Friday, October 02, 2009

Comfort

Back to the first time I left, when Laurie and I were getting ready to move to San Francisco, and we would listen to, “I live for drugs, I live for drugs, I live for drugs -- and it’s great.” Thrill Kill Cult with those industrial beats and campy at the same time, I loved it. Sure, there was that time when I called myself on the phone because I couldn’t find my existence, or worse the time when the dealer might have laced the mushrooms with something that brought my body into knots so much pain Laurie was massaging my back to try to help but all I could think about was the ambulance, I hope she calls the ambulance -- sure, there were the times when Laurie would go deep inside almost fetal and I’d be flailing, but even those times felt like living which is learning anyway. Crystal was different -- just a bump or two and you’d be up to the sky for dancing until whenever, until forever, until that crash. That was the problem: the crash. Like your whole body was splitting apart and this was just you, this would be your body, your body from now on there would never be any hope until the next bump. Day after day of just thinking about it, maybe just a bump, it’s all you could think about but you didn’t want to do more, more meant there would be nothing else. Even just opening up a bag and looking at it, okay, okay I can go on, I can go to bed.

Did I really do a bump before bed, on the worst nights, on the worst nights in that apartment in the Inner Richmond, the one after our first two months, but before we found what we really wanted? I mean, if we ever did. Laurie, did we find what we wanted? Actually I’d already found activism and ACT UP and even Junk, the club where activism and dreams came together, and sex that finally felt like dreaming and more hair dye and shoplifting competitions and industrial clubs and house clubs and much more, much more but I also found crystal, maybe once or twice a week but a few times a week meant that everything else was the crash. Maybe a bump before bed, just so I could feel pleasure, it was the only thing that felt like pleasure, that was the problem.

This was one of the things that split us apart, Laurie and I, split us apart in that time between. We were used to breakdowns, a breakdown was every day. We celebrated those breakdowns, called ourselves crazy, manic, insane, which was what we wanted. Or maybe Laurie was more worried about that part. We both knew that everything wasn’t as simple as we’d thought it would be, back when we’d read that article in Rolling Stone or maybe it was Spin about how you could make $45 an hour doing phone sex, but then we tried and Laurie made about $8 an hour working for a phone line nonstop like a regular job I don’t think I ever made more than $8 a day. We were working for different lines, hers was the standard straight woman deal and mine were more specialized: Dial-a-Daddy and Lola’s Line, you get the idea. We both got on general assistance and food stamps, which was actually enough to live on since our rent was only $200 each, once you added in a bunch of other scams and this was how people lived, most people we knew, I mean Laurie had grown up on welfare but for me it was a way to get by without giving in, at least until they took it away and then I would figure out something else, Laurie got a data entry job at a computer company in Berkeley.

But right -- Laurie and I were used to breakdowns, breakdowns were every day but this was different, this breakdown with crystal, especially when we weren’t doing it together, so the breakdowns would happen separately and then we’d be back in the house, time to do laundry or get groceries and maybe I’d be on day three without crystal and Laurie would have just crashed or maybe the other way around. This was when we started letting each other down, especially when Laurie was just getting home from work and I had my head in my hands.

We’d grown into this relationship that meant always, always was hard when we hadn’t quite grown away from what we’d fled, childhood and everything we were supposed to be. For me, critique meant love it was the same thing -- if I really loved someone then I would tell them everything, everything I was thinking, that meant respect. That’s how those early activist meetings felt so comfortable, when everyone was tearing each other to shreds, not comfortable but familiar. That was what I’d grown up with, that was the Ivy League that I was fleeing, that was my father’s rage, that was how I’d survived.

So when you’re trying to survive away, away from what you’ve survived, sometimes you try the same things that might’ve helped then but maybe no longer. At the time I knew that our relationship was falling apart, we both knew it, we were living together but growing apart. Laurie decided she didn’t like those clubs, the clubs I went to, she wasn’t that interested in activist meetings, her job kind of blended into her social life and I wasn’t interested in that social life at all and then, of course, we were always breaking down, I remember I had this idea that we would collect pink glasses from all the cafés we went to, since we both still liked cafes, and when we were arguing we would throw them out the window to try to defuse the tension, but still there was tension. There was a way in which Laurie would subsume her identity to the other person, the person who she loved, me, and I didn’t yet know how to see that pattern and break it. I’d always wanted to inspire self-expression, something I probably would have seen as truth, but there was also a way in which my place in the world with Laurie, our place as a different kind of unit felt so charged.

Let me give you the scene from New Year’s Eve, 1993: just before midnight, Laurie got caught trying to steal a bottle of champagne from the corporate supermarket, but in an Academy Award-winning moment she brought tears to her eyes and said: this is for me and my husband, it’s our first New Year’s together, and the security guard let her call me to pick her up. Somehow we ended up at a party in Oakland with Laurie’s friends from work, except we got there after the party ended, this was familiar but not uncomfortable and then we were doing lines of crystal in the bathroom, maybe we started that earlier because I remember passing out at the party, but not really passing out, maybe Laurie passed out and I did more crystal. We were listening to Throbbing Gristle on the boombox, I must’ve brought the CD with me, and maybe we were trying to pretend we weren’t on crystal, I can’t remember but I remember this crystal was sharp like the lights were all in your head, not edgy like some of the stuff we did, and we were looking for ecstasy, maybe that’s how we ended up in Oakland but anyway 24 hours later we were back at home, back at home with two of Laurie’s friends from somewhere other than work but I’m not sure where, one whose name was also Laurie and she shot the ecstasy because she was a junkie, her eyes rolled up into her head and she wouldn’t get out of my bed, the other friend just closed her eyes and mumbled and Laurie thought she was having a heart attack, can people die on ecstasy?

Then I was on the phone with Laurie’s friend from work, a straight woman with bisexual tendencies who said she was in love with Laurie, Laurie was a Greek goddess, I guess she must’ve been on ecstasy too, back at home with her boyfriend who she wanted me to fuck, she wanted to watch us together. I don’t think this was the same time I thought about walking out Laurie’s window like a door, no that must’ve been on mushrooms, mushrooms were always messy, this time I ended up sleeping in Laurie’s bed, after she didn’t think she was going to die anymore. One of the things about Laurie and me, one of the things that was different from any relationship I’d had before was the physical comfort. Maybe that’s what I’m thinking about, not just the breakdowns, the breakdowns magnified by drugs or the drama of figuring everything out but not quite, but that comfort: it’s what held us together. And held us. Even if we were drifting into something broken and familiar, maybe it was almost like we were married, complete with gendered power struggles about identity and the ways we saw the world, the ways we sometimes existed in the world like a composite that might have been more me than Laurie, these conflicts we were aware of but didn’t quite recognize, even then there was the comfort.

4 comments:

kayti said...

I thought I was a Greek goddess.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

You are a Roman goddess, my dear!

Love --
mattilda

kayti said...

I knew I was some kind of Goddess

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

And that's the important thing!

Love --
mattilda