(I changed names.)
Nina grew up in mansions, white ribbons in her hair, private schools at her feet. She cut the white ribbons to pieces in high school, rich girl punk rock, freckle-faced pouty good-looks. Enough money and attitude for the tame drugs and lame parties and asshole rockers. I was a hundred miles younger than her, awkward, and very socially-inept.
East Lake punk rock kids were, culturally, always reaching and grasping at straws. We stood out in crowds of blue hair, black nails and green LSD vomit. The fact that Nina was on 86th Street South at 4am Sunday morning suggested she was a slummer, looking for kicks with a Black Flag soundtrack. A one-night stand on a basement couch with one of my friends while I slept alone on a throw down mattress. It’s tough to call 15-year-olds together a “one night stand” but…
I pulled a blanket over my head, not for warmth, not in August, but to pretend I wasn’t there, an ornament on the set of someone else’s movie. My friend never went to high school, not a day, and his parents let him run Skid-Row wild as long as he got up Monday thru Friday to lay tile. He’s still running wild to this day.
I woke up that morning and traded a dirty Youth of Today t-shirt for a clean one that said “BOLD”. Straightedge was so “in” in ’88. Nina was asleep on a couch, distant eyes dreaming. I cut through the woods that separated East Lake and Roebuck, headed home.
I heard Nina’s name again in college in a sentence that had pills of ecstasy (a new design) and lines of cocaine (an old favorite). No longer slumming she ran with a jet set of new wave kids who drove BMWs to Morris Avenue for shows or to the projects of Elyton for drugs. I wasn’t an ornament on this set but I read the script. The new wave kids gathered around a card table with paid for pills of all shapes and devices, in the basement of a house nicer than anything on 86th Street South.
Nina’s boyfriend was tall and jet set and wrapped his arms around her. He was laughing when he put one bullet in the gun, leaning his head next to hers when he spun the chamber. “I’ll live forever”, he said, still laughing as he pulled the trigger that made him a liar.
His blood and body on the floor were irrelevant. Nina was permanent-lost at the gunshot, torn up white ribbons and forever winters, dizzying the rest of the way on her own. It’s tough to call 19-year-olds in love so I won’t suggest it…
Small town stumbling over the same people on my path I’ve heard her name used in other painful scenarios: Another boyfriend, a New Orleans trade and swap, and an ugly celebrity and his female companion.
Years further she showed up in a Southside bar I was standing behind, now married, new pills and new husband. The same distant eyes looking for life to begin, end, or exist somewhere else. Nina had no idea that we’d ever met and, looking back now, I don’t think we ever really had. She wore an expensive coat, fur and plush. It looked like a blanket.
For me this summer’s nights have been laced with wake up nightmares over and over. I’m scared to fall asleep, scared of my subconscious screaming: I want to hurt, I want violence, I want to become the worst serial killer this America’s ever seen. Larry Livermore once wrote that “it’s no surprise there are so many random acts of murder, rather it’s a wonder there aren’t a hundred times more.” I read that line in 2000 and looked out the window of my then-Highland Avenue apartment, the drunks pouring out of nightclubs and dancehalls. The next night Samantha told me I was going to be a father. The nightmares would come and go, they always do.
Instant best friends. Zach and I met in fifth grade, playing GI Joe and Star Wars at sleepovers on the weekends. Over the next few years we migrated into b-movie exploitation films, hair metal and the Violent Femmes. Zach’s mom raised me on the weekends, a small pack of us roaming the safety of Mountain Brook-Irondale on foot, wanting reckless trouble but not really knowing how to find it. In ’87 I’d shied away from the Outsiders of East Lake, too tired of explaining why I didn’t do drugs anymore. Also, I liked the blanket security on this side of town.
Young friends are hard to hold onto. People choose paths to follow that fail to represent the same importance to instant best friends. Teenagers turn into their twenties and thirties before you can even laugh about it. Or, all you can do is laugh.
Zach chose. He chose a heroin needle route for safe keeping and pain removing. Before it even began he’d watched a girlfriend fade away on a course of rehabs, the strung out thing and fix-necessity. Now…
Zach’s pills turned into bigger pills turned into fake makeshift heroin into the real thing. A rock-n-roller friend turned him on and toured the country, yet kept Zach “on a leash” to prevent the strung out thing from slamming him the way it did, the way it does, the way it can. The way it will. The way you can expect.
Nothing, and I mean, nothing matters, the blanket wrapped around you. The blanket makes sure nothing is wrong, nothing can go wrong and nothing can make you sad.
The fairytale unraveled when the rock-n-roller found himself stranded in New York with nothing to gauge. Zach FedExed heroin overnight hurry hurry and put the dealer’s number in his phone. The leash was off now.
Of course Zach’s dealer was from Roebuck!, the woodsier side of East Lake. A skinny rave kid that soon let the enemies and addictions catch up to him so he moved in with Zach to hide. Their relationship turned sour over money and drugs the way it did, the way it does, the way it can…
Another batch and another dealer who stayed in business while kicking off his own habit. Every day Zach and the rock-n-roller waited in the bushes for the dealer to leave for the methadone clinic so they could break in to get daily doses weekly doses too many doses… Zach said the questions were always there. They sounded like “Am I really fucking up this bad?”
I was a million miles away back then, putting on my best suit, my only suit and straightening a borrowed tie in the mirror. Leaning over the sink, throwing cold water on my face, careful to keep my clothes dry. It was 7am and I was on my way to a job that wouldn’t last that I already hated. Who am I becoming and why do I feel so helpless? Little did I know about Zach…
After failed rehab tabs piled down Zach found a way out, and the way out was eight months in a Mississippi treatment facility. Zach said it wasn’t their program that cleaned him up but the time away. Time away to ask ugly questions with broken glass answers. Sort of like “Did I really think I was getting away with it all?”
Instant lifelong best friends, bonded by youth and Youth of Today records, Avengers comics and films like “Bloodsucking Freaks” or “I Spit on your Grave”. We talked the other day and he filled in the holes of his story, the times we fell apart, the times he fell apart. Zach’s good now, trying to lead a decent life, becoming the guy he used to be. His mom, who took her share of grief from 13-year-old boys looking for trouble in Mountain Brook-Irondale, passed away this year. Her death crushed my heart, and it annihilated Zach’s, but he never went back to needles. Eight months of Mississippi was enough.
Zach said he still has a friend out there using, living in a car with a girlfriend, everything numb, everything a dream and not getting away with anything. He’ll call now and then for money, for food, for warmth. He’s willing to work for it, but Zach said he can’t be trusted. Zach gave him a blanket to keep warm.
This morning I put on a blue city shirt, blue city shorts and black socks. I took a cold shower to wake up and drank egg whites with enough fake-sugar to kill the taste. I looked at my eyes in the mirror. They looked distant. They looked tired and wired, waiting on life to begin, or end, or exist, but not somewhere else. Right here. This very minute. Janey was still asleep, arm over her face to hide off morning, just a little while longer. I kissed her goodbye, pulled the blanket over her shoulders and whispered “It’s me and you against the world kiddo.”
She hugged my neck and said “I know that already daddy.”
“Who are we kidding, there was never a plan. We followed our instincts in the worst kind of ways.” -Lucero