“Your little kitten features looked tired, satisfied. You stared at me from the floor, face pressed against the carpet, and you ruminated on the millions of dust mites and organisms existing below us—being inhaled with every shaking breath, sticking to our sweat-slicked skin. We are infinitesimally small parts of something so enormous, we cannot truly conceive of its size. It is beyond the scope of our reason—yet some self-preserving mechanism enables us to rationalize that we must be some integral meaningful part of it all. The enormity of it all, and our sheer inability to accommodate its greatness, stands to prove that we truly are insignificant—just as the mites and bacteria below our noses have no greater purpose than to be. Perhaps they know more than we do.”
* * *
The weekends were always cold and lonely. You’d stay in your room, blinds down, door locked, hugging your knees under your blankets—and wait, wonder if you could transform into something, anything, to escape from yourself, from the realm of human suffering just for a brief moment.
By suffering, you do not mean pain. Pain is too narrow a consideration; pain too familiar, too easy. Ideas of suicide did not appeal to you, as suicide implied an eternal escape from pain. No. In fact, you sought ways to increase your pain; you once drove head-long into the winter wind vortex outside the John Hancock building, running, then sprinting into the headwind and screaming with frustration as your eyes leaked water in resistance. The wind won, and you shuffled into the gym, feeling your ears, lips, nose, fingers, hands go hot to combat frostbite. There, you embraced the pain of training, punished yourself in the privacy of the studio, though still under the watchful eyes of the staff and members who would walk away, muttering, “Crazy.”
But the pain, the booze, the steady stream of pills and coke just wasn’t enough to distract you.
The twenty-three-year-old boy who wanted to be turned into a woman. He showed up to your house looking as though he’d been playing Dungeons and Dragons in his mom’s basement his whole life. He had a whimpering, high-pitched voice and soft hands. You tossed down a glass of bourbon and spent almost two hours waxing and shaving his entire body. Mani, pedi. Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morrisette, Ally McBeal playing in the background. You put him in a bra, panties. Later, a skirt, top, and heels. He wouldn’t let you take pictures. Twenty-second wonder. Nude photo shoots. The little drips the guys left on your stomach after the click-click-click of the shutter. He asked for your number. The meeting with Sue. She spoke using delicate language and euphemisms to talk about the not-supposed-to-be-talked-about. She said you’ll pick up the language quickly. The guy—you call Joe Navy. Another guy—Liquor Store Guy. To the liquor store, where he handed you bills and a free bottle of Knob Creek. Ripped lines of Mollie. Blood in your underpants. Woke up to a giant Golden Retriever panting as Joe Navy jerked himself to a finish, with fantasies of being pegged. His end-stage demented grandmother moaned and drooled in her living room bed wearing only a diaper, back like a stegosaurus. Where was your truck? What town was this? How many liquor stores could be in a 40 mile radius? The millionaire’s penthouse. Fine champagne, nice high thread-count sheets, amazing view of the city. Another photographer for a quick fifty quick bucks. There was something just a little off. Maybe it was when he said, “You have a really nice pussy,” as he snapped photos through his short telescope. The bi-polar woman in whom you had confided a few times, since nothing you could say seemed to shock her out of the Lithium. She’d leaned in deep, “Just investigating,” but you backed away all bourbony. Jumped into the truck with its broken flung-right-off-the-vehicle windshield wipers and its missing tail lights, intent on your descent–and Greg got in touch with you. You drove fast and in circles for about thirty minutes, then eventually wound up at a warehouse in Charlestown. You swallowed the pills without blinking, and decided very suddenly to steal away from the action for a flaccid moment in the cab. You hung out in a chair all night in a little dark room bathed in black light and neon paint. Some ultra-petite black lesbian wanted to hook up with you—she kept touching you, petting you, telling you she loves you. Her friend looked like Shaq. Massive. Doted on you, along with Greg. You moved to a couch, lay down and watched some crazy, topless, emaciated white dude fly around like a maniacal canary on a giant swing suspended from the rafters of the warehouse. You wondered—you wished you could know—what it was like to be that fucking high.
At some point, a boy—The Philosopher—slipped onto the couch; he slipped right in behind you like a playing card. He started rambling, and you were nodding, eyes rolling, chest sighing. He asked you who you are, what you are doing there. You told him you were avoiding reality, burying your sorrows, wishing you could stop the pattern: the up-down rhythm of catastrophe. You said this as you folded up in your pill.
He whispered to you, lips brushing your ear, hands running smoothly over your waist, “Have you heard of the Myth of Sisyphus?” You said no. “Sisyphus,” he continued, “is a man condemned by The Gods to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down each time he reaches the top. And Camus—Albert Camus—wrote an essay on Sisyphus. He concluded that it could not be a terrible existence. It could not be the worst punishment imaginable. At the end, he writes, ‘The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.’”
You fell asleep as he told you that you are lovely.
When you woke up, it was to the sound of an E-tard blowing into a didgeridoo–it emitted a long, deep, resonating noise. You blinked against the early morning light leaking into the warehouse through the windows.The first person you saw was the little lesbian on your right, who was petting your face. Greg was seated directly behind you, smiling down, saying, “Good morning, beautiful.” Shaq was below you, massaging your legs, gradually working between your thighs. On your left, The Philosopher snored softly in your ear. The didgeridoo bellowed.
Who were these people? Why did they touch you? What did they want from you? You’d only shown up to a party in sagging jeans and Smith College’s stupid worn t-shirt that read, “If Wishes Were Horses.”
You and Greg split. You took him back to his apartment in Cambridge. He wanted another night of Aderrall-fueled fucking over that massage table of his so he could cry, “Oh, my anterior tibialis!” the next morning. You couldn’t stay—you didn’t want to stay. You drove the forty minutes in traffic to Jamaica Plain, sleep-deprived. Terror filled your stomach. You needed to drive carefully. Of course, a woman jumped out in front of your truck, and you slammed down on the clutch and brake pedals.The clutch pedal popped and the truck coasted the last two blocks home.
The little cast-iron tub was mottled by age. Terror and disgust as you scrubbed at your skin. Ick, ick, ick. Hated yourself. Scared yourself. Needed someone. Comfort. Anyone. Smith College? She wouldn’t see you. You curled up in a small ball and slept. There were four missed text messages from Joe Navy. He wanted to know why you didn’t show up to peg him last night. Like a bitch, you told him to stop texting you, dammit!
The three Harvard alumni at the bar downtown appraised you. You thought things had been going well. But after dinner, one of them met you outside at the door, and he gave it to you plainly: you were full of shit. You were drowning in bullshit, and you were drowning people around you in it. You were an unattractive person. There was sweetness to you, but it was hard to see that sweetness in a person who was so plainly lost, aimless, and scared. Your personality was a turn-off. You didn’t want to be complimented, and that somehow made you arrogant. Ugly. Bogged down in bullshit. Please turn off your personality so everyone could have some fun. Leave all your bullshit here at the table—because no one wants anything to do with it, it’s a turn-off—and everyone could go back to his place and have a good time. Or you could decide to part ways.
You absorbed the feedback. Hadn’t you already heard this before from the millionaire that last time? “You are a beautiful girl with a not-so-beautiful personality.” And yet, the fat old I-banker with the cock-eaten caterpillar, who tipped in hotel chocolate, hadn’t yet noticed.
You took off, wandered along the road, sobbing. Head spinning, vision blurring, breath choking. Suffocating in all your shit.Veering on your feet, the hard soles of your boots struck the curb. A bus was coming. You imagined “accidentally staggering” in front of it. Not a thought a suicide, but a desire to be maimed.
In a complete act of desperation, you called Ex-Wife. Whatever she heard on her end of the line was incomprehensible. She agreed to meet you outside the Prudential Center. The meeting was brief, dry. She’d stared at you as you muttered and breathed incoherent phrases and explanations. She said, “I don’t understand what you want from me.”
Want? Nothing. Just someone to see your sadness—to know your whereabouts—in case you slipped off the grid.
* * *
In the weeks that ensued, your best friend Alexis began to press you to establish some minimal level of communication with Ex-Wife, who had been pressured to open her mind to the possibility of friendship with you.
So the two of you started talking again, then hanging out—initially chaperoned by Alexis—then finally spending time alone together, finding a familiar and comfortable stride in each other’s company.
“Maria,” Alexis said one evening, nearly a month into your period of re-connection with your Ex-Wife. “She knows.”
“What do you mean, she knows?” you said, furrowing your brow.
“She read your journal. She read everything.”
And just like that, your heart shattered into a million little pieces on Ex-Wife’s behalf.
How hurt she must have been, how disgusted, how… who even knows? She knew that you had been up to, then going back to her place immediately afterward since you were too restless to handle being alone at night. Showing up at her door, crawling into her bed—the bed the two of you once shared—tracking that filth into the sheets. Why?
Life had been absolved of all meaning. It didn’t matter to you what you did. The memory of The Philosopher’s words about Sisyphus haunted you—had really, at that time, hammered you like a stake deep into the soil of despondency.
You remember one evening in April, when you’d gone to Winchester to see Alexis, to drink deeply from the well of her comforting presence. You walked through the door and her mother railed against you. Sat you down, lectured you, yelled at you for hurting yourself (though she hadn’t a clue what you’d been doing, your expressions, body language, and vibrations intimated the truth). And wow, after a dose of that, you went to Alexis’ room feeling fragile, sat on her bed, and thought. You noticed even Alexis—though usually tough and fearless with you—suddenly regarded you with a look of… horror? Like this was some kind of version of you she’d never encountered before, though she’d studied you, knew you, through all your highs and lows over the years.
She asked you to please talk to her—tell her how you were feeling.
So you did, whispered it to her with quiet, surreptitious tears gliding down your cheeks as you ran the palm of your hand over her familiar purple comforter.
“I’m sorry,” you whispered. “I’ve never felt more afraid in my whole life. There’s always been something to worry about—something at stake. And now there is nothing. I have nothing.” The tears came faster. “Do you know what it’s like to wake up and realize you believe in nothing? Absolutely nothing? That you trust nothing? Not only that, but you wake up and realize that you can’t even trust yourself? I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I want. How can I choose to act if I haven’t the faintest idea? I have no ability or willingness to commit to anything. I have nothing.” Your voice sounded like tires creeping over a gravel road.
Maybe that’s the reason why you allowed yourself to continue to use your body for money. It was meaningless. You could ascribe any meaning you wanted to it, just as you could tell yourself that it was equally meaningless to disrespect Ex-Wife by sliding into bed next to her, probably reeking of cum and cologne.
* * *
She put up with it, you presumed, because she did care about you, and was willing to be there for you as a stealthy form of intervention.
Well, it worked. You and Ex-Wife fell into old habits, and with minimal bickering. You cut off your arrangement with Sue, stopped your online shenanigans, stopped talking to Greg, stopped buying off Manny, stopped mooning for Smith College. You even went into work one afternoon and announced you were going to quit your job, after which moment everything just felt lighter. So light, so much easier. Having done all this, and having Ex-Wife not as a lover, but as a simple friend, your anxiety stopped immediately—as though somebody had flipped a switch. You wrapped yourself in Ex-Wife’s company, used her as a shield, the way you’d used Smith College. One woman to the next. It’s always the same. Everything looks good when you’ve reached the top of the mountain. When you find yourself teetering on the edge of a cliff at the top of that mountain, you leap off—you plummet. You willingly launch yourself off the edge, laughing as you look back over your shoulder to see if she (whoever she is at the time) is watching.
You can’t expect people to stick with you if you continue to treat them like garbage.
And that’s exactly what you did to Ex-Wife again. You simply were not healthy, despite the facade.
* * *
In the public opinion, coke, heroin, painkillers, and the like are much greater threats than alcohol. This is why they always say “drugs and alcohol,” as though alcohol were some lesser “other” offender. They overlook the fact that alcohol is responsible for more violence, accidents, abuse, poor decision making, and death than all the other drugs combined.
And why is that?
Because it is accessible.
Alcohol is everywhere: liquor stores on every corner, beer and wine in supermarkets and gas stations. It’s served at all hours of the day—a Bloody Mary at breakfast, beer with lunch, wine with dinner, Irish coffee for dessert, cocktails after hours, then shots when you tired of wasting time with mixers. It’s impossible to avoid, like a Starbucks in downtown Seattle. It is everywhere. And difficult to turn down.
You discovered alcohol at fifteen and didn’t look back. You drowned yourself in it as the earth shook beneath your feet—your home, your family, your foundation. It sucks having your feet on the ground, fearing another tremor at any moment from Raptor Nails. So why not float? Or better yet, swim? You tread in alcohol for years. How did you do it? How did you pull your grades, perform in your sports, not crash your car?
It was three years of repeated alcohol poisoning; of waking up in ditches, strange neighborhoods, and once even in the middle of a street (“Roll to the curb, you dumb bitch! At least… roll to the curb. I can’t leave you here.”); of being kicked off your rowing team for showing up to practice wasted, tripping and going down flat like a pancake one, two, three times before the coaches pulled you into the office; of your Sunday afternoon ritual of running to the bathroom at work every five minutes to vomit; of blackout tumbles; of two concussions and a “broken toe;” of ruining your relationships with people; of hiding away from your family, in your room over the holidays, bathed in the glow of red Christmas lights, rocking steadily on the floor with a malt dangling from your fingertips as your shivered and bit on your knuckles; of acrobatic acts of desperation. You gained 50 pounds from alcohol in high school, and no one seemed to notice what you were doing to yourself. Except one person. It was the girl in high school who looked after you, cleaned up your vomit, hid the evidence, forced you into drug and alcohol counseling. And what did you do for her in return? Hurt her. A lot.
Finally you stopped. Well, sort of. It’s really impossible to not drink in college. You had your ups and downs with the stuff, but ultimately it was rowing that offered you enough incentive to keep your distance from it. The influence of rowing saved your life.
Your pattern with alcohol looks as follows: a drink here, a drink there, and then a binge. Your tolerance of seven or eight beers shoots up to seventeen or eighteen by the end of the week if you continue drinking. You become a different person and fuck up big time. You make awful decisions, or simply refrain from thinking at all. Alcohol, truly, was your first Sisyphean rhythm.
So when Ex-Wife allowed you to drink—encouraged it over other things—she hadn’t known what she was in for. In all the time she’d known you, she’d never known you as a drunk, had never seen glimmers of your high school and early college years. The time in your life during which Ex-Wife had known you, it had always been something else, some other drug, some other… not “addiction,” but “distraction.” Finally, when you realized you wouldn’t afford your coke habit, when you’d depleted your “pharmacy” of oxy, dilaudid, soma, valium, ambien, risperdal, and xanax, you settled for good old-fashioned alcohol alone.
Too much booze, and you stopped thinking clearly. This is why Ex-Wife inevitably found you curled up in a ball outside her apartment door, sobbing incoherently and sweating the stuff—why she yelled, “This is not my responsibility!” as you vomited all over her bathroom. She was right. It wasn’t her responsibility. High school girl had yelled the same words.
The intensification of your relationship with booze culminated with you sleeping with a mutual friend in her bed, ruining her new sheets with black ink rubbed off from bar stamps. “You like that, you dirty bitch?”
Ex-Wife rightfully threw you out again.