give me your eyes i need sunshine

heartI thought I should write another entry because my last one was doubting whether J. was telling the truth or not and I found out he was, and that he did actually get clean after I left. I can accurately say this because I know he only had one dealer’s number, and I talked to that dealer, who said he hadn’t ever called. This guy usually meets me and has only met J. once so he has no reason to lie to me. Also I realized the reason he probably hasn’t been texting me as much is that he’s working 55-60 hours a week now, whereas when I was doing my internship in Portland four¬†days a week for the last couple months, he was unemployed. Now I feel bad for doubting him, since he’s always so honest.

Oh wow, he just now texted me: “Are you ever coming home?!? haha :)” Okay, now it’s back to the way he normally is. We have the weirdest timing with texts. I realize the universe doesn’t work like that, but anytime I’m thinking about him, he texts me. Maybe that’s because I’m always thinking about him.

Then I was just worrying… maybe I’m misremembering what “normal” is for him? Maybe I’ve been exaggerating his affection in my mind? Scrolled through a few months of texts and found a lot of these little exchanges (this one is over the span of me working in Portland one week Tuesday-Friday):

11/10/15 (day I left, right after arriving in Portland)
me: I miss you. I’m sad. ūüė¶
J.: I miss you too
me: Don’t forget to feed the kitties!
J.: I will spoil the kitties like their mother does. ūüôā

11/11/15
J.: Wish you were here.
me: Me too. ūüė¶ I miss you. You always cheer me up.
J. I miss you too.
J.: I’m bored without you here.
me:¬†So that’s all I am to you? Entertainment?? haha
J. An integral part of my happiness.

11/12/15
J. Really missing you tonight. Almost wish I could see you tonight. Hope you are doing well.
me: Aw I miss you too! ūüė¶ How are you feeling? I’m super stressed out and I miss you!!
J.: Well keep up the good fight. I feel like I totally wanna do drugs right now. haha! All the cats do is eat and open the door I swear! ūüôā
Me: Hmm well ok I hope you feel better. I’ll be home tomorrow though. ¬†Yay!!!!!!!!!!
J.: I definitely need a big hug.
Me: I need a big hug too! What a coincidence!!! My stress level is like one million.
J.: Stay calm. It will be okay.
J.: Well don’t stress out too much. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow.
J.: I’m actually really lonely without you here.
Me: Awwww
J.: The cats are okay but they don’t like you not being here.
Me: I’m really lonely too. I get so much more stressed out when you aren’t here. ūüė¶

11/13/15
Me: I can’t wait to come home tonight.
J.: Come home.
Me: I miss you. I’m tired and I need a¬†hug and a cuddle.
J.: Come get em. haha
Me: My arrival time is supposedly 7:07 pm according to my GPS
J.: I can’t believe it’s really true!
Me: What’s really true?
J.: You’re coming back!!!
Me: Of course I’m coming back.
Me: You thought I wasn’t going to come back? haha!
J.: It started to feel that way haha.
Me: When do you get off work?
J.: Not until 9. ūüė¶ Hey can you have a giant hug ready for me? And tell me I smell good even though I smell bad?
Me: Yeah definitely! I was planning on doing that anyway! And you never smell bad! You think I’m lying but I’m not lying. I was literally just smelling one of your shirts because it smells so good.

So…. yeah. I still feel like it’s weird he has barely texted me since I’ve been here, at least not like that. But I’m clearly overanalyzing. I’m the type to fall in love super fast and often I fall out of love pretty fast too, though not when it’s this intense. There have been several times when I had a huge crush on a guy and just when he started getting into¬†in me, I would lose interest and¬†break up with him. Also J. is not the flighty type, he tends to be very methodical about his choices/loves and then stick with them for very long periods of time. The type of person who still cries weekly about his father’s death 21 years ago. And has only had three serious relationships. Well four, if I count. He’s really loyal and has an overblown sense of honor. So I just keep telling myself that after six months of perfection there’s no reason he’s just going to randomly disappear.

We talked about having kids a few days before I left for my parents’ place. Kind of indirectly. I know he’s really good with kids, all the kids of his friends and relatives absolutely adore him, it’s so cute. There’s a video of him playing “somewhere over the rainbow” with his sister’s daughter. I’m a little confused about why his ten year marriage never involved children, but maybe there were other factors.

Anyway I’ve held off asking so as not to sound like the biological-clock-time-bomb that I am, but I finally asked him if he ever wants to have kids. He said, “Yes, definitely. But I’m not getting any younger.” Also he has never asked me if I’m on birth control (I’m not — it makes me c-r-a-z-y) and has never attempted to use protection or pull out. So far, nothin’. I mean I haven’t had a period in 3¬†months but I’m always irregular, and I tested and I’m not pregnant. Maybe we are both sterile from so much drug use! That would be tragic. Especially since I’ve had three abortions. Which I have not regretted in the slightest, especially considering the men who had gotten me pregnant, but I would probably regret them more if I was unable to have children.

Anyway. I’ve been trying to figure out what his response to my question means. I was about ready to pick some random guy at a bar before I met J. For real. Actually G. told me when I was in my 20s that if I hadn’t found a potential father by age 30, that he would knock me up, but I’m not sure if that’s still on, seeing as he has a girlfriend. haha.

Now that I finished school, have a job, and an amazing relationship, having kids is kind of the last nagging thing that I haven’t settled yet. Not like everything is perfect — I need a BETTER job for one thing — but I feel like I’m on the path to all my other goals. That in itself is pretty surreal. I should be more grateful, considering that two years ago almost to the day I spent 45 minutes sobbing just from finding out I got into journalism¬†school because it was the first thing that had given me hope in a decade.

Okay. Sorry this was really pointless and I am just writing these things down to reassure myself next time I am mind-fucked by insecurity. ūüôā

XOXOXO

from now on our troubles will be miles away

IMG_0003Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. J’s favorite holiday is Halloween. I appreciate anyone who loves holidays, because I love most of them. But we are apart for 10 days. And I’ve been thinking about what those holidays mean.

I flew home to see my family and get clean. You know, that’s always inevitable when two ex-addicts get together. And then we couldn’t stop because I was working full time at an internship and I didn’t have enough days off in a row to go through withdrawal.

The night before I flew to my parent’s place on Sunday, J’s band played a show. They play about every two weeks at a local club, make like $60 per band member from the cover charge, and all of his friends come and have a great time. His friends are amazing, they have totally welcomed and accepted me and greet me like we’ve known each other for years. You can judge a person based on their friends and family relationships, I think. J is clearly someone whom people love fiercely.

I still can’t put my finger on what it is about him that makes me so crazed with ¬†love/lust. Sure, he’s my type, physically, I could spend a lifetime exploring¬†his perfect body, down to the pores, his soft skin, delicate hands, thin and tall and restless, with eyes that wander around the room like mine do, this lightening bolt of something from deep down under the pain that comes out through his eyes. He’s warm and fiery and passionate and emotional and breaks down crying at random moments, which is one of my favorite things in a guy. The way he never asks for anything, ever. Suffers through so much in silence. And then sometimes all the stuff in his head breaks open and I get this outpouring of grief and pain and tears and I just want to wrap him up like a baby and protect him from all the shit in his past that I will never, ever be able to protect him from.

He writes the most incredible songs, too. At first I groaned, not another boyfriend in a band, but he is so good, and so good at writing songs… they are constantly in my head. I can see how cathartic preforming is for him. The suffer in silence stuff goes out the window and he’s got sweat and tears running down his face, wiping them off after every song.

After I got on the train on Sunday morning I almost started crying, I missed him so much already, even just five minutes after we hugged goodbye. I spent the two hour train ride to Portland watching these two videos over and over in rapid succession. The first is at his friend’s housewarming party. J is in the middle, standing, holding a cigarette that he restlessly fidgets with, putting it in his mouth, then taking it out and flicking it with his hand for the next three minutes. His best friend Jon is on the piano, and his good friend from high school, Dave, is on the floor on guitar. Emily is next to the wall. Apparently after J’s divorce two years ago, she told him that she had always had a crush on him. But he wasn’t interested, and she was distraught: “Aren’t I pretty enough?” I always feel weird around her. But anyway… I love this video because you can see how much love there is. J makes fun of me for how many videos I post but I feel like a sponge just drinking it all in. I have been so isolated for so long. And J and Jon are smiling at each other in the cutest bromance way…

Oh, well I was going to post it here but I realized I have no idea how to download a video I’ve posted to facebook, and it’s no longer on my phone. Point is, I spend most weekends singing along to great songs with a bunch of amazing pianists & guitar players.

The second video I still have on my phone so I can post it. This was at J’s last show. He had a cold so his voice sounds a little weird, but I’ve been watching this video over and over with the computer screen about two inches from my face so I can see his facial expressions, because there’s a part where he’s singing directly at me, pointing at me, in the middle… the song lyrics are¬†pretty dark actually. But the refrain is a little lighter… that’s the part where he points at me, then each of his two band mates and repeats¬†the line, “But you’re not gonna die, cause they won’t forget your name.”

The words are:

With all the ideas that they put in your head
Will you think about them, can you think at all?
Will you think about it?
And on the inside when you swallow it down,
Take another hit and drown,
In the darkness and then come back up to breathe
So hypnotizing when the words are let in
And your dizzy head it spins
The decision to pacify from within
With all the ideas that they put in your head
Will you think about them?
Can you think at all?
Will you think about it?
But you’re not gonna die, cause they won’t forget your name.

Watching the videos doesn’t make me feel better. It just makes me miss him more. Despite the logic that I know I will be back in less than a week. For the six or so months we’ve been together I’ve tried to cling to some perspective or independence but it’s hard when he basically moved in with me the second time we saw each other, and we were rarely apart for more than a few moments from then until my internship started, and then only for three or four days a week tops. And he would text me multiple times a day to tell me how much he missed me or that he couldn’t wait to see me that night or whatever.

And when I would walk through the door after being gone for a few days, he would hold me so tight for these epic 15-minute hugs, and would just be so overjoyed to see me, I don’t think anyone I’ve ever loved has ever been that happy to see me in my entire life. I’m needy as fuck, I have zero boundaries, and I appreciate another person with similar characteristics.

The part that is freaking me out is that since I’ve been gone I haven’t gotten the same rapid fire texts that I would get when I was away at my internship. Which makes me think he didn’t get clean after I left. Because he always misses me more when we are clean. It’s just a feeling, but it keeps bothering me. Especially because a mutual friend, one of the few who knows about our habit(s), stopped by two days after I left and reported back to me that J. didn’t seem dopesick at all. And then J.¬†asked me for our dealer’s number yesterday. He said it was because he has to be alone on Christmas, he had to work xmas eve and xmas day at his fancy new job as the assistant manager of a pet store. And I felt so bad for leaving him there alone that I gave him all the numbers I had for people in town. I asked him if he had actually stopped when I left, and he said he had, which didn’t jive with what the mutual friend had said. He has always been really pointed about being 100 percent honest, like I am in relationships, and I loved that about him. And I don’t want to find out that he’s lying to me, even about something silly like whether he used for one extra day after I left or something.

I was thinking about our favorite holidays today as I worried about this. He loves, loves Halloween. I’ve actually rarely met anyone who was as into any holidays as I am, so that made me happy even though my favorite holiday is Christmas. Christmas is about darkness giving over to light, it’s transactional, giving and receiving and seeing where you stand with people based on their gifts. It’s a full-throated celebration, totally regardless of religious connotations, since I have never been religious.

Halloween is dark, it’s about deception, disguise, not recognizing those around you. Or at the very least acting. J is an actor too and he does hilarious accents and impressions. He was Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, which seems fitting. Based on some pretty weird and/or unflattering stuff he voluntarily told me about himself, and his constant stressing of honesty, I’ve always assumed he was as honest as he said he was. But then I started doubting him and it’s just eating away at me.

Being in love is really extraordinarily painful in almost every way, even the good bits. I forgot what this was like, for the last 10 or so years. I definitely had some strong crushes and flings over the years but most of them ended so quickly I didn’t have a chance to get in this deep, so far over my head I feel like I can’t breathe. My last relationship, which went on for five years, I think I thought I was in love but now I’m realizing that I wasn’t, or at least it was just on a different level, where I could stay at arm’s length, at a remove, and not be bothered by whether he gave two shits about me or not. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t.) Or whether he was lying to me. I don’t think M. has the same excessive guilt/shame-complex that J. has so maybe he never had reason to lie to me about anything. But I was definitely never up nights wondering whether he was using when I was out of town or trying to figure out¬†why he wasn’t texting me back.

I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, even if he overdosed and died tomorrow or left me or something at least I know I can still¬†love someone that much. I was starting to wonder if I’d lost part of my soul. Obsession runs in my blood and it never feels quite right when I’m not fixated on a person, place, or thing. First Gabe. And then for the longest time it was Eva and Portland, my twin loves. Now that I actually have a job in Portland and have chosen to work remotely from Eugene to stay close to J and his friends, my whole world has turned topsy turvy… I wasn’t aware anyone could top my love for Portland other than Eva.

Being alone and lonely, that was an ache I was used to. Being in a fair-to-middling long-term relationship was pretty familiar too, but after M. left for Alaska I knew I wasn’t going to spend 6 months waiting for him to get back so we could return to our then-100-percent celibate relationship, but even being alone, wasn’t a big deal. I watched a lot of WWII documentaries for the first two months until J. and I finally got together. We’d been messaging each other since March, I shudder to think what would have happened if I had been a bit quicker responding. If I’d still been taking 5 classes when we met, I probably would have gotten straight F’s instead of straight A’s. God, I am pathetic.

If I had known what did happen when we met, when we were both single and clean rather than on heroin and with him dating a psycho drama queen and me dating a shut-in who never touched me, well, I definitely would have taken him up on meeting back in March when he first messaged me. I guess I can thank my lucky stars it took me until July.

And… just got this text that he is feeding the kitties some gourmet food from his job and going to see Star Wars… alone, on Christmas. Five more days until I’m back.

XOXOXO

 

 

walked into the room you know you made my eyes burn

11745505_10154022660573332_2655251653068259187_nLast night I came home and J was wrapped in a blanket, with that brooding look that I know means something is wrong. For some reason I feel so protective of him, like he’s this fragile little bird, when he’s really a 6 foot tall street-smart guy who dealt heroin for a year, used to own a gun and still carries a knife for protection — he’s very worried about safety. He grew up in Trenton, NJ, born in 1977, so his childhood was the worst of the crime epidemic that swept through the country. He’s horrified that I don’t lock my car doors (I can’t — they don’t lock) and that I leave my apartment door ajar for the cats. Whenever I don’t respond via text, or sometimes even if I am responding, he’ll text me, “Are you okay?” as if I’m constantly at risk of abduction or worse. So I guess he feels protective of me too.

I asked him, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “I mean, no. But, yeah.”

We had a cigarette on the porch and I asked him what was wrong.
He said, “I’m having trouble with my mind. It happens, sometimes.” He is a man of few words and I usually have to pull anything personal out of him. After a minute of silence, I responded, “What… what about your mind?”
“I can’t turn it off. I can’t make it stop. Sometimes I forget, this is why I did heroin… to make my mind stop.”
Silence again. In my interview classes, they told us that interview subjects can’t stand silence, and rather than jumping in with another question, if you wait long enough, the person will start talking again, elaborate, offer more details. J must be the one exception to that rule. He could beat anyone in a silence contest.
Finally I asked, “What is your mind telling you?”
Long pause. “Life,” he said. Pause. “Purpose.”
“Like, what’s the point of living?” I delicately tried to pull more out of him.
“Yeah. And all the bad stuff starts coming back, all the deaths, all the faces.” His father died when he was a teenager, and the grief consumed him for years, and he’s had a lot of other people close to him die. “And I think about how many times I’ve almost died, and I don’t know why — why I lived and they didn’t.” He almost died at birth, when his umbilical chord was wrapped around his neck. Later his house caught on fire. His car almost went off a cliff, literally teetering on the edge. And in December he was in that coma for two weeks. The fact that he can walk at all, or that his kidneys started working again, is a medical miracle. He still wears the hospital bracelet, to remind himself of it.
He went on, “I think about how maybe it’s because I have some purpose, like I’ll do something good, or help someone. Like maybe once I held the door for someone and just that small act of kindness made them take a different path in their life.”

Now I was silent. I felt like I was trying to coax a baby bird to walk a little closer to me. I know that feeling, that what’s the point feeling, and the can’t make your mind stop feeling. I know that nothing anyone ever says helps, almost ever. The more people try to convince me that my life is worth something, the more I push back that they’re wrong.

I carefully chose my words. “I’m sure you’ve helped hundreds of people like that. You have so many friends who love you. You’re a good person.” He is a good person. I can feel it more strongly than with almost anyone. The way guilt weighs on him, the way he micro-analyzes his behavior, is so gracious with me, with everyone. He never does anything accidentally. He is so careful to never be a burden or harm anyone. “You’ve helped me. You’ve made me so happy. I’ve done a lot in the last few years, finished college and stuff, that made me feel like I wasn’t a failure… but you’ve made me feel more ALIVE than anything has in years and years.”
We were sitting shoulder to shoulder in the dark, on the porch, and he silently leaned in closer and squeezed my arm. “Sorry to dump all this stuff on you,” he said.
I laughed, “Oh, it’s okay, I dump stuff on you all the time.” I don’t try to hide that I’m an emotional wreck, like he does. “I just wish I could say something that would help. I know that feeling, and I know that nothing people say ever helps.”
“You have helped,” he said. We sat there in silence for a few more minutes. Suddenly he perked up a little. “When was the last time you watched The Life Aquatic?” he asked.
I said, “I’ve never seen it, remember?” It’s one of his favorite movies. He loves fish, worked in marine biology jobs for most of his life. “Do you want to watch it?” I asked. “I downloaded it for you the other day.”
“Yes!” he said, finally smiling. And we went inside and made rice and watched the movie cuddled on the couch.

Someone emailed me and told me that this relationship is a bad idea because J is an addict. But the fact that he is/was an addict isn’t an accident. I date addicts because no one else understands. I’ve dated non-addicts, and I would exhaust myself trying to explain why I did what I did, all the seemingly nonsensical behavior. That’s if they were willing to accept dating an ex-junkie to begin with, which is a big if.

J actually only used heroin for a year and a half, and he’s 37. He had a whole life before he met Caroline and she got him into hard drugs. He was married, owned a house out in the country, kept bees and chickens, learned everything about remodeling and wiring and building and gardening, worked as a research assistant at the university, marine biology, worked in aquarium stores, had his own business before the economy crashed and too many people decided that exotic fish were a luxury item they couldn’t afford anymore. Then his wife started cheating on him, cheated for over a year, and he knew for most of that time. It absolutely crushed him. They had been together for ten years.

Then he met Caroline. She told me their first date was at his big, empty house, and that he was still reeling from the divorce. Caroline had recently gotten out of rehab but relapsed almost instantly, and took J with her. She was the one with the drug dealing connections — she actually started dealing heroin when she was still in high school. I think J felt like he tried to be an adult, tried to live a normal life, and it all came crashing down. And then a gorgeous redhead appeared and offered him this drug that made everything feel better. Who could resist that?

But their relationship deteriorated quickly. She cheated, too, blatantly, like leaving with some other guy right in front of him. Why anyone would cheat on him is beyond me, but whatever. When I met them, Caroline was flighty, irresponsible, careless. J was the one who would finally meet me to bring me my drugs when Caroline had left me standing out in the rain for hours, waiting.

I always had this feeling that I tried to suppress — overwhelming jealousy that she had him and I didn’t. We would flirt, but I could never tell if it was all in my mind, wishful thinking.

One night, in September 2014, I met them on an empty street by some warehouses. Caroline was running around high on meth, rummaging through their car, who knows what she was doing. But J took me aside, and we sat in my car, and had our first real conversation. We reference this conversation a lot, now, because it’s so funny. He told me that I was intimidating, that he could never tell if I was being cold and haughty or if I was just shy. He told me that I had a nice smile and that I should smile more, that I would seem less distant. I can barely remember what he was actually saying, because I was so happy that he was even taking a moment to give me any sort of attention at all.

Later that same night we had an even more flirty conversation via text. I completely forgot about this text conversation until after J and I got together this year, when I was going through old texts… I would have been a lot less nervous on our first date if I’d remembered this:

J: “About our brief conversation, Oh my god I feel like such a dick… I just meant your smile is your secret weapon. Use it more. Sorry shit I say comes out wrong sometimes.”
me: “No I totally get it and I appreciate the advice! Don’t worry I didn’t take it the wrong way!”
J: “Ok good I felt like you thought I was being a dick and I totally wasn’t”
me: “No I didn’t think that at all. See, people always think I’m mad at them or don’t like them! lol”
J: “So in summation, nice smile and good looking and great sense of humor. Just smile more.”
me: “Thanks! :)”
J: “I didn’t think you were mad, I thought I was an asshole. Yeah oh and good looking not only in the dark. But sorry I’m probably overstepping boundaries. I was just informed that you have a boyfriend. Sorry.”
me: “Haha don’t worry. I actually thought it was cool that you brought it up. And no I don’t have a boyfriend. I recently broke up with him. And even if I did, it wouldn’t matter.” [M and I were in limbo after I left him in July 2014… we never officially ‘got back together’ after that, but neither of us moved out]
J: “Oh good. Well if I’m being completely honest I was extremely turned on by you tonight and couldn’t stop thinking about bad things that kept popping in my head. Anyway I think you should smile more.”
me: “Dude don’t you have a girlfriend? I totally don’t mind you hitting on me but really don’t you have a girlfriend? That said, though, I just got out of a 4 year relationship so things are a little weird. But I appreciate the compliments anyway. :)”
J: “Sort of have a girlfriend. Depends on what day you ask me. See I’m a tad bit of a masochist and am loaded with tons of issues and am complicated. Such fun. Our relationship has been very interesting and I love her and not sure I’d want things any different… maybe a little. But I couldn’t tell you if I have a girlfriend. Sorry if I’ve been rude by my comments btw.”
me: “Okay I get it… kind of. Anyway you are definitely attractive and my type. But I’m trying to get clean again… I was clean for 7 months, until July 16. I desperately need to get clean again.”

I guess that last bit was me saying: you are hot and I want you, but I can’t fall for another junkie, especially not my fucking dealer’s boyfriend. Trying to pull myself back from the brink of infatuation. So I guess J is right that it’s a good thing he shot up that dirty dope last December and went into a coma… because while he was in the coma, the doctors weaned him off heroin onto methadone, and then off methadone, and by the time he woke up, he was clean. And then Caroline didn’t have the patience to wait for him to recuperate back east — months in a wheelchair on dialysis, learning to walk again, learning to use his fingers, everything. She found a new boyfriend almost right after he left.

So he reappeared in my life this summer, clean, single, and somehow even more attractive — everyone is more attractive when they’re clean. Thank god for small favors. If going into a coma and almost dying counts as a small favor.

Now if only I could get over my crushing fear of rejection and just relax for a moment — the better things get, the more scary it is that it will all disappear.

He gives the best hugs. Fingers kind of creeping around my waist, pulling me in, and holding me like his life depended on it. I’ve always been an intense hugger — if I really let myself feel how much I love someone, I’ll hold them so close I squeeze the air out of them. It’s too much for a lot of people. I’m strong for a tiny girl. I can’t do that to him because his organs and stuff are still a little fragile from when he almost died. But I hold him as hard as I can without hurting him. He is so skinny he’s the same size as me, just a lot taller. It’s almost like hugging myself. And I breathe in, he has the most amazing scent. And we just stay that way.

Venus de Milo and how we got here

venusdemiloI woke up this morning in J’s arms, all tangled in sheets and legs and arms, his hair sticking in weird directions. He was talking in his sleep again… I usually try to answer him. It was something about a department store. This time instead of falling back asleep, he woke up and told me his dream, mumbling half awake… I liked the dream:

We were at a department store and I took¬†a big statue of Venus de Milo and put it on a couch, and it made a woman faint, because she was so shocked I would do that. And then J had asked where the sharpie section was, and they didn’t have sharpies. And then the management tried to kick us out because they were angry at me about the statue incident.

That was his dream. I don’t know why but I liked it. Then, a tiny bit more awake, he asked: “Did you take a naked picture by the sign at the 45th parallel near Portland, too?” I had shown him that naked picture of me under the Tropic of Cancer sign in Mexico yesterday. The one Brian took of me in 2006.

Brian and I had been driving back from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego in his old Jeep with the torn zip-on roof that he insisted driving with the roof off for most of the drive. The drive down took us a week — it’s like 1,000 miles or something — but on the way back up, we had bought some meth and did the whole drive in 3 days. The Tropic of Cancer marker is pretty close to Cabo, so when we got there I was still riding high, not yet in the horrible coming down part. Anyway, I don’t know what got into me — I like signs, geography, geographical markers — and of course Tropic of Cancer reminds me of the Henry Miller book, one of my favorites. And for some reason I decided to take off all my clothes and get Brian to take a picture of me under the sign. It’s a big sign, with two posts holding it up on either side. I’m holding each post and kind of draping myself, one hip up, staring languidly at the camera. We tried to take the photo dozens of times but the sun had just gone down and it was too dark for a good photo. Finally a big semi truck passed and we used the light from the headlights to illuminate me. It looks like a flash photo but it isn’t.

Anyway, I showed J that photo yesterday and that’s what he asked me about when he woke up… I wonder if that had something to do with the Venus de Milo dream.

I want to write more about J but I don’t want to say something crazy like how much I’m in love with him and then have it not work out and then I would feel silly… We knew each other from last year, he was my dealer’s boyfriend when I had that relapse in October… then he went into a coma from shooting dope that was on the floor and I guess had some bacteria in it… all his organs shut down and he had a 30 percent chance of dying. My dealer, Caroline, was one of those pretty girls who wears a lot of makeup, she had long red hair, gorgeous… but she did a lot of meth and she kept getting weird sores and stuff on her skin… anyway, she was frantic… she was always frantic, but when J went into a coma she completely lost it. He woke up two weeks later but he had to be on dialysis for months, he couldn’t walk util four months later… sometime in this chaotic situation, with Caroline still dealing drugs, selling me bags of dope right out of his hospital room sometimes… right before Christmas he decided to go back to New Jersey with his mom, to recuperate away from the chaos of Caroline and drug dealing. Two months later Caroline got a new boyfriend. He came back in March.

When I started thinking about leaving M. again, I went back on OK Cupid… in April, I think. J found me there… we had a 90% match or something. He messaged me something like, “Hi! The last time you saw me I was in a hospital bed with tubes and wires coming out of me… how the hell are you? Do you want to hang out?” I didn’t see the message for two months, but when I did, my heart skipped a little — you know when you have a crush on someone but you don’t want to totally admit it, because you and the other person are both in a relationship? I’m too loyal to cheat, even when a relationship is deteriorating like M’s and mine was. M and I were mostly just friends for a long long time, especially in the last year. But I still felt awful having a crush.

I do know that when I met Caroline and J for the first time, last year, I was instantly attracted to him. He’s my type — tall, 6 feet, skinny, I think he’s at 160 pounds right now, dark hair, intense look — and more importantly, he has that *thing* — that darkness. The first thing I noticed about him was that he has a Frank Lloyd Wright tattoo on his forearm.

I had bought some dope in Portland last summer, August 7th was my relapse date last year. Unfortunately I bought enough dope to last me several days. By the time I ran out, it had been long enough to go into withdrawal. I didn’t know any dealers here in Eugene. So I desperately texted this escort I knew here, who I knew was a junkie. She texted me back Caroline’s number. Caroline texted back to meet me at the Dairy Queen — she wrote, “I’m the one who looks like someone in a Jane Fonda workout video, neon and pink shorts.” She was right about that. She was pretty and I instantly felt like an ugly slob in my hastily thrown-on clothes — I was dopesick, remember, I wasn’t about to put on a bunch of makeup or worry about how hot I looked. And J was there, skinny jeans, black t-shirt, long messy dark hair — I don’t think I let myself realize how attracted I was to him, because Caroline was so hot I felt like I never had a chance to get him.

We were talking about this the other day and I said I felt lucky that I did end up getting him — he said, “good thing I almost died.” I said, “What?” and he said that when he went into the coma it had the effect of separating him and Caroline, when he had to get better and she couldn’t get clean. I was hanging out with her a lot then — she kept almost getting evicted from her house, she had a revolving cast of tweakers in her living room doing all kinds of drugs — it really wasn’t a setting where someone who needed dialysis twice a week could recuperate in a stable setting. I was also with her when she found out he had left for Jersey. He told me he was scared to tell her himself. I think he let his sister text Caroline.

Caroline and I were driving up to Portland to buy dope when she got the text — she had already been calling and texting the sister all day, trying to get ahold of J — he didn’t have his own phone at the time. When she found out he was already on a plane to Jersey, she started sobbing, and ranted to me for the whole drive about how horrible J’s family was.

Anyway. So fast-forward to July of this year. J and I had texted each other a few times but I was too busy with school and then we kept playing phone tag — we finally hung out on July 7th. Met at a bar, talked and drank all night, came back here and talked and drank some more, ended up making out for hours, I finally dragged him into bed….

He’s been at my house ever since. He was staying at his friend’s place, not paying rent, but still, he hasn’t been “home” in about a month, and even then it was only for a few hours. He has brought more and more stuff over here… I confessed all this stuff to him yesterday about how much I like him and how scared I am that something is going to happen or he’s going to just leave or something — later he commented something about how he feels like his personal appearance is going downhill, he said, “I haven’t been doing laundry or showering as often or anything — I just haven’t wanted to go home to get my other clothes, I guess I do that clingy stuff too, latching on — I just haven’t wanted to be apart from you.”

His appearance is fine, though. I can’t keep my hands off him, wherever we are, I just want to grab him, all the time. It’s extremely distracting. It’s a good thing my last class ended in mid-August and it was an easy class. If I had anything else going on right now, I don’t know if I would be able to do it. My internship starts in two weeks, in Portland, and I’m terrified of what’s going to happen. J’s summer job just ended and he hasn’t found a new one yet, and I’ve been trying to convince him to move to Portland with me, but he actually lives in Eugene, he’s not just a student like I was. He has friends, a life, all that stuff. He’s 37 and has been here for 15 years. I’ve been in Eugene on and off since 2009 and have pretty much hated it the entire time — just when I meet someone, fall head over heels in love with someone, actually start enjoying being in Eugene — now I have to leave?

It’s only been two months that we’ve been together, but it feels like longer.

The other night we were listening to Lana Del Rey in the car, that song “Old Money,” and he started crying. He didn’t really show it but I could hear his breathing catch a little and he wiped a tear off his cheek. I wonder what he was thinking about.

Blue hydrangea, cold cash divine
Cashmere, cologne and white sunshine
Red racing cars, sunset and vine
The kids were young and pretty

Where have you been?
Where did you go?
Those summer nights seem long ago
And so is the girl you used to call
The queen of New York City

But if you send for me, you know I’ll come
And if you call for me, you know I’ll run
I’ll run to you, I’ll run to you
I’ll run, run, run
I’ll come to you, I’ll come to you
I’ll come, come, come

The power of youth is on my mind
Sunsets, small town, I’m out of time
Will you still love me when I shine
From words but not from beauty

My father’s love was always strong
My mother’s glamour lives on and on
Yet still inside, I felt alone
For reasons unknown to me

create the clues and the world follows — soon the clues will start to reappear and the new home will reveal itself.

Through Mannahatta’s streets I walking, these things gathering;
On interior rivers, by night, in the glare of pine knots, steamboats wooding up;

And I, plunging at the hunters, corner’d and desperate;
in the Mannahatta, streets, piers, shipping, store-houses, and the countless
workmen working in their shops,
And I too of the Mannahatta, singing thereof ‚ÄĒ and no less in myself than the
whole of the Mannahatta in itself,
Singing the song of These, my ever united lands ‚ÄĒ¬†

I wanted to write about performativity but I don’t think I have time… meeting a friend in an hour.

It’s been strange since M. left. He’s in Alaska now. I haven’t lived alone for five years… or really, ever. I always lived in houses crammed with housemates and random people crashing on the couch, or tiny apartments crammed with me, Eva, tons of cats, and whoever we were dating at the time. Or cars or vans or shitty motel rooms with evil men. Places where carving out a corner that was¬†mine was my singular goal.

I used to crave time and space alone. When Brian and I moved into a bigger apartment in Thailand, it had this tiny little random room off to the side that I immediately claimed for myself. It was probably the only assertive thing I ever did against him. I would go in there, lock the door, and write, for hours. That little room saved my life. Sometimes he would bang on the door and yell. I just turned up my music louder.

But now when I’m alone in my apartment I have this feeling like,¬†now what? If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound, and if I do stuff¬†alone, is it really happening? I find I have almost no sense of identity without people around. Like my sense of self only exists defined in relation and opposition to other people.

I walk around the city a lot. It’s not really a city, but I can pretend. I kind of feel like I’m floating a lot of the time.

Performativity reminds me of this conversation I had with G. on Facebook yesterday. [For those of you not intimately acquainted with my life story, G. was that crazy Spaniard I was with¬†through high school and on and off for years… that tortured first love. But you knew that.]

I was posting a bunch of old pictures from high school… one of them was of one of the exotic fruit picnics I used to have with G.’s sister. I was a grocery store cashier and I would use my discount to buy starfruit, guava, mango, kumquat, and so on. Anyway, it’s a photo of me holding a fig in my fingertips, looking at the camera with a quizzical, faraway look. Then this conversation ensued:

G: “Possible LSD¬†day w weird fruit?¬†U do have that look in yr eye.”

me: “Actually there was no LSD¬†involved on this particular day. I just always had a crazed look… I still have a crazed look.”

G.: “the way you have of holding fruit w the tips of yr fingers, like crucial ontological readings are being taken”

me: “A lot of these pictures remind me that I was kind of living in a dreamworld, where ideas and archetypes and stories were much more real than reality, until I was in my early 20s.”

G.: “Yes. And i don’t think I was like that: obv. in my own world to some extent, but was mostly a kind of lunkhead materialist, clever enough to understand that I was participating, thru you, in a world of like, Platonic ideals, but generally as a kind of phantom visitor in that world. Not experiencing it firsthand, but thru your eyes.
You were living with a surplus of meanings/portends etc, and I was kind of struggling to find meaning anywhere. The stolid Beckett to your flaming Joyce or something. If that makes sense. And lordy, I hope you know how good that was for me.”

* * * * * * * * * *

I’ve been thinking about that exchange… wondering if I ever actually grew out of the archetypes and stories and dreaming the world alive.

Create the clues and the world follows.
Soon the clues will start to reappear and the new home will reveal itself.

I remember after Elliott Smith died, I read some big analytical article about how he was writing songs about drugs and addiction before he really fell into addiction in real life. They said it like he wrote himself into the story of being a drug addict.

I was barely a year into my own addiction at the time, but I recognized that in myself. In fact, listening to Elliott Smith¬†songs like “Needle in the Hay” and “Good to Go” on repeat for years was the premise for my own fall.¬†I remember feeling this sense of pulling, toward what I didn’t know. Eventually I found it.

Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she’s mine for life.¬†

You write yourself into a story and then get stuck watching it turn into a nightmare. For years I wondered if the key to getting clean was to write myself out of the story. To give the story a twist, uncover a secret the main character didn’t know, find the turning point.

I tried getting clean the way other people did, but it never worked, because my storyteller kept writing myself back into my addiction. I needed a new story.

When I finally did it, it felt like conjuring a universe out of thin air. No wonder I feel like I’m floating.

* * *

strange world
but will be coming home again shortly

portland
in the morning
walking
cold

i am the thing that goes on

“if we strain thought clear of impulse slowly, slowly the day scream subsides to ordered lust”

82ndThe thing I miss the most is always knowing exactly what to do at any given time. The single-minded purpose. The last time I relapsed on heroin, there was about a two-hour interval between when I decided to buy heroin, and when I actually got it in my hands and got high. I had to pick up M’s friend Emil, way up¬†in the SW hills at his dad’s, and then drive clear out to the other side of Portland, to SE 157th and Stark, where his dealer lived, and then even further out to Troutdale or one of those faraway suburbs, where the dealer’s dealer wanted to meet.

Gentrification ‚ÄĒ driving the criminals out to your suburb!

Anyway, throughout this long tour of the Portland sticks, talking to Emil or just driving silently as he chain-smoked all my cigarettes, I felt this sense of calm that I hadn’t felt in months.

My ability to concentrate completely fell apart after I got clean. And procrastination is a million times worse than it was pre-heroin. Prioritizing what I have to do and actually doing it apparently uses some of those brain cells I murdered during my 50+ overdoses. How did I get five¬†A’s last term? (humblebrag alert!) I think doing well in school is one of those few times in my life when being booksmart comes in handy. But it was a fucking struggle.

You know what I really fucking miss about heroin? Never having to choose what I’m about to do next. I might have been losing my mind on a daily basis about where the next $300 was coming from for that day’s 2-3 gram supply, but I knew exactly what I needed to do to get that money. Even if everything went wrong, clients cancelled, whatever, I had a series of other ways to make money: pawn my guitar/camera/etc, overdraw my bank account, sell my books/records (it hurt…), call various people trying to borrow money, and last resort, call my dealers begging for a front… None of that stuff was fun. It was nerve-wracking and made me feel awful.

But I can say one thing, I never had a single problem concentrating on the task at hand. The threat of imminent heroin withdrawal is better than a pound of Adderall for making you focus.

Even on my days off now, even when my homework or whatever is done for the day, I get anxious about my fucking free time!¬†I should be reading more books… taking more walks… cleaning the house… I should be writing freelance or some shit… I need to work on my memoir… but I’m afraid.¬†

Portland is a very East-West oriented city, at least the routes I used to drive daily. I’ve done that long drive out to the boonies of Southeast thousands of times. 200 blocks sailing down Powell, Division, Stark, Burnside, or Glisan… the dealers must have a pact to always live as far as possible away from the customers. Make you work for it. I guess I built up an association with that drive.

When I first started using, I had barely ever gone east of¬†39th St. The area past 82nd was a blank spot in my mind. Chris would drive and I would stare dreamily out the windows as the Douglas firs got taller and taller and the houses got tinier, shittier, and more run-down. That’s how you know you’re almost to Gresham.

Of course, back then, the heroin still felt good. The last few times I relapsed, I knew it wasn’t going to feel good. I knew even if I got a momentary rush, I would come down quickly and then have four days of withdrawal from just using that one time. My body, it tries to tell me not to fuck with it anymore. Do I listen? Hmmm.

Waiting in the parking lot for the dealer with Emil, at some nameless strip mall, a crappy¬†dive bar with guys wearing Semper Fi t-shirts, a Mexican restaurant, discount cigarette store… Emil was freaking out, pacing around (he’s a pacer, it’s very nerve-wracking), chain-smoking, texting the dealer every five seconds and reporting back to me, coming up with a creative succession of theories as to why she was taking so long.

But I was blissfully content. When you’re not strung out, the craving goes away as soon as you decide to score. I was just enjoying that feeling of not having to make any decisions, not having to try to concentrate on anything. Deciding to fuck up takes a moment and then everything is out of your hands. Living in ‘reality’ entails billions of decisions, practically every single moment you have to think about what to do next.

Today I was sitting on my porch when this random guy passed by, walking through the alley. Just then, a beat-up car pulled up and the guy hopped in the passenger door, and they drove away. I had this flash of pure, unchecked desire, like a shock wave passing through my body. If you’ve never been addicted to drugs, picture how you felt when you were most in love, and when you saw your beloved after a long absence.

It took me a second to comprehend why seeing a random guy get in a car had made my nerves sing like that. It was one of those¬†associations my brain holds onto just to fuck with me. I apparently associate hopping into someone’s car with going to buy drugs. And that set off some other shit in my brain that reminded me of that single-minded feeling that I miss so much. I had this vision of the driver and passenger driving off to some far-flung part of the city to meet their dealer, that tense but focused journey… Fuck, they were probably just going to a movie or something. What the fuck is wrong with me?

Sometimes I wish I had a religion or something. A person, or a set of beliefs, or a god, or SOMETHING that would give me a sign, tell me¬†what to do. Just take me in and tell me something that makes sense and tell me I don’t have to be in this war with myself moment to moment. Give me that calm. That’s what I miss. Not the drugs. The relentless need for those drugs that kept me from fragmenting. That’s what I miss.

“What are these ceremonies and why should¬†we take part in them? What is this language we have got backed up into on long worst fire nights like a bad translation? It is important to keep recording the dialect forms, tracking the idioms. Yes there is a violence in it.”
[A.C.]

* * *
ps. Why do I always write the most depressing entries when I’m happy?

Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla

I’m sitting at a teahouse in Eugene listening to Mozart’s Requiem in my headphones… really loud. I’ve had trouble getting myself to write lately. Writing makes me feel so naked, I’m always afraid my underlying emotional volatility will spill out like a genie from a bottle, and I won’t be able to cram it back in again.

I have a separate peace with myself… I’ve figured out how to stay clean, but that’s it. Maybe I was naive to think that the same brain that forced me to shoot heroin for 11 years was a functioning brain in any sense of the word.

I’m not “better.” Will I ever be “better”? I am just BARELY able to keep the surface of myself from falling apart, keep up the facade that I am just like any other student going to class and sitting at cafes writing. The reality slips through every now and then, I say strange things in class and then kick myself later. I still can’t make eye contact. Talking to other humans is always an adventure… depending on the day, I might come across as a capricious eccentric or as a seriously disturbed basket case who can’t follow a simple conversation.

I remember 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 years ago, all the way up to January 2014, I prayed to a god I don’t believe in with the force of a million suns, that if I could just stop doing heroin, everything would be perfect, forever. Did I really believe everything would be easy after that? I think I had a hard enough time picturing a version of myself who was able to think about something other than heroin for longer than a few seconds.

You are shipwrecked in a stormy sea, thrown into the drink from your shattered hull, drowning in dark water. Suddenly you come to a tiny island and drag yourself coughing onto a rock. You kiss the ground and sob from joy. Then you look up and realize your tiny island has no fresh water and no source of food, and the ocean stretches out on all sides.

Life is change. That time I had an ego-melting mushroom trip in 2003, when I became the entire universe, I looked into the heart of everything that is, and saw the nature of reality. Exponentially increasing strangeness. That’s what I saw. I saw the infinite complexity of everything, laid out before me, and just when I would start to comprehend what it meant, it would jump up a dimension, get stranger still, strangeness squared, cubed…¬†The strangeness is¬†eating itself,¬†is what I thought at the time, as I rolled around on the floor and bit Eva’s thigh so hard I drew blood. But that’s a story for another time.

I suppose things do improve, slowly. Remember when I wrote about my door last year? I think that was in my old blog, maybe? How relieving it is to have a door that locks, to have control over my own space, to have no one in my personal space who is touching me without my consent. I don’t stare at my door so much anymore. I still think about the door when I’m feeling extra panicky. The door tells me¬†no one can hurt you here. Do I sound crazy enough yet?

Now I have more anger than fear. I imagine that every guy on the street is going to catcall me or try to grab me… even though that never really happened much in Eugene, it’s more of a big city thing. But I’ll see some guy on the street who is about to walk past me and imagine that he’s about to say something, and I involuntarily picture kicking him in the balls, scratching his eyes out, and this wave of rage flows over me just as I pass him… then¬†he says nothing, walks past, and I try to take a deep breath and keep going. Not every guy is a scumbag, I try to tell myself.


There is this scene in Top of the Lake, maybe my favorite TV show, ever. It was a mini-series, six episodes. Directed by Jane Campion, who directed¬†The Piano. Anyway. It’s a dream-nightmare of gorgeous, moody, blue-tinged cinematography. The main character, Robin, is played by a beautiful¬†Elisabeth Moss. She’s a detective who comes back to her hometown and gets involved trying to find a missing girl in a town full of secrets. When she was 16, she was gang-raped, and one of the rapists is still around in the town. She has never dealt with the trauma, and being back in this town that time forgot, where misogyny is rampant, dredges up her¬†memories.

One night Robin’s drinking at a bar and her rapist, Sarge, sidles up to her and tries to pick her up with a lame joke¬†that serves as a metaphor for the whole story. He doesn’t recognize her as the girl he raped some 10 years earlier.

Random guy: Hey! – Do you know what the perfect murder weapon is?
Sarge: No, get fucked, that’s what I do.
Guy: Go on, you tell her then, Sarge.
Sarge:¬†An icicle stalagmite.¬†Ta-da! Cause after you stab them, it melts. It self-destructs. …¬†I know you from somewhere, don’t I? You’re not a Sydney girl, hmm? Too classy for you to be a Sydney girl.¬†I reckon it’s like a picnic races or something.
Robin: You don’t remember me, do you?
Sarge: Probably the royal easter show, I’m thinking.
Robin: No.
Sarge:¬†Yeah? Did we fuck or something? We fucking did, didn’t we?

Robin is trying to control herself but a millisecond after he suggests that maybe they had “fucked,” she calmly, in one fluid motion, smashes her wine glass against the bar, stabs him with the broken glass, and starts screaming:

You remember me now asshole? You remember me now, asshole? Do you remember me now? Do you remember me now you motherfucker? Fuck you, piece of fucking shit! Fuck you piece of fucking shit! Fucking remember me now? Do you fucking remember me you piece of shit?
…as her boyfriend¬†drags her out of the bar and throws her in a puddle, and she falls into the water, sobbing.

The first time I saw that scene, I had the most intense emotional reaction to anything I’ve ever seen in a movie or TV or read in a book… the whole show was very emotional for me, but that scene reached into the darkest corner of my soul, where all my hate and anger had been hiding, and pulled it out to the surface in the span of a minute. The scene comes out of nowhere¬†‚ÄĒ¬†most of the rest of the show has a slow-build feeling¬†‚ÄĒ¬†and then suddenly there is this flash of pure cathartic rage. I wanted to BE her, I wanted to be stabbing that guy, I wanted to be stabbing him continuously¬†for the rest of my life. None of the drugs I’ve done even come close to comparing with the rush I got from that scene.

I didn’t even realize I had that much rage in me before I saw that. I would complain to M. or whomoever was around, telling them stories about my sick, horrible escort clients or my abusive exboyfriends, sure, I had anger. But that scene sliced through any defenses I had left. I felt like I was the one who had been stabbed, but it felt fucking good.

For days, weeks, and months after I watched it, I thought about that scene every single day, many many times a day. I would play through it in my mind in the shower, as I got dressed, in any downtime at school, lying in bed at night. No matter how many times it ran through my mind, it never lost its power.

Last Christmas I was home at my parents’ house. I had the DVD, and decided to watch it again. I watched the whole series¬†from episode one, but the whole time all I was thinking about was getting to that one scene. It’s in episode four. I knew I was going to feel something when I saw it again, but I wasn’t prepared when I started sobbing, loud, ugly, with tears streaming down my face. I skipped back and watched it again. And again. And again. Probably 20 or 30 times, mouthing along with Robin’s words: YOU REMEMBER ME NOW? Then I pressed stop and just sat there rocking back and forth and wiping my snot off my face.

Those outpourings of emotion are good, I think. My therapist told me that people with PTSD don’t start feeling the fallout of their trauma until the trauma is over. While you’re still in the horror, you’re running on adrenaline and pure survival instinct. Whether that’s for a momentary attack or years at war or a decade of incremental abuse and violation…

I didn’t start having those emotional breakdowns until I got clean “for real” in January 2014. Before that I would have freakouts and panic attacks but the pain didn’t cut into my soul, it was surface pain. It was, how do I get through this moment, how do I get through this one situation… or usually, how do I make $300 today so I don’t get dopesick again. I wasn’t really FEELING the weight of everything I went through. It feels good, now, in a way. It feels good to cry, like I’m working through all that shit. I don’t think I ever cried about it ‚ÄĒ I mean REALLY cried, about all of it, not just about whatever was happening at that moment ‚ÄĒ until the second time I watched that Top of the Lake scene.

This entry probably makes it seem like I’m losing my mind… well I’m always losing my mind… but things have been good. I graduated, for one. I got an internship up in Portland, probably at WW. (It’s through a program, so I still have to be placed at a publication.) Just when I thought I was through with Oregon and Portland, 100% ready to move to New Orleans, I get this dream internship. “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.” ha. I can’t really handle Portland anymore. It’s always been perfect, well now it’s too perfect. I can’t handle being around people who have never had any real problems. I know I’m irrational and that people in Portland have problems too. Well, I’ll see if it feels any better now that I’m clean and (possibly) employed, or at least interning.

There were places where the luxury dropped away, where I waited. I saw something flash open then lost it.

XOXOXO

There’s a story for you, that was to teach me the nature of emotion, what emotion can do, given favorable conditions.

tearsofjoyThe second time I had coffee with Miranda, my teacher/mentor, I told her the story of when I found out I got into J school. I wrote about it in my other blog but I still need to transfer the entries over. My old-school readers probably remember.

It was a perfect storm of emotional triggers for me: my father was being particularly awful, and I wasn’t so great myself that Christmas, 2013. I had only been clean for two weeks when my father and I had a huge fight in Chicago and I managed to run off, take a bus and then a cab from downtown to my old hood on the West Side, walk a couple miles to Chicago and Homan ‚ÄĒ “my” corner from when I lived there in 2011, I tried dozens of corners before deciding that was the best and most reliable location ‚ÄĒ score heroin, buy needles at the Walgreens at Western and Chicago, shoot up in a coffeeshop bathroom a block away, and meet my family nearby, in less than two hours. I think I told them I was having coffee with a friend. I remember crouching on the floor in this icky bathroom trying to hit one of my tiny wrist veins for about 20 minutes while I ignored my mother calling me over and over.

Two days later M and I had run out of the heroin we bought… had just enough to make it through a big dinner with family and family friends without getting dopesick. And then I got the email on my phone.

It still makes me almost cry thinking about it. I can’t remember the actual sequence of events, I only remember flashes. Seeing the email ‚ÄĒ not really reading it, but seeing enough flashes of individual words that I could comprehend that they had let me into journalism school ‚ÄĒ my heart was already racing so fast by the time my shaking hands managed to open the email on my phone ‚ÄĒ when your hands are shaking that much, opening an email is very difficult… I completely lost my hearing, tunnel vision, all I could see was the email on my phone. I showed it to M, and that’s when I started crying, quiet at first, then louder… I cried for 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes… I have no conception of how long it was. I just remember wiping my snot on M’s shoulder, burying my face in his sleeve, sobbing harder than I have ever cried in my life.

When I told Miranda about that scene, she asked me, “So was J school everything you thought it would be? Was it as good as you were expecting?”

“Yes,” I said, “110 percent. Not every single class, but overall, it’s been better than I even expected.” She seemed happy with that answer. I had trouble not breaking down in tears just telling her the story, so I wasn’t able to get many words out about how J school has helped me more than almost anything other than M’s emotional support. At some point, the support of people who love you isn’t enough, you need validation from people who *don’t* love you. At least I do. I’m a high maintenance recovering junkie, I guess.

Her question surprised me. It had never occurred me to judge my experience at J school. It wasn’t even about the school, really, at all. It was about proving to myself that I’m not a failure.

The real question is, did J school, or anything else, for that matter, give me the self-worth I craved? Yes, maybe. In the sense that I don’t think of myself only as a worthless junkie anymore, yes, for sure.

That evening at the restaurant, as M led me out, because the family friends and the waitstaff were getting concerned for my well-being, since I physically couldn’t stop crying no matter how hard I tried, I clung to his shoulder, completely blinded by tears, sobbing as I walked, hardly able to walk at all. The texture of the jacket he was wearing that night, a Carhartt waterproof canvas jacket, tan, dirty. Leaving a layer of snot on the waterproof coating. My hands gripping his arms, feet shuffling along through the ice and snow, slipping and stumbling toward the car that seemed to be 100 miles away.

tearsofjoy3The dark clear night sky, shining stars and glittering snow, my bare hands going numb from the cold, as waves of joy and relief vibrated through my body. Probably the most intense physical/ emotional experience I’ll ever have.

It wasn’t about school, a future career, or any of that, it was just the sudden realization that it would be possible for me to change. That I didn’t have to be stuck in addiction forever. One tiny step toward whatever it is that I would do after my addiction.

I thought about everything I’d been through, not just the addiction, but the rootless, aimless life I’d had, full of failure and trauma and a litany of woes. It all flashed in front of my eyes like I was about to die, scene after scene of awful memories, surprisingly vivid, but also distant, like I was finally putting those things to rest. One and a half years later, I’m about to graduate, but that moment still feels like it happened five minutes ago. I’m still there, sobbing¬†like a prisoner granted reprieve.

I wonder if I will ever experience relief that visceral again. I hope I never have to.

how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach

I just realized I can stop counting how many years I used heroin.

It’s a little confusing, anyway. I first tried it July of 2002 in Chicago, but didn’t like it at the time. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving 2002 in Portland when I was 22, when my 37-year-old neighbor Kurt, who was in love with me, relapsed on heroin out of heartbreak that I wouldn’t be with him, and gave me some… that was when it grabbed me. Trying it a second time was mostly because¬†of that thing I used to have, that part of my personality I have had to carve off myself like a sickness… the part that used to make me try any drug that was in front of me, do anything that was possible, try to reach the farthest corners of experience. Unfortunately, the instruments I’ve been forced to use in order to become free of that thing were very blunt and I ended up carving off parts of my heart and mind as well.

It took me a long time to realize why¬†I didn’t like heroin¬†in July 2002:¬†I was on a break from school, with my cousin and friends, generally happy. The second time I was back at Reed and buried in mountains of reading. I remember sitting on Kurt’s futon on the floor while he watched The Young Ones, reading the Communist Manifesto for my humanities class. At the beginning, then, I could still stay awake and read or be productive. That gave me this false sense that heroin was a good thing. I had done plenty of coke and meth trying to finish the hundreds of pages of reading I had to do each day, or the long papers about postmodernism and anthropology, but I didn’t like the jittery side effects and sleeplessness.

I can’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure what went through my mind as I read the Communist Manifesto flying high on heroin that day, the second day in my life I had ever tried it (and later Marx’s¬†1844 manuscripts, The Making of the English Working Class, Nietzsche¬†The¬†Genealogy¬†of¬†Morality, Flaubert, Kafka, Baudelaire, Woolf, and so many more), what I was probably thinking, was that¬†I had finally found the magic substance that would¬†help me painlessly finish all my reading¬†without the hovering anxiety and panic that never left me no matter how much of my life I sacrificed to finish the work.

Another thing I realized years later, when it was much too late:¬†the only students I knew who graduated¬†at Reed fell into two camps. First,¬†the ones who didn’t care as much as I did, didn’t mind not finishing the reading, chose their sanity over learning ‚ÄĒ it was still possible to get good grades and not do ALL the assigned reading, I was just fanatical about it, as I am with everything.

The second¬†camp were simply better students than I was, less flighty, less prone to random acid trips and adventures, willing to sacrifice their personal relationships and other features of normal life. My ex, Byron, the religious studies major who speaks Arabic and a few other languages, who is a professor at a fancy college now, was like that. He was better at not having any distractions, never doing¬†anything “for fun,” never going anywhere other than campus and home. He read on the bus, over meals, directly before and directly after we had sex, as soon as we woke up, even while walking. The only semblance of a social life he had was¬†me, and his best friend from home, Mitch, who moved out to live with him in Portland from their hometown in the Deep South.¬†Byron¬†also had iron concentration and somehow his own free-floating anxiety didn’t hinder his ability to read during all his waking moments.

(Mitch was a classical music composer who would pore over orchestral scores at the breakfast table. If anyone was more committed to the intellectual life than Byron, it was him. He lived on raw oatmeal for a time when he was living in a hostel-type place with no kitchen, in order to save rent money, so that he could go to Cal Arts. He dragged his mattress down the sidewalk from one fleabag tenement to another, in the pouring rain in November, to save money on renting a moving truck. The tortured genius kind of commitment. Mitch introduced me to Anne Carson, one of my favorite writers, for which the entire relationship with Byron was completely worth it.)

I unfortunately fell in a middle group ‚ÄĒ not organized or focused enough to do what Byron¬†did, but not pragmatic enough to see that the only way to graduate would be to relax my own standards.

My awesome writing teacher/mentor, Miranda, was talking to me about Reed one day, and was shocked to hear everything I just wrote. I told her if I had a child, I would never send them to college there. On paper, the only school in the country that doesn’t do grade inflation (google it), this bastion of intellectualism, sounds amazing. In reality,¬†a lot¬†of my friends ended up not graduating and a lot of us became drug addicts or picked up other mental health issues.

When I worked at reunions there for a few summers, they told me that Reed¬†is the only school that¬†allows anyone to come to the reunion, even if they¬†didn’t graduate. I met people at the reunion who had only been¬†at Reed¬†for a semester and had dropped out or transferred to UO or somewhere else, because they couldn’t handle the work. And these were smart people, people who had ended up with amazing intellectual careers, were doctors or lawyers or professors or archeologists traveling the globe. The reunion organizers said that if they only invited graduates, the attendance would be so sparse that it wouldn’t be worth having an event at all. That should have made me realize I had to relax my own standards if I wanted to succeed there, but I didn’t understand¬†until too late.

That Thanksgiving, 2002, I was immersed in my readings about communism, interspersed with watching Kurt cook up shots of heroin in his kitchen, then I would lean over the stove and look away so he could inject it into my arm. I was still terrified of needles. I didn’t learn how to inject myself until two years later. But after about a week, Kurt decided to stop. Even he was sensible enough to see that both of us were getting strung out (I was blissfully oblivious, didn’t even understand what withdrawal was or what addiction would mean). When I stopped, nothing happened, and I went on my merry way, assuming that heroin had no more power over me than any other drug I had tried.

The only difference was this lingering taste in my mouth, this faint pull, thoughts that would pop into my head, the desire to rhapsodize through several overwrought blog entries as I attempted to describe The Rush.

New Year’s Eve I was on acid and convinced Kurt¬†to buy more heroin. New Year’s Day 2003 I¬†had my first overdose, and Eva banned heroin from the house after seeing me almost die.

Fast-forward to March 2003, I was wandering downtown with a kind-of-friend who was trying to buy meth (long story) and somehow we found a heroin dealer instead, and I bought some. I was in the midst of studying for and taking the qualifying exam to be an anthropology major. The qual was a series of essay questions you had to answer to get to your senior year. Sounds easy, but the stress it caused was similar to what grad students go through approaching their thesis. You had to write about 30 pages in a weekend, and it was the only thing at Reed where the deadline was solid, no late work allowed. Many people I knew who had been anthro majors since their freshman year didn’t pass. They had to take it again the next semester. I’m sure they were less anxious even after failing the qual than I was studying for it. My self-doubt knew no bounds and I was convinced I would fail and never get into grad school. Funny how those things become self-fulfilling prophecies.

I had only been an anthro major for about 3 months. I had a revelation in September 2002 that I didn’t care about art anymore (my original¬†major). It seemed pointless, especially after 9/11, too inward-focused. I found that if I just added one extra semester and took four anthro/history/sociology classes for each of the next three semesters, I could graduate with an anthro degree. People advised me against it, told me that stacking up all those reading-heavy classes at once would be too much work, but as usual, I didn’t listen.

But by spring 2003 I was consumed with anxiety that I wouldn’t pass the qual. So much anxiety that I couldn’t finish my reading, I would sit there staring at the page, unable to read even a single sentence. After I bought heroin that day in downtown, I was suddenly able to concentrate. I got caught up on a semester worth of dense anthro and history reading in about two¬†weeks. (I was taking Semiotics, Anthropology of Eastern Europe, Anthropology of Europe, and Humanities. The reading I was required to do was not humanly possible.) At first, like I said, the somnambulant features of heroin weren’t as present as they were later.

The weekend of the qual rolled around in early April.¬†I picked up the questions on Friday morning. We had until Monday to finish it. There were four or five questions, some of them had readings attached. One of them was “What is culture?” That question is more complicated than it sounds. I was trying to not do heroin but I spend Friday and Saturday unable to concentrate or do any work. Everything felt dark and gloomy and sad. I was listening to Calexico and staring at my cup as my tea got cold and the sun went down. I realize now that the gloom was the first inkling of heroin withdrawal.

By Saturday evening¬†I convinced Kurt to take me out to score some heroin. I wrote the entire 30+ pages on Sunday, took the bus to Reed¬†on Monday to drop it off at 9 am. I remember walking back home, I realized that my skinniest jeans were falling off my body. I had to hold them up as I walked. These are jeans that I haven’t been able to fit into for about 10¬†years now (I have kept them just to remind myself of how tiny I was at the time). I weighed less than 110 pounds, 20 pounds less than I do now. I had lost at least 10 pounds just in the few weeks I had done heroin.

I didn’t stop doing heroin after that. I passed the qual. A lot of others didn’t. Was it worth it? Hell fucking no.

A month later Reed found out I was on heroin and forced me on medical leave, and my life was essentially over for the next decade. All the countries and states I traveled to, all the people I met, the assholes I dated, all the jobs I had, the books I read, the millions of words I wrote, the skills I learned, the wishes and dreams I crushed daily, none of it filled that hole.

I lost Eva, too. I probably lost her that day I overdosed and almost died on New Year’s Day 2003. Slowly, very slowly, she slipped away, even when she was right in front of me, even when we were living in the same apartment, the same room. Or rather, I slipped away.

I was never sure whether I should count my addiction from July 2002, Thanksgiving 2002, New Year’s 2003, or April 2003. As various months and years¬†passed, I would hope and pray that my addiction would finish on a round number of years. Not that I cared about the number, but I thought maybe I had an internal clock that was forcing me to be an addict for two years, five years, eight years, ten years… once I passed ten years I lost hope. Funny that I got clean right after that. January 2014 was almost 11 years after April 2003. 10 and a half years. I guess I don’t count it from those first few times, because I was able to stop without withdrawal. But I would adjust the start date depending on what year and month it was. In July 2007 I thought, wouldn’t it be perfect if I got clean right now, exactly five years after I first tried it? Of course that didn’t happen. Every potential anniversary passed, some with more hope than others, all with the same result.

Anytime the month lined up with one of those start dates, I would write the story in my head, from my future self: “I finally got clean in April 2013, exactly ten years after my first withdrawal.” Or whatever. Ten years seemed like it would be such a nice number of years. I don’t know why I thought the number of years would motivate me to get clean any more than losing my best friend or losing my identity.

I was looking out the window this morning and adding up the years. I had this moment where I thought “Shit, it’s 2015 now ‚ÄĒ that means I’ve been a heroin addict for 12 years… or 13 years, if I start counting in 2002… what the fuck? I’ve been telling people 11 years… shit, not more years of failure.”

I had this moment of panic, that feeling I used to have of the clock running out, my life unfurling before my eyes as I sat handcuffed staring at a flame, a spoon, and a needle.

Like in Plato’s cave, I was forced to watch the shadows on the wall, while the Real was just out of sight, my lighter and glowing¬†cigarette illuminating the apparitions¬†that were my entire existence.

Then I realized I can stop counting.

something shattered inside the words we use… to have wanted a story, whereas life alone was enough

Even after almost two years back at college, and six months clean (or 15 months, if I add the time before my August relapse), I still feel like an intruder in this world. Like an undercover agent. And since no one knows who I am, they say things around me that they wouldn’t say otherwise. Yesterday in class I learned a journalistic convention that made me so angry I had to restrain myself from outright yelling at my classmates.

I’ve always been able to pass as “normal” — I kept all my teeth, I almost always had a place to sleep (even if that place was sometimes a car or a motel), I had enough nice-ish clothes from the times when I was making more money, and I still talked like someone who grew up in the suburbs. In 2008-9 I reached my lowest point, and I was too depressed to shower more than once a week, but my hoodie and jeans were still relatively clean and I would put a hat over my dirty hair. I would still get whistles and propositions, so I guess I still looked okay.

Now that I’m clean and “better,” my appearance and demeanor have made it almost too easy to slip back into the “real world.” Back when I first started doing heroin, I marveled at how I had spent my whole life in the “real world” and now I had found this thing that opened up a whole other side to life — like Alice stepping through the looking glass. A whole world where nothing matters, no one cares, there are no goals or aspirations, only¬†the all-encompassing high. You think nothing can separate you from your own personality, but heroin can. The effect was one of a disorienting scale shift. Everything I had known became tiny, irrelevant, forgettable. I had to create a neologism for the world I lived in until age¬†22 — I called it the “real world.”

The darkness was just as big as the real world, if not bigger. Once you find that you have a choice whether to live or to fall into a deep waking sleep, everything changes. You might think you’d miss the good parts of your life, but what really happens is that you will be so glad the bad parts are gone — no more anxiety, depression, worry, disappointment — that you decide you can live without the joy and personal relationships and hopes and dreams. I didn’t do it consciously, I struggled against it, but the darkness won.

And now I’m back in the real world. But I’m still on the border. Some days I almost forget that the darkness is there. Some days I can feel it more, can feel that everything in this real world is a chimera, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

It bothers me how easy it is for me to pass as someone who wasn’t injecting heroin and sleeping with strangers for money for 11 years. I feel like I should be covered in scars, like my skin should be a different color. People treat me like they would treat anyone, but I wish I got more credit for making it to class every day, which still shocks me.

You’d be surprised how often stuff like drug addiction and prostitution comes up in class. Last term a guy in class told us how he had written an article about escorts, and everything about his tone was mocking, even though he didn’t mean it to be. He called the women “whores” and ridiculed them for asking to be paid for the interviews. He explained it like they were just too low class to know anything about journalism. I kept my mouth shut.

Then there are the casual jokes about “whores” and “junkies” that seem to come out of nowhere. I can never think of those people the same way again. A kid in my Russian class made some offhand disparaging¬†comment about “whores” last year, and it still colors the way I look at him. “Oh, so you believe some human beings are worthless… noted.”

Yesterday was by far the worst prejudice I’ve encountered, though. Mostly because it exposed a layer of entrenched classism in journalism that I guess I was hoping wasn’t there.

It was in my interview class — a whole class about how to conduct interviews with sources. One of the things that comes up every¬†class period is the ethical issue of changing quotes. Non-journalists probably think that ethics dictate you never ever change a quote, but that’s not how most media organizations operate. You are allowed to take out stuff like “um” and “like” and “I don’t know.” You can cut off parts of quotes and some editors allow you to splice together sentences from different parts of the interview to make a coherent statement. This all exists on a continuum, with some reporters arguing that nothing should be changed, not even the “like”s, and some arguing that you can pretty much change anything as long as the meaning is the same.

The hard part is deciding where on that continuum you fall, and what rules you will use to decide what to change. Most freshmen students start out in the “no changes” camp and slowly relax their rules when they see how difficult it is to do interviews and how rarely people speak without random interjections. My professor, John, is on the far side of the continuum, believing that as long as you preserve the person’s meaning, it’s okay. Most journalists will put something in brackets if they need to add a word for clarity — like, “then I started using [heroin].” The New York Times even uses a bracket to show that a certain word wasn’t actually the beginning of the sentence. Like, “[T]hen I started using [heroin].” That way you know if part of the sentence has been cut. John says you can just leave out the bracket and write, “Then I started using heroin,” without indicating that you are adding words for clarity.

Where it starts getting difficult — and where I have to struggle not to yell at people — is when there are issues of grammatical errors. You’d be surprised how many journalists argue, with no awareness of how hypocritical they are, that if a doctor or lawyer makes an error, you should change it, but if a person living in a trailer park does, you should leave it. My teacher, John, and three¬†other people were arguing this. That if the person is “educated” you should give them the benefit of the doubt and make their speech grammatically correct.

The example was a doctor in one of my classmate’s article who had said, “some people that…” instead of, “some people who…” [“That” is only used for non-humans; “who” must be used when referring to a person.] My classmate had left the error in the quote. John said she should have corrected it.

I’m okay with some reporters having a more liberal view of quotes than I do — if they do it across the board. Which they don’t. These three students argued that if you’re talking to a “homeless person”¬†you should leave in the errors and maybe even leave in the “like”s and “um”s. I was so angry that I think my face turned red. If this doctor is so educated, why did he make the error? In reality, no one¬†talks without errors, not even grammar nazis like me. I constantly say “me and so-and-so” when I’m talking. Very few people talk in coherent, error-free sentences. My professor found grammatical errors in almost all of my classmates’ articles (not mine!) — if a group of journalism students can’t even get their grammar correct in their written assignments, how are we supposed to expect other people to talk that way?

John and these three classmates were arguing that in the case of the homeless person, you want to preserve their “dialect” — essentially, preserve the features of their speech that make them sound lower class. But if a card-carrying member of the elite makes a mistake, we should change it — we’re all friends here, up in the vaunted world of white collar jobs and college educations. It makes me so fucking angry and so fucking sick that these people can’t see how classist this is. What if that homeless person has a college education but has fallen on hard times? “Educated” is¬†a word my classmates kept throwing around, which they seemed to think was a hard and fast category that could never intersect with being homeless or speaking with grammatical errors.

At first I thought I was hearing them wrong or that they hadn’t thought it through carefully enough — but they continued to argue with me and the other sane people, that treating interview subjects differently based on their perceived class is perfectly reasonable. I am still so angry it’s difficult for me to articulate why. It seems so self-evident to me why this is wrong, but I said most of what I’m saying in this blog entry, while looking into their eyes, and they still didn’t get¬†it. I started to wonder if I’m crazy, wonder if a majority of reporters would show this shocking prejudice.

And I wonder what they would say if they found out about my past. In this class, I happen to be at or near the top in both writing skill and knowledge of grammar, just based on my grades, my professor’s questions about grammar and writing, and how few of my classmates know the answers. That’s okay, I’m 15 years older than them, I’ve had a lot more practice. But what if they knew I was a “whore” and a “junkie” less than two years ago, that I was even homeless briefly? If I made an error in an interview, would they change it, or leave it in to preserve my exotic low-class “dialect”? How the fuck do you put people in these categories?

I wrote my article based on an interview I did with another escort. I actually thought it was kind of boring. She didn’t have any scary stories where she feared for her safety — you’d be surprised how few escorts have been in actual danger. She’s a heroin addict, has a three-year-old son who lives with her parents, and is pregnant with the child of an unknown client. Only the last of those facts seems shocking to me. Junkies who have lost custody of their children were everywhere back when I was using.

But my professor praised me for getting such an unusual interview subject, and said, “This is great, because of the 14 of us in this room, how many of us have been a heroin addict or a prostitute? None.”

I was sitting there, trying not to laugh or cry.

And my interview subject had made plenty of grammatical errors, and I had left in some of them, and John said nothing about those, didn’t suggest that I correct them like he had suggested changing the doctor’s quotes in the other article. Because this prostitute apparently had a low-class “dialect” that we wanted to preserve, like an anthropologist stalking an exotic tribe.

It almost makes me want to tell the class about my past, just to try to get through to them, to show them that these categories aren’t as solid as they think. It’s awfully hubristic to talk like this about homeless or lower income people, as though none of us might ever end up in a situation like that.

My writing class last term included me, the junkie/whore, as well as two kids whose mothers had been drug addicts and had been in and out of jail, and two girls who were working at chain stores putting themselves through college. The Hispanic kid from the bad neighborhood in L.A. who hasn’t seen his mother in years — who wrote one of the best essays¬†in the class, a letter to his absentee dad that almost made me cry — regularly spoke in what people would call “black” vernacular. So, if I’m quoting him, is he “educated” or is it a dialect that will add color to my piece? What if the subject doesn’t want their quotes changed? What if they want to preserve their unique way of speaking, not sound like a politician, bland and boring?

The funny thing is, when this topic came up in that writing class last term, that L.A. kid was the only one in the class arguing that you SHOULD change the quotes of “educated” people but not lower class people. The kid who was in a gang at 14 and somehow got his shit together and made it to college, was arguing that it’s okay to correct doctors and lawyers but not homeless people. I guess it’s aspirational — we all want to believe that we are the educated ones, that we will get the benefit of the doubt, that if we are interviewed the reporter will make us sound like the smart people we are.

Well, I don’t want that. I don’t want anyone¬†to smooth over my mistakes.¬†I want them¬†to see my scars.

“Yes, there are moments, like this moment, when I seem almost restored to the feasible. Then it goes, all goes, and I’m far again, with a far story again, I wait for me afar for my story to begin, to end, and again this voice cannot be mine. That’s where I’d go, if I could go, that’s who I’d be, if I could be.”

[Beckett]