I am not like ordinary men. I think in a way that makes the mass populous shudder. My thoughts and dreams are banned from most libraries, my ideas and schemes forbidden from any textbook. I’m just a human being trying to navigate my way through a world crammed tight with let-downs and setbacks. I write because I need to, not because I want to, but there’s a magic beneath the pen as it scrawls word for word, as I scribble my internal drama between the lines. It’s almost like giving birth, painful to let it out, but boy does it feel good that it will fester inside you no longer, and now you can raise and nourish it. That’s a magical thing, isn’t it?
In the Absence of Zack
It was a Monday. All day I expected Zack to call me. I wasn’t too concerned since I was only letting him crash at my place and it didn’t really affect me if he found somewhere else preferable to crash. Although he did beg me to let him crash with me before he got back. Up and begged for one last chance because he knew he screwed up big the last time I let him stay with me. So I told him this time there would be no drug use whatsoever, and he had to attend NA meetings with me, too. He was okay with that; he just wanted to get his life back on track when he returned to Rutland.
He stayed with me before he had left and he smoked weed and drank and then there was the time he took acid and I had to watch him to make sure he did nothing stupid. I’m not an asshole, I wasn’t gonna deprive him of those experiences even though I wasn’t partaking in them myself.
One day I was planning to print out a bunch of my artwork and see if any stores around there would carry them. Zack said he’d come along. On the way to the UPS Store we stopped at Burger King and there was a guy and a girl he recognized from Rainbow Gathering. The guy introduced himself as X. He had a long beard and glassy eyes. The girl wore a winter hat over her short head of hair, even though it was summertime. I forgot her name.
Zack told me he wanted to travel cross-country with the two of them but I did not advise it. He said why not? like it was up to me to give him permission. Like I was his father. I said because you’re getting clean from heroin. It’s not a good idea, I told him. He assured me that lots of people get clean on the road. I told him I know, but lots of people get high on the road too, and I’m guessing that’s where your head is at. I know he really wanted to go. His older brother Pete was doing it and I know Zack wanted to fall in his brother’s footsteps.
While I went to the UPS Store, Zack hung back at Burger King with his two squatter buddies. When I got back, there was another, different group of squatters there, also in town for Rainbow Gathering. But Zack and his squatter buddies were gone. The new crew told me they overheard the three of them talking; they were talking about going to score some H.
I was so disappointed in him.
I thought that would be the last time I saw him.
But he came back that night and asked if his friends could crash here. I said no. I told him they’re junkies and they’re not staying here. Please, he said. They’ve got nowhere else to go. No, I told him. No fuckin way!
The next day, after Zack went to work, I ran into my neighbor and he told me our porch was a pigsty this morning. Empty coffee cups and cigarette butts were everywhere. He was so pissed and he wanted to tell the landlord but he liked me and he didn’t want me to get evicted.
I texted Zack and said he could not come back here. He really screwed me. The only rule was no bringing people over here without my permission. Otherwise I didn’t give a rat’s ass what he did.
I thought that would be the last time I saw him.
A few days later his mom called me and asked if I’d heard from him. I said no.
His mom was so worried and I gave her my own mom’s number for support. My own mom had been through what she was going through now.
She was very grateful.
I thought I would never hear from him again. He was one of my best friends and I was so sad to let that go.
A few weeks later I got a message from him that told me he was in Kentucky. He was having so much fun. I was happy for him. Truly happy.
I showed him the story I wrote about when he was crashing with me. He thought it was great. So we kept in contact this way.
A month went by and he told me he was ready to come home now and could I give him one last chance? I said I would. On two conditions: No using drugs, and he had to attend NA meetings with me.
The weekend he got back, though, I had to attend my cousin’s wedding in Montreal so for that weekend he had to find another place to stay.
I went to the bus station. I knew Zack was taking the bus home that day too. I wondered if I’d run into him at the bus station.
When my bus pulled up into the station, I saw a familiar face bobbing down the aisle. Apparently he was on the same bus I would be on in a few minutes.
He got off and I gave him a big hug and told him I’d see him when I got back. I reasserted the rules of no using drugs when I got back, so I suggested he get it all out of his system before then. I guess I was just a nice guy and I understand the mentality of being a drug addict.
I got back to Rutland Sunday night. I was looking forward to seeing him again.
On Monday I went to therapy and my life skill’s coach who worked with my therapist told me the two of them wanted to speak with me together. I wasn’t sure why; it was rare that this ever happened.
I followed her into his office and she sat in one of the empty chairs and my therapist sat at his desk and he looked genuinely sad. Did something happen?
I sat on the couch across from him. What is going on? Am I in trouble or something? Did I do something wrong?
My therapist looked me in the eye. Fuck, this is bad.
He took a deep breath. Why is he dragging this out?
He paused and then he told me my mom called him. It was about Zack. I gulped. What about Zack?
Over the weekend, he said, stopped and mulled over what to say next. This isn’t good. Over the weekend, he continued, Zack died of a heroin overdose.
No. he didn’t, I just saw him Friday.
His mom called my mom and she didn’t want to tell me herself so she asked my therapist to break the news to me.
That’s impossible, I said. I just talked to him. We’re gonna meet up today. I’m just waiting for him to call me. And then he’s gonna come stay with me again.
Both of them were really sad. They both had met the kid before too. They knew him. Like me. And then it clicked.
He was really gone\\\
Nothing is real
when you spend your whole life
in a box
I grip the bars
of my mind
trying to find
a way to stay hidden
beneath piles of tears
Walking the plank
like a sideshow act
my head has loose screws
jabbing into my neck
So I take the screwdriver
plunge it through
my eyes just so
I don’t have to live a lie
and then the images
But what is real
when you’re stuck in your mind
I drive my foot
through my head
and tear my way out
as I wish
to never be free
She told me I wasn’t crazy anymore. This was 10 years after we had met. She said I wasn’t crazy like I used to be. I’m just a lame bore. All I wanna do is read & write.
I said I’d much rather write a poem than be a human being.
She told me I was asking her to love a poem but she can’t love a poem.
I told her the only thing she was really in love with was the past….
She remembers the first time we met : : : there was a group of us and I suggested we make ether.
I remember the first time we met : : : there was a group of us and a homeless man bought us all bananas instead of the booze we had asked him to buy for us, so then I must have suggested we make ether instead—although I don’t remember that, exactly.
One night we met up with her and her new college roommate in Harvard Square. It was a typical wasted night. I was 18 and I was going through my all-nighter faze that summer, when I would spend all night outside with a group of friends and in the morning we’d sit down by the tracks and watch the sun rise over the empty early-morning ghost town.
I invited her to come along the following night.
I didn’t know she’d say yes.
She said sure, sounds fun.
She was always up for having a good time.
She met me at Park Street and she wore these tight white stretch jeans and her hair was colorful and spiky. All the Bostonians in this underground train station stopped and stared at her and so did I. Although I wasn’t staring because I thought she looked kinda freakish like I assume the rest were. I was staring because I thought she looked beautiful in her denim vest covered in band patches and studs.
We rode the train back to Newton, MA.
This night we did not do ether, in fact.
But she taught me about Triple Cs.
Cough & Cold Coricidin.
You ever hear of Robotrippin?
It’s the same concept, only Triple Cs are even more dense with DXM than that of their sister medication, Robitussin.
I tripped like a bastard and she vomited her college cafeteria dinner out by the Newton Center train station. I knew I was stricken with something powerful right then. We were a match—surely a match made for destruction.
After she vomited, we spent the night together roaming and watching the stars and mingling with the other late-nighters heading home from the bars, or the other kids that squandered these lame city streets, until we were the last humans left alive and the sun was so beautiful as it rose like fire and we smoked our cigarettes and talked and laughed and some amazing energy was happening between us.
It took a while for us to ever make out.
She said she could only hook up when she was drunk, and by hooking up she meant make out and she loved to make out with people when she was drunk, but just not fuck them because she was weird about that.
I asked her to be my girlfriend one night but she said she doesn’t do relationships.
We made out in a park in Harvard Square the night before she went home for Thanksgiving vacation. She laughed the whole time and it made me insecure and when I pulled back from her and asked why, she said because she was so happy.
A few weeks later, the day before she went home for the Holidays, we went into Harvard Square together and got drunk.
I remember we sat down by the Charles River in Harvard Square and drank whiskey and we left our mark on the side of the bridge with spraypaint. Then we walked to Central Square and we spraypainted fuck religion on every church and I scrawled fuck Hollywood in Sharpie on the wall outside of a Blockbuster movie store.
She had to use the bathroom and we went into some fancy-ass hotel and found the bathroom and inside the lady’s room there was a nice couch which the men’s room did not have and I hung out on that couch while she peed and some woman walked in and took one look at me and she looked like she was about to jump out of her skin.
I said: It’s okay, I’m just making sure my friend doesn’t get raped.
The woman darted out of the room and I laughed and when she came back, I told her all about it.
We were rowdy. The night was alive. We were mischievous and I wouldn’t see her again for another few weeks and suddenly it hit me.
We got back to her dorm and I was pouting. I was always a sensitive boy. She told me once I was too emotional. She was going home soon and she’ll probly meet someone else because I was just not good enough for her. She told me to quit my wining. I told her to be a human being for once. She mocked and insulted me and I felt degraded. This was the girl I was yearning for, and she was a cold-hearted bitch. I was so upset.
We got back to her room and I crawled into her roommate’s bed. She had two roommates and one of them was never around so I crawled into that roommate’s bed and curled up and sulked.
Her roommate’s bed was elevated and she was screaming at me to come down.
No, I said.
Come down, she said.
Fuck you! I said.
What’s your problem? she said.
I didn’t know why I was so upset, really. I just was.
She threw her keys at me and they split my lip.
I climbed down the small ladder and left. She followed me out.
What the fuck! she said.
I kept going till I was outside. Once out there I lit a cigarette. She found me there and I was puffing so fast and shaking even faster. She came over and hugged me so tight.
She said: Come to bed.
Why? I said. So you can harangue me some more?
She said: You can sleep in my bed tonight.
My eyes lit up and I flicked the cigarette into the cold winter sky and she took my hand and led me back inside the building.
I climbed into bed with her and we cuddled and made out and her other roommate was there and she was under us, on the bottom bunk, and she kept yelling at us to shut up, but we kept giggling and kissing and rolling around on each other and we were just so drunk.
She asked me to be her boyfriend.
I told her to ask me again in the morning. I didn’t want her decision to be solely because she was drunk.
In the morning she asked me to be her boyfriend again and I said yes and then she told me I better leave now. Her dad was coming to pick her up soon and I wouldn’t want to meet him. He was like Robert De Niro mixed with Al Pacino and trust her on this, I didn’t want to meet him.
I left immediately and my smile didn’t fade for the whole next month.
I was so in love———only the next few years brought me through such levels of grandiose torture that I became a devil and so did she and this love became our hell.
I was lying on the curb crying, covered in blood, and all of her tires were slashed and I held the knife in my hand. This would be my way of saying I wanted nothing to do with her anymore. I was 22 and I was done and it was her fault that those two assholes had jumped me earlier in the night.
Earlier I was stumbling and staggering down the street in Central Square when I got a phone call. It was a number I didn’t recognize. I answered.
Hey, said the strange voice.
Who’s this? I said.
The voice said: I’m gonna rape your girlfriend.
What? Who is this?
The voice said: The police!—and the whole time I heard her laughing in the background, like this was some kind of sick fuckin joke.
I eventually found her after looking all over the place. She was hanging out with two white boys who wore baggy pants and slanted Red Sox baseball caps. They three were all alone in a large, vacant lot and I wanted to fight but was too drunk and she stepped in the way and told us to break it up and I pushed past her and left.
The ground was moving in spasmodic waves. I stared downward and tried to remain balanced as my feet refused to cooperate. I was zigzagging now, swaying and staggering up the street. Past cars that shined their lights outward and plowed past me with a flurry of force. Past drunks and shoppers and bums. Past street corners and alleyways. As I walked alone, I saw a quick flash zip toward me and a fist knocked me in the head. I stumbled back and took another to the gut. I fell and there were two boys stomping and punching me and stomping and punching me and when the cops showed up they took off running. The cop loomed over me and I wanted to plead for him to help me up off the street but he just guffawed real nastily and left me there lying in my own blood.
A friend lifted me up and I could feel a trail of blood dripping out of my left ear, and he helped me onto the train and my upper lip was soaked with blood oozing from my nose. I could taste the warm copper. One of my eyes was swollen shut. The whole train ride home I didn’t once look up because I was afraid of what I’d find out if I saw my own reflection in the window.
When I got home, I pulled out my knife and slashed all four tires of her car and then fell on the curb and bloody tears burst from my eyes.
It had been five years. Five frikken years. I wasn’t about to do this anymore.
And I thought this would be the end of it. And it was … for a short time\\\
On the Clock
I was sitting in the alleyway behind the Lowell movie theater. This was my second day working there and I was having a cigarette break by myself. I liked all my coworkers; they were very laidback and easy to talk to. I could smoke whenever I wanted to as long as I didn’t have any other tasks to complete or if there was no movie rush going on and I had to work box office or concessions.
This was my first real job.
I worked at a DJ studio for a little while when I was a few years younger but that job led me to a dead end. I tried working at a smalltime coffee shop but I took too many cigarette breaks and too many free drinks and they let me go after my first day. Nobody trained me or told me what to do so I got bored and smoked cigarettes and drank soda for the whole day until the manager told me I clearly didn’t understand what they were doing there and he had to let me go. I worked a day at a grocery store just to get fired. I contacted the Better Business Bureau about this. They hired me to fill in a shift and then fired me at the end of the day. But at least I made 30 dollars.
Now I was 18 and I was working at the Lowell movie theater in Harvard Square.
My black, flamboyant manager exited through the backdoor and stood there and retrieved a rolled cigarette from the inside pocket of his Lowell vest and turned to me and said: “Do you mind if I smoke?”
I raised my cigarette so he could see and smiled at him. “I’m already smoking.”
He chuckled and lit his rolly and instantly the smell of pot smoke wafted through the air. I understood now. He held the joint out to me. This was my manager and this was my second day working here. I felt like I had no other choice. I took a hit and passed it back to him and he took a hit and passed it back to me and I took a hit and passed it back to him and when the joint was cashed, I lit another cigarette and my black, flamboyant manager went back inside. I finished my cigarette and stood and the murky alleyway floor shuddered and swirled and I grabbed the wall and held on so as not to fall. The pot was so frikken strong and I realized I didn’t know how to walk anymore. I couldn’t move my feet. My knees didn’t bend properly. I had no feeling in my toes. My heels were crooked. My thighs were oscillating and the ground was liquid. I held onto the wall and felt my way to the door and grabbed the handle and cranked the latch and the door released so suddenly I fell through and almost collapsed but I caught a pole and hugged it. I looked around the store. My coworkers were busy at work. The next rush of movies was just getting started.
A girl I worked with, who had purple hair that moved and flowed like Medusa’s head of snakes, hurried over to me and said: “Get a move on, you’re ticket taker.”
I stood there silently. I had to cross the large mass of moviegoers pouring out of the theater doors and pooling in the atrium and talking and laughing in droves. I held onto the wall and stared at the distance I had to cross to get to the front doors.
She said: “Are you okay?”
I leaned close to her and said: “I don’t know how to walk.”
This was my second day working here and I was so fired. Why did I have to smoke that pot?
“You’re stoned?” she said.
Shit, did I say that out loud? Or can she read my mind?
“Shit, what the hell is going through your mind?”
“But the black man. I can’t remember his name.”
“Come on,” she said, and grabbed my hand and led me to the front doors.
I was so getting fired.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “No one’s firing you. This happens to the best of us.”
She can read my mind. She is so hot.
Wait, think of something else.
Next thing I knew I was standing at the front of the line taking people’s tickets.
I did not get fired for that.
These people got me.
One day I brought a half gallon of whiskey to work with me and as soon as they caught wind of it, the break room was packed with us all sharing the whiskey.
Four months later, AMC bought out the store and they were so strict they took the fun right out of working at this smalltime movie theater. I was one of the first of my coworkers to quit.
The last time I ever set foot in that movie theater was because I was in Harvard Square with Samantha and she had recently acquired some crack cocaine and neither of us had ever tried it before and we needed a quiet, closed-in location so I went into the movie theater and asked the boy working there if we could smoke crack in the alleyway in back. He remembered me from when I used to work there.
He said: “No problem, go right ahead….”
Andrew and I were walking through the Fens when we came across a tall black kid a couple years older than us. He was sitting on a park bench by himself reading a book.
We got talking to him. How the conversation started, I can’t remember. When we were drunk, we spoke to everyone. Our conversation abilities were all inclusive in that state.
I told him we were going to get some coke. Does he want to throw down?
He said he would, although I remember him paying for the whole lot of it, now that I think back on it.
His name was Karl and he lived in Dorchester, MA. We took the train to my own town, Newton, then bought the product and hopped back on the train and headed to Dorchester. Not only did Karl pay for the drugs, he offered up his apartment for us to do it in. Sure, we had other options of where to go; it’s not like we were taking advantage of him or anything.
Off the train we walked through a dark empty parking lot. There was only one car in the lot and there were three black teenage girls in it. I don’t know what they were doing in that car; it could have been anything.
They yelled something at us. I yelled back and told them to suck it. One of them yelled again; they wouldn’t stop yelling at us as we passed them.
We sat in Karl’s apartment and I doled out the lines and gave Karl the first hit considering he was the one who paid for it--for all of it, not to mention.
After spinning our brains on a mental compact disc that rotated so quickly it set our minds aflame and the whole CD played exploded, we sat in Karl’s backyard. Andrew told Karl that except for spiders, I had no fears.
I played in a Punk band called Lethal Erection and we needed a new drummer. A year after meeting Karl in the Fens, Andrew and I were riding the Red Line to Quincy Center. A tall black kid came up to us and said: Hey.
Andrew was like: Oh shit, hey.
I said: Hey, but I was wary. Who is this guy?
Andrew reminded me he was Karl, the guy who brought us to his apartment in Dorchester a year earlier to blow lines.
Oh shit, I said. Hey, what’s up?
We’re going to a party in Quincy, Andrew said. You want to come?
He nodded. Sure, he said.
We got off at Quincy Center and started walking to Bell’s. It was maybe 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 in the afternoon. It was summertime and the sun was kicking our asses. Bell would have these barbecues in his backyard during the summer.
Karl told us he played drums. Andrew and I both smiled in unisons.
Andrew turned to me, grinning.
He said: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Yeah, I said. I’m pretty hungry too.
No, he said.
I also really wish I had some beer.
He said: Yep, that.
He turned to Karl and said: Our band is looking for a new drummer.
At that, Karl smiled.
Andrew said: You interested?
I said: The night’s just beginning. First, let’s see if he can keep up.
We went to Bell’s and we ate and we drank and then we went back into the city and the night furiously unraveled around us like tilt-a-whirl and when it drew to an end, Karl was still there and we set a time to practice with him.