Sometimes, I find, when we try to do something new in ignorance, it works out better than if we knew our shit. I’ve found this to be true, and my friends have, too. Like recently, when I had all 4 of my impacted wisdom teeth out? I did it in one visit, and with only Novocain as a painkiller. I had no idea this was a really crazy thing to do, and didn’t find out until afterward, when I was doing just fine. See? I was ignorant, and it worked out for the better. They say that women in some parts of the world view childbirth as no big deal, and have babies almost painlessly because they don’t know it’s supposed to hurt.
My point is, when Leila got busted and all I had was maybe 240mg (or g?) – 8 pills of methadone, I thought it was an ample supply to help me kick opium. I doled out the methadone bit by bit, day by day, not realizing 8 pills was nothing. But the pills cost $180 and thus seemed like a lot – a ton of methadone.
Tanya had her own pills. I guess Ollie kicked while in jail. Awful.
After a week of dodging Tanya, I went back to my apartment yet again for clothes. It was getting tiring. But at that point, Tanya confronted me as I tiptoed around.
“I want to talk to you – you have time?”
“Sure.” All I had was time.
“My friend who was here last time you came – Marina?”
I nodded my head.
“She said I should talk to you – you looked like you were walking on eggshells, she said,” Tanya laughed a little.
“Well, I mean-”
“It’s okay, I understand. Ollie is getting out of jail tomorrow. He gets to stay home until they sentence him.”
“Tanya, I am so sorry.”
“Well, he should have called me and told me what was happening instead of making me wait!” she snapped.
I was surprised at her anger over this issue – I later learned that was what she had been upset about the whole time. About Ollie not calling her as soon as he got arrested. How dare he? She focused on that issue solidly. It almost didn’t matter that he was in the slammer. Just that he didn’t give her a call when he was in the back of the squad car. Would that have really made it better? But I didn’t press the issue. It was clear Ollie would get shit for this for months to come. Serious shit, so I kept my mouth shut.
I was not in the apartment when Ollie got home – I wanted them to have a couple’s privacy. But when I came back home for good, it was not just to see my roommates again. Ollie was part of my family, I felt, and I was happy for our little tribe to be whole again.
Over time, (and I haven’t talked about this much) the three of us had become quite close. We could sit for hours together, watching movies, and not talk. And yes, we could finish each other’s sentences. They talked only in English around me, believing it rude to speak Russian. (“Of course you would think we were talking about you, right?” – and I agreed. That’s always what if felt like when people spoke different languages in front of me.) If they did use their mother tongue, Tanya or Ollie would quickly look over to me and give me the gist of it, and I would always nod as if to say “no sweat, it’s cool”.
We watched a lot of TV during those first few days. There were many bottles of liquor in their closet, which we brought out and drank, to supplement the methadone. We were down to taking one-half a pill per day, per person. Jitters had started to kick in, and the nights were getting a little sleepless. But alcohol cured all that.
Our apartment building had a recycling program, so our empty liquor and beer bottles accumulated every day. “We is fucking alcoholics,” Ollie muttered to me one day as we stood in the kitchen, trying not to knock down a wall of tall green bottles lined up on the floor.
“Nah,” I said.
That was enough to make him grin.
Daytime was the most pathetic, because we started drinking before noon, and sat by the TV. “We need a trip. Let’s go somewhere,” Tanya sighed, smiling.
Ollie and I got excited. The matriarch had spoken. (Remember, I was 22 years old, Ollie was 30, and Tanya was 43. She was the mother of the clan. She also spoke English much better than Ollie.)
“Where?” I asked, like a child.
“Upstate,” Ollie said, as if that were the only place to go.
“You know I used to live upstate. We go there a lot,” Tanya reminded me. Of course they did – those were the times I got the apartment to myself.
I had $250 to my name, and it was two weeks until rent was due. That seemed like forever. And if I was late with the rent, my roommates knew full well why that would happen – so what did I have to lose? I had no job that expected me to show up.
Let’s get the fuck out of here!
We borrowed Ollie’s brother’s car. (Ollie’s car was impounded as evidence.) Driving upstate was so much fun. They were great traveling companions. They were just like me. Any time we saw an abandoned farmhouse, we’d pull over and investigate. (One time, we wandered through a peeling rural manse and even peeked into the outhouse. It was wallpapered with real newspapers from the early century – layers of them. Also there were rusty contraptions strewn throughout the tall, weedy lawn. We finally left because briars kept ripping apart out pants.)
If we saw a crop or orchard, we pulled over, picked the best fruit or vegetable we could find, and each shared a bite.
“I love doing this,” Tanya smiled, chewing a bite of fresh crabapple, “it tastes like … life. Here have some. It’s very tart, not ripe yet.”
I ate it out of fellowship.
Our trip’s destination needs a little explaining. Tanya’s gay friend Cary, the one who had AIDS, lived in Saratoga Springs. Next to Saratoga Springs is Lake George. Our first night, we rented a cabin on Lake George, and then after that, we’d stay with Cary and his family. Cary lived with his family for very complicated reasons. At first, they denounced his homosexuality until he was at death’s door, dying of AIDS (yes, full-blown AIDS, not HIV). He was literally hours away from death. His family vowed their love for him at Cary’s bedside and promised they would do anything if he would just not die.
Well, he didn’t. The doctors started him on a new experimental drug as a last resort and it completely turned Cary’s life around. He got much better, gained weight, and became human again. His family was still stuck with their promise, so they housed Cary, who was in his late thirties, and let him run wild, having boyfriends over and let him party and smoke crack all he wanted. They were just so happy to have their little boy back from the dead. (More on this later.)
So our first night, we rented a cabin easily. It was the off season. The season had just peaked, so all the hotels were still open, and the trees had barely begun to turn their fall colors. On a map, Lake George is parallel to Vermont, New Hampshire, and the lower parts of Maine, so we were waaay the fuck up north, as far as this Florida girl’s concerned.
Our cabin smelled of mildew and dank, like a basement - one of my favorite smells. The cushions on the chairs were faded aqua-colored textured vinyl, and the couch was the same brown-and-gold “freedom 1976/old mill/wagon wheel” pattern still seen in many a grandparent’s home. And it felt like home to me.
Ollie and I got a pizza and we built a fire and all ate outside by the huge lake. I could have spent the rest of my life there. I feel that the most beautiful place to be is up north in the summertime. This was the end of summer, so the mosquitoes were gone. The smell of burning wood and the chirp of crickets, the heady mildew and everything – I wanted to enjoy every drop of night but couldn’t wait to wake up to this beautiful place the next morning.