September 16, 2016
I don’t know how long we’d been tripping by that point. Hours and hours and hours, light ones and dark ones, and some surprisingly cold ones, for a late spring night in May. It was hard to tell how we’d gotten there, this stoop on 9th and 6th, across from a building where I’d been a number of times, many years ago, to visit friends of my dad’s. Those warm, indoor times, when I felt oppressed by every layer of clothing, the smell of wool, the threads, hairs, wisps that billowed in any strong beam of sunlight. It would be nice to be indoors, I thought.
We only had a couple of hours until school would start. It was these last few hours that were tough; the rest of the trip had been great, I assume, so great that when the opportunity to stay out all night instead of going to Evie’s came up, we chose, of course to stay out all night. Who wouldn’t? We were too fucked up to deal with her mom; we decided to pretend we were sleeping at Lauren’s; we went to a pay phone and made our calls and told our mothers we weren’t coming home. Lauren wasn’t even with us.
So now, in the gloaming of 4:30 a.m., 5 a.m., the concrete cold under our asses, there was no place to be. Once you signed out for the night, you didn’t come crawling in at 4:30 or 5. We didn’t have money to buy coffee and sit at a diner and if we’d sat down anywhere comfortable I would have fallen dead asleep. Sleep is hard when you’re tripping, your racing mind and loud heart gets in the way, but I was coming down from the trip, and I thought I could do it, if given a chance.
There came a point in the coming down process where you asked yourself, “Am I still tripping?” and then tried to make both cases – if you even had to ask the question, you were still tripping; but if you were aware enough to feel the effects start to wane, causing you to question your state, then you were not really tripping anymore. It was all academic anyway. Sober life was the period between taking drugs, which didn’t last long. At the very least, cigarettes and strong coffee made things sharper, took me away from the baseline, a line I never wanted to touch.
Crepuscular. I didn’t know that word back then, senior year of high school, almost done for good. It had been a sunny May day in Central Park, we got off work around 7:30 p.m., and there were still a few people around in the waning dusk, circling like gnats. It didn’t seem dark until the streetlights went on, and then, ironically, you could see it. We took the acid around 8, so we’d be going until 6 a.m. We had definitely fucked ourselves. We could both tell time and do math, especially when relatively sober, so I don’t know why, at that late hour, we chose to shrug and pop the tabs anyway, except that we didn’t really give much of a shit about anything, and had the power to close our eyes to logic with great ease.
Crepuscular. It describes an animal that’s most active at dusk and dawn. It sounds monstrous – the word, not the definition – and at that time of near-day, with nobody on the streets but the rough trade, it was monstrous. We were monstrous. I was a monster. Nobody knew what kind of hatred I held in my heart, the many murders I committed every day. I’d once planned to kill my stepfather by nicotine poisoning, which I’d read about in Hustler, I think; you boiled a bunch of cigarettes into a thick, pungent liquid, and then somehow got the motherfucker to drink it. He smoked Camel unfiltereds from morning to midnight, they would have never suspected foul play. It was not any crisis of conscience, just sheer laziness, that had kept me from executing my plan.
I hated. I wanted. I needed. Evie sat next to me on the stoop, her hands clasped in prayer position between her knees, her head hung, then lifted to the sky, then hung again. She too was cold, exhausted, and worst of all bored. Did we talk? Did we repeat the same few phrases – “I wish it were 8, already,” “I’m so fucking tired,” “I can’t believe I’m out of cigarettes,” “I wish we had a joint or something” – back and forth to each other? Waiting was the thing we were worst at, and yet it seemed to be the only thing we did.
For me, even the awful things were exciting – even this night, as much as I wished it would end, imbued me with a sense of freedom, wildness, anticipation. To be outdoors, to breathe the outdoors inside of me, the moisture in the air now a fog in my lungs, the taste of the street in my nose. Vibrating at a very high pitch. There’s something pure about that kind of emptiness, being pushed up against the limits of what you can bear. Of course I’m romanticizing it now.
The sun was going to come up soon. It got colder before it got warmer. It wasn’t light but it wasn’t dark; we’d reached a homeostasis where things were uniformly grey and fuzzy. The doorman of the building across the street stepped outside for some air. We were the type of thing he was hired to keep out of the building. I thought about walking over with Evie, telling him that I was Janice Erlbaum and we were there to see the Steins in 10G, just to show him that we were as good as anybody else. It could have been us living under his protection. There was carpet in the lobby, we could have lied down on it and slept.
Trucks, that’s all we’d heard for the last hour; the thu-thunk as they hit the metal plate covering a pothole in the middle of 6th Ave. Cabs. A man hooting from somewhere west of us, unintelligible. A woman with a cart lined with a black garbage bag. Some birds – what birds? Pigeons didn’t sing, did they? Sparrows, maybe. A Sanitation truck with its loud, round brushes scraping the streets. The grey got paler. It was time to crepusculate.
A few people dribbled out from the PATH station across the street. They didn’t notice us, two kids on a stoop; we were the color of the surroundings, grey and brown. We didn’t notice them either except that they existed, they were regular people, you saw them all the time in life and hoped never to become one. They wore uninteresting clothes and had unoriginal ideas. They had no idea what kind of epiphanies were available to them if only they took acid. We were clearly better than them; if they’d seen us sitting there in the bland, lint-colored morning, they would know we’d had a night unlike any they’d ever experienced, and they would envy us. I felt very beautiful and forlorn and lucky and terrible at the same time.
I saw it all the time. Old people, people over 30, envied us. They tried to make it look like disgust, the looks they shot us as we passed them on the sidewalk, but it was easy to identify it as anger. We had everything they wanted and could never get back. We had smooth skin, and futures. They were the ones with the apartments and the autonomy, and yet I saw them as prisoners of the stupid boring relationships they’d forged with other stupid and boring people. They were slaves to their bosses, spouses, children, mortgages, churches. There was not one thing that any of those people could’ve told me that I didn’t already know.
The clock on the Jefferson Library said 5:40. Two hours to go, until we would peel ourselves from where we were stuck, the grip of the rough stone catching our legs just enough to make it seem difficult, and walk slowly towards school, about 15 blocks away. People would start collecting on the corner as early as 8; they would have cigarettes and money we could borrow; we’d get some coffee. Two more hours, though, and nothing to make them go any faster. Evie was now looking east down the street, turned away from me.
There’s Beto, she said, perturbed, perplexed. We were still a little tripping so I thought she was mistaken. Beto wasn’t going to be wandering down this exact street, at this exact time of early morning. He lived blocks and blocks away. And yet, there he was, blond and sleepy-eyed, stoned even when he wasn’t.
What’s up, he said, pulling up to the stoop. What are you guys doing?
He took a seat. As impossible as it had seemed that Beto would have walked by our random stoop at 5:45 a.m., now it seemed impossible that he hadn’t been there all along. Nothing, said Evie. He looked over our heads at something far away. Hey, I said, do you have a cigarette?
He said, I was just about to ask you.
He fell into our silence. There was nothing to say. We were tripping, and now we were waiting. Waiting to go somewhere, anywhere inside. My eyes were too dry to close. My hands were grimy and bloated, and the purple veins looked like rot. The skin molted off our bones. Beto was on something too but it didn’t matter what. Nobody had anything to spare. We’d spent it all, earlier in the night, when we put the tabs on our tongues and rolled ourselves on to the street like marbles down hills.
The trip was over and we had nowhere to go. Nights like these were never ending. They were all the same night. Time stopped, in the darkest-before-dawn, while we waited for a morning we didn’t believe in and wouldn’t trust when it came. And I pass that stoop today, and it turned out we were right, it really was endless. We’re still there. There’s a part of that night, and every night like it, still waiting for day.