Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chapter I: Monday

At 9:30, when everyone else has gone home for the day, I sit at my office desk and unzip the side pocket of my black man-satchel, where I keep my less scrupulous effects: an eighth of marijuana, my bowl, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, my half-full flask (featuring Captain Morgan’s spiced rum), Prozac, and Adderall.
I twist off the child-proof lid to my Adderall bottle (they call them “Amphetamine Salts”), remove a 20-mg peach-colored pill, and put it on my desk. Then I place the bottom of the pill bottle over the pill, make a fist with my right hand, and come down on it hard. It crumbles under the force of the blow. I pull from my wallet my Vermont-issued driver’s license, press it down on the chunks of amphetamines, and twist it back and forth until the grains constitute a fine powder before using my driver’s license to shepherd the powder into a fine line. I peel a sheet off the pink sticky-note pad on my desk and roll it into a tube, adhering it to itself. Leaning over the powder, I put the tube of paper in my right nostril, put a finger over my left, and track the line as I snort the powder. It tickles and itches like maggots in an open wound. Within seconds, I’m light-headed.
I wouldn’t recommend snorting amphetamines for everyone, but it’s always worked for me.
I’ve been using it to an unprecedented extent for the last three days, staying awake and reading, writing, and playing online poker.  Whenever I feel my eyelids getting heavy, I pull out another pill and in my nose it goes.
I collect the film of powder that remains on my desk with my index finger and place it inside my bottom lip. My lip tingles.
I put the bottle away and take out the bowl, the lighter, and the eighth of weed. Then I open the window and the door to my office and I turn on the fan, as I have little interest in setting off the smoke detector. I pack a bowl and take a hit.  And another, pulling deep and holding it half a minute.  Tilting my head back, I do “The Dragon,” exhaling two streams of smoke through my nostrils. I do this again.  And again, and again.
Enough for now—everything in moderation, I remind myself.
I put the still-smoking bowl down on my desk and it slowly extinguishes.
Opening a new browser, I go to my Google calendar.  A little math informs me that today is the fortieth since my close friend since childhood, Tommy, was killed in Iraq.  Pulling out my flask, I take a shot in his honor.  Then I switch over to Google Reader. Scanning my subscription list, I see that there are a few new neuroscience articles: Prozac and neurogenesis, space-time synesthesia, and a story on attempts to give goddamn Jesus H. Christ a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality profile.  The article’s conclusion is that his personality was too complex to label with any of the sixteen options.
I finish my bowl, then pack and smoke another before reading an article on the heightened pain tolerance in patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and another on Joshua Norton, the mad “Emperor of the United States and Defender of Mexico.” 
My reading material over the last few days has gravitated towards articles and essays on two subjects in particular: the “technological singularity” and secret societies (In particular, I’m reading about the Freemasons—I just have to know: What the hell is it that they actually do these days?  Are they still the international political force from which their reputation is derived?).
The technological singularity—the notion of exponentially developing emergent technologies and the emergence of some kind of superintelligence causing a paradigm shift in human experience—fascinates me especially, as does the concept of intelligence itself. I’ve been feeling maybe a little grandiose with regards to my own intelligence over the last few weeks; I don’t much like myself, but I do like my intelligence.  It’s what people tend to notice first when they meet me, and I’ve been noticing them noticing it more and more over the last month or so while I’ve been ramping up—my thoughts are racing, racing faster and faster, and I feel better, smarter, more capable than I’ve ever felt before.  It’s probably got something to do with the Adderall.  Maybe it’s rewiring my mind.  Or maybe my self-perception has been distorted by all the weed I’ve been smoking, but I choose to reject that possibility.
As the weed continues to kick in, I realize that I’ve lost track of the time. I check the display on my monitor: 10:25. There’s still enough time to make the 11:00 train and avoid having to walk the three miles back to my apartment in Somerville. I finish the bowl and put it, the lighter, the bag of weed, and my bottle of Adderall back into the black satchel, then throw on my red college hoodie.
Two years ago, I graduated early with a respectable 3.22 GPA, but my parents, my professors, and I all knew how little work I’d done, how little time I’d left myself to write papers before their deadlines, and that I spent more time drunk or high than I did on my studies. I only started taking Prozac for my OCD as a sophomore, and I wasn’t put on Adderall until the summer after my college graduation. But, I think, even if I’d been on both from the beginning, I’d still have been eccentric, I’d still have done drugs, and I’d still have this nagging feeling that I’m not quite alright
I go out into the hall and make a trip to the bathroom. After taking a leak I wash my hands, then glance briefly at my tired reflection in the mirror.  The young man I see is gaunt, with high and hard cheekbones, dirty blond hair, sideburns that come down all the way down to the corner of his short mustache, and big brown, dilated eyes, the whites of which are red.
Back in the office, I check the monitor display again: 10:50. Time to get going.
I think about the hour, the darkness, and the walk, and I get a little paranoid: it’s late, the subway will be mostly empty—providing an ideal time for criminals to do their nefarious things—and then there’s the walk from the station back to my apartment.  What to do?
I think of ways to protect myself, things to use for defense.  There’s a black metal shaft from a broken microphone stand in the corner behind my desk.  I take it and, thinking about how to conceal it, come up with an idea.  I’ll tape the rod to my leg in two places.  I find the masking tape and jerry-rig the tape job so that I can slide it out easily.  Then I roll my pant-leg down over the apparatus and pack up to leave.
Outside, I take the coiled ear buds out of my pocket and plug them into the little red IPod Shuffle clasped onto one of my belt loops with my one hand and put the ear buds in with the other. I hit play, and Neighborhood # 2 (Laika), by Arcade Fire picks up where I’d left off before, with the line: “Our mother should have just name you Laika!”
I skip back to start over from the beginning. The song always affects me on a personal level—what gets me is the idea of an innocent dog sent up into space in an experiment for the furthering of mankind’s obsession with space travel. Laika’s sent off so that we might learn whether life in a manned spacecraft is viable.  But her survival is of no import to the heartless scientists: with neither food nor a plan for return, the dog’s fate is known from the start. There’s something of me in it, something of my life, but it’s something I can’t quite put words to.  All I know is that I am Laika.
Down at the subway platform, I hear the low rattling and creaking of an approaching subway car. As it groans into the station, I gaze through the nearly empty and decreasingly blurry cars. I think of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
The train slows to a stop and the doors open. I enter through the nearest ones and sit in the closest seat on the left, across from a young couple and a few seats down from a homeless man sleeping with his chin on his chest. The couple looks at me and then they look away. People always look away.  And I don’t know why.
As the doors close and the train begins to roll, I notice a pungent odor in the car. It smells like urine, and it seems to originate at the homeless man. Making a valiant effort to ignore the smell, I open the main compartment of my man-satchel and pull out my copy of Hesse’s Siddhartha. I open to the bookmarked page and begin reading, but before long start to feel drowsy. The amphetamines are still in my system, I can feel them, but the weed is taking over. Before the first stop, I’m already asleep.
I come to when a station worker gently nudges my shoulder. I glance around the car. The couple is gone. The homeless man is gone, too, but he’s left behind the smell of piss. He must not have heard the PA system’s reminder to not forget your belongings
Realizing that I’m at the end of the line, I ask when the next inbound train leaves. The man shakes his head and says that the last train has already left.  It’ll start running again at 5:00.
I thank him and leave the car. I take the escalator up to ground level and study the map on a wall to get my bearings. 
A heavy mist shrouds the streets outside. I can’t see more than twenty feet ahead of me.  My ears begin to ring softly but constantly and I wonder if maybe it has something to do with the weather. I start down the street that looks about right on the map, but soon it curves to the right and out of sight towards God knows where.  I turn onto a street that feels right, look up and, seeing that the night sky is completely obscured by adark and heavy haze, realize that I won’t be able to count on the stars as reference points. And weed is not a navigational boon. Who knew?
The road soon forces a choice: Do I continue along the path I’ve followed, or do I veer off onto the grassy path to the left?  I choose the latter. As I walk, the metal pipe begins to chafe against my leg.
Just ahead, a white squirrel untangles itself from the brush to the right of the path, turns its head sideways, perhaps curious, and then freezes, staring at me. I stop walking, intuition telling me that there’s something wrong with this squirrel.  I see what looks like a bulge of fat protruding from its belly.
My mind races. There is something else uncanny about this squirrel. Though frozen and fixated, it isn’t even remotely anxious or fearful. Aren’t squirrels supposed to be afraid of people? I walk over to it, and even then it shows no sign of fear. Is it just sick? Injured? I nudge it with my foot, and only then does it meander back across the grass and disappear into the brush. I continue down the road, puzzled. Squirrels aren’t supposed to act this way. Does it have rabies?  And what the hell is with that bulge?
Around a bend, the road opens up onto a large, empty parking lot surrounded by big rectangular buildings. At the top of the largest building, a neon blue sign reads “Pfizer.” I’ve wandered into a pharmaceutical industrial park.
I start off across the parking lot, thinking that I just might be able to find a main road on the other side. But no such luck. Worse, the metal pipe is really harassing my leg now, and I feel a wetness trickling down my leg.  Past the other end of the parking lot is a road, and on that road there is a bus stop.  I head that way to see whether there’s a late-night bus service.  There isn’t.  My leg is really starting to hurt now, so I pull up my pant-leg and see a trail of blood rolling down my shin and into my sock.  To stop the blood, I pull a few tissues out of my man-satchel and press them against the wound and hold them there for a few minutes.  Once the bleeding’s stopped, I remove the tissues and examine them.
It might be the weed, but the thought crosses my mind that maybe my arrival at Pfizer means something; maybe the bleeding does too.  And my next thought?  Pfizer must need my blood.  There’s something special about it, something that they need.  So, Good Samaritan that I am, I leave the bloody tissues on the bench to give them a free sample.  But more’ll cost ‘em.
I continue down the street and happen upon a y-intesection.  Left, and it runs around a bend and disappears into the woods; right, and it goes straight.  In the distance, along the branch to the right, I see the florescent glow of streetlamps. So I choose right. As I approach the streetlamps, an intersecting road beyond them comes into view.
Walking under the streetlamps, I hear them make the whirring sound they sometimes do and I feel the sensation of being watched. Directly under the lamps the noise is loud—louder than I remember having heard it on previous such occasions, and my hairs shoots up on end. 
I hear a car changing gears, and the sound of the engine grows louder. A black Mercedes coupe passes through the intersection ahead, its headlights shining brightly, throwing its light across a sign: a capital “T” surrounded by a circle, and the words “Alewife Station” printed underneath. I’m relieved to see the familiar “T” symbol—soon I’ll be someplace recognizable. The coupe slows down as I approach, and now I know something’s wrong.  Looking at the passenger’s window, I see only black tinted glass and my reflection in it, my earring shimmering under the light of a streetlamp.  When I get a little closer, the coupe rolls off down the road, providing a hint of relief.
After about ten minutes I see another sign for Alewife Station. Then there’s one for the bike path between Alewife and Davis stations. I look at my watch. 2:00 am. Damn, it’s late. But it’s too early too. I’ll have to wait four hours for the first train to Davis, but I can be there within half an hour if I take the bike path. 
I have some steam left—thanks to the Adderall—and decide to walk it. Arriving back at Alewife, I follow the signs to the winding bike path just behind the parking lot. The path is flanked by fields of high grass held in by chain-linked fences on both sides. It reminds me a little of the corn “maizes” back in Vermont—they’re tourist traps, to be sure, but there’s a certain appeal to those labyrinths, and I’ve returned to one in particular every few years since childhood. They change the pattern every year, but there’s always a bell tower near the middle, providing a reference point for travelers, much as a lighthouse provides one for seafarers. There’s usually a very simple, efficient route to the end of the maze, but it almost never becomes evident until after you’ve made it through to the other side and picked up a map to trace your travails.
Soon, the chain-linked fences and grass give way to suburban Cambridge. The path crosses a road, and then another—they’re busy roads by day, but tonight there is only a single car idling with its headlights on. The path dips into a narrow, wooded area and, as I continue, I look into the back yards of the nearest inhabitants. I wonder whether my glimpses into their lives provide any relevant insight about their neuroses and quirks. Here, for example, I see a back porch with its back vertical panel remove; the consequent opening is filled with tires—maybe fifty or sixty—and the tires are surrounded by a ring of traffic cones. I wonder, what do the details of their lives say about them?  Obviously, they’re hoarders. But why the tires and traffic cones? Noticing a rocking chair on the back porch, I wonder, who sits there? I slowly pass the yard, speculating about the people who live there.
Before long I reach Davis Square. From there, my apartment is only a four-minute walk. But thinking about how close I am only makes me more tired. 
As I unlock the back door, I can feel my eyelids beginning to droop. I push open the door and walk into the dark entryway. I close the door and the last remnants of light disappear.  I lock the door.  Hands outstretched, I feel around for the banister and then, finding it, stumble up the stairs to the second floor landing. For a moment I feel the urge to go back and check that the door is locked, but the urge passes. Fuck you, OCD. I know it’s locked.
I look down the hall. My roommates’ lights are off and their doors closed.  Mine is open.  I reach around the frame and flip the switch, casting light on the clothes, half-empty vitamin water bottles, DVDs, half-unpacked boxes, and unquantifiable quantities of cigarette and marijuana ash.  I take off my satchel, kick off my shoes, and pack one last bowl before bed. I only manage two hits before passing out with my bowl on my chest.


  1. You ability to express the illness is very good. I felt like that could have been me several years ago. Your writing is good to the point of feeling like it couldn't happen, hell I would have been to self consumed with information learned that day to know anything about my surroundings. I wish I could write like that. But I have a different bipolar power. :)

  2. Very good, but too much use of "I". Just plain old deleting them will work in most instances. It will read just as well without them, but it's very good.

  3. I just noticed the significance of the background...