Wednesday, March 15, 2006

these days, barely here

"The interesting thing about painkiller addiction is that you're addicted to, totally dependent on, drugs which make you feel absolutely nothing." I pause to let the waitress warm up our coffees and take away our plates. I smile my thanks, and you wink yours; she misses both of our gestures and moves onto the next table. "See, you'll pop pills as soon as you wake up without even a second thought. The day yawns, and you're greeted by the orange and purple horizon of Morphine Sulfate, the soft yellow of an Endocet sun set against a pastel blue Diazepam sky with puffy white Vicodin clouds."

You smile in that way, half-taunting. "You paint a beautiful picture."

"The way it is, that's all. And as made-for-television as this sounds," I say, "the thing that gets me through this life is the knowledge that I'm not alone." Cream spirals into coffee. "Freud was a cokehead, Fitzgerald was a lush, and Burroughs, a morphine addict. Me, it's these fucking pills. No big deal, right? We've all got our battles to fight. Unfortunately, this is such an easy one to lose. You start using to cure. You keep using to cope. Then comes the craving. All by prescription from a physician, so it carries that unique illusion of legitimacy."

"But you've got to be careful that it doesn't seep into your writing and work life," you tell me, always informative.

I'm hypnotised by my coffee being stirred, watching the spoon make languid trips around the cup. I'm window shopping, choosing my words. Taking my sweetass time.

"I'd be surprised if it wasn't there already," I say, at last. " A few months ago, I was speaking with a colleague and she mentioned how she visualised my body of work as a giant wave of loss. 'But loss of what?' I asked, and she told me she didn't know. 'Just kind of a loss of everything,' she said. Was it hopelessness that she found in my words? I could live with that."

"Perhaps that's what she was getting at," you say, adding, "and waves do come crashing upon shores. See, and if she noticed it, perhaps others can as well. And that's all you need is for your-"

"I know what you're going to say, and I'll just tell you right now that you needn't worry." I take a sip of coffee and the bitter leaps immediately to the back of my tongue. "That's the wonder of these drugs: I can be standing there talking in class and my students remain completely oblivious. Oblivious that I've a head full of fuzz. Oblivious that I reside four degrees offset from their own dimension. Oblivious that I'm numb."

"Numb - there, that's what this addiction gives you: numbness, unfeeling, detachment," you declare, satisfied that you've achieved some kind of upper hand.

I look at you in that age-old way. A smirk creeps. "Numbness – and who wouldn't want that?" I ask.


At the pub, listening to you rail against the new new. This modern life, chockfull of conveniences. I offer little to the conversation, choosing, instead, to allow myself be swept away in your speech tsunami. Sipping pints. Hypnotic, your smooth wash of words has me almost in another place when I'm suddenly brought back to now by the emergence of a figure at tableside. You fall silent, and I look up to find a face from the past. A former classmate. A real disingenuous fuck.

"My god, look who it is!" he says, his voice harsh with that typical topboy timbre.

I smile, as I indulge in a flash fantasy involving me leaping up and strangling him with his Gucci tie.

"I haven't seen you in, what, it must be close to eight years?" he continues. "Not since first-year uni, I think."

"Something like that," I reply. "Yeah."

"So, what sort of excitement are you up to these days? What do you do for work now?"

I chug back a bit of beer. "Eh, labour, you know..."

"Well, that's cool," he says, trying to keep the disdain from dripping into his voice. "Cog in the machine, right? It's all good."

After this, there's the usual promise of drinks sometime. To catch up. That whole thing. Pure shite, all of it. After he's gone, I'm met with your look of disbelief.

"Why do you do that?" you ask.

"Do what?"

"Like you have to ask. Feeding that bunch of garbage to everyone you meet, that's what. Why not take a little pride in your life. Stand up, be proud," you instruct. "Eight years of school to get where you are. You put in a lot of work and a lot of time."

"Don't need to tell me that."

"So why do you do it?"

"It's how I identify myself."

"Seriously. Let's say you meet an interesting young lady at a party, and she asks what you do for a living - what do you tell her?"

"I tell her the truth: that I work for the government - a labourer, like. In maintenance."

"You are fucking unbelievable. You consider the education of those young men and women maintenance?"

"It's how I reconcile my position in the echo chamber, that's all. I assist in maintaining the status quo. Nothing more."


"Ma, it's not a problem! Really!" I'm shouting into the telephone. "I don't know what that little prick told you, but I don't have a problem."

Her voice runs the gamut from rushed babble to frantic whine before settling into a pathetic blubber. She's going on and on, telling me about how sick I was as a little boy, all the fucking drugs they had me on. She tells me that I don't need this. Not now. That I've got a good job, talent, people who love me.

"Ma, you gotta listen to me now. I-" The word, the letter, crumbles a little at the edges. I can't even say it anymore. The lies. Not to my own ma. She's completely broken down now, sobbing and all that. I'm at a total fucking loss.

"I just don't know what to say, ma. These drugs, these little pills, I don't even know how they seduce me so easily. Other drugs - ma, are you listening? Other drugs I understand. Cocaine, for example. Coke give you that edge. A little posh and you're on top of your game. Psilocybin, magic fucking mushrooms, ma, that’s what I’m talking about - I understand those. Give you a little insight, a little peek into another world. These pills, though? They don't give me fuckall, ma, do you hear me? Fuckall."

She's silent now, and what it brings is the realisation that I've become a major source of disappointment and heartache for my folks. My poor ma. And I can see my dad sitting there in silence, listening to the call. His jaw tightening, eyes watering. Even if they feel half as bad about me and my situation as I do, then I am truly fucking sorry. I need a change. Need to feel.

"These pills, ma, they don't give me anything,” I say. “Nothing at all. It’s hardly me taking the drugs anymore, ma. More the drugs taking me. Yes, that's what it is - the drugs taking me. These pills only take and take."

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