it's all ok

I wake to music. Bass guitar and muffled lyrics: sound checks on the street below. The nostalgia wastes no time settling on me as I lay in bed, a fine dust I know will be difficult to shake off. Last year's St. Patrick's Day was one of the best days in I've had in LA. I spent the day with the two people I felt closest to, men who I knew understood and loved me, in spite of everything awful about me. We stood together, alone amongst thousands of other people, threw our arms around one another, and belted out the words to songs that dialed me back years, to other joyful times in my life. Music and love, romantic and Platonic, memories created and called upon, just steps from my front door. I was enraptured by life that day.

Drugs will do that to you.

And it's drugs that are on my mind when I wake up, because I'm scared. I'm scared that this nostalgia will choke me if I don't find something sweet to wash it down with. So much has changed in the past year. I've grown enormously, yes. I've tried to roll with the knocks, both brutal and easy, and I think I've landed in a pretty good place. But a part of me can't help but long for the life I had 365 days ago. A few weeks after St. Patrick's Day, 2012, I was on a plane to Florida to help my father die. A few months after that, the relationship that I'd clung to like a life raft, terrified of even more loss, ended, sending me into a spiral of desperation and suicidal ideation. And a few months after that, Wally moved away, taking with him something I hadn't even known existed until I met him.

Constants downgraded to variables. Touchstones crumbled to ashes. Remember, Ellie, this is why you don't hang your happiness on things that can change. 

Yeah, well.


But though my mind occasionally flashes to the contents of the tiny plastic bag inside the vase that's pushed far to the back of my highest kitchen cabinet shelf, I'm determined to give it a go without. I can do this. I'll just get hammered and have a great time with my friends. I won't look back. 

I take Chaucer for a long, brisk walk, and he even gets some rare, off-leash play with another dog. This feels like a good sign, and as we round the corner of my block, the barricades and trucks, the tents and lights and balloons, the early revelers that are already trickling into the street festival, charge me up with positive vibes. It's going to be a good day.

I don't even have a plan, really. I've invited K. and R. to join me, but it's iffy that they're going to come. Some acquaintances from the neighborhood, and another one from my building, have said they'll be there, but we haven't set a time or a meetup point, and it will be hard to find them in the crowd. I consider texting some other downtown friends, but decide against it. If I'm going to spend time with anyone today, it needs to be with people I love. The only people I feel close to that are actually nearby, and that can come, are K. and R., but as they're not fans of crowds, there's a very good chance that I'll be going alone.

And I'm mostly ok with that, since a) not going is not an option, because the sound of the massive party pouring in my windows would just be too depressing to hide from, b) I know after a few drinks I'll be happy to mingle with strangers, anyway, and c) A. is going, and I know if I run into him, we'll probably stick together for the day.

I feed Chaucer, slam water to rehydrate from a party the night before, and get dressed while listening to Flogging Molly, loud. It's the one day a year I can blast music with impunity, since my neighbors can't hear it above what is already rocking our building from the street below. I put on a button down, a kelly green sweater, a plaid miniskirt, over-the-knee socks, a skinny scarf, and a pair of combat boots. An outfit that's ridiculous and way too young, but which I can get away with on a day like today, when silliness, spirit, and inappropriate wardrobe choices abound.

I put in a final request urging K. and R. to come over, and head downstairs. Residents of my building have been given free VIP access to the festival, so I get to bypass the block-long line and walk in with almost no wait. I'm trying to psych myself up for the day, but I'm not feeling it. And as I drift into the crowd, populated by clusters of laughing friends, I lose emotional steam. I don't want to be alone here. But the U2 cover band that I loved so much last year and the year before is playing, so I put on my game face and push up towards the stage. The sun is beating down on me, and I realize that a cashmere sweater, wool thigh highs, and no sunglasses was a bad call.

I'm debating whether to get a drink, run back home to change, or leave downtown for the day altogether when I realize someone is talking to me. A guy decked out in festive accessories is asking me something. Who are you looking for? Are you alone? 

No, I'm not alone, I reply. Are you alone? It's only sort of a lie. K. and R. may come, and if not, I know I'll run into people I know soon enough. The guy says he's looking for a girl, a friend he's lost in the crowd. He tells me I look like I just walked out of Hogwarts. I laugh, but have no witty comeback. I can't wrap my head around this conversation, I say honestly. I'm way too sober. Sensing I'm not in party mode yet, the guy wishes me a happy holiday and disappears back into the throng.

I realize I'm sweating in my layers, and that if I don't go home and change, my low mood has a zero percent chance of improving. As I head out the exit, I see that at this point, even the VIP line has gotten ridiculous, and I'll be in for a wait when I come back. But my apartment is just around the corner, so I decide it's still worth being more comfortable.

At home, I tear off my sweater and shirt, my skirt and my socks. Chaucer dances around me excitedly, nervous at all the energy and sound filling our tiny space. I change into a tank top layered under a green and black striped crop top, jeans, and Converse. I drink another glass of water, and lean against the counter, trying to relax. I want to have a good day. I need to have a good day. I can't have last year back, but I can have something equally good, if I choose it. I have to choose it.

But the day has taken on a life and a meaning of its own, and I feel helpless to stop it. It suddenly feels like a litmus test of my happiness. I'm petrified of the comparison between this St. Patrick's Day and the last one, and what it will do to me if today is a bummer. And that's when I decide to write myself a money-back guarantee.

I have to stand on the tips of my toes to reach the vase. I pull it down carefully, and take a small, compressed tablet out of the bag inside. It's purplish-white, with the shape of a cat stamped on one side and M80 on the other. Other than the thickness and the stamps, it looks exactly like my synthroid pills. I force down two more full glasses of water before I swallow the tab, and promise myself I'll get more water at the bar downstairs, first thing.

Back at the festival, I have a twenty minute wait just to get in again. I try not to feel frustrated as I hear the band play songs I love, reminding myself that it'll be at least forty minutes before I start to roll, anyway. K. and R. text to say they're on their way; that they're just drinking some whiskey first. A knot in my shoulders loosens. Yes. I won't be alone today. In just a little while I'll be laughing and singing and cavorting with friends, just like everyone else. Gratitude washes over me, and logistics settled, I focus on guiding the warmth and light that's slowly building in my bloodstream, on channeling it up through my neural pathways, out my fingertips, and into the world around me. I imagine myself a conduit and a receptacle. I can take energy and I can give it. Today will be what I make of it. This high will run the course that I take it on. Make the conscious decision, Ellie. Choose light and love and laughter, and those are the things you will get.

Serotonin is a biological miracle in and of itself, and I'm awed by the fact that humans have figured out a way to hijack and amplify it, purely for recreational purposes. This is one of the last sober thoughts I remember having, before the light and love and laughter float me up to another plane, where I spend the next several hours.

---

To write the rest of yesterday in chronological, sensical, and dryly factual prose would feel like a lie, because my thoughts, feelings, and experiences were deeply colored by the drug I took. I just don't know that I'd be able to accurately recreate what actually happened. What was said, and thought, and felt. Or if not a lie, maybe something even worse - some kind of gross imprisonment of things pure and organic and defying of classification. Things that shouldn't be bottled up or tied down, because they aren't mine alone for the tying down.

If you haven't been there, I know that doesn't make any sense. But if you have, you understand what I'm trying to say, even if my words are overly florid and melodramatic. There's nothing you can say to make someone who's never taken MDMA understand what it's like, because the experience is so individual for everyone. Every time I try to explain it, or write about it, I come up against a wall that divides the words I know from the feelings I want to describe. Everything I'd want to make understood is on the far side of that wall, beyond the reach of description. The closest I could come would be to just write the word euphoria, over and over and over a hundred times.

But since that would be boring, I'll put some more words down, anyway.

---

Back at the stage. Sunlight feels good now. Yes. Really good. The crowd thickens around me. Not pushy, not drunken. Just happy. Or maybe it's me. Maybe that's it.

Tap on my shoulder. Tall young man, bowler hat. Grass green vest, green plaid tie. Green eyes, devastating eyelashes, straight black hair past his shoulders. His exaggerated bow. M'lady. My delighted laughter. A hug. An acquaintance who works in the neighborhood. From New Zealand. His accent and dialect are charming. Much younger. Works at my favorite casual lunch spot. I sit at the counter, we chat while he cooks.

Do you want a drink?

Not drinking today. My meaningful look. But I will need water soon.

He understands. Stay put, be right back. Couldn't move if I wanted to.

A few minutes later, a cold bottle is pressed into my hands. Lots of birds here.

Birds? 

Birds. Women.

Yes. Birds. I love it. The music and sunshine, the connectivity. Strangers smiling. Singing to themselves, one another. Sunday Bloody Sunday. A massive Irish flag, waved across a stage. I can feel it now. It's definitely here. It's good. It's going to be really good. The chatty phase.

I sent the lead singer some photos I got of him a couple years ago, and he loved them.

Yeah? Did he ever try to holler at you?

Holler?

Holler at. You know, like, ask you out.

I love this, too. Oh no, nothing like that. I never met him or anything. 

Well, he would if he met you. You know that right?

Turning to face him. What...?

You have no idea. You're the most radiant woman. When you walk down the street... He trails off.

I smile. Looking straight at him. Leaning close to his ear. That is such an amazing thing to say to a girl. Really. That's the most beautiful compliment, and I'm so flattered. But we're friends, right? And we're going to stay friends? You know how old I am, right?

Oh, I know. I know. I wasn't... His face is sincere. He's just being sweet. And drunk. Confessing a crush. No hurt feelings. It's good. Everything is good. He drifts away soon, though. Later, I'll bump into him. Bombshell redhead, green halter dress. Seems genuinely happy to be talking to him. Yes. Good for him. An introduction. I tell her with honesty how stunning she is, how much she stands out in the crowd. His smile is even bigger than hers. No trace of resentment or weirdness. Everything is ok. I've lost nothing. Maybe even gained something.

I float a little bit higher, and memories form with a bit more disjointedness.

---

K. and R. arrive. K's tipsy, but rattled by a dog attack they witnessed on the way over. Me joking and laughing. Cajoling her out of a bad mood. She's ok. She's happy. A friend of hers is here. We meet up. VIP section. Our group grows: friends of friends, coworkers, partners. Laughter, random connection, coincidence in a not-small town. Wait, you know Stacy too?

Wally texts me. He's not having a fabulous day. I tell him how much he's missed. Do you remember a year ago right now?

I do. That was quite a day. How are you doing? Celebratory? Wistful?

High. Little bit wistful too, yeah. ...Ok, a lot. :(

Sorry doll. Maybe it's just down payment on future joy. Plus wistful at least means you had good stuff. Nobody's wistful for crap times.

It's cold. I'm cold now. I run home again for a coat. This time I'm not made to wait, and I rejoin my friends quickly. The wind. We huddle together. Drinks, more drinks. Water, more water. I'm in conversation. I'm miles away. I'm face to face. I'm above myself, looking down. This is my life. These are my friends. I live here. I've made this my home. I have work to do, to improve myself, to be a better person, but I've achieved this at least. These good people care about me. There's nothing more beautiful than that. My mind is quick. I'm wittier. I'm making strangers and new friends laugh. The hum and buzz of energy builds around our small cluster in the chilly afternoon. We are happy people, in this moment, on this day. 

My heart full. I did it. I made today ok. I feel fantastic. The smiles on the faces of my friends mean everything to me. It's enough. I need nothing more. I deserve nothing more. But I'll get more anyway.

---

We leave the festival, but the group falls apart. Confusion, disagreement; scattered, drunken minds. Some tension. Too much to drink. They want to eat, to slow down and stop soon. I don't. None of that. No way. Not yet. I'm still high, not ready for the weight of reality, of arguments and frustration.

I text A. again. We've been texting all day, on and off. He's high too. He was at the festival, felt like painting, went home to do work. At a bar now. Come join me, he says. I look at my friends.

Guys, I'm leaving. You're arguing, and I love you, but I'm really high, and I need to keep moving. Ok?

K. is hurt, angry. What? No! We'll come with you.

No. I need a K. and R. break, ok? I love you guys to death, but I'm gonna go.

Anger. You're full of shit. You're going to meet someone. 

Yes, I am. I'm going to meet A. He's high too. And I want to see him. Please don't be mad. Are you mad?


Are you leaving because we're fighting or because you want to see A.?

Both. I want to see him, so it's convenient that you're arguing. 

Honesty: a side effect of the drug. Her face softens.

Ok, go. 

Are you mad?

No, get out of here.

---

A bar a few blocks away. Crowded, dark. He's not alone. I don't want to be here. I want to be back at the music, under the lights and in the crowd. He agrees. Let's go. Should we take more? Do you have more? I do. Let's split one. I reach deep into my pocket for another tablet, which he carefully bites in half, grimacing at the bitter taste. I drop the other half in my water bottle, shaking it vigorously before taking a sip. His friend leaves.

Just us. Again. Walking down the street. Laughing, talking, reminiscing. Harmless. Happy. High. It starts slow. Can I hug you? I just want to hug you.

Yes. You can. That would be ok. That would be fantastic.

His arms wrap around me from behind. Strong and tight and warm. Back at the festival. Music. Cold. We dance, we play. We hug and hold. I slip my arms into his sweatshirt. What happened? How did this...? Time machine. It's the exact same fucking moment. Almost, anyway. And better, in some ways. No hurt on the horizon. We know the score. This is a safe place we visit. A well we drink from when we're dying of thirst. He gazes down at me. I gaze back up. The grinning. Our grins, always. We must look ridiculous.

Stop.

You stop.

No, you. 

The words start.

There's no one like you.

There's no one like you, either.

And so it goes. We walk hand in hand to the bookshelf, and we take it down together. Be careful, it's heavy. We flip through the pages. I point to a picture. He tells the story. Remember? Remember? Sighs that are more happy than sad. That song. Remember? That day. Remember? Bonnaroo. Remember?

We cling to one another, sway to the music. I rest my head against his chest, low because of my flat shoes. His eyes are bright. He is so happy. So, so happy.

I lower the bucket, bring it back up for him to drink from. You know you're the reason I started writing again, right? I mean, serious writing? You unlocked it. You were the muse. You probably saved my life.

His turn. Lower the bucket. Bring it up. I'm thirsty, too. I've never felt better than when I was with you. You made me feel like I'm ok. Like it's ok to be who I really am. 

This is what we do. This is the gift we give one another. We've done it over and over, in the months since we ended. And we'll probably do it again.

You have no idea. You're such a happy person. I wish I could be that way.

Do I really seem happy?

El, I've seen you at your absolute worst. The lowest you could possibly be. And it was bad, right? It was really bad. But I see you, and I know who you are, and you are truly so happy. You make yourself happy. You're amazing. 

I swallow this, bury it deep down in the safest part of me, and then I give it right back. I praise his talent, his ambition and drive, which are unlike any I've ever seen in a self-employed creative. I don't know how you do it. Every day, you work so hard, and you make it happen. Other things he deserves to know, too. You were the best boyfriend I ever had. You showed so much care and consideration for my well being and my happiness. ...You are the most authentic person I've ever known. Even at your worst, you are always just...you. No artifice. No hiding who you are.

---

It's inevitable, and it starts with the kiss. Minutes long, lingering, in plain sight of everyone milling around us. Drawing the attention - and occasionally the comments - of strangers walking by. Unlike any kiss given back on earth. We're not on earth. We're way, way above it. The things in the kiss are timeless and beautiful: friendship and understanding and compassion and comfort. We are on the exact same plane, physically and emotionally. It's ok. It's so, so ok.

---

Soft blankets. Candlelight. Silly Chauc, go lie down. Laughter. This is so great. How do you feel?

Amazing.

Me too. 

He asks whether I've been writing. He doesn't read my blog - only the occasional post that I want to share with him, and that I send to him. Not much, I say. The GOMI thing really fucked me up. I don't want to be judged. Sometimes I wonder why I do it. What am I putting myself out there for? To what end? Even Instagram. It gets exhausting. I think I need a break. 

He tells me a story about an artist, some woman who wrote on her website about the lowest, ugliest moments of her heroine addiction and depression. And how it was so relieving to her, to have it all out there. Like, go ahead, judge me if you want, it's just who I am.

Yes, I say excitedly. That's exactly it. It's like a confessional where I can just lay myself out, and people can either accept who I am or not. 

Music. Explosions in the Sky, is that ok?  

That's perfect.

Postcard From 1952. A more perfect song has never been written. It rips through my heart and my soul, leveling me where I lay, pressed against him. Sheets, smooth and soft. It's cold, though. Put the heat on. Yes. Come back. Come close. You are so beautiful. Your body. Oh El, your body.

Your shoulders. They've been molded. I trace their lines with my fingertips. They're like those things football players wear, what are they called? 

Shoulder pads? He laughs. Be quiet. 

We talk and talk and kiss and talk and kiss. We talk about our romantic lives, about the people we've met, dated, and connected with - or failed to. We talk about my father, about how experiencing his death together was one of the most powerful and bonding experiences of not just our relationship, but of our lives. I struggle to find the words to tell him how amazing he was for me at that time. Husband-like. That's all I can say. You were just...husband-like. You took charge and did what I couldn't, and you got me through it. Emotionally, logistically, everything. 

I'm still so high. I close my eyes and describe the visions in my mind. The faces and shapes and colors and movement. I change the music. Of Monsters and Men. I sing softly in his ear.

A wave of clarity washes over me, and I realize what it is I love most about this man, what is so unique about him to me. He's the only man I've ever known who has willingly, openly, and happily laid his whole heart on the table for me. He's the only one who's been truly emotionally available and vulnerable, ready to take on the happy and the hurt, come what may. His attention and love were undivided, and mine for the taking. I try to explain this to him, but fail. Dating in LA is hard, he says. Everyone is looking for something better. But you'll be ok. I want so much for you to be happy, El.

Another music change. Youth Lagoon. I'm sleepy. I'm drifting. He tries to pull me back in. I know what he wants. My mind wants it, too, but my body is maxed out. I can't, I say. I'm sorry. I'm so tired. Holding me close. But the music expands, reaches out to me. The songs I love most pull me back to the moment: Posters, Daydream. I shift positions, I feel his need.

I whisper in the flickering light. What do you need?

No, it's ok. We shouldn't...

What do you need...? I reach out, touch him, answer my own question. His sighs. I've always loved his sighs. Rewards for piecing the puzzle together correctly. This. You need this. And this...

---

Something to hold. Something to know. Something to believe. Something that is sure and true and won't change. You are a beautiful person who changed my life forever, and for the better. We aren't right for one another, and we know it, but you are an oasis in the desert that is sometimes my life, and I'm one in yours.

No one was hurt. No betrayals, no infidelities, no lies. I have no one special in my life, and neither does he.

Friends. Bodies. Comfort. Love, of a kind. Serotonin. St. Patrick's Day, 2013.

It's all ok.