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.

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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