We started out in the common room; all cold because Mati's space heater had run out of oil. Damned if he and Chris didn't waste it all the night before glued to the television, bent double in their seats with the obsessive need to finish whatever game they had rented (and was now somewhere about three days overdue – I had been fielding off the calls from Video Ezy since Tuesday or so). Everyone had wandered off outside and I was unable to extract myself from the body-shaped cocoon of heat I had made of some old blankets. Distracted, watching the old set while I waited for them to come back, I was entertained variously by a Siamese contortionist act and a commercial for Action Man, who protected the forest from Alien Terrorists. The boys returned with a twelve-pack of Steinlager and Sage, who had been on her way when she ran into their little brigade. The plan as I knew it was to knock off as many of the bottles as possible before heading into town, where we could vent our desire to spend money and feed off the excited screams of our contemporaries, who were probably engaged in the exact same activity. Over the homemade bar we eyed each other in companionship, faces blinking green as the bottles raised and lowered to the obscenely loud music that had somehow replaced the variety show of a few minutes earlier. Invariably with the first few sips my internal organs rebelled, bringing my brain with them, lamenting my desire to socialize and leave my bed. The need to leave rolled into my head muddy and shameful, a polluted wave of impending regret that needed no rationality to force its passage. Pointless, I was always forced to think, a pointless eight-hour trek that will end only where it began. The vibrant ethos of our mission, its caution-less chant of youth, youth felt fabricated and transparent, if only to me. Like the first rush of any drug, I wanted to run from anything that felt joyous, or mortal. But guilty thoughts are arrows that fall quickly in a room heated with many bodies. So I fell into the story that Mark was nearly finished narrating:
Mark: …just standing there reading the fuckin' box to him; what the fuck do we do, man?
…yeah, and we all just looked at each other . . . started edging closer together into this herd . . . and Hamish's eyes kept getting wider . . . and this chorus of 'shit, shit shitshit'
Hamish: . . . and we just bolted for the kitchen eh man, just fuckin bolted!
This was the harrowing tale of Lori, known to our flat as "Larry," the seemingly omnipresent ex-ladyfriend of Mati's, who had become moderately famous (at least among our friends) for turning up at least once a week. Always very late, definitively drunk, she'd stumble in, a tangle of hair and eyeshadow laced into an emphatic 'outfit'. Her goal was entry into Mati's room and whether or not he was asleep she would keep post at his door til she had her prize, fell asleep, or wandered off to wherever she really lived. Old Larry forever lurked around the corner, in every pub and on every night we claimed to see her, but mainly just to take the piss out of Mati. The epic of the moment was an evening of last week, when Sage and I had orchestrated a night of Robo-tripping for everyone. Robitussin, the friendly cough medicine, happens to contain Dextromethorphin, a chemical similar to PCP in composition and mushrooms in effect, a fact not lost on scores of bored suburban teens in America, who clear out their local drug counter on long weekends in the winter. Sage and I, in our unfailing wisdom, succumbed to the kind of boredom that incites its victims to try sophomoric and generally stupid drugs. During our winter semester at our home college, snowed in for another day, we spent a night unable to balance on two feet, dancing to Swan Lake (the ballet score) and generally feeling like pirates. Based on this story, Mark, Hamish, and Mati voted yes to a night chasing the same. Being the organized gentlemen that they are, the day before was devoted to suspicious shufflings in several chemist shops around the city. New Zealand, it seemed, had caught on and would only reluctantly sell the syrup. In order to make the deal, one had to claim a dry cough and several other specific symptoms, otherwise the friendly assistant would suggest another drug, and the game would be up. After two teams had returned from this mission Mark calculated the necessary amount of extreme overdose for each of us. A website on the subject provided a guide in the form of four plateaux, each in a different color and font. The last promised the appearance of God, angels, and perhaps dwarves. It was agreed that none of us had any real desire to end up there, so Mark performed some kind of mathematic voodoo involving BMI and the metric system (being a P.E. major, it should be said that he knew what he was doing). The result was a torn-out notebook leaf of names and doses, framed with esoteric calculations scrawled in orange highlighter.
The wooden bar was the center of the operation. Mark, the master of ceremonies for the occasion, duly measured out each patient's ration in a medicine cup and filled the assembled teacups, shot glasses, and one rather large bowl. To excesses of hearty encouragement and chants of 'scull! Scull it!' we each tipped the purple ooze down our throats. The thickness of anticipation and camaraderie trickled into uneasy, though optimistic conversation while we waited out the next half hour jetting looks at each other for signs of our impending fate.
The subtle and sudden knowledge that you're fucked up brings with it an innate fear that you are The Only One. Fortunately with Robitussin, this secret awareness is accompanied by an eye-popping stare and complete dissociation from your limbs, which tend to drift unmastered in every direction. Thanks to this, we all bypassed the paranoid, isolated stage pretty quickly and heaved headlong into the giddy euphoria. The first hours are the strongest, filled with an intense desire to put your hands right in the face of anyone looking your way. Incredibly dilated pupils are responsible for that. There is also a cruelly atavistic need to maintain a close group with your fellow junkies; contact with anyone who has the basic use of their faculties is unthinkable. The very idea puts you in a trembling frenzy, which tumbles into loud guffaws, a swelling love of your equally wasted comrades, and more hands in faces. And this was when Larry appeared.
Mati had the misfortune of being so laid back that the enticing effects of Robitussin completely bypassed him. He resigned himself to the couch and plugged into a video game while we giggled in a cluster by the door and tried to figure out (in scientific terms borrowed from our seventh grade geology memories, using a rugby ball, tennis ball, and a stick) why water swirled the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere and how the moon affected tides. Our heads bent closer and closer together, voices swelled to excited shouts as we each voiced our expertise; the mood elevated and bloomed into an ecstasy of distraction. Like the ominous note of a clock-tower in a Gothic novel, we saw the form of Larry blinking in the door.
Uncharacteristically, she had come to call before she was completely intoxicated. Instead, she seemed to be extending her feelers to Mati, enticing him to follow her to a pub. Mati was uncommunicative. The warning had not been sounded (usually our job) and he was trapped in the living room without a shot at the refuge of pretending to be asleep behind a locked door. Unmoved by his concentration on the game, she tried another tactic and began to read the description of the game out loud from the back of the box. We were uneasy; a foreigner had entered the fold. Then The Unthinkable happened – Larry turned towards us, saying something like: So, you guys having a good night eh?
We sensed sarcasm, we sensed that she Knew. I don't remember if anyone responded. My only memory is of a rising tide of fear, fear, like a communal heartbeat, which is where Mark's story began. We ended our little crisis crowded into the tiled slot of a kitchen that adjoined the living room. The mass exodus involved simultaneous cries of horror as we bunched into a retreating army and shuffled madly into the smallest space we could find. Hamish tried to crawl under the counter, behind the vegetable tray.
The story finished in unison as we chanted simultaneously our various incantations of horror. We cheered to our battle; eyes and bottles clinked with camaraderie. We were heroes then, sharing the wartales of youth and indescretion, slicing away the shame of intoxication with the harder mettle of kinship. The ultimate stupidity of it all seemed to make the final glow all the brighter - easier then to see the celebration behind the haze. I didn't want my bed anymore – I wanted the soft wind that frenzied drunk embraces make when friends mock and salute each other in the same loving gesture.