the first time.

I’m trying to map out back stories for all of the characters in my book, all part of an effort to create complex, real characters. As part of this–and I’ll admit this might only make sense to me–I’m going to work on a series of “key plot points” from my own life. These will not be–for the most part–presented in chronological order. Nor will they be ordered by level of significance. Episode 1:

From the very beginning, I trusted Ryan implicitly. If he agreed to an idea/scheme, I knew it was a good decision. I saw him as the voice of reason in the face of my frequent foolish impulsiveness. After all, I was known for drifting into boozy unconsciousness on the porches of strangers. I lost important keys and documents. I made spontaneous out-of-state trips with individuals I met just hours earlier. I wasted money and time as if there were an endless supply of both. My judgment was not to be trusted.

And so that night, in the smoky living room of a filthy apartment in Wicker Park, I had the only the highest confidence in our latest decision. I knew that heroin was a destructive force. I had read enough Burroughs and Algren to have a full idea of the potential devastation in our future. But there was the romantic lure of doing something that only the bravest would attempt. I felt unbreakable; even my best attempts at nicotine addiction had failed. I was immune to dependence.

Kneeling over the coffee table, cut up straw in my hand, I felt the nervous excitement of losing my virginity. The deepest inhale of my life blocked out the murmur of inane conversation at the other end of the room.

I settled back in the stained 80s couch, just as that feeling began to wash over me. The sensation I would come to love and need for the rest of the year. Warm and indescribably amazing, flowing from the top of my skull, closing my eyes on its way to my neck, down my spine, wrapping around my legs and ending at my toes. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I wasn’t nervous or scared or worrying about something outside my control. No guilt or sadness. My head no longer ached and my jaw unclenched.

Ryan reached over and took my hand in his. “This is the beginning of something amazing,” I thought. I squeezed his hand as I melted further into the sofa. “Partner in crime, ” I mumbled, referring to Ryan’s favorite way of introducing me.

But then, hours later, out in the blinding mid-morning sun, my head hurt and I felt sick and I was drowning in panic and I knew that something very bad had happened. “This just proves how fucked up we have become,” I thought. We made our way back to Ryan’s apartment, just in time for me to vomit in the overgrown shrubbery outside his building. I spent the rest of the day in his bed, drinking tea and feeling guilty.

Oh…but since we didn’t want to waste what we had just bought the night before–a seemingly large quantity for two beginners–we had to put it to use. We skipped dinner and the majority of the next day. Neither of us showered. The dog was crying to be walked. I forgot about doing my laundry and calling my mom.

Months passed and what became a weekends-only activity moved to “only a few times a week” to “most nights” to “maybe every day, but I’m not 100 percent sure because I’m spending my vacation days doing this.” Somehow I pulled it together to go to work and maintain an acceptable level of hygiene. My need to protect my roommate and closest friends from my new–and inarguably foolish–lifestyle forced me to stay at Ryan’s apartment most nights. When that wasn’t an option, I locked myself in my bedroom.

The girl who made elaborate birthday cakes for everyone’s birthday disappeared. The worker who was always far ahead on her projects was coming in later every morning. She didn’t call her mother or friends any more. She couldn’t remember the last time she had bought records or comics. Reading a book? Forget it.

The only thing we ever fought about was drugs. And as I could feel my own grasp on a regular, productive life slipping away, we argued more and more. Imagine absurd explosive breakups followed by tender–and opiate-hued–reconciliations days later. We were a source of constant entertainment for our friends and acquaintances.

Somewhere along the line, Ryan would admit to me in a whispering slur that he saw me as the logical, reasonable half of our relationship. This blew my mind, especially when I considered the countless times I had deferred to his theoretically sound decision-making skills. I turned around to see a trail of bad choices behind us. Wrong turns had lead us astray; I found us standing in the darkest corner with no exit in sight.


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