So, the other day I was in an event based around the photography of Amy Darling… or so it was proclaimed. The idea was to pick one of her photos (many of which are of live shows, or music, or people around Los Angeles you might know) and base a piece of writing around that photo.
It was such an exciting premise that, once begun, I could not complete the task. I kept writing and writing, then editing and editing, until it was now past time for the event to begin; I finally was satisfied enough with what was on the page that I left home, went to the Echo Chamber, and got there two minutes before the event was scheduled to end–but the bastards ended three minutes before the end, and I missed my spot entirely. That’s probably for the best–it would take me about 15 minutes easy to read this.
I hope you take the time now. It’s a bit rushed, and maybe a bit abstract and moralistic, but hopefully it feels like controlled dada, and there ain’t nothing more fun than reining in a creative beast and knowing it’s been trained well. By the way, here’s the photo I chose:
As to why this is another piece of fiction from the perspective of a female character… well, I don’t know why I keep making my protagonists women. I don’t think men should speak for women, and it disturbs me more than it probably disturbs you that I’ve been doing so repeatedly in 2014. Maybe part of it is that I have a strong female side, and don’t associate with a lot of the rough-and-tumble of my male author counterparts. And maybe part of it is that I simply like women and want to hear stories about them, even if they’re coming from me.
In this case, though, I can use Amy’s photo as an excuse, because this boogie-ing gal clearly needed a narrative. Here it is.
(Sorry, one final disclaimer: I do NOT know the dancing woman in the photo above, nor do I really know any of the other people in this photo on a personal level. This is a complete, absolute work of fiction. Aside from the fact that I, too, hate traffic, please don’t extrapolate anything about the people depicted in this photo, or Amy Darling, or me, from the narrative below.)
Sleeping Through Work
She almost never dreamed. You have to sleep a long time before the dreams come, and she almost never slept. The drugs took care of that. She hated her tech job so much, testing a stupid website that sold expensive jewelry to women at a slight discount, bought by husbands who got rich by never paying full price for anything, that she had to take a fistful of Vicodin just to get through the day.
Normally Vicodin is a downer. But when you have a crazy, broken brain like hers, it invigorates you, makes you want to stay up all night watching TV series on Netflix and respond to all your old high school friends’ tweets. Every morning, just getting up for work was torture, but to pay for the Vicodin, she had to keep working at the job; and meanwhile, in what still seemed like a temporary, short-term delay of planning for phase II of her awesome life, suddenly she was almost at the end of her twenties. All the grand and important things she had planned to do with her life–or a least, the fact that she had planned for her life to be grand and important—seemed to be this quaint little thought, an artifact to be smirked at and shelved and gawked at for its innocent stupidity. All she seemed to know now was tired mornings, grey smoggy blocks of sky framing the gridlocked plastic and steel in her foreground, commuting to her hell. To her hell.
She’d started to have stupid thoughts. And she knew they were stupid, puerile, childish, Sylvia Plath BULLSHIT, the kind she had given up when she was fourteen years old and had stopped pretending that she got anything out of cutting herself besides the joy of feeling troubled. But now, twice that age, knowing the thoughts were stupid didn’t help. “What’s the point of even being here,” she’d think. It seemed, begrudgingly, logical. “I’m already in hell. Even if the worst is true and the Christians are right, and I wind up in actual hell for leaving here voluntarily, it will simply be a lateral move.”
There was only one thing she did that actually made her feel that life was precious. It was the only thing she seemed to like. And she couldn’t imagine it happening in an afterlife, a place that she believed was more akin to that Talking Heads song about Heaven, a place where nothing ever happens, not even songs by the Talking Heads. She’d kind of lost touch with music as college rolled into real life, when she found herself stumbling into the work force largely in a beer haze that looked cute enough in her tired twenty-two year old eyes to get her invited back for second interviews. Temping turned to a slot at a startup, and beer pong turned to cocaine with friends, then alone, and finally evolved into her current, more stable favorite. It seemed she had matured, in her own way, and her secret was no more shocking than most people’s marital affairs.
But then one day, she’d found herself at an after work drink party, realizing she had absolutely nothing in common with the men around her. And it was mostly men, because somehow, somewhere back during the days and nights of ramen and Tecate, luck and some well-timed moments of clarity had rolled her right into a job in the tech world. It was the most real thing in her life and yet it seemed like a fable, almost as if she was watching herself from the outside, like the character in a short story, the kind where she was not her own author. She was largely alone there, constantly belittled and ridiculed and hit on and ignored and passed by. But she met the challenge head-on, skipping work, turning in half-assed projects, napping in the server room, and rationing out the right lies to the right people so that they were all completely in the dark about how little she was really achieving, which was crucial to being a functioning drug addict. They weren’t there to praise her successes, so why not fail and give herself praise anyway?
But a few years back, she realized that there was something missing from her life that the drugs couldn’t massage away, probably something cultural—but where to go to get reconnected? In the end, it had been her dealer that had turned her onto her first event at the Nomad gallery. He was friends with a performance artist who made giant puppets and costumes out of felt and Velcro, and who would put on plays while people wearing her creations would dance around in character as monsters and animals. And she had gone to this show, and avant-garde shows like it, knowing no one, and not really understanding or enjoying much of the visual art around her.
But the music was something else! God, it wasn’t that she wasn’t picky, it’s that she didn’t know what she had always been picky for until she heard the band that night. What she wasn’t getting out of large arena rock shows by bands like Alt-J and Incubus she could get at places like this. The sound was inconsistent, and the bands made mistakes, but they wanted to be here so much! And they sounded like they found nothing more important than making the instruments in their hands match the sounds playing in their heads.
She quickly realized that the pills that kept her up all night had a good side, too—it was the energy! Her broken, sad brain meant that the downers made her go up, up, up, and she could dance all night. And she never felt nostalgic. There was no wistfulness here, no memory of herself as a young girl listening to young people bands that had now grown old and popular, no “gosh, I’m almost having as much fun as I used to!” There was only the eternal present, and she got caught up with it. Whether there were five people there, or 50, she was always there and always, well… always going out of her mind! She knew she was crazy, despite the fact that she was able to function as a drug addict and con everyone around her. And she was gleeful that this was the one place where her insanity was an asset. Everyone seemed to be feeling the music, but she FELT it. She fucking FELT IT! She is ALIVE and she UNDERSTANDS! And she is IN IT, even more so sometimes than the people playing it.
And she wasn’t a spiritual person, but she’d tried that on in her youth. And she’d read the Tibetan book of the dead. And she had forgotten most of it, but she remembered one little part, a part about how to have dream control. And she remembered that the monks in their waking lives would practice the same things over and over again, the idea being that if you ritualized the process of prayer enough, it would inevitably become the setting of a dream.
She remembered this with acute depression somewhere in her early twenties, when she started dreaming about cocaine. She would often find herself in a hallway, and couldn’t find the jacket that had her cocaine in its pocket. She’d be looking through closets, and hallways, and closets, and hallways, and would try to nudge up against friends and strangers and surreptitiously feel the outsides of their pockets to see if they had her cocaine. Now in her Vicodin lifestyle, she almost never had dreams, though once in a while, a lunch time nap would plunge her into that haunting sensation of something missing, or sad, or scared, like a tropical vacation where her parents were always barging into her cabana right as she hid the drugs, or about going through security at the airport and realizing there was a bottle of Vicodin in her carry on.
Now that she rarely dreamed, there was an added unease to her dreams, a state of half-clarity where the subconscious of her subconscious understood that this was all a dream, and that a real dream meant she probably had slept late. And that happened a lot. Actually it happened THIS day. She had set her radio alarm clock for 8 a.m., but having slept fewer than 6 hours in 3 days, her depleted body had no problems coasting right through its rhythmic nudgings.
And in the dream, she knew she was late for something, but it turned out to be a band at the Sancho gallery, and she wriggled through the crowd and stood in the front like normal just as their set began.
And in the dream, she wasn’t on drugs. There was something a little sad about her sobriety, but something remarkable too, and breezy, like she’d skipped the part where she’d had to rearrange her lifestyle and find a new sense of energy.
And in the dream, she had lots of natural energy. The band on stage was led by an old man in an angel dress complete with felt sewn wings on the back. He was bald, and an angel’s halo hovered over him affixed to his head with a wire that could have been from a coat hanger. He was playing the drums, and singing, and a group of similarly wizened guys and gals were playing along with him on keyboards and guitars, kind of a quirky new wave, perfect for her to dance to.
And in the dream, everyone was smiling, and dancing along with her, and giving her knowing looks, like “Isn’t this wonderful? And aren’t we all in this together?”
And as she danced, she could feel a thinning of the room that seemed a little unusual. And she looked back, and she realized that there were zombies in the room. Slowly but surely the zombies were grabbing the people in the back of the room, snapping down hard on their skulls with their teeth, cracking the skulls open so they could chew on the brains below. They’d take a quick bite of one person, throw the carcass to the floor, and grab the next person in front of them.
The band seemed unperturbed, as did her compatriots around her. It seemed certain that people had noticed the zombies, but they were going to wait until the last possible moment to move, enjoying the music as much as they were. She did see one or two people escape the zombies’ clutches, at least for a few moments of temporary safety. But for the most part, everyone had planned to wait just a little longer than they should have. And suddenly the girl behind her, one of the smiling winkers and acknowledgers who earlier had shared in this musical experience with her, was pulled backwards by a zombie. She could hear the girl shudder, and whimper–feeble, failed attempts at last words–as the zombie peeled back the skin on the crown of her head with his teeth in order to get a good, hard bite on the skull.
And in the dream, she ran through the band, who were still playing, to escape through a door behind them. They turned their heads and looked up at her, and she could see in their eyes that they had been zombies all along. Perhaps the whole thing had been nothing more than a zombie feast?
She ran out the door and into the yard, but there was no exit there, just endless cement walls and fences, and she kept running around the perimeter with zombies chasing her back and forth, not the kind that ran at top speed like in the new zombie films, but not the lumbering kind, either…. These were calculating, shrewd zombies, able to plan a clever massacre like this and who would not be satisfied unless they succeeded at achieving 100% of their goal of eating everyone in the room, of which she was almost certainly the last.
And as she scrambled to climb up the yard’s lone tree, and contemplated making a broad jump onto a nearby roof, just as the zombies below realized that they, too, could climb trees, she heard the pitter pattering drum machines of light 80s R&B on her alarm clock radio. She realized to her horror that it was now 10:48 and she had slept through a meeting.
And now she was the zombie, she thought to herself, her oversleep making her even more groggy as she went through the ritual of pulling on a dress and some stocking and shoes and hobbling down the stairs to her Subaru so she could jump on the 10 west. She was going to be in deep shit with her bosses, but if it was Brett, he acted more like a father than a mentor: she could always adopt her “oops I’m just a young dumb girl” persona to talk her way out of it. So why was she feeling so lost and worried?
She realized it was the dream—she had been cheated out of her victory. She wanted to be back in that world, where she had been decisive and exciting and bold and talented for a purpose, one she could have succeeded at. She needed a challenge, didn’t she? Maybe the whole reason for her endless cycle of drugs and work and drugs and work, ruining her every waking moment with the fatigue of the cycle’s incompatibility, was to fashion a crisis like the one in the dream. Most people would kill for a job like hers, but there she was every day, self-sabotaging, because it was so fucking easy, and these people were so fucking stupid, and fuck them. And Fuck them! And FUCK THEM! AND FUCK HER! AND WHO GIVES A FLYING FUCK?
She came to a screeching halt behind a brake-happy BMW and screamed a deep, resonant frustrated scream…. raaaah! It was now almost noon. And she realized to herself that there was some kind of spring music festival in Long Beach. It was an all weekend thing, including today even though Friday is a work day and not a holiday, and a bunch of the Burger Records bands were on the bill, but also a gaggle of comedians and Maria Bamford and all kinds of weird cool shit.
And as she drove near the 405, instead of passing it by to continue to her Santa Monica office, she got in the right lane and took the 405 south towards Long Beach. She was going to miss work altogether. And she almost wished she wasn’t going to be able to get out of the situation she was putting herself in. But she knew she would. From years of practicing the deceit of drug addiction, she knew she’d be able to convince her boss that there was some important new disease she’d caught, or another family death, or a pet getting run over in the street.
But she was done making excuses for herself! There was one part of her life that made her feel very awake and alive, and she wasn’t going to ruin it anymore. She wasn’t a fucking drone! She wasn’t a fucking coward in a cubicle, working with technology because that’s what life had thrown her way. She wasn’t a fucking clam to absorb life’s shitty, pissy silt breakfast.
Opening up her glove compartment, she found the bottle of Vicodin that she had procured recently from her friend who worked at a shipping company and who no doubt had simply stolen them and was making 100% profit at 6 dollars a pill to her. This bottle was like $600 just sitting there. And if it was still sealed, it might even be legal if she got pulled over. Probably that happened a lot, that relatives picked up medications for their older relatives? If she didn’t open it, she wasn’t even a criminal.
It had been two weeks since last she’d had to wean herself off these things so that she could get back on and start the cycle again with a less brutal tolerance. Now she was normally up to four Vicodin in the morning, with another 4-5 at night to help her stay up late.
“Who gives a fuck,” she thought as she unscrewed it, punched through the foil with her finger, and then scooped out about 8 pills from under the cotton. She popped them in her mouth, crushed them up a bit with her teeth, and then chugged them down with some of the Monster energy drink from yesterday evening that was still sitting in her drink holder. She cut off a bright red sports car in a very satisfying manner as she sped up her Subaru on her way to the LBC.