Snapshots: Varying Shades of Sobriety
The room is infused with amphetamines. They pass the crack pipe and cough. The straggly-haired blonde girl is pregnant, five months. Unfortunately, she’s keeping it. Cough, cough, cough. Hack, hack, hack. Sickly white smoke rises in the air. They laugh and tell stupid cowboy jokes, Stetsons sliding off their heads. Suburban cowboys. Racist fucks.
They smoke in the house. Cigarettes. Somehow this is more offensive than the crack. A baby cries in a bedroom in the back, and a toddler toddles out in diapers. “Mommy,” she says, rubbing her eyes with her fists. “I want a bottle.”
“Shut up,” Mommy mutters, lighting the pipe. “I told you to stay in bed.”
The windows of the university apartment are painted with flowers, colorful hula swirls. The carpet is stained an ungodly shade of brown. Months later, when they finally move out, the square of space where the couch was will be a gleaming white reminder of the fact that they never owned a vacuum cleaner. Now, Pink Floyd plays on the stereo, and everyone is sweating and laughing. Mushrooms mixed with Ecstasy are a potent, happy combination.
He is sitting back in a soft, white chair, his girlfriend between his legs. A blanket is draped over them, covering their bare skin from the eyes of everyone else in the room, all of whom are also in various stages of undress. August heat saturates the air, and the smoke of countless joints makes everything fuzzy around the edges. He has his hands around her waist, caressing her soft skin under the blankets. She is laughing at something her friend has said, but 99.9% of her attention is on his hands.
“Roll another joint!” someone says. Clearly, twenty joints between eight people is just not enough. He has some weed in his pocket. He reaches down and pulls it out, the contact between their skin rearranging itself for a moment. Delicious explosions of pleasure roll through her body. Any shift feels good. “I’ll roll it, but I don’t want to move,” he says with a lazy laugh. Everyone else laughs too, but the mission is serious. The joint must be rolled. The only books are at the far end of the apartment, on a bookshelf far, far away. Another solution will have to be reached.
“Use Katie’s back!” someone calls out. This seems like a good idea, since Katie is already between his legs and quite flexible. She is high enough to acquiesce to higher good of the group, so she presses the blanket to her breasts, leans forward, and touches the floor with her hands. Her back is stretched out in front of him, long, straight, bare. His own personal rolling table. He proceeds to break up the weed, and then rolls it into a tight baseball joint. She feels the paper tickling her bare skin, and the agility of his fingers as he rolls. When he’s finished, he taps her lightly, and she holds the blanket to her chest and rises, burrowing back against his chest. He twists off the top of the joint, and lights it with a flourish, taking a deep, long hit. “Oh, shit,” he says, coughing, and tightening his grip on Katie’s arm. “I should have given this to you first!” He hands it to his mellow, obliging girlfriend, and she inhales gratefully. “Thank you, my dear,” she says.
Soon the joint is circulating around the room. That crisis solved, the next one pops up. “We need pills, man!” David shouts from where he is slumped on the couch. “Call Gwyn! We need more pills…”
Yesterday was his twenty-first birthday. Today she turns twenty-two.
“Want to come in and smoke a joint?” he asks, as she pulls the car up to the curb. She’s supposed to be dropping him off. They’ve just had drinks at a dim hip-hop club where shootings are becoming increasingly common. They drank Long Island Iced Teas, and regarded each other over their straws. She thought he was hot, his Russian cheekbones prominent, his cologne wafting across the table. Acqua Di Gio. He thought she was damned sexy, and wondered for the millionth time what she looked like naked. He was stoked that she had agreed to after-work drinks. Thank God for twenty-first birthdays.
He looks at her now, in the dim light provided by the streetlamp. “I’ve got some really good chronic…” he continues enticingly. She shifts the car into park and kills the engine. “Let’s do it,” she agrees.
They walk into the basement of his house. He leads her back to his bedroom, and then turns his back to shuffle around in the closet for his bong. She squats down on her heels and looks at his CD collection. “Oh, Notorious BIG!” she says. “I love him!” He turns around and smiles, bong in hand, and comes to join her on the floor. “Then that’s what we’re listening to,” he says, sliding the CD into the player.
His bed is plush and white, covered in a soft down comforter. She kicks off her shoes and joins him there, sitting cross-legged and proper. He loads the bong and hands it to her. She hits it. Thick white smoke curls out of her mouth, and then she exhales a huge cloud and starts coughing. He pats her on the back, and takes the bong from her. Her eyes are watering as she recovers. He takes a deep hit, surprisingly strong for his slender frame, and holds it in his lungs, marinating. Then he lets it out in a steady stream of white that obscures the art on the far walls. Aliens. Creatures with buildings growing out of their heads. He’s an artist.
As Biggie plays on the stereo, he sets the bong down on the side table and pulls her close. She looks at him, and he looks back at her, playful. Every impulse in her is firing now, from the weed and the proximity of his body. There is a moment of silent contemplation, and then everything seems to be decided. He leans in and smells her neck, inhaling deeply. “Yummy,” he says, before he starts to kiss her.
Tonight will be the beginning of their three-year long “rebound” relationship. Sometimes rebounds become the real thing.
New Years, 2:05 am, Room 1417, Downtown Hilton
The four of them are on the massive bed, Mark and Melissa giggling under the covers, Jason and Erin on top. Erin has her knees tucked to her chest, and for some reason, she is shivering. The room is very warm. “Do you want to do a line?” Jason asks, leaning in very close. She and Melissa just got off work, and though they and the other girls were shooting mini-bottles of Captain Morgan’s behind the front desk all night, coke is not her thing. In fact, she’s never tried it.
“I don’t know…” she says slowly. “Will you do one with me?” Jason moans and drops his head back against the wall. “We’ve been doing lines all night,” he says. “I don’t know if I can do any more.” Erin looks at him, pouting. “Well I’m not gonna do it if you’re not,” she says.
Five minutes later, the coke is laid out in four separate lines on the mirror in Jason’s lap. “Who’s first?” he asks. Erin winks at him. “You are.” He gives her a look and then says, “Okay, but only if I can take it off your belly button…” He smiles naughtily, and she feels her heart pick up. “How are you going to take it off my belly button?” she asks. “It will all fall in.”
“Okay then, I’ll take it just above your belly button. Lay down!” She regards him suspiciously, but decides to go for it. She starts to lie back, lifting her shirt just a bit. “No way,” Jason says. “You have to take it all the way off.” Emboldened by rum, and the prospects of being very high in several minutes, Erin agrees. She lifts her top over her head, exposing her soft skin, her firm belly. Jason groans. “Wait, do I have to take it yet?” he asks, sliding over and putting his hands on her waist. She swats him away. “Go! Do it.”
She lies back, her stomach providing the perfect flat surface for drug-inhaling. Jason lays out a careful line over her belly button and then gets down on his knees at the edge of the bed. Mark and Melissa watch rapturously from their side of the bed, and Erin closes her eyes. She hears a snort, feels a quick lift of body hairs and adrenalin. Then… “My turn,” she says, sitting up.
Later, when they are all high and Jay Leno has been on forever, Erin finds herself on the bathroom floor with Jason. “Kiss me,” he is begging, so she does. His mouth tastes like chemicals, dripping, silver, synthetic. She pulls away. “What’s wrong?” he asks, suddenly looking like a skinny kitten on the floor. His shirt is off, and his eyes are red. “I can’t,” she says. The tiles are cold under her butt and hands, and her front teeth have gone numb. “I have to go home.” She leaves him on the floor, looking after her unhappily, and goes out into the room to retrieve Melissa. “Time to go,” she says, pulling her out from under the covers. Melissa’s red hair is in wild disarray, and her pupils are pinpricks. “Why?!” she moans. “Noooo!”
As the gray light of dawn creeps into the sky, and the buzz has begun to wear off, Erin drops Melissa off at home. “See you at work,” she says with a wink. When she finally unlocks the door to her apartment, she is beat and exhausted, and near tears. Drugs seem to do that to her. Her ex-boyfriend is on the couch. He moans and turns over, burying his face in the cushions. She stands there looking at him, trying to decide what to do. Take him to bed? Pretend she didn’t see him? He makes another moaning sound, and then turns his head and opens one eye. “Hi, Erin,” he says with a sheepish grin. She caves. “Come on,” she replies, lifting her shirt over her head and kicking off her shoes. She walks back to the bedroom and pulls the blinds closed against the early morning light. No light. Just sleep. He appears in the doorway minutes later, stark naked. She pulls back the sheets, and he climbs in.
He and two of his buddies are walking down a wooded path. Marshall Park. The woods in the middle of suburbia. The mushrooms are making everything shift and pulse. He watches a willow tree against the sky as it vibrates subtly, and expands. It seems to be breathing. Everything is one, he thinks profoundly, surely the first drug-user to ever experience this epiphany. I am the trees, and the trees are me!
A fork in the path. Going right means a return to the playground, the grass, the sun. Going left will take them down a twisting, labyrinthine path whose depth has never been tested. Scary! They go left. His mood immediately begins to descend with the trail. Soon he is desperate, but not showing it. His hands are shoved in his pockets, and he’s trying not to cry.
“Snoop Dogg is so live!” one of his friends is saying, but he is thinking about death. I’m not really scared of dying, he thinks nonchalantly, hoping to lighten his mood. I wouldn’t mind dying right now if it happened. Then he realizes what he’s just thought, and fumbles wildly in his pockets for a cigarette. Holy shit, man, does that mean I’m suicidal? he wonders, lighting the trembling cigarette frantically. Shit!
Up ahead, his friends are laughing and kicking dirt, but he is stuck in the dark channels of his contemplative mind. Death, death, death, he thinks. Death. And then, Dude, I’ve got to get home. If I could only get home and wank it, I know I’d be fine. But he won’t be wanking it any time soon. The twisting trail is getting darker and darker, and the trio continues to descend.
Forty-two, she thinks grimly, accepting another martini. Her birthday has fallen on the night of the company’s holiday party, and she tries to drown her sorrows in expensive gin and vermouth. Forty fucking two! How did I get here without a husband or a baby? I’m a complete fucking failure.
She is wearing a tiny red skirt, and a low-cut black top. She had her stomach stapled seven months ago, and now she can only eat meals the size of a child’s fist. She hangs out in low-class bars, trying to pick up men, because she’s been kicked out of all the high-class bars. She drinks too much. Her stretch marks show when she takes off her clothes, or when she wears shirts without sleeves, like tonight.
Too many martinis later, she stumbles out of the party, ignoring the faux-concern of her co-workers. They don’t give a damn. They just want to drink and get laid. She tends to fuck up the party. She talks too much. She’ll tell anyone who will listen about her surgery, and her body now. She tries to show it off, but men aren’t really that into her. As soon as they know that she was a four-hundred pound beast, they stop listening. Well, some of them listen just long enough to figure out how to get her into bed. But as soon as they’ve fucked her, they’re out the door.
She finds her way into the parking garage, and locates her car. She clicks the correct button, and the locks pop up. She shouldn’t be driving. She slides into the seat, and closes the door, leaning her head against the steering wheel. Then she falls asleep.
When she wakes up, she is swimming in heat. She gasps, her clothes stuck to her body. She can hardly breathe. Somehow, through a fog of alcohol and heat, she realizes that she has been parked in front of a heating ventilator, and that it has been blowing directly on her car all night. It is a huge, industrial-sized thing. She opens the door, gasping for air, and nearly falls out on the cement. When she catches her breath enough to sit up, she searches the backseat for a water bottle, or maybe the remnants of a Crystal Light. Nothing. Oh well. She puts the keys in the ignition and starts the car. The clock reads 2:01. That means she left the party about an hour ago. Not long enough to sober up, but long enough to make her want to get the fuck out of here. Plus, she’s so damned hot.
She reverses out of the parking space too quickly, nearly slamming into a concrete pole. Then she straightens the car out and proceeds to the ticket booth, where she pays the automatic teller. Somehow, she creeps forward, easing the nose of the car towards the road. Her head is still a pool of heat and gin, and through the haze, she knows she shouldn’t be driving. Streetlights wobble, and her reactions are slow. She almost pulls out in front of a lumbering truck, then slams on the brakes at the last second. She lives fifteen miles away. This should be an interesting ride.
The young nun sits in the sun, her hands folded in her lap. She has just had her head shaved again, and a pleasant breeze blows over her scalp and ears. She meditates easily, a star on the rise. Leaves rustle overhead, and she watches her mind be a mind. It thinks, and it plans, and it worries, and it relaxes, and finally it is still, and she merges. She merges with her breath, with the trees, with the air, with the moment. She expands and expands, her awareness touching the corners of the courtyard, the gates of the nunnery, the boundaries of the state, the edges of the clouds. She sighs, contented, her heart beating warm in her chest. Peace floods her, joyful, dancing peace, and she ceases to be a thinking being anymore. She becomes the birds in the sky, the laughter in a baby’s eyes, a perfect sea shell, a turtle paddling through the sea. She expands further, and now she is in outer space, looking down on Earth, looking past it to the Great Beyond. On her physical body, a beatific smile shapes her face, and if anyone were watching, they would say that she glowed. Beyond her mind, she sees the oceans rising and falling, glaciers living and dying, the expansion of universal consciousness as it ignites stars, slips into black holes, and emerges on the other side something different, eons later. Bliss floods every molecular cell of her body, and she continues to open, unfold, expand. She is on the highest trip possible, the ultimate journey of the soul. She has never touched a drop of alcohol, or consumed an intoxicating drug. She has cleaned her mind with a fastidious broom, again and again, over lifetimes. And now she sits and is bathed in bliss, and perfection is finally hers. Fly away. Samadhi.