Today is day 97.
If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I’ve struggled with sobriety for a long time. Since 2002, specifically. During that time, I’ve been both a chronic…ie, daily…user, and I’ve also been a binge user (using for short periods of time, then stopping for either years or months).
Therefore, I’ve had many “97 days” in the past, each of them a different experience: some relatively easy, others that were much more difficult.
THIS 97 days has been, without exaggeration, the longest and most difficult 97 days of my life. Not because of the persistent delusional thinking and paranoia my meth use induced, not because of the fear those symptoms inspired, and not because of the physical side effects of the psychiatric medications I’ve been taking to deal with all of it.
It’s been the most difficult because this time around, I truly value recovery. Remembering the joy I took in simple sober existence before my catastrophic relapse makes this experience of trying to regain my health all the more frustrating. Having had…just a little over three months ago… the gifts of self-confidence and lightened spirit has made this current fumbling and clawing towards inner peace all the more bitter and frustrating.
The paranoia lasted a good portion of those 97 days. The irrational feeling that I was being observed at all times, that I was being followed by cars everywhere I went via some tracking device implanted either on my person, on my vehicle…or just via my cellphone’s GPS…is exactly the same each and every time I use crystal meth. In the past, however, this delusion has waned after several days off the drug, several weeks at most. This time, the terror persisted for almost three months.
Initially, I was prescribed the anti-psychotic Risperdal to deal with the psychosis. In the past, this has been my go-to drug for these symptoms: very few side effects, and very fast-acting. This time however, it made barely a dent in the paranoia. I kept taking it, though, praying it would kick in and begin to ease my body out of its constant flight-or-fight state of anxiety and tension.
The paranoia grew to such a fever pitch that I would stand inside my doorway before leaving the house, saying a prayer of protection, quoting scripture: “There is no fear in (God’s) love. (God’s) perfect love casts aside all fear,” before venturing down the stairs, to the car port and into my Honda CRV. I’d grip the steering wheel and pray my way to a recovery meeting, arriving a nervous wreck, literally shaking with fear. I did this almost every night, and early on, each and every drive was a new experience in terror. Everything I saw on the road applied to me, somehow. One night, on the way home from a meeting, a car pulled in front of me and began driving slowly…far too slowly to not be trying to annoy me, it seemed. A bumper sticker ran the length of its rear, reading “Slow as Fuck.” A message to me, obviously, that I had not and could not learn my lesson: that each time I relapse, these cars will be there to torment me. Cars with one headlight were suddenly everywhere, and there was a stretch of time when I could not drive anywhere at night without being tailed by a truck with its brights on, blinding me until I would finally flip the rear-view mirror up towards the roof liner and continue driving without being able to see behind me. On the day I celebrated 30 days of sobriety, another car pulled in front of me, driven by an older man. The car was red, a nondescript sedan of some sort, with two silver, melted-soldering-material numbers affixed to its trunk: a three, and of course, a zero. 30. Helicopters were suddenly constantly overhead, and fire emergency vehicles seemed to be everywhere as well. It felt like some secret society had decided that I was an undesirable of some sort and needed to be tormented.
While I knew, intellectually, that I was in psychosis, it felt absolutely as if it were really happening. It still feels as if it really happened, if I’m to be completely honest. And as anyone who has experienced methamphetamine psychosis will tell you, it always will to some degree.
Websites claiming the existence of citizen vigilante/surveillance groups…(like this one)…did not help. Other recovering addicts recounting, almost exactly, the same types of experiences also made it difficult to eschew them as pure delusion.
I felt wracked with shame for a while, for my meth-fueled sexual indulgences, and it seemed as if all of these people in these cars were trying to further shame me. It was debilitating. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically.
In the midst of this insanity, an angel in human form stepped into my life. A friend, who I’d only ever communicated with via text messages and who lived primarily in Las Vegas, came to Los Angeles to deal with some business concerns. Also in recovery, he saw immediately the scared look in my eyes, my tensed body posture. I could barely communicate, being on the verge of tears or rage or an emotional breakdown almost constantly. For almost two weeks, while my brain healed, Rob would drive me to recovery meetings every night. He would check in on me every morning. Initially, in the throes of paranoia, I suspected he might be one of “them,” charged with gathering further intelligence that could be used to torture me psychologically. Like a seasoned delusional stalking victim, however, I played along, occasionally feeding him misinformation in order to confuse my tormentors. What he thought about me during that time, barely two months ago, would probably embarrass me to no end today if he were to be completely honest with me about it. Eventually, of course, we forged a friendship out of this crucible of insanity, recovery meetings and the drives to and from them.
I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for this man. My suicidal thoughts would come and go back then, appearing suddenly from nowhere and then disappearing again, just as fleetingly, to be replaced by a flicker of hope. The flicker was usually lit by Rob, whose sense of humor is not only ribald but absolutely irrepressible. I’d find myself laughing at something ridiculous he would say, my mind temporarily diverted from the fear and the hopelessness.
I can never repay Rob for the gift he gave me: taking a paranoid psychotic meth addict and friending him almost by force. I believe he saved my life, and he joins the ranks of others who have given of themselves to help me: my husband Patrick, my friends Mykee, Phillip, Le Maire and Maria, my recovery guru Jonathan, my mother, and a small handful of others who have tolerated my insanity and walked with me through the darkest corners of my self-created shadow world.
The paranoia lasted so long this time that I actually began to get used to it. After two months, the fear was mostly gone. I still felt like I was being followed, still noticing things that seemed beyond mere coincidence, but I just didn’t care anymore. Abject fear melted into apprehension. Much of that had to do with the shame beginning to dissipate. Yes, I’d engaged in dark behaviors, but nothing that isn’t going on in a hundred thousand households even as I type these words.
Last week, I switched anti-psychotic medications, and am now on a small dose of a drug called Abilify. It began working almost immediately. With those results, however, came some profound side-effects: dizziness, sleeplessness, and…disappointingly, for someone dealing with sex addiction issues…increased libido. It also makes writing difficult, and this blog entry has taken me hours to write when before it would have taken twenty minutes. It’s all worth it, of course.
The entire episode, the full three months of terror, has been worth it in some ways.
I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that even in my most fearful moments, I am brave. I am not the type of person who is prone to self-compliments, I am definitely more of the self-effacement variety. Yet, somehow, during these months of hell, I managed to face my fear each and every day (sometimes with the help of Rob, God bless him) and drive to a meeting. I refused to give in, refused to give up. I still do. I know from past experience that the paranoia will continue to return when least expected, but that doesn’t scare me. This feeling of being hunted, real or imagined, no longer bothers me. I’m a human being, fallible as every other human being. I’m a sexual being, and I no longer feel shame about that fact. God made me the way I am, and God makes no mistakes. I will eventually learn from my fuckups, even if I am a slow learner…(yes, slow as fuck sometimes)…and I will continue to make new mistakes. But I am committed to making them in sobriety, and to dealing with the repercussions promptly.
I have also learned even at my sickest, I am valuable, I am lovable. Thank you, Rob, for all you have done and continue to do for me. Maintaining sobriety can sometimes feel like a never-ending war, and I am so grateful to you for being at my side for the duration of the first great battle of this..hopefully my last…period of sobriety.
I have 97 days today of honest recovery, and I am proud of each and every fucking one of them.
In the eighties, when I was still a rabid atheist, there was a song I used to listen to when I was feeling lost.
It was a beautiful ballad by the Irish band In Tua Nua called “The Innocent and Honest Ones.” I’d listen to this song, often after a night of raucous, drunken debauchery (this was when alcohol was still my primary drug of choice), whatever random coupling that had just occurred only serving to intensify the constant ache of loneliness. My raging hatred towards God, dulled by countless screwdrivers, would subside for a while, and I would take in the lyrics:
“I wanna believe in you, If I can find a way
I see signs of you each and every day
You’re in the Innocent and the Honest ones
The liberators and the selfless ones
In the forests and the air they give
the few oceans where life still lives
I wanna believe in You, not corrupt institutions
You’re a feeling inside, not rules or regulations
You gave us sexuality, desire is no sin
You gave us common sense, but not in a catechism
You’re in the Innocent and the Honest Ones
In retrospect, I was a terrible atheist. One can not be angry with something one doesn’t actually believe in. So perhaps I was never truly an atheist, rather, I was just someone who was so angry at God that I chose to ignore Him, the way a fifth-grader will suddenly cold-shoulder a classmate they’ve been friends with for years over some schoolyard slight.
Yet, drunk and lonely, I found myself wanting to believe. The song encapsulated everything that I felt about religion: anger, frustration, and a belief that God…if he existed…was – to quote the song – in the innocent and the honest ones.
The problem was, I stopped feeling “innocent” around the age of eleven, thanks to the Catholic church and its policy of protecting child molesters. I certainly didn’t feel “honest,” either…by that time in my twenties I already had a closet full of secrets I’d been holding on to for years. Lies kept me safe. Lies kept me from being judged. Lies allowed me to walk around safely in a time when an admission of homosexuality could be extremely dangerous. Lies kept me from having to let anyone know how dirty, how damaged, how very sick and tainted and dark I felt inside, thanks to early exposure to hardcore pornography and the truly evil Father Oliver O’Grady. Lying…outright or by omission…was my defense mechanism, almost reflexive at times. Every word, before it left my mouth, had to be weighed and assessed before it could be spoken to make sure it wouldn’t accidentally betray the bright, shiny, wholesome, blond and tan golden boy image I had so carefully cultivated.
And so it went, into my thirties, and into my forties. As I matured, I did learn how to be honest about things I’d lied about in the past. And when I began seeking recovery for the first time in earnest 14 months ago, I began talking honestly about my feelings and my secrets on this blog…and it was liberating.
Honesty, however, still doesn’t always come to me as quickly or as reflexively as lying does. It’s ingrained. And that lack of honesty is what aids and abets my disease of addiction. Not just lying to you, but the lying I do to myself.
Last night, I attended a recovery meeting with about 60 other recovering crystal meth addicts. These are people I have come to care about deeply over the past fourteen months, people who have supported me, loved me, even celebrated my one-year milestone of “recovery” in my backyard swimming pool. The gentleman who shared his story last night could have been reciting my own. He shared openly and honestly about having lied during his initial experience in recovery – how he had used amyl nitrate (a sex-enhancing inhalant, aka poppers) during the period he had claimed to be sober. He actually made eye contact with me…and held it…while he related this information. It was disturbing, it was like he was looking into my eyes and seeing my own lies swimming inside them.
I felt horrible. I felt ashamed. I understood in that moment that I can not keep lying to myself, to others, to anyone…if I want to live. And I want to live. I want to beat this disease. I want to kick it, strangle it, wrestle it to the ground and choke it into submission, tear out its fangs and humiliate it the way it’s humiliated me.
So, I stood up and told the truth.
I told the room that during the 13 months I had claimed to be sober, I had actually used inhalants as well, despite the fact that doing so clearly constitutes a relapse in this recovery program. I had justified using them: they weren’t really a mind-altering substance (the truth: they are), they kept me from using meth, so what’s the problem? (the truth: they didn’t keep me from using meth, obviously), and I’d been using them since my early twenties and they weren’t a problem then, so why should I consider them a problem now? (the truth: then, I hadn’t found crystal meth, now meth and poppers are both inextricably tied in to the twisted relationship I have with sex).
It was, perhaps, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I felt dirty, I felt like I’d disappointed every person in that room, I felt exposed for the liar that I am. The liar I don’t want to be any more.
After I shared that information, I fled the room: partially because I needed to call my sobriety “guru” (euphemism required) and tell him before anyone else in that room had a chance to text or call him, and partially because I felt humiliated.
Since that admission, just last evening, I’ve received a flood of emails and texts from recovery friends telling me how “brave” I was to stand up and be honest. I so deeply appreciate each and every one of those messages, but the truth is, I don’t consider what I did brave. What I consider brave is the ability to live honestly each and every day…being honest with myself, and with others. What I did last night was an act of desperation, not an act of bravery. Because I AM desperate.
I’ve received some messages from friends in recovery, basically saying that I don’t have to tell everyone, that when it comes to poppers there’s some wiggle room as to whether it constitutes a relapse. For me, though, there is no wiggle room. That wiggle turns to writhing, the writhing ultimately turns to relapse on crystal meth. No wiggling allowed, at least not for me.
My friend DC has a saying he uses frequently: “Some people are too busy trying to save face that they forget to save their ass.”
I want to save my ass, not my face.
Because the next relapse will kill me. I’m absolutely certain of it.
I’ve always cared too much about what people think about me. I want people to like me. But I’m done with that. If my telling the truth about the fact that I lied about my sobriety makes you hate me, so be it.
I’m done beating myself up. I’m no longer going to aid and abet the world’s…and my disease’s…propensity to do that on its own.
Because I want to live far more than I want to be liked.
I’m done with shame. I’m done with the lying. I’m done caring what anyone thinks of me, unless it’s because I’ve transgressed against them in some way that requires amends.
I have twelve HONEST days of sobriety today, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.
I’m grateful for my friends who have shown me so much love, even in the face of this recent admission.
I’m grateful for my sobriety guru Jonathan, who told me last night, “I’ve never been more proud of you.”
I am grateful for my husband Patrick, who loves me unconditionally, even when he’s had to lay down appropriate boundaries to protect himself.
I’m grateful for the presence of God in my life today.
If you read this, and you see me in person after, please don’t tell me that I’m brave. You can tell me that you’re proud of me, and that you love me, if in fact you feel those things. But direct the bravery comments to those who have earned them by maintaining an honest recovery in the face of trying circumstances.
I will never again be innocent, but today – thus far – i’ve been honest.
I’m no kid in a kid’s game
I did what I did, I’ve got no one to blame
But I don’t give up, no, I don’t ever give up
It’s all I’ve got, it’s my claim to fame
I’m no fighter but I’m fighting
This whole world seems uninviting
But I don’t give up, no, I don’t ever give up
I fall down sometimes, sometimes I come back flying
My stomach is flatter than it’s been in a long, long time. If the lighting is just right, I believe there’s an actual six-pack happening there.
Unfortunately, that’s about the best I can muster on the positive-thinking front.
There, it’s been said. Or rather, typed, for the pedantic among you.
I’m not sure how to begin writing about this. So much shame, so much sadness. My head is still clouded from a week-long crystal meth binge, so maybe I’ll start with more recent events and work backward.
I spent Sunday alone in my bedroom (my husband is in Scotland doing his show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), smoking meth and watching porn. Pretty much par for the course, except that I wasn’t getting quite as high as I wanted to. Something wasn’t working. I added poppers (amyl nitrate inhalant) to the mix. That helped, but only a little. I smoked more, and tried exhaling into a plastic bag and sucking the vapor back into my lungs…out again, in again, the bag inflating and deflating like some strange medical device. That did it. My head was now swimming in a sea of meth fog, and it felt amazing. My dick, however, was not feeling it. Shriveled and cold, it refused to respond to the lurid images on the television screen.
More poppers. Nothing.
I retrieved a packet of those over-the-counter male “enhancement” pills, and popped them both.
I sat back and waited.
Nothing again. Dammit.
Then, I recalled a trick that someone had told me about, long ago during a previous relapse.
I pulled out the baggie of meth and retrieved a small sliver of the glass-like crystal. Grimacing with disgust and apprehension, I gently inserted the tiny shard into a very, very small orifice that should NEVER have anything described as a shard inserted into it. I’m far too embarrassed to say where I put that piece of crystal, but I’ll help you figure it out by telling you it was not a nostril, it was not my ass, it was not my ears, eyes nor mouth.
I’ll give you moment.
Okay, good. You’ve got it.
Now, I’ll give you a moment so you can blanch like I am right now, maybe even puke if you are of a sensitive disposition.
Back with me? okay.
I lay back in my bed, and waited to see what would happen.
I didn’t have long to wait: almost immediately, a feeling of cold washed over my body, and I shuddered. Next, a uniform sheen of sweat covered my skin from head to toe. I got out of bed and put a heavy bathrobe on, pulling it closed around myself. I got back into bed and waited for this weird feeling to pass.
It didn’t. Instead, it escalated until I was shaking so hard from chills that I had to clench my teeth closed to keep from biting my tongue.
My body went from cold to hot, back to cold and then back to hot again like a fucking thermostat with faulty wiring. My head was filled with the sound of my heart beating: Whoosh….Whoosh….Whoosh.
At this point, I suspected I was dying. I should have used my remaining strength to dial my cell phone, call 911, call a friend, ask for help.
But I didn’t want help. I wanted to die. I hadn’t intended for this to happen, but this seemed a very fitting way for someone like me to go out. Obvious, yes. Predictable, yes. But fitting. The thought of looking into yet another pair of disappointed eyes was completely unbearable to me.
I thought of my husband in Scotland, and of all I’ve put him through in our years together. I scrawled a barely intelligible goodbye note to him, pathetic as all the other ones in the past, and then somehow managed to put down a large bowl of water and another of food for my dogs, who seemed very stressed out watching their daddy stumble around the house trying to take breaths that were increasingly harder to muster. I was nervous it would take a couple of days for my body to be found, and I didn’t want my dogs going hungry during that time. I also didn’t want them snacking on my toxic corpse, to be completely honest.
That’s pretty much the last thing I remember, until waking up a couple of hours later on the daybed under the giant tree in our garden, still shivering, my hands and feet cold and numb, the rosary that usually hung over our bed inexplicably around my neck. I’m not sure why I went outside, but if past experience is any indication, I probably didn’t want to die inside the house Patrick would be living in when he returned from Europe. Kinda funny how I can muster tiny bits of respect when necessary, but completely disregard the big-picture respect that would have kept me from doing meth in the home we share. Funny, but absolutely not funny at the same time. Kinda like a Benny Hill episode, I suppose.
I lay there for another hour or so, waiting to see which way this was gonna go. Still shaking uncontrollably, still covered in goose-flesh despite the warm night air. Forcing myself to slow down my breathing, crying from the guilt and the shame and that feeling of complete despair.
Finally, I texted my friend Mykee: Mykee, I’m in trouble. I need your help.
He was by my side in under an hour, despite not having a driver’s license or a vehicle, his arm around me and comforting me in soothing tones that began to steady my breathing. Two hours later, around midnight, my friend Phillip showed up, enveloping me with even more love that I felt completely undeserving of. As I lobbed comments filled with self-hate in their direction, they would each bat them away with the expertise of a Billie Jean King or a John McEnroe.
“I’m so ashamed.” (“there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing has changed except a date.”)
“I’m so sorry I lied to you.” (“that’s what we addicts do…we lie. It’s normal.”)
I love these men so much. I still can’t believe what they did for me Sunday night: calming me down, reassuring me that I was not going to die. One of the benefits of sobriety, besides sobriety itself, is the close friendship I’ve formed with these men. It pains me so much to know I’ve lied to their faces, not to mention my beautiful husband, my mentor Jonathan, and the two beautiful young people I was helping with their own sobriety.
Right now, two days later, I feel sick. Physically and mentally. Crystal meth use creates a brain fog that allows entire days…weeks, even…to roll by without solidly imprinting on the brain memories of the events that occurred. It is only when one stops using, and the drug fades from the bloodstream, that these shameful memories begin to emerge, flickering into my consciousness like a horror movie footage spliced randomly into a sitcom.
I’m scared. I’m disappointed in myself. I feel hopeless.
I’ve already made the initial round of painful phone calls: my sobriety mentor, my husband, my mother, and my two dear friends I mentored until this relapse. Now, I’m doing the other thing I’m ready to do at this point: write about it.
The coming weeks are going to be filled with much rebuilding, much introspection and a lot of humility. I’m still too foggy to place my finger with any certainty on the reasons for this relapse, though I can say with some certainty that sex probably had a lot to do with it. The specifics, the underlying feelings that triggered it, are going to take some time and some clarity to ascertain. But I will ascertain them, and I will use that information to make sure this never happens again.
I’m not sure what benefit this post offers anyone aside from myself. But right now, writing about this is going to take a huge weight of guilt and shame and secrets off of my shoulders. Maybe, perhaps, someone who is thinking of relapsing….or who has relapsed but things haven’t gotten too ugly yet….will read this and recommit to sobriety.
Part of me wants to give up, throw in the towel…but I know I need to get back on the recovery horse. That the horse seems to be staring at me with contempt, disgust and judgement is only a figment of my imagination. I’ve been here before, many times. And I’m tired of it. I hate this fucking place, and that fucking horse is the only way out of here.
I’m sorry. Yup, that’s me, saying “sorry” again. I’m sorry for lying to my husband. I’m sorry for lying to my friends. I’m sorry for bailing on commitments with lame or zero explanations. I’m sorry for ignoring my higher power, and I’m sorry I stopped praying. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.
This public mea culpa is my first boot in the stirrup.
I have a lot of work to do now. Please keep me in your prayers. I’ll need as many as I can get.
This was written almost a year ago, while on meth, two weeks before I began my recovery. It’s probably the most brutally honest thing I’ve ever written about my addiction, and I’m sharing this very personal journal entry because it shows so clearly the desperate state of my mind and soul at the time. In this, I ask myself a lot of questions that, at the time, I had no answer for. I feel so sad for this guy and his clueless self-pity, but because I know that two weeks after he wrote this he’s going to start finding the answers he’s so desperately looking for, I also feel great happiness reading this again for the first time since it was written. Today, I have the answers for most of the questions I asked myself when I wrote this..or at least, some insight into my addict behaviors. I’ll soon be marking the one-year anniversary of the beginning of what has been the most amazing year of my life, and I’m incredibly grateful for everyone and everything that has been a part of my recovery.
If you’re still struggling, just STOP. Breathe. You don’t have to drink or use or punish yourself in other ways ever again. Surrender to recovery. I wish I’d done it years ago. The view from here is breathtaking. Trust me. I have a long way to go still, but it’s been an amazing journey thus far.
Well, here I am again. Five months of continued use, and I’m already beginning to feel that strange disconnect from reality. Strange things that probably aren’t even that strange…that sub-current of paranoia that indicates the effect this drug is having on my brain. The voices are just starting to whisper again in the damned shower and sinks. Cars following me. Not to mention the damage that I’m doing to myself and to my relationship. And to my new “career.” I’m finally at the very beginning of the path to regaining financial stability..the very beginning, I should emphasize…and i’m jeopardizing it as carelessly as if my past experiences have taught me nothing. Lying to everyone, acting like the sage, wise recovered person when, in fact, I’m living the life of a failure and a fucking liar.
It’s not just the drugs, it’s the sexual compulsions I’ve been battling all my life. I don’t know why sexual gratification, even in its ugliest forms, acts as some weird kind of sedative of sorts for me. Maybe there isn’t anything complex about it at all, perhaps I’m just completely id-driven, a person who enjoys the control of my lower self.
I do know that being thin is part of it, and again, I don’t completely understand what that’s all about. I’ve got a partner (that he’s still here is a miracle of sort) who truly couldn’t care less if I’m thin or fat. So why do I care so much? Sometimes I think it’s because that lonely teenager I used to be is still fighting for attention or popularity or just to NOT be the chubby kid with the braces and those awful Buddy Holly glasses (back when Buddy Holly glasses weren’t cool at ALL.) Other times I have to admit it’s probably just rampant narcissism , as all the naked photos and videos of myself on my hard drive would seem to indicate. How narcissism and horrible self-esteem manage to co-exist in this fucked up head eludes me completely.
The thing about meth…okay, one thing among many things, is that it erodes my estimation of what is simply pleasure…the kind of pleasure everyone seeks and needs…and what is profoundly dark, compulsive and damaging to the psyche. There’s been too much of that in my life, and I know that it all stays in my brain whether i remember it or not. The way a song lyric I haven’t heard for years suddenly reappears. That dark callback of memory is part of my ritual of relapse: The memory is most strongly associated with feelings of pleasure and sensuality, NOT with the ramifications of disease or hurt or insanity I’ve had. If I could have those meth memories appear and have them trigger the self-loathing I feel today, then I suspect my relapsing would be much more infrequent. I suspect, anyway. But no, when I think of meth I think of wild, intense pleasure.
I still have a bag of meth I bought yesterday, and smoked far too much of last evening, to the point where Patrick even inquired as to whether or not I was using. I so badly want to tell him that I’ve relapsed, but I don’t feel ready. Not because I want to keep using (I do, believe me I DO), but because he will freak out and it will cause chaos in his life again because he’ll be dealing not only with his shows and the financial distress (another guilt item), but also with being preoccupied about my losing control again.
I’m going to try to get off the stuff again. I’m so sick of being a lying, filthy, fucking drug addict.
I’m going to start walking again, this afternoon, and hopefully I won’t pass out from exertion since I haven’t really exercised rigorously in six months. I think back to when I was happiest, last year, during those long stretches of time between my short infrequent relapses. I was getting my body healthy, I looked okay without purging, and Patrick and I were just beginning to reestablish trust. I’ve fucked that up yet again, and he deserves so much better. I say that all the time, yet I never seem to live as if I believe it. That has to change. I either have to clean up for good, or I have to leave him. This is completely unfair and, to be honest, absolutely evil behavior on my part.
I have to find a way to get beyond hating myself and punishing myself through sexual situations, which of course, is impossible with a drug that seems as if it were designed specifically to cause those types of behaviors. I used to use sex to make myself feel good about myself, and now it feels like i’m using it to punish myself. I think I need to focus on things that I am good at, and exercise those muscles. I need to think of myself as a good person, because somewhere under all this self-caused scar tissue, I know I’m a decent human being. I do care about others, even as I lie to them and cause them misery. Yet I have such a problem with accepting that it’s okay to just be me, average and mediocre Andy from the boring fucking Central Valley. I don’t know where this need to be perceived as interesting…or sexually desirable…or hip or cool or whatever….comes from. Truly, I’m not fooling anyone who really knows me, and i’ll never fucking believe it myself, so what’s the big imperative???
I’m lost right now, but I’m going to write in this journal every day. I think I need to write for ME, not as a showing off mechanism, a “look at me, I’m a battle-scarred survivor and these are my lurid, graphic stories that hopefully make me seem a little more Charles Bukowski and a little less average dork.” I need to work towards being in the middle of the road…where I actually DO reside…and feeling okay with it. I need to find ME again, if that’s even possible after all of this chaos and lying and alternate realities I’ve been manufacturing and then wallowing in for so fucking long. Even before I met Patrick. Even before I moved to Los Angeles, quite frankly. Who AM I? WHY do I do these terrible things to myself and to those around me? I want the answer to be, “because I was molested and because I was raised in a chaotic, unstable environment with occasional violence, and this is how I deal with it.” But I fear that may be a complete cop-out. In fact, I suspect it is. The more probable answer is the one that terrifies me the most, and that would be “because you are a conscienceless narcissist who is beyond redemption.”
I want to say, “Time will tell,” but I also fear that time has already spoken, and it didn’t fucking say what I wanted it to say.
I came out of my mother’s womb a shy kid. Even the earliest photos of me as a toddler show me peeking out from behind my mother’s legs, one hand half-covering my face. If there’s a yet-undiscovered ‘confidence gene,’ mine was certainly missing or at the very least, tragically mutated.
For a long time, I had believed that my pubescent encounter with the man the Central California newspapers dubbed “The Hannibal Lecter of Pedophile Priests” had ‘turned’ me gay. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I began to understand that I had been born gay, and that feeling of being different was one of the root causes of my shyness. It was that shyness, not my gayness, that had painted a “molest this kid” target on my forehead.
I didn’t have many friends in high school. I knew a lot of people, and a lot of people knew who I was, because I was appointed co-editor of the Turlock High School newspaper, The Clarion, my sophomore year. I didn’t have anyone I could truly confide in, though. My yearbooks are full of year-end wishes to “have a great summer” or “to a guy who doesn’t talk much but seems nice” kind of sentiments..but not one of them indicates that anyone during those four years knew me on a more than cursory level.
There was one notable exception, however: my girlfriend C____, who from my junior year on I paraded around campus in all her big-breasted, blond beauty like I was the Grand Marshall of my own “See, I love pussy!” parade. Even C_____, however, didn’t really know me. In retrospect, I did love her, and we dated for three years. The sex was frequent, but less a product of actual desire than a continued reflexive reaction to any homosexual feelings that might arise. A fantasy about a male classmate would illicit shame and self-disgust, so I’d use C_____ to prove to myself that I could, in fact, have ‘normal’ sex. I cared about her deeply…I’m not a sociopath…but I think I cared even more about protecting myself and my image (I’m sorry to this day for all the women I used in that manner, and where possible, I’ve tried to make amends for that behavior.)
Back then, on the outside, I tried (probably unsuccessfully) to exude confidence and masculinity – driving a Chevy Stepside pickup truck (replete with roach clip feather dangling from the rear view mirror) and growing a cheesy porno ‘stache – but on the inside I was a seething cauldron of anxiety, self-pity and rage. I hated myself, and every moment of my high school life felt like a charade. My only goal was to get through those years without my secret being discovered. The secret being that I was damaged goods, that I often fantasized about the other boys on campus, and the secret that not a week went by without my fantasizing about killing myself.
I recently found my high school diary. Reading it now, I realize that even though I kept this journal as a way of getting my feelings out (some pages are filled with nothing but raging expletives directed at schoolmates, my parents, pretty much the world), I was lying even to myself. One typical over-dramatic entry laments the necessity of taking drugs to fit in with my classmates. I had to have known this was bullshit even as I wrote it. True, the small group of people I could have gained acceptance from were the potheads, but it wasn’t my lack of experience smoking weed that kept me ostracized, it was my own inability to be authentic and to let my guard down. In this same entry, I also express a desire to change schools. I also must have known, intellectually at least, that starting over again at a new campus with an entirely new cast of strangers wouldn’t have solved anything, yet there it is, in my stupid loopy 14-year-old handwriting.
This particular diary entry reaffirms, more than anything else, the fact that I was an addict long before I discovered crystal meth in my late thirties. I’m already looking for excuses to escape my feelings, either via chemicals or, as it’s referred to in the recovery community, “pulling a geographic.”
“My parents said I couldn’t run away from everything,” I wrote in 1979. How wrong they were. I could and did run away from everything, for a long, long, long time. Though I came to terms with my homosexuality in the mid-eighties, I continued to run from everything else for two more decades. Had my parents said instead, “you CAN run from everything, but eventually your legs are gonna cramp and you’re going to get exhausted and fall down and everything you’re running from is going to catch up to you and beat the holy living shit out of you,” then that would have been completely accurate.
For the longest time, I had difficulty in recovery. I refused to admit I was an alcoholic (crystal meth was my only problem, after all, I’d never crashed and burned and ended up in a psych ward from too many Screwdrivers or Greyhounds, my drinks of choice), and I defiantly told anyone who would listen that I “became” an addict at the age of 37.
Of course, I’d conveniently forget that fact that when i’d work at my parent’s restaurant, as young as 13, I’d sneak into the walk-in refrigerator and chug Gallo Vin Rose straight from the gallon jug because it calmed me down. I’d forget the time in my mid- twenties when my friend Rich and I got drunk at a party in San Jose and ended up being kidnapped by a gun-toting drug dealer (and subsequently driven, along with a van filled with drag queens in bridesmaids dresses to the End Up in San Francisco, where we were abandoned at 5 AM.) Or the time in my early twenties when two drunk friends and I spun out on the San Mateo bridge, almost crashing through the guardrail and into the water below. Or the time….actually, there are too many times to recount here. The point being, I’ve always been an addict. I was probably born an addict. I’m also an alcoholic, I’ve belatedly come to realize. I know that if my drug of choice didn’t exist, if pills and coke and all other narcotics were not available, I’d be the biggest, swaggering, stumbling, beer-breathing, gin-blossomed alcoholic ever.
On July 7th, I will celebrate one year of sobriety, God willing.
The past eleven months have been about far more than not using drugs or drinking. They’ve been about working on conquering the self-hate. To stop keeping secrets. To stop lying to myself.
This year, I stopped running. Out of breath, beat-to-shit, I stood still in my tracks, turned around, and faced the oncoming monsters. For eleven months, I’ve stared those fuckers down. They still want to chase me, to get me running – but as long as I stay perfectly still and do battle with each as they attack, I can defend myself (and my sobriety). Without all the running, my energy is returning, and the fighting gets a little easier each time.
Yesterday, the monster that tells me I’m fat and ugly and too old to have any value did a job on me, leaving me bruised and beaten. I didn’t run, however….not to my dealer, not to self-medication, nor to seek validation through sex.
Instead, I stayed and took my lumps.
Today, I am planning my counter-attack.
I plan on knocking it senseless. With prayer. By helping others. With self-esteem via esteemable action. And though I may never actually kill this demon – I’ll probably battle it the rest of my life – recovery has given me the tools to outsmart it.
All I have to do is use them.
A year ago, I thought I looked great. I was thin. My face had some angles. I could wear the same size pants I wore in high school. Sure, I was covered in tiny red speed bumps, and yeah, I’d shaved my head because I was convinced the CIA or the FBI or some other nefarious shadow organization was tracking me with tiny wire transmitters attached to my scalp, but who cared about that when all my jeans hung from my hipbones in that cool, sexy way?
Now, looking at that photo on the left makes me cringe. That guy looks like Nosferatu with stage 4 cancer.
Though I’m not thrilled with the way I look in the photo today – i’m far too self-critical, still – the difference is amazing. The guy on the left looks dead. The guy on the right is ALIVE.
The guy on the left lived in a world of darkness, deception, paranoia, anger, sadness, sexual depravity and absolute, overwhelming sadness. The guy on the right wakes up to hope, lives in the sunlight, is healthy, is optimistic, and lives in a world filled with God, recovery, love, good friends, purpose, optimism and – on most days – joy.
I’ll be turning 49 soon, and though the thought of creeping so close to 50 years old is nerve-wracking, there’s also much gratitude. After more than a decade of off-and-on abuse of my body, spirit and mind, I am looking forward to celebrating a miracle: I’m Alive.
I’m alive – and the world shines for me today
I’m alive – suddenly I am here today
Seems like forever (and a day), thought I could never (feel this way)
Is this really me? I’m alive, I’m alive
2006: My addiction had long since chased away what had once been a fairly large circle of friends, even the most tolerant and empathetic among them having run for shelter. There are a finite number of late night, meandering phone calls about phantoms hiding in heating ducts or people living in the trees that a sane person can tolerate, and though their retreat pained me, the lack of interaction with the outside world seriously reduced the amount of acting I had to engage in to simulate sobriety. The only notable exception was Rebecca, who, four years after meeting in my first rehab, was still sober. Still, justifiably, even she was forced to maintain a distance that wouldn’t threaten her sobriety, sending an occasional email inquiring about my well-being.
As long as I kept my meth-smoking to a relative minimum, around six times a day rather than the previous 15 to 30 minute intervals, I was able to function fairly well, and would spend the day on the computer or meandering around the house and yard, slightly glassy eyed but otherwise presenting a countenance of relative normalcy. After years of Patrick discovering my hiding places with the skill of drug-sniffing airline customs canine, I now kept my pipe, torch and stash cleverly concealed on a small, inner ledge beneath the vanity in our bathroom. To find it, one would have to open the cabinet doors below the sink and reach a hand up and in to find the hiding place that was just wide enough to hold the paraphernalia. It was certainly my most clever hiding place to date. Several times a day, I would lock myself in the bathroom and retrieve them, careful first to turn on the water to mask the sharp, pronounced clicking noise of the butane torch. As an added precaution, I would set a pair of toenail clippers on the counter. The sound of toenails being clipped mimicked almost exactly the sound of the torch, and I wanted this decoy ready to point to should Patrick overhear anything. We had reached a point in our relationship where I fully expected him to have his ear pressed against the door, listening each time I used the bathroom. I had also reached a point where I knew that there was nothing I could say to him about this, his lack of trust being completely justified by my continuing relapses and the accompanying lies and creative fabrications.
I looked forward to the days when Patrick would have some acting job or other that would get him out of the house, and I would use those times as an opportunity to smoke speed all day long with impunity, enjoying the liberating feeling of being able to lay my glass pipe, torch and little zip loc baggie of crystals on a glass plate next to the bed. I would spend the day luxuriating in the sensual feelings that the speed engendered, seeking out and devouring the most graphic porn I could find, inhaling amyl nitrate and masturbating with frenzied, futile abandon.
For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play.” Partying, in the meth lexicon, has nothing to do with the mainstream celebratory or cake-and-candle connotation. Rather, it is a euphemism for using speed: one, two or a cluster of jittery, clench-jawed, sweating men who have been reduced by crystal meth to the status of animals, each desperately trying to satisfy his chemically-distorted, darkened, and amped-up sexual desires.
Although I had always been comfortable with sex, and certainly never prudish about the act and its many variations, this sexually compulsive behavior was something of an entirely new order . It is deeply embarrassing to admit to this particular obsession, and few meth addicts do. I’ve read account after account written by the users of this drug, and very rarely have I read explicit accounts of this very common, albeit deeply shame-inducing activity. Wikipedia, in fact, in its entry for Methamphetamine lists “hypersexuality” first as a side effect of the drug’s use. Admitting to homelessness, criminal activity in support of the habit, even insanity is far less embarrassing than confessing to behavior that most would consider lurid, at best. Meth users, particularly gay meth users, often confess to being sexually indiscriminate, but few will cop publicly to the details of their wallowing in the murky shallows of depravity. Yet the proliferation of gay personal ads containing the acronym “PNP” demonstrates the ubiquity of this phenomena. For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play”. For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play.” Partying, in the meth lexicon, has nothing to do with the mainstream celebratory or cake-and-candle connotation. Rather, it is a euphemism for using speed: one, two or a cluster of jittery, clench-jawed, sweating men who have been reduced by crystal meth to the status of animals, each desperately trying to satisfy his chemically-distorted, darkened, and amped-up sexual desires. A search of the M4M (men for men) section of Craigslist, using the term PNP will generally produce hundreds of results for the Los Angeles area alone. Having participated In many of these “parties” over the past several years, the twisted logic of my tweaker brain now pathetically rationalized these masturbatory marathons because they allowed me to stay faithful to Patrick.
Often, I would get so lost in the world of self-pleasure that I would lose track of time, jolting sharply back into reality with the realization that Patrick was due home momentarily. The sense of time’s passage is drastically distorted by meth use, and I often found myself in this situation. I would then wage a strange battle: attempting to reach climax and still have enough time left over to rid the house of all evidence of how I had spent my day. Each jerk stole precious time from the forthcoming cleanup regimen, and this anxiety, coupled with the erection-diminishing nature of the speed, ensured that I’d invariably lose what I had come to think of as the War of the Tug.
On really bad days, having run out of personal lubricant options, I would use Vaseline, which required a chemical cleanup rivaling that of the Exxon Valdez .
Sweaty, heart pounding, I’d admit defeat and leap from the bed in a panic that would scare all three dogs into a chorus of barking, running about the house cleaning in what I thought was a systematic way, trying to rid it of any detectable residue of my solitary debauchery. Most normal people understand that sex sometimes requires a little cleanup afterwards: a greasy hand print on the headboard, a spot on the sheets that requires laundering. The cleanup effort required following an extended tweaking session is a very different prospect altogether.
Heart pounding with the fear of discovery, expecting to hear Patrick’s key in the lock at any moment, the first step was to strip the bed of the lube and sweat stained sheets, and stuff them into the washer along with the clothes I was wearing, if any. The next was to return the drugs and paraphernalia to their hiding place. Following that was a frantic, room to room Windex rub-down. It is truly astounding the number of household surfaces a tweaker can touch in a five or six-hour period, and Patrick knew from past experience what a smear of lube on a doorknob most likely meant. During the days spent alone like this, it seemed like every surface in the house became coated with a film of whatever water or oil based lube I had been using. On really bad days, having run out of personal lubricant options, I would use Vaseline, which required a chemical cleanup rivaling that of the Exxon Valdez . Windex in one hand, a wad of paper towels in the other, I’d proceed deliberately from one side of the house to the other, spraying and then wiping down everything my hands might have come in contact with during the day: the telephone handsets, remote controls, doorknobs, thermostat, light switches. This task completed, I’d turn on the bedroom ceiling and spray Fabreze to mask any lingering odor of amyl nitrate, then quickly jump into the shower and rinse the sweat, with its tell-tale cat-urine like odor of metabolized meth, from my body. The final step was to floss and brush my teeth fanatically to remove the similarly rancid mouth odor caused by the drying effect of the speed.
Patrick would arrive home, tired from a long day at whatever he was doing, to find the house smelling perfumed, the washing machine churning away, and me sitting, fresh-scrubbed on the couch in the tv room, pretending to be fascinated by whatever show that happened to be on at the moment. It is indicative of the level of deception I practiced that I also made sure I was watching a tivo’d show I’d already seen, in case he decided to join me. That way, I’d be able to answer any questions about characters or plot should they arise. I would feel a wave of guilt for this deception, but that didn’t stop me from rising from the couch to give him a warm welcome, offering to make him dinner, or regaling him with made-up stories about how I had spent my day.
“I cleaned the whole house,” I’d say, neglecting the part about having done it in a 10 minute, bug-eyed, speed-induced sprint.
“And I’ve got a load of laundry going.”
At night, because sound carried further, I would forego using the butane torch and use a regular Bic lighter instead, although it often resulted in both a burned thumb and a blackened pipe from the black carbon the smaller, less intense flame produced.
One night, after having avoided using for several weeks, making a grand show for Patrick of my desire to once again clean up my act, I slipped into the bathroom just before bedtime. Earlier in the day, I had paid first a quick visit to my dealer on Croft Avenue in West Hollywood, and then to the Smoke Shop at Santa Monica and Vine. Now, I retrieved the teenager of meth and the thin glass pipe from their hiding place on a small ledge inside the cabinet below the sink. At night, because sound carried further, I would forego using the butane torch and use a regular Bic lighter instead, although it often resulted in both a burned thumb and a blackened pipe from the black carbon the smaller, less intense flame produced. Sitting on the closed toilet, I lit up, inhaling the white vapors. After several deep tokes, I grabbed a wad of toilet paper, moistened it and rubbed it around the receptacle end of the pipe, or bubble, as it is often called. This trick cooled the pipe and helped to quickly re-solidify the clear, liquid speed into a solid white mass that could not spill out the top, while also removing the layer of thick black residue the lighter had produced. I re-hid the pipe, placed the Bic lighter in the pocket of my bathrobe that was hanging on the back of the door, flushed the toilet for effect, turned off the light and joined Patrick in the bedroom.
To the non-addicted, the act of using a drug that revs up energy levels and sends the mind into hyper-drive immediately before bedtime would seem irrational. Rational behavior was already a thing of the past for me, however.
I crawled into bed next to Patrick and turned off the bedside light. Whispering a “good night,” I turned away from him and onto my left side, letting the euphoric effect of the speed wash over me. My eyes wide open, staring at drapes dimly backlit by an outdoor street lamp I began what promised to be an eight-hour ordeal that had, by now, become tortuously familiar. One of the side effects of the speed was the tendency of my body to twitch or jerk involuntarily in it’s dopamine-jacked flight-or-fight state, and my solitary focus was to stay still, an almost impossible endeavor. Too much movement, too much tossing and turning, and Patrick would certainly clue in immediately, blowing my cover of mimicked sobriety.
I laid there for hours, absolutely incapable of sleep, my body tensed and clenched from the physiological flight-or-fight response meth creates. Fortunately, the speed also creates the ability to hyper-focus, which worked to my advantage in this situation as I studied the drapes in minute detail, refusing to even shift my legs for fear it would alert Patrick to the fact that I was still awake. Finally, sometime around 1 AM, I was unable to resist the need to move, so I admitted defeat and slipped out of bed slowly, doing my best to keep the mattress still. Once on my feet, I glanced back at Patrick and noted with relief that he was still sleeping deeply, snoring gently. Moving stealthily around the bed and out of the bedroom, I closed the door behind me, putting resistance on the doorknob as it twisted closed to it mitigate the deafening sound of it clicking shut.
After a visit to the bathroom to retrieve my stash from its hiding place, I continued – light-headed – into my office, avoiding areas of the hardwood floor that I knew would produce a groan or squeak. Sitting down in the black Aeron chair in front of my desk, I gave the mouse of my iMac a shake, and squinted against the sudden flood of light as the monitor awoke from its slumber. Activating an alarm clock program that would notify me silently at 6 AM and allow me to sneak back to bed before Patrick woke, I proceeded with the focus and single-mindedness of a cat stalking its prey to navigate my bookmarked porn sites, starting as usual with the aptly named Smutnetwork.com. Once there, my senses began folding in upon themselves as my dopamine-saturated brain absorbed image after image, video after video, with hedonistic abandon. Everything else, my surroundings, even the sense of my own physical presence, was surrendered to oblivion. Click, click, click, ad infinitum. Images of sexual acts that, without the influence of the meth would be of absolutely no interest to me, or perhaps even mildly revolting, were scanned, registered and devoured as sustenance for my insatiable meth-propelled libido.
Page-view by page-view, the hours slipped by, my wide, red-rimmed eyes soaking up the porn like a sponge. Periodically pausing to take a hit from the pipe and then concealing it again in the top right hand drawer of the desk, my hand trembling and cramped, I worked the mouse around its pad, my synapses firing a hundred miles an hour. Time sped away from me and after what seemed like only twenty minutes, faint gleams of pre-dawn light began seeping through the louvers of the IKEA mini-blinds.
A faint breeze touched the overheated, yet clammy skin on the back of my neck, jolting me from my dark reverie. Startled, I spun my desk chair around. Patrick was standing in the darkened doorway, his eyes still thick with the confusion of sleep, watching, assessing.
For Patrick, it had deeply sinister implications. A meth-smoking gun, if you will.
Although almost imperceptible, I clocked the changes in his face as he registered the situation, the almost undetectable change in his expression still clearly conveying shock, sadness, anger, and most worst of all: disappointment. Catching one’s partner in the act of pre-dawn masturbation is, for most couples, simply an awkward moment, if that. For Patrick, it had deeply sinister implications. A meth-smoking gun, if you will. His eyes moved from my hand, still in my crotch, to the pornographic image glaring out obscenely from the computer monitor.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I stammered.
“Apparently,” he said simply, his voice devoid of feeling. He maintained uncomfortable, accusatory eye contact for a long, sad moment, before abruptly turning and walking back down the hall.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Stoned 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.
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.”
“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.
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 primarily 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.”
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.
“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.