I become fond of carrying water bottles filled with terribly cheap local Ouzo which tastes like a mixture of anise and liquorish tempered with floor detergent. Time moves quicker. The world glows brighter. I race through lectures, assignments, friends and paintings faster than tear gas spreads among protesters. I am the life of the party. I make more friends an hour than Bill Gates made money. Everything I touch blossoms masterpiece. I’m convinced I’m improving. I glug my antidote. La dolce vita.
Then the pendulum begins to swing. I become either very cheerful or very morbid. Alive or living dead. I kiss boys whose names I can never remember; almost delighting in ruining my reputation enough so as to be unmarriageable.
Then, I meet him.
His name is Omar and he’s an installation artist. We meet at a party and chat drunkenly. I steal his glass of wine. In support of local brands, we smoke Cleopatras which have more wood than tobacco. He likes an impromptu painting I sketch on the wall with my eyeliner and invites me to come to his place and show him more of my work. I go and show him my talent in giving blowjobs. We drink beer afterwards and he makes a point of telling me to please not kill myself in his house.
Fast-forward a few weeks. His apartment again. He’s on his second bottle of wine. I’m on my sixth beer. He talks about his work, about how pretentious the downtown art scene currently is. I refrain from pointing out he embodies it. He talks about his Russian girlfriend who he wants to have a baby with just as soon as he divorces the wife he still loves. I smoke. I say nothing, too busy carving his image into my mind. He’s remarkably ugly: round belly, sagging flesh, missing frontal teeth and dirty nails. It gets me off, knowing how repulsive I find him even as I lie on his mattress. And I hate him well enough that when I manage to tolerate him, it feels like winning.
Another afternoon he’s in one of his bad moods. He slaps me around. I do nothing. Calls me names and shouts. I get up to roll a joint from his stash of hash. Smoke while he kicks a chair over, breaks a couple of plates, howls. I watch him—archiving every second—to make sure I can recollect every detail when he becomes nothing more than a memory. His face in my mind and a caption: this is rock bottom.
Another day. I am shivering when he lets me in. He is naked and it disgusts me almost unbearably when he hugs me, rubbing up against my stomach. He makes me a sandwich I don’t eat and we drink beer and snort coke. I tell him he’s old enough to be my father. I tell him his age is more than double mine. He gets irritated and mean. Asks me why the fuck I hang out with him. I’ve nothing to say so I give him a hand job. Afterwards, he’s on the phone making plans with his girlfriend. I smoke cigarettes. I forget how to cry. I convince myself he’s the trauma that is a perquisite of becoming a “real” artist.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. History repeats itself. There are no new songs, just a single one on loop.
Just as our gullible nation thought it had discovered freedom that bleak winter, I—too—naively thought I had discovered the Cure. In the form of a red pill of very questionable composition smuggled out of China and sold at half the price of a can of beer.
How can I describe that first taste of opioids? How it feels as your consciousness seeps out of your body to levitate above it like a halo and all struggling comes to a halt. Peace in a pill. What more could I ask for?