That was the rehab’s fancy, wordy term for remembering the good times of using drugs without remembering the negative consequences. The term used for eliciting a feeling of exhilaration around the good old days before shit went irretrievably south.
I was guilty of constant euphoric recall. We would talk about the excitement of using in small groups in the rehab, swapping stories of drug-fuelled mischief and alcohol-induced mayhem. I would often lie in bed at night or sit stretched out on the wooden bench on the balcony, chain-smoking, and remember specific times when my using was not problematic, when it was purely recreational, when it was a shitload of fun.
I lit another cigarette and thought of my former best friend Diana, of the Grahamstown Festival, of pizza from heaven….
Palm outstretched, I reached over to accept the tiny black microdot. I looked around to see if anyone was observing the exchange but the motley collection of festival revelers gathered around the rooftop fire pit could not have seemed less interested in what I was doing.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure.”
“We’re leaving tomorrow.”
“That’s tomorrow. We have plenty of time,”
I glanced down at my non-existent watch and worked out the imaginary hours we had. It seemed vaguely sufficient. We locked eyes – eyes that were gleaming with shared recklessness, excitement and fear of the utter unknown – and then downed the miniscule tablet with a swig of my cider.
The time that passed waiting to determine whether the drug actually worked was interminable. It took exactly one and half vodka, lime and sodas before it became difficult for me to swallow my own saliva and for a warm, snaking pressure to make itself known up and down each of my vertebrae.
It had begun.
Diana, who had now swept her ruby-red hair up into a loose bun at the nape of her neck, which accentuated her piercing, cat-like green eyes, and I looked at each other simultaneously and both grinned broadly. She reached for my slightly trembling hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. I returned it in equal pressure then let go though I didn’t want to. I looked around. My vision had become definitively warped and brighter around the edges and everything appeared to have developed a silver-white aura. Noises were beginning to distort and alter, and sounded both near and faraway at the same time. I felt my heart beating in my throat, which was so dry. I took a sip from my drink but even getting the glass to my lips was an unreal ordeal. I took a sip but found it almost impossible to swallow the liquid.
Oh my dear God, my body was not functioning anymore!
I looked down at my hand. It looked abnormally large and I could clearly see every pore and line. I stretched out my fingers slowly then balled them up to make a fist.
Okay, oooooookay. I hadn’t gone lame. I would try this again.
I brought the glass to my lips, took another sip, swirled the cold liquid around in my mouth and willed myself to swallow it. I did. Thank God. I was fine. Utterly fucked out of my bracket but otherwise fine.
The repetitive bassy beat of the music travelled up the cement stairs and enveloped my spine. I hadn’t heard the song before but the vocal on the track that was playing… the lyrics sounded so very familiar.
Holy fuckballs! Was my name in the song?
“Diana!” I turned and tapped her on the shoulder, “Can you hear this song? Is it saying my name?”
She was engaged in a deep conversation with a tall, young mustachioed man who wore a multicoloured poncho and no shoes. She looked at me as though I were mad then the look changed to one of compassion, for the mad.
“Oh my darling, you’re tripping your tits off. I really don’t think so.”
I tried to separate the discordance of sounds in my mind but it sounded as though a titanium ocean filled with copper cymbals was crashing against metal trash cans in my brain.
Della, come on down. Della, come on down…
Goddammnit! The song was actually calling me by my name. My entire, now pulsating body felt drawn to the dance floor. My very cells felt compelled to go downstairs and sort this shit out with this impertinent, brazen DJ who was bandying my name about so recklessly.
I pushed myself up of the cement seat and, although unsteady on my feet at first, I eventually mastered the art of walking like a quasi-normal person. I focused my energy on looking like I was not intoxicated to the gills, smoothing down my clothes and fluffing out my curls. I felt tightness in my face and realised I was sucking in my cheeks and moving my lips like a fish. I put a stop to that. The room wasn’t so much spinning as it was tilting at a 30 degree angle, making all of my attempts at maintaining a semblance of normalcy that much more difficult. I wondered how people and objects weren’t sliding right off the rooftop but decided not to get caught up in that quandary and deployed my skills on finding and confronting the DJ.
Maybe I should have brought Jacqui with me? I looked around for a tie-dye top and woolen orange beanie but couldn’t discern any colours, or shapes for that matter, from any others. Jax was exceptional at conflict. Just that afternoon she had nearly gotten into a fight with that Afrikaans man at the matinée screening of A Clockwork Orange because he was hocking his throaty, phlegmy cough all the way through the film. But I hadn’t seen her since we dropped the acid. I quietly hoped I’d see Jax again. Like, ever.
I took the stairs to the level below and at the base merged immediately into the smoky, heaving dance floor. I rubbed my eyes and my ears popped. The same song pumped insistently through the speakers. It had been playing for ages. It must have been the longest house track ever made. Now, closer to the source, I was beyond convinced; the vocals had been inviting me to be exactly where I was at that very moment.
I peered through the pink-grey smoke, searching for the DJ booth and it suddenly appeared next to me, on my right. I hung my fingertips on the edge of the black, wooden cubicle and stood on my tiptoes to catch a glimpse of the offending purveyor of music.
Oh my sweet fuck! It was Gary Finlay!
I knew him. He was one of my boyfriend’s closest friends. I could ask him. I had to know. I moved closer to the side entrance of the booth to catch his attention and waved. He glanced up, in between mixing, smiled and waved back in recognition. I motioned to him that I wanted to come behind the decks and he waved me up. We hugged and he kissed me on the cheek, which burnt hot on my skin. I waited until the song was done and he had mixed in another track before tackling the issue at hand.
I cleared my throat, wondering if I had the ability to speak English.
“Gary, that song…”
“What song, darlin’?” His thick Irish accent reverberated right through me. I felt instantly aroused.
“The one before. Did it have my name in it? Did it says, ‘Della, come on down’?”
He laughed. He put his lips to my ear so he could be heard over the noise.
“Ah, darling, if you heard your name, then you heard your name.”
“Don’t fuck with me, Finlay. It’s driving me mad!”
“You’re here aren’t you? The song got you here.”
He replaced his headphones over his ears and gave me a squeeze on the shoulder that I felt in my ankles.
I stepped down from the booth and took my place in front of it, dancing, being in turns ripped apart by the bass and treble and beat and vocals of a series of mystical and mind-numbing tracks. I smiled. It was good. So, so, so fucking good.
I would have danced forever had I not felt an almost violent pull at my arm. It was Diana, concern and maternal disapproval in her eyes. Jax stood slightly behind her, grimacing at me, like a sibling silently warning another that they were about to get into deep shit.
“Where the fuck have you been?”
“I’ve been dancing. I just got here.”
“Fuck’s sake. You just disappeared. You’ve been gone for ages. We’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“Yes, ages. We’re leaving. Here’s your bag. Let’s go”
As we exited the door of the club, we were hit by a blast of fresh, cold air. I saw the horizon crack open and streaks of silver-yellow sunlight escape from the skyline.
We had horribly mistimed this particular escapade. It was already dawn and we had only just begun.
“I couldn’t possibly eat right now.”
I unzipped my sling bag and removed my lip gloss from the inside pocket, took the cap off the gloss, was immediately horrified by the colour and texture and returned the offending make up to my bag. I licked my lips. They tasted like cold metal and felt like warm rubber.
“Can you see that?” asked Diana. “Over there…. I think it’s a Debonairs.”
I shuffled my bum over to the space between the driver and passenger’s seats and squinted at the distance.
Jax took a swig from her bottle of vodka-laced water. I was suddenly thirsty but everything I drank tasted like liquid plastic.
“I’m on hold.”
I could hear the tinny tinkly hold music that felt like teeny little forks stabbing at my cerebral cortex.
“Yes, directory enquiries? I’m looking for the number of the Debonairs Pizza place that you can see from the Botanical Gardens…” She got irritated with whoever was on the other end. “I don’t know where? Oh, the town! Grahamstown. Yes, pizza…”
I lay back down across the back seat and sighed and swallowed hard. My flesh felt like it was living independently from my bones. The edges of my teeth felt sharp on my tongue that I had chewed multiple little holes in. And everything was just so fucking bright.
It was 9.58am.
We were parked in the northern parking lot of the Grahamstown Botanical Gardens, under the shade of some nondescript, but incredibly noisy, trees.
Swish, Swish, Crash, Swish….
They were going to come falling down on the care at any moment, I was convinced.
This had been such a ridiculous judgment call. We were supposed to be on our way back to Cape Town now but that was obviously not the case.
Diana and Jax were sitting up front organizing to have a pizza delivered to the car at ten in the morning and I was lying in the back wondering about the evolutionary necessity of facial hair, especially on women.
I stretched and reached to turn the window winder. I needed some air.
“Are we really getting pizza?” I asked, struggling with the window winder.
“Yes, of course,” came Jax’s decisive response. “I’m starving.”
“I can’t eat when I’m tripping.”
“You’ll want to when it gets here,” said Diana assertively.
“As long as there’s no fruit on the pizza,” I insisted.
“It’s ham and pineapple.”
“Fuck, nooooo,” I groaned
“We asked you what you wanted,” said Diana, “but you were… er… busy.”
“W-w-warm fruit on pizza?” I stuttered, with very real disgust. I was having difficulty speaking and breathing. “I’m g-going to go g-get some fresh air.” I sat up, unlocked the back door and swung it open with difficulty.
“Don’t go far,” warned Jax.
“And don’t talk to strangers,” added Diana.
I wandered away from the car, still hearing their melodic and harmonious dialogue. It was still so fucking bright and I cursed the loss of my sunglasses somewhere along the journey. My vision was practically microscopic and everything was hyper-real. I was still struggling to catch my breath and I could have sworn I could feel the oxygen molecules glide down my nose and throat as I inhaled. There was no one else to be seen in the gardens so I felt fairly safe that I wouldn’t actually be required to converse with at any point in the near future. English of the speaking not so good.
I found a path leading off the parking lot, not too far from the car, and as I was about to step onto it, the noise started. I heard it before I saw it: a loud chop, chop, choppy sound of what could only be large blades slicing through the air accompanied by the whirring noise of a massive engine. Then it was just there, descending slowly from the heavens, landing in the clearing next to the parking lot, a shiny red and white helicopter, propellers spinning, engine whizzing furiously. I stood rooted to the spot, completely overwhelmed by what I was seeing and questioning whether it was a hallucination or not.
Jax and Diana were suddenly by my side, one with hands on hips, the other bent over at the waist, both laughing maniacally.
“Pizza’s here!” they shouted in unison.
My cigarette had burnt itself down to the end of the filter and seared my fingers and I dropped it to the floor.
Yes, the helicopter had been very real – a fire rescue chopper coming to refill at the nearby dam – but no, it had not delivered the pizza. A very confused delivery guy really did that a few minutes later, right to the car. And we had eaten it on the bonnet of the car, with those trees crashing ominously above us, me picking off the pineapple pieces and throwing them into the nearby bushes.
Best. Pizza. Ever.
I laughed out loud to myself then became morosely quiet.
I missed my best friend; I had utterly destroyed that relationship through my heroin addiction.
I missed those times. Harmless fun. I wanted them back so badly.
But those days, by all accounts, were gone for good.