“Is that the guy who likes to have sex with dead women?”
“No, I think that’s just a myth.”
“Do you want another line?”
“When I’m done. I’m almost done. Maybe. Okay, yes.”
My boyfriend walks away. The party continues around me. This is the ugly kind of party where people have turned into zombies, walking around aimlessly. The kind of party where conversations have turned into blubbering nonsense and cyclical ramblings. The “Mama told me not to come” parties. I’m 17 and this party is at my house. I have a paper due the next day. I’m supposed to analyze a poem. I've only managed to eke out a page. Five pages are due.
I don’t know much about literature. I do know about kegs in the wood, smoking weed, bumming cigarettes, Led Zeppelin and selling Quaaludes for $5 each in the girl's bathroom. I know how to play pinball and PacMan very well. I give a decent blowjob at this point but have big plans on fine-tuning my skill.
I chose Edgar Allen Poe. I don’t know anything about him except that I love him. That cracked, pained and beautiful face - the face of someone who understood dark places.
At 3 in the morning, with my home trashed and my mom away for the week, I am very aware of dark places. I intend to make them darker as I lean down to the mirror on our littered coffee table and snort another line. The meth feels like fire shooting down my throat. A surge of false energy hits me.
"I’m going to finish this fucking paper if it’s the last thing I do!” I shout.
“So it’s not the guy who fucks dead people?”
“No. He is not a necrophiliac.”
“Do you have any more cigarettes?”
“No. No, yes…but not for you…I have to…” and I stumble away. I grab another beer and walk to the dining room table, covered with bottles.
I clear some space and look through an anthology of his work for a poem to analyze. Dying women, pretty women, dead women, coughing, blood, birds, cliffs near seas. I try to make sense of the poems but the words melt into a blob of confusion. Analyze a poem? I can’t even touch my forehead. I don’t know my middle name. Wait, I don't have a middle name....do I?
I start to write.
I know what I’m doing. I’m smart. I can do this. Am I writing this or just thinking this? Shit! I'm writing this.
I rip the page out of notebook, throw the paper on the beer-soaked floor and start looking through the book again.
Then I stumble across this:
They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in awakening, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret.
The party suddenly stops. A peaceful, expansive feeling sweeps over me...and it's not the drugs. Somehow, amidst my self-annihilation, I am touched deeply by a piece of literature. More than touched, I understand completely and wholly.
I've often had those gray visions but no one has ever described them so well. Inexplicable, lush moments where time stands still, where all the pain and worry disappear, where you understand the totality of your existence. It's pure magic - simple, transcendent magic. And it only lasts a flickering moment. Then you do drugs, hoping to find it again.
Write it all down, quickly - except for the drug part - before it goes away!
A zombie walks by and sees me writing furiously.
“Why are you doing that?” she points her bony finger at my notebook, half-frightened, half-disgusted. "Why is she writing? Why?" she looks around, asking no one in particular. She teeters for a moment, staring at me, then wanders off.
Focus. Poe. Analyze.
Three pages done. More than halfway there.
Wait! Reward yourself with a cigarette! Yes! I smoke! I love smoking! What a great idea!
I run over to the cookie jar, where my secret stash of Marlboro Lights resides. Underneath it are cookies my mom made last week. Looking at them makes me ill...and sad. There's some goodness, hiding in this house. Some goodness in a jar. Those cookies should leave.
I sit back down and my mind goes blank. The book is a blur or words again and my paper looks like chicken scratch.
Damnit. I should've never gone for the fucking cigarette.
My boyfriend comes over to me and tries to make out with me, drug-horny and disgusting. I can’t stand him right now. Get away, get away! His tongue feels like a snake in my mouth.
Almost 5 am. Try again. Try. Shhh…calm down. Calm down and try.
As the sun begins to rise, I finish my 5 pages, sit back and smoke my last cigarette. Some people have passed out, someone broke the sink in the bathroom and is laughing about it, someone just finished a paper for school the next day, which is this day, and is pleased with herself.
See? See! It's not just the good kids with their perfect homes and perfect families who can figure this stuff out. A "burnout" just understood a piece of literature. She gets it. She gets it, even high as a motherfucking kite. Ha!
Or maybe I don't. Maybe those ivy-covered schools that I secretly and desperately long to attend will always be for those good kids. Maybe my paper sucks and I just think its good because I'm on drugs. Kind of like drunk people who think they can dance.
When I bring in my paper the next day, my hands are shaking, my stomach is churning and I wish I was dead. But I feel proud, having made a connection with a good writer. A very good writer. We touched. I had a breakthrough, even though every goddamn thing about my life should prevent one. Today, I'm representing the lost people.
When my paper is returned a few days later, there is a C- in red. A fucking C-! On top, she writes, “You were supposed to analyze a poem. This is from a short story. Read the assignment!!” As I walk by my teacher's desk at the end of class, I hear: "You better wake up and smell the coffee, missy."
"I hate coffee and don't call me missy."
I cut the rest of my classes and hang out with my dropout friends at the arcade.
"Does anyone have a cigarette?"
I walk outside and light up in the blustery, bland landscape of New Jersey suburbia and look around at nothing in particular.
...but it was poetry to me.