The seconds before I overdosed will forever be burned in my memory. I was eighteen, maybe nineteen by then, a freshman at Florida State. Scott and I were alone in my apartment; my three roommates, friends from high school, were still back home for the holiday.
I was enamored with Scott, in love with the idea that he was the missing puzzle piece. My missing twin. We spoke all day, cuddled at night, but he would never open himself to me. During brief moments of clarity, whenever my mind sobered, I realized I was something he used when needed. When the wind so moved him. I was someone he slept with, but we spoke nothing of it in the morning. Not to each other, not to our friends. We were just something that happened behind closed doors, in a silent haze, when his urges compelled. And I folded every time. Because I felt so strongly he would change. That I could change him. One morning we would wake up with stars in our eyes, love would bind us eternally. He would hold me tenderly, love me madly, crave me deeply. The way I craved him. Or maybe it was hurt I craved. Maybe I was attracted to the pain. He slept with others, sometimes my roommate, and I would have to swallow the ache deep into my stomach where it could hide. Because Scott was not mine. I had to work harder, had to give him the freedom he desired in order to be kept in good graces. All the while I remained attentive and medicated.
The DXM was a product of limited resources. A hunt for cocaine and ecstasy proved more difficult while on holiday break than expected. With most of the campus still cleared out, we were happy to take what we could find.
I wrapped the powder in toilet paper as instructed.
“Parachute it,” Scott said. “You can’t swallow the straight shit.”
A small wad of white dust popped into my mouth. I swallowed with a glass of red wine from a jug on the counter.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to drink with it,” he said. “But whatever.”
We threw back a glass each, then waited.
I loved the hunt for drugs then the anticipation for when they took effect. Like an award for all the hard work. I would get high just from the rising excitement, waiting for a substance to kick in.
I had never done DXM. Didn’t know what to expect. All I can remember is itching. Itching and feeling trapped in something, a tunnel or an aquarium filled with clear jelly. Slow moving and tough to maneuver.
I could claw open my skin to stop the itch. Scratching until red marks took form like highways along my arm. Red. I remember the color red. And purple. Maybe from lights. But we were mostly in the dark, fixated on the things that weren’t really there. The small universes which could appear on the wall, in carpet. The HR Gieger poster above my bed that had taken on life, swirling and moving like the inside of an anthill, full of activity and secret passages.
There was no time. At least it didn’t matter. It moved at leisure.
We laid in my bed. Disconnected. Fragmented conversation. We were in two very different worlds. He scratched more than me.
Waves of nausea became more frequent. I’d feel my body sink like a brick of iron into the bed. Then cold chills as the room spun slowly with an increasing sickness. I’d close my eyes, but it did nothing. Staring at shadows on the ceiling, hearing Scott’s voice speak words of nothing, everything was unfamiliar. Frightening. Completely out of my control.
I went to the bathroom to vomit.
The lights were bright against the white tile walls, tub and vinyl floor. I knelt in front of the toilet, my head resting on the seat. Cold sweats followed by intense burning made the nausea worse.
I felt my stomach clench. Throat thrust forward involuntarily. Nothing. Then again. Everything spun. Again.
I was no longer in control of my own body. My face met with the cool vinyl floor after I collapsed. A mound of skin and bones, I was something other than human. A pile of fear and ache.
I’m so sorry, I kept thinking. I’m so sorry for doing this. Please stop. Please stop. Please stop.
But there was no mercy.
Another cold rush and the ripping of my insides. My mouth opens as a vacant tunnel; thick, purple liquid ooze out onto the stark white floor. I notice the unchanged cat litter box tucked next to the toilet near my head. The sudden smell causes another gut convulsion. I am sweating. Tears of fear, of pain, dance from my eyes like sadistic ballerinas.
Another release of purple.
It must have been wine-stained bodily fluids.
You may have wondered what will be the very last thing your eyes see before death.
Mine were fixed on a line of caulk where the bathtub met the vinyl floor. Three shades of white coming together. That was it. My exit frame.
And then the thoughts.
Those last thoughts while blackness filled my eyes are clear as the moment they were born. As the dark fogged my vision, body lightened, my thoughts were of my parents. My mother and father who would receive a call the next morning that their son was dead.
That I was dead.
As I surrendered, I felt so sorry, so genuinely sorry, for what I had done. And the lasting pain I would cause. I wished for them to not see me like this; locked in a bathroom, surrounded by a minimalist canvas of purple and limb.
Those last thoughts were of sorrow. Were of the two people who loved me the most. Who raised me to be someone I had let slip from my fingertips. A person I had lost somewhere along the way. My last thoughts were not of myself, but of the two people I loved more than I knew before that moment.
I realized I didn’t want to die.
Everything went black.
This memory surfaces as I sit on a plane with Chris, heading back from our honeymoon. He is wrapped in a red fleece blanket, head cocked to the side, sleeping. Other passengers surround us, aisles of people, each with their own story.
I sneak the rest of Chris’ uneaten tiramisu, then put the empty dish back on his tray.
Had that night been my last, this plane ride would not exist. The flight attendant would not be passing out drinks. Chris’ life would be in a very different place. He would not know there was someone named Ryan Heller ever alive. Because I wouldn’t be. But maybe he wouldn’t be either. Does anything exist if we are unable to witness it? Or does the world simply stop until we are reborn with fresh eyes and ears to create again?
A few things I know for certain.
I know I eventually got off that vinyl bathroom floor. I know the litter box was changed. I know the purple was wiped up. I know I continued to do drugs and eventually left Florida State two years later because I was a mess. I know I was arrested shortly after. I know there were days when everything seemed to be OK, and days when I felt like I was on the floor again. I know I went back to college and eventually graduated several years later. I know my family continued to stand by me and later became proud of me. I know I went to rehab, got sober and continue to work on me daily. I know Chris and I have had very rough times, but he has my back every single day. I know he loves me even when words are unspoken. I know I married my best friend just weeks ago and we traveled the Mediterranean together. I know we are headed home right now. I know I have seen more happy days than I ever thought possible, just by beginning to feel alright with myself.
I know I feel good about writing these things down, because it helps me to understand them.
I know I struggle talking about happy times, because it seems corny and like a pile of rose-colored mush.
But I also know that I’m learning life can’t only be filled with the darkness. No matter how beautiful it can seem, no matter how comfortable and compelling it can be, the light always finds a way to seep in and shine where shadow found home. It’s just the way things go. The cosmic balance.
So maybe I am finding a new comfort in this chapter.
Out from my head and into my heart.
Out from shag carpet and dismembered Barbie doll heads. Out from the past, from the closet I hid within.
From the blue.