been rescinded , and it is time to begin paying for my sins.

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)

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.

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