Cocaine. Our very first introduction, when I was an adolescent, was through various scenes in the film “Goodfellas”. I believed it was a white powder that made women insane, tearing apart their bedroom closets shortly before they broke down in tears.
Later in life, I heard it was good for porn actors. Around Hollywood I have been told about casting calls for background actors who show up to a house in North Hollywood, stroll into a garage full of people in bathrobes and are asked if they want a line before greeted with a “hello”. Stevie Nicks was forced to rebuild her nasal passageway from so much drug use. It burned a dime-sized hole through her cartilage.
Once,on an internet date, I toured the music studio where “Rumors” was recorded. “There used to be punch bowls of coke laid out right here,” my date explained. I tried to imagine that ... punch bowls of cocaine.
In an interview with Oprah, Stevie says, “It turned people into nutcases ... Mick and I never would have had an affair had we not had a party and all been completely drunk, messed up and coked out. [We] ended up being the last two people at the party. So guess what? It’s not hard to figure out what happened -- and what happened wasn’t a good thing. It was doomed. It was a doomed thing, caused a lot of pain for everybody, led to nothing. I’m like, ‘Gee, could you have just laid off the brandy and the coke and the pot for two days?’”
It all sounds pretty negative. The word may conjure up images of Lindsay Lohan, Scarface and clips from Charlie Sheen’s meltdown. There is a flip side to what you see on television. Cocaine is an emotional drug. You feel like opening up about your past, you feel oddly connected to the other people in the room, there is a strange kind of spiritual shake to snorting blow. It is when you cross over to the compulsion of it, that is when you start to lose. It usually happens around 3 or 4am, when you know you are running out because you have tripled the amount of coke with each snort. You start licking tabletops and debit cards. Around 5am, you wonder if buying more is a good idea.
My roommate likes to blend crushed xanax into his lines, which can dull the edge. Let me rephrase, it may dull the edge. The last time I shared coke with him, he was blending xannies, slurring and still staring at the lines on the table until it was his turn. I made sure to do half the amount than everyone else with each turn, and was the only one bright-eyed and bushy tailed in the morning, already in shorts and a pigtail, ready for a dogwalk before everyone crawled out of their corners. I am not always that disciplined.
After Thanksgiving, Frank, my roommate, had a birthday. I baked a cake. We were all so broke, Frank ended up financing most of his own party. He is the only one of us not scraping pennies to fill a quarter tank of gas. He was a good sport about it though. The coke was stationed in two spots, privately in my room and privately in Frank’s walk-in closet. Only a few party-attendees were invited. The girls mostly. It was also Michael, my boyfriend’s, first time.
He clicked into it a little bit too easily. He kept asking to go back to the room, constantly reminded of the lines waiting patiently for us on my dresser. I realized he could easily cross-over. His eyes turned black and he kept looking back to my bedroom door. Next month it would be his bedroom door, too. We were moving in together, though we didn’t know each other all that well. One month before, we started dating hot and heavy, and Michael felt swept up like I have before with others ... but now I was more cautious, more skeptical. It seems the less I expect the more I gain in return. He was good to me, the sex was great and I liked him. Did I love him? It was hard to really reflect on our relationship, the bond, when I was in survival mode- desperate to make rent, desperate to get a working car, desperate to prepare for school starting the following week. Library books were stacked on the small kitchen table. My laptop was in the kitchen. My socks and glasses of tea and water sprung up out off the furniture; the bathroom counter, the shower, the empty DVD rack (which is still empty).
I already felt that I had ruined Michael’s life. Since our first date in October, he lost his job, his car and iPhone ... his pet-sitting clients, a few possessions, most of his savings. As one of my cohorts at writing school once said, “Oh, you are that kind of girlfriend.”
Michael was never bitter. He insisted he was happy, and mentioned his mother was supportive of our relationship because she sensed he was happier than he had ever been. Only a 23-year-old would make such fantastic claim. I just turned to him, “Happier ever or just since another time you last remember?”
“Are you kidding me?” he said, “Happier than I ever could have imagined was possible.”
I believe Michael was living under a lot of heavy expectations up to this point. His mother, who believes he holds the most promise of her three boys. His bosses, who used guilt and pressure to motivate employees. He was trying to please everyone else because he hadn’t looked at things from a different angle yet; not as someone's son, but as a man. Somehow, my attitude and lifestyle gave him permission to do whatever he wanted to do. Experiment with drugs. Yell at bad drivers. I call it “Cowboy Confidence”. He can get carried away and tell everyone off. After his former employer delayed his final paycheck by almost a month, he called and told them he was showing up and wouldn’t leave without a check in hand. When he came home after the incident, he was bouncing on the soles of his feet, “I am on a warpath.” He told everyone exactly what he thought of them and I could see the fire lit in his eyes. Not to mention his paycheck in hand. Michael got the taste of freedom.
Now, he got the taste of cocaine. We all circulated around our little house as characters from Frank’s life dropped in for birthday wishes. Happy Birthday was sung. Candles were blown. I danced with my little dog Brad in the kitchen, cradling him in my arms, swinging him back and forth to the music. He lay back, completely trusting that I would never drop him. The crowd started chanting, “Go Brad! Go Brad! Go Brad!”
Outside in the smoker’s circle, Alia, her boyfriend Ryan, Michael and I all gathered together, mumbling nonsense and declaring secrets. “You know what is great about unprotected sex,” I said, wishing Frank’s friend Jim would go back inside, “Feeling the semen drip out of you when you are alone, somewhere else later in the day.” Alia nodded with a kind of nobility. Jim, a New York stand-up comic, pulled out a notepad, occasionally making notes for his next show. Frank hovered somewhere in the background.
“You need to have protected sex,” Alia said, “And (she pointed at Michael) as the man, it is your responsibility to make sure it is safe sex.” I suddenly felt regret for mentioning it at all. A few weeks ago, after my period, Michael and I continued to have unprotected sex.
“Did you cum?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he moaned.
I slapped him in the face. “What the fuck, man?” I asked.
“What? You told me to.”
“I was talking dirty … you weren’t actually supposed to do it,” I said, getting dressed.
“Well, I thought you knew what you were doing.”
“I am not on birth control.”
“I know, but I thought, hey it’s [StarFire]. She knows what she is doing.”
I took the morning after pill, then started taking the pill a week later. This threw my menstrual cycle on a loop and left me in a bloodless limbo for several weeks. After a couple weeks of maybe, maybe nots ... I was lucky to make it out motherless. However, the surge of hormones made me crazy for a good month.
As it turns out, bragging about unprotected sex in social circles doesn’t make your opinion very popular. Perhaps, I was suffering from my own version of Cowboy Confidence. I will say that one-on-one, every person will agree unprotected sex, with all its risk and vulnerability, eclipses the condom any day.
A troupe of lesbians came in and occupied the living room, cooing over my dogs. It must have been around midnight when Michael and I sat with them and endured an interview about our relationship. In that moment of reliving our brief affair, I turned and saw him sitting on the couch. His eyes were a deep brown, glazed with puppy dog love and buried sadness from somewhere else. His beard was growing in. He looked back at me and my heart swelled. I was really falling in love with him. I could feel it now, after the champagne and cocaine suspended my body and her flinching affection, all doubts and broken hearts, all logic and sensibility, I felt that seed in my mind burst into a sprout. I reached out to caress his face in front of our audience.
“You guys are making me sick,” a girl said. I removed my hand, but never let go of the feeling. Not when I sobered up. Not when we suffered through our first fight. And still not now, as I write this.
Frank’s one single, straight female friend was there. I knew she suffered from alcoholism and a serious cocaine addiction, after all, she had money. As the evening went on, I saw her stumble around on heels, grabbing onto counters and tables to steady herself. She was in her forties and an actress, skinnier than she should be, wearing heavy make-up. “What is that song Alice in Chains does?” she slurred.
“Type in the lyrics and I can find it on YouTube,” I said over a passed joint.
“Type it where? I have never used this before.” I patiently showed her the search window in Google and watched her slowly type “Black Hole Sun”.
“Oh, that is Soundgarden!” I said.
“Right, Soundgarden. God, I am so stupid. Why am I so stupid? I hate it when I do things like this.”
“You aren’t stupid. You just mixed it up, that’s all. We all do that.” She stopped talking and I could feel the blades and shadows cutting her up on the inside. I felt sorry for her. Frank told me about their relationship. They watch football and hold each other. Sometimes he spends the night. “I know I am seeing her tonight because she has a date,” he once said. “If it goes bad she calls me, but what is worse is when it goes really well. Then she sabotages it somehow ... and calls me.”
Last week, I asked to use his scanner and he pulled out a photograph from the last scan. “What is this? Oh yeah ... this is [her] after she passed out on me. She never believes me so I took a picture.” And there she was, collapsed in brown hair, face down, as if she died.
I believe she is in love with Frank. To Frank, perhaps, he loves her for the sentiment. We all have fail safes in are back pocket. And we all want to be loved.
The evening passed through the house slowly. Around 3 or 4am, I started playing Rolling Stones and James Brown on my laptop and got a few people dancing. Jim watched. Because Jim just watched, Frank watched. “This is a really good night. This kitchen is great right now,” Frank said.
Jim laughed, cool as always. “This is a great kitchen.” The two fondly echoed each other’s sentences. The drug made them one.
Outside, alone with Michael, he chattered through the drug. “You know what my favorite dinosaur is? The stegosaurus, because it reminds me a lot of me. You know, everyone criticizes it for being slow and stupid but it is just doing its thing. I don’t think I like cocaine, cocaine isn’t really my thing. Do you remember Shelley Duvall? Remember when she used to read those kids books on TV and then they put her in ‘The Shining’? Do they know how much that fucked up kids?”
I listened to him, occasionally laughing, trying to fight down my own thoughts and memories, kicking at the curtain in the back of my mind.
Inside the house, everyone was gone. “Puff the Magic Dragon” sung by Peter, Paul and Mary played on Pandora. Back on the couch, I sat on Michael’s lap. He kept chattering. “This song is so sad. I love this song. It used to make me cry. Little Jackie Paper loved his imaginary friend and then he had to go away. Why did he have to go away? He loved him.” There was a moment of quiet between us, in the dark, as the harmonized voices serenaded the powder dripping down the back of our throats, turning to a thick syrup. Then Michael wept, and I held him.
Like I said, it is an emotional drug.
Jim and Frank took frequent smoking breaks. Jim with his spirits and percocets and Frank with his cigars and xanax. Late in the night, closer to morning, I left Michael on the couch to play “My Funny Valentine”, threw a pillow on the floor in front of Michael’s feet, and sang it up to him. With big, black pupils he stared at me. Jim and Frank walked in and I could see plainly that Frank was agitated. So we went to the bedroom and made love.
When Michael passed out, I returned to the living room to finish my annotations for the semester. They were due that day. I stood in front of the kitchen table, typing, typing and typing. At 6am, the sun rose and Frank walked into the kitchen alone. “You are doing homework now? You can’t be serious?”
“Due today” I said, flatly, hunching down to peer into the screen. Reading. Re-reading. Making sure the drugs hadn’t scrambled my grammar or common sense. As soon as I pressed "send", Frank and I had a smoke.
“We have to talk. Now, when I moved in here, I thought I was moving in with a couple of artists. I didn’t think I was moving in with a young couple in love. I can’t stay here. I am not saying I am leaving now or anytime in the near future, but down the line, I think ...” he said.
“Before the lease is up in October?” I asked.
He nodded, with a fresh cigar hanging low but erect from his lower lip. “It isn’t that I don’t like Mike. I love Mike. He is a great kid.”
“He is so nice ...” I said.
“He is so nice, he is solid. I really like him. I just can’t live here with you two.” He paused. My head hung low. “I won’t pull a Gary and leave you hanging. I will find someone to rent out the room and take care of all that.”
“What about the cable!? It’s in my name and it is a year contract. I don’t watch TV!”
“Oh, I didn’t think about that ... maybe we can break the contract. I don’t know. We will figure it out later down the line, when it becomes more serious. I am fine for right now.”
I blew out a cloud of smoke. It slowly rose into the sky. “I just have to let these crises pass through me like a wall of water. The money, the car, the lease. I can’t control any of it so I just have to surrender to these moments,” I said. “That’s life, I guess.”
Frank looked as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. “Sometimes you say really profound things.”
“Great,” I said, dryly, sucking on my cigarette.
“God, feelings talk really works!” he said, cheerfully. Then he patted my shoulder. In that moment, I hated him. I despised him. No one was loyal. But as it is with everyone else I love, it soon passed. I just wanted everyone to be happy. And despite the huge reading list and all the preparation I should have done for school coming up, I spent those last few days before school troubleshooting and reviewing what the worst outcome could be with everything; with Frank, with Michael and with school.
I blew the coke and blood out of my nose, sent in my final paperwork and went back to work. That’s life, I guess.