Tuesday, February 28, 2012


There’s still a yearning for that uncertain time when the puzzle had just been dumped out of the box, when you were separating the pieces into two piles of outside and in, then further organising these piles into colours, before working out a place to even begin.

You had been backpacking around Europe, aimless and free, for four months when things went awry. It was a trip you had taken to find yourself – this is the official story, at any rate. This is what you told your family and friends back home. See, the idea of backpacking conjured up benign images of students in hostels, organised tours of famous landmarks, light socialising in ageing public houses, and you were more than happy to keep this illusion alive.

However, this official story couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Instead, you forwent the dull discomfort of hostels in favour of a string of divey rented rooms, couches of trusting locals, and beds of open-minded European women. You were only five weeks in when you stopped noticing the picturesque beauty of cathedral after cathedral, castle after castle, and statue after statue. And there was nothing light about your socialising. By the age of twenty-four you were already a seasoned drunk and connoisseur of illicit pharmacology, able to keep up with the best of them.

You were tearing through a moderate inheritance like a glutton tucking into his favourite dish, the dollars evaporating pint by pint, smoke by smoke, pill by pill. You were unrelenting. A one-man riot. The very centre of a nonstop, no holds barred, party. The living personification of Sodom and Gomorrah.

And then it stopped.


Just like that, with a sort of inverted roar, the camera spinning, zooming in for an up-front, unflattering close-up, everything just sort of froze.

It was dark, and you lay on your back in a strange room, suddenly awake, your naked legs tangled in the legs of another.

This was as clear as your head had been in months, and you knew that you had arrived at something of a critical juncture.

You tried to speak, but your throat was parched, impossibly dry, and could manage only a croak.

“Have a drink,” she said, lifting a glass of warm flat beer to your lips.

You guzzled back a quarter pint in two gulps, allowing the acrid fluid to wet your throat, before asking the obvious. “Where am I?”

She laughed then, a tinkling, fragile sound, likely not understanding the scope of your confusion, or realising how serious you really were.

“Where am I?” you repeated.

“At my place,” she flatly replied, and lighted a cigaret. You watched the cherry zigzag through the dark in your direction as she handed it to you.

You were suddenly painfully aware that none of this was real. This was some kind of bad film, with you little more than a mediocre actor with a walk-on part. You watched this crumby movie now through a gauzy veil, only giving it a further level of unreality, allowing you further distance. Your consciousness was slowly floating, drifting, unravelling.

You’re now pretty sure this is what your psychiatrist means by dissociation.

“No. Really. Where am I?”

“Take this,” she said, and pressed a tiny pill into your mouth.


You awoke hot, a sheen of sweat covering your entire body, with muscles twitching, heart racing, supernovae of colours bursting just behind your eyelids as the MDMA started to work.

She was gone, you thought, and you were simply a body on a bed, hollowed out, empty.

You screamed, but nothing came out.


The flashing red lights, the sirens of an ambulance. Medical personnel telling you to calm down. Recuestate. Cálmate. Respira hondo.

Restraints. A needle in the arm.


You awoke next to the intrusive bright white of a hospital room. Clean. Simple. A portrait of the Virgin Mary hung on the wall past your feet.

There was an awkward telephone call with your parents. You explained that someone must have slipped something into your drink. They were sorry, they said, and they understood. These things happen.

They would make arrangements to get you home.


There was wonderment there, in that first trip abroad. Some kind of simple, crazy, detached, free-floating bewilderment, in which you were free to just wander and wonder what the hell you were doing. It was perfectly OK. You weren’t supposed to know what you were doing – you were taking a moment, however long you needed, in fact, to just look at the picture on the front of the puzzle’s box and ruminate.

You had dumped out the pieces. You were separating the pieces into two piles of outside and in. You were further organising these piles into colours, before working out a place to even begin.

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