Friday, December 19, 2008

The Great Below


July, 2001

The next morning, I call in sick to work. I pack a small bag and drive to Culver City—to the address that Dr. Die Hard gave me months ago—to the hospital. I check myself in. The nurse takes any sharp objects I have: Scissors, razor and so on. She asks me if I have dentures. I tell her no and allow myself an absurdist thought at the possibility of a black-market where addicts deal in the high-stakes trade of false teeth. She assigns me a room and gives me a small paper cup filled with colorful pills which I take without question, probably for the simple reason that they’re drugs and I’m a drug addict—the name kind of says it all. I lay myself down on the uncomfortable bed, turn off the light and wait. A couple of hours later, I’m a zombie.


There’s a silhouette carved into the fluorescent white light from the hall outside my room. Even in my heavily-sedated state, I can tell it’s a very nice silhouette too—all curves. It’s saying something that I can barely hear.

“Huh?” I say, hardly opening my mouth to form words.

“I said, do you smoke?”

I have to think about it.

“Uh, no.”

Only heroin.

“Wanna come outside anyway?” the silhouette asks.

“Sure.”

I raise myself up off the bed somehow and scuff my feet across the floor in the sneakers that I didn’t bother to take off before I laid down. I follow the sterile light into the bright hallway. My eyelids are heavy. My whole body feels heavy. Everything’s tilting. I glance down the hall to my left and see the silhouette there. She’s no longer a silhouette, but a young girl lathered in the achromatic glow of the hospital hallway.

“Come on—this way,” she says with a smile.

I follow, drifting down the hall until I get to the elevator, which she’s holding for me. I get in. The doors close.

“Your first night?”

I just nod.

“You’re seriously doped up then,” she says with a Cheshire grin.

I just nod.

“You won’t remember in five minutes, but I’m Nicole.” She runs a hand across my shoulder. “I’m what they call alumni. I’ve already been through the program—just back for a meeting tonight.”

I don’t say a word. My eyes flutter. Her voice sounds like it’s coming from the end of a long pipe. It reverberates around inside my head.

She takes my hand and reads the wristband.

“Chez, huh? What kind of name is that?”

I slowly turn to look at her. My face probably registers confusion.

“Italian,” I mutter—at least I think I’m saying it out loud.

The doors eventually open and I follow Nicole out into the lobby and to an enclosed area where alcoholics and addicts have gathered to smoke. It’s night—but I don’t know what time. I realize that I’m in another world now. I’m on an island. This isn’t Los Angeles anymore. This isn’t home. This isn’t anything I recognize.

I watch Nicole light up a cigarette and join in a conversation with a couple of guys. She’s very attractive. Very L.A. I don’t know how long I stand around before I remember something that seems important. My cell phone is in my back pocket. I need to call someone. I need to prove to myself that the outside world still exists—that it hasn’t disappeared and left me here on this island alone forever. I stumble away from the group and take out my phone and flip it open. I focus my eyes as best I can and dial my parents. My mother answers. I tell her where I am. I tell her that I’m finally getting help. I tell her that I love her. I listen to her choke on her own tears. I tell her that I’ll be better soon. I murmur something incoherent. My voice trails off and is eaten alive by the echo in my own skull. I’m suddenly interrupted.

“Hey, you’re not allowed to have a phone here. Didn’t they take that away from you when you checked in?”

I just stare at the orderly who’s talking to me—then at my phone—then back at him.

“Obviously not,” I answer.

“Well, you have to get off the phone.”

“I’m talking to my mother. Would you like to say hi?”

“I don’t care. You have to hang up.”

I go back to my call.

“Sorry mom, some fucking asshole is telling me that I can’t talk to you.”

I smile at him as he takes the phone out of my hand in slow-motion.


I spend the rest of the night submerged in dark water, my arms moving languidly around me as I try to grasp and hold on to thoughts of Kara—thoughts of my life and the shit I turned it into, thoughts of everything and nothing—as they glide past me in all directions. I exist between sleep and awake. Between darkness and light. Between life and death.


I down four more cups of pills over the next twenty-four hours.


It’s a Friday night—I think.

I’m standing at the edge of the TV room, staring through the huge plate glass window that stretches across the length of the space. I’m ten floors up. Outside, Los Angeles shimmers soft pink into the distant horizon. I stare at it. I stare at it from my island—from the parallel universe, surrounded on all sides by the real world with which I can’t interact. I’m nothing more than a ripple in the fabric of time and space right now. A vapor trail. I don’t exist to the outside world.

Without thinking, I reach over and grab a chair from the card table next to me. With every bit of strength I have left, I lift it above my head. My world once again moves in slow-motion. I throw it. I heave it as hard as I can. It hits the giant floor-to-ceiling pane in front of me and shatters it. It explodes in a shower of splintering glass that momentarily distorts and destroys the image of the city on the other side.

I scream.

I scream as loud as I can.

I smash the protective bubble—and cry out as the world beyond flows into the room—into this parallel universe. I flood the island.

I snap back to reality.

I’m still staring out the window.

A realization surfaces from deep beneath the chemical wash that’s keeping my will and my sanity under control. It’s the realization that I’m not actually on an island. I’m not in a parallel universe—and that’s the problem. I’m in a hospital in Los Angeles. The world is out still there—right outside this window. I checked myself in here for a five day detox. At the end of that time, I’ll be released back out into the world, back out into L.A., and back out into the same danger that I came here to escape. The dealers will still be there. The temptation will still be there. Elliott Smith is out there somewhere right now, doing heroin and writing music. If he can’t kick it, what chance do I have?

The realization is that all of this is useless.

The realization is that I’ll never stop doing drugs as long as I’m in L.A.

I make a choice.

I have to go back to Florida.

But first, I have to leave this place.

I have to leave this place, now.

4 comments:

J said...

Wow...........the way you described throwing that chair
through the window......i have
always wanted to do that!!!

You are very lucky that you managed to escape from that
deep dark well you were in.

Very impressive, IMHO!

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience and it happened in LA too. I was hooked on meth and lost most everything. Thankfully I am drug free many years now and was able to start anew. Tough stuff.

I really enjoy your writing.

Jeremy said...

My mother still doesn't understand why I had to leave southern Ohio, and why I don't want to move back home. If only I could make her read this. But she still probably wouldn't get it.
"See," she'd say. "He went HOME."

RottweilerTOM said...

You mean you don't have Dentures?