One Last High
Clegg, Bill, Newsweek
Byline: Bill Clegg
'It looks like Oz. This is what I think as Manhattan comes into view through the windshield of my friend Dave's jeep. The crowded towers poke the sky with their metal and glass and in the midday haze look faraway, mythic, more idea than place. We're driving in thick traffic that moves swiftly and in unison. A month ago I hadn't noticed the city receding behind us as we drove from Lenox Hill Hospital to the rehab in White Plains. Between Lenox Hill and rehab I've been in treatment for six weeks. He's offered me his place for a few weeks while I find somewhere to live. I've just finished four weeks in a small drug-and-alcohol rehab on the grounds of an old mental asylum. Dave drove me there after I was released from the psych ward at Lenox Hill Hospital, where I wound up after a two-month bender that ended in a fistful of sleeping pills, a bottle of vodka, a crack pipe stuffed to bursting, and an ambulance.'
The small literary agency I co-owned and ran for four years is gone, all my clients have found new agents, our employees have scattered to new jobs or left New York, and whatever money I once had has been wiped out, leaving in its place a rising debt of legal, hospital, and rehab bills. The eight-year relationship with my boyfriend, Noah, is over, and the apartment at One Fifth Avenue his grandmother bought him, where we lived for six years, is no longer my home. Hours later. Dave has helped me with my bags up the three flights of stairs to his small writing studio on Charles Street, said a stern goodbye, and gone home to have dinner with his wife and kids.
All at once it hits me: I'm alone. No one besides Dave knows exactly where I am. I could be doing anything. I've been an inpatient for weeks, under the thumb of nurses and doctors and counselors the entire time. No more morning gatherings, group meals, and in-bed-by-10 room checks. I'm alone and unaccountable. And then, like a dead ember blown to life, I think about my old dealers, Rico and Happy. I remember how I owe each of them a thousand dollars and wonder--despite all that's been lost, everyone hurt, despite everything--how I'm going to get two grand to pay these guys off so I can buy more? I start to puzzle through credit cards and PIN codes for cash advances. Suddenly a few thousand dollars seems within reach, and I can feel that old burn, that hibernating want, come awake. I imagine the relief that first hit will deliver and I'm suddenly up off the couch and pacing. No no no, I chant. No f--king way. That craving, once it begins, is almost impossible to reverse. What my addict mind imagines, my addict body chases. It's like Bruce Banner as he's turning into the Incredible Hulk. Once his muscles begin to strain against his clothes and his skin goes green, he has no choice but to let the monster spring from him and unleash its inevitable damage.
I've just got to get to 90 days.
Several days later, I remember a day two months ago, leaving the bank with $3,000 stuffed in my jacket, calling my dealer from the street and telling him to meet me at my room at the Gansevoort Hotel. I remember him saying he was only a block away and how my heart raced as I hailed a cab to get there before he did, how his van was pulling up to the hotel just as my cab was, and how I hopped from one vehicle right into the other. From call to cab to van and back to room took less than five minutes, some kind of record, and in the middle of the day, no less. Remembering the return to the hotel room, the wealth of drugs, the remaining cash in hand, and the night ahead starts my heart racing. I think again of the $2,000 in my account now. The two that will soon be eight. Following the thousand-dollar-a-day logic of those nights at the Gansevoort, three months' rent becomes eight nights high.
Out the door, down the elevator, and onto Seventh Avenue, where I quickly duck into a bodega and head to the cash machine. I have less than $200 in my checking account, but I also have three credit cards with separate limits for cash advances. …