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

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When my idol left it broke. My back it broke my legs it. Broke clouds in the sky broke. Sounds I was. Hearing still hear.

her favorite flower as a childLast night I dreamed about Eva again. I dream about her at least once a week, usually more. Some of the dreams are amazing, like the one where we had on dresses made out of tiny lights (not like LED, something more glowy) and we were dancing on a roof with flowers that also glowed.

Most of the dreams are upsetting. Usually she dies and then I spend the dream consumed by regret.

Last night’s dream was more complex and subtle, though even more meaningful. She was helping me move to New Orleans. For some reason it was a big secret, we had to leave in the middle of the night and take a lot of weird precautions. (This reminds me of when she helped me run away from L., her boyfriend at the time, who was so psychotically angry at me for no reason, because he believed I hated men/him, when really I was just trying to stick up for Eva and not be a doormat in response to his abuse and his insistence that I give him all the money I was making at the political job where we were working. One night he started to completely lose it and she feared for my safety, so before he got back from the bar we came up with an escape plan for me. I have a flash of a memory of running diagonally across El Camino Real around midnight on a damp spring night, with her small green Oscar de la Renta suitcase she’d bought at a thriftstore, hastily packed with a few days of clothing and $80 she put in my hand, looking over my shoulder as I ran to see if he had gotten back to the motel yet, running to the bus stop at the corner and taking the bus to the CalTrain station, shivering into a couple hours sleep on a bench, wrapped tight in my jacket that my cousin N. had given me, that belonged to her best friend Jan who had shot herself the year before, the black coat had a plush lining and a fake fur collar, but even San Jose is cold in March at 3 am, then killing time with Denny’s coffee until dawn, then the train to San Francisco. I could never convince her to leave him. No wonder I’m still unreasonably afraid of being cold.)

Maybe in the dream I was reliving that night, but trying to take her with me this time. When we got to New Orleans, she helped me move into my apartment. I woke up the next morning and she was gone. The memory loss I experience in real life happened in the dream — I took my camera to the store to get some photos printed from my trip, and as I was looking through the photos on the store’s computer screen, I saw a series of images that I didn’t remember from real life.

My memory is like that — I’ll completely forget things that happened just last night, or even a few hours ago. I have several theories for why it’s so bad — MUCH worse than my memory loss when I was actually doing heroin! Most of my theories have to do with PTSD and having to compartmentalize my feelings when I was escorting, since I hated it so much it took every fiber of my being to keep going when I needed the money. By the end I was having detailed fantasies about killing my clients.

Anyway, back in the dream, I was flipping through my photos from the night before, and saw images of Eva and me, like flipbook, one taken every few seconds. I saw us walking down the stairs from my apartment, in frozen still images, through the entry way of my building, selfies of us kissing goodbye, and then I had taken a video of her walking away, pulling her roller suitcase, opening the door, disappearing into the dark. I couldn’t remember why she left.

The part of the dream that struck me most was at the very end. This part of the dream would seem heavy-handed with symbolism if I were writing fiction. Eva had left me a gift back in my apartment, the quilt she sewed in 1999. When we first met, freshmen at Reed, she had a very painful breakup with her first love. We bonded over our tendency toward obsessive and all-consuming love, and I would read her passages in my diary from when G. broke up with me, to try to show her that it would get better (not that I was all that healed either). We had a lot of fun that year, but it was only the first in a long line of traumatic experiences for both of us, and she was battling serious depression.

Somehow that year she got the idea to make a quilt that symbolized her ongoing recovery. I don’t remember anymore why a quilt, or what made her think of the design, but it was ingenious. There were only two colors, dark blue and white, each with a tiny, pretty blue and white floral pattern, like antique wallpaper. She always liked blue and white, and her taste was a little more girly than mine, though our aesthetics would meet, cross, divide, converge, and meld over the years. I can no longer remember what I would have liked before I met her, which part of my taste is mine and which is hers.

The quilt design was simple: it was essentially stripes of varying widths creating a gradation from blue to white, starting with a wide dark blue stripe, then a narrow white one, a slightly less wide blue one, a slightly wider white one, and so on until the other side, where there was a very thin blue stripe and then a very wide white one. It was supposed to symbolize how her depression and grief — the dark blue — would gradually get smaller, until happiness — the white — would overtake it and triumph. A dark blue border ran around the outside, and the back was dark blue. Amazingly, in between our mountains of homework, she actually measured it, cut it all out, pinned it, and if I remember, started hand-sewing it. When she went home for break, her mother or a relative helped her sew it on a sewing machine. The quilt lived on her bed ever since; for all I know it’s still there. Besides being symbolic, it was beautiful.

Back to the dream, and the most important and heavily symbolic part: As I was looking at the quilt and wondering why she’d left it for me, I noticed that it wasn’t finished: there was a section that had never been sewn, where the fabric and backing was still pinned together with dozens of straight pins. There were many more pins than would actually be necessary for holding together the simple striped panels — pins over every inch of the fabric, the sharp ends exposed.

I stared at it and couldn’t figure out how I’d never noticed before that it was held together by pins. Hadn’t it been in her room that whole time, hadn’t I sat on it, hadn’t we used it to cuddle when we were on drugs sometimes? How had I never been stuck by a pin? And why was it never finished?

We recently had a communication that was upsetting to me, and it seems obvious to me that this is related. But I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean.

The untranslatable word тоска, as described by Vladimir Nabokov: “Toska – noun /ˈtō-skə/ – Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness. “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. At the lowest level it grades into ennui. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness.”

When my idol left it broke.

My back it broke my legs it.

Broke clouds in the sky broke.

Sounds I was.

Hearing still hear.

[anne carson]

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.