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Aug/Sep 1998 Spotlight

Ambergris

by Kevin McGowin


Once I began to lose my "innocence," I didn't waste any time. People never do, just like I've always said. Of course, once the process begins, it's really already over, but I didn't know that then, when my innocence was in fact as far away from me as it's ever been, and I was sitting around in this squalid little room I used to go to to bottom out. I'd stock up with plenty of Southern Comfort and pay for several days in advance and just sit around up there, drinking by myself and listening to Beethoven. And I can't begin to tell you how boring this is, even when you're absolutely mowed, but you can well imagine that I'd get pretty sick of it, and so I did. And late one afternoon, while walking none too steadily around the balcony outside my room, I ran into this guy named Darrell.

As it turned out, he was from my home town, which gave us enough, I guess, to "talk" about, and before long I asked him did he have any pot. Would you believe he did? Yeah, it's not too hard to imagine, and before the sun was down good we were stoned as a couple of trilobites, me and Darrell, whom I didn't know, though he was from my hometown. He put on all this odious classic rock and country music on the radio, but I was too plowed not to go along with it, and we shot the shit and had a few beers.

Hey, Darrell wanted to know, do you want to get some really good stuff?

Well, I was by this time so far gone I told him I guessed that would be all right by me, and gave him the money for it too boot. He came back about an hour later with a radio antenna and a handful of crack rocks, one of which he proceeded to suck down in fifteen seconds flat. Now, I'd of course assumed he was going out for more pot, but I was getting tired and depressed and didn't really give a shit by this time, at all. I thought maybe it'd sober me up a bit. I'd had the powder before, years back, but never this. But who cares, I thought. That's what was going through my mind, at the time. Boy, was I gone.

So he broke up these little "rocks," which actually look more like small broken up pieces of fettuccine, and fired it up for me. Suck slow, said Darrell. I did, and it just crept up on me, much slower than regular coke, and much more insidiously than I would have thought. It didn't sober me up, per se, but man I sure was high. It didn't just jolt me back, like amyl nitrate or something. It slowly wafted over me, a burning combination of coke, baking soda and I guess rat poison, and we, my friend, were in for a long night, me and Darrell. And who the hell cared?

Now, about this time his girlfriend showed up. I was sweating all over and chain-smoking like a fiend and didn't flinch when Darrell, who was getting pretty amped up by this time, told me she'd just gotten off work at this strip bar down the street, where she was a dancer. His tone said, "Do you have anything to say about it?" but of course I didn't, and, now dangerously low on crack, we all took a drive a few miles south down to this GOD-awful slum area to get some more. If I'd been in my right mind, and I was not, or anything even in the ballpark, I would have been in fear for my life, but over the past few hours I'd assumed that cocky attitude endemic to crack smokers. Hell, I was on a real adventure, I thought. I suppose I was right in some sense, but in retrospect buddy that's just not the kind of "adventure" for me. Or for you or Darrell or man or woman or beast, either. But no moralizing! I did it! Yeah, and no sooner had Darrell slipped the man his sixty and been handed the rocks but we were speeding back to the ranch, and he was hitting the makeshift pipe in the fucking car. He gave Janie (that was her name, I believe) a hit, which she shotgunned to me in the back seat. And back in their room, we kept this up for most of the night.

So it got to be about four in the morning, and that was when Darrell asked me would I like Janie to do a lap-dance for me. Twenty bucks, he said, and then we can all go get some more shit, and you'll be smoking, too. Well, that really wasn't my thing, I pointed out. Well how 'bout a fuck? asked Darrell. Fifty bucks, that's what she'll do it for.

And all this time Janie just sat there, her eyes glazed and horribly bloodshot, saying nothing. She and I'd shotgunned each other so many times in the past hour, it was amazing to me we were still alive, and that I was still reasonable coherent as I turned Darrell down a second time but offered to spring for another dime just for the hell of it—an offer they gladly accepted. Am I beginning to sound like Joseph Conrad? God was this shit ever ironic, in the most awful compendious ways. And they went, and they came back.

By sunrise I was so toxic I was feeling very ill, and cold sweat was drying all over my stinking body. I felt like a corpse, which I wasn't terribly far from being, and I imagine my liver was just saturated. And Darrell was becoming paranoid and schitzed out, which I simply couldn't abide. So I went back to my little dump of a room, soaring and sick, and lay there on my unmade bed, fucked up off my ass, listening to the third movement of the Moonlight Sonata, followed by the Chopin Etude, and for a "geek monster" I was a pretty well-rounded guy, I thought. My heart was beating almost constant. I thought hell, if I have to die, it might as well be while listening to this rollicking piano shit while kapoofed on rock. Might as well, I thought.

 

And in my sickly reverie, I began to hallucinate events long unthought of, if they'd indeed happened at all. I felt like I was leaving my body, being transported and watching myself recede while viewing the moments of my life like a... like they say you do, y'know, and for then and just for a moment I was somewhere else. I was in my hometown, Darrell's hometown too (but I wasn't thinking about Darrell now), and I was sixteen, smoking a joint in the botanical gardens with a girl with huge brown eyes and long brown hair who looked like Jeanne Hebuterne, Modigliani's last and most famous model. And this is what I'll call her.

Me and Jeanne, spiraling up Red Mountain in her brown 1980 two-door Honda. The way my stomach went into my throat like a roller coaster as we quickly and carelessly went over a hill and descended, her hand on the stick and her arm moving forward, back, forward, olive-skinned and downed with light brown hair. Me so excited: "If we die, at least I'll die with you." Laughter. Silly, stupid, naive, forever. Me and Jeanne as I sipped a Coors in her backyard on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, she making us an Italian salad, me reveling in my very life—and later, stoned with the sun going down and our hiking boots on, me looking into her huge stoned eyes and smile with a wonder I'll never forget. And I didn't touch her. I didn't even touch her hand.

Me and Jeanne at her mother's house, with the walnut antiques, the porcelain, the Siamese cat on the sofa. She getting ready, me in the living room, happy as I've ever been. Us out. Us out at a jazz bar where she knew the owners, me feeling mature. It was Saturday night. She gave me change for another beer. Leaned over and said, "Does my hair smell like smoke, or ambergris?"

Ambergris, I told her, which was true. My body was burning, my soul was on fire. I looked at her arms and thought, this. This will do, for the rest of my life, these times, this tension. She a Taurus, me a Scorpio, the month, summer. No cares for me, no responsibilities really. Just alive, me and Jeanne, Jeanne and me in my home town, and in my love was the beginning of my fear. And in that moment was the curse of never again being fully alive, of never again inhabiting a moment so wonderfully vibrant and vital, young and blessed. Ambergris in my hair. "In my beginning is my end." Me haunted, aware, perhaps, that It had begun—the happy point of no return, with a good beer buzz in a brown Honda stick, speeding over the hills, leaving my stomach suspended behind.

 

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