'You've got to stop.'
BY GWEN BEATTY
I never quite knew if my internet friends were chemists themselves or if they were friends with chemists, but they knew a whole lot about drugs. For about six months, they mailed Bath Salts to my parents’ house. I lived there again after getting kicked out of bible college again, then moving to Minneapolis and giving all of my money away to homeless people and amnesty international and Philip Morris USA.
And people say the internet isn’t real life.
While I was living in my parents’ basement, I spent my days sleeping or working part-time and my nights video chatting with strangers on the internet. I only showered if I knew people would be looking at me from the shoulders up in a chat room. I spent my few weekly workdays writing lists of songs to play for my strangers.
I’d carry my computer back and forth from my wood-paneled room to the slab of concrete beneath my parents’ rotting deck to smoke, burying cigarette butts in the rock garden. The video chat crew became a very weird, depressed internet family, sending presents to each other for birthdays, divulging our lives to each other as they all concurrently fell apart.
Some of these friends put Bath Salts up their noses and taught me how to put Bath Salts up mine. It sounds like a lie, but up until this point, I’d gotten drunk less times than my fingers and toes, and other than that, I’d only smoked weed. I used to be a good girl.
During awake hours when I wasn’t at work or online, I was in the bathtub. Sometimes I’d be in the tub for eight or nine hours, draining the water when it got lukewarm, burning my skin with the fresh stuff.
I watched every episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, That 70s Show, 30 Rock, and Skins in the tub. Sometimes I’d lock myself in the bathroom as my mom left for work, only to emerge after dinner.
The bathtub became the place I’d go when my fear of the whole world made it too hard to live. I’d get in the tub when the great big sort of sad sunk into me. When I’d blow off my real life friends for weeks at a time, my phone would glow on the floor by the tub with texts reading, “Gwen, no bathtub.”
In the chat room once, a friend sent me a private message:
“What’s your address?”
I hesitated, but wanted to be cool, didn’t flinch. Said yes. To whatever this was.
I was 19 and pretty sure god already didn’t know how to forgive me, so I ripped open the first package, shaking, and carefully spooned a bit onto a scale I’d bought for the occasion. I was live on video chat with the guy who sent the drugs, just to make sure I didn’t snort too much too fast. I rolled a dollar, fumbled with my hands trying to coordinate all of the body parts involved in plugging a nostril and holding the roll and sucking the powder up my nose.
It shot straight to my tear ducts and burned. I pinched my eyes shut as the powder slithered down the back of my throat, tried to keep from choking, said, “Chemicals.” Later, the burn would be the only part still satisfying.
Bath Salts are an upper. You go up and up and plateau, just like everything else. It’s a talky high, a lovey high. But you know the drill. This is a story you’ve heard before.
My part-time job was at a coffee shop in a bookstore. I had a breathalyzer in my car from a drinking and driving ticket I’d gotten briefly after my life started peeling out--during one of the few times I’d ever been drunk, so I was only allowed to drive to work. My two real-life friends, who were still in high school, had to drive me around. We’d snort bath salts and drive fast on highways, screaming along to stupid bands like Rage Against the Machine and Panic! At the Disco. We’d eat fries and climb shit, we’d park the car when we got too high and we’d talk.
Our favorite thing to do was go to a nature preserve. There is a particular fence with a person-sized hole by the grave of the French rapist/fur trader who founded our town. Sometimes I’d crawl through the hole or sometimes I’d climb over the top. Beyond the fence is a limestone cliff on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi. The cliff juts out over sandy rock that looks like it was dug out with two hands. You could stand on top, but if you were brave you could climb under and roost on a ledge almost too narrow for feet. Below that is nothing: Tops of trees growing out and along the earth like fingernails. Sometimes I told them stories about people who jumped from the cliff as though they were true.
Even then I saw the difference between how I got high and they got high. When the sun came from the wrong side of the day, they didn’t want more.
Obsession is easy. The year before it was doubling up my ADHD medicine because I liked how my brain would buzz, the year before that it was Flavor of Love reruns, the year before that it was Jenny Craig and a pair of size two, pink corduroys. When I was fourteen it was Harvest Moon for Nintendo 64 all day, all summer. Fergie’s London Bridge was on the radio then. When I was ten it was watching Sister Act twice a day, then the live-action Grinch with Jim Carrey. When I was four it was the bugs I was convinced were in my bed.
A guy in our video chat died. Bath Salts didn’t kill him, but another something did. That night he didn’t type to us or turn on his microphone to speak, just sat. Sometimes he’d lean way back. At least, that’s what I remember. I was high, too. He sat so far back I could see the tourniquet above his elbow. Some people told him he needed to stay awake that night, keep his eyes open.
The next day, we found out he was dead. We found out he was dead from somebody who knew somebody who knew him in real life and one of those somebodies posted the link to his funeral home memorial page a few days later. A handful of people posted in his memory. A lot of misspelled and fragmented things, inside jokes from our little corner of the internet where his online profile sits like a carcass, where I still sometimes scroll through, barely reading.
The last time I snorted Bath Salts was about six months after the first. I was alone and offline and awake for ninety hours. During a night in that string of days, I drove my car to that rapist/fur trader French guy’s grave.
I climbed the fence this time, crawled to the edge of the limestone cliff overlooking the wide, muddy river and shakily stood, my toes off the edge, arms wide and waving at the stars, like a woman on the edge of the freeway, her car burning in the ditch behind her, flagging down a passerby for help.
A few hours later, after the sun came up, I was sitting on the floor of my beloved bathtub and dry heaving with the grain of the water pelting the back of my skull. I held my phone wet in my hands.
One of my friends was standing in the tub. I don’t remember how she got into my parents’ house, I don’t remember if I even called her, but I know she was there. She said, “Dude, you’ve got to stop.” She picked me up by my armpits, toweled me off and got me in her car, stopping every few blocks for me to open my door or window to puke water or phlegm or nothing into strangers’ yards.
She gave me her cigarettes. She bought me an egg. I giggled at her in a diner booth as if I hadn’t been standing on top of that limestone cliff, thinking what it might feel like to fall.
A month ago, I went to my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I didn’t go because I was still doing Bath Salts. I went because I never once knew how to stop something once I got started.
Right now it’s La Croix and Buffy and cultivating my good gut bacteria. It’s a matter of making sure my obsessions don’t kill me, choosing ones small enough to fold up and put in my pocket. Last week, I got in the tub for 35 minutes and then I got out. I never hit rock bottom, but I saw it. When I did, I came up for air and breathed, kept breathing.
Gwen Beatty is a sorority dropout and crybaby from Iowa. You can find her here: www.gwenbeatty.com.