The Tar Pit (1 of 9)
By Thomas Frye
It was quiet on the bottom, quiet enough to hear the neighbor’s ticking clock in the next room. Quiet enough to hear the sweat rolling down the cold flesh of my cheek. The silence devoured me in a wave of pressure that rang my ears as I stood there in the window, staring out at the driveway. My senses felt as if they’d been turned up to eleven on some obsolete amplifier dial that only went up to ten. I could hear the gas pass from a gnat’s ass sitting on a drinking glass on the dresser. If someone would have dropped a pencil right then, I’d have jumped a foot and a half. If someone would have slammed a door, I’d have been deafened. Not to mention I could still smell everything my neighbor cooked in our shared kitchen this morning, the cologne he splashed on his neck as he got dressed for work, and the shit he took before he left. I would think one smell might cover up the other, but the stench of it all was stuck in the back of my face, and anything but the stale smell of my room, or the sour pang of my own sweat, would sicken me on contact. Even the smell of freshly cut grass made me nauseous when I was dopesick, and I loved that smell… up until recently, when I was forced by a blown head-gasket to push a dopesick mower in the hottest summer on record across the many lawns around town that I was lucky enough to be able to mow for the owner when my car went tits-up on me.
It was hot that day. Hotter than an overheated core. The sweat on my skin was icy and soaked my shirt, which scraped across my sensitive skin like 200-grit sandpaper. It caused me to wriggle into odd positions as I tried to avoid contact with the shirt I was wearing. A thick August humidity hung wet and muggy in my room, but I didn’t dare open the window out of fear of creating a breeze that would shiver my already freezing flesh.
I turned from the window, my shoulders wrenched back into a crippled posture, and hobbled as I paced the room, crumpled over in a grotesque contortion of bones and muscles. My oversensitive senses were the worst of my worries. First off there was a month-old coil of shit, backed up in my colon from opiate constipation, that’s been trying to push its way out for weeks. When it does, I’ll be out of commission, on the toilet for more than two hours, bent over with my forehead almost touching the floor, sweat pouring from my skin so bad I’m sliding around on the toilet seat like I just hopped out of the shower for a quick squeeze into the bowl. It’ll be three flushes at least before I’m done, each one with a disgusting island of shit that more than crests the water of the bowl, like a new stinking continent rising as the earth wobbles, only to sink in a gushing flush of water as the earth wobbles back. If someone didn’t show up at my door before the shitstorm, it was going to be a very uncomfortable, and potentially messy ride to the dopehouse.
Another worry of mine was worrying itself. As the heroin drains from the body, it exposes to the self, the extent of the decay that the insides have rotted to. Everything that’s been ignored and put off by the apathetic mud of the drug hovers threateningly above, and crashes like a three-story wave on a beach after an earthquake. Mountains are made of molehills, and even the tiniest, most insignificant problems will be tar pits of anxiety as the mind obsesses over trivialities, and every cell in the body aches for a shot of junk. This horrible state lasts for days, where the body is sicker than it’s ever been, and the mind reels in indecision, in a state where it seems that time itself has been suspended.
Time is perceived differently in the subconscious state of extreme opiate intoxication. Half of the addiction is a dependence on this non-linear perception of time. When the body goes into withdrawal, and the opiate leaves the system, so does that time-perception. The addict must wait, writhing in the most terrible sickness of body and mind that its ever experienced, for ‘normal’ linear-time-perception to start back up again. It takes about three to five days for heroin. Some opioids seemed way longer to come off of, probably because they’re man-made.
“Or maybe they have a longer half-life,” I mumbled under my breath, unaware I was talking to myself as I paced back and forth, allowing my thoughts to wander and take my mind off my sickness.
“Ha. Molehill Mountain,” I said out loud, struggling to figure out how I could fit the name into the story I’d scribbled down the other night, but I couldn’t keep the storyline straight in my head. It kept crumbling into anxious thoughts about the four jobs I just lost, or the heroin habit I’m forced to either keep supporting or face head on. Or the acres of grass I’d been mowing to pay my rent, as the landlord, a local property investor did his best to work with me when he’d seen that my car had broken down. He was a decent man, devout, who many times reached out his hand to me… but only one’s self can pull one’s self out of the tar pit.
I paced the little bit of floorspace in the place, mindlessly walking from the window, around the table, passed a TV in the corner, and a closed closet door painted white. Passed the door to my room that opened on the kitchen, to the small desk by the mattress, where the roof slanted with the dormer it was built into. Back and forth I walked, my mind racing furiously, in a space of less than ten feet.
On the table was a red shoebox for a pair of shoes I no longer owned. I noticed it, walked to it, and removed the lid. It was empty. What happened? I thought. This thing was full at the beginning of the summer. I was so close to leaving. So goddamn close. What happened?
I had a flash of that woman, Miss Steel; her legs and lips full and dick-sucking strong. The attention she needs, the temptation she breeds, and the contents of the bag on her shoulder. It gave me a shiver, made my stomach sour… and I forced her out of my mind.
I replaced her image with that of something healthy, the guy that gave me the idea about filling that shoebox. “I wonder how he’s doing,” I said, out loud. “Guy had a cowboy hat and a… broken leg.” I replaced the lid on the shoebox, then continued to pace with my shivering shoulders and contorted posture. Like a worn-out old man, hobbling around the room with a cane and a bad back, I talked to myself under my breath to distract myself from my sickness.
“He was a good dude.” I nodded my head in the summer heat. “He was… he was good.”
I thought of the last time I’d seen the guy. I remember the day specifically because there was a foot of snow on the ground and I hadn’t been able to cure myself before my dinner-shift at the low-class spaghetti-house restaurant I worked at back then… probably about eight or nine months ago. I’d spent all day trying to hustle something up in near-blizzard conditions with bad windshield wipers and a serious case of the cold sweats. In the end, I had to give my fifty-dollars to Shoestring Johnny to come and drop off my three bags to me at the restaurant. He no doubt pinched a small amount out of each one for the trouble of having to make the trip in the bad weather, but I didn’t care right then. I just wanted to not be sick anymore. That was right before Shoestring moved to somewhere around Seattle, narrowly escaping the tar pits of addiction by the skin of his rotting teeth.
The night sticks in my head because I’d suffered through withdrawal the whole dinner shift on Wednesday, when the restaurant had their locally famous two-dollar all-you-can eat special (provided you bought a drink). The place would get insanely busy from four to eight p.m., and every employee hated working the shift. It was grueling work if you weren’t dopesick. If you were, it was a whole layer of Dante’s hell in a few hours. Walking across the room to get a pen takes all the energy out of you when you’re junk-sick. Managing a six-table section in the epicenter of geriatric late-lunchers looking for a meal deal and full families with two-year-old’s in highchairs slinging their dinner across the room while in withdrawal is just about as bad as it gets. Especially on a night like that one, where I was stuck in the smoking section with a nose that was revolted by anything it came across.
The Connection didn’t re-up until seven or so. So, it was after eight by the time Johnny got his, got off, and got to the restaurant with mine. My section was trashed but I’d closed out all my tabs and was just waiting for my tables to leave when Johnny came walking in with my dose. I remember sitting on the toilet in the grimy employee bathroom off the kitchen with the stall door locked, jabbing my arm with the syringe I’d been waiting to use all night. I shot all three bags at one time.
The moments surrounding the release of the sickness that washed off me all at once as my chest filled up whole again were the only few minutes a day I was truly alive… everything else was a precursor leading up to those moments. A heroin addict only exists for a few minutes a day, through a slackening of the jaw and shoulders, with a pleasant brown heat spreading through the blood. My whole body had been sweating for hours, and in one sweet instant, all that sweat dried up. I sat there with my mouth open and my eyes closed in a nod for an undetermined amount of time, and by the time I came out of the bathroom, the Wednesday night alcoholics had anonymously started to file in through the door.
A gaggle of them had gathered in the lobby, waiting to be sat while I had fallen under the nod in the bathroom. With newfound energy, I filled several bus tubs with sauce-stained spaghetti plates and half-full soda glasses and dirty silverware and used napkins in a blur of motion. I slung a bleach rag across the tables with a slack look of apathy on my face, and waved the anonymous alcoholics in.
These were my favorite regulars, and I’d pour them coffee as they sat and chewed the fat for a couple of cups while the rest of the restaurant thinned out. They were low-maintenance enough that I could knock out my side-work and still get a handful of tips for those hours. I’d tuck them in back in the smoking section, set them up with carafes of coffee and a few slices of key-lime pie, and it was pretty much on autopilot from there. The Wednesday night alcoholics were an easy, laid-back bunch of characters that usually meant an extra forty bucks in my pocket as the meeting makers filed out and I would leave the building and go straight to the dopehouse for one to put me down, and one for tomorrow to wake me up… and that’s about the best a junkie can hope for in life, something to wake up on.