Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Steer Clear

Those crazy kids.  

Today blondie with his ear gauge and various tattoos, his too baggy pants hung low on his skinny hips, barely, comes in, sits down at the counter.  Blondie at the counter pulls a large white pill from his shoe and slips it past his lip, sips his coffee. He knows I'm watching.  I'm facing him.  He's got a cell phone to his ear. 

Yesterday blondie offered one of the restaurant servers a Percocet for $8.  She scoffed at him and told him she could get them for $5. 

Blondie the peddler sits perpendicular to the cook who is definitely an ex-junkie.  As was one of the servers who only lasted a few days and who is now back in jail, as was another  server who is now simply fired. The cook is coming dangerously close to losing his job, as well.  He suddenly flat-lined about six weeks ago and has gotten progressively worse.  He may simply be over-medicated, but it's difficult to tell.   

I tried, for seven years, to maintain a friendship with someone who "uses regularly" (she  smokes, her husband snorts) but she is about to go into the hospital for the third time in a year, (her lungs have collapsed, she's had a heart attack and a brain hemorrhage) and honestly? I can't take the drama, the up and down of it all, the disappointment.  She's killing herself and I can't stop her.  Of course I can't.  She will be dead soon, probably. So I've been staying away from her.  I've removed myself from her life because I won't live her lie and because if I distance myself now I'll be hard enough to dismiss the pain later, if she does die. Or at least partially dismiss the pain.  

I lost my best childhood friend to speed and the abusive man who supplied it to her. 

I wonder what it is that separates the drug abuser from the recreational drug user.  How much pain must people be in that they would need to numb themselves so deeply, shield themselves so fully, so constantly.  How much more sensitive than me must they be that the urge to escape the skins they are in, the need to be free of some circumstance, of some history, becomes the primary urge, pretends to protect them. 

Or are people just so bored that they want to escape what feels to them like the ordinariness of the world?  Is there lack? There is genetic predisposition coupled with everything.  Is there a need for inspiration? 

When I was seventeen, boredom, availability, and friendship led me to swallow a black beauty.  That and "krank" were the strongest speeds available to high school students at the time.  Ridalin hadn't been invented, Heroin was for Rock stars, and coke and crack weren't on the menu until I attended college. I was a sheltered child. 

After my friend and I swallowed those glossy black capsules, we walked around a bit, then we sat down against an entrance wall at our high school (a local hang out), and I nearly chewed my entire thumb nail off.  The split down the middle has nearly healed, but it's still all bumps and ridges. Later that night, I threw up.  I didn't take another hit, ever. I never wanted to feel that way again and I couldn't understand why anyone else would want to. 

After my brain surgery I was prescribed phenobarb, a barbiturate, as well as valium.  I had never tried "downers" as a teen, and when I did take them, because I had to, I hated them.  Again, I couldn't understand why anyone would want to feel so disconnected from the world, to mute their senses, to need to move so slowly or not at all. 

First, for pain and because over-stimulation to my brain could cause me to seizure, and because I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome following the craniotomy,  I was "on and off" a total of 27 different medicines over the course of ten years.  The pain of light and of sound was enormous at first, and is sometimes still with me, but it's not nearly as intrusive or as lasting as it was, once. Still, sometimes, even the silence scrapes against the underside of my skin.  It's a pain I find hard to explain. 

One of the medicines I took over the course of those ten  years made me feel like I was living in an aquarium.  There was the constant hum of everything in the background, always on, and when I moved it felt as though I was pushing my body through water.  

One of the medicines I was prescribed simply knocked me out for two-and-a-half days. I could barely stay awake long enough to eat and couldn't pull my body up from the bed. I also had night terrors. Needless to say, I stopped taking that one immediately. 

I reacted to most of the anti-seizure medicines I was prescribed "paradoxically" which meant that instead of calming my brain down they caused it to speed up.  I would wake up every morning panicked for no reason: my heart racing, my body quivering, and a fist up under my gut as if something terrible had just or was just about to happen. 

Another of the medicines made it seem as though the walls and floors and ceiling had lost their angles and were all slipping together to form one plane. 

Experiences like these made me realize how much of our perception is provided by our own brains and not necessarily real circumstance.  As philosophical as I already felt I was, I became even more so when I saw first-hand that my truth, my vision, was my own.  Although it may seem to me that others experience what I experience, we have in the end only our own versions and interpretations of things and the interpretations that others experience and are willing to share with us through storytelling and other various arts.  

Last night another friend of mine, not the one mentioned above -- died as result of "complications stemming from pneumonia and emphysema".  She was "a smoker" -- not of crack -- not of Ginsberg's dope -- but of the cigarettes he so despised.  

I can see why.  They and alcohol are the only two legal drugs available to anyone who tries to give up other vices. Alcohol isn't addictive to everyone.  But from what I can see, EVERYONE I know who smokes cigarettes is an addict. I was one. I know I can't ever ever ever pick up a cigarette and "have just one".   My stupid body would probably become orgasmic with the nicotine rush and I'd expect that rush every time...but eventually I would need more and more nicotine to reach that "high" and so I'd be smoking two packs a day in two months, no doubt.  Soon I'd begin to feel myself dying again as I felt I was when I decided I needed to quit.  

It's been ten years since then. 

Oh the nine mile bicycle rides!  Oh the two-hour boogie-boarding sessions in the ocean!  Oh sweet breath and clear singing voice! And stable mood!  And energy!    

And thanks, too: my fear of death, my love for life -- which have kept me clean of other deadly things. 

As for Blondie, I'm going to pretend I'm a character in a movie.  Our place fills up with cops a few times a week, at least. He's bound to notice THAT sooner or later.  If he stays and tries to peddle his wares anyway, then I think I'll imagine he's working undercover.  

Either way I better tell the servers there to steer clear.... 

The Last Thing

My friend of twenty years, Shirley Lake, died Sunday night of complications stemming from pneumonia and emphysema. We were leaving comments on one another's blog pages just two weeks ago. Last week she was admitted into the hospital, couldn't breathe on her own and remained unconscious until her death.

These pages we make, these journals we leave behind, these pictures we post -- they won't be thrown away but will live on in cyberspace. Our shrines.

Ever since my brain surgery what's embedded in my mind is that the last thing we say might be the last thing we say.

So I just wanted to remind you all of that.