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 — 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 — 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 — 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]

turned my brown eyes blue

Last night I had maybe my favorite dream I’ve ever had. The part that haunts me is when I found myself in front of a mirror briefly. I almost didn’t notice, but just as I was turning away, an impression flashed through my mind. Something isn’t right, I thought. I turned back to the mirror and saw with a shock that my eyes were blue. I leaned forward, staring. They were not just blue but icy blue, so icy that the inner part, including the pupil, was blanched white.

In the very first instant that I saw my white-blue eyes, I knew that the change was a psychic wound from everything I had been through. I only remember vaguely the rest of the dream, but I can FEEL those eyes. They weren’t milky, they were glowing, pouring a blinding incandescence, not outward, but into myself, staining all of me with this radiant chill. Not reflected moonlight, not warm sunlight, but self-created starlight: cold, faraway, steady and eternal. White so white that it could never be another color again, light so bright it was bending time and space and curving around me and into me.

I couldn’t see actual rays, and it wasn’t like I had flashlights for eyes. It was light I could FEEL, that I knew was there behind those icy blue-white eyes. I don’t know what part of me in the dream had this “knowledge” that traumatic experiences could bleach brown eyes blue, but it felt so obvious, like there could be no other explanation. As I stared, I realized that I liked myself with bright icy eyes. I could have a staring contest with the sun and win. I could throw shadows across a room. I could illuminate my way through the darkness.

* * *

Lately I’ve been waking up incredibly early — 3 or 4 or 5 am sometimes, and no later than 7. Even though I go to bed at midnight or 1 or 2 am. I am wide awake by 4 and have to fight to get myself back to sleep so I don’t feel horrible by noon. The weird thing is that I *want* to get out of bed when I wake up at 4 am. Not like when I was dopesick and I was so restless my body would kick itself out of bed on its own accord while my mind begged to go back to sleep. Now the thoughts start and I want to get up and start reading or writing or doing whatever it is that I’m doing that day. It’s usually pitch black and then gets light a while later. My window by my desk faces east, and the sunrise is gorgeous.

Class doesn’t start until 11 am, and by that time I feel like I’ve already lived a lifetime. 2nd year Russian, five days a week. I dream in Russian sometimes. The other night I had a dream I was overhearing some native Russians speaking, and noticed errors in their speech, which made me feel better about when I can’t remember the genitive plural declension for сестра (сестёр) and брат (братев). (Words related to family are highly irregular, especially in genitive plural, which could be a metaphor for something, I guess…)

I’ve been clean for over a year. Well, I slipped last August, but only for a few weeks, so I decided it didn’t “count.” I’ve always thought it was really depressing that if you use for one day, you have to start the clock all over again. I was clean for 8 months before that and it didn’t seem right to erase all that.

Things were complicated. I tried to leave M, unsuccessfully, as it turned out. I tried to find a new place to live, couldn’t find anything I liked, and in the midst of that I was panicking more and more from working on the school paper… mostly it was the people I worked with. The editor I had a crush on graduated, and everyone else there sucked. The editor who replaced him, who worked directly above me, the person most responsible for my content, is maybe the worst writer I’ve ever encountered, with no sense for news, doesn’t even read the fucking news. She would tear my stories apart until they were unrecognizable, adding grammar and spelling errors, and even worse, changing the tone so my writing sounded cutesy and stupid like her writing sounded.

The clique-yness of the place drove me crazy, too. A whole bunch of mostly nerdy wallflowers have their first opportunity to be in an exclusive club, and take full advantage of excluding new people. “New” = I worked there for 10 months and even hung out with them socially a few times, was super friendly, and still felt excluded.

When I agreed to stay and work for the summer, they told me that my 45+ hours a week of UNPAID reporting work would be reduced to about 10 hours/week and I’d only have to write one story each week. Well, it turned out to be just as much work as during the school year. The two editors directly above me double-teamed to follow me around criticizing everything I did… I missed one day of work because of an awful hangover and had to get some big lecture and sign a “contract” that I wouldn’t miss any more days… meanwhile Ms. Awful Editor had missed over half our Sunday staff meetings and most weekdays because she kept going out of town for music festivals (EDM, puke. Why were 100 percent of my coworkers into EDM??).

The night after having to sign that “contract,” I relapsed. I was completely losing my mind with fear that I had gone through so much to go back to school and that somehow I wasn’t cut out for working in journalism. I couldn’t deal with my terrifying interviews and evil editors at the same time. I quit the paper and got clean again but September through December sucked. I was convinced my whole college degree would be for nothing.

Maybe it is… but this quarter I am taking a feature writing class, and my teacher, Miranda, is fucking amazing. I have to restrain myself from giving her a huge hug every day, and it’s a real struggle to not laugh at her jokes more than the rest of the class or answer every question or monopolize class time with my questions. She is a freelance writer who has written three books, two of them memoirs. She talks nonstop about how journalism isn’t dead and how we can make money writing. She’s the only professor I’ve had so far that didn’t spend every class period telling us we will never work in journalism because print is dead. She tells us realistically that we aren’t going to get rich writing, but that we can still make a living if we are creative about it.

Also, Miranda and I have been having coffee and discussing publishing my memoir. She tends to be overly excited and positive about everything, so it’s hard to gauge what my chances really are, but she has taught a memoir workshop at a writing conference for years, and seems to think that my story has a real chance of getting published. She told me that her agent would definitely take me, but that I could also try my pitch at this conference in August. She’s also been giving me advice about privacy issues. She actually changed her last name before her first memoir so that she wouldn’t run into issues with people recognizing her abusive father in the book.

I never know if people are just being dramatic, but when she asked me what my memoir was about, and I told her, she said, “REALLY? ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?” about 20 times in a row. That was when she gave me her agent’s name. She advised me to use a full-name pseudonym for both my memoir and any personal writing I come up with. I never really thought about publishing personal essays, but she told me that her students that end up published during college or after graduation usually start with personal essays, first-person narratives either about their life or something they experienced. Shit, I could write that stuff in my sleep. That’s what I’m already good at.

We are going to move to the Bay Area after I graduate so M can work in restaurants, and I’m going to make millions with my memoir. /sarcasm. But I stopped feeling like the degree is pointless. I would have gone through four years of college just to take this one class with Miranda. Anyway, I’m so close now. I’m going to walk in the spring, take two more classes over the summer, and then I’m done. It only took me 15 years to get through college.

I wrote the first chapter of my memoir. It’s about that day those cops found me overdosed and one of them said to the other, “Let’s shoot her up with Narcan to see if she’s a junkie.” It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. Working on the memoir has made me see that it’s very different from blog writing. You have to use suspense, pacing, surprise, dialogue, and all that shit I thought non-fiction writers didn’t have to think about. It’s amazingly cathartic, though. Even though I wrote about most of this at the time, it’s different writing something I intend to be published. Like I’m writing the definitive version and can finally close the door on each thing I write about.

M says I should divide it up into multiple books — I surely have enough material already to fill six volumes, the My Struggle of a female American junkie. And there’s enough I haven’t written about — not just stuff I didn’t write about at the time, but feelings, description of the characters, physical details, and so on — to fill another six. But this is one book. It’s one story. The last 15 years are one story arc. It’s a classic riches to rags to [spiritual] riches story. I had everything, I destroyed it, and then I got back a different everything.

* * *

a.baa-Nature-eyeAfter I had that dream, I googled “turned my brown eyes blue.” I could have sworn that was a phrase, an idiom, something I had heard before. It turns out that it’s a country song from 1977, but that’s about it. And in the song it’s only about a broken heart, with “blue” as a metaphor for sadness.

That’s not what it was like in my dream at all. My eyes weren’t a gloomy blue, they were a searing, shining white-blue, like burning ice.

Like cold so cold that it hit the other side of the spectrum. That this violates all laws of physics doesn’t change that I can feel it is true.

Frozen into light. The pain that turned my brown eyes ice-blue, and they burn.

They burn.