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.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

If you had the power to get somewhere — anywhere — where would you go right now (Writing 101, Day 2: A Room with a View)?

It is winter there now, but the temperature there is probably warmer than it is here right now on this almost-summer day.  This is the same time of year as it was when I was there, and although fourteen years of time and a few lifetimes’ worth of experiences have passed in my life, there are still a few strong sense-memories that remain in the leaky bucket full of holes that I call my memory.

  • Flying for almost 24 hours of vomit-plagued turbulence.  The flights were all full, so there wasn’t room to stretch out as had been predicted by my friend who had made the flight before, so when I disembarked in Melbourne, Australia, my legs were cramped and I was exhausted.  I was not so exhausted, however, that I did not marvel at the scent of the air coming in my rolled-down taxi window once we left the airport traffic behind.  I asked the driver why the air smelled so sweet, he responded only, “Eucalyptus trees.”  Overhead flew a flock of budgies (like sparrows do here) to land, en masse, on a eucalyptus tree near the highway, brightly colored.  Ahead rose downtown Melbourne, with skyscrapers about the same height as here in Seattle, but it seemed there were fewer of them, or maybe they were just spread farther out.  The taxi let me out in a district filled with brick-faced shops and boutiques, tucked in between two buildings was an unassuming cement five-story extended-stay suite hotel in which resided my then-boyfriend.

Other sense-memories bubble up to the surface:

  • Queen Victoria Market on Tuesday – a seemingly never-ending square of tent-roof.  I haggled for the first time in my life, quite by accident, when I put back the sport sandals I’d tried on after finding out their price – $60 Australian.  “I only have fourty,” I explained.  He quickly countered that it wouldn’t be a problem for him to take that $40 instead.  But I wasn’t about to spend the rest of the week completely broke.  He ended up taking $25 for them – at that point equating to about $13 US – for the Nike velcro-strap walking sandals (which are still functional 14 years later).  My boyfriend bought me a small gold-wrapped clear opal pendant. I bought souvenirs for me and my family – “thunder” sticks made of koa wood for percussion, boomerangs painted with elaborate dotted designs, a painted didgeridoo that I never did teach myself how to play, a plethora of beautiful postcards.  There wasn’t enough time to explore every table and nook, I spent half the day there and it wasn’t enough.  The shops in the buildings out on the boundary held further treasures, a glass studio with small delicate glass unicorn, fairy, star, and other fanciful ornaments that I knew wouldn’t survive the trip home.  Flags and kites a few doors down.  I glutted myself on the eyefuls of things I wished I had the resources in my wallet for, to take them all home.

  • Queen Victoria Beach, the sun shone brightly but the temperature was mild and balmy as it was there all week.  The rich creamy frozen yogurt cone on the walk there, the big wooden roller coaster from bygone days with a ginormous bright-painted clown’s face over the entrance.  The painters and sculptors set up on tables and blankets along the sidewalk bounding the beach.  The orange-peach color of the carved stone blocks holding the plaque announcing the name of the beach also proclaimed the cause of the color of the sand – pale orange under an unbelievably blue clear sky.  I had the beach, due to it being a workday, almost to myself.  I spent the rest of the day collecting shells, beach glass, driftwood and sand to take with me.  I was lucky, later, to discover no ban on bringing natural materials from there into the US.  The customs agents simply shook their heads to each other like I was nuts.

  • The streetcar trolleys.  I rode a few during my stay, a novelty for me.  I would have been petrified to try to drive and weave in and out among them, but the drivers downtown seemed not to care.  Drivers seemed very polite to each other in a way that just isn’t seen here.  I saw no evidence that road rage ever existed there, which boggled my mind.  Maybe it was because there was rarely even a hitch in traffic.
  • Anytime I stopped to look around to gain my bearings, someone would always seem to appear to help me find my way.  My helpers would invariably explain that all Australians go on “walkabout” at some point early in their adulthood, thus feeling a keen empathy for lost travelers.  Through them, I was pointed in the direction of all my soon-to-become-favorite attractions.
  • The botanical gardens were filled with tropical plants, larger versions of the small succulent “air plants” that we nurture in miniature here in the States, their versions sometimes dwarfed my body in comparison.  Tall palm trees and vivid exotic blooms of every color surrounded me at every turn.

  • Public art was almost everywhere.  An archway made of giant neon-color pick-up sticks, statues, other metal and stone sculptures, plaques announcing the history of this or that artfully-designed brick, stone, or wood-carved edifice abounded.  A long lush walking park extended across through downtown, along both sides of the small Yarra River.  Mosaics on the path and walls of nearby buildings, more sculptures, frequent rich red-bricked archways under bridges adorned the park, making the long walk well worthwhile.

It was the only time I’ve ever been out of the country.  I have yet to see Canada or Mexico, even though they are both much closer and in the same hemisphere.  Hopefully that will soon change.  But the trip to Melbourne resides in what remains of the lighter side of my memories, from a time when I could not have comprehended even the possibility of the darkness to follow starting a scant six years later that lasted until the end of last year.  It was a summer, or rather a week of Australian winter, of innocence, something which I am ever grateful to have experienced.