Thursday, somewhen in a waning afternoon, and I was dead tired and half-dead drunk at the Showdown, and so I ordered another piss-thin beer to nurse. Kay set it down in front of me right when Fat John came in and so I bought one for him, too, before he could ask.
"You're a good guy, Jake."
"No shit, you guys are gonna break me."
Which was a lie. For the first time in my life, the one thing I didn't have to worry about was money. It's what started all this, though, what had led me from Boston to this cheap dive in downtown Austin, where I had already started to merge with the broken drunks who hung out there. It hadn't taken me long; there had been a plan once, but after a while drinking had become an end in itself. That cool Texas spring night, though, it was like something had clicked, and I was about to change, to get back on the road I'd been traveling before I'd gone down this particular detour.
I took my beer down to the end of the bar and sat down-there was no table or even bar service here; you had to go up to the register and place your order, even if you were just sitting six feet away. I thought about shooting a game, but figured that with the cocaine hangover shakes, I wouldn't even be able to hold the cue. I looked at Kay's hands; steady and quick. She must have kept some in reserve from last night and had a bump before coming to work. I think maybe I should ask her but remind myself that cocaine was never really the drug for me, and she probably wouldn't give me any, anyway. That was the kind of woman she was; last night had been fun, parked in her car hitting the cheap grade-B cut Colombian powder off each other's fists; and then had come the too-long, unfulfilled sex in the back seat of her Cutlass-rock-hard, skin-blistering sex without orgasm was the drug's worst side effect by far. I had only gone out with Kay to her car after closing that night because she asked me, and around women I am nothing if not weak. I went into the bathroom, took an anemic piss, then sparked a joint and took a draw on it, not so much for the THC but in the hopes that someone would come in and catch me. You see, that was part of the plan, was to get caught. Only by getting caught, I figured, could I return to the plan and continue the search.
I was searching for my old man. There, I've said it. No big deal. I wasn't complicated about it, I wasn't in some kind of emotional turmoil about the long-lost father, etc. I hadn't even asked myself any of the questions about why I wanted to find him, why I was doing it this way. It had been a reflex since this whole thing was started-by his money, to be specific. I felt like I owed it to him.
The money had come from him, but it hadn't said why he had sent it. It had come in a package to my little place near Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. I was inching along towards a master's degree in Art History when the brown package had arrived. I opened to find a key, a cashier's check for four hundred thousand dollars, and a note from my Dad. I had never spoken with him in my life, not that I remember, and I only pictured him from photographs. He didn't sign the note but I recognized the handwriting from an unsent postcard to his brother that Mom had kept, and that I still had.
When I got the package I didn't know what to do. There was no explanation in the note, just a word of condolence about Mom, who had died six years ago, when I was nineteen and just starting college, and a gesture that he hoped this would help get me established in the world. The package had been forwarded from my previous address, in Montana, but I didn't know how he would have gotten that, either.
It couldn't have come at a better time. Or worse. I went to my bank and deposited a quarter of it, then got a cashier's check for the remainder and went to another bank to open an account and deposit another hundred thousand, and I did that three times, at which point I paid off my credit card, my student loan, put new tires on my car and got ready to leave Boston, but not before I got rat-faced drunk and posted a note on my thesis advisor's door telling him to take his latest comments on my thesis draft and shove them straight up his ass. I realized somewhere between the time I entered the third bank and the time I was peeling off three hundred-dollar bills for the car's new tires that I no longer gave a rat's ass about my education. I had walked over to Maggie's place and told her that I was leaving for a while, that I had no choice, and that I didn't think things were working out anyway. In my memory, that's the part that I think about least. She nodded calmly, and before I left we had a bout of tear-filled sex, but we both seemed relieved. I had been drinking for a while, and between benders and working on a thesis there was no time for kindness and sensitivity, which I had never been good at anyway. I could be charming with enough whiskey and THC in me, but not kind. There wasn't much to me underneath the surface, but that surface was now rich.
The last thing I did before I left town was to talk to an old friend of mine, Aaron Cohen. I walked up the three flights to his place and he let me in. There were a couple of others around, sad little junkies with needles lying around on the floor, and even though I had thick shoes I was careful. I didn't really care what I put in my body, but I sure as hell cared how I put it there.
"Aaron, how you doing?"
"Jake, Jakey, what's happening?"
Some people on the floor responded to my presence, but not many, maybe two out of the half-dozen that were either up getting hits or down on the floor, loving the world on the dirty carpet with the barren sunlight shining in.
"I need some stuff, Aaron." I didn't know where I was going, so I bought some tabs of codeine, two grams of coke, and two ounces of pot. He offered me meth and tar and I turned them both down. I had been to the liquor store, gassed up the car and tore up my lease and left a note for the landlord saying to sell it all if he wanted, I didn't care-I left three thousand dollars in cash with the note. The only thing I'd taken with me was Felicia, a nine-month kitten who since would come to accept a life of the highway and cheap motels as calmly and readily as I did.
Aaron offered to get me set up with a new drivers' license, just in case, with all of the stuff I was taking, and so I let him make the phone call while I bought just enough horse for myself and snorted it, which was a waste, but I just don't cotton to needles, and I happily languished in the late afternoon light. Aaron ran the little place, and so he and I went back behind the locked door to his apartment, a posh yet run-down little place, but nicer than the front room he kept reserved for friends and customers.
"Taking off, huh?"
I liked Aaron a lot; we had been friends since undergrad at the University of Montana. I was from North Dakota and he was from Boston, and somehow he had decided he wanted to be a nature boy and come to the Rockies. The nature he found was mostly in the form of a particular herb which one can get surprisingly easily and cheaply in Missoula. We experimented nature's way together, from marijuana to mushrooms to mescaline. He liked 'shrooms, but I never cared much for the psychoactives. I wasn't looking for drugs to give me another reality, just to make this one more interesting, bearable. It wasn't until Boston that he got into anything synthetic, and eventually nature's way gave way to the needle's way. When I got to Boston two years later, after working at a job and a destined-to-fail relationship in Missoula, I finally settled on grad school and found myself at Boston University.
Meeting up with Aaron again rekindled my interest in mind alteration, and I entered a few new worlds in my first year of grad study and the following summer, during which I accumulated debts and habits. Then the fall of my second year came, and eight months of relative sobriety and abstention from anything hard had purged my system of even the most residual side effects. That's when the money had come; I had been sitting at my computer that night, actually working on a piece for my thesis, and sipping a little Yukon Jack and getting sick to my stomach from it and trying not to think about what I was going to do with the check for almost a half-million dollars that was sitting on my kitchen table like a bill I put out to remind myself to pay it, like it's nothing, just a magazine or catalog I'll get to tomorrow. I got up from my desk, looked at the check, sat down and thought through every reason why this money wasn't real-I couldn't think of any-and then I went through every reason why I shouldn't do what I was burning to do, and I couldn't think of any, then, either, so I got out.
And the last step was going to Aaron to renege on whatever promise I had made myself eight months ago. I remembered telling myself I would be mostly clean until I got my thesis done, then maybe a month of celebration, then into the real world and those desires would fade. But I had walked out, down the steps of the university, the whole time wondering whether or not I would be back, whether I would come crawling back when I realized life was not an adventure, that you couldn't just run away and chase something elusive, that that wasn't practical. What would I do? Did I have the guts to risk throwing everything I had planned away? I was seeing if I did. Drugs helped. They could kick away loneliness and aimlessness as easily as the apple falls to the earth. Once you knew what each one did to you, you were your own puppet as long as money and the body didn't get too worn thin. You could construct any individual on the inside that you wanted to suit the situation. A quick bump in the morning to get up into the slipstream and then smack or good dope and booze to bring you down, and sometimes meth to bring you up and over, and sometimes other things just to have fun. But you need them, for a time. I did now.