Lenora was the first girl I dated after a puzzling two-month struggle with heroin. I wasn’t clean. I still did everything else, but I had managed to regain my balance on the precipice of functionality. Lenora. Her nickname was Brownie. She existed on the periphery of the Design District Toilet Circuit some called a club scene and I persisted closer to its center. A piece of shit in a slightly bigger bowl, who refused to flush despite the best attempts of my environment.
“I heard Brownie is into you, man.” Gio said as he held his nose with his thumb and forefinger, tossing his head back and choking down the cocaine his body was so vehemently attempting to reject. He made an involuntary chortling noise as phlegm impacted with a closing larynx and defiant septum deviation. Sinuses could only take so much. This was Day 3 or 5 of a somewhat extended bender and we were adept at ignoring the red flags our bodies raised that tried to tell us when to stop.
“Alma said something about that. Do you know her? I leaned over and did my line. I always made a concerted effort to switch nostrils and clean them regularly, which tended to afford me a day or two longer than Gio, who exhibited a more cavalier approach to insufflating drugs, and to which his maxillary cavities could attest. I didn’t know who she was. I had never met her before. “Is she hot?” I asked.
“She’s smokin’, dude. Unbelievable,” he told me.
“Oh my God.” Gio licked his finger and ran it across the toilet lid where our drugs had been, then rubbed the residue on his gums. We were in the bathroom of one of the most heavily trafficked nightclubs in Miami and I still believed, somehow, in a difference between putting narcotics up your nose in a public toilet and actually licking the fucking thing. It was probably a symbolic distinction but sometimes that was all we had. Someone started knocking on the bathroom door.
“Fuck off!” I yelled, pounding back on the door. Gio took his phone out of his pocket as I racked out the next two lines, this time from my bag.
“Oh shit,” he said.
“What?” I asked, wiping white dust from the edge of my maxed-out Discover Card and sliding it back in my wallet.
“That was Mara.”
“Trying to get in the bathroom.”
I opened the door. There was Mara. All five feet of her. Tiny but voluptuous, sexy and insane. Black hair down to her waist, wearing slightly inappropriate runway couture as always, she wedged her way in. Some asshole waiting in the line for the bathroom started giving me shit.
“Come on, man! I’ve gotta take a fucking piss!” he screamed over the throbbing club behind him. Ryan Evans was spinning. He was playing Cut Copy. The guy in line was visibly irritated. He didn’t look like he belonged, probably some beach trash Washington Avenue had puked back up and deposited at our feet. Club-hopping suburbanite pseudo-hipsters.
“Choke on a bag of shit,” I said and closed the door.
“I knew it!” she squealed, pointing at the back of the toilet seat.
Gio handed her a rolled up twenty as she slid by, kissing me on the cheek.
“Hey, babes,” she said. I felt pressure in my ears. I’m sure I blushed, but the blow would take care of that if the dress didn’t. Cardiovascular beats in perfect syncopation with the ley lines of the nightclub. One ran from the bar. The other came from the behind the ropes at the back. They intersected in the worst bathroom in Miami, seemingly right beneath Gio, who was bobbing his head back and forth frantically, completely out-of-step with both.
I had nursed a crush on Mara through a marriage and countless failed relationships, being woefully relegated to the status of friend. We both ended up single at the same time in 2003 and began partying together almost every night. When the inevitable conversation about us came up, Mara told me her position. We were sitting Indian-style on her bed, smoking pot, and listening to the London Suede.
“It’s not that I’m not attracted to you,”
“OK, then what is it?” I asked.
“It’s that I like you.” She passed me back the joint.
“What does that even mean?”
“Tony, what do we do?”
“Uhh, I play in a shit indie band and you... take pictures of bulimic whores?” I leaned back on the bed. My ribs poked through my t-shirt. I was proud of them.
“No, what do we do?”
I was stumped. I wasn’t really into reflection. There usually wasn’t a lot of good that came out of it. I was not particularly deep, nor did I really give a shit. She continued.
“We take drugs. We drink. We dance. We borrow money from our parents. We do the bare minimum to get by. We fuck people without loving them because we don’t believe in intimacy. We glorify hedonism in every way imaginable. We judge people on the clothes they wear. We are disordered, over-privileged white trash.”
“I’m not white trash. I’m a nice Jewish boy. My father is an attorney. I drive a Mercedes. Your parents are fucking loaded. I don’t even know what your father does. I always assumed he was sitting on Nazi gold or involved in drug trafficking. Your mother has had six facelifts and she buys art.”
“You’re making my point for me.” she rolled the end of the joint across the ridge of the ashtray. The ashes fell in chunks. Her black bra fell down her shoulder. “I don’t want to be with someone I care about, flat out, and you aren’t in any shape to do that either. We’d destroy each other. Let’s just do what we do and do it together, because we’re good at that, and we know that we can take care of each other without thinking too hard about it. Besides, it’s kind of romantic to let this thing between us smolder for a while.”
It made sense at the time.
She wanted to be friends. Even more preposterous was the fact that I went for it. We became close friends. Best friends. She was as big of a party slut as I was. We caned it three to four times a week. Had it large. All the way. It went against everything I believed in about the male-female dynamic. Men and women didn’t make good friends. There was always some underlying sexual aspect. Our friendship was no different. I totally wanted to fuck her.
In the bathroom, Mara did her line, then Gio’s, then mine. She left, this time without kissing anyone. Gio shrugged. He did it again when we saw her making out with Matt Cash in the DJ booth later on.
I made a date with Lenora the next week.
The night I was supposed to take her out I felt sluggish from a smacky roll I had split and snorted with Mara the night before. It didn’t even get us high. It just made us mope around the art gallery beneath her apartment for a few hours and pass out in her bed, listening to My Bloody Valentine. I decided to get an eight ball for date night so I would be firing on all cylinders.
Consumption of drugs in secret is a bizarre, paranoia-inducing thing, but that is just the nature of cocaine. There is never enough for everyone, and usually not enough for anyone. Lenora was only nineteen. From what I read on her blog the week prior, she was a recent import from the dwindling Miami hardcore scene, where drugs were strictly taboo. I knew she drank, because she talked about it on Live Journal, but I had no doubts that 3.5 grams of Bolivian Marching Powder was off the menu entirely. For her, anyway. She was eight years younger than me, though, and I was already perceiving a difference in raw energy levels between myself and younger friends of mine in the party scene. Young men bouncing off each other, spilling drinks, and being primal. I would often make them turn out their pockets only to find out they were flying on nothing besides Red Bull and Nootropics. It made me gray and self-conscious, so I did what I could to keep up.
Lenora was tattooed extensively and extremely beautiful. Her body was lean, but feminine and perfect. Her face, sublime and damning, doll-like and black bobbed, milk-skin and cheekbones that defied genetics. Pillow-lips and a pout that could be playful or porno. She was unbelievable. Art. It was like DaVinci had paused all work unraveling the secrets of the universe to paint her schematics for God, who had saved her for five hundred years just to give boys in bands something to write songs about. I felt compelled to lie about my age the first time I took her out. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this would set a precedent and I more than followed through on this theme. Not about everything, though. Just the important shit.
We sat close to each other at dinner. She didn’t speak much, but she smiled a lot. Hoping she wouldn’t catch on, I tried to pace my visits to the toilet to do coke. While I preferred frequency and steady but conservative consumption of cocaine in order to establish a plateau of euphoria, I had to resort to fast and commodious ingestion since this wasn’t going to be possible tonight without arousing suspicion. It was also crucial to watch out for visible cocaine residue accumulating in the pits of my nostrils, something that was not only nauseating to look at, but a dead giveaway. I wasn’t sure how I was doing until she stuck her nose in my neck during dessert and told me to kiss her. I complied.
“So, did you fuck Brownie yet?” Mara asked. We were in my bed, lying head to head, and passing a joint between us.
It was the question du jour. Gio had interrogated me earlier, as well. I had been dating Lenora for weeks and in our circle that was tantamount to True Love, so it was a fair enough question. The truth was I had not fucked her. I hadn’t even touched her bare skin apart from her face. I did not know what her breasts felt like, nor her ass. Lenora had seemed genuinely enthusiastic, at first, but I began to sense something about us coming apart. At first, I attributed it to Lenora tuning into my chemical proclivities so I stopped doing drugs at the dinner table, but that did not seem to satisfy her and I couldn’t understand why.
“No,” I told Mara.
“I wonder if she has brown nipples,” she said, exhaling. She rolled over and looked at me, with the joint in her hand. “Gimme a shotgun?”
Taking a long, deliberate pull off the slow-burning skunk, I filled my lungs with it and put my mouth on Mara’s mouth, exhaling. This was something we did. This time Mara grabbed the back of my head and pulled me into her. Our tongues were locked inside each other’s mouths before I realized what was actually happening. Everything I had always wanted, but I pulled back first.
“Wait. What is this?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered, sitting up in bed and wiping the side of her mouth with the back of her hand. “I didn’t think you’d have a problem with it.”
“Well, I don’t. I mean. I’m in love with you, I think. I know I have been. But I’m dating this chick now. I don’t want to fuck that up if you’re just playing around. I thought we agreed this wasn’t a good idea anyway.”
“It’s probably not.”
“So what is this?” I asked her again.
“It’s whatever. It’s what we want to do right now, right? Do we have to analyze it?”
“I’d love to say no, Mara, but I think this time we do need to analyze it. There are other things at play here.”
“What? Brownie? You’ve been cheating on her the entire time you two have been together. Only now there’s another body in the mix.”
I reared. Her words were sharp and unfamiliar to me. The cadence of her voice was pitched and cloying. I responded in kind.
“No, I haven’t. I’ve never cheated on anybody in my life.” I thought this was mostly accurate.
“Ha-haaaa, now that’s not true. You cheated on your wife with your band. You cheated on your parents with heroin. You cheated on Lenora with me... I don’t see the point of pretense, Tony. There’re worse things in the world than doing what you want to do. Do you even know what you want to do?”
I stood up and lit a cigarette, leaning against my dresser. I stared at Mara. I wasn’t sure what to say or what she was going to say next. There was a knot in my stomach and the weed mixed with the adrenaline made my lungs feel weak and without purpose or ability.
“If you want to fuck me, you can fuck me. How simple is that? If you want to fuck Lenora, you can fuck Lenora. You can marry Lenora, probably, too. She’s stupid. But you better make your mind up fast, because she’s catching on. She told Alma that she thinks we’re having an affair.”
“And what did you tell Alma?”
“I don’t tell that bitch anything. I don’t like the way she looks. Lowborn. Like she’s from Paraguay.”
I told her I would give it some thought.
Lenora and I had tickets to see Kraftwerk on the Beach that Friday. I took her to Joe’s Stone Crabs, but she picked at her food. When I would attempt to make her laugh she would bulge her eyes out or push out a painful smile. It was making me nervous. I had a ton of coke on me, but nowhere to do it. The line to the john at Joe’s was worse than one at a nightclub. Gamely standing in it for about fifteen minutes, I pounded on the door but the occupants told me to fuck off. I returned to my seat and listened to the loud New Yorker behind me scream into his cell phone while his wife sat across from him in silence, chewing at a hot roll.
“That fucking scumbag doesn’t know what he wants,” he bellowed, his fat neck dilated well past his collar, extending onto the bib he wore to sop up fluids draining from the half-cooked shellfish he stuffed into his mouth by the tiny forkful. “He’s all talk, no shock!”
Lenora was still detached. She pounded notes into her phone via text. It made me jealous, but the man continued to scream.
“You tell that son-of-a-bitch to make a fucking decision or I’m walking.... That’s right. That’s right. Shit or get off the shitter. Fucking goyim farkakt!”
I sipped my scotch until the food came. It was Laphroaig and tasted like bad medicine. Poked around in my blazer for the blow, but I couldn’t find it.
“Looking for something?” Lenora asked.
“No, just making sure I didn’t leave my wallet in the car,” I said, letting my hand go slack and attempting to nonchalantly rest it on the table.
“Didn’t you pay the valet out of your wallet?”
“Yes, that’s right. Thanks.”
“You weren’t looking for, I don’t know, a big bag of coke, were you? About six grams, give or take?”
“Ah, yeah, about that.” I began.
“Don’t worry about it. I took care of it.”
“Oh, good. Well, just so you know, I hardly ever do that stuff. I realized it was in my jacket from the last time I wore it, which was months ago. Don’t get the wrong impression.” I finished my scotch and motioned to the maitre d’ for a refill.
“No, I don’t think I did. I know that stuff is expensive, though. Don’t wanna waste it.”
“Ah, so you have it?”
“No, you do.”
“You have it. You just finished drinking it,” she said, the beginnings of a smile curling the sides of her mouth.
I looked at my glass. There was visible residue at the bottom. Jesus. Six grams at once? No, it was seven grams... Seven! Two eight-balls... Even orally administered, that was a lot of shit at one time.
“What the fuck?”
“I’m tired of being lied to, Tony.”
“Lied to?” My jaw clenched as I vainly tried to swallow.
“About the drugs, about Mara, about whatever else you get up to after you drop me off at night. It makes me sick. I didn’t even mind that you were a cokehead. I knew that already. Your reputation, it precedes you.”
I felt the morbid concoction of single-single scotch and stone crab and the uncut Peruvian flake begin to dance around inside of me. I pictured a strung out shellfish perturbing the refined grace of the 30-year-old scotch. It seemed as though the Laphroaig preferred solitude. A black cloud was developing over my head and in my stomach there was more of the same. My heartbeat began to stutter which was incredibly predictable given the circumstances.
“You fucking p-poisoned me. What the fuck?!”
“Oh, I did at that!”
She pulled out a small bottle. I picked it up and read the label. Ipecac.
I opened my mouth as a cascade of what seemed like all the horror of the Kristallnacht distilled into a sludgy brown paste of apparently never-ending supply tucked away somewhere in a pocket dimension in my upper GI, issuing forth with furor and righteous indignation and at a velocity that can only be described as aggressive and supernatural. I imagined fishbones with crossed-out eyes, Turkish Delight, spare tires, steak and lobster, Cornish hens, wet dog food and every Thanksgiving meal I had ever eaten being recalled to just this moment for complete and final resolution. I would be sick forever. Nothing could stay. Nothing would every stay again. Just the swirl of the Laphroaig, my nemesis and the ultimate catalyst in tandem with fine, fine coca from South America, brought over from a port in Cuba by way of boats blessed by the Santeria, the galleons of Columbus himself, ghost ships on a final voyage of conquest and exploration that would only end when I did. I imagined below the decks of the Nina and the Pinta, passengers sick with dysentery, pneumonia, and e-coli, roiling in agony and pounding on the rotted wooden decks beneath them, begging for release but receiving none, suffering their fate as I suffered mine at the table where I now sat alone.