Recent Work By Joshua Lyon


The author in high school

This essay is part of a series of investigations, reflections, and reminiscences by writers, artists, and musicians who were influenced by David Lynch’s seminal television show Twin Peaks. To read more, or to learn about participation, visit www.twinpeaksproject.com.

Thanks to my library’s tattered copies of Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone that were encased in protective blue binders, (wrapped in plastic!), I knew the exact night some highly anticipated and highly bizarre show was going to debut. The critics were freaking out about the premiere of Twin Peaks, saying it was the weirdest thing to hit TV ever, so I—an identity-hungry fifteen year old kid on the brink of a major hormone and brain chemistry explosion—made sure to watch its arrival in the spring of 1990. The very first seconds of the title sequence shocked me into silence. It wasn’t what I saw that floored me; it was what I heard. Don’t get me wrong, the mythology took hold as the story unfolded, particularly the central mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, and why. But composer Angelo Badalamenti’s score was aural heroin.

Did you know that the bird in the opening shot is a Varied Thrush? When I watch the show now, I feel like his look mimics my own from that night when the first bass note hit. His head cocked up to the cloudy sky roughly translates to: “What the hell is that sound and where did it come from?” We both froze in rapturous attention.

Admittedly, I was stoned. But I’d never heard a resonance so deep, so thundering, and yet melodious. The first boom is cautiously wistful, and the second drops several octaves into a dark pit. The third note rises quickly back up to meet the first two somewhere in between, while the piano is a wisp of smoke in the background. I could actually see it.

Once that week’s show was over, there was no way I could get that music back until the next episode. During those pre-internet days, I only had one shot at viewing a program unless I recorded it on the VCR, which I did for the second episode. I watched the opening credits over and over, staring so hard at the screen that everything blurred into leaping green and black dots. For the next two months, I rushed home every Thursday night to watch the show.

I was feeling no pain.

I cared about nothing but this.

It wasn’t just an absence of pain. It was warm waves pulsating through my muscle and skin. Breathing was hard, my chest felt weighted down by my own ribcage but I didn’t panic because it’s impossible to feel anxiety about anything when every inch of your body is having a constant low-grade orgasm.

I don’t know how long I lay there on my bed, watching the blades of my ceiling fan slowly turn, lazily spinning tufts of dust before they floated down through the air around me like so much gray snow. Through half-lidded eyes I watched Ollie, my cat, go ape-shit chasing the dust puffs, and it took every ounce of strength to turn my head toward the other side of the bed. I lifted an arm, ran my fingertips along the wall until they hit the mattress. I studied the blank wall. Its surface was pebbled under the paint. I’d always thought it was smooth. I got a sudden craving for an Orangina, and with a herculean burst of energy, sat up. Ollie freaked at my sudden movement, his eyes bulged out of his tiny skull and he went tearing out of my room in a manic frenzy. I heard him skid down the hallway, claws slipping on wood.

My skin itched. Everywhere. I stuffed my hands down the back of my shirt, pulled up my jean cuffs to get at my ankles, dug around the insides of my thighs. My fingernails sent jolts of red electricity down to the bone, but any discomfort washed away before it had a chance to really set in.

I kicked a pair of flip-flops out from under the bed and left my apartment. The usually harsh, trash-filled street looked soft as a meadow, and the light of the setting sun felt like a warm glow coming from inside me instead of the sky. In the bodega I found the Orangina and I wandered up and down each aisle three times, picking up a bag of pretzels, putting it down. Opening the freezer, then shutting the door. Mr. Clean and I shared an intimate, prolonged stare. The cashier gave me a knowing smile and handed me my change.

Back upstairs I collapsed on the couch. Ollie dove into my lap, stayed there, warm against my stomach, writhing, trying to get closer. I reached for the TV remote but it was a good six inches out of my grasp so I gave up. I felt my head roll back and hit the back of the sofa as another wave hit me and I said out loud to Ollie, to myself: “This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”

Three Vicodin. That was all it took.

I was in love.

In the summer of 2003 my co-workers at Jane magazine and I began receiving massive amounts of email spam offering up Valium, Xanax, and Vicodin with “No Prescription Needed!” I kept hitting delete until the words actually sunk into my brain. It couldn’t be that easy. My own physician wouldn’t even prescribe me a sleeping pill for a flight I had to take in the weeks immediately following 9/11. (In his typically reserved way, he had told me to practice deep breathing and maybe have a cocktail, but no more than one.)  So, strictly in the name of journalistic curiosity, I convinced my editor to let me try and buy these pills online. I wanted to see if it was just a scam or if it really was that simple to get controlled substances without a doctor’s prescription. Everyone in the office—particularly the fashion and art departments—loved the idea and seemed unusually eager to hear the results. The story got approved as a small front-of-book piece in our pop culture section. Even better, I was given a $600 drug budget, courtesy of Fairchild Publications.

The Xanax and Valium were easy—I just had to fill out an online form. In the section where I had to explain why I needed the drugs, I wrote that I traveled a lot for work and that I had a fear of flying. Within forty-eight hours I had two Fed-Ex packages waiting for me on my desk:  one with 30 brand-name Valium (the beautifully designed kind with the negative space V in the center of each pill) and the other containing thirty alprazolam, the generic equivalent of Xanax. Those two lots ran me $312 together.

The Vicodin order included an extra step: one of the online pharmacy staff doctors was going to call me for a consultation. I was also supposed to provide a phone number for my primary physician. I gave them a fake doctor name and an unused telephone line at my office.

Their “doctor” called me first thing the next morning. The conversation went like this:

“You called to order Vicodin?”

“Hey, yeah, I, um, just had my appendix removed. I don’t have insurance and your Vicodin prices seem pretty cheap.”

“Yes, we do have good prices. We’ll send it right out. Do you want, thirty, sixty, or ninety?”

Ninety, of course. And it was a good price, only $223.

The third package arrived the next day. I wrote up a quick 250-word blurb about how frighteningly easy it was to order meds online, making a joke about slurring my words a lot ever since, and took the bottles home. It was a Friday, and they might have remained in the bottom of my underwear drawer forever if I hadn’t received a frantic phone call from my editor around 8:00 PM. I panicked when I saw her number on my cell phone screen, thinking that something disastrous had happened at work, especially since I knew that she was supposed to be at her place on the Jersey Shore that weekend.

“What are you going to do with those pills?” she demanded as soon as I picked up the phone.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Give them away? I hadn’t thought about it.”

“I spent the entire train ride out here imagining you face down on the floor somewhere,” she said. “I can just see the headlines now: ‘Magazine kills editor.’ It’s the last thing we need.”

It was nice to know where I stood in the scheme of things.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get rid of them,” I said.

“Promise?” she asked. “Flush them down the toilet.”

“Yes, I promise,” I sighed, but it was already a lie.

I have a problem. When someone tells me not to do something I will immediately go out and do it. It’s an anti-authority streak that has been in me pretty much since birth. It first reared its head in my Montessori school when we grew a large crystal made from Epsom salt on a string. We were told not to touch it, but it ended up in my pocket. When it was discovered missing we all had to sit in a circle on the floor and received a stern, yet oddly sympathetic speech (a trademark Montessori method) about stealing. Our teacher told us all to reach into our pockets, see if it was there and come clean if it was. I slipped my hand inside my red Garanimals shorts, felt the smooth sides of the crystal, with its comforting, sharp points. I kept my hand tightly clutched around it. It was mine now.

When I hung up with my boss, I pulled the bottles out of my bag and stared at them. The labels were pathetically generic and looked like they’d been created on a typewriter. The originating pharmacies were located in Florida, Arizona, and Colorado, and the addresses felt strangely cold: for some reason the phrase “Florida Drive” just screams unmarked storefront with the blinds closed shut, located in a partially deserted strip mall, an empty soda can rattling by, pushed by the wind.

The Vicodin bottle was fat, almost two inches in diameter. I’d never even seen a pill bottle that large. I opened it up and removed the cotton. The pills were pressed together so tightly that when I stuck my finger inside I couldn’t even get past the first layer. They were thick, the size I’d always called horse pills, and looked like they’d lodge directly in my windpipe if I tried to swallow one.

I took three.

That night I drifted in and out of sleep, but not in an unpleasant, restless way. It was more like a constant waking dream, and when the alarm went off the next morning I still felt a little high, but not at all hungover. That was all it took to seal the deal—I’d  discovered my perfect drug.

From PILL HEAD: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict by Joshua Lyon. Copyright © 2009 Joshua Lyon. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.

Hey, haven’t you done all this already?

Promote Pill Head? Yes, but that was for the hardcover, and I don’t know anyone who would pay $25 for a book. Now that it’s in paperback, I’m trying to reach a whole new group of readers. Although I think people will gravitate more towards the sexy new cover than the discounted price tag.

Oh, hells yeah! Who is that?

That’s the dreamy and talented singer Chris Garneau, who was sweet enough to sit for this photo.

Do you wish you looked like him, and that was really you on the cover??

Yes. Next question.

Are you on pills right now?

Just Wellbutrin. And a multi-vitamin.

Has staying off of painkillers been hard?

Imagine waging war against your brain every single day.

I thought it was supposed to get easier after time?

Yeah, that’s what they told me too.

That sounds dark!

No, no! Everything is fine, it’s just that I’m surprised it’s still a struggle.

At least you’re not an alcoholic.

I know. I think alcoholics actually have it much, much worse than me. There’s temptation on every corner and at every social gathering! If people were serving pills in tiny cups on silver platters at every party I went to, well, I guess I’d be super relaxed. And then dead.

What do you do for money these days?

I work full time at a magazine again and spend the paychecks hunting down my childhood toys on eBay. I fantasize a lot about the days when I used to roll out of bed and write for four straight hours.

So you aren’t writing anything now?

I’m “working” on two projects, which means I jot down notes about them in a Moleskin notebook on the subway to and from work.

That sounds like you’re being LAZY.

I keep telling myself I’ll get up at 6 AM and write before work, but I can’t seem to make that happen. Does that mean I don’t want it bad enough?


Fuck you, you don’t know what I want.

Oh, I think I do.


You want to win the lottery. You want an instant cash infusion that will enable you to quit your job and write whenever you want. You want to pay someone else to clean the house because if you find one more giant tuft of hair on the floor you might just take the clippers to your boyfriend’s obscenely fluffy cat.

You make me sound so bougie!

Don’t fight it. What are you reading right now?

“The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll.”

Oh, how apt.

What’s that supposed to mean?

Never mind.


Who was that?!?!

I thought it was you!!

No way, I’d never say that!


Your inner demon sounds just like James Duval in The Doom Generation.

I know, I know. It’s such a cliché.


Wait, you’ve got others???

Yeah. I don’t think there are many seats left in here.

Who’s your favorite?

Probably the one who sounds like Sir Hiss, the snake from Disney’s version of Robin Hood.

What does he tell you?

It’s not about what he says, it’s how he says it – he’s got this lilting voice with lots of extended ssssssssssssss sounds. Sometimes when a person is talking to me, I’ll accidentally space out and he’ll start repeating everything they’re saying in my head, but in his gay snake voice.

I think maybe you should have someone edit this before you send it in.

Too late, I left it to the last minute.

Any last words?

Yes. Please buy my book, because when I ran into my editor the other night she told me that the one title of hers that is selling like crazy right now is Skinny Italian, by Teresa from the Real Housewives of New Jersey. And I openly wept in the aisles of Whole Foods.

You should have called your book Skinny Pill Head.

I was thinking the exact same thing.