by Molly Hite
The thing about Justin’s mind was that it was going almost all the time, even when he couldn’t move his arms and legs, even when the connections weren’t there. It was like an escaped cursor darting around, or like some crappy old video game character trying to slide around the blocks, the big chunks of icy white matter that were everywhere on his landscape, that place he should have owned and now was terra incognita.
Except sometimes. Sometimes it was different, like when he thought about Savanna, which he did too much, or about Jen, which he did somewhat less but still too much. Gone, gone. Then everything slowed way down. Like his mind was soft shit, like he was walking through swamps of shit and everything was too much work and hurt. That was worse than the cursor jumping around. He’d just be there, with one of them, Savanna or Jen, never both at once, and nothing moved except them. When he thought about Jen or Savanna he started going somewhere he couldn’t afford to go, so he tried something else. He tried thinking, let it go. Sometimes it helped a little, thinking that it was all in the past, that Savanna didn’t answer his phone calls because she was in another life, another place. Hawaii, she had relatives there. She’d told him they were going to live there together, Justin and her. But all that was in the past. Don’t go there. He still couldn’t believe that anything was his fault. He usually thought it was some dickhead. Some dickhead had dicked with his life and ruined his brain and made an enemy out of smack.
Not his enemy all the time though. Smack could still sometimes be his great love, the orgasm he’d found in high school, back when he was still doing things like getting on the bus and going across town to the alternative school and then going around the building and sitting on the swings out back, smoking and looking out over the town. He felt then what he could only call love, the really great love of his life. Nobody could understand that, not even when Jen started doing it with him and they lay for hours on his futon while his mom was at school being a guidance counselor, which was of course ironic. His mom didn’t much like what he was doing with his life, as she put it, but there she was supposedly helping troubled youth. She did all this work and made practically no money. She was so fucking stupid. She could have made thousands of dollars and been happy, really happy, which was what he was doing or going to do or doing some of the time. When his mind wasn’t slipping around, which happened a little too much if he got into the shit part. But his mom didn’t have a clue about the good parts, when he was on, what he was dealing. Sometimes he just wanted to laugh at her, the way she was thinking that in her counseling she heard about serious shit, the little kiddies on speed and crack and hey, LSD, oh hey that was a big one, as if her own darling baby boy weren’t high as an eagle almost all the time he was awake.
But then, after his second time in rehab, she kicked him out. She made him move and she sold the house and bought a trailer, and when he got arrested she wouldn’t even hire a lawyer.
He was a juvenile so he was okay with a public defender. He didn’t even have a record, the system took care of that. And she wouldn’t let him move in with her again. As if he wanted to live in a fucking trailer. Still, she said she couldn’t handle having him there, that back when she had the house two cops had just walked in the front door and said, okay Lily, where is he? Lily being her name. She made a big stink about how she didn’t even know them. How they just pushed open the door and then called her by her first name. She said she didn’t want to live like that. Like that: as if she knew anything. She had no idea how low you could go. He could have told her, but she didn’t seem interested in listening.
So instead he’d left town, and now he was . . . he’d lost the thread. A lot of things had happened. He was on the other side of the country with Grandma: that was what happened. Somehow he’d got there. And Jen was gone and Savanna was really, really gone, but he couldn’t let his mind go there. “Dickheads,” he muttered, but he didn’t feel better so he turned over and tried again.
“Dickheads.” His voice was stronger now. That felt more familiar, not exactly better but it stopped the slow slide inside his head. He was getting too oozy and ready to slither down on something he didn’t want his mind to wrap around. Not that. He squeezed his eyelids shut. He seemed to be on the carpet, not the bed. He had to pay attention to how he got places. He didn’t know how he’d ended up on the carpet or even how long he’d been there. But definitely no thinking about Savanna, especially now when he was feeling–he had to tune in a little–well, really shitty. Like Christ, how long had he been on the carpet? He had a fucking pattern on his cheek. Not thinking about Savanna. Don’t go there. Dickheads. That was what he was thinking, dickheads.
The dickheads were his enemy. They took away what was his: his life, his body, his mind. Had to get some smack. No: wrong turn. No money. No transportation, no money. No Savanna. Fuck that. What else? Food. Food he got from the mission kitchen. Two meals a day if he showed up for them; pretty okay food, pretty good deal. And a lot of the time one of the girls in the clean and sober house would get him a hamburger or something. He was fucking one of the girls. He wasn’t sure if she was still in the house. When was that, anyway? He wasn’t ready to eat anything or even sit up, so it didn’t really matter.
He was in his room in the apartment, the place he shared with–he couldn’t remember. Some people. This room was not in the clean and sober house. They threw him out of there a long time ago, at least three or four weeks, he was pretty sure of that. He knew the feel of this carpet. Hell, he knew the smell of this carpet. There was blood on it from the times he’d fallen and hit his head or banged his shin going down, having one of those asshole seizures. Seizures just came right in and took him, shook him, left him flopping and screaming and biting, too, anybody stupid enough to get in range. They always told him about it afterwards, people who were there when he seized or the nurses in the ER. All the EMT guys knew him. But that was okay. Nobody had thrown him out of this room. He was back from the hospital and coming down, which was okay. There was stuff, coke if not smack, meth if not coke. Or all of them together, what the fuck. He had to figure out where to get his next hit was all. Who was in the apartment with him? A question to be asked.
He wasn’t ready to look around yet. Just moving his head hurt. But somebody had put him in his own room. Somebody was looking out for him. Hell, he was useful, reliable, of course there’d be somebody, Zeke or Randolph or that other guy. Those guys. He kept forgetting their names.
He raised his head slightly. It really, really hurt. There was something sticking to his cheek. Yet he was optimistic, that was the weird thing. He’d just been on a binge that put him out, had him dragged into the hospital by cops while he kicked and lunged and even drew blood; the night nurse told him about it. They said it wasn’t even a seizure this time, although he defaulted to thinking it was a seizure. Must have been a seizure. The nurse said no. Just massive, massive withdrawal, bigtime withdrawal, the kind of thing you could die from and take a few people with you. He had seizures all the time, so why not this time? It had been a three-day wonder, a massive binge, surges of exhilaration and then the long smooth ride where he knew everything was what it should be and he was the best. The EMT guys had peeled him off the floor, which was smeared with shit. The nurse told him that. One of the cops told her. They talked about him all the time in the hospital. He was a crazy-ass dude. He inspired awe: that was the way to put it. He was awesome. Except for the shit. That couldn’t be right. He didn’t shit when he was high. He had control. He was the man. Must have been a seizure. He lost the thought. Where was he? In his room. On his carpet. Was that shit on the carpet?
When he left the clean and sober house, Grandma helped him get Mr. Fontana to give him his stuff back. Could you believe, Mr. Fontana wanted him out of there, out of that shitty little house that was full of junkies and meth freaks? Like, he—Justin—was the problem. Like nobody else was doing serious drugs, which was like the biggest bullshit you could ever hear about, given that Mike was setting up to do shake ‘n’ bake crank right there, right in the middle of that stinking loser house sitting in the gridded streets full of little blocky houses, many condemned, some burned out and smelling. A clean and sober house manufacturing speed: that was, you know, irony. Irony was the sort of thing he knew about. In school he’d talk about how this or that was ironic, especially when it was Richard Wright or that other black guy, the one he really liked, the one he couldn’t fucking remember. Invisible Man, that guy. He was so right. Justin knew all about being black, even if he was technically white. He had all these cool indigo tattoos, after all. His stupid mom had said, oh right, you’re blue. As if that was a put-down. The tattoos made white people walk on the other side of the street from him, just the same as if he was a black guy. He was the man. As good as black. He could relate.
What had happened again? Oh right, he was in his room in the apartment. He’d been in the hospital. Grandma told him that he was disabled because of his seizures and she knew a lawyer who could get him Social Security disability payments off his mom’s Social Security. That was more than cool. His dumb mom, dumb Lily, workaholic, wouldn’t even know he was leeching off her retirement savings. That would get him enough money to buy smack, especially when he was dealing it too and eating at the mission. He had the whole thing worked out except occasionally things got out of control like his mind or, here evidently, his body. The carpet definitely smelled. Some dickhead came in and shat on his carpet was what clearly had happened. Clearly. He tried sitting up, not a good idea. Did the hospital release him before he was ready to cope? Those dickheads. Or maybe one of those guys whose names he forgot had given him a hit after he came home. Maybe they took him home. How long had he been lying here? Oh yeah, he’d stayed with Grandma for a while. He went from the hospital to Grandma’s. Now he was back. Grandma had brought him home with her, and after a day or so had driven him back here. And now he was lying on the carpet in his own room.
Grandma was okay, even though she was doing the big you brought it on yourself thing right now. She’d do that for a few days. He was cool with that. She’d been happy with him the last time he was released from the hospital and went around the corner for a minute where Rudy was waiting. It was forward-thinking of him to have called Rudy from the hospital. He was always looking ahead. That was how you put your life together when things went a little strange, like when the EMT guys had to pick you up. Anyway, he walked out the front door, waved to Grandma, went around the corner and just like magic there was Rudy leaning against the wall. After Rudy shot him up, he walked around the corner again and got in Grandma’s car.
Grandma drove him around looking for apartments he could get when he got his Section Eight voucher that let him pay only thirty per cent of the rent. That was so cool, that voucher. It would get him out of the apartment he was sharing with those other guys, not the guys here now, these were his business contacts. The other apartment. That one was filthy. There seemed to be actual shit on the floor. He’d be paying less for a real apartment all on his own than he was paying for his room in that dump. There were bad people in that place, worse than he was, hardened and skinny with hardly any teeth. Also, girls who fucked everybody. They could give you diseases. All these people did smack or cocaine or speedballs or crack or meth or whatever they’re calling bath salts this week. The whole situation was actively dangerous.
They’d driven around, him and Grandma, and all the time he was high as a kite, high as a fucking satellite, and they both got very excited over how Justin was going to be clean from now on. Clean! That sounded so great when you were high. He had no trouble, none at all, getting behind that idea. A good place to live with his kitty, regular money coming in, more now because he’d be paying less for the apartment, enough money to shoot up maybe once every two weeks except he probably couldn’t hold out that long. No, fuck that, he told himself, it was going to work out fine, he’d be in control, he was the man, he’d do a hit and then bliss out a little and then be very cool until the next week or so when he’d do another hit. It would all work out. He’d be clean for all intents and purposes, clean for Grandma’s purposes. And eventually she’d buy him ice cream and microwave dinners again.
This place they’d looked at even had a swimming pool, although it didn’t have any water in it. Having it full of water would be so cool, just like in Dallas where he’d lived with Savanna. That was cool, too, until they’d got a little bit out of control, a little bit heavy on cats and kitty litter and smoking all the time and the curtains shredded and not always getting to the methadone clinic before it closed and too much nodding out with the cats crying. Those cats. Where were they now? He didn’t want to go there. Where was Savanna? The shredded curtains in Dallas and then Savanna gone. He didn’t want to go to that place in his mind. It wasn’t a good place. Frankly, there were a lot of places in his mind he shouldn’t go.
Anyway, the memory didn’t scroll out. It had holes in it, like those shredded curtains, big thready pieces hanging off it. Those cats. No. Where was his kitty, the one he had at Mr. Fontana’s before they’d taken him to the hospital? Oh right, that was taken care of, someone was taking care of her, she was in good shape, his kitty, the pretty tortoiseshell that he’d named Jane after Jane’s Addiction. She was okay, he wouldn’t worry about her. Someone. A girlfriend of one of the people in the house. Which person? Which girlfriend? No, it was fine.
It was going to be great. It was the absolute last time he’d hit bottom: he’d learned his lesson, he was in control, he felt good. He had his cell phone. He didn’t have to reverse charges calling fucking Mom, having her say, no, when the recorded voice asked, will you accept a message from and then he’d say in his own voice, Justin. She’d hang up on her own son. Who the fuck did she think she was? Big shit counselor. Saying, I’m not going to enable you, Justin. Grandma said enable was psychology talk like the Tough Love people used, just garbage. Then Grandma would call Mom and say, oh but Justin needed money for his rent this week, how could I not give it to him? But here I am on a fixed income and I don’t even have enough left to buy myself food this month. Grandma was pretty smart about his mom. She could work old Mom just the way he used to.
Grandma thought his mom was a terrible mother. That made him feel good but also a little creepy. It didn’t seem right having his grandma talk that way about her own daughter. But hell, they were both fucked up, Mom and Grandma, that was all. All that self-righteousness. Grandma’s too, part of the time, when he’d sworn he wasn’t using and then he had to go to the ER and there was cocaine or heroin or both in his blood. His grandma would get all betrayed. Worse, his mom would say I told you so, which made Grandma really pissed off. She hated to be wrong.
But it was just that neither of them got it. Of course he’d lie. He didn’t mean to lie. It didn’t feel like lying. It was just their heads were in another place, a dull, stupid, place. They couldn’t possibly have any idea of what it was to be high on smack or coke or best of all both at once. It was like a great orgasm. It was like the absolutely best cum of your entire life. It was just something you couldn’t expect anybody to give up, not in a million years. He’d die first. He’d die.
Molly Hite is a retired professor of English from Cornell University. Besides three book-length academic studies she has published two novels. Since 2017 she has lived in Bellingham, WA.