OK. So not my usual fare. Kenny Loggins, some 1980s heart throb fighter jet high attitude Cruising at 33,000 feet deal of pure jet fuel soaked testosterone. “Right into the danger zone”, Kenny vocally thrusts with at least 2g (spots) worth of masculine shock and awe. Men like this think they are far more impressive than they actually are. Deadly things always have suffix’s like “—-annator” – Baconators stopping hearts at 20 paces, Maverick sax solos and the faint scent of cheap cologne alongside that pure ‘Murican meat. So what got me to the horrendously out of character situation of listening to Kenny Loggins and laughing quietly to myself in a corner?
I know none of my friends want to hear this, but I am not always out of the danger zone. I exist in the danger zone: legally, emotionally, physically….and at the end of the day I am only ever a decent plug and a bad day away from a bag. The booze is both harder and easier. I hate alcohol. I watched it destroy my best friend, and beyond that, fuck it, I ended up a full on alcoholic in my quest to chase him down and haul him out of the bottom of his bottle. I hate alcohol, the crazed batshittery of the wild behavior, the grotesque physicality of it, the goofy douche-iness of it at best, and the blacked out violence of it at worse. I am not a bad drunk. I am just a drunk. I get wild, not nasty. I get a little insistent and upset at worst. Even though I live within a few minutes of two bottle shops, I mostly walk past with no problem. Except when I don’t.
I can hate booze with all I am worth. I can be totally invested in being sober and clean and not letting the kiddo down or dying, which I suppose is the same thing, and also simultaneously jonse-ing for a taste. I can say and mean that the worst thing I can think of is tripping and at the same time hold a deep and meaningful internal battle on the subject. Speed? Coke? To be frank I need a boost at this point in life, I am so lacking in pep and verve, but they are not my ‘soul food’. Not my deal.
I am in pain. Huge extravagant amounts of pain. Something has gone wrong somewhere in my back I guess and I can barely move. It feels as if my back is built on knives pointing down into my pelvis. I am panicked. I am grieving. I am in denial that everything has changed. I am lonely. I am scared of ending up on the street again. I am terrified of having to say goodbye to the Boy. I am past uptight and existing in a ball of nerves, stress, tight muscles and high anxiety. Sometimes I can’t enjoy today without worrying about tomorrow. I probably need to just stop and take a break from everything: Writing, trying to find homes for my work, picking a poetry and strings. I have worked myself up into an unpickable knot. My chest feels tight. My breath comes ragged. The memory of the nods of old mock me. I tell myself I would be happy with a few morphine and an oral syringe. “I bet you would” my Better Angel sneers. I bargain…”Ok…ok…Roxi 30s and a U100..?” By this point my Better Angel is rolling on the floor cry-laughing hysterically. My Bad Angel is in my pocket, “Pressed counterfeit pills, mostly fentanyl. Last offer.” Hard pass. I am not suicidal. I have no desire to have pain, nor to give it to others.
I tell myself I would be content with the distraction of an eight ball of Californian Fire, as the nice gentleman on the corner puts it. His hands are rock steady but his eyeballs shake rattle and roll in his head. It has been a while since I have seen someone with such wild eyes. They work independently. His Angel is definitely in his pocket…and possibly his hat band….down his boots…and down his pants. I try not to think about groin-stored dope. I am a squeamish ex junkie. Not to say I would turn it down…not to say I wouldn’t…at least not when things were nicely in the swing of that hard daily graft of a habit, or I was in need and had made that choice, I seriously couldn’t care less where it had been. I care more about what it is, than where. Truth is, I don’t think there would be anything worse at this point in life then being awake for 72 hours straight with all that time to just think about how scared I am, indulging in paranoia and with nobody to play with. Speed without a focus is both a waste and a horror.
The only drug that I allow myself is weed. I have had a long three month break from it, and may well have a little journey back to try and ease the stress and the pain. It is better than the proverbial nothing, but not much.
Outside has the cool dark quality of the start of a Californian winter. People are active and draped in jackets and hats. The air is crisp. The people move quickly. This is no languid Californian summer stroll weather. More a purposeful and brisk strut down the cross street that runs like a major artery through the city. Lights are shining, a few Christmas lights have appeared in windows. I remember this time last year I was in the shelter. It was not an easy Christmas. It was not an easy ten months in there. Still, looking back at it now, there was happiness as well as exhaustion, cockroaches, threats and fear. At least we were together, and for the good and bad of it, Billy was still alive.
I put up a few more fairy lights this evening, and as I did I remembered pulling into this casino campground off exit 99 of the 5, in Canyonville. I had a look at a few old photos, remembering pulling into the rather fancy campground, with the fairy light lit trees and the swanky shower block, and the neat and tidy spaces, the free coffee and the sweet little gift store. As we pulled in, with some coupon or other to make it affordable, holding onto Billy’s hand, and feeling like we might feel safe that night in the enclave of Indian land shut off from the outside world, I felt such a deep and lasting sense of satisfaction and happiness. I felt as if I could withstand any storm with him by my side and my kids sleeping peacefully in the back of the camper as we drove. The Cranberries sang softly about Zombies, as we picked a space, and I took my usual job of going and dealing with people, returning with a receipt and a hanger for the rear view mirror to say we had paid. The woman behind the counter was telling me she had hit a deer by accident on her way into work. She was shaken and saddened. A deeply wrinkled older man laughed for no reason I could discern, his dark eyes twinkling. I nodded and made concerned sounds, and desperately wanted to bail and get back to my trailer.
I am a compassionless anti social bitch when I just want to get into my bunk and snort a few oxy. Not even tales of dead bambi’s can make me want to pause and chat. There is probably no bioavailability benefit in snorting them. It just feels better. I am fundamentally opposed to eating opiates. It feels like a waste – literally. I have spent way too much of my life fighting against the anti abuse technology that only ends up making it more dangerous for the person using – or abusing I guess, but I prefer less judgmental language. I would do, I guess.
Canyonville is well..in a canyon. Surrounded by geographical features which are somewhat more than hills, but less than mountains. Little mountains. They always get in the way. It was about this time of year, and cold there. The mountains were frosted with white. The accidental bambi killer was telling me about bad weather up the mountains, about snow and frost and cold nights. I didn’t hear her. I was trying to work out how to get away without appearing rude or churlish. Being polite is a curse. My nose was dripping, my legs were aching and twitching and my stomach was starting to clench in nausea. Medicine time. In the end I interrupted while the man with eyes like coal giggled in the corner. Perhaps he could see my soul. See I wanted to get out of there. “Gotta put those kiddos to bed, Maureen! So sorry about the deer, total bummer about the car. Goodnight, sweetie!”
I turned on my heels, and walked out into the cold night and stood there, looking at America. America painted in cold and white. America with little nowhere towns named ambitiously after Canyons while being more of a valley really; but that is America. America the ambitious. America in which even a valley can become a canyon. America with the stripped clean mountainsides, devoid of timber. America scarred. But if you look in the right direction, if you squint, if you turn your back towards the biggest scars, and face the beauty, America is still beautiful. If you let the snow fall just ‘so’, if it frosts the scars in just the right way, if it settles on the remaining trees, if the air is crisp and cold and the jackets around your shoulders are warm enough, if the night shines black and velvet with nuclear bright stars in the unpolluted sky, then just maybe America looks like she is not in trouble. There she stands, inviolable, untouched, magnificent, stately, solid, clothed in the beauty of her nature, and protected by the way things are: that the roads criss cross to other mountains and other plains, and other two horse towns, that the swimming holes go on forever, and the summers are always perfect, and there is always some cowboy or steel working hard handed man to help you change your tire. That gas is never over $3 a gallon, and a road trip is the kind of magic that not a single resident of this glorious land can say they have not relished and waxed lyrical about.
We all want to see what is over that next mountain. What happens in the next valley over. We want to hear the stories of the travellers, from those out west, or who stayed out east. We want to hear about that place that you have breakfast in every time you drive to Oklahoma, that has the best hashbrowns and coffee in the country, or that perfect crispy basket of onion rings, and the angel wings you carved in the hillside snow, watching our young ones grow and love and adore life as we have done.
And all this and more. All that sage brush and mountain lion wind, all those snow storms and all that perfect loveliness of the highway and the perfect place to stop and pull off it and sleep surrounded, blanketed by the stone and the water and the earth and the air of this place that we have all found ourselves sitting upon trying to survive and thrive. To love and live and let fucking live.
But of course, that night, apart from a passing sense of wonder and contentment and the joy of crisp air and snow and warmth when I needed it, and the little sanctuary of the trailer with the people I loved gathered within it, the-little-heater-that-could chugging out heat, and a few minutes that I spent standing there outside until Billy came out of the camper and put his arms round me, holding onto my belt loops, pulling me closer, and asking me, ‘what?’
“It’s beautiful” I replied.
“It’s Canyonville, Goofy!” He half sneered, half mocking giggled as he pulled me closer to him. The heat of his body warming mine. His hips jutting up against my ass. His hands greedily grabbing at my boobs.
” It’s beautiful.” But having seen it too often he was immune to the magic of the sheer size and scale and vastness and blackness and coolness of the beauty of the moment. The spell was broken.
So I trudged into the trailer, it bouncing slightly as my feet hit the cabin. We needed new tires, even back then. All I wanted was my privacy to get well. Get a little high. Two oxy, a coupla phenibut, two more oxy. A morphine…A few hours nodded out head pressed up against the window, looking at the feathery patterns in the darkness.
This danger zone of memory, of self indulgent desires is not exactly not good for me, more unavoidable than anything else. Is it so bad to not want to think? To not want to hurt? To miss not hurting, to miss that relief in body and mind? Is it really something to look down on someone for? Does it even matter? The danger zone doesn’t even need to be so dangerous, except other people always want to impose their morality upon others. Do this this way, this is best. Do that, that way, it is the only way. Be like me, not like you. It is beyond dull, it is untenable. I can no more not be me than I can grow wings and fly over Canyonville pretending I am Top Gun. It is bad knowledge. I know that a drink or a shot or a pill or a bag will make this feeling of doom and desperation go away. I know I will feel more like myself, loosen up enough to write some poetry that means something and has that forward rear wheel drive propulsive forward force. I know this down feeling of hopelessness melts away into either “Hello. I AM A GODDESS! YEE FUCKING HAH MOTHERFUCKERS”, or else “I really don’t care about all you out there.” At the very least there might be, in the right formula a little ‘walking on sunshine’ before I start to paint the windows black and talk to the shadow people. And to be frank, sometimes it feels unavoidable, but for tonight, whilst I am not feeling fine, and I am staring down the barrel of a big anniversary that always gets to me, I am sober.
I am not sober for you. Nor for my Sister. Not even for my Boy. I am not sober because I have no connections, I live in the Tenderloin for crying out loud. I am not sober and clean because I want to be, I a not even going to pretend that I am ‘worth it’ and doing it for me. Nah. Fuck that shit it is lies, all lies. I am sober because I want to be. I am sober because I am lazy and I hate fentanyl. I am sober because I don’t think I have the energy to keep up a habit any longer. I am sober because I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
I broke up a little super silver haze bud, rolled a joint, and put on a recording of The Band, doing The Weight. I let myself remember my family. I let myself get stoned and think about the love and the road and the past and how it will never ever be back. How I will never get to have another adult who is willing to remain sober while I get high and tell me it is ok, it is ok to be me, it is ok to need some relief from this world. Sometimes not seeing the scars is just not possible. Sometimes it is all too ugly to look at straight.
I want someone to hold my hand and tell me inane trivia about how The Wreck of the Barbie Ferrari is the best story song ever, and let me stonedly argue the toss about it all. I was never into all that mundane 80s dullness. Who wants to hear about some drunk guy smashing up the kids toys? Not me. Give me Bob Dylan, or give me another shot, baby.
In the end, it is all just danger zone stuff. It is all just one wrong move, one slip, one accident, one ill advised word away from a gutter down Grove Street and wondering if you smoke it not shoot it, if you might possibly live to see another bag. These days, probably not. It is all screwed. It is all scarred. it is all messed up. Even the smallest pleasures are all shrunken and frozen and crumbling.
I just realized I am the happiest and the saddest I have ever been. I brought the tree indoors with me, and tamed it with fairy lights. The tree belongs outside. And so do I.