Read an ExcerptPreface
There are no seasons in Florida. People say that about other places, they say that about southern California, but I've lived through some freezing nights in Los Angeles. I've snuck around people's homes there and turned the thermostat up to eighty degrees because I've been so cold, especially in the canyons. But here in Florida the ground is flat, the terrain is absolute, it is always warm, it is always bright. The Christmas lights strung on the houses along the highway look ridiculous. Today there was a tornado in Miami. They showed the twister in the skyscrapers on the evening news. No one was hurt.
The only way I can tell the passage of time is how long I can go between pills. Five minutes, maybe. It used to be longer, fifteen minutes, a half hour. But that was months ago. Or maybe weeks. Time passes slowly, or too fast, or it makes no difference.
I crush up my pills and snort them like dust. They are my sugar. They are the sweetness in the days that have none. They drip through me like tupelo honey. Then they are gone. Then I need more. I always need more.
For all of my life I have needed more.
My pills are methylphenidate hydrochloride, brand name Ritalin, but I will take Dexedrine or any other kind of prescription amphetamine that I can get. I used to swallow them, ten milligrams at a time, every four hours, no more than three times a day, as directed by my physician. Then I took more, and more often. Then one day I cut one in half, trying to extend the supply, and some powder crumbled off of my uneven slice. I could feel my face light up: I might as well have been Columbus, discovering America while looking for India. I snorted it up, as if it were cocaine, and something different happened in my brain, a scratchy rush.
Since then, I've been crushing them up like that on purpose. I inhale forty pills a day.
That's how I spend my days: I smash up powder and make it go away.
Right now I live in an efficiency behind the Galleria mall, off Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. This is like some cosmic joke; this whole setup is like a picture on a poster that says THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS. If you knew me, if you saw me in my apartment in Greenwich Village, you would never believe this. No one believes this. Like most stories that involve large quantities of drugs, this one is shaped by incongruous details. I'm a New Yorker, I am not equipped to live anywhere else, I do not have a driver's license, I cannot safely get behind the wheel of an automobile, and here I am in a place without sidewalks.
I live near the mall so I can get whatever I need on foot.
This is not the first place I've lived down here. There was also my mother's condominium on the Intracoastal, which was white and beautiful, with hard western sunlight in the afternoons. There was the Schubert Motel, owned by French Canadians, with a broken air conditioner, so the cuts I hacked onto my legs festered from the humidity. When I went to the emergency room, I told them it was from shaving with a dull razor, which I think they might have believed. The residents on their thirty-six-hour shifts had such a soft innocence. Then there was the Riverside Hotel, on Las Olas Boulevard, with red velvet wallpaper and twenty-four-hour room service.
This apartment comes furnished. I have a Murphy bed and a kitchen table, and one of those desks that is part of the same wall unit as the bed. I have local phone service and an answering machine. I don't have a calling card so I can't return long distance calls, which is why I don't. The entrance is off a catwalk. Down the hall are two call girls, and next door on the other side are two gay flight attendants who work for a charter airline used by hockey teams. Downstairs is a paralegal with a cat who isn't very friendly.
I know how I got here, I know how I found this apartment, I remember the ad in the Sun-Sentinel, and still I can tell you: I don't know how I got here.
My life, in all its apparent disorder, has always been so carefully planned, always just as it was meant to be. In my college recommendation, my high school English teacher said that he could see me growing up and writing for The New Yorker. So I graduated from college and started writing for The New Yorker. I have always had the gift of making it all look like some big lucky accident, like whoops, here I landed, gee whiz, what do you know. But it's all been so deliberate. I am exactly who you thought I would be. I am the least surprising person you will ever meet.
But not this. This is really an accident.
Every addict tells the same stories about where drugs took her. Mostly it's about where you spent the night, blackouts: I woke up in Brazil, I woke up on a bench in Golden Gate Park, I woke up in a holding cell, I woke up in Mykonos, I woke up in Buckingham Palace, I woke up in my own vomit. In the movies, those stories involve sharp and arch displays of wealth or degrading degrees of filth: In Scarface, this schnook from Cuba finds himself in a postmodern house on the Biscayne Bay, all lacquered surfaces, with Michelle Pfeiffer all blond in the background, giving him a hard time. In Jesus' Son, everything is tawdry and all the furniture is plaid and shredded: junkies in the Holiday Inn, in the Midwest, in the mid-seventies. In real life, the scion of a family whose name is a corporation traded on the stock exchange is living in a men's shelter, or a kid from the Dominican Republic is smoking crack in a Park Avenue duplex that has a Frank Stella hanging on the wall.
So I guess I am just like everyone else, another fish-out-of-water, or human-being-in-water. But there are no extremes of poverty or wealth to speak of. There are strip malls and a housing complex with a swimming pool that no one ever uses. I sit at a raw bar and eat oysters, or I make copies late at night at Kinko's, and when there is a Clinique bonus, I buy a new lipstick at Burdines.
Everyone here is transient or retired, or sometimes there are college students visiting during school break. No one here has a last name. This is surely the most anonymous place I could ever be. If I tried to tell my neighbors about my life in New York or my work or my friends, they would not care. If it's not of immediate use to them, if it's not about borrowing detergent or a ride to the supermarket, they don't hear it. They are the nicest people, but it's all about the next five minutes.
And by now, my whole life is about the next five minutes.
There are no human beings in this story. Not really. That's my favorite thing about my pills: they are my only relationship. The only thing I care about is where more will come from. That is all I need to worry about. Otherwise I might not exist. I am in a place where there is no difference between May and December, and the only time that matters is the minutes between pills when all I think about is my next line.
When nothing else happens all day, when all there is to show for it is some work I've done or an okay movie I've seen, when it's been nothing special, they are my treat.
They used to be a treat. Late at night, they were something to look forward to. I could tell myself: I can still get high. I would tell myself: This is the sugar in my bowl.
But now it's my life. Pills are my everything.
At the end of the day, other people ask themselves: Is this all there is? I don't want to wait for the answer. I'm not stupid. I don't wait to see if today will be better than yesterday, because I already know.
And these pills are deep inside of me.
What person could ever get this close? Who would want to?
And I swear to you, and I don't care how this sounds, I think it's love. If you don't understand, you don't know what love is.
Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth Wurtzel