Living the High Life
BY Bill Clegg
June 08 2010 1:40 PM ET
I pass him the craggy metal strip that had until last night been the support behind the nylon web of an umbrella. Scrapers come from all sorts of things — wire coat hangers mostly, the ones without paint; but umbrellas have long thin metal strips, sometimes hollow half cylinders, that are particularly effective at cleaning out stems and generating a miracle hit or two when the bag is empty and before the need comes to check the couch and floor for what I call crumbs, what Mark calls bits, but what all crack addicts know is their last resort until they can get another bag.
I reach toward Mark to pass him the scraper and he fl inches. The stem slips from his hands, falls in slow motion between us, and shatters on the scuffed parquet floor.
Mark gasps more than speaks. Oh. Oh no. Oh Jesus, no. In a flash he’s down on all fours picking through the debris. He rescues several of the larger pieces of glass, brings them back to the coffee table, lays them out, one by one, and begins picking and scratching at them with the scraper. Let’s see. Let’s see. He mumbles to himself as he maneuvers frantically over each shard. Again, his joints and hands and limbs seem animated not by life but by strings pulling and tugging him — furiously, meticulously — through a marionette’s pantomime of a fevered prospector scrabbling through his pan for flecks of gold.
Mark finds no gold. He puts down the scraper, the bits of glass, and his movements come to a halt. He collapses back into the couch, where I can practically see the strings that held him aloft now glide down around him. The bag is empty and it’s six a.m. We’ve been at it for six days and five nights and all the other stems are destroyed.
Morning glows behind the drawn blinds. Minutes pass and nothing but the low whine of the garbage trucks outside cuts the quiet. My neck throbs and the muscles in my shoulder feel thick and tight. The throbbing keeps time with my heart, which slams in my chest like an angry fist. I can’t stop my body from rocking. I watch Mark get up to begin sweeping the glass and notice how his body rocks with mine, how our sway is synchronized — like two underwater weeds bending to the same current — and am both horrified and comforted to recognize how alike we are in the desolate crash that follows when the drugs run out.
The creeping horror of these past few weeks — relapsing; leaving Noah, my boyfriend, at the Sundance Film Festival nearly a week early; e-mailing my business partner, Kate, and letting her know that she can do what she wants with our business, that I’m not coming back; checking in and out of a rehab in New Canaan, Connecticut; spending a string of nights at the 60 Thompson hotel and then diving into the gritty crackscape of Mark’s apartment with the drifters there who latch onto the free drugs that come with someone on a bender. The awful footage of my near-history fl ashes behind my eyes, just as the clear future of not having a bag and knowing another won’t be had for hours rises up, sharp as the new day.
I don’t know yet that I will push through these grim, jittery hours until evening, when Happy will turn his cell phone back on and deliver more. I don’t yet know that I will keep this going — here and in other places like it — for over a month. That I will lose almost forty pounds, so that, at thirty-four, I will weigh less than I did in the eighth grade