Generation RX_FINALJust Let Me Forget

 Luke tells me it is the rush that draws you in. It makes you forget the darkness.

He flicks a lighter under a spoonful of syrupy brown liquid and says he is ready to die. Fumes rise from the potion, filling the room with the scent of vinegar. It is sickly and sweet at the same time.

We are sitting side by side, Luke and I, on his unmade bed in a sober living house in San Juan Capistrano, a seaside town in southern California where I am reporting a story on the epidemic of pill and heroin abuse. We have just met, but he lets me in, lets me close to the poison that has taken over his life since he became hooked on prescription painkillers eleven years ago, at age fourteen. And he’s right: there is a rush. There is something exhilarating about the poison in his hands, just in its presence, the way that it swirls and bubbles in the spoon. I wonder about the strange seduction of these little bits of crystallized black tar swimming around in circles. I wonder what my brother felt like as he stared down at them three years ago.

Benders

By Reno J. Romero

Memoir

I was sitting with Go at a bar on Main Street where years ago I fucked a girl leaning up against the building. We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years and were catching up over wings and whiskey. Go’s real name is Jerrod. We penned him Go because he had a huge appetite for meth. It was Go who gave me my first taste of speed. I was in the 9th grade. He chopped and railed out two fat lines on a Metallica cassette. I remember him laughing as tears streamed down my face. We stayed up all night riding our bikes through the desert until the sun came up.

Even though everyone still called him Go he’d been clean for years. A couple of runs through rehab and he finally got the obsession out of his head. Go came from a family of addicts. His dad was an alcoholic and his mom had a thing for pills. But it was his older brother Tommy who had it bad. He was addicted to everything. Pot. Tweak. Alcohol. Heroin. Coke. It didn’t matter. If you had it Tommy wanted it.

Years later in the sick stale rooms of rehab I heard an addict ask another addict what was his drug of choice.

“What do you have?” he answered.

That reminded me of Tommy.

In college he got into freebasing and everything went downhill from there. Dropped out. Started dealing. Crawled up and down the halls of rehab. Almost died. One night Go and I were on his balcony smoking a joint when a cab pulled up. On the side of the cab it said San Bernardino.

“No,” Go said. “I bet that’s Tommy.”

Sure enough Tommy got out of the cab. It was the middle of summer and he was wearing a leather jacket and ski gloves. His body language told us he was on a bender. He saw us on the balcony.

“I made it!” he said closing the door. “Hey, give me ten bucks. I don’t have enough for the fare. Twenty if you have it.”

We gathered nine dollars (we’d just spent all our cash on an ounce of weed) and threw it down to him. He counted it twice.

“Hey, it’s only nine dollars! Cheap bastards!”

Tommy was messed up, talking gibberish, and making erratic hand gestures. His eyes were gone, dope-stricken. Apparently, he had it out with the old lady, told her they were done, that he didn’t need to take any of her drama. He went to a bar down the street, got drunk, and called a cab. We got him high and cracked into a bottle of tequila. He said he couldn’t stay because he needed to go a buddy’s house so they could work out a contract because they found a cure for cancer. Me and Go were just looking at each other like fuck. We asked him what the remedy was. He lit a cigarette and examined us for a moment through the smoke.

“Sea water,” he said and headed for the door.

Hello. My name is Darci, and this is my first TNB post! It’s nice to meet you.

I know a little about you. I asked around some, and I’ve seen you hanging out here, writing and commenting on stuff. You’re charming–all of you. You’re funny and smart and I can tell there’s a lot going on upstairs.

So far, so good, is what I’m saying.

But I should probably tell you a little bit about me. Not because I’m particularly special or fascinating (I am, but that’s neither here nor there), but because it directly affects you, and I feel like a little fair warning is the least I can do.

I used to think my judgment was impaired when it came to beginning new relationships, romantic or otherwise. I generally give people I like the benefit of the doubt and hope they turn out to be as charismatic and smart and in possession of the basic skills one needs for human survival that I believe them to be.

But that has rarely been the case.

Okay, at first, maybe I was to blame. I was young. I did stupid things and I let stupid things do me. I mean, if one dates a 25-year-old Philosophy major who lives with his parents, hits on high school girls (in front of you! and her parents!) and keeps a bottle of Drakkar Noir in his Camaro’s glove compartment for the days when he forgets to shower, then one kind of deserves the disappointment and disillusionment one inevitably suffers. All bets are off, basically.

But then I started making better choices and the outcome never changed. I learned! I grew! I progressed in my partner selection, from bass players to drummers to guys who weren’t even in bands at all!

Still, things kept ending the same way. Often (more often than seems fair–or even logical) I ended up orchestrating and facilitating my partner’s hospitalization, rehabilitation or adoption of a 12-step program (sometimes all three!).

What I’m saying is: I keep choosing different people. They keep going to rehab.

He’s been clean for years.
Rehab.

Not at all the ‘tortured artist’ type.
Rehab.

Total square.
Psych ward.

Already in therapy. Practically straight-edge!
Rehab. Jail. Rehab.

“Shut up and explain what this has to do with me!” is something you have every right to be saying now.

Frankly, it means you’re going to rehab. Let’s face it, I think you’re really good looking. And you seem smart, and functional and a lot of fun. I think this could really work out between us. I mean, no pressure. I’m not saying we should move in together or anything. But there’s a chemistry here. I think we could start at third base and see what happens.

And if history has proven that it isn’t my choosing that’s to blame, we must agree that rehab is simply a foregone conclusion. You’re going, and I’m going to help you get there. It’s pretty much a done deal.

No, no. Not now. Not right away. You’ve got, like 18 months or so, probably. But it is going to happen.

So let’s turn our collective frown upside down. Let’s accept it and climb on board! Let’s look for the silver lining! I mean, there are clear benefits to early detection.

1. You’ve got a chemical dependency problem to look forward to, which usually starts out really fun.

2. We know what’s coming, so we can plan around it–work it into our schedules. It’s on our radar, so it doesn’t have to be such a fucking surprise this time.

3. You’ve got someone to help you through this. And I’ve done it before. A lot. I’m good, and I’m not going anywhere. So you can relax and start enjoying all the spiraling out of control!

Like I said before, it’s very nice to meet you, TNB. I have a feeling we are going to be very good friends.

Now let’s kick this shit one day at a time.

Monk Quixote

By Reno J. Romero

Memoir

We were at some hotel somewhere in the Inland Empire. We were in bed, post-coital, and passing a bottle of Pinot back and forth and watching the Top 100 Hard Rock tunes on VH1. The wine had me a little loopy and throughout the show I kept saying things like: “Oh, I saw those dudes in concert. They had dry-ice, stacks of amps, and all that rock bullshit. But they sucked big ones.” Or: “I saw those fuckers at some dive in San Bernardino. Oh yeah, man. You betcha. I was all jacked up on whiskey and dating some chick who had pretty brown eyes and bunions.”

Shauna looked at me like she always did: like I was crazy. Then Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” blasted across the screen.

“Don’t tell me,” she said, pursing up her beautiful lips. “You saw those guys at some back yard party and you whipped out your junk in front of Dee Snider.”

“I did see them in concert. But not in some back yard party. And Dee Snider didn’t see my junk. Long Beach Arena. They opened up for Iron Maiden on Maiden’s World Slavery Tour. And guess what? They rocked! Check this out. I was smoking pot with my cousin and his buddies before the show and one of his friends had an epileptic seizure. None of us knew what the hell was happening. So, while he twisted on the ground we started walking away. Not a cool thing to do. But he scared the living shit out of us. A few minutes later he was fine. It was weird.”

“Jesus Christ,” she said, shaking her head. “You guys walked away?”

“Hey, we were like fifteen! And stoned! How were we supposed to know what an epileptic seizure was? We thought he was dying. And we had weed on us. It was a bust if the coppers showed. We were holding, babe.”

“You guys suck.”

“We were fifteen!”

I proceeded to tell Shauna how Maiden were gods that night. How they consumed me. How I knew every song and sang every word. How the stage changed numerous times. How Eddie came charging out during “Running Free” as a beautiful tattered mummy. How they were filming and recording the shows for their upcoming live album that would be called Live After Death. How I was there to hear Bruce Dickinson give the famous line: “Scream for me Long Beach!” How when I walked into the arena a giant Union Jack was hanging and illuminated in glorious heavy metal light.

“They’re here,” I remember telling my cousin. “Maiden is here.”

That night Shauna and me polished off a couple of bottles of wine and I told her more rock tales. Of me seeing Korn with around fifty other people way before they made it big. Of me working for Metallica. Of me seeing Steve Vai in Hollywood and it was probably the best performance I ever saw. Of me seeing Ice Cube in the early 90s and rocking the fuck out. Of me seeing Sublime playing a back yard party in the California desert.

“Those were the days, Shauna Poo,” I said in a cheesy I’m-above-it-all-now tone. “But not anymore. There was a time it was greasy open-face burgers, naughty sluts, and whiskey. Now, it’s wine, refined company, and stinky cheese.”

“Oh, please,” she said, rolling over and leaving me with the TV, my heavy metal memories, and a bottle of wine with one good pull left.

The next day I met up with some friends from Vegas in Huntington Beach. We were old friends from our wilder single days. Fast forward a few years, a few job changes and divorces, and there we were single again. Men in their forties looking for some trouble in Orange County.

There was a celebratory yet anxious feeling in the air for we were all making drastic changes in our lives. James’ divorce was about wrapped up. Tucker was going into rehab for digging on heroin and benzos too much. Joey just filed for a divorce. Corey was going back home to Vegas, quit his job, dump his girlfriend of nine years, and then move to Oregon to take care of his father who was dying of cancer.

And then me. The last year I was on the road for work or pleasure and I found myself in the company of strange men and women, strange towns, and strange highways. What was at first romantic was in the end completely exhausting and made me a little crazy. I was tired of waking up in dank hotel rooms, in my truck, or sleeping on the floor in dilapidated homes that I was fixing.

I was dizzy.

I was cold.

I was sore.

I was all messed up.

So, I was going on a spiritual retreat of sorts to get my bearings. I was disappearing in some posh part of L.A, chop off all of my hair, eat better, run longer, listen to my heart and not my addictive mind, store away my truck and my “material” junk and go monk. Everyone saw it coming so when I made the announcement to the few that I wanted in the know it came as no surprise.

That night me and the gang had a nice dinner and got blind drunk. We ate piles of fish tacos, lobster enchiladas, rice and beans, ceviche, and craziness. Throughout that night we had weird silences, odd moments of realizing what was happening to us. At one point we were all living in Vegas, had wives, our better careers, homes, and now we were all going opposite directions for different reasons.

We were leaving our past for something else. What that was I don’t think any of us had a clue. Life was throwing punches, kicking us around. But we were game even though there was a hint of uncertainty in our voices. Over the table we joked that we weren’t dead, that we had our college degrees, a snatch of cheap talent, a kick-ass CD collection, a chick on the side of the stage named Jennifer, Christy, Angie, and dicks that still worked.

And we had each other.

We’d all been friends for over twenty years.

It wasn’t all that bad.

The next morning I woke up with my head thumping. Bodies stirred on the floor and it smelled like a drunk tank. I started my retreat that day. My check-in time was 2pm. Shauna was driving in from Riverside to take me in.

“You ready, baby?” she asked over the phone.

“I’m ready.”

Corey was already up and reading the copy of Don Quixote I bought him. One by one we hopped in the shower to wash off the cigarettes, vodka, rum and sand, which was painted over us. We looked and smelled horribly. James, who drank twice as much as all of us, was still passed out, his ass curiously raised in the air.

“We ought to field fuck him,” Tucker said. “What do you say, Reno?”

“Absolutely. I’m horny,” I said, making my way to James.

“He does have a nice ass,” Joey observed.

“I’m first!” Corey yelled. “Hold him down!”

James turned over quickly, his eyes red and shot out.

“You sick bastards! Get away from me!”

“We’ll be gentle, honey!”

“Please, James! I’m lonely!”

“Get the hell away from me!”

Field fucking is a Marine Corps activity whereby a Marine (one who’s been an asshole as of late) is held in the doggie position and his brotherhood takes turns dry fucking him. A very communal ceremony.

James wanted nothing to do with this ceremony.

Sissy.

“Wow, James. That hurts. We thought you loved us?”

“Fuck you.”

We went for breakfast at some quaint little diner—the ones with colorful pies spinning in a glass fixture. The waitress was cute. California blond with nice straight teeth, a button nose, and a good sense of humor. We were feeling a bit giddy from the night’s shenanigans and told her how crazy our lives were.

“Did you know this dude is going crazy? You bet! Loony! Right in front of your pretty eyes!”

“And this guy loves heroin. Well, he’s addicted to everything. Donuts. Cigarettes. Spam. Isn’t that just peachy?”

“Well, this guy is divorcing his wife and she’s taking all his shit! His screwdrivers. His chones. His dignity!”

“So wait a minute,” she said chuckling. “One of you is going crazy. One is addicted to heroin and like three of you are dumping your women? You guys look normal, but you’re all screwed up.”

“Why yes. Yes we are.”

Shauna showed up and we said our goodbyes. No tears. Just hugs and firm handshakes. Tucker would be gone for at least three months. James would have to pick up the pieces, find his dignity somewhere in the pale Vegas desert. So would Joey. And Corey would be in Oregon for as long as it would take. Me, I’d be gone at least two months, come out of the wilderness and say hello, and then would probably disappear again.

That’s what my heart was telling me.

“Time to go monk, eh?” Shauna said as we drove into a beautiful L.A day.

“Time to go monk.”

I met Jen in rehab in 1995. She was trying to kick a methadone habit and I was in an ugly battle with the bottle. She’d been in treatment a few weeks before I arrived. And when I did arrive I was running on a two-week binge that had me buckled over and racked with blurred vision. I could hardly move except for my hands that wouldn’t stop rattling. I showed up at their door with a duffle bag full of clothes and a couple of books. One of them being Camus’ Exile and the Kingdom.

They immediately put me in detox. In the bed next to me was this young dude who was hooked on speed. On the other side of me was a middle-aged man whose drug of choice (DOC) was morphine.

“I got addicted after a car accident,” he told me, his eyes pale and gone. He lost two fingers in the accident. “That was the first time I tried morphine. In a hospital of all places.”

When I was in the clear they put me through an assessment and found that I was highly depressed, was loaded with anxiety, suffered from sleeping disorders, and had a problem with alcohol.

I was a walking time bomb.

I was lethal.

I already knew this.

One of the first things they tell you when you enter rehab is that it’s not a place to find romance. Don’t look for a boyfriend or a girlfriend in rehab. That’s not what you’re there for. You’re there to rewire your brain. You’re there to get clean. You’re there to fix yourself. You’re not there to get fucked. You’re already fucked. That’s why you’re in rehab.

But when I met Jen there was an instant attraction between us. She was pretty, had beautiful green eyes, fair skin, and short brown hair. Over the next week I’d see her around the facility. We’d stop and chat, talk about our treatment and whatnot. Small talk. But there was something else going on. One night after a group session I was walking out to my car and she stopped me.

“So, what are you doing tonight, Reno?”

“Try not to walk into a bar and get shellacked,” I said, laughing.

“Sounds like a good plan. How about some coffee? Want to join me?”

That night over coffee and her burning cigarettes we told each other’s story. She came from a wealthy family, was born and raised in Miami. Two brothers, one sister. Mom was a materialistic pill-popping bitch and dad was a functioning drunk who owned a Budweiser distribution center that allowed him to fill up his houses with kitschy shit and wrap his neck and fingers in diamonds and gold. Her brothers were alcoholics and her sister, who owned a successful talent agency, was addicted to everything. Coke, booze, opiates. She was a professional addict who never missed a day of work, never lost control, never went to rehab.

“She has her addictions under control,” Jen said. “If there’s even such a thing.”

Jen worked as a graphic designer and was heavy in the Miami art scene. That’s where she was introduced to methadone. Like many addicts, she experimented with all kinds of drugs including alcohol. But it was methadone that did her in. Her story was the typical drug tale: at first her using was recreational, a weekend thing. And then quietly and suddenly she was in the throes of full-blown addiction: methadone was running her life, waking her up, putting her to bed, and calling all the shots in between.

She avoided friends and family. Her work started to suffer and then disappeared all together. She lost self-respect, her dignity. And then she didn’t care. Didn’t care what happened to her. She packed up and drove across the states to Vegas not remembering much of the drive. I knew the story all too well. I lost my fiancé over alcohol. I disconnected from friends, family, and eventually myself. I told her that when my addiction was at its worse I knew damn well I was killing myself but didn’t care. The pleading voices over the phone didn’t mean a fucking thing. The concerned faces of those who loved me were featureless, blank, nothing.

The bottle won and was eating me alive.

We started to see each other a lot. We’d go to the movies, have dinner. We’d jog the Vegas Strip, hike Mount Charleston. We flew to California and sipped lemonade on the Santa Monica Pier. We watched the sunset and held each other. We couldn’t change the past. What the future held in store for us was a mystery. There were no guarantees—our promises just fragile utterances that could be snapped by the deceitful, cunning, and destructive voice of the addictive mind. But we were sober today. That was our mantra.

Today.

Today.

Today.

On the night that it happened we were walking in Sunset Park and I reached for her hand. We walked for quite a while without saying a word. But there really wasn’t much to say. Our hands weaved together said all there was to say.

“Want to go to my place?” she asked.

We sat at her kitchen table listening to Derek and the Dominos and talked long into the night. We wondered and worried if we were ever going to kick our habits. We knew we were in trouble, that our addictions had a stranglehold on us. We knew that if we continued to use then the end result would be the grave. There was no doubt about it. Two months before I lost a dear friend to heroin. A year before that another friend lost his fight with alcohol. One dead at forty-one, the other at twenty-seven. Good men. Funny, intelligent, gentle. But sick and damaged beyond repair. I was right behind them. So was Jen.

We knew we were in control of this.

We knew we were out of control.

“Reno, I know you don’t love me,” Jen said, looking through me. “But will you make love to me?”

My ex-girlfriend’s face flashed in front of me. Her telling me to wait, to not sleep with anyone, love anyone, that it will only complicate matters, not yet, get clean, please, I’ll wait. I shut off my picture-making machine, pushed away her words, and followed Jen to her bedroom as the opening lead to “Layla” slurred behind us.

Let’s make the best of the situation/Before I finally go insane/Please don’t say we’ll never find a way/And tell me all my love’s in vain

I woke up to Jen sitting on the bed Indian-style reading a book of poems I bought her. She looked beautiful, peaceful, her green eyes bright and clear.

“Hey,” she said, in a soft voice.

“Good morning.”

We stared at each other, examining each other’s face looking for something. I finally sat up, held her face in my hands, and kissed her. Tears rushed down her face. And then I started crying. We crossed over. We broke the rules of rehab. We cared for each other now. We wanted each other to get well, to be happy. We wanted the best for one another. We wanted each other to be clean and sober. We held each other thinking the same thing: please don’t use, don’t drink.

* * *

After three months we completed the program. Jen finished before me, but continued her treatment at another facility. We continued to see each other, but as time passed we saw less and less of each other. We were in love, but knew that because of our addictions a serious long-term relationship would be a precarious situation. We were dangerous for each other and didn’t want to bring the other down if our addictions surfaced again. The statistics said there was a high probability they would. This terrified us and eventually broke us up. We cared for each other too much to take the chance.

I remember our last phone call which would be the last time I’d hear her voice. We thanked each other, wished each other good luck, said that we’ll always love one another, but that it just couldn’t be. It was devastating. I hung up the phone empty, crying, lost, but sober. To this day I can still hear her voice coming over the wire.

“We’ll be all right, Reno. We’ll be O.K.”


When we were kids, we thought that our cousin Mike was the Incredible Hulk.

I can’t recall if Mike “suggested” to my brother Chad and me that he was the mean green man, or if Chad simply saw the resemblance and thought that he had uncovered the Hulk’s plain-guy identity, but we thought we were related to a comic book hero.

At the very least, we figured that Mike was Lou Forigno’s body double: he was a short, sculpted bodybuilder with a massive, muscular chest and arms, and he had that signature Lou Forigno/Patrick Swayze feathered hair. Certainly they wouldn’t overlook him as Forigno’s wingman to take a stunt-beating on-film.

We were maybe six and seven—Chad my elder by a year—when Chad charged the neighbor kids a nickel admission to our garage to see the Incredible Hulk, right there in the flesh in Douglas Drive. He had a whole following on our block.

The Hulk’s most impressive performance was flexing his pecks to the tune of “Jingle Bells,” making his chest muscles jump up and down to the beat of the song as he hummed it. We begged him to do it every time he came up from Peoria to visit.

In his late 30s and early 40s, Mike was a hero to us in the way that older cousins can be: someone you admire because 1.) they’re older than you are, and 2.) they’re the model of the kind of adult you want to become: smart, funny, and successful. He drove a convertible Alfa Romeo Spider and made the five-and-a-half-hour drive to our cabin in four hours.

He was cool as hell.

Our family didn’t discover that Mike was an alcoholic until 1996, when, following his divorce, he came to live with us during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.

My dad noticed Mike sipping Cokes at our cabin during the day—all day—and caught a whiff of vodka in the can one afternoon. Then the booze in our house started disappearing. Mom and Dad (to remove temptation) gave the rest of it away; resourceful Mike drank the cooking sherry. Bottles and beer cans started appearing in strange places, and we would continue to find them for months to come: behind my dad’s shaving cream in the medicine cabinet, under the counter with the Tupperware, beneath a pile of sheets in the linen closet. He hid his habit all over our house.

Over the summer, Mike’s drinking escalated until the day he led a drunken high-speed police chase along Lake Pulaski to our front lawn. When the squad cars circled around our driveway, the curious neighbors thought my teenage brother was getting into trouble—not our grown cousin, with his master’s degree, his (now-lost) business, and his (now-ex) wife.

It was jail time or rehab, and Mike opted for the latter. It was the first of two treatment programs he would undergo during his foray at my folks’ that summer, followed by the first of two times that he would begin drinking shortly after release.

By fall, Mike was barely coherent. Red-faced and glassy-eyed, he would take his seat at the dinner table with a dopey, vacant smile on his face and contribute awkwardly, with delayed timing, to family conversations.

Then one night before I went off to watch a high school football game, Mom and I found Mike unconscious in the basement, propped upright in a recliner. He was unresponsive. We called 911.

The paramedics managed to wake Mike before taking him off to detox. He looked around the room in a haze, blinking, blinking, blinking, with no one steering the ship. He was an empty shell. The paramedics told my parents later that they had never seen a person with as high of a blood alcohol content as Mike’s was who was still alive and not in a coma.

After rehab stint #2, Mike resumed drinking before he even made it back to our house. Mom and Dad told him if he wouldn’t stop, he had to leave.

He disappeared for more than a year after that. No one in the family knew where he was, or if he was even still alive.

Over the next 13 years, Mike surfaced sporadically: in Illinois, in Texas, living for periods of time with family, on the streets, with a girlfriend.

 

Mike was 56 years old when he died last month, with my father and uncle holding his hands in a hospital room in Texas.

Before slipping into a coma, his dying request was that there be no funeral, no wake, no memorial service. Nothing to mark that he ever existed. Just a cremation of his body and disposal of the ashes.

Surely there would be something: some words said over his body or uttered before a photograph of him when he was healthy, with his urn on display by a bouquet of flowers. Or perhaps a gravestone marking his life, carved with a wise and warning epitaph: “Don’t follow my path. Choose life!”

But there was, as Mike requested, nothing.

In the end, he was simply snuffed from life by a sickness that stole from him even the desire to be remembered as sober Bruce Banner, a god of my youth, the Incredible Hulk.

Alie

I met Alison at a Die Princess Die show almost three years ago. Our mutual friend Christopher introduced us. “You’ll really hit it off,” he said. “You both write about music.” He and Alie and their friend Rhadeka had driven up from Santa Barbara, where they all lived, to see another band, but they stayed at my insistence for DPD. Alie liked them, as any lover of rock & roll would. After the show, she posted a comment on their MySpace page: a swarm of razor blade butterflies to the face. fuck yeah. Her metaphor was right on the money—DPD did sound like a swarm of razor-blade butterflies to the face—but Alie’s face was lightly scarred here and there, so in that way it was a bit disconcerting. I never asked her about the scars. I never asked her anything about her past, knowing through Christopher that she was in recovery, and not wanting to put her on the spot.