Living the High Life
BY Bill Clegg
June 08 2010 1:40 PM ET
It’s also too soon to see the new locks on my office door. Kate will change them after she discovers I have come in at night. This will be weeks from now. She’ll worry that I might steal things to pay for drugs, but I’ll go there only to sit at my desk a few more times. To say good-bye to the part of me that, on the surface anyway, had worked the best. Through the large open window behind my desk, I’ll look out at the Empire State Building, with its weary authority and shoulders of colored light. The city will seem different then, less mine, farther away. And Broadway, ten stories below, will be empty, a dark canyon of gray and black stretching north from 26th Street to Times Square.
On one of those nights, before the locks are changed, I’ll climb up into the window and dangle my feet, scooch close to the edge and hover there in the cold February air for what seems like hours. I’ll crawl down, sit at the desk again and get high. I’ll remember how excited everyone was when we opened nearly five years before. Kate, the staff, our families. My clients — novelists, poets, essayists, short story writers — came with me from the old literary agency, the place where I’d started as an assistant when I first came to New York. They came with me, and there was so much faith in what lay ahead, so much faith in me. I’ll stare at all the contracts and memos and galleys piled on my desk and marvel that I once had something to do with these things, those people. That I had been counted on.
On Mark’s couch I watch my legs shake and wonder if there is a Xanax in his medicine cabinet. I wonder if I should leave and find a hotel. I have with me my passport, the clothes on my back, a cash card, and the black NYC Parks & Rec Department cap I recently found in the back of a cab, the one with the green maple leaf stitched on the front. There is still money in my checking account. Almost forty grand. I wonder how I’ve made it this far; how by some unwanted miracle my heart hasn’t stopped.
Mark is shouting from the kitchen, but I don’t hear what he’s saying.
My cell phone rings, but it is buried under a pile of blankets and sheets in the next room, and I don’t hear that either. I’ll find it later, the voice mail full of terrified calls from friends and family and Noah. I’ll listen to the beginning of one and erase it along with the rest.
I won’t hear the tumble of the new locks on the door of the apartment where Noah and I have lived for eight years — how the sound has changed from a bright pop to a low click as the bolt flies free while his hand turns the new key for the first time. I can’t hear any of this. Cannot feel any of these things that have happened or are about to as the construction that was my life dismantles — lock by lock, client by client, dollar by dollar, trust by trust.
The only thing I hear as Mark angrily sweeps the glass from the floor, and the only thing I feel as the city rustles to life outside, are the barking demands at the end of the marionette strings. Through the endless morning and the crawling afternoon hours, and after, they grow louder, more insistent; tug harder, yank rougher, shake the cash card from my wallet, dollars from my pockets, loose change from my coat, color from my eyes, life out of me.
Reprinted from the book Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg. Copyright © 2010 by Bill Clegg. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
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Watch Clegg discuss his addiction below.