A Series of Poor Decisions, Part 4
The unfamiliar bitter drip—well, rather what has now become familiar in recent times—slides down the back of your throat and you gag as you pace outside a stranger’s apartment at four in the morning. The amount of cocaine you’ve ingested is too much, and you know this not as any veteran of taking illicit substances but because your body is screaming. You are aware of and have no other choice but to accept the fact that this may be how you die: standing alone outside the apartment of a man whom you met at a bar, waiting for an Uber to get you home, feeling your heart vibrate like a hummingbird’s then stop completely, then continue again after the excruciating silence fills the inside of your chest—over and over.
The fear that would normally begin washing over you at a time like this is dulled by the alcohol, and with this boost in morale given to you, you take a moment to understand that if this stranger’s coke was laced with rat poison or fentanyl your heart would have stopped by now and your breathing narrowed to asphyxiation. You have not keeled over and so this is good news.
The headlights of the car cut through the night and burn the insides of your eyes. It pulls up and you disregard any notion of social awareness, leaping into the front passenger seat. You are visibly trembling, fidgeting with the zipper on your torn and stained bomber jacket.
His name is Eric. He is a young, handsome African-American with long dreads and a soft face. He appears feminine and speaks with a low rasp as if trying to lull you into docility with his voice. You appreciate this and decide to trust Eric. With nothing else to do but expel word vomit to quell the effects of the narcotics, you begin to tell him everything that is on your mind without stopping, with surprising eloquence. You trust the words you are saying because they are said clearly and with certainty. This is what you tell him:
“Sometimes I want to be an alcoholic. I want the darkness to encompass me. I want to feel the tight constriction of dependence. I want to put holes in my body with each stinging swallow. There is a naïve power in taking control of your own mortality, commandeering the wheel and deciding your own death in the face of its inevitability. In a way it’s a form of revolt, of dissent. An avenue to express your anger and desperation that comes with the knowledge of your impending end. Sometimes you just want to give the middle finger to the stardust that birthed you into this explosion of chaos without your consent. You want to retain some semblance of authority over your own fate and wellbeing. It feels cheap to be drained of yourself by the very force that made you endure it all without ever asking if you wanted any of it in the first place. Like the Vietnamese monks lighting themselves on fire. With each extra shot you know shouldn’t be consumed, you are in protest of the entirety of the universe. And during the whole process, in the back of your head, you are thinking, what an asshole you are for thinking this way.
“I am so terrified of death. And yet I do everything in my power to ensure an early witness to it. I can’t explain it. I am a biological freak. My brain has been unspared by the gods or the fates but I am doomed to be a monster, to fuck up and destroy all that’s beautiful around me, to roam through darkness until my legs give out and I die at the feet of the villagers and their pitchforks. No matter how goddamn hard I try I can’t fucking fix myself. I don’t know why I do this. I don’t have any answers.”
You take a deep breath and turn to see that somehow Eric is still listening. “Do you ever feel like that?” you say.
“I think I do,” he says and smiles at you, boring his eyes into the spot below your nose.
“Can I light a cigarette in here?”
“Sure.” He rolls down the window. “You can keep talking if you like.”
You realize that the car is stopped and is idling in front of your apartment.
“I can turn off the meter, you won’t be charged,” he says. “You could just come over if you want. I’ve got drinks and everything.”
The dim orange glow of the sun is rising over the trees. You can hear the first morning’s birdcalls chiming back and forth around you. The damage to your body is beginning to emerge in the sharp pains dancing and pulsing around your temples. How long has it been?
You want badly for Eric to say something soothing enough to match his voice, some wisdom to impart that will dissolve your need to remove yourself from your own skin, but instead this is what you get.
When you fail to answer his suggestion, Eric confronts the core of what he’s trying to communicate: “Are you gay?”
“No,” you reply.
“Are you sure? I keep catching you looking at me.”
“I’ve been taught to maintain eye contact when having a conversation. I’m polite.”
“Have you ever tried though?”
Eric describes gay sexual encounters as if it’s a type of ethnic food. This does little to assuage you but you make an effort to study the details of his face. The male form does nothing for you but there are feminine features common in some men’s faces that can be focused on and found attractive enough to blossom across throughout the entire person.
“You’re really, really sexy,” he says. “You deserve all the attention. I can give that to you. Have you ever kissed a man?”
You have kissed a man once and only once. It was years ago, funnily enough while trading lines of coke with an old friend inside his car, parked outside the ruins of a closed down high school. He was a fellow artist, volatile and insane, but made his instability work to his advantage through his pieces. You had a habit of drinking to excess together and cruising down highways and downtown streets at suicidal speeds. He owned a handgun, the first one you’d ever seen, and would routinely pull it out amongst company, pointing it at his head or at others, explaining the fragility of life and how quickly it could be snuffed out with one adjustment of his index finger against metal.
That night in the car was the night he introduced you to cocaine. He drove across town in the middle of the night while you sat in the passenger seat, chain-smoking his Marlboro Lights and taking swigs from a fifth of Jim Beam.
“The guy we are going to see is a crazy man, Henry,” he told you. “Don’t look him in the eyes, and I’ll do the talking. He once fucked a severed goat head.”
There were many follow-up questions you had to this statement but kept your mouth shut and watched as he parked and stepped across the street into a waiting vehicle. The man in the car was blanketed in the shadows of the back alley and you couldn’t make out his face. You didn’t feel the need to anyway.
When he returned he opened up the little bag of white powder, dipped in his car key and held it up to your face. “Now close one nostril with your finger and snort hard.”
“Is this shit safe?” you said.
“As safe as it’s gonna be.”
You remember very little about your first reaction to taking the drug. It was underwhelming. It was nothing compared to the elation that came from alcohol, and you immediately understood that you would never have an issue with cocaine like you did with booze.
Thirty minutes later you were in front of the foreclosed campus, trading lines cut up with an expired J.C Penney card.
“Have you ever watched gay porn?” he asked, tilting his head back and vigorously rubbing his nose.
“No,” you said. “No, I haven’t.”
“Then how do you know if you’re not gay? How do you know you wouldn’t enjoy it?”
“To tell you the truth I couldn’t give a fuck either way. But I sure like pussy, so I figured that was the end of the road in the sexual spectrum department.”
“But what if you’re missing out on a whole other side of yourself, man? You could be walking around, living a half-life for the rest of your existence.”
“Look, if this is your way of coming out to me, my dude, you don’t need to spin a whole philosophical yarn to do it.”
“Damnit, man, that’s not what I’m saying. Here—I’m gonna kiss you now, and you’re gonna tell me what you feel. Got it?”
You snorted up another thin, pretty line, sucked at the cigarette in your hand. “This is ridiculous.”
“Is it? Is it ridiculous to question things? To want to know more about yourself?”
“Shit, that coke is short-circuiting your brain cells.”
He leaned in, the white debris crusted around the rims of his nostrils. “Just fuckin’ don’t be a pussy and kiss me.”
You let it happen. All at once, his dried lips were upon you and you felt the rough, sandpaper-like stubble scrape against the sides of your mouth. It was quick and impassionate. Purely scientific. You detached.
“So what do you feel?” he asked.
“Nothing,” you told him. “I feel nothing.”
He grinned. “Well, there you go! We disproved my theory! We gained insight.”
He leaned back into his seat, picked up the 36 Chambers CD off the center console, and began cutting up more lines.
“So, have you?” Eric repeats.
“No, I haven’t.”
He leans in close enough that you can smell the delicate cologne beneath his collarbone. “Why don’t you try? You are so handsome. I just wanna kiss you.”
You balk. The inescapable truth is that you are alone and painfully in need of human touch and affection. You can’t help but be flattered that someone, regardless of gender, finds you attractive. And so you want to give this to him. Maybe any sort of intimate human contact will satiate the lonesomeness. You need someone to show you that you are enough.
“I’m not gay,” you reiterate.
“I know,” he says. “I’m not saying you are, man. Relax. You’re up for new things. I respect that. I totally get it.”
All that you can hear is the arrhythmic pulse of your heart. “Okay then.”
The kiss that follows is an empty ghost. It is nothing more than a vague physical sensation. Nothing has been cured and no void has been filled, even for a brief moment. You are no more loved, nor accepted, nor whole. As Eric stares at you expecting some reaction, you wish only to throw your head into a solid wall so you may punish yourself before falling unconscious, and for however long that lasts, you will no longer have to deal with this putrid rot feeling that’s begun to climb out of you like a parasite.
This thing is inside you. This thing that breaks your soul and poisons your mind. It is not you, but something that has taken root somewhere within you. You know this. You have to believe this. You have not always been this despicable, miserable monster. You were once a child. You smiled. You were happy—you can’t recall any examples of this but know still that it is true. What has happened to you?
You are struck with the terrifying, drug-induced notion that the only way to feel normal again is to take a knife, plunge it into your abdomen, and dig around your insides with it until you find the invading creature, remove it and kill it.
“What about head?”
The words pull you back out from your own mind. You are not sure if you heard him right. “What?”
Eric’s hand slides down and begins rubbing his cock through his jeans. “How ‘bout you go down on me?”
You are suddenly much more sober. “Nah, man.”
Only bitter anger resonates throughout you. Any lonesomeness and depression is gone. You don’t know where the anger came from, but acknowledge that you would rather feel this rage and self-hate than what you felt before. You’d like to hurt something, set something on fire. There are holes in the ozone layer, islands of plastic trash the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean, rhinos bleeding to death from the stump where their stolen horn used to be, children dying from exhaustion in prison camps at the border. This is the world and you feel every iota of the pain and anger it screams out into the empty universe. All of it has settled and hardened into a coal-black stone at the center of your stomach, and you recognize that you are no longer in control.
Eric takes your hand with the one not busy unzipping his pants, pulling it towards his lap. “C’mon. Just do it. I come fast.”
You rip your hand away from him, the rage causing your breath to quicken. As you go to pull open the car door, you hear a click. Eric has locked the doors.
“Just do it,” he says. “Then I’ll let you out.”
“You’re making a mistake,” you say. “You need to unlock this fucking door.” You are not frightened. You feel nothing but the stone in your stomach.
“Look, man. Don’t make this weird. Just suck my dick.” Eric’s cock is out. His hand reaches around your neck to grab the back of your head. “I won’t tell anyone.”
The first punch lands in the pocket between his right eye and nose. You feel the bridge cave in against your middle knuckle and blood spurts out both nostrils onto his shirt. You’ve forgotten how punching a man in the face feels like punching a brick wall. Human bone is strong, but the nasal bone takes only about seven pounds of force to break. This is why many boxers have noses like a jutting cliff face. The second collides with his jaw, snapping his neck sideways and his head slams into the driver’s side window. Blood begins pooling out of his mouth like an overflowing sink. He spits out a tooth. You grab him by the hair and bash his forehead into the steering wheel. The horn goes off.
“Let me the fuck out,” you tell him.
Eric sits cowering in the corner with his hands up over his face, spitting blood into his lap. He reaches over and unlocks the doors. He says nothing.
You open the car door and step out into the morning air. Before the door can be closed, the car swerves into the street and is soon gone. You look down at your aching left hand and see his blood smeared across your knuckles. You wipe the blood against your shirtsleeve and walk into your apartment. You realize at this moment that you are very tired.
A few days later you describe the event to Donahue.
“If you’re gonna put this in the book,” he tells you, “make him some guy who picked you up hitchhiking or something. No one’s gonna believe that this shit happened to you on two different Uber rides.”
“Yeah, maybe,” you say. “Fuckin’ Uber though, man. They really need to vet their fucking drivers.”