I’ll bet you thought no one in the world could be crazy enough to crawl back into a place like this, but we do it all the time. When it’s cold, this is a decent place to go to stay warm. I wonder how many people are back here right now? Believe me, someone’s back here. I just hope it’s not one of our paranoid types. Those guys are known to…overreact, if you know what I mean. You suddenly pop out into their little hideaway and they drive a knife through the side of your face. It happens sometimes. You try not to think about it when you’re doing shit like this.
Hold it! Did you hear that? Typical. The minute you pull open the bars, you can hear people in there scrambling to stash their dope.
That’s code for “it’s the cops.” You hear it a lot out here. I think it comes from the whole “911” thing.
“Relax, everyone! It’s just me.”
I guess we’re not dealing with the brain trust, here. Most of the junkies out here know my voice. After seven years on the street, people get to know you.
“Who do you think? How many fucking women do you know out here who would crawl back into this fucking shithole?”
“Oh, it’s cool, guys. That’s just Miranda.”
See what I mean? Now, we wait for a second before going forward. I always let my eyes get adjusted to the dark before I go in here. That way I can see a lot better. Never go from light into dark in a hurry if you can avoid it. Charlie taught me that. So let’s see who we’ve got here.
“Who all’s in here? Is that you, Nate?”
“Yeah, it’s me, girl. Come on in. Got Pete and Eddie here, too.”
We’re safe. I know them. They’re not what you’d call hardcore types.
Just the three of them. Good. I don’t like surprises. It looks like they were just about to slam. Junkies really hate it when you interfere with their fix. I always did. I’m glad it’s Nate. He’s a good guy. I don’t have to worry about him. And he’ll keep the other guys in line. Not many people out here will do that for me, but I’ve done Nate a few favors over the years. I guess he thinks he owes me.
“There’s no need to be paranoid, guys. See? Nate knew it was me.”
“Of course I knew it was you, Red.”
Some people out here call me Red because I’ve got red hair. It’s easier to say than Miranda – especially when you’re stoned out of your fucking mind or your jaw’s wired shut because it was broken in a beating. Both are common occurrences out here.
“You recognized my lilting voice?”
“Nah, I saw your shoes.”
“Cops don’t wear sneakers like that. They wear them motherfuckin’ steel-toed boots so they can kick your ass better!”
No argument there. All of us know that from personal experience. See? Pete and Eddie know it, too.
“Yeah, you got that shit right, bro.”
“I guess we have a consensus.”
“Yeah, it’s like kickin’ your ass with a fucking metal pipe. But they can’t sneak up on you with ‘em. Too heavy. They sound like motherfuckin’ horses comin’ down the street. You can hear ’em coming a mile away.”
He’s right about that. Cops make a lot of noise. Thank God for that. Why is Pete staring at my feet like that?
“Why are you staring at my shoes, Pete?”
“I was just thinkin’ those are some girly-lookin’ shoes.”
“I’m a girl, Brainiac. They’re girls’ shoes.”
“You get those from the mission?”
“Of course. I got everything but my underwear at the mission.”
“Really? Where you get your underwear?”
“Who says I’m wearing any?”
That’s probably not the best image to put in a guy’s head out here. Believe me, I know. Fortunately, they’re in no condition to do anything about it. They need to slam, and no junkie puts that off for anything. Not even for a gang rape. It’s all about priorities, you know.
“So are you here to slam, Red?”
“No, I just wanted to see who was back here. I’m just out for a walk.”
“Well, grab a seat. Come on and sit with the brothers. We don’t discriminate. The rest of us got business, here.”
Three black guys and one white psycho girl. I guess I’m the odd one out. That’s typical for me out here.
“There’s not much room left.”
“Hey Miranda, you can sit on my face!”
See what I started? They may be harmless, but they’re still plenty crude.
“I’ll pass on that, Eddie. Thanks anyway.”
I get a lot of propositions like that out here. That was one of the milder ones. Hell, it was practically charming compared to a lot of the shit guys ask me to do. The trick is knowing which ones are harmless and which ones aren’t. These guys are pretty harmless, and Nate would keep them in check, anyway. But I never let myself forget that it could change very quickly. Out here, you measure trust with a stopwatch. Two seconds at a time. You never let it last longer than that. Not if you want to survive. The only exception is Charlie. I trust him forever. But no one else. Not even these guys. I’ve got my knife right where I can get to it, just in case.
“Come on, Red. Grab a seat.”
“OK, scoot over.”
“Hey Eddie, move over, motherfucker. Let the lady sit down.”
Lady? Is he fucking kidding me?
“Mind if we get back to business?”
“Go right ahead. You guys having a party? You don’t usually have that much dope.”
“Yeah, we did good tonight. Copped this at the Big Lot. We got a big-assed tool box out of a truck over by the Fruit Market. Good shit! Got twenty bucks for it.”
If they got twenty bucks for a box of tools, then the tools must have been worth at least two hundred and fifty bucks. That’s how it works out here.
“Have you guys seen Charlie? I can’t find him anywhere.”
“Nah, we ain’t seen him for a couple of days. What you be needin’ him for?”
“I just need to talk to him.”
“Hey, Red? You got good eyes. How’s it lookin’?”
That’s junkie speak. He’s asking me to check his injection.
“You’re in. I can see the blood.”
Blood in the syringe means he’s got the vein. That means it’s safe to push the dope in. You learn these things when you’re a junkie, but some of us still manage to fuck it up.
“Thanks, Red. You’re up, Pete.”
“Give me that shit! Let’s get this show on the road!”
“Clean that thing before you hit.”
“Why? You ain’t got the big ‘A,’ do ya?
“I ain’t got nothin’ motherfucker. You always clean your shit. Got to be careful.”
Nate’s right. Ever since the whole AIDS thing, cleaning your works is a big fucking deal. Every junkie knows how to clean a syringe. There’s nothing to it, really. You put the needle in a little plastic bottle of bleach and draw it in. Leave it in for a couple of seconds and then squirt it out. Then you wash it out with water the same way. That’s important. You sure as hell don’t want to inject yourself with bleach. The bleach bottles are everywhere. They’re free. The fucking do-gooders hand them out by the bagful along with the free needles.
“Draw it up, motherfucker!”
Christ, these guys are totally fucked up! They must’ve been drinking before they got here. Pete’s hand is shaking. I’d better pitch in before he sticks that needle right through the vein.
“Here, I’ll hold it. You draw it up. Nice and easy.”
“Yo, man! Don’t spill that shit! That’s all we got!”
Jesus; Pete’s got some real junkie arms. See how they’re covered with tracks and bad tattoos? Those black lines are knocked-out veins. They’re useless from all of the injections. It’s a miracle he can still find a working vein in his arm.
“You’re up, Eddie.”
“I got my own works.”
Of course he does. That’s the needle exchange program for you. Let’s help the junkies get high and not get AIDS. Your tax dollars at work.
“You gonna hit, Red? We got enough for you.”
“Not from that spike.”
“Girl, I ain’t got the big ‘A!’”
“Maybe you’ve got something worse. Pete?”
I’m not going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole. But he knows what I mean. Out here, it’s fucking beyond filthy! The shit that’s crawling around out here is nasty. Trust me, they’ve got diseases on skid row that doctors don’t even have names for. Everyone knows it. Oh, shit! What the hell is he doing? He’s not actually going to…
“Hey, Nate! You’d better cap that spike before you stick it in your pocket!”
“Uh, yeah, I’ll do that, Red.”
“See that you do.”
Stupid motherfucker! He probably would’ve just put the spike in his pocket if I hadn’t reminded him! You’d be amazed how many junkies out here reach into their pocket and end up driving a needle right into their fingers. I don’t mean pricking their finger. I mean driving it all the way down to the bone. It hurts like you wouldn’t believe. And it’s not just the junkies. If there’s one thing the cops are afraid of out here, it’s getting stuck by a needle. I’ve seen cops cut people’s pockets open with knives because they’re afraid the guy’s got a needle or a razor blade in there. I don’t blame them. You don’t take chances with shit like AIDS and Hepatitis and God only knows what else.
They’re all starting to feel it now. The rush. It’s not euphoria. Not anymore. Not for these guys. Not for me, either. It stops being euphoria a while after you get hooked. By then, you’re used to it. It still feels great, but it’s never as good as in the beginning. It also depends on how good the dope is. A lot of the stuff out here is utter shit, but the stuff they sell over at the Big Lot is usually pretty good.
“It must have been pretty good, Nate.”
“Oh, yeah. The Big Lot’s always got the good shit. Not like that shit you get at the Awning.”
In case you didn’t know, junkies are real connoisseurs when it comes to dope. We’ll shoot just about anything we can get our hands on, but we know the good shit from the bad and we talk about it endlessly. Nate’s right. The Awning is this old hotel about three blocks from here where they sell a lot of dope. It’s got a big, green awning in front of it. God knows what the place is really called. Everyone I know just calls it the Awning. And the shit that the dealers there sell is one step above spiced dog shit. It’s notorious as a place of last resort for junkies who are about to puke their guts out for lack of a fix.
“Yo, what’s wrong with the dope from the Awning?”
Apparently Eddie is clearly no connoisseur of dope.
“You’d better explain it to him, Nate. He might actually try to shoot that shit.”
“Motherfucker, you don’t know nothin’ about dope! That’s Cuevas’ shit! That asshole slings the worst fucking dope out here!”
That’s about the size of it, right there.
“That’s being generous. Why do you think the cops never busted him? His shit doesn’t qualify as dope.”
“You got that right, girl!”
Cuevas is one of the biggest assholes out here. Everyone knows him and everyone thinks he’s a real piece of shit; which of course, he is. As dealers go, he’s the absolute bottom of the food chain and his dope is the fucking worst. He’s the guy you buy from only when there’s a hurricane and the whole city’s on fire and you’re five minutes away from dying of withdrawal and there’s no other option on the face of the earth. Yeah, his shit is that bad. To tell you the truth, I’m amazed no one’s killed him yet for being such a complete dick. Or for selling dog shit and calling it dope.
“I wonder if anyone’s ever actually gotten high off of that shit? I doubt it.”
“Damn straight! That Cuevas shit don’t get you no kind of high! Sometimes I think that shit ain’t even dope!”
See? Even Pete knows it’s true. But Eddie doesn’t seem to be buying it.
“No, I bought there plenty of times and it’s good shit.”
“Then you’s a stupid motherfucker who wouldn’t know real dope if it bit him on the dick.”
“No, really. See, there was this one time…”
“Motherfucker, that shit ain’t no kind of dope! I done seen that Cuevas shit! Open up the balloon and it’s motherfuckin’ rat shit!”
That’s putting it mildly. Believe me, I know.
“I didn’t think it was even that good.”
“Girl, it ain’t! I’d rather shoot the ass end of a rat than shoot that shit!”
I just got this vision in my head of him actually trying to do that. As for Cuevas’ dope being actual rat shit, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. You’d be amazed at some of the things people try to pass off as dope. And knowing that, some people still don’t hesitate to shoot it right into their arm. Or smoke it. You should see a crackhead try to smoke a piece of soap that he thinks is dope. It’s hilarious.
“So what’s goin’ on with you, Red?”
“Nothing. I’m just sitting here with you guys.”
“Nah, that ain’t what I mean. I’m askin’ you what’s up?”
Nate’s not usually this inquisitive. I wonder if he’s picking up on something? I was afraid that might happen. Suicidal people tend to give off a vibe. People out here can sense it.
“Nothing. What’re you talking about?”
“You got that look in your eyes, Red. I can see it.”
“He’s right. Come on, girl. What’s up? You don’t look good.”
Think about that for a minute. A couple of fucking junkies sitting in an alley behind a heating duct and just slammed a shitload of dope into their arms are telling me I don’t look good. Christ, I must look pretty damned fucked up! Maybe I am giving off a vibe? If I am, I need to shut it down fast.
“No, I’m OK.”
“I’m fine, Nate. Really.”
“No, you ain’t. It’s in your eyes.”
“Yeah, you look like you’re a million miles away. You got some shit on your mind?”
“It’s nothing, guys.”
“It don’t look like nothin’ to me. Come on, Red. Give it up.”
I need to get out of here. There’s no way in hell I’m going to tell them the truth, and I don’t want them keeping me here until I come up with a convincing lie.
“Trust me, Nate. It’s no big deal. I just have to take care of some shit.”
“What’s goin’ on, girl? You in trouble? They put a case on you?”
That’s street-speak for “Did they arrest you for something?” That’s a pretty common reason for someone being under a lot of stress out here.
“No, it’s nothing like that. It’s been a rough couple of days, that’s all.”
“That why you want to see Charlie?”
“Yeah, I always feel better when I talk to him about shit.”
“Come on, girl! You can always talk to us. You know that.”
“Thanks, guys. But I don’t want to bring you down. You paid good money for that shit. You should enjoy it.”
“Hey, Red? How long you been off the dope now? It’s been a while, right?”
“Yeah, a little over a year. Right about when I got into the SRO.”
“Yeah, but you still chip now and then, right? I know I done seen you slam.”
“Oh, sure. As long as you’re out here, you’ll never get off it completely. Charlie told me that.”
“He was right.”
I can see Eddie’s curious. Getting clean is a frequent topic of discussion among junkies out here. It’s kind of like normal people talking about winning the lottery and living happily ever after. Your odds of winning the lottery are a hell of a lot better, too.
“Hey, Miranda? How’d you get clean?”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly my idea. Eddie. It was kind of forced on me.”
“That’s for damned sure!”
See how Nate’s laughing? That’s because he knows this story. And it was no laughing matter! I still remember every fucking agonizing minute of it!
“What are you talkin’ about, Nate?”
“Go on, Red! Tell ’em how you got clean!”
“No! I really hate that story.”
“I love that story!”
See what I mean? Now they’re all laughing! Assholes! They have no idea what it was like!
“Hey, don’t laugh! That shit wasn’t funny! That place was fucking hell!”
“Huh? What’s detox?”
It seems Eddie’s blissfully unaware of this special form of hell. The other guys know about it. Christ, I thought everyone out here knew about it. Kind of like how every Christian knows about hell and damnation. They have a lot in common.
“Yo, motherfucker! That’s where they clean your ass out! Like it or not!”
True enough, Nate. But that doesn’t even begin to describe it.
“What? So you go there and you go cold turkey?”
“Tell him, girl.”
I’m not going to get out of this, am I? It fucking figures. One final humiliation before I die. Oh, why not?
“God, I hate this fucking story! OK! Yeah, you go cold turkey. Of course, I didn’t have any say in it. You see, you don’t go there. They throw your ass in there. The court does.”
“So what’s it like?”
“Oh, it’s a blast. You should try it sometime”
Nate and Pete are both wincing like I’d just kicked them in the balls. They understand. If I had balls, I’d make that face, too.
“Yo, Pete? You ever been there?”
“Fuck, no! That’s a motherfucker! Better they shoot me in the head before I go through that shit!”
“I wish they’d shot me in the head. It would’ve been a lot less painful.”
“So how come you went in the first place?”
“Like I said, I didn’t have a choice. I got caught up in a sweep. Remember when the cops were cracking down last year, after the overdoses? They grabbed me. I had some works and they put marks case on me. When I got sick in the tank, I thought they’d let me go. You know, like the usual? Not this fucking time! No, they sent me to the infirmary. Then they threw me in detox for five days. That’s how I got clean.”
“Girl, that must’ve been pure fucking hell. I heard about that shit. It’s bad!”
“Yeah, words don’t exactly do it justice.”
Eddie’s looking really nervous. He’s going through one of those junkie phases where he’s seriously thinking about quitting, even though he isn’t anywhere near ready to do it. We all go through them – a lot of times. I went through them more times than I can remember.
“So, what was it like? Really?”
“Oh, it was a fucking day at the beach. They strip you naked, give you a paper hospital gown and strap you to a gurney and pretty much leave you there for five days.”
“Oh, yeah! I was in four-point restraints. Piss them off and you get the neck restraint, too. They didn’t change my fucking gown once. You know how long a paper gown lasts when you’re thrashing around in pain and puking your fucking guts out?”
“You was naked?”
It suddenly occurs to me that the thought of me naked and strapped to a bed might actually appeal to these guys. Oh, what the hell. I’ll be dead in a few hours anyway. Let them have their fun.
“Yep. They took all my clothes. I think they burned them. I never got them back. And I had to make sure to turn my head to the side when I puked, otherwise I might swallow it and choke to death. They didn’t bother to warn me about that until after I’d puked about a hundred times.”
“You just puked on the floor?”
“On the floor, on the gurney, on myself. I was covered in puke.”
“And they just left you there like that?”
“Me and everyone else. There must have been fifteen people in there, all covered in puke and shit. I think some guy came by with a mop once or twice, but that was it.”
“Yo, Red! Tell him about the restraints.”
“Oh, those fucking things! Yeah, they were a blast. They’re these big leather straps that feel like plywood. They’re what they use in mental institutions. They’re covered with all kinds of shit and they chafe the hell out of you. It was fucking horrible! I felt like my hands and feet were going to fall off!”
“They fucked you up pretty bad, huh?”
“You’re damned right they did! When they finally took them off, I didn’t have any skin left underneath! It was all worn off! They sprayed some shit on the cuts to make sure they didn’t get infected. I think it was iodine or turpentine or something. Whatever it was, it burned like hell!”
“Damn! That’s fucked up!”
“I couldn’t even wear the shoes they gave me because my ankles were raw! They bled like shit! And I had to roll up my sleeves or they’d rub against my wrists. Even with bandages, it hurt like hell!”
“And they didn’t do nothin’ for you?”
“Yeah, they kicked my ass out the door. ‘Later, honey! You’re clean! Don’t come back!’ That was it.”
Maybe it’s the dope, but I think my tale of the wonders of detox is causing Eddie to rethink his future. The glamour of kicking dope is definitely losing its luster for him.
“Damn, girl! That is some fucked up shit!”
“Hey, that’s detox for you. And the nurses! Oh, God! Those bitches were the worst! The absolute fucking worst! They didn’t care if you lived or died. Hell, I think they actually preferred it when you died. Then they didn’t have to listen to you scream anymore.”
“You was screaming?”
“Of course! Everyone was screaming! I screamed until I passed out. Then I woke up and screamed some more.”
“Crazy Miranda in with the crazy motherfuckers! And then they just kicked your ass out the door?”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. I thought they were going to throw me back in jail, but I guess I wasn’t worth it.”
“Time served, baby. Ain’t no junkie on a marks beef worth more than that. Plus, you got that mental shit goin’ on. I’ll bet they was happy to be rid of your ass.”
“I guess so. It was like, ‘See ya. Wouldn’t wanna be ya.’ You know, I didn’t even know where the hell I was. It took me the better part of two days to get back here.”
“And that was it? You was clean?”
“If you could call it that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean nothing else had changed. I was still on the street. I was still in the life. I was headed right back to junkie central. By all rights, I should’ve been hooked again within a day.”
“So what happened?”
“I don’t know. I guess I just didn’t have the urge anymore. I still chip once in a while, but not enough to get hooked. Right, Nate?”
“Hey, how come she don’t get hooked again?”
“’Cause she got that mental shit goin’ on?”
“Nah, it ain’t that. It’s on account of the shit out here’s so bullshit, she can chip without getting hooked. Shit, if it were any good, she’d be right back on the horse again!”
Nate’s right about that. To tell you the truth, I’ve wondered why I didn’t get hooked again. God knows I was hooked big time before then!
“Hey Eddie? You still want to try quitting cold turkey?”
“No way, girl! I ain’t goin’ through that shit! No fucking way!”
Well, it’s nice to know that on the last night of my life I could save a homeless junkie from the horrors of sobriety and clean living. The final good deed of my otherwise miserable life.
“Listen, guys. I’ve got to get going. I really need to find Charlie.”
“That’s cool. Thanks for stopping by. Always good to see you, girl.”
“It’s good to see you, Nate. Hey, watch out for Loomis tonight. He’s got a new boot and he’s a real piece of work.”
“Big time. This guy is definitely looking to notch his gun. He almost put my head through a windshield.”
“Yeah, them crew cuts are a motherfucker!”
“Yeah, well, this asshole’s definitely out for blood. Stay away from him.”
“We’ll do that. You take care of yourself, girl!”
“Take care of yourselves, OK? You guys are all right. Seriously. I mean it.”
Goodbye, guys. I’m glad I could make you all laugh. And thanks for a few last minutes of peace. You don’t get that very often out here. I won’t forget it. I promise.
Moving right along. No time to dawdle. I sure as hell can’t be dawdling on the last night of my life, can I? Nate sure zeroed me pretty quick, didn’t he? It never ceases to amaze me just how perceptive people out here can be. It’s one of the many things about this place that normal people wouldn’t believe, but it’s true. Maybe it comes from having to look over your shoulder all of the time? Being perceptive is a big part of surviving in a place where everyone and everything wants to kill you. In time, it kind of spills over into a special perceptiveness about practically everything. You gain insights the likes of which you wouldn’t believe. Sometimes, it’s a good thing. Most of the time, it’s a curse. Take those guys back there, for instance. It was like they were looking right through me. It was like they could read my mind. They definitely picked up on the fact that there was something wrong with me. I wonder if they really knew what I plan to do tonight? I hope not, but it wouldn’t matter if they did. Even if they did know, they wouldn’t try to stop me. Not in a million years. And that’s not because they’re high. No, it’s because out here, you don’t interfere with a suicide. That just isn’t done. It’s kind of like a law on skid row: when someone decides they can’t take it anymore, that’s their business and you don’t fuck with it. It’s their life and their decision. Out here, you come to realize that cashing in is the only real control any of us has over our lives anymore. Taking control of that last little bit gets a lot of respect in this place and believe me, that’s saying something. Besides, no one out here is stupid enough to believe that silver lining bullshit about how life is always worth living, no matter what. Fuck that shit. We know better. We’re the living proof.
I guess I should explain the whole “Crazy Miranda” thing. It’s not a nickname, and it’s not because I’m a little different than most. The truth is, it’s probably the most important factor in my life. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. It’s pretty much the defining thing about me, and it’s set my destiny since I was a teenager. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. You see, I told you I’m crazy. Well, it’s true. I am seriously mentally fucked up; just not the way you probably think. To be specific, I have treatment-resistant chronic major depression. TRD for short. Or CMD, if you like. TRD, CMD; a rose by any other name. It’s all a bunch of alphabet soup to me. Whatever you call it, it’s what made me crazy. Fucking incurable, debilitating, life-destroying clinical depression. That’s what ruined my life and brought me to this God-awful place, and that’s what’s going to kill me tonight. Fucking TRD. What? Are you disappointed? Did you think when I said I was crazy that I was schizophrenic? Or maybe bi-polar? Multiple personalities? Did you think I had hallucinations or heard voices? Did you think I spent my days and nights hiding from the secret police who want to steal my thoughts with laser beams shot into my brain from mailboxes and streetlights? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. It’s nothing like that. I wasn’t that lucky. Not by a long shot. And I know what you’re probably thinking right now. You’re probably thinking that a severe case of clinical depression doesn’t qualify as crazy. You probably think that it amounts to nothing more than a bad case of the blues, and that I’m just being melodramatic. Well, you’re wrong. You’re dead wrong. If you think this is nothing more than a case of the blues and there’s no reason why it should destroy my life and force me out onto the street, well, then you’ve got a lot to learn. You’ve got a serious fucking shit-ton to learn. You have no idea what it’s really like living with that shit. I’ll bet you can’t even imagine it. Oh, I don’t blame you. Unless you’ve been through it yourself, you have no idea of what it can do to you. How it can fucking destroy you. You have no idea what it’s done to me almost all my life. And if you do know, then may God have mercy on you. I pity you.
Treatment-resistant chronic major depression ain’t the blues, kiddo. Comparing the blues to TRD is like comparing a pebble to the fucking Rock of Gibraltar. Now imagine the Rock of Gibraltar falling out of the sky and landing on top of you every minute of every day and you start to get the picture. This shit doesn’t just bring you down. It fucking destroys you. Completely. Irreparably. Mercilessly. It fucks you over in ways you can’t imagine. It takes a hell of a toll on you; not just mentally, but physically. For one thing, TRD goes hand in hand with chronic major stress. Between the two, they turn you into a complete mental and physical wreck. It drains the life right out of you. I don’t mean just your emotional life. I’m talking about the physical life. It can make you physically sick. It can physically paralyze you. It can sap your strength so much that you can’t even bring yourself to get out of the rain – or out of bed, if you’re lucky enough to have a bed. Between TRD and the stress, you can age twenty years in less than five. It may not show on the outside, but take it from me: it’s there. It’s real. I know. Inside my head, I feel like I’m a thousand years old and sometimes I feel like I can remember every minute of it. A thousand years of miserable minutes. It’s a feeling I can’t really describe to you. It’s sort of a private form of hell on earth. Emphasis on the hell.
Despite what you might think, TRD is a very severe form of mental illness. If you don’t believe me, just ask a shrink. It’s in the book – literally. I’ve seen it in there. If you ask me, it’s the worst kind of mental illness, and I’m in a position to know. Out here at night, you get to see just about every form of mental illness there is, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to compare them. Well, at least when I’m lucid enough to compare anything. Yeah, TRD can make you lose touch with reality from time to time. You can’t tell reality from the delusion you’re experiencing. They call them temporary psychotic breaks or something. You see, one of the wonderful little side effects of this shit is that the more stress you’re under, the more delusional you become. You withdraw further and further into your own head, and the deeper you go, the more your brain goes haywire on you. It’s like how Milton said in Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and can make a hell of heaven.” It’s exactly like that. And that’s when you end up seeing and hearing and believing all kinds of weird shit. I’ve been through it lots of times. I’ve gone through phases where the whole world turned into one big psychotic fucking delusion. I didn’t know which way was up – literally. I actually thought I could walk through walls. I was sure there was something watching me, and whatever it was, it wasn’t human. Sometimes I thought I was surrounded by demons. One time I thought everyone had poisoned my food or poured ground-up glass in it. I don’t know why. I just did. I didn’t eat anything for almost a week. It happens. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it. When things get really bad, reality and rational thought go right out the window. That’s when I end up in the goddamned Twilight Zone. It scares the shit out of me. No matter how many times I go through it, I never get used to it. And it never gets any easier. Why is that? Well, for one thing, it’s unpredictable. No matter how hard I try, I can never see it coming. It gets stronger as I get weaker, so I always get blindsided by it. But once it hits me, even though I can’t control it, I’m sort of aware of what’s happening. It’s like how you don’t see yourself about to fall off a cliff but once you’re past the point of no return, you know damned well that you’re falling. But there’s nothing you can do about it then. And I never know exactly what’s going to happen to me as a result. I mean, I know it’ll be bad, but I never know just how bad. There’s no telling how fucked up I’ll become. And knowing that just makes me obsess about it, which ends up making it even worse. Talk about a vicious circle.
TRD screws up the way you process things. It sort of rewires your brain. It turns your intellect against you. Your own mind betrays you. You may be intelligent, but there’s a lot more to life than intelligence. If you can’t process things right, it makes you a social basket case. The most meaningless shit can devastate you. You obsess about it for weeks even when you know it’s nothing and there’s no reason why it should bother you. Knowing better doesn’t do you a damn bit of good, either. You can’t control it. And at the same time, you miss things that are obvious to everyone else, and that just makes you seem weird in their minds. Then they treat you funny and pretty soon you go all psychotic about it and you can’t understand why. Another thing it does to you is it makes pretty much everything meaningless. It takes away all of the value in life. Nothing matters to you anymore. You don’t enjoy anything. You go out of your way to find things to occupy your mind and lift your spirits, but nothing works. You’re miserable and you can’t make it stop. That’s when you lose your will to live. Life becomes hell and it never gets any better. The only thing you want is for it to end. So you choose a date and pick out a rooftop and that’s all she wrote. Still think it’s not a big deal? Well, then consider this: according to the shrinks, TRD has a fifteen percent fatality rate. That’s a fact. At least fifteen percent of the people who get it end up killing themselves one way or another. Is that serious enough for you? Have you ever had an incurable disease with a fifteen percent fatality rate? Would you want to? Do you think you could handle it? No, I didn’t think so.
Take it from me: people who suffer from TRD aren’t just down in the dumps. They’re seriously mentally ill, with all of the baggage that comes with it. So it stands to reason that I’m seriously mentally ill. Shit, I’m about as mentally ill as they come. And you know what’s weird? I don’t really like that term. Mentally ill. Mentally ill takes too long to say; don’t you think? And it’s so fucking politically correct. It sounds so clinical. It makes it sound almost gentle. It’s trite. It’s almost insultingly trite. It makes it sound more like an inconvenience than a vicious, evil, life-destroying disability that you can’t do a fucking thing about. There are a lot of better things to call it. Insane. Crazy. Psycho. Looney. Nuts. Whacked. Fucked in the head. I’ve been called all of those things at one time or another. Now that I think about it, there are probably more words for being crazy then there are for just about anything else. Maybe that’s an indication of just how many crazy people there are in the world? Looking at all of the people I’ve seen out here, I’d say about one out of every five people on skid row is nuts, at least to some degree. After dark it’s about one out of three. Trust me, one night out here is more than enough to convince you. Sometimes I look around and all I see are a million crazy people with a million different kinds of insanity and none of them are winning. None of them ever seem to beat it. That’s another strange thing about mental illness: there are so many different kinds of it. You’d think there would be only one way to be crazy, but that’s not the case. The truth is, there are so many different kinds of insanity that I don’t think they have names for them all. I guess they’re still cataloging them. All I know is that you’ll see every one of them out here at night if you look long enough. All of the shrinks in the world could spend their entire lives out here studying these people and they’d never learn it all. They wouldn’t even scratch the surface. This place is like a museum of insanity. It’s the ultimate freak show.
Insanity. Did you ever notice how everyone who sees a shrink asks the same question: “Doctor, am I insane?” God knows I’ve asked it a couple of thousand times. They always give you the same bullshit answer, too. They tell you insanity is a legal term. They’re right. Insanity is a legal term. It means you didn’t know it was wrong to hack up your family with a butcher’s knife and feed them to the neighbor’s cat, so you aren’t legally responsible for your actions. In other words, they can’t fry you for it. Not guilty by reason of insanity. Now, if you’re totally nuts but still know that what you did was wrong, then you may be crazy but you aren’t legally insane. Time to warm up the electric chair. Of course, the problem with that view is that in this day and age, a lot of people who are supposedly in full possession of their faculties think it’s perfectly OK to hack someone up with a butcher’s knife. You want proof? Just talk to some of these motherfuckers out here. They speak from experience. So insanity now means you’re mentally incapable of knowing it’s against the law to do it, or something like that. Not guilty by reason of mental defect. It’s all very technical. It’s also a lot of bullshit. Isn’t it amazing, the shit I’ve learned out here?
Anyway, when you ask a shrink if you’re insane, they always know what you mean but they never give you a straight answer. Why not? Most people already know the answer. They aren’t looking for an answer from the shrink. They’re looking for confirmation. That’s how it was with me. I already knew I was crazy, so they must have known it, too. But did they ever say so? Hell, no! Christ, what the fuck is wrong with shrinks? Why won’t they ever tell you the truth? Hey Miranda, you’re crazy. How hard is that? What? Do they think it’s going to come as a shock? Do they think I won’t be able to handle it? Hey, I’m not handling it as it is. Look where I am right now. How much worse could it get? Give me a break. I know I’m crazy. I’ve always known it. A lifetime of misery and self-torture combined with constant stress, paralyzing fear and the occasional break with reality kind of clued me in. Eventually, it pushed me over the edge. When that happened, I went from being clinically depressed to being clinically depressed and psychotic. It wasn’t long after I hit that milestone that I ended up out here. Now I’m so fucking crazy a blind man could see it with a cane. But the fucking shrinks still won’t admit it. It’s a line they won’t cross, and I hate them all for it.
Goddamned motherfucking shrinks! Motherfuckers, every last one of them! Of course they know I’m crazy! How could they not? But I’ve been seeing shrinks since I was thirteen and not one of them would admit that they knew it. And they wouldn’t admit that they couldn’t do anything for me, either. Why not? Doctors tell terminally ill people that they can’t help them. They do it all the time. Hey lady, there’s nothing we can do for you and you’re going to die. We’re very sorry. Such is life. If they can do that, then why can’t they tell me I’m incurable? Why can’t they just say they’re sorry but they can’t do anything for me? Why can’t they tell me the fucking truth? Are they so afraid that if they admit defeat then people won’t think of them as gods anymore? Please! Anyone who’s been to a shrink more than twice already knows they’re all full of shit. Just once, I wanted to hear one of them say, “Yes, Miranda, you’re crazy and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t cure you and I can’t help you. We’ve tried everything there is to try and it just didn’t work. I’m sorry and I wish you well, but we both know you’re never going to get well. In fact, you’re only going to get worse. So coming to see me is a waste of time and money, and given the fact that TRD kills fifteen percent of the people who get it, you probably don’t have much time left.” I already knew it and they knew I knew it, but they wouldn’t admit it. Fucking assholes. They strung me along for the better part of my life with their bullshit and in the end I was no better off than the day I first walked into a shrink’s office. Hey, I don’t blame them for not being able to cure me. It’s not their fault. Some people get over cancer. Others don’t. That’s just the way it is. I can accept that. I can accept that I drew the short straw and they aren’t miracle workers. All I wanted was for them to tell me the fucking truth. But they never did. Not one of them. I hated them for that. I still do.
Now, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say that they’ve got pills for depression. They’ve got pills for practically everything. Miracle drugs. Why don’t I just take the antidepressants and all will be well? Would that it were that easy! Remember, what I’ve got is treatment-resistant depression. That’s a fancy way of saying nothing works. That includes the drugs. I know. I tried them. All of them. That’s not an exaggeration. I started taking those fucking drugs when I was fourteen years old. My parents were as desperate to find a cure for me as I was. I honestly doubt there’s a single drug for depression that I didn’t try at some point. I even tried a lot of shit that wasn’t for depression. They had me scarfing down drugs for bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder – you name it; I tried it. I still remember a lot of the names: Prozac, Wellbutrin, Elavil, Zoloft, God only knows how many others. An endless sea of pills. The shrinks put them in categories with these high-tech names like MAO Inhibitors and Heterocyclics and SSRIs. The names alone are enough to drive you to drink. Imagine how they make an insecure teenager feel. Yeah, it was exactly like that for me.
Shrinks love to categorize the drugs, but most people just call them the old ones and the new ones. You know, Elavil’s old; Zoloft’s new. I hate the new ones the most. The wonder drugs. I hate them because they promised so much. Even the shrinks made them sound like a fucking sure thing. “Don’t worry Miranda, they fix everything. You’ll see.” The wonder drugs. They’re a miracle. Go in crying and come out smiling. A few of these suckers and you can kiss your depression goodbye. No problem. You’re home free. Yeah, right! Oh, they can work miracles, all right. I’ve seen them do it. But there’s a catch. The catch is they don’t always work. Yeah, they usually have to run you through a few of them before they get one that clicks. But that’s not what I’m talking about. No, what I mean is that there’s this small minority of people out there for whom none of them works. And guess where I found myself? You got it! I’m in the minority. I’m one of the special cases. Lucky me. None of the drugs worked for me. Not one fucking bit. I tried every drug in the fucking drugstore and not one of them gave me so much as five minutes’ peace. I took so many pills, I rattled when I walked. They kept putting me on one drug after another until they finally ran out. There was literally nothing left to try. Sometimes I could see the shrink getting more frustrated with each new failure. You think he was frustrated? How do you think I felt? With the shrinks, I think it was a professional thing. They couldn’t or didn’t want to admit defeat. It fucked with their egos. But in the end, even they had to accept the truth. I was incurable. Nothing worked and nothing was ever going to work and that’s just the way it is. To have kept trying would have been a waste of their time and my parents’ money. Anyway, my parents finally sent me to a shrink who must have been blackballed by the psychiatrists’ union because he actually told me that sometimes it just happens that way. He didn’t admit I was one of them, but he did say it happens sometimes. It’s not much of an explanation, but it’s the only one I ever got. He told me that about ten or fifteen percent of patients with TRD just don’t respond to any of the drugs and they don’t have a clue as to why. Turns out I’m one of them. Lucky me. Lucky fucking me.
Oh, and just because the fucking things don’t work doesn’t mean you get spared the side effects. The motherfucking side effects! I got just about all of them: dizziness, nervousness, upset stomach, insomnia, fucked-up thoughts, you name it. When they put me on Zoloft, there was a time when it felt like the transmission – for lack of a better term – between my brain and my body shut down. It was almost like I couldn’t will myself to move. Needless to say, that was the end of me and Zoloft. Sounds like fun, huh? One drug – I can’t remember which one – just physically wiped me out. All I could do was lie in bed and I couldn’t sleep, but I didn’t have the strength to get up. I swear, if the house was on fire, I would’ve died because I couldn’t get out of bed. The shrink later told me that was a dangerous sign. Gee, no shit! Another one shot my blood pressure up into the high quadruple digits. They said I was lucky I didn’t stroke out. Yeah, those things are just a barrel of laughs. So not only didn’t I get any benefit from them, but I got all of the curses. How’s that for bad luck? If that’s not a sign that I was literally born to lose, then I don’t know what is.
TRD. It doesn’t sound like much, does it? I mean, it doesn’t sound like bubonic plague or a brain tumor, right? Well, don’t let names deceive you. It’s a motherfucker. The truth is…well, it’s a death sentence. I’m not making that up. It’s a fucking death sentence. You see, when the drugs fail, they’ve got nothing left to try. Talking to a shrink until you’re blue in the face isn’t going to help you, and there’s no other treatment left unless you count shock treatment. Excuse me, I mean electroshock therapy. See what you learn when you’re crazy? You learn all of the tricks. Actually, they like to call it ECT – Electro-Convulsive Therapy. ECT, CMD, TRD; Christ, they’ve got an acronym for everything. I wonder if somebody gets paid to sit around and make them up? Anyway, as far as I’m concerned it’s still shock treatment. I’ve never been through it, but I’ve had plenty of nightmares about it. As far as I know, shock treatment has kind of fallen by the wayside, although I hear some doctors still swear by it. Shit, a couple of them tried to convince my mom and dad to put me through it. They said no fucking way. They read up on it and it scared them almost as much as it scared me. How can anyone recommend something like that? Especially for a kid? I mean, usually when they strap you down and run a shitload of electricity through you, it’s because they’re trying to kill you. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it hard to believe that what’s essentially a mild form of the fucking electric chair is actually good for you. How can something that requires them to stick a rubber bit in your mouth so that you don’t bite off your own fucking tongue be good for you? Don’t they torture people with that shit? I guess it’s not torture when you have a medical degree. Sure, when some fucking junta does it, it’s torture. But when a shrink does it, they call it fucking therapy? Sorry, but I’m not buying it. I’m crazy, not stupid. And even if it does work, I’ve read that the effects are only temporary. Oh, and it can also erase big fucking blocks of your memory. Permanently. You never get it back. Some people forget their families, even their own names. Then they freak out because they can’t handle the big holes in their memory. Think of it as the world’s worst alcoholic blackout and you get the idea. Gee, what fun! And the cherry on top? It’s a fucking crapshoot! Just like the goddamned pills, shock treatment doesn’t work on everyone. Jesus Christ! Can you imagine being fucking electrocuted while you choke on a rubber bit in your mouth and then having the shrink tell you it was all for nothing? And that’s if you can still remember your own name and still know how to fucking talk! If that isn’t a reason to commit suicide, I don’t know what the fuck is. And they still call it therapy!