SOMETIMES I WAKE UP AND forget where I am or how I arrived. We often wonder about our personal truths, our pilgrimages that help us to see who, what we are. At night, when I’m sleeping next to her, I sometimes roll quietly out of bed and stumble into the kitchen to shake off the nightmares I’ve had. I’m bleeding in each one. I can assemble so many pieces of my life and merge them meticulously together and take some time to assess how it’s all going to work before I get back to bed.
But we can’t change overnight. We just need time.
I suppose the lowest moment, the moments where you could say I wish I was saved became increasingly more frequent.
Alone in my two-bedroom loft, before I met her, I found that my entire life was just one big test. Working two jobs, with only a little debt, I spent most of my time trying to find new people, new faces. I was always on the lookout for new experiences, maybe a new drink, a new hobby, or going to a place I swore I never would go. What I hated most was feeling time passing. I grew up in a church, where the faces stayed the same. In this city, growing up in a church gives you a reputation. But I was escaping that. I hoped. The new people, new faces, new experiences showed me I was escaping that.
I was twenty-two when I met her. I never thought much about it anymore, her suddenly appearing to me. It was all so congested, crammed in the back of my mind, and I never looked back, not until I started thinking of myself as loathsome; then I went back and thought about everything, remembered everything. She wasn’t someone who stayed on top of things like I did. I was routine; she wasn’t. And now I’m realizing that my oversimplification of things: work, play, rave, repeat—it had all melted my spirit down. From the bottom of this meltdown I could look up and see where it all began, where it all went wrong.
With Samantha and me nothing too terrible happened; at least if it was terrible, I always found a way to forget about it. I never dwelled. New people and new experiences mean you never have to dwell. And Samantha was great at making sure that the past stayed the past. She taught me how.
It was all so simple coming from her. The world is precious. You have to make each day count, and you don’t need to die in order to find a greater purpose. This worldview was inconvenient for me, but I trusted Samantha to show me how, to get me to the places I never thought I could go. Her revelations weren’t scary or surprising, they just left me feeling overwhelmed. I didn’t want to go this route with her only to be disappointed or disappoint her.
I never said any of this, not aloud, definitely not to Samantha. I never admitted it because, honestly, I didn’t know what I believed. I grew up Catholic. We only ask ourselves questions that we know we can find the answers to. I know what I feel, what I want to feel, and should I actually embark on this Samantha odyssey that will determine the course of my life, before I begin, I need to trace back all of the memories that I have.
Saturday night and I was in the bedroom, kneeling down to tie my boots. Samantha was in the hall, waiting for me to get ready. This club tonight was one of hers, one of the clubs she swore I needed to be at. Samantha was better at socializing; I was better at following her lead.
So much of her time was spent among those who found meaning in the randomness, the synchronicities, those who saw the world as part of the vastly occurring cosmos, those who could make sense out of nothing at all.
My parents called them godless.
I remember being a child and attending church. My mother kissed me on the cheek as I went to sit with the other obedient children. I volunteered to carry the cross. My sister, Jennifer, carried the Bible. She still does whenever she teaches. An honest, cherished time; looking back, the whole thing seemed so damn clichéd, a childish thing to remember. The thing about being raised in a religious household is you rarely get the chance to engage with people that are not like you.
Samantha didn’t identify as religious, not in the usual, simple way. She used to speak a lot about truth. She said the only way to attain it was to bury yourself inside the world. She told me this right before she did a line of coke, one that would be my first.
“You should wear your favorite boots,” said Samantha from the hall, “they look really dope.”
I looked down at the boots before slipping inside them. I pulled on the laces as tightly as I could.
In the club we saw a mess of gyrating bodies, and fist-pumping maniacs were throwing their hands up in rhythm. Don’t know why the thought entered my mind: priests, clergymen, what would they do if they saw what I was seeing now?
Was it as bad as it seemed?
Was anything as bad as it seemed?
I thought about this scenario: men of the cloth not being entirely certain of what they are teaching to others. A holy man, as I understood, was required to believe what he was preaching, to display not even a single shred of doubt, following everything as they seek to know and understand. So how much did I really know; what is the line between Samantha and me, or the line between skepticism and doubt?
The music was loud. Sometimes I don’t mind intense music—the more intense, the more it filled the spaces in my mind that I wanted to be filled.
“Why aren’t you dancing?”
Samantha, spinning in the middle of the space around us, in a great orgy of sweat and flesh, pulled me against her breasts.
She possessed many admirable features. One of her best was her piercing green eyes, the way she never looked away. I found myself falling immediately, or at the very least being infatuated to the point of feeling paralyzed. There was no denying I wanted her, and that she wanted me. She was what some might call lascivious. Perhaps now it was this quality that I found to be the most admirable, that her sultry lifestyle so obviously contrasted with my own.
I soon joined the spinning bodies around me, all of whom seemed to know Samantha.
Then at some point we went to the bar to get a drink. I used to know nothing about raves, like how dangerous they are, like the fact that they even had bars.
“Thanks,” Samantha said to the bartender as she sucked back a shot and handed me one. “Much appreciated.”
Doubt runs deep through a church, any church. The closer you get to God, the more you realize that it might all be horseshit. I say, you must doubt. Only from there can you take the ultimate leap towards knowing.
“This is my friend, Dave,” said Samantha.
I knew Dave, and he knew me. That was it.
He sidled up to Samantha. He was the kind that wouldn’t listen if I told him to step away. He was glaring over and I told him I was here to have a good time the same as he was.
“If you really want to have a good time. . .”
He winked at Samantha and they both trekked up the stairs, away from the party, holding hands. To anyone not used to these propositions, they would have thought it implied “Let’s go fuck.” It didn’t. As they went up the back stairs, and I followed, a glowing crucifix was shining by the doorway, blinking, and intermittently illuminating the graffiti covered door where Dave was leading everyone to.
My first fling with narcotics happened because of Samantha, then I kept coming back for that quieting effect. It stabilized me, brought me back to a time where everything was simple, and each time I did it, I was always floating. Up. . .up. . .up.
“Here,” said Dave. He and Samantha were next to each other, hunkering down and snorting three lines while I stood by and watched.
“Blake?” she said, showing me my lines.
I didn’t want to, not because it wouldn’t be awesome, but because these times always felt like I was crossing some new threshold that I didn’t want to cross. I had crossed so many.
But Samantha loved me keeping an open mind.
My mother said that people indulge in narcotics because there’s a void growing inside of them that they need filled. “People binge drink and plough their faces with food because there’s something missing in their life. It’s an ugly indulgence,” Mother said, “causing further indulgence and can only lead to a life of decadence and despair.” A lecture always followed, with big speeches about Jesus, how the last thing that he would have wanted was for us to burn the beautiful things he made because we want to have our sight tainted by something artificial. She always asserted that grace is not merely a superstition, but a consequence of our sinning or not sinning, an action/reaction that proclaims the inevitability that, whatever we put out in the world, always finds its way back to us. At the time, I never liked the sound of Jesus. I feared him.
“I like this shit, don’t you?” Dave was talking to Samantha.
I wanted to rip into what I was seeing, dive right in and push myself to the edge. If there was a God, the edge is where you’d find Him, the places where you could touch and taste, where you could lie and survive, where things were taken, never received. I remember all of these moments. I did the line as fast as I could, and it was easy going down, almost as easy as not seeing something until it was too late.
With enough snorts, and enough time spent amidst the powder, everything glows. I could travel across the room without getting up from my chair.
“What do you got there?” Samantha said.
Dave managed to smuggle in a little meth, some heavy-duty shit that could transform you into a killer fucking zombie, he said. Of all the substances on God’s green Earth, this was the stuff that warriors were made out of, real mega-death boom, boom, boom that only the deadliest of hitters could handle.
That was his introduction.
The crystal pebbles were stashed in a plastic bag, and Samantha was looking at me as I looked at the bag.
“You wanna fly?” Samantha said.
Dave lit a crisp, butane lighter.
When everyone expects you to be a certain a way, sometimes you want to kill the I-can’t-believe-I-just-did-that side of your brain and instead just do, do, do, grab anything within arm’s reach.
“I wanna fly.”
So, I did.
I didn’t hesitate a second to put that smoking tip to my wet lips, inhale, and let the power wash over me until I disappeared.
“Now me,” Samantha said, taking the pipe to her lips.
I felt my hand inside her legs. This was the last time I would see death, and this was the last time I would deny the truth.
Samantha’s eyes sprung open, and someone screamed.
“Holy shit!” Dave jumped, and pulled the fabric that was over the table, shattering all the glasses resting there. “Samantha!”
Her head was down, and, within a minute, she was out.
I freaked. I grabbed her head, I tried to hold it up. She was bleeding from her nose.
“Call the cops!”
Dave grabbed my hand and pulled. He dragged me from the table and, just like that, I was thrown back into the rave. Someone was on the floor puking, another was tweaking, and the rest were still gyrating to the hard music. Bobbing heads, coughing faces, and sickly gaits were all the moments that I was now being pulled through.
“Have to go back,” I said.
Dave kept pulling. Pulling me down the stairs. I was sure he was heading to the long tunnel that led out of the building. I pulled back, looking around, trying to see up the steps, up where are all the lights were flashing.
“Are we going to get help?”
Dave flashed me a glare and pulled me through the door. We fell and slid and knocked into people on our way through the crowded hordes. I still felt like I was flying. Suddenly I grabbed onto something; I held it, whatever it was, and we both stopped.
“You can’t help her. I know when it’s too late,” he said.
I blinked. Dave’s face, wet, began to resemble my father’s. Throughout my childhood, my father quoted God as if he were a priest. He believed in the message of faith, never to get angry, never to give in to one’s aggression, to speak with kindness, telling me to say my prayers before bed, blah, blah, blah. When we believe there’s no one watching us, and there’s no one around to help, when we do plunge, fall, and feel completely lost, if we truly believe we might have a chance of being saved, God will answer the prayers of his faithful. That is his job, my father said. It is possible to witness miracles. And I didn’t know where I believed that, in my heart or my head, or even if I believed it. I just didn’t know.
“I thought she was your friend,” I said to Dave.
We were toe-to-toe. I didn’t know where my hand was until I felt it on my chest. It was pressed against a crucifix. It was sharp. It was digging into my palm the more I grasped it. I couldn’t even recall moving my hand to it. I couldn’t recall wearing the beads tonight.
“We have to go,” said Dave. “Someone will call the cops any minute.”
“Can’t leave without her!” I shouted back.
For the first time I could actually hear myself over the music.
“You saw her!” Dave shouted back. “Bitch was bleeding from her fucking nose, and if we’re there too, we’re fucked, and I’m not riskin’ that shit!”
I was coming down. I was getting coherent. Samantha’s blood was on me; I could smell it. It probably was pointless. She was likely convulsing.
They’d say she was another junkie bitch and that’s that.
My mother once gave me a guardian angel pendant to hang in my car. She said it would keep me safe. I had two accidents in ten years. I would hardly call it protection, but then maybe it might’ve been four if I didn’t have an angel dangling from my rearview mirror. Sometimes she’d go a little crazy. She’d say God’s given me so much, and yet, here I am, making so many bad decisions. She and my father prayed for me. The entire time I asked what on earth could they possibly be praying for; they always said you. I would pray sometimes too, not as much, usually when I wanted something. Now, I think I might’ve said six in my head, whatever ones I could remember as I yanked Dave’s hand.
Some force, not love exactly, but something else I couldn’t quite explain, was telling me: go back. The euphoric drugs usually left me with little that I could control. And I never thought of an angel or something from above attempting to influence my decisions.
Back when Sam and I first started dating, we would go the bathroom and make out sloppily, grinding up against each other, and saying dirty words to get the mood right. She would run the shower, push me in, and we’d have quick, hard sex.
“Listen,” I said to her, being clichéd, “I think we should take it slow.”
“Slow,” she said, pulling her face away. “Why?”
I was intimidated by sex. Samantha kept pushing me to be more relaxed. And back then I just did whatever she told me to do. We would do it in the bathtub, have sex without a condom, and whenever I said ‘no’ she’d mimic me in a flinty voice to incite shame, embarrassment. She wanted to get into my head so I could see the world in a way I hadn’t before. I never fought her. I wasn’t much of a fighter. But I couldn’t imagine someone who would tolerate her for as long as I had. When I was standing with Dave, I couldn’t help but think. . .would she do the same for me?
If I were lying face down on the table, bleeding from my nose while a violent stream of ugly narcotics pumped through my system, would she go after me? Would she turn back and try to help knowing that there was nothing that could be done to save me?
We lived in a basement apartment for the first two months. Sometimes, when I was really getting nightmares, I’d play with the beads of a rosary next to the bed, twiddling my thumbs until I fell asleep. It was nice, rubbing those wooden balls under my fingertips, and basking in the sensation right before I drifted away. I was the restless one. I once sat in the bed with a rosary and a glass of water. Samantha was fast asleep next to me; both of us tranquil after sex. Lazily she rolled into me and the water spilled.
Samantha rolled over, her back all wet. Soon as she took her shirt off, I saw something, a growth or something. I reached out and touched it.
“Mmm,” she moaned. “Don’t do that. It hurts.”
This would have been a good time for me to stop and leave her be. I was surprised she didn’t see what I saw, that she would rather ignore the pain than know what it was. It was like my mother told me throughout childhood: “You see something wrong and look the other way you’re just as much to blame.”
I reached out and touched it again. This time she flinched.
“Why do you keep touching me? I said that it hurts.”
I had a good reason. Even when I just lightly grazed it, she quivered. I looked again at the marking, now it wasn’t so much a marking as it was something that was imbedded deep in her flesh, like shrapnel.
“I think you need to go and see a doctor.”
I had a feeling, a small sensation that nestled its way into my thoughts; all I could do when it happened was to just reach out, and touch what was there.
The next morning the doctor told us that it was an infection and he assured us that it wasn’t something “serious,” but that he was glad we brought it to his attention. When we got home, Samantha jumped my bones as a way of thanking me. Whenever I did something for her, all she did to repay me was have sex. And it was so good I never spoke up.
“Aren’t you going to do something?” she said this time.
She was on top, always on top.
“What do you mean?”
“You never do much while we’re doing this,” said Samantha. “Come on. Do more.”
I had just prevented her from getting a violent infection. More?
“No,” I said, “it’s just. . .”
“What?” she said, looking me over with a glare. “You don’t want to?”
Samantha watched me intensely, mulling me over as she sat on top. I suppose I was good at sex, intimidated, but good enough; good at the physical part and good at the connection part that came from being with someone, that feeling afterward of being adjoined. Maybe that’s why I always just laid back; I liked the feeling, the moment, letting nature take its course. Way of the Lord, and so on. In the church they say sex is a sacred bond for husband and wife. Once it’s given, it cannot be taken back.
I did what I thought she wanted; I became something different—I threw her on her back and gave her the wild fuck she was after, the one that started all this.
I don’t know what to believe. Samantha changed everything. She was the other side of life I never had access to. The place you want to get to but don’t know how you ever could.
As soon as we were done and calming down from the sex, she opened up a fresh bag of coke and sprinkled it down on the nightstand, letting it scatter about as she grabbed her VISA from her wallet, and parted the heap into four thin lines.
“Have you ever done this before?”
Then, I never had. I used to date a girl named Tanya who loved weed. Funny thing was my sister loved it as well. And in our very Catholic family my father loved his liquor; it was my mother who, thanks to constant praying, she said, got him to throw it in the trash.
“Yes?” Samantha said.
In the end, what did I really have to lose?
One line was all it took, one quick bump, and I was out like a burnt candle. I disappeared into a land of dreams. I walked through an open field, with a white horizon, and no matter what flowed through my body, blood, air, the Holy fucking Spirit, it was all so scintillating and felt absolutely right. My mother spoke of the Holy Spirit as a power that could suddenly infiltrate your entire body and grant you the ability to fly. The drug took me out of my body and set me completely free. When I woke, I was right where I wanted to be, back in our room, lying next to her, my hand resting on her shoulder as a way of letting her know I was there. She said nothing when she awakened the next day, nothing except to ask if I wanted coffee. And we did more coke. Some nights, it was all we did. She told me to snort some lines while having a drink. I did. We roamed at night until we were given what we needed to keep going.
I didn’t find any coke, I said one time. I found nothing but this.
What did you find?
Oh God, I hope you find it too, I said. I was wasted.
As I walked down the street, I made sure to always follow her like some kind of half-witted junkie, which is what I was now. I hated to think this way. I couldn’t deny it, though, and Samantha said it was better I didn’t. Embracing our bad ways, acknowledging our own weaknesses, it helps us whenever we have to remember the best parts of ourselves, even if there aren’t many to remember.
Samantha pulled out her phone and dialed, talking to a man on the other line I’d never heard about.
God protects those who have the courage to protect themselves, my mother assured me. Those that do wicked only suffer wickedly. And there are never any consequences besides those we make for ourselves. Some call that religion.
Samantha never talked like this; to her the world wasn’t suffering, it was joy. Yet all we ever did was roam along and try to pick up the pieces, locked together in this life of not having to make choices. Some call that freedom.
Dave shoved his way down the tunnel, leaving me.
A threesome of drunk girls rubbed against me on their way by, and somehow it felt like Samantha. Right now, was the good and the bad, the love and the guilt, all rolling into one. I dabbed my finger against my nose; I felt blood.
It happens. Not every snort of the white powder is painless and easy. I’ve drank blood before. Seeing it never bothered me.
New people were shoving their way down the tunnel; the cops were in the club, they were saying; everyone trying to run but the place was flooded. If what we do requires no shame, then why do we always insist on running away? When my mother was in church, she spoke of shame and confession, sharing and giving, and how there’s always a way out.
A person can redeem themselves with a single act. Never too late.
I always imagined that, if I had a classic rock bottom moment, it would present itself in a way that was undeniable and so unavoidable that, if I turned away from it, it was the chief sign that I was lying to myself, always lying.
The blood from my nose moistened my lips. I could taste it. My blood, not sacred blood. We drink Christ’s blood not just to feel his presence, but to be reminded of what he did for us, the redemption, and the promise, and the truth about who we really are.
Everyone pushing through the tunnel brought me right to the exit, to the way out and I could feel the cold air coming in from the street.
The difference between me and Samantha was what we chose to believe. I saw the world as created, with a beginning and an end. One day we would be judged, everything we did would be recorded and weighed. We are given gifts for the good and, someday, we will have to answer for the bad. My mother referred to this as “payment” as in we all have to “pay the piper.” Samantha sometimes liked the way I saw the world. “With all your crosses and your thoughts about redemption, you get me thinking,” she’d say. Her faith was always hiding in the background, lurking, lying dormant—it wasn’t the old faith but something new.
Once, Samantha and I were walking to the drug store to get medicine and not, you know, drugs.
“Here,” said Samantha, in front of the pharmacy. “Want to come in with me?”
There was a church across the street. It was small. With a statue of Jesus outside. He stood with his arms open, spread cruciformly, and he stared at me with stone eyes. I knew what Samantha was going to say when she saw me walk over. She’d make a joke, maybe it would be a light-hearted one about how you can take the boy out of the church but not the church out of the boy. I hadn’t been inside a church in so long and for some reason just wanted to see it.
“Go then, preacher,” she said to me as I walked across the street.
I wasn’t a preacher. Maybe not even a Catholic anymore. But I did believe in the soul and in the randomness, and in something beyond what’s known and seen. That’s where we were, Samantha and I. Bringing each other towards ourselves. And that night she followed me; she hustled across the street and we stood on the steps together, looking up.
“Sometimes you won’t know what is to become of you until you’re tested.”
Often the answers we want are presented only when we choose to stop blinding ourselves and know the truth.
Really know the truth.
I raced up the stairs. The police were everywhere and were throwing bodies aside, making whatever arrests they could. All the drug-takers were attempting a mass exodus. I found Samantha, lifeless on the floor and her face in a mess of her blood. I slipped my hand into hers and held as tight as I could.
“Help! Somebody help!”
I kept shouting. I held her limp, cold hand and prayed for someone to come and help. Someone will come. Then suddenly she squeezed my hand. Someone turned on the lights. People panicked and ran. The cops saw us and approached. I knew we would make it, and that we could start over from here.
Jarrett Mazza is a graduate of Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program in Plainfield, Vermont as well as The Humber School For Writers. Before completing his terminal degree, Jarrett studied writing at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and completed the Novel Writing class at Sheridan College under award-winning writer, Melodie Campbell. He has also taught in a Writer’s Craft classroom at his former high school, and at Mohawk College in the Continuing Education department, has had stories published online in the GNU Journal, Bewildering Stories, Trembling With Fear, Aphelion, Silver Empire Publishing, The Scarlet Leaf Review, and Toronto Prose Mill, Zimbell House Publishing. He will also be featured in forthcoming anthologies entitled Mother’s Ghost Grim and The Killer Collection Anthology, both published by NBH Publishers, as well as another by MuseWrite, an anthology that features work by underrepresented voices and another by Dragon Soul Press, both set to be released in 2020. He was also an Honorable Mention for the Freda Walton Award for Fiction by the Short Works Prize at the Hamilton Public Library.
He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.