I made it ten days clean and sober on the streets of Richmond back in 2009. Then, the vampires took over the city again. I believed the whole metro area was a massive sex slave factory. The women I saw on the streets, their brains were infected by some zombifying concoction. They unwittingly waited only to be shipped off into the possession of the wealthy masters who’d come in town that very weekend to choose their respective prizes, who walked side by side with their future possessions at that precise moment, pretending to be interested in courtship, but it was all a twisted game. The real goal was enslavement.
Not knowing what I was supposed to do, I strolled down the street wanting to scream out against the horror I was witnessing. I beat my fists against my head. Only those of us who were homeless weren’t part of this sick charade. Some guy I didn’t know shuffled up to where I meandered along. He said, “Hey man, you wanna split this rock with me?” In his palm a plastic-wrapped crack flake lay revealed.
As the sunlight burned my sweaty neck, I knew it was the will of God for me to smoke that rock. Maybe, I needed the strength of crack cocaine to do what came next. Maybe, I needed to be fucked up to set this crazy world straight. I said, “Sure, man. I guess it’s about that time.” In two months, I would have had four years clean.
We wandered off the beaten path and settled down in a little clearing not too far from where an occasional car whirred up the toll road. There were dirty clothes, broken bottles and fiery remnants scattered around. It might have been his sleep spot. He broke that flake into a stem, sparked a cheap lighter and damn, man, did we smoke that rock.
“You good?” he asked me.
I came zooming out of the bushes back onto the sidewalk. My eyes popping out of my skull, my veins breaking through my neck, my teeth chewing through one another as if their enamel were cud, I found a street party going on down at the old 19th century slave block turned 21st century farmer’s market. Somehow, I scammed myself a wrist bracelet for the all-you-can-drink Budweiser.
The sky grew dark over Richmond’s bar district. The stars were revealed more so than in Manhattan. I swerved back up Main Street. The sidewalk newspaper dispensers were driving me insane. They sold nothing but lies. I turned to some city kids laughing and sharing cigarettes on the corner. “Watch this,” I told them.
From a running start, growling something unintelligible, I shoved every single one of those dispensers in front of me right into the street. A horn honked. Somebody wanted my attention. I walked into the middle of the traffic and started yelling at all the cars to “go the fuck around me.” Horns blared. People yelled. One driver eventually decided to call my bluff. We stared each other down as if in some sort of Hollywood showdown – my forehead to his bumper like the bull facing a matador. I hopped on top of his hood and ran the entire length of his car laughing and stomping as hard as I could.
“When I woke up the next morning in jail, the sheriff told me I sure as hell was a lot nicer when I wasn’t drunk.”
“I’d say so,” Luc laughs. We’re sitting out on a picnic table behind our office. They’ve banned smoking on the building’s balconies. Luc’s still vaping, but I’m back on cigarettes pretty much full time, except when I’m with Cora. She knows I smoke. It’s hard not to smell the sweetly scorched leaves staining my fingers and lips. But I don’t want to smoke around her. The only shot I’ve got at ever quitting for good is if I keep at least one part of my life completely tobacco-free.
It started about three weeks ago, when my manager told me the company might have to let me go at the end of the summer. My writing simply isn’t converting enough paying customers. They’re giving me one last chance¸ but it’s already July. I’ve had a hard time being at the office. Thoughts of the many trajectories my life could have taken consume me. I smoke to forget. It’s all I’ve got left.
“I can’t even believe you remember all that,” Luc adds. “You must have been pretty messed up.”
“I don’t really remember it. I have vague recollections of being surrounded by the police that night, but I was in a blackout by the time it all started. Those kids on the corner found me out on an island in the James River a couple weeks later and told these guys I was sharing a bottle of whiskey with that story. ‘Man, you’d never believe what we saw this crazy motherfucker do. He ain’t scared of nothing…’ they said.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t get hurt,” Luc mentions.
“Not that night,” I say, “But I got the shit beaten out of me a bunch of times that summer. I didn’t mind though. I’d seen this lecture on Tantra during my first master’s degree, the one in Asian Classics. The professor who gave that lecture talked about these Tantric yogis who’d welcome being beaten. They believed they could steal somebody’s merit if they could make that person lash out at them. Then, whatever creative power the other person had harnessed throughout their lives would be released and transferred into the object of their aggression – the yogi himself. It turned the yogis into gods. That’s what I thought I was doing that summer, becoming a god. So I never fought back. Anytime anybody attacked me that summer, I just covered myself as best I could and took the beating. I remember thinking, though, back in Santa Fe, after I heard that lecture, that if the yogis were right, if getting mocked and beaten gave them more creative power, then what happened to Jesus when they crucified him? Maybe the suffering of his passion actually turned him into God.”