When I met her I had no idea how mentally ill she was. Nor how brilliant she was at manipulation and creating drama. There she was and I hadn’t been with a woman in an embarrassingly long time. So I said fuck it and ran off with her to New Orleans.
We were ditching lives that had become boring. I’d been working for a few years washing dishes and then finally breaking into working the back grill at a popular booze house, always hitting the bars after work or stopping at the liquor store on the way home for a pint of vodka and a six-pack of Oly. She’d been living up on a soggy wooded mountain, getting high and growing frustrated with her husband for spending too much time down at the pharmacy that paid him a hundred dollars an hour and gave him the opportunity to bring her pockets full of stolen oxycodone and morphine sulphate.
After meeting each other and running around like lunatics for a few weeks we decided to go all in and rent a U-Haul. We shoved it full of all our shit, mostly hers – furniture, candelabras, crates full of clothing. I had no idea at the time, but everything I put in that U-Hall would end up getting destroyed or lost at some point in over the next two years. Inside of a day we were headed south toward L.A., we would cut east from there and shoot out toward one of the most fucked-up cities in America.
On paper it was a grand adventure. It could have been beautiful. But it wasn’t. It was a disaster. She was a narcissist of such a massive scope that if the slightest thing began to move in a positive direction, she took it as an opportunity to draw attention to herself by derailing everything in as dramatic a fashion as possible. The whole thing was doomed from the beginning. If I was a man back then instead of a boy I might have seen that. But instead I got to learn things the hard way.
We got to New Orleans without too much difficulty. That was what she wanted, so that was what we got. We arrived on Thanksgiving Day 1999, partied with some friends of hers that night, one of which was a fellow who owned some properties around town. We needed an apartment and he had one for rent. He said we could move in to the place as soon as we wanted to.
It was a broke-down two-hundred-year-old mansion, converted into a quad-plex on Montegut St. in the 9th Ward. We got the lower left corner of the house, four rooms in a straight line back to front, with the kitchen and the toilet in the back. It was livable despite the holes in the floor and collapsing fixtures in the bathroom and the abject poverty in the neighborhood. I didn’t care, I wasn’t proud and the oppression of my boredom was gone. For her though the place was several notches down from what she was used to. She never missed a chance to remind me of that, even bemoaning the quality of the gallons of cheap wine I’d lug through two miles of ghetto for her.
She was still getting her drugs, too. She’d talk to her husband on the phone for hours at a time emotionally torturing him and leaning on him to mail more pills. Meanwhile, she was working as a nurse at the hospital, stealing drugs there when she could. But there wasn’t enough for her to turn me on that often. A couple of Percocets here and there, nothing heavy. I’d never been into pills. I didn’t know what I was missing and I was content to guzzle booze, so there was no need.
One day a package came with two large bottles of Klonopin in it. Her husband had sent them, for what purpose I couldn’t say. These weren’t her usual thing, not opioids but benzodiazepene – sleeping pills, basically. You take a couple and you’re out like a light, snoring and drooling on yourself before you’re through your second glass of Concha y Toro. No fun in that.
And here we had a couple hundred of them. I think the plan may have been to sell these things because naturally with both of us working plenty of hours, living in the cheapest possible housing and having no real expenses we were flat broke nearly all of the time. I don’t know where the money went. I didn’t have a checking account. My paychecks went straight into her account and every couple of days she’d break out forty bucks and send me to the grocery store to buy $200 worth of shit. There was a lot of socializing back then, expensive New Orleans restaurants, parties, bar hopping, taxi cabs. It seemed like we were having fun, so the occasional day without food or booze wasn’t a big deal. Not to me anyway. On my own I would have made my way through the lean days on tap water and extra sleep. Instead together we would scrape $6.35 out from old luggage and couch cushions and I would take that up to the ghetto market to see what I could get.
In the long run, this couldn’t stand. Her entitlements, material, emotional and psychological, needs were not adequately realized. This called for action. A quick sweep of absolute destruction that would leave little doubt about who was running things.
So one fine evening she played the suicide card.
That night I came home to the usual thing. There were candles lit in every room and a hundred dollars worth of high quality incense burning, filling the place with a visible haze. She had that look in her eyes, slightly drunk, slightly high and entirely beyond any earthly control. The general rule of our life was that she was going to do exactly what the fuck she wanted to. I would be required to approve and participate. Usually her whims were annoying but predictable. Things like going out to find an open restaurant at 5 a.m., letting weird strangers crash on the futon, taking half an hour to tell the same stupid story for the 12th time and leaving no opening for polite interruption.
Dissent from the program was met with an escalating ladder of brute control tactics. Level one was shitty logic and pouting. Level two was insults and aggressive posturing. Level three was screaming and throwing things, preferably in public. These tactics were not always applied in escalating order, but often at random so as to create maximum terror. Also, they were applied in absurd disproportion. Once the switch was flipped the punishment was delivered thoroughly, savagely and for an inordinate amount of time. She inflicted maximum cost for any disloyalty as insurance against future violations.
Other times she’d get an idea so stupid that the cost of participation was greater than enduring one of her tantrums. Her first suicide attempt was certainly one of those times. At first I wasn’t aware of what she was up to. She had that empty, crazed look in her eyes, but that was nothing unusual. I took a shower to wash the grease and sweat off of me. When I got out of the shower she was sitting on the bed putting on a seventh layer of makeup in the candlelight gloom. Her lipstick was thick and out beyond the edges of her lips. Her eyes were like panda eyes, big circles of royal blue around them. She saw me and focused on me for a second, smiled crookedly and then returned her gaze to her hand mirror. She rolled her lipstick another half lap around her lips and stopped. Her eyes drifted shut and she began to nod off with her mirror and lipstick hovering numbly in her hands.
“Janet? Janet. Hey, Janet, what are you doing?” I asked as gently as I could.
She didn’t respond. I said her name another couple of times. Finally she lit up a little bit, smiled and said “Hi.”
“Hey. What are you doing? What’s going on?”
Again, no response. Her eyes were shut. She still held the lipstick and mirror up in front of her face.
“Janet. Come on… what are you doing? Why are you putting makeup on at 4 in the morning?”
She smiled faintly again. “Oh, baby” she said. I took the lipstick and mirror out of her hands. This was making me angry. I had just worked eight hours in a hot kitchen, walked home a million blocks through the heat and the ghettos. I wanted to relax now, have a drink even. A loving, stimulating conversation with my girlfriend would have been therapeutic. Instead I got this. Babysitting a wasteoid.
She sighed and ran her hands down her legs. “He doesn’t want me any more, baby” she said.
“I can’t do it anymore. I can’t live like this,” she said. She nodded a tiny negative nod, her eyes still closed. Anxiety and frustration swelled up in me. Suddenly it made sense to me why she was putting on makeup in the middle of the night. She wanted to look good when someone found her dead.
“Did you take something?” I asked.
She nodded sadly again.
“Come on what did you take?”
“It’s okay, baby. Tell him I love him. Tell him I always loved him,” she said, staring through her eyelids into her medicated dreamworld.
Fuck, I thought to myself. This is bullshit. I was dying for a drink, but didn’t think it would be responsible. This could get out of control quickly, and I didn’t need booze on my breath if the police showed up.
“I’m gonna get a cocktail. You want one?” I said. She nodded dreamily.
I went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Mustard. I grabbed it and squeezed a gob of it into a glass. I ran the kitchen sink until the water was warm, filled the glass and mixed the stuff together with a fork.
“Here you go,” I said back out in the bedroom. She put her hands up to receive it. I put the glass to her lips and she put her hands around mine. She took a couple of deep sips. When the flavor registered her eyes opened wide. I tipped the glass back forcefully to get as much into her mouth as possible. She glared at me confused and angry. Mustardy water drizzled down her cheeks and the front of her white slip. She gagged. Her hands wrenched the glass out from her face and knocked it to the floor.
“What are you doing?” she screeched.
“I’m not gonna let you die,” I said. I grabbed the back of her head with my mustardy left hand and shoved two fingers of my right hand down her throat. She clamped her teeth down on my fingers. I dropped the weight of my body on her and pressed into her gag reflex with more determination. She gagged some more and finally gave up a pint of her stomach contents. Then she twisted her way out from under me and ran for the door. I didn’t have a chance to catch her. The apartment was empty and everything was quiet as if nothing had happened. I stared out the open door into the darkness.
The cat crawled out from under the futon and looked at me. I went out onto the porch and looked up and down the street. No sign of her. I went back inside and picked up the phone.
“911 what’s your emergency?”
I explained that my girlfriend was suicidal crazy and running wasted around the neighborhood in her slip. I gave the address and hung up. Then, finally, I got the vodka out of the freezer and poured myself a quadruple, neat.
The cop and the ambulance showed up just as she was coming back home. She freaked out again and ran off. They chased her down, restrained her and threw her in the ambulance. They drove off then, leaving the neighborhood in darkness. All the neighbors went back inside. Things got quiet. Peace returned.
I went back inside and finished the vodka.