Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Just Keep Swimming

On less than three hours' sleep, I frequently opened my eyes, still very, very drunk. But everything was different.  Gone was that 'rarin' to go' energy of the night before.  In its place, just dopey exhaustion.  Heading in was always better than pulling out.

I'd brush my teeth in the shower and try to get it together.  I stood in the bathtub for a few minutes, worn out and bloated.  Waves of nausea crashing against the walls of my insides, heartburn rising up the tube of my throat.  Dry heaving seemed to clear my head.  Not much to get rid of, but still, somewhat productive.

I'd watch my bile circle the drain, hypnotized by the swirling yellow design.  I swished at it with my big toe.  Cupping some warm water in my hands, I rinsed my mouth and spit.  I used yesterday's clothes to dry my back and shoulders.


I seldom had any drugs left in the morning.  A little speed, perhaps - not even enough for a substantial bump.  I always promised to save some, and I tried.  I hid portions from myself as soon as I got home, before my mind shattered.  I'd squirrel away small bits, here and there - wedged between some shirts in the closet, behind the stereo, tucked inside a shoe.

I'd forget and remember all night long, turning the place upside down.
Wait.  Where did I put it?  The panic, and then, celebratory relief.
Until all the lonely cocaine was gone.  And there was nothing left to do but drink. After many hours, I grew weary but resisted sleep.  I loved being fucked up and drunk.  I didn't want to miss a minute.

Every previous evening, I planned to care about all things having to do with the following morning.  I crawled up into my head and prepared for a busy next day. My mind spun around the wheel of a very private universe where no one could keep up with me.  I was unstoppable!  I just didn't have much to show for all my efforts.

And come sunrise, with its unbearable promise and bold sense of purpose, my illusion of imaginary progress collapsed.  I was lost.  And late for work again.


Once dressed, I half-ran to the train.  My head throbbed with each pounding step. I mentally shuffled my list of excuses as to why I couldn't arrive on time.  I convinced myself that the company was lucky to have me.  I did a fine job, once I eventually showed up.  Typing and answering phones, friendliness with no extra charge.  Sure, I was a handful, but I worked the human angle very well.  So smart, I thought I was.  And God forbid my supervisors expressed displeasure with my behavior.  They automatically became unsympathetic bitches and assholes.

Standing on the subway platform, my fatigue was unbelievable.  If I got to sit, I could be unconscious for thirty minutes.  I loved the two-seater near the conductor's booth.  I leaned my face against the cool, metal wall.  I'd fall out hard and wake up with my mouth hanging open.  I often missed my stop.  Racing back to my building - eight, ten and twelve blocks.  I arrived at the job in a pool of sweat.

And oh, the days were long.  The tension was relentless.  I couldn't wait to pour myself another drink.  The hour or so at lunch broke up the monotony.  I took quick rides to score my dope, so I was high again by quitting time.  I'd buy my wine and drink a big beer on the walk home.  Once the door was shut, I prepped my gear for the evening's activity.  My big plastic beaker filled with booze, pills and powder in a baggie, razor blades and straws.  With these little tools of the trade, I could disengage from the world and its restrictive hassles.  I was free to roam around the personal jail of my own design.

I played music really loud.  I watched movies I couldn't concentrate on.  I took things apart and tried unsuccessfully to put them back together.  I picked at my face in the mirror.  Very busy - with brief, uncomfortable gaps in between when everything was still.  I must have been asleep, but it was almost impossible to tell. The time was not restful.  It felt more like waiting.


God love the women in my office.  They liked me and tried to get close.  I was lonely, but I could not connect.  They seemed to have rich, meaningful lives.  I had my drugs and wine.  For me, these things came first.  I took advantage of every relationship.  I disappointed people and pushed them beyond their limits.

Lisa was my office manager.  She and her fianc√© shared a place on Staten Island. They were planning to get married.  I know she truly cared about me.  She didn't want me to get fired.
"I have a good idea," she said.  "Why don't I call you in the mornings before I leave the house?  Just to make sure you're awake."
"That'd be great," I found myself saying.
This is gonna suck, I thought.

I never heard the phone ring but came around to Lisa's voice on the answering machine.  I'd crawl off the mattress and yank at the cord.
"Hello, yes," I breathed into the receiver.
"Good morning!" Lisa's greeting was enthusiastic and hopeful.  "Are you up?"
"Sure," I replied.
"Okay, then.  See you in a little bit."
I closed my eyes for just a minute, and two more hours fell on top of me.

I truly could not understand how people were up and ready for things.  An early workout, coffee and the newspaper, a predictable commute.  Everything in my life was hysterical drama.  That's all I knew.  I thought people who didn't drink and get high were boring.  I tried to convince myself that I chose my chaos, that my life was so disorganized because I was special and creative.

I found myself envisioning what normal folks' twilight lives were like.  Eating meals and getting enough rest.  They watched their favorite TV programs and chose outfits for work.  Dogs were walked, children were fed and bathed.  Teeth got brushed and alarm clocks were set.  Then, they slept.

With each dawn, the rest of the world got out of bed and started their day.
Sometimes, I would cry when I woke up.  I was always in disastrous shape.


"Mary, are you drunk?" Lisa asked me.
"I was.  About four hours ago," I replied.  I thought this answer was funny.
"I can smell it, you know," she said.

I'll never forget how surprised I was, how this news hit me.  I had no idea that my co-workers might be questioning my condition.  I couldn't believe my drinking was being discussed behind closed doors, as if it were a problem that wasn't just mine with which to contend.  I told so many lies, I was certain I disguised the truth with fantastic confusion.  I thought for sure that my bosses didn't know what they were looking at.


I crawled up the subway stairs on a Monday.  New York was extra loud, with ambulances and police cars everywhere.  The intersection was covered in cops, directing traffic and steering pedestrians away from a frantic situation on the corner.

I saw the candy first.  It poured out onto the sidewalk slowly - chocolate bars, licorice and gum.  The newsstand it came from looked like it'd been crushed by a giant.  The walls were busted in and the magazine racks, demolished.  You could see straight through the roof of the kiosk to the blue sky that dropped a grown man to the ground in the middle of rush hour.

People were suggesting he'd jumped from the ledge, seventeen stories above the Duane Reade.  Apparently, he woke up that morning and came to work.  He got in the elevator and pressed the button for his floor.  He walked down the corridor and stepped right out the window.

When the firemen pried the front of the newsstand from its frame, I caught a glimpse of the man's face.  His body twisted up so badly, just resting on all those snacks and sweets.  The whole thing, almost too strange to understand.  Plus, I was still kinda drunk.

"C'mon, folks," one of the cops said.  "Let's keep it moving.  Nothing to see here."
In a way, he was right.  The damage was done.  And we didn't really know what we were looking at.  There was nothing we could do, so everybody just kept walking.

Sometimes, I think about my weird and lonely existence.  It wasn't really a life, just movement without direction.  Like stirring a jar with a dead goldfish in it.  For a minute, it looks like he's still swimming.


  1. It's very hard to capture those horrendous moments of "incomprehensible demoralization", Mary. But I think you've got it here. Maybe that's why I'm not into "Zombie" shows. I never want to go back to that land again. Ever. Love you.

    1. My memories are with me forever. It's part of the landscape. From time to time, I can refer to them. It helps me figure out where I am. So I don't get lost. Thanks for sharing, Marje.

    2. I always "enjoy" the glimpses into the not-so-good stuff because it gives me the real story...I'm grateful to learn so much from you. This one, however, was painful to read because I felt for the you from the past, and saw a few of my close friends in the words. Thank God that you and they have made it through. What you share makes me look even more compassionately on those struggling today. Your stories have incredible value, Mary. Keep 'em coming.

    3. Judi, thanks for your kindness. I'm glad to share these stories. It's a wild ride, even now. But I like being free, and I hope it shows.