The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- It fell out of a book, a paperback volume of the works of John Donne, the 17th century metaphysical poet.
The photograph, of this bloated, unkempt, drug-distorted 19-year-old, had probably been used as an impromptu bookmark years ago. I can't remember the last time I sat down and read Donne's "Meditation XVII," can't remember the last time I read the words No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main... or what inspired me to use such a foul image as a placeholder.
There is nothing quite like cleaning one's apartment and finding, buried within the bindings of a Cavalier religious writer, the graven image of oneself as a young addict. I sat on the corner of my bed and held the photograph in both hands, not as one cradles a child but as one would hold the putrid remnants of an aborted, rotten fetus.
1998* was such a rotten year, for both wine and life.
Memories, yes, memories can indeed flow like tears. It's why I've systematically destroyed most records of that infernal year, broken most of the ties that bind me to that time. Some things are best cast to the wind like dead leaves, left to fall where they may...
How I stared into the snide, fat face of the kid I used to be! That demonic child, framed in his own Victory-sign forming fists, did peyote with sorority girls on dares, bought intoxicating widgets off Aryan Brotherhood members and Mexican gangsters and sold, at profit, unspeakable products. That vile thing once got off on taking the virginity of Good Catholic illegal immigrant daughters without so much as a care about legality, or, well, whether or not Big Brothers Cholo would mark him for death.
That... person ... a marginal human being, with very little real conscience ... earned every bad thing that happened to him back then. The kid I was lived off of three things - pleasure, power, and the manipulation of everything in between.
And memories, yes, memories can swell in the brain like rivers when visual stimuli break the dams of time. Even good memories, funny stories, from 1998 somehow seem to be nothing more than tragic comedy...
* * * *
GREELEY, Colo. (ZP) -- Crackhead Jim wanted more tinfoil. He didn't knock. Just walked right in.
Basketcase junkies rarely knock, once you show them even the slightest courtesy, once they've been invited into a place. Like Hollywood vampires, crackheads generally wait for that first invitation into a dwelling, that first sign of human weakness, only to choose their comings and goings afterwards as if personal boundaries don't exist.
Crackhead Jim needed tinfoil to help him hide from his probation officer and the all-knowing, all-invasive Grov'ment Agents. They were always watching him, using their spy satellites to track him. Jim said that he'd stabbed a guy in a grocery store parking lot, some gangland Vato who'd called him a dirty nigger, a few days prior – he'd avoided them then, but, well, he'd used up all of his tinfoil wrapping his body in radar-jamming armor.
“Jada” was in the shower, the tiny studio's bathroom door wide open, her wet ebony nakedness barely a feminine contrast against the whitewashed walls. I was contently reading old Justice League comics on the toilet, shitting away three or four forty-once bottles of Olde English 800 and probably a good two or three grams of pristine Mexican blow.
I hollered back at Jim, told him that we were out of foil. He asked if he could take some wire coat hangers, our bags of garbage. He'd dig through them, sell back the recyclables, and have enough money for more tinfoil of his own – and enough money to score one or two tiny viles of rock to get him through the day.
Jim lived in 4B, two apartments down from the pre-op transsexual from Denver, across the hall from the skanky waitress from Omaha, Nebraska, the one who constantly inquired as to whether or not Jada and I were interested in a threesome. She'd already pulled a train with the two frat boys across from me...
And Jim, well, never robbed us. We were the only ones he never seemed to steal from. Jada and I, being junkies ourselves, were nice to him. Because of that common bond, and the steady supply of tinfoil and old aluminum cans and malt liquor bottles, we were probably the only tenants who actually got along in that run-down former sorority house.
From the toilet I carefully watched the junkie through the open door. Jada's tips from dancing were in her purse, right on the tiny table we used for meals. I watched and reached for the heaviest thing I could find – a shaving mug. I'd hate to think I'd have been forced to kill ol' Jim but, well, cold cash is worth more than a warm corpse to a junkie.
Jada'd picked up two private parties in a VIP room that weekend, Mormon businessmen who'd paid for all-nude lap dances, tipped well, and only tried to fingerbang her twice. Being good LDS boys, she'd racked up close to two grand – shamed at violating their faith by staring at a naked black woman, they'd dared not waste their sinning money on equally forbidden booze or soft drinks.
Jim, thankfully, ignored Jada's purse and her housegirl earnings. He was too immersed in gathering up all of the empty booze bottles we'd left lying around on the floor the previous night. He cleaned every scrap of trash up off that studio apartment's floor. He moved fast and furious and, without so much as a thank you, he waved and headed back to his apartment, back to feed his pet rat and to continue trying to remember way back, way back to when he was that young rhythm guitarist out of Washington, D.C.
Jada heard the door shut as Jim left. With one quick jerk, the kind of awkward motion that coke addicts make when they're still high, she pulled the shower curtain open, popping one corner of the plastic loose. Tiny black pearls rolled off her breasts, down onto her still soapy belly and crotch, down towards the fiberglass below her, down into a cold Colorado drainpipe. She yelled something incoherent, some fake hootchie squeal, feigned disgust at how one day Jim would OD and we'd be the first to smell his rotting corpse.
I put down my comic book, wiped my ass, flushed, and hopped into the shower with her. I reached for the tiny plastic bag on the back of the toilet. Jada squealed again, begged me not to drop the precious powdered elixir, to not let half of her Mormon tips wash down the drain.
In one night, we'd already moved into our stash of sacred, emergencies-only Angel Dust. I put a pinch on the tip of my tongue, pulled her into me, and let her tongue work loose the dust's sacred, hypnotic magic. I almost dropped the baggie, almost let that most precious earning wash away as that rush of invulnerability hit...
Crackhead Jim, at least, was smart enough to not fall in love with another junkie. He had his tinfoil and conspiracy theories and memories of those performances with Sam Cooke and Sammy Davis, with Sinatra and Aretha and Marvin...
That crackhead, at least, played music with legends. I only ended up getting played - and then stabbed - by my cokehead stripper fiancée.
And, as strange as it may sound, that's one of the most normal stories I can tell from that period in my life. For some reason, that one moment is burned into my mind like a brand, every detail as vivid as a Polaroid snapshot.
It only took looking at that old photograph of myself to resurrect that moment like Lazarus from the crypt. Needless to say, it wasn't all that pleasurable of a resurrection...
1998 was a rotten year, for both wine and life.
* * * *
BACK IN OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- I crumpled up the photograph, tossed it like a baseball towards the trash bag by the bedroom door. The past is, well, the past; there's no sense in dwelling on that which one cannot change.
I was in the middle of cleaning my apartment, in the middle of throwing out all sorts of things and dusting and vacuuming and making the bed - life waits for no photograph, no dream or nightmare from the past, cares not for tragic comedy or pointless wallowing.
No man is an island - of course, Mr. Donne. If we were, we'd all sink like Atlantis under the weight of our own memories.
I clicked on the sweeper and watched as the past's dust disappeared from the carpet.
- # # # -
* - Heh. Even in flashbacks, I can get the year wrong. The first draft of this post listed 1997. My ten-year clean date, by the way, is Aug. 1.