Actually, I believe that all moments are lost in our minds forever, but remembered choppily albeit carefully after the fact, like a wind-up jewelry box you’ve had for ages. The tune of the plastic ballerina holding her graceful pose on the silk stage still jingles, but it always feels old and faded. My memories are faded things. If I knew they would yellow like old lace, I would have kept them in the air-tight components of my mind, separate from where the less-important things go. Like C climbing up through the side of his apartment building to get to the last bits of angel dust strategically left on his coffee table in his living room, which resembled not a living room at all but an island of boxy wood amidst a sea of kitchen tiles. He was moving out of his apartment — got a new one in Montreal — and him, R, C, and I were all celebrating with one last trip before we went our separate ways. Hours before we had stood at the highest point in the city, strumming a guitar we brought with us, wishing we were superstars or ballerinas on a replica of that silk stage jewelry box. Wishing we were anything except what we were at that moment, a feeling I am all too familiar with.
Sometimes it feels like Canada isn’t an immense amount of space at all but something that we can navigate easily within minutes, which is what we usually do. This is a college town. There are college bars and college kids. We decided, at three o’clock in the morning, that we wanted to walk across the bridge that connected one province to another. It took us three hours to get to C’s place and yet another fifteen minutes figuring out what to do when C, with an incredulous look plastered on his face, told us he left his keys on the kitchen table at R’s apartment. He climbed up the brick wall, broke into his balcony with one sharp fingernail shaped like a spade and god knows what else while I waited anxiously in a taxi with R and C along with the mandolin and the guitar. “Artist?” the Quebecois taxi driver asked us, glancing at the mandolin, and we nodded yes, yes.
We walked along the canal and met a girl who claimed she used to be an ex-heroin addict. R and I were tripping out on a cocktail of MDMA, Jagermeister, and Red Bull mixed together in green sippy cups left over from St. Patrick’s Day. This was May. We sat on a park bench along the canal. The city was empty. The water, once so clean and raw with algae and thick sage-green liquid, now sported the remnants of human life crawling around and polluting everything it could touch — we even found a bicycle in there, entangled with a plastic bag. If bodies of water could resemble the bodies of human beings, I was sure that, in another life, I was this canal.
Like most times, we talked about our substance abuse. Like most times I am high or drunk or strung-out or both, I have conversations with people about being high or drunk or strung-out or both. For one person the experience might be one bad night underneath a bridge (or, on top of it) in the wrong side of town, or at a nightclub in the right side of town, but for me I always think of C climbing up that brick wall of his apartment building so we could pass around water bottles, take popper hits, and snort line after line of ecstasy with the same desperate statement, “I’m not feeling anything!” until we finally, finally, felt something, the sparkle and light shimmering through our bodies, the phenomenon of what R calls “princess eyes” dilating our pupils and making them as black as a poet’s overcoat. Perhaps the most melancholic moment of taking any drug is the overpowering fear of becoming sober again. We scream “I’m not feeling anything!” to the empty sky as if it’s a proclamation to some higher force, some force who owes us something, owes us these six short hours of pure bliss before we have to go back to the dull routine of everything again — our eyes lifeless and bloodshot, breath smelling faintly of milk, the vibration of our toes and fingers and the humiliation of the night before, when everybody was open to talk about their sex lives and their childhoods, and when I had conversations with people I could not, for the life of me, remember the names of now. I met a girl I had previously never met before, and at one point in the night while on four tablets of LSD we fell down on top of each other on a sidewalk, too woozy on alcoholic cider and hallucinogenics to walk home. E threw me into a cab and carried me up my apartment stairs, laid me in bed with my cell phone and a glass of water by my bedside, whispering in my ear, “You’re still beautiful, even when you’re throwing up.” I know most drug and alcohol experiences are far more dangerous than mine. I owe my personal experiences to loving friendships, like R who let me puke inside her Marc Jacobs bag when I just couldn’t hold it in anymore or the time my best friend walked into my dormitory room at my residence hall to see my arms slashed and bloody and bruised. She cleaned me up behind a shower curtain. The phone calls I’ll receive the next morning asking me if I’m okay, and do I need someone to bring me water or food?
Why do I pride myself on the extent of my self-destruction? The pills I’ve been prescribed for depression and anxiety, the drugs I’ve done, all seem like Anne Sexton’s resumé. I list them with confidence and grandeur. I’ve gone further than most people I know — not in experimenting, but in how close I’ve come to either being in an ambulance or, worse, ending up at the morgue. R tells me she woke up in a ditch and, when she asked the name of a man covered in piss laying beside her, he responded, “My name is Drugs Spears.” This is the kind of experience I’m talking about. This is not a rendition of the Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” or a lame made-for-television movie where the parents sit on their couch eating popcorn, watching a special on drugs and teenagers, and promptly call their children during commercial break because, after all, do you know where your kids are? Probably leaving the table right now, gingerly slapping a ten on the counter at a diner, because the people I was eating dinner with called me a fuck-up. It’s a pathetic sort of hypocrisy, these emotions that stick to me like Velcro. My self-destruction and my addictions are all I feel I have at times, but I feel a strange and self-conscious hurt if even one person calls me out on my insanity. I can’t be helped by any human being save for myself, but I so crave the company. It’s the paradoxical nature of someone who struggles with isolation, but shuts out anyone who tries to help him or her in the pretense that that person is “meddling in.” I heard from someone once that addicts are walking paradoxes; a piece of shit who the world revolves around.
The ex-heroin addict: we spoke about our drug use that night, and I remember it solely for its honesty and also for its potency. “I don’t need a substance inside my body,” she said. “It feels so great not to have to add anything into me, to just be okay with being sober.” We take another swig of Jager, we do that line of coke, we shout breathlessly, “It’s only because of my medication!” when we find our heads inside of a toilet bowl at a bad college bar after a night of heavy drinking. We crawl home after acid trips in a half-hearted attempt, maybe, to empty what we never wanted inside of our hearts. Drugs get rid of things — that’s the honest truth. They destroy and they master the thing you want out of. Self-destruction, for me, is the image of someone standing on the yellow line on a subway platform, waiting to see how far they can go vertically. They are afraid but they are also unafraid. And when we are not afraid — when we don’t have that soft, smooth pill dissolving under our tongues, when there is no crystal-white powder on our bathroom mirrors, when there are no bottles and no pipes and no cigarettes and not even traffic to walk into — we miss being afraid. Abusing a substance destructively is like riding on a roller coaster without wearing a seat belt. We crave the danger because we want to see how close we can come to death. We want to test the strength and the perseverance of life because we spent so long doubting our own survival.
So we scream “I don’t feel anything!” after the first few shots, the first few lines, because for a few desperate and tantalizing moments the thought of being sober is the most agonizing thought on earth. My drug use, and even the emotional and social problems that stemmed from it, was a sort of self-abortion; I thought that if I took enough, snorted enough, drank enough, it would cleanse me of everything I considered waste. C, climbing in through that window, passing me the scissors and the Bic lighter, the credit card we would use to crush our supplies up for the night. We ask ourselves if we feel anything yet, we lament on how great it is not to have to add anything to our bodies, because in reality we don’t see it as drug addiction, we see it as drug addition, and with each new additive something has to subtract. We want it out of ourselves, and we want it out now. Climb in through that window, C. I’ll be watching nervously on the pavement below, leaning back against the taxi, hoping you make it past your balcony and into your empty living room that’s all prepared for a better place than this. I’ll pray for the day when we can look up at the empty sky and tell ourselves the truth, instead of a desperate lie. If there’s anything I’ve learned from these nights of falling down stairways and screaming in the streets, it’s that eventually, the throat becomes tired of screaming. Even the lungs reach their limit. The pretty tune from the old jewelry box plays on, the ballerina twirling endlessly in her graceful stance, reminding you that at one point in time you still held onto that last shred of innocence and that you, too, can stand on a stage of silk.