I had my first hit of love at sixteen. My girlfriend Trish slipped it into my hand, and I remember a vague sense of disappointment when I saw it. It was a small gelcap, not pink or red like you might think. It glowed a faint golden color. Little whorls of light dancing inside and reflected out onto my skin. The more I looked at it, though, the more entranced I got.
“Go on,” she said, before downing her own pill. “Try it!”
I’m embarrassed to say that it took her awhile to convince me. Up to that point, I had prided myself on only consuming “natural” drugs, like weed and mushrooms. This shit was cooked up in some laboratory in Topeka, as far as I knew.
I still remember the words that finally got me to try it. “What could be more natural than love?”
I swallowed it dry, and for a good twenty minutes, I nervously waited. I thought I knew what high was, but nothing I’d done before compared to the feeling I got from love. I sank down on the grass and closed my eyes. It fired through every nerve in my body at once. For the first time in my life, I truly understood the meaning of the word “exquisite”.
I know that Trish slipped her hand into mine at some point. And that we spent a lot of time that afternoon staring into each others’ eyes, when we weren’t giggling like idiots. I also know that I didn’t love her. I liked her well enough, I guess, but it was nothing compared to the chemical rush that pulsed through my veins. Every inch of skin on my body felt like it was vibrating. I couldn’t think, I could barely move. I wanted more, and I didn’t care if it came from her or from someone else.
With love, everything gets buried. Details are drowned out by the pure emotion that you feel. We stumbled along through the usual high school relationship stuff: formal dances, driving around late at night, hanging out at diners until the sun came up. I’m pretty sure I told her I loved her. But even now, I can’t really remember. I couldn’t tell you what she was wearing on our first anniversary, or how long it was before I lost my virginity to her. But I can tell you that both times we were out of our heads on love.
Like any drug, though, you run into the issue of diminishing returns. Love is tricky enough to manufacture, as it is. Maintaining it is next to impossible. After a while, Trish started mixing it with bliss, trying to get that same feeling back. But all that does is give you infatuation at best, and infatuation burns away a hell of a lot faster than love.
In the end, Trish and I drifted apart. There wasn’t any big fight or anything like that. Before Trish, my model of a happy relationship was watching my parents hurl quiet insults at each other across the dinner table, then settle in to watch Jeopardy. Trish and I didn’t have any of that, we just stopped talking. One day she was a part of my life that I was sure I couldn’t live without, then she was gone. Unfortunately for me, she took her supply of love with her.
After Trish, I had a fling with an artist named Remy who introduced me to despair. It came in deep purple little pills, that he’d grind up and snort when he was feeling particularly inspired. The pills were heavier than you’d think, like they carried the weight of the world with them. Remy would spend days brooding silently about how empty life was or obsessing about something he’d done wrong as a child. He wrapped misery around himself like a worn out old blanket.
But still, every so often, he’d channel that shit into something beautiful. He’d spend several days in bed not eating or sleeping, and then one day he’d paint some of the most beautiful pictures I’d ever seen. Vivid colors and shapes that caught the eye just right to evoke whatever it was that he wanted to say at that precise moment.
He burned most of them after.
For me, it got to be too much. The thing about despair is that it’s deceptively easy to get hooked on, and once it gets its claws into you, it’s a bitch to kick. Sometimes I’d join him, and spend a day or two feeling terrible about the fucked up things in my life. But I was never able to find the romance in it like he did. He suffered for his art.
Eventually, I realized that love was what I wanted and I wasn’t going to find it with him. He had a few dealers and hangers on who claimed that they had it, but usually it was just a bit of jumped up bliss. Every so often, I’d get a small bit of pure love, and even that was starting to become less effective. I wanted the rapturous highs that I’d had with Trish. The best I could get were fleeting moments of affection towards the world around me. It turns out that love works best when you have someone to focus it on.
I bounced around after that, trying to figure out where the next fix would come from. There were a couple years where I stayed with Stella and Buddy, who liked to mix their emotions. Buddy was big on despair with a hint of love to it, which generally left him thinking about past loves and romanticizing the hell out of them. I tried it a couple of times, spending hours staring down the rabbit hole of my past relationships. That kind of navel-gazing has never really worked for me though, and I was happy to leave him to it.
Stella, on the other hand, stuck with bliss and love. She spent most of her time with that giddy rush of high school love, when everything about the other person is great. She’d moon about the house, laughing and giggling to herself. Sometimes, Buddy and I would call her to the bedroom and the three of us would have one hell of a time all hopped up on love.
After a few months, we settled into a routine. Buddy would have his days where he was off in a corner thinking about the loves he’d lost, and Stella and I would be on the couch, having some of the best sex of our lives.
I could have been happy there with the two of them, I think, if Stella hadn’t started burning out.
I’ve heard this is a common problem with love addicts. After a few years, you start noticing the lack of love in your life. It’s not just the obvious romantic love that so many folks think about, either. Maybe you just don’t end up with enough to really care about the things you used to. There was one lady, in my support group years later, who found that she couldn’t be bothered to care about her kids after a long bender.
It’s a lonely world without love in it. Looking back, I’m not surprised that Stella started experimenting with hate. Maybe she just wanted to feel something. The arguments with Buddy started getting ugly. What began as your normal shouting matches would quickly escalate to slamming doors and threats of violence. Stella would seethe for days after. There were moments where she’d be sitting there, sobbing on the floor, and then suddenly start laughing from the sheer relief of finally having a feeling.
I was out the night she mixed hate and bliss. A friend of mine claimed to have a lead on some love, and at that point I was chasing down every possible connection I could find. There are times when I wonder if things would have gone differently if I’d been home. I like to think that I could have talked her down. At the very least, I could have maybe helped Buddy restrain her. But instead, I was off in a shitty apartment across town, blowing a dude for some pills that had been cut with so much shit that I barely felt anything at all.
I came home to find a couple of cop cars parked in front of the house, Stella laughing away in the back of one. Thankfully, I’d taken all of the bullshit pills and there wasn’t anything in the house that I needed. I don’t know if the cops were looking for me, and I didn’t stick around to find out. I hear they had to have a closed casket for Buddy’s funeral. I hope it was a nice service.
After Buddy and Stella, I took to wandering again, working odd jobs and trying to stay connected with dealers. The police had started cracking down on it, and you’d hear rumors of bad batches popping up here and there. Most of those years are sort of a fog for me. With the love leached out of the world, it ends up being a gray place.
I could have gone home, I think, if I’d really wanted to. My therapist told me that home is maybe where I really started looking for love. I pointed out that I could get cheap analysis like that for free on the internet, and that he needed to figure out something better if he wanted to keep getting paid. We agreed to part ways after that.
The one good thing he did for me was put me in touch with a support group. At that point, I was tired of chasing love. It was exhausting, and I knew I had a problem. When I got too tired to deal with it, I decided to finally go.
The first few nights, I just listened. Story after story of how badly these things fucked people up. This one guy, Malcolm, got so high on love that he let his hate-head wife set him on fire. Shit like that made me think that my own emotionless hell was almost a good thing, until I had to get up to speak.
I stood there, in front of these people, telling them about everything I’ve done for love. In a lot of ways, I felt like a fraud. My own stories weren’t nearly as tragic as the ones around me. I mean, all thing considered, I had gotten off pretty light. How does my story compare to someone like Malcolm, who still loves his wife so much that he cries about her being alone at night in jail? But standing there, relating what happened to me, I started to realize that even feeling shame was something, which was a start.
I kept going to the group, as often as I could find meetings. Sometimes this meant going to cities a few hours away, if I had to. Even with the support, I still found myself chasing love. I’d go out for a pizza or grab a beer at the bar, and I’d be looking for the tell-tale glow in someone’s hand. By some stroke of luck, I never saw it in those days. I’m pretty sure that was the only thing that got me to stop in those first few months. After that, it got easier to deal with.
A year went by, and I started going on a few dates again. By this point, I’d moved around so much that my circle of friends was relegated to people in the support group. So, I started trying to find someone online, usually guys and girls I met through some dating site or another. We’d talk a bit about life, and I’d spout off some canned stories from my childhood. Nothing serious, but usually hinting at a deeper well of emotion buried inside. Not surprisingly, they never went anywhere. The only love I’ve ever found has come in the middle of someone’s hand.
Still, I finally stopped wandering, and managed to put down what my mother would call “roots”. I got a reasonably steady job, and an apartment that isn’t terrible. A day hasn’t gone by that I haven’t felt my eyes dart over at something flashy. If I don’t pay attention, I find myself longing for that rush, wanting to feel that familiar tingle through my skin. Still, I’ve managed so far. And some days, that’s all you can ask for.
©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.