Friday, November 26, 2010


I met Truly Outrageous Chrissie Contagious at the March on Washington in 1993. Or, not quite at the March but in Dupont Circle the night before. No, actually I met her a few days earlier, the way this March became a whole week, we met in Dupont Circle but during the day. With JoAnne, who later became my best friend but of course I didn’t know that yet. JoAnne and Chrissie came to the March with the queer youth contingent from Seattle, and JoAnne said I like your hair, and just like that we were friends that’s how it worked at the March, the biggest ever of its kind, a million white gays in white T-shirts applying for Community Clout credit cards but also that meant that the freaks, we found each other, and quickly.

Then there was the night before the March, and I was with Zee, who became my first boyfriend, but I didn’t know that yet either I just knew that I’d met this hot boy who looked at me with stars in his eyes and when we held each other I got stars in my eyes too and anyway we were dancing in Dupont Circle and Chrissie jumped naked out of a tree, falling in between us screaming girl!!!!!!!!

Maybe two years later, Chrissie came to San Francisco to visit me and JoAnne or maybe she wasn’t visiting either of us but she came to San Francisco and we met at a café and she was working big fake eyelashes and some store-designed club outfit and she said girl, I need to change out of this, I can’t be seen like this in daylight I’m embarrassed and I said honey, don’t ever be embarrassed to turn it out or actually turn it out came later to my vocabulary but it’s what I meant, and whatever I said Chrissie would repeat for years like it had changed her life and it’s funny when you meet someone at such a formative time -- back at the March on Washington Zee and JoAnne and Chrissie and I were all 19 or 20 but we wanted different things. I was there to protest with ACT UP for universal healthcare so I was disgusted by the overwhelming apathy and this was the moment when gays in the military became the big issue and I felt squashed. I’d grown up in DC too, so there was a lot more to the story I mean I hated that town, everything about it and when I got bashed the day after the March, right in front of the late-night restaurant where I used to go in high school, ended up in the hospital where they pumped saline into my eyes to save my vision and everything made more sense than ever.

Chrissie came to the March to party, she had so much fun that she ended up staying and working at the strip clubs, the part of DC I never got to know because I left right after high school but she would tell me stories, she decided we were sisters right away, the way we both spent a lot of time in worlds of clubs and drugs, selling sex for a living and moving from place to place in search of something we would never find. We were looking for different things, but we were both looking, honey we were always looking.

I guess we really became sisters because of JoAnne, I mean because of JoAnne’s death -- when someone that important to you dies, you become closer to the others who are left. JoAnne died because she was kicking heroin and the hospital refused her healthcare, I was living in Boston at the time but I went back to San Francisco because I didn’t want JoAnne’s parents to get her journals, the dirty old man who she needed to imagine in order to get off, her father. San Francisco welcomed me like a widow and so when Chrissie decided to move down from Seattle I welcomed her, we were both widows and for just for a second here I’m going to mention Andee, even though she’s not part of this story exactly I did meet her in Seattle through JoAnne when we were becoming so close by talking about addiction and sexual abuse and rage, and when JoAnne died Andee was also a widow.

Chrissie came down from Seattle, and that was when I’d decided that the only good drug was Special K, maybe it would help me avoid the rest and then I ended up with three whole bottles of liquid, liquid is how it starts when it’s still an injection drug so you can perform operations on cats, I bought the bottles for someone who got all excited then I had a connection for the real stuff but then left me with them. I figured Chrissie was in town and she was the party girl so we could sell K together for some cash. I cooked it all up because that’s how you make K into that white powder that everyone wants at the clubs, you put it on a dish in the oven, but then I would come home and there was Chrissie snorting lines, oh well I guess I’ll do a little. One night we ended up at The Hole in the Wall and Chrissie picked up some blonde suburban boy, her type, I was never ready to go home when the bars closed so when they said let’s go to Blow Buddies I was there with them and when the boy pulled out a credit card and started chopping up some crystal and held it up to my nose I snorted it right up, I always said people should do their drugs in public but then as soon as it hit me I thought oh no, I just ruined my life. And then: might as well have fun.

Even when I wasn’t trying to avoid drugs was trying to avoid crystal -- it was part of the reason I left San Francisco the first time around, but anyway then we got kicked out of Blow Buddies for saying girl too much, and then I cleaned my room while Chrissie and this boy tried to have sex, or whatever people do on crystal, while I gritted my teeth from a few feet away because my room was tiny, I was trying to act like I was organizing until the boy took out the drugs again, oh sure. Eventually they were trying to sleep and I was still up and then the boy went home so Chrissie and I went to the End Up and I’d never realized before how amazing it was to alternate crystal with K, like you were dancing 10 feet in the air the air was the ground there was no ground except the way you were dancing. And when Chrissie left in her chenille leopard print pants to do a porn video I bought two bags of crystal, I kept alternating it with the K and of course more cocktails to keep me from getting too wired and then I guess it was about 24 hours from when we originally left The Hole in the Wall and we were back. I poured out this huge bump of K, a whole capful, I knew I would end up in a K-hole but I thought I could pull myself out with all the crystal but K hadn’t really arrived in San Francisco so the bartenders didn’t know what to do when my friends said no, leave her alone, she can’t move, they dragged me out to the street and then I could feel my head splitting open, holding on to Rick’s hand because I was so angry at Chrissie and I could feel the life leaving my body, the way everything flashes before you until this homeless guy said pour cold water on him and everyone looked confused but I nodded my head and the cold water brought me down enough to get into a cab. And a week or two later when the ordeal was over I decided I would stop doing drugs, drinking too because it always what made me decide that of course I would do a few bumps, even if I hadn’t had anything to drink.

JoAnne and I had been friends in the way that meant it would never end, we knew that for sure, and then the hospital told her to go home with active TB and a bladder infection, she died the next day. When I moved back to San Francisco, for a while all I could think about was death, but I’m trying to tell you about Chrissie so I’m telling you about drugs. She always needed someone to party with, at any cost to herself or the people she loved or hated and maybe even dated except that was another thing that connected us, we didn’t really date. I guess I just told you about my first boyfriend, but then my second boyfriend was eight years later and I don’t remember Chrissie ever dating anyone really, no wait there was Brian in Seattle, that’s right, and now it’s been another eight years for me but that’s a different story.

Chrissie was the type of queen who everyone liked to talk about because that meant there was someone messier than they were -- she was always getting kicked out of bars for causing a scene, maybe jumping up on the bar and kicking someone in the face but she just meant to demonstrate a glamorous cancan, stealing some trick’s car and deciding to drive cross country, crashing into a cop car and ending up in jail in Wyoming, always trying to get back to Seattle or Florida where she was from or New York and through all the messiness she somehow became the manager of the poshest boutique hotel in Seattle, why not throw a party and serve up all the liquor bottles earmarked for the mini refrigerators? Or there was the drug dealer former military trust fund roommate who pulled a gun on her and she punched a hole in the wall, ended up in the psych ward. When she kept going to the hospital for abscesses – a spider bite, that’s what she said. I knew that you couldn’t get someone to stop doing drugs, all you could do was listen. I listened, and I tried to get her to tell the truth. Chrissie, that’s not a spider bite.

When she came to my house with grey skin and black knuckles, sipping Dust Off from the straw that came with the can, girl I got cab vouchers, let’s go somewhere, and when I took her hand in my hand or really the mitten covering my hand, something about how she was cold, she was sick of it all, she was angry, that’s when we were really sisters.

We were both crazy queens and hookers who turned tricks for way too long until it made us distant in ways we hadn’t expected. We both liked to share stories starting with honey or girl or you won’t believe this. We both liked to turn language into a game. We both believed in runway and reading and rage and rapture, but I don’t mean to suggest that we were similar. I remember the first time Chrissie stopped doing drugs, I guess it was around when I first stopped doing drugs, now that I think about it, but I didn’t think about that then. Chrissie started going to the gym and drinking protein shakes to bulk up and she bought blue contact lenses to cover her deep brown eyes and she tried to imitate some kind of upscale preppy look that before I’d always seen as a joke, but the worst part was that she didn’t want you to call her girl. My name is Chris, she said.

Now I remember what I said to Chrissie, that first time she arrived in San Francisco: don’t let them make you change. That’s one of the stories she would always repeat, and I loved her for it. And also I loved her. There was never anything balanced about our relationship -- I knew she was completely unreliable, and so I never relied on her. I’m not sure if I realized I respected her because she could let everything go, over and over again, in hopes of finding what she wanted. She never did, but neither have I.

Maybe you’ve figured out that she’s dead. Her heart stopped, that’s what they said. Later they said it was because of huffing, but I’m sure that’s not the whole story. I could tell you so much more. But it was strange the way I found out. Socket left a message saying I want to offer you support about Chrissie Contagious, I know you must know because it’s on Facebook.

Facebook? I don’t read anything on Facebook, I mean I read what’s addressed directly to me, and nothing else. I started crying right then, but I didn’t want to cry yet because I didn’t know anything. So I looked – Magdalena left me a link to Chrissie’s page so I went there. The page had become a memorial – is this what people do now when someone dies? All these stories about adventures with Chrissie. Someone wrote about how they were sure she was dancing in the stars, and I felt so disgusted. I still didn’t know anything.

The last time I talked to Chrissie, she had just listened to me on NPR. She was so annoyed at the announcer for calling me she. Of course we call each other she all the time, Chrissie said, but that’s because we’re camping – I couldn’t believe that announcer, the way she kept saying she.

I couldn’t believe that Chrissie didn’t realize I had asked the announcer to call me she. I never understood how Chrissie could live in worlds filled with freaks and fruits and perverts and whores for so long, but still she wanted to be normal. Sure, she could pull stunts that made everyone else look tame and prudish, but only on drugs.

Once Chrissie fled San Francisco and crystal for the last time, I was someone she would call late at night when she’d been drinking for 12 hours the way she’d been drinking for 20 years almost and even though she mostly stopped the rest of the drugs there was always a cocktail waiting. She’d alternate between getting more ice and asking me about San Francisco and yelling at the TV—something about Hillary or Heath Ledger or how angry she was that they were selling dildos on infomercials, but I wonder what she’d think about all these news stories about an epidemic of queer teen suicides, an epidemic we all know has been going on for generations. I’m wondering about those of us who do survive – for how long?


Kay said...

Thanks for sharing about Chrissie and JoAnn. People disappear from our lives so easily that I appreciate deep memories even of those I never met. I've lost friends and family this year and the stories help to keep them real to me.

Take care

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Kay, thank you so much for writing -- I know what you mean about your other people's loves and losses, and how that helps, and I'm so glad!

Love --

Anonymous said...

What a story. I wonder all the time why have I surrived to 62 and other dear friends are now dead. After a long life of drugs, sex, and more drugs and booze how come? Just luck I guess. But looking out it scares me to no end and I say the situation is hopeless why bother?


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Richard, I wonder too about this thing called hope, when you're so right that the larger situation is completely completely COMPLETELY hopeless with the direction this country is taking to annihilate the world, and then I wonder about the smaller moments of hope and what that means in the larger context...

Love --

Anonymous said...

The smaller ones are possibly the only ones that are real. The little things inbetween. I suppose we have to do what we can to spread that little all around and to lift up folks we care about.

--- So let me lift you dear heart. I am so glad I met you out here in blog land, I love your writing and am happy for you in your new home. I loved your grandmothers art, she really knew how to paint. You take wonderful photo's you artist you. I loved to see a video of you as you are so queer and that is what I love.

HA! Kisses sweatheart


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

"The smaller ones are possibly the only ones that are real. The little things inbetween."

Richard, that is gorgeous and so true!

And, thank you for such sweet encouragement -- I never used to believe in blogland -- before I started blogging, that is -- but once I started I did realize the intimacies and connections that are sometimes possible and that is truly amazing, thank you for all your insight and courage!

Love --

ther1 said...

I just found your blog. Your writing is beautiful; it reminds me of Kerouac without the self-importance.

Just wanted you to know. Keep it up!

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

"Kerouac without the self-importance" -- I love it, thank you!!!

Love --