Learning to Die, Part One – “Fatal Attraction”

Today, write about a loss. The twist: make this the first post in a three-post series (Writing101, Day Four: The Serial Killer).

LEARNING TO DIE

Part One: “Fatal Attraction”

I always thought I would never even try a “hard” drug.  My dad had told me many horror stories of his friends that “never came back” from heavy acid trips and although he never mentioned that he had tried cocaine, speed, and heroin until after I was well into my own bouts with addiction (and recovery), I had been given enough information through his stories of girlfriends lost to addiction, through public education, and through the scare-tactics of the churches I attended as a child, that I was certain that the “harder” drugs were too dangerous to even try.

That being said, I still experimented heavily with alcohol and marijuana, consuming both semi-regularly from the age of 16 until my introduction to cocaine later in life.  I had tried pot once, in a very small amount, before moving out of my hometown, at 16.  Later that year, I decided my only escape from my mother was to choose voluntary psychiatric care at a nearby mental hospital for a few months, and when I got out I went to live with my father and to attend a nearby alternative high school.  There, the common practice after school was to go see the school pot dealer in the woods across from the school and smoke up with him.  I’m not sure how many times I did this, perhaps a few, but I know that I stopped when I had an experience that scared me straight (as far as going out in public when I was stoned).

One evening after smoking out in the woods, I got on the county transit bus to go home to the neighboring town where I lived, stoned out of my gourd.  I fumbled with my change for a long time, dropping quarters on the floor and stumbling around while picking them up.  Finally, I finished paying, got my transfer, and sat down near the front door.  When I got closer to home, a man in a dark blue sweat suit, carrying a navy blue gym bag that proclaimed in bright white letters across the side, “POLICE,” walked up to the front of the bus next to me, leaned over next to my face, and inhaled deeply through his nose.  That sniff seemed to last forever, and it freaked me the fuck out.  I was frozen in place.  He finally stood back up and said, “Sorry, I just had to do that,” and he exited the bus.

My mind spun faster than a gerbil wheel, my eyes watched the window through the back for following police cars, my heart jumped every time we went to make a stop, certain that uniformed officers were planning to board and take me in every time those doors opened up.  I finally made it home safely.

After that, I only toked up when I didn’t have to go anywhere or when I was sure I wouldn’t encounter anyone else while I was baked.

As far as alcohol went, I was able to get a hold of it regularly.  When I was at parties for older friends, I would drink to excess, getting pretty sloshed, then taking the bus home to my grandparents’ house where I lived with my dad in the basement.  He never said anything about me coming home smelling like a distillery, maybe because never really got into any trouble that way and I always came home, albeit pretty early in the morning.

However, one episode encouraged me to be more moderate in my drinking.  When I was 17, I and three other friends decided to try to finish off a full half-gallon of Everclear in one night.  I woke up two days later, praying to a god that I no longer believed in, hoping that he would just let me die.  The pain in every cell of my body took at least another three days to subside, and after that I didn’t drink to blackout ever again, usually I drank to get a small buzz going, and then would switch back and forth between alcohol and water to stay just a little buzzed.

Things changed the year I turned 30.  The fall before then, I tried mushrooms for the first time, having a pretty intense and partly uncomfortable trip, in which I lost my fear of death, or so I thought.  Shortly after, I was introduced to whip-its (nitrous oxide) and the wonders of its anesthesia.  Mushrooms did not become a regular part of my experience, but nitrous did from then on.  Nitrous, along with the things I would later substitute for it, would soon change my world.

Later will come Part Two: “Blowin’ in the Wind”

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Three Songs That Saved My Life

Today, celebrate three songs that are significant to you (Writing 101, Day Three: Commit to a Writing Practice).

Before starting: The exercise calls me to write for at least 15 minutes, and however long I spend writing today to be my average writing time for the rest of this month’s course’s exercises.  A lot of people have been saying on The Commons for this month’s course that they find the time passes too slowly.  Not for me.  I have, so far, found myself having to stop myself when I’ve already gone over.  I’ve heard the term “bloggorhea” (like diarrhea of the mouth, but transferred to blogs) used to describe tendencies like mine to just write endless posts about what I find interesting.  I think my challenge this month will be to find a better “economy of words,” as my friend Nancy (an acclaimed gallery artist and former high school English teacher) from my young adulthood claimed was the only real thing my writing lacked.  And here I go doing it again.  Time to just do the exercise.

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

1.  Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in C Minor, as performed by Vladimir Horowitz on a cassette tape recording made during the early 80’s.  Also called “Pathetique.”

I still have the cassette, somewhere.  The music encoded on the magnetic tape of that cassette has been fuzzed out by the noise created by having played it many too many times.  I would play its movements, then rewind, then play it again, and rewind, repeating these as often as I needed to until the tears would slow down and eventually dry up.  I was so often so lonely that I would pity myself my (total) lack of any friend my own age – all my friends were adults, who understood my plight all too well, but they couldn’t take the place of the scoffing, mocking, bullying adolescents who were my peers in school.  I often used to say, “I didn’t have friends, I had books,” growing up, but that’s not completely true.  I had Vladimir Horowitz’s fingers caressing those white and black keys, comprehending the absolute despair that overwhelmed me, soothing my pain.  No other interpretation of that sonata has sounded so right to my ears since, no other version does for me what that one did then.  I found another Horowitz version recorded a couple of decades later, but it doesn’t have the same passion, the same skill, it is a faded replica of the older one’s glory.

2.  For My Lover – Tracy Chapman

When I was 12 or 13, I was given my first CD boombox.  My dad had already started collecting CDs, cassette tapes were still sold in stores but it was clear that CDs were the wave of the future.  With that boombox, I was given the three CD’s that were my favorites of my dad’s collection: Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon,” James Taylor’s “Greatest Hits,” and Tracy Chapman’s debut album.  All three were rotated and played on repeat, but the latter was the one that spoke to my adolescence in a way the other two did not.  It was difficult picking just one song from that album – “Fast Car,” “She’s Got Her Ticket,” and “Baby Can I Hold You” were also top on the rotation of songs to get repeated on my headphones and sung along to under my breath at night, but “For My Lover” spoke to a time of great tribulation when I was 14.  I had been dating a 19-year-old, and he got me pregnant.  I miscarried soon after, but my mom (shortly after he had left town to go home to live with his parents again) went through my room, found my diary, and read the entire thing to find out what was going on in my life.  She tried to have the older boy prosecuted for statutory rape, to which I responded that I would volunteer to testify for the defense and appear in court wearing the sluttiest outfit I could find to prove that I had initiated the relationship and that he didn’t know my age until we were already involved.  I felt like I was in prison, I felt like I was being punished for my choice of lover and for protecting him and, in a way, that was true.

3. My Dad’s Gone Crazy – Eminem

This rap song starts out with the sound of someone chopping up lines on glass with a razor and then snorting something with a straw, only to follow with the sound of a toddler asking, “Daddy, what are you doing?”  The song speaks to the craziness of addiction, the anger and self-righteousness that goes along with it, the rebellion against society, and the grief at what is happening, what he is doing to himself and those who love him still in his life. ‘Nuf said.