No one had ever wanted me as badly as Monster. We had sex constantly, everywhere. It became a joke; everywhere we went, we left furniture bent and crooked and used-looking. We had sex in his car, unable to wait until we got home. We had sex in bathrooms while people banged on the door with their fists. His parents owned a funeral home and we had sex there, amidst the cooling bodies and the reek of flower arrangements spelling out beloved. Anytime we stopped moving, our hands were in each other’s pants, our default position. He held me like I was something important that he owned.
And we had the dysfunctional but effective bonding agent of active addiction. We didn’t call it getting high, we called it getting right, because we woke up very wrong every morning. And getting right came before anything, including one another, but still, even dope-sick, his eyes followed me around the room, the way a cat will watch a laser-pointer.
He stayed more alert than I did in general; I was more one of those gravity-defying junkies you see sometimes, magically upright but bending like the bough of a Christmas tree taxed with too heavy a bauble, sleeping in my shoes. I must be part giraffe. Monster would shake me awake, my forehead practically on the sidewalk, my cigarette resting between the pages of some book I was trying to read. We went to see the band Monster Magnet at the Stone Pony in New Jersey, and in the clamor I snoozed against the stage, the press of bodies behind me the only thing that kept me from slumping to the floor.
Even back then, my mantra was a day at a time. Tomorrow I will leave. Tomorrow I will stop. But I didn’t not leave, and I did not stop, and the wild rumpus continued unabated. We had stopped paying the rent by then, and we lived on landfill of our own trash, hills of bloody tissues and newspapers and needles and cigarette butts and unopened letters covering the furniture. A cat picked her way through this wreckage; she must have been shitting everywhere in the apartment, because I know neither of us had the wherewithal to clean a litter box. A friend of mine took her to saner apartment, where she would nevertheless escape out a window one evening and run directly under the wheels of a passing car. When I started stripping, I took on her name.
Monster and I lived like bears, scavenging for take-out and throwing the containers on the carpet, where we would later be crawling, looking for crumbs of euphoria one of us would convince the other we had dropped. Then one afternoon we got home from the copping to find that someone had been by the apartment to slap up an eviction notice and fill our lock with airplane glue. Shrugging, we moved into the car, which could conveniently be parked closer to the dope spot, a flophouse on Bowery unironically called the Providence. Drug deals were brokered from the second story windows, and if the Dominicans who ruled the fifth floor didn’t like you, they would throw you off the roof from a spot overlooking the Chinese fruit peddlers where the razor wire had been stomped flat.
Women weren’t allowed inside the Providence, but they snuck me in once, up the fire escape. Inside: cheap plywood cubicles, each cubbying a narrow mattress, a footlocker, and a single, desperate man. Chicken wire rolled out over the tops so everyone could share the same sad lightbulb. If you didn’t like the guy next to you, you could drop a lit cigarette into his cell and try to burn him out, nevermind the shared walls.
It was prison-living for free people, but still better than what I managed. By the end, the car had been towed, and after that it was rooftops and doorways and sleeping on the train. I would try to leave Monster, to find a friend I could hide out with for a few days to try my luck at getting clean, but I always went back. I had to go back.
Monster and I would drift to different places, because we were pretty sure it was the city that was the problem. I brought him up to my grandmother’s house in New Hampshire once, our suitcases clinking with bottles of Mad Dog 20/20, stumbling through the snow in sodden sneakers. Gram took one look at him and pronounced him a loser.
Gram was someone I always liked to take boyfriends home to, because at some point she would take them to the side and warn them to be good to me. Her philosophy regarding men was that you couldn’t have it all: rich, kind, handsome– pick two. Or at least I’m pretty sure this came from her; I have a tendency to attribute bits of wisdom to her; my grandmother always said is a much better opener than here’s something I read on the Internet one time. Anyway, Gram knew it was important to know what you wanted in a thing. Ask the universe for things, but be damn specific.
The last time I saw Monster was on 14th Street and 8th Avenue, as I jumped the turnstile for an uptown train. He was crying. That late in the game, he cried a lot, and so did I, broken things that leaked. I had sent out a distress call to my ex, Bummer, who drove up from Georgia to get me, and I slept in the backseat the whole way back to his parents’ house in Atlanta, dirty and spent. I was so skinny my chin was pointed like an awl. Down South, I enrolled in some methadone program, and Monster moved into a halfway house, where I would call him on a payphone from time to time, crying because I missed him, and I missed getting high, and because I couldn’t recognize myself or my life anymore. I was deeply and profoundly homesick for him. We talked about getting back together, by the end of the summer, once we had figured out how to stop being so horrible for each other.
Monster died by accident. He was installing an air-conditioner and he got some kind of electrical burn and there were complications, because there are always complications. He didn’t tell anyone at the halfway house, because he was afraid they would think he had been getting high, which knowing Monster was probably the case. The next morning, he was incoherent, but no one knew what was wrong with him, so his internal organs began to fail one by one while the administration shuffled papers.
I was living in New Orleans when I heard he was in a coma, and I hitched a long, sick ride home with a change of clothes and a few books that belonged to Monster; I still have his copy of William T. Vollman’s Rainbow Stories which I opened recently to find still had a piece of notebook paper inside reading I love Tippy. Monster died about the time I was crossing the state line back into New Jersey, bent over double with stomach cramps and slicked in withdrawal sweat, unaware that it was already too late.
Monster was laid out in his father’s funeral home, and I was there on a medley of memory-killing pills so I don’t remember much. His parents, his grandmother, his little sisters, huddled in a knot up front. He was twenty-four when he died, but they still hung his high school varsity jacket beside the coffin, a totem of better, more hopeful days, before things ran so horribly south.
I know I mourned, but in the clumsy, soggy, dramatic way you do when you are twenty-one and everything is all about you. Hidden like a live wire was the naked, selfish truth: I felt relieved, because I knew that there was no way I could ever have walked away from him while he still drew breath. I would always come back, like a comet, my tail a fan of tissues and lipstick tubes and used needles and gritty, glittering debris. The comet moves, Neil Degrasse Tyson tells me, because it is falling, always falling into the sun, but the momentum somehow keeps it spinning.
Some people live through the Depression, and they can’t throw away used aluminum foil. I lived through the depression of active addiction, and now I can’t throw relationships away. Not while there is still love in them, and there is always love in them somewhere.
And now Sketch is the person I love more than anyone, and I crave him the way I once craved a needle with that bubble on the tip like blown glass. Sunday night, I meet him at this hokey vegetarian restaurant he likes in the East Village. Sketch is taking a run at veganism, and I myself am flexibly vegetarian, which means that I sometimes eat meat and feel really bad about it. He has his fussy reading glasses on when I walk into the place, which I find utterly, heart-grippingly adorable, like if you put glasses on a dog.
There is just no one I like talking to as much as I like talking to this man. We trade stories and he asks how the blog is going. “What are you telling people about me?” he asks nervously. One day he will read this, and I hope he will forgive me for it.
Afterwards, we walk to Tompkins Square Park, where nearly twenty years ago I perambulated as a junkie, looking for a comfortable bench to get some sleep on, or hunting for this elusive heroin dealer named Purple whom I never managed to find. Someone might have made him up to torture me; I heard he had the good shit. My life has come so far from where I started out that all these sober years later it is still sort of disorienting, and I walk through this neighborhood now with double vision: I see it, and I see it as I saw it.
The park is crowded tonight; everyone is out for the lunar eclipse. There is a small child who has climbed into a tree and is singing in a clean, clear voice, the vibrato rolling out over all the sleeping addicts and the like-minded couples waiting for the moon to vanish. I can’t tell if the singer a girl or a boy, but clearly it is some kind of magical pixie creature, and Sketch states that we should not be surprised if it sprouts butterfly wings and flies away when the performance is finished. Beside us, a man in pure white goes through a capoeira routine, kicking and flowing and spinning, fighting off invisible opponents. Sketch’s arms around me, I lean back and look up at the shadow of the earth on the moon, wanting to toss up shadow puppets on the lunar surface: a dog, a rabbit, a bird.
The rats scurry across the park’s paths like jaywalking pedestrians trying to beat a city bus, and New York around us is filled with a gritty, barefoot energy. There are Druids in the streets and “youthing” ceremonies in packed rooms. This eclipse, the fourth of a tetrad, is said to have the power to whisk a physiological year right off your life; it is a time-travel moon, which is appropriate, because sometimes I feel like a time traveller bounding across the years of my own life. The next time there will be a super blood moon in lunar eclipse will be in the year 2033, and I wonder if I will have figured shit out by then. Sketch and I decide: if we are both still doing this in ten more years, we will leave everything and go run away somewhere. To an island, or to the super moon, if it will have us. We pull in and out, like breath, like things that fall, like the fucking tides, like all things that cycle.