“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 — 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?

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.

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]