13% [chapter 16]


In May 2007, as a last desperate attempt to revive your sputtering relationship, you and Evan stopped doing drugs and drove a rented 16 foot moving truck from San Francisco to Chicago, delivering his sister's furniture to where she now lived. Armed with 2 weeks free from work, an old school Nikon camera and rolls upon rolls of 35mm film, you went the long way around. Avoiding all major highways, it came as a complete surprise to stumble upon one static and decaying town after another. All those bustling hubs that once thrived from the railroad traffic that steadily flowed through til the 1930's, but got choked off by interstate highways, slowly subsided and died. You took hundreds of photos portraying the sad beautiful things life had left behind.

Fords with open suicide doors ditched in dry deer tick fields encrusted with snakes and rust. Dandelions and ivy sprouted up through bathtub drainplugs. Bedsprings clung to plastic bags blowing in the breeze. Windmills missing most blades still turned with a squeak. Schoolhouses buckled under warped belltowers that won't ring. Potbelly stoves stood more solidly than the homes they were once warming. Swifts and swallows nested in a hand painted nursery. Owls guarded proudly marked depots where trains no longer came. Rodents undermined an efficient bank office filing system. Pigeons cooed and pooped all over an empty factory lunchroom. Dark crooked barns, leaning at a frail 45 degrees, were propped up with feeble sticks to combat the inevitable sag of gravity.

Arriving in Portland, Oregon one rainy Monday night, being in an urban environment made both you and Evan want to get high. To quell the drug cravings, you instead got wicked drunk pretty quick at a little bar on the north side. Usually, this doesn't work and only makes the cravings worse. But for some reason, it distracted you from going out on the prowl just long enough this time. Staggering back to where you had parked, you both decided it would be easier to pass out in the back of the truck than to slovenly drive to some cheap motel that was nowhere near in booze-goggled sight.

It was freezing cold. Evan lit the propane gas stove and camping lanterns, turning up their hissing blue glows as high as they would go. You tugged out a long couch from under a pile of boxes. He rolled down the back door and yanked up a bunch of moving blankets. Collapsing there together, curled up for warmth, Evan commented, "We might die of asphyxiation if we leave the gas on all night." You slurred, "So what...at least I'll die happy." "Me too," he replied.

As grim as it might sound, that was one of the most intimate and romantic moments of your life -- facing such a silly demise together. After so much hard lined loss had dredged up all your disappointed desires, this gentle surrender to death was a sweet little delight. In the morning when you both woke, you collectively sighed, "Oh well, we're still alive," and smiled. Rolling up the back door invited the bird songs and dew drops and rising sun's light to come in. Full on. Hangover bright.

While pulled off onto a dirt road somewhere outside Missoula, Montana, Evan was putting another pot of coffee onto the stove. You sat on the couch, smoking a cigarette, looking out past the rolled up door to the lolling yellow ochre expanse of open prairie. Pale violet peaks teased it's distant edges. Endless and abrupt. Sustaining winds whispered and hummed. Pink clouds drifted down. Waist high grasses swayed and bent, swishing like a woman walking in a long tafetta dress. Taking a snapshot of Evan against this backdrop, you said, "I could live my whole life like this." He answered, "Yep." Then you took a long clean deep breath.

This idea of living in a housetruck was neither new nor novel.

You first considered it a future possibility when you were still a kid in the late 70's, during one of the many long drives your restless parents took across the country to attend Amway conventions. Another one of their attempts to succeed at building a pyramid scheme American Dream of materialistic prosperity. But you noticed that while on these road trips, there was a consistent absence of the violence and abuse that was so common during periods of housebound stagnation.

Maybe it was being in motion that made attitudes shift. Or the limitless light in the big round sky stretching over wide carved out canyons. Or the acerbic serenity of change itself that smoothed the behavioral snags into well-contained conduct. No one knows, but these motorhome memories were happy and golden-hued for everyone in your entirely damaged family.

While traveling through Europe in your early 30's, you befriended a photographer in Ghent named Wim. He lived in a converted 20 foot freezer truck he called Babu. He drove Babu all over the place. From his home town in Belgium to Ireland, Croatia, Russia, Mongolia, Morocco and back, always taking pictures of the people he'd met along the way.

One such image held your gaze, spellbound. It was a black and white portrait of a handsome middle-aged woman sitting on the wooden steps at the door of her vividly decorated caravan. Wearing a thick sweater, rain boots, and smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, her long dark hair was pulled back into a loose bun, but riotous strands broke free and were blowing in the breeze. From a hook under the stairs hung an empty bucket. At her feet sat a muddy mutt, smiling up at the camera playfully. She did not smile but stared off to the left, deep in thought, a thousand kilometers beyond the lens. You could sense that the reality of her life was not easy. Yet this picture sang a song of raw liberation, a lament of redemption. Perhaps society had exiled her to the bitter margins, but she exuded a contented resilience, a defiant inner strength. Inspired, you could see yourself living well like this woman. Solitude, animals and nature are your most trustworthy all-weather companions, too.

More than a decade later, during the autumn of 2011, you got the chance to revisit Wim and his housetruck in Belgium. He was now married with a 4 year old daughter, a black cat and a large comfortable RV in tow. Babu functioned as the "guest house" in which you gratefully spent a week living simply. You took to it immediately. Like a fish inside a duck to water.

The housetruck's shower was in need of some plumbing repairs. Early one October morning, you could no longer bear your own ripe stench. You didn't want to wake up Wim and his family next door in the RV. So with a clean towel and a full gallon jug, you walked out into the woods beyond the industrial lot where you were all parked next to a friend's circus caravans restoration and repair shop.

Dumping water over your weary body, the invigorating icy coldness made you gasp for breath. Swabbing soap around in the roguest spots, rapidly rinsing, gasping again and dancing like a spaz, you quickly dried off. Clamouring back up into the warmth of Babu, you whipped on some clean clothes, that, by comparison, smelled almost heavenly.

Then you sat down and smoked a cigarrette on the stoop, checking out the updated status of the sunrise. With wet hair on your warm head, foggy wisps of vapor trailed off to join the haze of dawn's discreet ascent. You couldn't remember the last time you felt so alive. So quiet inside. Or so clean, emotionally. Although you were still hopelessly mired in the cross-continental smuggling embrace of an ether-soaked amphetamine addiction and global alcoholism, here, in this hidden back lot, you were cloaked with invisibility for at least a week. Free in the anonymity. Somewhere so much closer to safe.

9 days later, you were walking down a London street toward Victoria Station to ride the tube to Heathrow and board the plane back to San Francisco. You heard the startling sound of a pack of mad dogs barking orders behind you. "Dump the drugs!" your intuition distinctly heard them say. Weird, but ok.

So you took a quick detour into a local pub next to the Eurolines bus station and ordered a cup of coffee and a glass of cognac. Locking yourself in a toilet stall, one of the few places you ever felt unsurveilled, you methodically did line after countless line, devouring all of the substances you had left in your possession. So much so, you felt gluttonous and nauseated half way through. But waste not, want not. You couldn't bring yourself to throw away perfectly good drugs. Spread out over a cd cover of "The Fountain" soundtrack, each powdery pile that got injested slowly revealed more of the mesmerizing image on the cd cover beneath. The words that appeared there, "Death Is The Road To Awe" would be imprinted indelibly upon your memory for the rest of your at-risk life. You had no idea you were still capable of getting this stupidly Whoa Hey Goofy Magic Mountain high. Oh holy shit. Hold on tight.

Immediately upon arriving at the airport's security checkpoint, one of the uniformed guards pointed you out in line. As if to say, "She's mine!" Every square inch of your baggage was manhandled, scanned and rescanned, sniffed, rubbed down and rifled through for such a long time that you would now have to run impossibly fast in order to make it to your gate before departure time. They even confiscated your box of matches. You complained that you had a stop over in Chicago and would want to smoke a butt after the long flight. The officer snarled and threw down a single match. You bellowed, "I said, CHICAGO! It's called 'The Windy City' for a reason! Wanna gimme more matches, please?!" She acquiesced politely to your request. You were now allowed 2 matches but nothing on which to strike them. Dismissed. Next!

In the ensuing funnel of chaos and on the verge of a panic attack, 3 separate strangers empathized with your obvious plight and gently said reassuringly, "It's going to be alright," at each heaving pause while waiting for the next disasterously overcrowded shuttle car or at the bottom of every compressed escalator line. After being run through the vigorous gauntlet of official friskings, you took off without grabbing your wallet which held your passport inside. Somehow, it arrived before you did at your departure terminal. You didn't even realize you'd left it behind. "Oh, THANK FUCK!" you screamed as the smirking airline employee shoved it into your sweaty palms just as you were slipping through the swiftly closing gate.

Running onto the plane, you were so exasperated you thought you might vomit, have a heart attack or just faint. But none of these things happened. The stewardess held your shaky shoulders steady, gave you a glass of water and showed your toxin soaked body to it's assigned seat. As soon as you'd buckled yourself in, you threw the soft blue complimentary blanket over your head and began quietly sobbing like a little child. Not due to any invasive anger, but because you were too overwhelmed with gratitude.

Gratitude for the dogs that warned you to get rid of your stash. Gratitude for the completely unexpected kindness that came from those 3 strangers each time you nearly lost the plot during your mad dash. Gratitude for those who had returned your wallet and passport back to you in time. Gratitude for the airline staff who recognized but did not ridicule your messy distressing display of anti-ennui. Gratitude for all the choices you had made, even the ones
disguised as mistakes, which were now easier to define between the voluptuous bookends of a decade. Although those decisions had born hardships, they also lit the way to this self-sufficient life in which you were now wed to music and art, not breeding more resentful spite.

Saf, another old friend from Ghent, had commented on this devotion to creativity you were still engaged in when he said,"I can't keep up with you, crazy." Ten years ago, he was too self-conscious to stand up in front of people and sing the songs he was writing back then. You bombarded him with encouragement, saying, "Fuck Them, Saf! Do it anyway cuz one day, yer gonna be dead. And so will they. So who gives a fuck!?" He recorded his first album that summer and was now one of Belgium's most celebrated performers, "The Flemish Tom Waits". Gratitude that, even though Saf never acknowleded this or said thank you, here was real proof that one person's kind words could make an actual difference in another person's trajectory. Recompensed and respected, words now became something so much closer to sacred.

And gratitude for this melting pocketful of Belgian chocolates that you were now gobbling down and offering to the Indian man beside you. Because, when you removed the blanket from your swollen tear stained face, he looked worried about sitting so close to your highly charged emotional state. This was your way of telling him, "It's ok. I'm ok." He shook his head side to side, smiling, and relaxed back into his window seat.

And then came that shifting lift from asphalt to air, held again in Ariel's arms, on tenderhooks but holding it mostly together, swimming through space, peacefully sighing, "Everything's gonna be ok...everything's ok...it's all alright."

*u can call me ph!*

13% [chapter 15]


By December 2005, you gave yourself the best and worst xmas present ever: Speed Psychosis.

Christmas was always a hard time. Just like it is for a huge percent of the population that lives in familial denial. Most turn to their friends to get through it with some sense of contentment and fellowship. But if no one really enjoys your company, then drugs will do just fine to kill the time.

You were actually in a great mood. So happy to be left alone with this big frosty snowman made outta meth stacked high in front of you. 12 different half finished projects laid strewn haphazardly about the room. All the roommates had gone away to their respective warm holiday gatherings. Sucks to be them, you thought, with not a shred of envy.

You were so glad that you wouldn't have to get into some pointless political argument with one of those right wing bigots related to you. Or hover over a bowl of green beans and mashed potatos while everyone else ridiculed you for being vegetarian. Or hear, yet again, that forced age old question of, "When are you gonna settle down, get married and have some kids with whichever man is crazy enough to have you?!" Always followed up with, "Aww..whatever happened to that guy Zack? You should've married him when you had the chance." Or laugh about that time when your dad, in a drunken frenzy, carved the turkey with his bare hands. Grabbing, mangling and throwing the much labored-over carcass all over the room. Cursing as each limb smacked up against something and fell to the floor, greasily doomed. Picking up the whole table, he flung it over. Toppling off into broken shards went the glasses, the good plates and all trimmings of that delicately prepared meal. Your poor mother sobbed, numbly clutching a broom. But the dog was happy as fuck that afternoon.

Nope, not this year. You could do whatever the hell you wanted to do in this big empty house. So you joyfully consumed almost that entire huge chunk of meth over a heap of sleepless hours. They blurred together in a revolving shock of night/day/night/day with the unforgiving flux of time lapse photograhy. This extensive holiday would forever alter the internal workings of that person you thought was you and only you.

To understand what birthed this seasonal hatred of Christmas, several attempts were made via dream healing and concentrated meditation to trace it back to it's origin: Germany, 1972. You were 3, your brother was 5. The two of you woke up and excitedly started playing with the new toys you'd received for Christmas the day before, all spread out on the floor of the bedroom at 4 or 5 in the morning. Suddenly, the door burst open. Your infuriated red-faced father screamed that it was too early to be making noise. Your brother chirped, "But Daddy, lookie what Santa gave me!" He held up his bright blue Tonka dumptruck gleefully. Your dad grabbed him by the wrist and flung his entire body across the room. He bounced off the wall and landed head first on the floor in front of you. Through your terrified screams you heard a splitting sound. The pretty porcelain tea set you were playing with was broken. For years that's what you believed shattered at that moment. But it was not the china cracking. It was your brother's bones.

Something else snapped then, too. Willy appeared. Sitting there next to you. This happy little 4 year old boy, tenderhearted and true. His calming presence acted as the gatekeeper to all the other alters who would later join him and you, one by one, over the next several years every time a new trauma broke into you. But you never saw them coming. It was only a sneaking suspicion. Like that weird feeling you get when someone else is watching you.

At 12, you saw that movie about a woman with multiple personalities called 'Sybil'. Your reaction to it was, "I'd never be lucky enough to have that problem." Not good enough to have a mental disorder. Not good enough to have a built-in defense mechanism for dealing with life threatening stresses. The ultimate in self-deprecation.

Not even halfway through those 4 days that you spent spun up as fuck, having an enjoyable White Christmas, all of your busy bodied building projects became just background noise to something else that was conspiring for your attention. People began appearing solidly before you. Saying nothing. Just sitting there. Staring at you. How rude.

It was annoyingly disconcerting to look over and see a young boy with eyes wide as saucers, his entire fist shoved into his mouth. His other hand gently caressed his crying girlfriend's head, laying there limp in his lap. Long hair covered most of her face except where it had matted down in her streaming tears. One wet eye peered straight out at you. No amount of pleading, cajolling or yelling seemed to dislodge their dreamlike presence there on your bed. And when you moved around to different parts of the room, only their eyes followed. Creepishly boring into you. This real life nightmare had only just begun.

And here you were, so happy to be left alone for Christmas.

Yet the whole house began filling up with strange people staring at you. There was no escape. No matter where you looked or didn't look. Even with your eyes closed. Everything,everywhere was matrixing into another staring accusatory face in some phase of physiological decomposition or distorted with agonizing bliss.

You tried to amuse yourself with silly ideas. As if all of these figures were the trapped souls of people who died from drug overdoses on this holy holiday. And they all came here to Partay! Wooohooo!! But no amount of dark humor could curb the increasingly unfunny haunting invasion flooding your room, filling the hallway, coming up the stairs, walking around outside the window. It began to frighten you, this complete loss of control. And soon you felt a greater empathy for those schizophrenics on the street as they stand there yelling in the bus stop or at a garbage can, toward someone no one else can see. Stuck in the torment of a terrified brain in crisis, hallucinating mercilessly.

After a couple more day/nights of this, you became so scared, so backed up into the corners of fear, all you could do was sit in the lukewarm bathtub. In the dark. Crying. Then you started singing to calm yourself down. It brought a tiny respite. Silver Bells. Noel. Silent Night. Still the unblinking eyes did not subside. They found their way to you through the faucets, the shower curtain, the peeling light blue paint on the walls and on the ceiling of the bathroom.

So you started praying. "And yea though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death, i shall fear no evil for thou art with me..." Over and over until the bath water turned ice cold. Hot water on. Swirl around. Repeat for another rough ungodly hour. Never alone. Yet so totally alone in your own private hell.

Joseph Campbell once said, "The path is from dreams to visions to gods. All the tomorrows, all the yesterdays are within you. All the hells, all the heavens are within you. All the gods are in you." So you reached out for someone else.

Evan soon showed up after you finally made a frantic phone call for help. He took you to a large luxurious loft in West Oakland where he was housesitting. A completely muted neutral space. Even he became skittish, nervously laughing at the steady stream of nonsensical descriptions detailing these ornate hallucinations with which you were still carousing. He lead you over to the couch, sat you down and gave you a blanket to cover up your shivering, though not cold, body.

Through a tightly clenched mouth, a certain phrase kept repeating itself in broken consonate sounds, "GT STND! GET STND! GET STONED!" So you followed it's direction and got stoned. But it wasn't you talking. This was someone else.

At last, your panicked heart rate began to slow and the hallucinations eased off a bit, mutating into swirls and patterns instead of crazy judgemental dead toy faces. As you laid down, a high pitched ringing drowned out your ramblings. Then cold beads of sweat trickled down your neck. You wanted to vomit suddenly, but had nothing in your stomach. A dark cloud of bile forcibly ejected itself from so far deep down in your gut, it felt like your intestines were being ripped out. Out shot a hoarse blood curdling primal howl. And then, convulsions. Only one step left til Overdose. Death.

With spit flying through your teeth drilled shut like a vice, you tried to voice the words, "Immm hvinnng e seezure!" Evan replied, "What? You want a ceasar salad? I'm not sure if there's any parmesan in th--" "No! Imm hvinng a seezrr! A SEIZURE!!!" But your stiff electric limbs made this obvious by now. Your eyes rolled up into your head and you dropped off the cliff of muscle coordination like a piece of lead. Evan had enough sense at least to hold your head while the rest of your body spasms did their short circuiting stringless puppet dance. It stopped eventually. Then aftershocked over the next few hours in a fog of exhaustion and kinetic helplessness.

Gently, Willy's little face floated in front of you. All other hallucinations had ceased. His smile was so sweet and kind.You asked him, "Were you the one telling me to get stoned?"

"Yeah...we were scared."

"Who's we?"

Willy calmly asked if it would be ok for you to meet all the other alters.

"All the other alters? But...? I thought I didn't have any?!"

He giggled and said that they'd all decided you were too bossy, so they were just gonna hide until you needed them again. So here they were. One by one. Name. Age. Face. When and why they came to be living inside of you. And what they thought about what you were doing to yourself now. You sighed, "I'm so sorry..."

It felt wonderfully warm and loving, this unexpected intervention. This family reunion of secret selves who helped you cope for so many years. Who cared enough about you that they made sure not to show themselves off too much in front of society for fear of getting you thrown away into an institution. They did actually have your back. Even those who wouldn't acknowledge you since they were
so pissed about shit. Even those who would fuck every stupid dude that got drunk with you back in Boston because they were so into it. You still thanked them, though you weren't sure what good it would do. But they did actually care whether or not you lived or died because then, they would all either live or die too.

So much of the past made sense now. Why you never really felt alone. Why it was so neccessary to write everything down, to take photos, to document events and be sure they did actually happen. To keep a record. To keep track of time. Because you often found things written and recorded that you did not recognize or remember as your own. It was a beautiful, long overdue reception. An accidental healing that greatly improved your outlook on life. And Evan graciously sat there listening to this perplexing conversation you were having with all these imaginary people, watching over you as the discussion grew more peaceful. Until finally, you fell into a heavy comatose sleep.

Yeah, maybe it was just the drugs talking. But similar to feeling the presence of The Angel of Death, this kind of knowing experience was too far beyond questioning. So there was no need to quantify it's validity. It was as real as a dream within a life that is as real as the dream itself feels.

It was what it was.

When you woke up 2 days later, it took huge concentrated efforts to speak. Your mouth did not work right. You couldn't string together words or pronounce an understandable sentence. This was the scariest plight yet. Weeping, you were suddenly struck dumb. What if you had just damaged your brain so severly, you'd given yourself some form of cerebral palsy for the rest of your life?! Inside, behind your disabled tongue, you cried, "My God, What Have I Done?!"

MERRY CHRISTMAS DOOKIE HEAD!! Now, you may fully appreciate the ability To Speak. To Think. To Act Freely. To Write. To Feed Yourself. To Wash. To Pee. To Sit Upright.

The next day, you left Oakland to go start a new job at Amoeba Records on Haight Street. Evan said he was hurt that you spent those completely retarded out-of-your-mind nights quarantined to the couch, not sleeping in bed next to him like a good sane girlfriend should. But he could never understand that you already felt so crowded, the last thing you could deal with was being cuddled or screwed. Though you were grateful he showed up to help you, his emotional reaction to this insane situation said something about the clueless and unabashedly inherent selfishness of men. Maybe he felt you owed it to him since he protected your skull during those violent fits of convulsion? But you were too busy almost dying to think about how much he might need to get some head. Really rather unfortunate. From beginning to end.

Although psychologists are still debating whether or not multiple personality disorder even exists, you later researched the different wide ranging theories on this and wondered if 2 opposing conclusions might both be true. If trauma occurs before the age of 7, it is said, the child's brain is far more likely to fracture into different aspects as their personality has not fully formed yet. Those young brains, that in most other mammals, would still be in utero, are too tender and too vulnerable to withstand violent abuse, so it compartmentalizes itself as a natural coping mechanism. Another camp suspects that early trauma injures the aura's spiritual defenses and thus, opens the child up to being possessed by other entities. Maybe they are both correct? Perhaps those alternate personalities are just lost ghosts looking for another host to crawl into? And what better way to show your appreciation than by paying an emotionally protective rent to the original owner of the body that is now housing you? It's just a thought on a subjective goose that is difficult, if not impossible to prove.

Possible or not, that Psychotic Christmas was quite a gift. You recovered. And for a couple years, you severly cut down on your drug use. Because now, there were other people to whom you could turn to feel true long term love and gratitude.

All the hells, all the heavens, all the gods are within you.

*u can call me ph!*