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?
The Sky Is Black Tonight
I’m home now I’m sitting on the couch I’m thinking too much
Today I shared that I am struggling at an AA meting I am struggling with depression
I’m in a deep dark nothingness I don’t know why I write maybe it’s to numb the voices or make them louder
or to capture the tension I feel when everything around me breaks
with words I struggle to relate to be a human being in such an insidious world
There’s never a point to the things we do I want to say it’s all her fault but when I do I feel sad because I’m not taking full responsibility
but you can’t blame me for being a little jaded I run from my problems rather than face them
I’m unworthy to be here I’m unfit to be there
I’m so bad at being a person
Everyone gets it they understand the way things work but me I sit on this couch trying to digest the past and face the future
Together they thrive maybe I was meant to struggle everything happens for a reason right
So my purpose is to suffer that doesn’t seem very fair
Last night I went to class and nobody got what my piece was trying to say I didn’t understand theirs so it’s okay
Maybe no one understands anyone and yet I feel so left out all the time
I have no morals I have no class I’m broken inside
These situations make me feel stupid I feel so cold I don’t know why I keep taking steps toward reparation when I keep getting knocked back two times the amount I put forth
I’m just so cold the fireplace is on and yet I feel so cold and hollow like if you saw me now you could see through me like I don’t exist or maybe I really don’t
I’m an enigma poison purposeless I try to find reasons but nothing seems satisfactory enough to keep me going
But still I keep trying I keep trying I keep trying and I’m bound to fly one day they say but the sky is black tonight and tonight I will fall
You were maybe 14 or 13 years old when I met you. I can’t remember your name but I remember the tears. You were suffering. A young teenager from a small town in Maine. Lost on a train going through Boston. How you got there, you had no idea. You got on the wrong train and ended up in Boston in the middle of the night and had no idea how you got there or how to get home. First, I saw the pricks in the aisle in front of you laughing cuz they thought it was funny that you were crying so openly on the subway. I called you over to me and asked what was wrong and you told me. I asked if you had a phone; you said it had died. Sometimes I wonder if you were high, if this is how it happened. Maybe someone talked you into getting on the wrong train and here you were, heading in to the darkness of the city. I let you use my phone and you phoned your mom. I told you to stick with me. I knew what to do. One night I got lost in Mattapan at 3AM—I had gotten on the wrong bus—and this older black guy protected me from the dangers of the innercity and kept me with him the whole time and eventually he flagged down a cop car and when the cops said they wouldn’t drive me and my girlfriend to a safer location, the black guy asked if he really wanted to risk turning on the news the following morning and seeing that two white kids had been murdered on his watch. The cops told us to get in. So when the train pulled in to the station that night, I brought you to the MBTA security guard standing there and he probably thought we were high but I explained him the situation. I didn’t know if you made it home. Two days later I called your mom from my phone since her number was saved on my phone and she was so grateful I was there to help you. Those assholes making fun of you did not help the situation but I’d like to think if I wasn’t there someone else would have stepped up. Today I was at the UPS store sending out some presents and there were a lot of people there and this woman by the door was struggling to get in while she held all her packages and no one helped her and I turned from the front desk and saw her there and hurried over and helped her in. She was so grateful and I said don’t worry about it. I felt it was just the right thing to do. I guess most people don’t care enough to step up. Most people don’t want to help out. They want to laugh and point rather than do the right thing. If I wasn’t there to help you that night, I hope things would have worked out still, but I don’t know. I’m just glad you made it home safely.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you again. The world is a big place, with many people who never cross paths, but fate has a way of planting certain people in our lives at just the right time///or perhaps the wrong time, depending on how you want to view it. I’ve only been to Maine one time since then, with my wife Michelle, to her hometown Bathe, MA. Maybe you’ve come to Vermont at some point, who knows. I was living in Vermont when I helped you. I was in Boston visiting family and especially my on-&-off girlfriend Samantha. She was the one who had suggested I call your mom the next day, although I waited a day and called her the day after that, after my dad had driven me back home. I wonder if you still remember me, if I played an important part in your upbringing. I’m probably just tooting my own horn and all, and I bet this event hadn’t even stuck with you over the years. But it stuck with me, and I’ll tell you why::::
I know you might think I was the one who had helped you that night—I know your mom at least felt that way when I had called her—but truth be told, I needed some event like this to help me realize that I do have a good heart and a good soul, and I am someone who can be counted on at times. I’ve done some bad shit in my past, and I know that doing things like this doesn’t exactly make up for all the mischief I have caused, but it’s a start. For me, it was a beginning. As selfish as it is to say, you being there in trouble and me being there to guide you to safety that night, was a major turning point in my life.
I said to someone I worked with for a long time in AA that I didn’t feel there was a point to helping anyone because it’s not like I can save everyone. This guy had a very interesting way of explaining things to me; he told me of this fable where a young boy is walking down the beach and picking up crabs that have been washed ashore and tossing them back into the ocean. An older man—of course it’s an older man who says this to him—asks the kid what he is doing. The man tells the kid that there’s no way he could make a difference. The kid points out into the ocean and says: I MADE A DIFFERENCE FOR THAT ONE.
When I spoke to your mom, I gave her my number and said that you were welcome to call me yourself. I don’t know if she put you up to this or if when you called me you were completely genuine, but it doesn’t matter. The fact that you called me yourself really made a huge difference in my life. Played a huge part in my journey. You were very grateful I was there that night. I told you to keep my number and if you ever needed anything, you can feel free to call.
You were grateful I was there; I was grateful you called me because it made me feel so much less like the piece of shit that I was.
That was seven or eight years ago and I’ve never heard from or seen you again. You’re probably an adult now, having graduated from college. You’ve probably lost your virginity, dropped acid, drank whiskey till 3 in the morning with your friends and passed out and woken up the next morning naked in some strange woman’s bed. You’ve probably left Maine and studied poetry in France, or became an engineer who had graduated top of his class at MIT. You joined the army and went AWOL and got locked up in the brigg for the next five years. You joined a band and toured all around the country in your beat-up van. I wonder if when your band played in Boston, you remembered getting lost there and that weird older man you had met on the train who had helped you get home.
I hope you have an outstanding, adventurous life\\\
— Jeremy Void
It was a New England winter. We were hunkered down in the Copley train station in Boston. It was me, Russel, and Lacey. When the night ended, I would have a new girlfriend. Russel was the youngest; I thought he was at least 18, but looking back on it I realize he was probly more like 17. He really liked Lacey--a lot. He lived on the North Shore, which is a long way from the city. Lacey was from LA. She went to college near Fenway. I was the oldest. I was 21. When the whiskey bottle ran dry, as it usually does, I braced myself for the cold and trekked out of the semi-warm train station and crossed the street and bought another bottle. I’d known Russel for a while. He and I went way back. I met Lacey, however, the same night Samantha and I had broken up. In the morning I had Lacey’s cellphone and she had mine. No one remembered how or when the swap took place. In fact, the night before I exchanged only one or two words with her, before Andrew led her off in the night with his arm wrapped around her shoulder. We were so cold. The brick-walled station didn’t offer too much protection. But we didn’t want to pay to get in the station proper because then if we left we’d have to pay to get back in. So we huddled together on the steps leading up to the street and down to the station. It was not as cold down here, but still it was brittle. We could feel the excruciatingly cold wind breeze past us whenever the doors opened : : : we all shuddered. Our teeth tremored. We were shaking. The whiskey made everything better. We laughed a lot. We taunted the people that walked past us. We had our fun, albeit fueled by the whiskey. When the bottle ran dry, I’d leave and go buy another bottle, until I was too drunk and the clerk refused to sell me anymore. It was almost like the liquor store was the bar and the station was our stool. They had to cut me off. I really wished they hadn’t. It was so cold and we had nowhere else to go. Nothing else to do. Of course, we could have just gone home. Sleep it off, so to speak. Fuck that, we were granted a gift. A gift of self-destruction. The point of life is to defy physics and see how far we can push it. Test our limits. Presently I’m sitting in an AA meeting and I recognize why the clerk had cut me off, but in the moment I looked at it like he was ruining our good time. Maybe he saved our lives, now that I think about it. I hated everyone who had ever saved my life. Those who didn’t want me to die—fuck them! They were not doing me any favors. Life is a state of mind. If you’re not living, then you must be dying. I was on my way there. I was living only to die. Once I was in Connecticut and these two young boys asked me to buy them liquor but when I showed the clerk my ID he didn’t believe it was me. He and his wife were Indian and they spoke poor English. They said they didn’t believe I was the guy in the photo. In the photo I had black spikey hair but the guy trying to buy liquor at their store had half-green, half-red spikey hair. They didn’t understand that I had dyed my hair. Eventually we did get going. Russel hopped on the train to North Station where he would in turn catch a commuter rail back to his hometown. Lacey and I were going the same way so we hopped on the train together. We were both going outbound. Her stop was Fenway and mine was Newton Highlands. On the train we met an older guy with a black mohawk and a leather jacket covered in spikes studs patches paint & chains and he invited us back to his place.
Many eons ago I was in a dual-diagnoses work/treatment program. Looking back on it, it feels like a whole different life, like I was never even there and it was all just a dream. We lived on a farm and we worked in the woods, with the animals, in the garden, and in my favorite place: the auto shop. I was good at auto-mechanics, especially small engine repairs. When I left the program, I stayed in a halfway house and Mike, the shop leader, let me come on as a paid apprentice. I did that for a year. I lived in the halfway house and I discovered spice and no one knew because spice, although it feels so similar to pot, doesn’t show up in piss tests and I was beating the system. Every night after I came home from work, I smoked spice. After three to four months of living in the halfway house I got to live in my own apartment. I was court-ordered to stay here for a full year and although most residents had to stay in the house for at least six months, I was moved to an apartment because they knew when my time was up, I would run; it was my plan all along. They wanted me to have some experience living in my own place before I took off. So I started drinking again and smoking weed and they all knew about it but I didn’t care and neither did they, it seemed, because they knew the alternative; it was either here or 10 to 15 years behind bars and no one wanted that for me. After a while they were just like: We’ve Had Enough. Although I didn’t claim to be a drug addict/alcoholic, I was using like one; and they could not keep me here if this kept up. I received a letter from my parents that said when my probation was up, I could not return home. I was so fucked, and alone and lost and hopeless. So I started going to meetings. I got a sponsor. I told the world I was clean because I was: except for the Ritalin and suboxone I was using. Ritalin—because I was already prescribed to it and they had no way of knowing. Suboxone—because it doesn’t show up in piss tests unless they are advised to test for it specifically. This program did not test for it and I got high, so high, every night I got home from the meeting. I went to some meetings and nodded off throughout. I was so speedy I wrote like a maniac in my journal for the entire meeting. I chaired a meeting while doped up and manic. I watched the floor turn to water and move like the ocean. It was working; no one knew. Then Samantha responded to my email and she told me she was clean. She was clean and I was trying to get clean but nothing was enough of a reason for me to stay clean. Until her, of course. I came clean about my using. Told everyone. Agreed to do it for real this time. Because she was back and she was clean and we started going to meetings together. She lived in Boston and I lived in Rutland, VT, and on the rare occasions I’d see her we’d go to meetings together. Then I found out she smoked a ton of weed. I mean: A Ton. But she was clean and she didn’t consider weed a drug. But I did. Anything I can abuse is a drug to me. She was as sick as always and I was trying to better myself. Every time we fought I got high because she was my reason for getting clean and when that reason failed me it was: There Is Nothing to Lose. I had nothing to lose. I got so high every time we fought. Of course, she started drinking again and I found a much better reason to get clean which is: Stick Around and You’ll Find Out for Yourself. I started to do it for myself. I worked the Steps. And I worked them hard. Even if I was spun on my own medication, vivance. How else was I going to stay up all night and write? How else was I going to work the Steps? Last time I abused my Ritalin I was lucky I didn’t die—so lucky my heart didn’t give out!—but I was always honest every time I took extra Ritalin. Honest with my sponsor—he never fired rejected or abandoned me. Honest with my therapist—he was always so accepting and understanding. Honest with my doctor—she was always so forgiving. Until I took enough to kill me. She immediately took me off of Ritalin and put me on vivance, which is supposedly better and much harder to abuse, and said if I tried to abuse it she’d take me off of all stimulants—for good! But I needed a stimulant because my ADD was so bad. So I took a little extra here and there, just enough to stay awake longer, and I ran out early every week; but it was no issue because I was happy now and I was doing so well and perhaps everyone knew and just looked past it. I came clean about it after I moved to Burlington because the doctor said I would have random pill counts and I knew I had to come clean. He didn’t condone this behavior but I’m pretty smart and I made it seem like what I was doing wasn’t as bad as it was. It was bad! I wrote the doctor a long letter justifying it. He bought it. I continued to beat the system. I got married and a year into the marriage Michelle said she couldn’t do it anymore. It was either her or vivance. I chose her but it was hard because my support system was stripped away from me. I had to do this and over time I learned I did not need this stimulant anymore and over time I was back to normal, or closer to it. In the end we are all drug addicts. Someone once told me that if I went the same lengths I went to get and stay high and did something else instead, I’d be surprised at how far I would have gone. At the time I didn’t understand what he meant. Because when he said it—I was high as God.
A Night Out
I was sitting downtown, by myself, outside the Radio Bean, listening to a band called the Didjits on my portable speaker. I’d been listening to the Spaceshits, but some strange older woman had told me to turn it up and she said the band reminded her of the New Bomb Turks and then told me I should check out the Didjits. Always on the lookout for new bands to listen to, I said I would; I found them on Spotify moments later. Then she told me her food was ready; she went inside the Greek restaurant beside the Bean, and I moseyed back to the Bean and continued sitting here all alone. As I sat here, the woman walked past me holding her food and asked if I like the Boys. From England? I said. She said: Yeah. And I said: Yeah, the Boys are awesome.
So I was sitting here waiting for the Bean to open and the open-mike to begin. They open at 6:00 and the last two times I had driven down here for an open-mike I had to drive around for a good hour looking for a place to park. Tonight that was not the case; I had found a spot right away. So I got here half an hour early. But that wasn’t the worst: it was a beautiful night and it gave me time to sit here and reflect. And I really enjoy watching people and stuff like that and this is what my life is about—sitting in the midst of the commotion but not too close to become totally absorbed by it. On the outside, that’s where I wish to remain, but close enough so that I can join in whenever it feels right.
At the open-mike I planned to read a new poem called “Devil” and a new story called “In the Absence of Zack.” I wasn’t sure how they would take those pieces, though. “In the Absence of Zack” is about a good friend of mine who had died from a heroin overdose a few years back. A few weeks ago the Bean had cancelled the open-mike because some young girl who I suppose had used to work there had died a few days earlier and they were doing a memorial for her, which is really sweet. I hope people care that much after I die.
Every other week it’s poetry-only and every other week it’s everything else. This week it’s everything else, but I still read, anyway, and normally the Radio Bean brings pretty astute listeners to their venue.
At other joints and venues people are loud and they don’t care what’s going on onstage. We become just ambient noise, for all they care. But here, at the Bean, they watch and they listen and they even applaud when you’re done, and that kind of validation feels good.
Last time I was here, this guy named Bobby was here to perform too, and I used to go to his open-mike at Manhattan Pizza and I’d have him play guitar while I read and it was so much fun. So I had asked him if he’d do the same last time I was here, and he did. Bobby was here tonight, too, and I asked him if he’d do that for me again, and he said maybe, but since I didn’t want to make him feel pressured and plus, that one story I was gonna read is really sad and I didn’t think it would do well with music in the background—it’s one of those pieces that needs to stand alone—I told him not to worry about it; it was probably better that I went on alone.
Outside the Bean this guy with a long ponytail walked past me and I stopped and stared thinking he was my friend Wyatt because he looked just like him and then I realized it wasn’t Wyatt and I texted Wyatt to tell him I just saw his doppelgänger outside of the Bean and he told me I should stop by Lincoln’s tonight—that’s where he works but nobody was there right now and he said I should stop in. I asked him to remind me where that is. He said it’s the speakeasy in the alleyway next to Red Square. I knew where that was, but I could never actually find the entrance to the speakeasy myself; it was apparently a hidden entrance and after many attempts to get in had failed, I figured this place doesn’t even exist.
I was the third to go on. For some reason my anxiety was feeling pretty intense. I got up there and told everyone I was pretty anxious tonight. Hope I don’t piss myself, I added, then immediately regretted saying that and mumbled: But I probly won’t don’t worry. Everyone laughed. I gulped. I read the first poem. People smiled and clapped. I felt a little more comfortable up there now. Then I read the story about Zack. I smiled because people were reacting with sadness and compassion. That was the reaction I was going for when I wrote the story a few weeks earlier.
After I read, I went to collect my stuff and head out, when the two women seated to my left asked me about my books. I didn’t want to stick around any longer, so I gave them each my card with my website on it and they read the blurb on the card and they both smiled.
Then I set out to find Lincoln’s again. I was in the alleyway beside Red Square and I saw a bar and I went inside but I didn’t see Wyatt anywhere. I asked the bartender: Is this Lincoln’s? He said: Next door. I went outside the bar and all there was next door was an ATM. So I continued walking. Up the street I asked a bouncer outside some random bar where Lincoln’s was and he told me to go in that room with the ATM and find the secret button that opens the secret door. So that’s what I did: I went into that room but I couldn’t find the button so I texted Wyatt thinking he was fucking with me or something but then a hatch in the wall opened up and there was Wyatt, and the place actually did exist.
I went in the bar and he served me a coke and told me it was on him and then we caught up for a while and he told me about his birthday party coming up and I didn’t think I’d make it and then eventually I left. After leaving I texted Michelle that I had finally found the speakeasy and that I was walking to the car and I’d be home shortly. But then, feeling bad that I wouldn’t be able to make it to Wyatt’s birthday party, I double-backed to the bar and decided to give him a copy of my newest book as an early birthday present.
So I was in the ATM again and I could not find the button. Earlier Wyatt had opened the door for me. This time he texted me to tell me where the button was. He said it’s that wooden box, so I was searching for it. I thought maybe you had to lift it up and the button was behind it, but of course the box did not move. He said I was getting close. The button is the box. So I pressed the box and nothing happened and he came out and closed the secret door and then whacked the box, hard, and the door opened back up. I said: Oh, I’m good at punching things. And then I punched the box, and he said: Not that hard. And then I gave him his birthday present and walked to the car and went home.
NO MORE BUSSES TO HUNTINGTON AVE., said the guy at the station. WE’RE CLOSING UP FOR THE NIGHT.
WHAT’S THE NEXT BUS? I asked him.
Some whispers. He was chatting with someone just out of view. He turned to me and said: BLUE HILLS. Then grabbed the metal cage and pulled it over the window with a loud clank.
FUCK! I spat. I turned to Samantha and smiled.
She stood there, all innocent and beautiful. I paced up and down the ramp.
Guess we should have spent less time branding each other with smileys from our lighters and more time preparing for the future.
I looked at her again, still smiling.
She was still shrugging.
I nodded up the ramp toward the bus that was just pulling in.
IT’D BE A LONG WALK, I told her. AT LEAST THIS WAY WE’RE A LITTLE BIT CLOSER.
She stopped shrugging and nodded.
We ran through the station, all the while fumbling for loose quarters in our pockets.
The bus doors slid shut just as we got there.
I banged my fist on the glass.
The doors slid open.
The bus driver, an elderly black man with short gray hair and a patchy gray beard, looked at us very sharply. He was considering this. We stood there framed by the doorway as he held his wrinkly black hand over the coin reader.
I started up the steps.
Samantha followed me on the bus.
He removed his hand from the coin reader and looked rather nervous as we walked right past him and dropped our quarters in the machine.
There were two people on the bus, sound asleep. They sat in opposite aisles from one another and both their heads were buried in a large backpack.
We made our way to the back.
The bus jerked up and rumbled out of the station. I watched as Boston flew past me in a blur of lights. Samantha rested her head on my shoulder.
I heard a ding and in a few beats the bus pulled up and one of the passengers got off. Before the bus started up again, the driver glared at me through the rearview mirror. His eyes looked hardened and dead.
A few more streets later the bus pulled up and we gained a new passenger. A black man a few years older than us walked right up to us and sat down in the row in front of us.
Samantha lifted her head and snapped to attention.
The black man said: LISTEN. He was not looking at us. He was looking straight ahead, at the window across from him.
LISTEN, he repeated. DO YOU KNOW WHERE THIS BUS GOES?
UM, BLUE HILLS? I offered.
He chuckled but I didn’t get the joke.
He explained that Blue Hills crosses through Dorchester and Mattapan and was perhaps one of the toughest spots in the city.
I looked at Samantha.
Her eyes said that she was a little bit scared.
I didn’t care. I was ready for an adventure.
The bus driver said: LAST STOP. BLUE HILLS.
As we followed behind the black man, he said without turning around: JUST STICK WITH ME, YOU’LL BE FINE.
I checked the time and it was almost 2AM.
He said he had to go get some smokes. FOLLOW ME.
We crossed the street close behind him.
He entered a 7/11 and I’d never seen a 7/11 that looked quite like that. It was just an empty room and the clerk and all the store’s products were secured behind bulletproof glass.
That was when the fear started to sink in.
We were way out of our league.
Two middle-class white kids.
We didn’t belong here.
He ordered a pack of cigarettes and the clerk turned and retrieved one and slid it through the rectangular window at the bottom of the glass.
We followed him out of the store.
He said: THERE SHOULD BE ANOTHER BUS COMING THROUGH HERE SOON. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE IT’S GOING. YOU TWO ARE GETTING ON IT.
We followed him across the bleak inner-city street. There was no noise except for the rattling of cans somewhere in the distance. It really set the ambiance of the night. The streets were empty. Imagine an old Western movie and there’s about to be a showdown and everyone is hiding and all that you can see are tumbleweeds rolling past the screen.
We reached the bus stop and Samantha sat on the ground with her back to the wall as we waited.
Time passed ever so slowly. We could have been there for 30 minutes or a few hours, there was no way of knowing.
A black man and a black woman crossed us and the black man looked us up and down and said: YO, YOU WAITING FOR THE BUS?
He said: THIS AIN’T THE RIGHT BUS STOP. THE ONE YOU LOOKIN FOR IS OVER THERE. He pointed down the street to a dark dark alleyway.
The man we were following turned to him and said: THEY’RE WITH ME!
The strange woman laughed real loud and the man she was with just snarled and said: YOU’RE LOSS.
A cop car drove past and the man we were with flagged him down. They stopped in the middle of the street, but it didn’t matter because there was no traffic whatsoever—they were the only car for miles.
The man said: HEY, YO. CAN YOU GIVE THESE TWO KIDS A RIDE OUTTA HERE?
The two cops exchanged a glance, then turned to the man and said: NOT OUR PROBLEM.
The black man said: DO YOU REALLY WANT TO TURN ON THE NEWS THIS MORNING AND FIND OUT TWO WHITE KIDS HAD BEEN MURDERED ON YOUR WATCH.
Again, they exchanged a glance.
The one in the driver seat said: I GUESS WE CAN GIVE THEM A RIDE TO THE EDGE OF TOWN. WE CAN’T GO ANY FARTHER, THOUGH.
The man looked at us and said: WHAT ARE YOU TWO WAITING FOR?
We hurried into the back of the cruiser. This was my first time in a cop car without my hands cuffed behind my back. They drove us to the edge of town and we walked the rest of the way back to Samantha’s dorm.
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\\\
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.