by Fiona Helmsley
We were each other’s first drug-addled relationship. He was tortured, I was callous. His pet name for me, when we could laugh about it, was Fiunkie. We came together at a pivotal time in both our lives.
After high school, his mom wanted him to move out of the trailer she had raised him in. She said space was getting tight, and it was time he flew the coop. The trailer had sloping floors, and holes you could fall through if you didn’t know where to step. It reminded me of a trunk with little compartments that I had played with as a young girl in my grandmother’s attic. It seemed to me that this boy had grown up in a trunk. Early in our relationship, I gave him crabs after having sex with a boy in a coffee shop bathroom and convinced him that he had given them to me from something he picked up inside the trailer.
My mother loved him. She thought he’d be a good influence on me, and agreed to let him move in. Later, she would tell me she never knew he was my boyfriend, and always believed we were just good friends.
She had reason to think he was not my boyfriend.
The world was a very different place from the world I’d known just the year before. In this new world, every boy I wanted to fuck wanted to fuck me. I could not resist these sparkling riches. I had never been the girl who inspired strong physical desire; I had always been her funny friend.
Our relationship quickly devolved into psychodrama.
Which is not to say we did not have our moments of bliss, of borderline, relative normalcy. We travelled across the country, broadcast a public access show, formed a few one off, one- night punk rock bands. Two movies I wrote and he directed were on video compilations by Miranda July. We made ‘zines and were prolific creative partners. But something hungered inside of me that could only be fed by boys and by drugs.
He didn’t do heroin, and I believe, initially, this aspect of my lifestyle intrigued him. It filled in some blanks. His father had been a heroin addict who had died from drug-related illness when he was fifteen. He had never known his father, and his father’s parents hid from him when they saw him in the supermarket. All he had of his dad’s, besides what he saw when he looked in the mirror, was a small box-style television set that his mother went out of her way to tell him had come from a pawn shop. This small gift lent itself naturally to the creative passion of his life. He was obsessed with film and used the small television set to edit his low-budget movies from 8mm to VHS. He had never lived with his father nor experienced the intricacies of his addiction first-hand, but his father’s absence could only permeate every aspect of his life.
By not being there, you are. Sometimes even more so.
Your first druggy relationship is a rite of passage. A learning experience with a curve. After that one, the next one, if there is a next one, will be a decision. You will know just what you are getting into.
At first, it was about catching me in lies. If he could just get me to admit to them, get me to acknowledge that I was found out, then I would have to stop. The shame of being caught could only stop me dead in my tracks. When I wouldn’t give up anything, he started following me. I could no longer deny, deny, deny when he had seen with his own eyes. One luminous spring afternoon, I was riding shotgun in a friend’s car on our way to go cop heroin in East Haven, when I looked over to the next lane of traffic and saw him in the car next to ours, waving. He had followed us for over thirty minutes just for that moment. When trailing me made no difference, he began confronting my friends, an incredibly awkward endeavor, as many of my friends were also his own, and they respected him, as this crazy, backwoods genius, the only one of us still doing anything worthwhile as we all dissolved into liars and thieves. But in addiction, none of that matters. Respect just gets in the way. It’s much easier to reach your goals if you can push it aside. So they lied to his face, and he knew that they were lying, and he became bitter, and isolated. In desperation, he went to my family, but they were distracted and living their lives. My mother had just gotten remarried and deserved to have her first real happiness in years free of the black cloud of my issues. Wasn’t that the real reason she had allowed him to move in anyway, that he would help to protect me from myself? Finally, he would leave. But he really had nowhere else to go, and wherever that was, he took his love for me with him, and always came back. I would measure the seriousness of his threat to go by what he had done with his bags. Had he actually packed them? Was he taking them out to the car? If so, had he taken out his guitar yet, because I knew he’d been stashing twenty-dollar bills behind its broken bridge plate…
One afternoon, I came home from work to change my clothes. My friend Phil would be arriving any minute to pick me up so we could go and cop.
Unexpectedly, he came home.
“Where are you going?” he asked, knowing full well.
“Out for a little while,” I answered, trying to keep it light.
Suddenly, something occurred to him and he ran back to our bedroom. I could hear him moving things around on the other side of the door. He sprang back down the hallway, holding his guitar by its neck, the broken bridge plate hanging loose by its two remaining screws.
“You bitch. Give me back the money that you took.”
He lunged for my bag on the table, but I grabbed it first, grasping it tightly to my chest. He clung to its dangling shoulder strap as a means to yank it from my hands. In the commotion, he caught his leg on the side of a chair and fell to the floor, taking me and the bag down with him.
We had never fought like this before, rolling around, me trying desperately to protect what was his. I just needed to get away from him, to free myself and the bag with his money still inside. Over the acoustics of our scuffle, I could make out the sound of a car coming up the driveway. I was so close, if I could just free myself from the weight of his body holding me there on the floor.
I was able to wiggle free for a moment, but he grabbed me by my legs and pulled me back. We rolled into the living room, close to a hutch my mother had decorated with a silver serving tray and two pewter candlesticks. I heard a car door open in the driveway and reached up, grabbed one of the candlesticks and whacked him in the face.
The world stopped and I closed my eyes. I moved my hand across the floor and felt the bag there, free. I would open my eyes again once I got outside.
Then I heard his voice.
“You fucking bitch!”
And I opened them, to be prepared for whatever happened next.
Blood poured from above his lip. It covered his teeth like a coating of cherry dip on a Dairy Queen sundae.
Outside the house, someone was knocking on the door.
He looked at me, the hurt, the anger, the betrayal so fierce and alive in his bloodied face, and spit his blood all over me.
Then he got up from the floor and went into the bathroom.
Unbelievably, it was not Phil at the door but our friend Travis. Travis probably wanted to cop too, but we hadn’t made any plans.
“What the fuck happened?” Travis asked incredulously, surveying the room: the upended furniture, the blood on the floor, on my face and shirt. The strap from my bag lay loose on the carpet, ripped free from its stitching.
Before I could answer, I again heard the sounds of a car coming up the driveway, this time followed by the familiar honk of a horn.
“Travis,” I said, “You’ll do this for me, won’t you? You’ll take him to the hospital?”
I did not wait for his response. I went to throw my bag over my shoulder, but it no longer had a strap. So I tucked it under my arm, and went out the door.