I am not myself these da.., p.15

I Am Not Myself These Days, page 15


I Am Not Myself These Days

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  “I’m sorry. Stupid dig,” I say.

  “Don’t worry.”

  “I was just joking.”

  “Don’t worry. I know. I’ve decided, when I get back to work next week, not to go on any party calls anymore. Just normal ones,” he says.

  “You don’t have to do that. You faked it before, you can do it again,” I say, trying to be overly generous.

  “Maybe later. Not now.”

  I’m relieved. I know that he couldn’t be around crack any more than I could be around an open bottle without indulging.

  I’m also not naive. I’m not sure he can do this. Sex for money, dressing in drag, and too much booze…fine. All things we can handle. But the crack throws me. The whole time we’ve been together I knew that we were forging a different path for ourselves, pretty far outside the typical romantic comedy genre. But genres are genres for a reason, and I saw enough “very special” sitcom episodes about the dangers of drugs to know there aren’t a lot of happy endings. No one made it through puberty in the 1980s without Nancy Reagan’s harpy message permanently tattooed on his brain. Every time I saw Jack high I couldn’t help but picture his brain as a sizzling egg in a frying pan.

  But if anyone can break the cliché, I suppose it might as well be us. Whatever fucked-up lifestyle we’ve been living, it’s had its positive effects. I’ve been getting fewer and fewer doubtful snide remarks about our relationship from people around me. They knew what I was like before Jack and they see what I’ve been like since. I might still be having a bit too much fun for some of them, but they know that since Jack, I’ve been showing up to work when I need to and have been nowhere near as bitchy. Something about Jack is good for me. Something’s working. Maybe not all of it. But something.

  “Something wrong? You look a little sober,” Laura says Friday morning. She’s been teasing me relentlessly all week.

  “Don’t you get a pin or something after your first week sober?” she goes on.

  “I think I get a drink ticket,” I say.

  “When can you start drinking again? You’re beginning to bore me.”

  “You’ve been boring me forever. Why do you think I drink?” I reply.

  We’re sitting in her office avoiding any sort of productive thinking that might possibly lead up to an advertising concept for Kudos granola bars, our new assignment. So far, we’ve come up with one brilliant tagline that was summarily dismissed by the rest of the agency:

  Healthy granola. Sinfully delicious chocolate. Kudos…it’s bi-snack-ual.

  “I want you to come out Saturday night and meet this guy I’ve been seeing,” Laura says.

  “As much as I want to witness a miracle, I can’t drink till next week.”

  “Bring Jack. He’ll stop you.”

  “We’re going upstate for the weekend, anyway.”

  One of my surprises from Jack this week was a reservation for a weekend getaway to a spa two hours north of the city. He decided we both needed a little professional help in finishing up our little self-imposed detox. A couple of seaweed wraps, salt scrubs, hot stones. Total cleansing.

  “If you make it through the weekend without drinking, I’ll take you out to get trashed at lunch on Monday,” Laura says.

  “Deal,” I say. “And if you can make it through the weekend without ditching this new guy, I promise not to tell him about your herpes.”

  “I don’t have herpes.”

  “He doesn’t know that.”

  “Don’t cross me, motherfucker,” Laura says, turning back to her computer. “I’ll crush you.”

  Again, the salsa music when I step off the elevator. For weeks after coming home from Japan I braced myself for whatever possibly could be behind my apartment door. But tonight the only thing crossing my mind is whether to pack my Gucci or J. Crew bathing suit for our spa trip tomorrow.

  “Hey!” I shout over the music.

  A cupboard slams in the kitchen. I walk around the corner. Jack and Trey lean against opposite counters staring at me bug-eyed. Jack’s head is completely shaved.

  “Hey, you!” Jack says. “How’s work?”

  They’re high. The kitchen smells like someone peed on a pile of aspirin then lit it on fire.

  “Fucker,” I spit.

  “What’s wrong?” Jack starts, before he realizes he’s not going to get away with any lie. “We just had some left over. No big deal.”

  I don’t say anything. Jack’s chapped lips had just begun to heal this week and now they’re blistered and swollen from the burning pipe. I notice a burn that goes from his right temple over the top of his ear. He must have flared a chunk of his hair off, then shaved the rest of it off. The angry red splotch has Vaseline smeared on it.

  “Nice haircut, asshole.”

  “Come on. I’m sorry. This is it. It was the end of it. I wanted to get it out of the house.”

  I stand there and glare at him. He looks like a seven-year-old. He starts to open his mouth and say something, then stops. Then does it again. Like a fish.

  I’ve never seen Jack this soon after he’s taken a hit. He’s wild with energy. Even though he’s standing perfectly still, his body is in constant motion. His forearms twitch. His hamstrings are contracting. There’s no part of his body that’s not completely taut.

  “You told me last week that there wasn’t any more in the house,” I say.

  “I forgot I had some in my backpack.”

  “That’s bullshit. You cleaned out your backpack on Tuesday.” Jack spent most of the evening on Tuesday taking inventory and rearranging his work toys.

  I nod at Trey. “He brought it over.”

  Trey looks at me and smirks, shrugging his shoulders. Then he turns toward the counter and picks up the pipe and the lighter we use to light the grill on the balcony. Trey lights up again, and I see Jack’s attention waver between the pipe and me. And it looks like I’m losing.

  “Fucking weak-ass lying crack whore,” I spit at Jack and storm into the bedroom.

  By Sunday night I’ve only been home a total of three hours. Just long enough to shave, change into a different Aqua outfit, glare at Jack as he lies in bed watching TV, and head out again.

  It’s good to be back to normal. My own peculiar normal. Working, drinking, working. I’m in great form at the clubs, and everyone seems especially glad to see me. Unlike most of my binges, I don’t even bother to count how many drinks I’m having.

  It’s not easy to stay out twenty-four seven. You have to choreograph your club schedule carefully to always be in one that’s not only open, but crowded and fun as well. It’s best to find a pack and move together. The hardest time is between noon and about five p.m. Then I’m reduced to heading to my favorite illegal afterhours club on Avenue D. It used to be called BodyHeat, but after a string of overdoses it’s now referred to as BodyBag.

  BodyBag is located in an apartment on the first floor of a tenement building. It’s an old railroad-style layout. To get in, Baron, the guy who sits on the stoop, has to have seen you before. But even if you’re there every night, there’s no guarantee that he’s in a mood to let you in. It’s nothing personal. Baron keeps a close watch on everything that happens on Avenue D. If too many people are coming and going from the place, it looks suspicious and he’ll just wave you on when you approach. There’s no point in stopping and pleading; it will only guarantee that you won’t get in the next time.

  Apparently the coast is clear when I arrive sometime Sunday afternoon from wherever I was last. I try to remember where I just came from. I can’t. Doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that I’m away from Jack and on to the next party.

  Inside, there’s a smattering of tired partyers scattered on the frayed couches and armchairs. The windows are all painted black. I have to pee, but there’s no use trying the bathroom. It’s always filled with either people preparing to shoot up, or people shooting up, or people passed out and blocking the door after shooting up.

  The kitchen area of the
apartment has been turned into a bar. I walk up and pay twenty dollars for a double bottom-shelf vodka.

  As soon as I sink into one of the chairs that reeks of the sweat of the last hundred clubgoers that collapsed in it, I start to pass out.

  Keep it together. Just finish this drink. Then I can go home and pass out without having to talk to Jack. One more drink. That’s all.

  I lean back and shut my eyes and listen to other conversations around me. I can’t follow any one for any length of time. People’s voices come in at different volumes and at different intervals.

  “…I don’t have any. Bob did it all before we left…”

  “…fucked me till I bled…”

  “…right out the goddamned window…”

  “…she’s a fucking whore…”

  “…beat the crap out of her…”

  “…nice fish…”

  “…I said, nice fish.”

  Someone’s poking my shoulder. I open my eyes. A huge muscular bald guy is sitting on the arm of my chair.

  “Nice fish.” He’s pointing at my tits. “Want another drink?” Now he’s pointing at my glass.

  “Sure. Vodka.”

  “Be right back.”

  I’m spinning again when he returns.

  “Guzzle and let’s go fuck,” he says.

  I close my eyes and swallow my drink.

  I can’t stand up.

  “Here.” He’s holding out his hand. He pulls me up and I lean into him. We pause for a second. I swallow hard. I try to even myself out somehow. I try to take a deep breath. Fucking corset. He puts his arm around my waist. It’s thick and weighty. I barely have to move my feet as he lifts and pulls me toward the door.

  “It’s not free,” I say when we’re out in the hallway, “I’m not free.” My eyes won’t open the whole way.

  “What do you want?”

  “Three hundred dollars.”

  “I’ll give you forty dollars and a rock,” he says, waving for a cab.

  “Hola, senorita.”

  Pedro. I don’t answer him. I just need to get this over with. I try to keep my focus on the elevators at the far end of the lobby.

  “Nice place,” the bald guy says, gripping my arm tightly. Too tightly. But it’s keeping me upright.

  In the elevator he pushes me against the wall and shoves his hands down the back of my skirt. They’re huge hands, and rough. I bury my face in his chest. His shirt smells acrid, like our kitchen. One of his hands comes out of my skirt and pushes into my forehead, slamming my head into the side of the elevator. His tongue is in my mouth. It’s sour. I can’t breathe.

  Inside the apartment I put my bag on the kitchen counter. Just want to rest a second. Jack’s cleaned it off. No crack shit anywhere. I lean my forehead against the cupboard next to the stove.

  “I need the money first,” I say.

  “Come on, baby. It’s no big deal. We’re here now, let’s just go.”

  “I need the money.”

  “Look at this place, bitch, you don’t need my fucking money,” he says, laughing, though I can tell he’s losing patience.

  “Just the rock then. Just gimme the rock,” I say.

  “Here,” he says, pulling a vial out of his pocket. “You want to hit it now?”

  It’s hard to think. I could do it. See what it’s all about. Maybe if I tried it I would know what Jack was up against. Nah. I’m fucked up enough. I just want to get this over with.

  “Let’s just fuck,” I say. I tumble forward and fumble for his belt. He spins me around and shoves me. Hard. I fall into the hallway closet door and see a flash of black around the edges of my eyes. For a second I think I can recover and stay upright, but the wall’s not where I judged it to be. I land on the ground face first.

  He’s on top of me pressing his huge forearm down on my cheek, smashing my head down hard against the parquet.

  I throw up.

  The vomit in the back of my throat and nose makes it impossible to breathe. I gag again. His arm presses harder into the side of my face while he pulls at my clothes.

  His knees are on the back of my knees, crushing my kneecaps underneath them. He’s saying something, but my ears are ringing so loud from the pressure of his arm that I can’t hear him. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. There’s a blue light flickering at the end of the hall. The bedroom TV. Jack is home. I’m gagging harder, trying to get air. The hard cold parquet feels like it’s pushing up against my Adam’s apple. He spits in my face. It’s drips in my eyes and I can’t see.

  “Jack,” I try to call out; it comes out as a hoarse whisper.

  “Jack!” I say again. My voice is smothered, but a little clearer. I feel the vibration of my vocal cords against the floor. “Help!”

  I gag again.

  “Jack!” I spit some vomit out, and my voice is stronger.

  The guy stops pulling at my costume. The pressure against my head lets up a little.

  I lift my cheek off the floor.

  “Jack! COME HERE!”

  The bedroom door doesn’t move. If he’s crashed, he’ll never hear me. The sliver of blue light keeps flickering. The guy is frozen on top of me.

  “My roommate’s coming,” I sputter to the bald guy, knowing that he wasn’t.

  “What the fuck, bitch?! This is some fucked-up shit. Fuck off.”

  A sudden shove sends my head bouncing against the parquet, and the guy stands up.

  I hear the apartment door open. I still feel the phantom pressure of the guy’s weight on top of me, but I know he’s gone. I feel the draft rushing over my legs from the outside hallway.

  I throw up once more, jerking violently, before I pass out.

  When I wake up, I throw up again immediately. I turn my head to see the clock on the microwave. 1:37 a.m. I turn my head back, and the blue light is still flickering down the hallway. I close my eyes again.

  The clock says 3:23. I’ve pissed on the floor.

  The clock says 5:56.

  The clock says 7:33, and a faint pink glow reflects off the wax on the floor. I’m woken up by children’s laughter in the hall. When the bald guy left, he didn’t shut the door. I can hear the rustling of backpacks and lunchbags as the kids tease each other on their way to the elevator. Though I’m facedown facing the opposite direction, I can tell when they reach our doorway by the sudden silence. I am not ashamed. Lying there half-dressed and broken in my puddle of piss and vomit, I cannot dig up any emotion, let alone an appropriate one. The group of children shuffle off to the elevator, silent now.

  I get up on my hands and knees and crawl into the kitchen. I stay on my hands and knees for probably fifteen minutes before I can pull myself up. My throat burns. My tongue is so thick it fills the back of my throat. Just water. I need water.

  I see the top of the crack vial sticking out from behind the coffee maker. It must have gotten knocked there. The bald guy left without it.

  I have a hard time swallowing. After the first sip I lean over the sink and throw up again. Just bile. And threads of pink mucousy blood. My stomach feels like crumpled wax paper scraping against the inside of my abdomen. My knees won’t bend.

  I have to be at work.

  I take a deep breath that smells like puke.

  I pick up the crack vial and head toward the master bedroom.

  Jack’s still passed out on the bed. I don’t know when he crashed. The television is still on, but muted. He’s sprawled on his side on top of the covers with the television remote in his hand.

  I take a pen and Post-it note out of the drawer on the nightstand.

  “Here. I won something at the fair for you,” I write. I stand the vial on the note and head into the bathroom.


  I can’t stand silence.

  That’s part of the reason I like clubs.

  When I stand and dance on the room-size speakers, I can feel noise through the bottom of my feet. When the lights strobe to the beat of the music, I can see noise.

  When I was a kid, my brother would go days without talking to me if I’d done something to make him mad. I’d say I was sorry over and over again for whatever it was. Then I’d get pissed and yell at him. Eventually I’d cry. And he wouldn’t say a word to me until whatever arbitrary time came that he decided he would talk to me again. He wasn’t being mean; it’s just how he handled conflict. We’re polar opposites. When he has a problem, he gives the world the silent treatment. When I have a problem, I give the world a sequined, star-spangled, show-stopping spectacular.

  Jack hasn’t spoken to me all week. The crack vial stayed on the nightstand with the note, exactly where I’d left it until I finally threw it down the trash chute a couple of days ago. It was a shitty thing to do to him, and I’m a little bit ashamed of myself.

  I sleep in the guest bedroom. In the morning, he orders his own breakfast, and a half hour later I get up and order mine from the same deli.

  I cancel my Aqua gigs because I’ve had enough drama for a while. And because I don’t want to give Jack the satisfaction of watching my drunken messes.

  When I come home from work, I hear him watching TV in the master bedroom. But I don’t go in there anymore. From the guest bedroom I still can hear his beeper go off in the middle of the night. I hear him rustling around the apartment while he gathers what he needs, then the final zipping of his backpack before the click of the apartment door lock.

  I’m not sleeping.

  He’s not away from the apartment long enough on any call to be getting high. Just the minimum hour, and I hear him come back in, thump his bag on the floor, and turn the TV back on in the bedroom.

  I’m not drinking.

  Laura’s been asking me what I’m going to do. I don’t know. All I know how to do is drink and go out and come home and go to work. And I don’t feel like doing it.

  I haven’t stayed home on a Friday night since I moved to New York, and tonight I’m lying in the guest bedroom watching TV. I’ve seen every late-night infomercial more than once, and even purchased some skin cream from Victoria Principal because I feel sorry about her career. I get up and stand at the window looking out downtown. I’m bored. I have everything and nothing to think about.

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