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Undisaster

Drug abuse and how it screws up your writing style.

On the phone until 5 in the morning, and a few hours later, before leaving for work, I take an illicit green industrial tranquilizer and lose muscle control. At work I begin typing words like "werrtin" and "plmpf." I am uncoordinated already, so a little problem with getting the glass to my lips and drinking, or opening the door before entering the room, catches no one by surprise.

This sudden confusion complements angst, and I break into tears at intervals. Under the influence, I think, everyone on the Internet can see me and knows me and I am so worthless. I take Ftrain offline, then post a poem begging for affirmation and support from my friends, something I resolved not to do and historically have avoided, oh great agony of sinking life rarified by drugs.

At eleven I make an appointment with a therapist for three pm. I tell them at work that I have to see my shrink--easier to say it outright than fib--then later take the N up to Carnegie Hall. Between the stop and her office a mid-skyscraper weather bomb goes off, and I am enclosed in solid raining wetness for exactly one minute.

Pants, shirt, socks, underwear, hair. My shirt is now translucent; strangers can see my tattoo and the large dark blurry patch of chest hair. Dry people huddled under canopies laugh at my hunched, shuffling, splashing jog.

This--the rain and laughing strangers--brings me to a laugh, and the laugh brings me to release from three weeks of frustration, angst, recrimination, phone calls. Web sites, consulting jobs, new pairs of pants, and ex-girlfriends don't compare in intensity to a hard and heavy New York flash storm, dumping between the buildings from the sky.

After a few more splashing seconds I enter the building, looking like a cat after its bath, and drip on the waiting room floor.

***

My therapist is a small woman in her late 50's. Today she is wearing rhinestone glasses and an elastic camoflauge v-neck top with a suit jacket.

She says, Pussycat, pussycat, you go so long between visits.

No hugs! I say, as she moves in with her arms out. I'm damp.

I'll just kiss you on the cheek then. Maybe someone has a hair dryer?

No one does. In a few moments of confusion I was handed paper towels, stripped of my shirt and put into a backless blue paper hospital gown. Someone hung my shirt on an IV stand by an open window. The session began.

How are you?

Not so well, I say.

I think, I am soaking wet and wearing a piece of paper. And giggle.

I'm sorry, she says.

We walk at a steady pace through the events of the weeks, localizing on last night's marathon phone chat. I forget to mention the tranquilizer.

She stops after a long look at me. Wait, is this the time of year when [....] with your family? she asks.

I think for a moment. Yes, this is the fifth anniversary of that. Close to exactly, maybe by a few days.

So you should think about that, pussycat, she says. What that brings up. She pauses. And as for [...], you might want to [...] with this lady. You shouldn't [...]. And also not so [...]. You love to take the blame, correct? There's a Yiddish word for it.

She says the Yiddish word.

We speak other simple platitudes of therapy, mundane things I can't figure myself. We find ways I can stay calm. An hour--then the buzzer rings. She looks to me.

Your shirt, she says, let's get that.

She comes back a full minute later. Paul, it--she pauses. I can't find it; I think your shirt. It looks like it blew out the window.

Then she says, I'm so sorry.

I think rapidly, a man under pressure. I will need to take the train home in an open-backed hospital gown. Maybe a cab, but what cab will pick me up in a blue paper gown? So the train, unless a cop thinks I just escaped....

Umm, I say.

I have it here, I was kidding, she says, handing it over.

I put it on; it is very damp but not dripping. She hugs me, kisses my cheek. I kiss hers. I hand her five twenty dollar bills, and promise I'll come back. Goodbye, pussycat, she says. The elevator lets me out on 57th, where puddles have formed under the sun. I buy a drink of something that bubbles from a drugstore and an orange from a street vendor, my first food for the day, and lean on a damp wall before going back to work, and watch the milling thousands walk through their times, working, talking, eating, and kissing.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.

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