This isn’t a story about drugs. It’s a story about a woman named Vic.
What you’re most afraid to write about is what you most need to write about.
I had to eviscerate myself to tell this. Real tears got cried and a real bottle got smashed and real glass got cleaned up from a real kitchen floor by a real guy on his real hands and real knees.
But you know what else was real?
Neither did I.
There oughtta be a survivors’ group for young guys whose hearts have been crushed by older women. I’d join.
In the fall of 1988 I was nineteen—a naive college kiddo with bright blue eyes and bleach-blonde hair and a goofy sense of humor. I was finally growing up. Finally becoming myself.
A couple of weeks into the semester I had a drunken hookup with a 27-year-old woman named Vic. Thin, tall, and in an era of perms and Aqua-net bangs, she shaved over her ears and used hair-gel to cement her hair spiky and straight up. The cut was bit too wide to be a mohawk, maybe, but punk enough to attract notice. She was in art school and occasionally she’d wear vampire makeup to class.
That should’ve been the tip-off, but I missed it.
We kept hooking up. Although the term “friends with benefits” didn’t exist back then, the phenomenon sure as hell did, and of course as a late adolescent I took full advantage.
Even to this extent: I shared an on-campus apartment with four other guys and Vic soon moved in. Classic. I thought it was great, of course, but now that I’m more socially aware I understand how annoying that must’ve been to my roommates. Naturally, though, I didn’t care. By then, even only a month into the relationship, I was telling her I loved her.
Vic was mesmerizing.
She said she’d transferred to my school from Alaska. She claimed to be:
-A figure skater,
-A fashion model,
-A finalist in Playboy’s “Girls of Alaska,”
Naturally I took all this bullshit as the Lord’s Gospel.
For ten brief eternal weeks we carried on our—well, to call it a “love affair” is wrong, but I don’t know what else to name it.
It was an age of sex, liquor, and discovery.
When I say sex…damn, man. All kinds of sex in all kinds of places. Won’t get into the acts themselves, but the places? My apartment, friends’ apartments, showers and bathtubs, cars, trucks, my Christian fundamentalist parents’ house in the middle of the afternoon while they were downstairs, both goals of the college’s soccer field, an asphalt-shingle roof, a gas station bathroom, the sill of an open fourth-floor window, and even—quite literally—a cave up in the hills.
She was loud.
Her liquor of choice was Cuervo Gold with salt and lime. Lick, drink, suck.
And as far as discovery: she taught me how to roll perfect joint with Zig-Zag double-wides.
What’s more, she waited tables at a high-end steakhouse, and as such, had easy access to cocaine. One night she brought home a gram in the tied-up corner of a baggie, with predictable results. I found that I LIKED cocaine. I looked forward to her bringing it home.
When I say sex…damn, man. All kinds of sex in all kinds of places. Won’t get into the acts themselves, but—wait, did I cover this already?
It started going bad with that kid you knew from Florida.2 His name was Wes, as I recall. He was even younger than me. Eighteen? Seventeen?
You invited him up and he crashed on the couch in my apartment for a week. He had this big pet python that he fed live hamsters to…which was probably another tip-off I was too dumb to see.
You said you considered him a younger brother, and you treated him like an adopted son, but one day I came home from class and found the two of you fucking in my bed. I fled the place in tears and made it as far as the apartment complex’s laundry room and locked the door and held up there for several hours. When I came back to my apartment he was gone. So were you.
I went back down to the laundry room with the sheets and blankets and pillowcases, numb.
You’d kept your own apartment and you moved back into it. Too much drama, you said. When I came to your apartment to beg you to come back to me, you were painting your bedroom pink and you didn’t want to talk, but you had extra brushes and I offered to help. You sighed and said OK but told me I had to keep my mouth shut.
A few minutes later I rolled too high and smudged the white spray-stucco ceiling. You went ballistic and yelled at me to get out.
I nonetheless kept pestering you about getting back together, and between Thanksgiving and Christmas you relented. You moved back in after some stern warnings that it was time for me to grow up.
A few days later you told me you needed money for a plane ticket to Florida so you could visit your mom for Christmas. After catching you and Wes together the Florida connection was still puzzling, but being eager to please you, I chipped in most of my monthly living allowance and took up a collection from my friends for the rest, and gave you the cash, and you flew away for Christmas break.3
When you got back you told me you were done with me. Again, you told me I was too immature.
In hindsight: duh.
But that wasn’t the story you told a couple of your girlfriends. One of them got concerned and came to me and said you’d told them you’d gone to Florida to get engaged to a guy you’d known for years.
And then a couple of days after you got back you yelled at me that I’d given you crab lice. Strange since I hadn’t been sleeping with anybody else, and you clearly had.
Upon careful examination I found that I didn’t have crabs.
A week or thereabouts later the word got around that you were seeing a guy from the school’s hockey team.
One night when you two were on a date I got drunk and laid in wait for you in the parking lot. As soon as you got out of his car I confronted you and spat, “Hey, Vic…congrats on the engagement.” The guy did a big double-take and you were furious.
You wanted him to grind my face into the asphalt. He was a couple of years older than me and outweighed me by a good fifty pounds and could’ve killed me in seconds if he’d wanted, but fortunately he and I were half-decent friends and he just steered me back up to my dorm.
Crabs. Engagement. Ordering your latest boy-toy to kick my ass for repeating what you were already telling all over campus.
Well, the gaslighting had been going on all along. “Everybody’s been talking about you,” and such. You told me my parents didn’t like you because you were making a man out of me and they were overprotective and wanted me to stay their little boy. My friends weren’t my friends…they were yours, and the only reason they put up with me was because you made them. You’d lash out about something seemingly insignificant and I’d get angry or upset and you’d say, “I’m not listening to this shit again,” or “You’re imagining things,” or worst of all, “What, you don’t trust me?”
“I trust you, I trust you,” I’d assure you.
And on the subject of reality distortion, one night my friend Tony called and said, “Dude, I came into some acid.”
Tony was the first deadhead I’d ever met. He was my age but he already had his vibe down: long hair, little round glasses, tie-dyes, and blacklight posters all over his apartment. Stereotypical middle-class wannabe hippie kid.
He and two of his friends and I ate the acid in his living room.
The first trip was…OK, this has been said a godzillion times, but there’s little use in trying to explain it to someone who hasn’t been there. But I can at least try to explain its effects on me.
I remember standing at Tony’s living room window watching clover dance to the music emanating from his apartment’s cinderblock walls. I realized they’d been doing so for my entire life, but as a human being I’d been too limited in my senses to experience it. My third eye, however, was open now.
The four of us were scattered around the living room in a loose circle; some on the floor and others on the couch.
I said something, the guy to my right said something, the guy to his right said something, and so on back around to me. Classic acid-babble.
The conversation kept moving counter-clockwise and accelerating, spinning like a cyclone, spiraling skywards, until finally we all fell back, stunned. “Did you feel that?” Tony asked.
Tony was an amazing juggler. “Look at the planets,” he said as four multicolored balls whizzed through the air.
I could go on and and on. It peaked, and then finally it was over.
My second trip wasn’t quite so fun. I’d gotten drunk and was depressed as usual, and I’d blazed an entire joint Vic had forgotten at my apartment, and then Tony called about having gotten more acid. Come on over, dude.
Sure, why not?
I found him hanging out with two of his friends from his hometown. They were recreational redneck trippers, not seekers after the meaning of the universe like I was. One of them had a devil of a smirk. “Five bucks a hit,” he said.
“How many have you got?” I slurred.
I paid the man and ate them all at once.
Drunk and stoned and depressed over a bad breakup is no way to eat acid. Didn’t help that Tony’s friends started fucking around with me for their own entertainment. “What if you’re just a ghost?” one of them asked, and I looked down at my hands and watched them become transparent.
During the peak I got worried about brain damage. I sat trying to remember what I knew about World War I, but I couldn’t pull much up. This wasn’t what you’d call a calming train of thought, so I forced myself to focus on the music instead. Tony had put on some kind of African tribal hand-clapping stuff, world music of a sort I’d never heard before, and I could see the vibrations of the strings across the fretboard of whatever stringed gourd-zither they were playing. This, for some reason, was terrifying.
Acid can sour one’s stomach. Might be the anxiety. I never puked that night, but the swells of nausea were awful. Spent a lot of time on the toilet feeling like I was giving birth to my true nature; revealing my innermost self for the world to see. And flushing it.
Twenty hours after I dosed I was still getting the ripples. I’d skipped morning classes and I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t manage it. So that evening I went to my Russian class and panicked as soon as the professor opened his mouth and started speaking gibberish. The guy who sat in front of me was in his forties, very nice and level-headed and professional and a good student, and I wanted to confess to him that I was tripping and terrified and desperately needed help, but I was too afraid.
Many people say they quit acid after having a bad trip. I guess I was lucky that mine came so early. I’d enjoyed my first trip so much that if the second one had gone well, I’m sure I would’ve tripped many many many more times and caused myself serious burnout.
But as I reflect on it, Vic, I see that my experience with LSD was a metaphor for my experience with you. This was subconscious at the time, but it’s clear now.
I don’t know how you found about my acid-tripping, but you decided that’d be the exact moment to step up the gaslighting.
For example: you called the cops and said, “He comes into my room when I’m not there and steals money from me.”
I tried to remember whether it was true.
As the distance between you and me grew, I got fucked up more and more often.
My roommates were pissed about it. One of them, Mark, was a good friend but quickly lost respect for me. “Are you shitfaced again? Jesus, how am I supposed to study with you knocking stuff over in the living room? Just go pass out somewhere, OK?”
Many years later I sought him out on Facebook and sent him a friend request and he accepted it. First thing I did was message him to tell him how sorry I was that I’d been so inconsiderate. I explained that while I wasn’t offering excuses, it was because I’d fallen in with the wrong woman and couldn’t handle it.
“Look,” he wrote back. “You don’t owe me an apology. I owe you one. You were messed up and I didn’t know how to get you help. I wish I’d known back then what…” etc.
Gotta admit that I choked up. He was stone right, Vic. I wasn’t the only one paying.
Eventually we got into a fight so bad that I told you to kiss my ass and I stormed back to my place and wrote you a long letter about how much I hated you and how I’d “cauterized my heart” and how I never wanted to see you again. I went back over to give it to you, but you’d finished painting your walls and you weren’t there. I left the letter on your desk.
You never mentioned it.
I got so bitter that all I’d do was skip class and sit around in our apartment angry and wrecked on one thing or another, talking all kinds of misogynistic shit about women to anyone who’d listen…about how they had cruel intentions arising from malevolent hearts and used the power of the goddamned heroin between their legs to tyrannize the world.
And that shit right there? That shit I just now wrote? When those words came out I raged so hard at how far gone I’d been that I smashed the aforementioned beer bottle because it was better than smashing my laptop. Thank God I was home alone.
I went from an A student to a C/D.
Christ, one morning I threatened a campus housing employee with a gun when she showed up with a steam cleaner to get a stain out of the carpet. She knocked at the door at nine, and I’d gotten into the habit of sleeping until eleven. I staggered out of my room and said, “Don’t ever fucking come in here this early again. That’s how people get shot.”
She fled and called the cops. One showed up and escorted me directly to the office of the chief of campus police, where I sat trying to convince him that I’d only been bluffing and didn’t actually have a gun in my apartment.
Which was a good thing.
The next day I got summoned to see the manager of campus housing. Her name was Millie. Millie sat me down and asked me what was going on. She was a kind motherly woman who obviously cared about “her kids” and who listened well and who wasn’t involved in my situation and who, after just a few minutes, was assuring me I’d be OK.
I told her everything except for Tony and the acid. Didn’t wanna rat the brother out.
But as she listened she was also probing, and I finally confessed to her that I had a vial of thirty-ish valium hidden in a shoebox in my closet that I’d been saving since I’d had my wisdom teeth taken out. She went entirely grim. Face, voice, posture, everything…and ordered me to go up to my apartment and get the pills and bring them back to her right then, immediately, or else she’d have the campus cops do it and they’d be taking me into custody.
Cops for the third time in less than a month? Custody? Meaning jail? OK. I’ll be right back.
When I handed the vial over she uncapped it and poured the pills into her palm and looked them over and restored them to the vial and locked the vial in a drawer in her desk.
And not even twenty-four hours after that, I was sitting in the university center in the office of the campus counselor, a porn-stached guy named Gary. Licensed social worker, as I remember. He had a box of Kleenex on his desk when we got started, but only half a box when we finished.
Towards the end of our two-hour conversation he sat back and asked me, “Is she really doing all this to you?” But he didn’t seem to think I was lying…he just seemed infinitely sad. He wouldn’t have been much older than Vic, come to think of it. Maybe he even knew who she was.
Vic disappeared not long after that. As far as I can tell she never said goodbye to anybody. Just packed her shit—some of it—and split.
Which has led me to believe several things.
I believe Millie called Gary and told him she had a suicidal kid on her hands, one who had the intent and the means, and he needed to get this kid in NOW, FAST, to intervene before the kid euthanized himself. Not sure why she didn’t try to have me hospitalized. Maybe she should’ve.
I also believe that not long after my session with Gary, he and Millie and the chief of the campus police had a sit-down with Vic. I believe they called her out, explained to her exactly what’d happen if she kept buying alcohol for an underage guy and bringing coke to campus, and how they’d come down on her if she kept filing false police reports. I believe this is why she took off.
And I believe—nah, I’m for fucking sure—that while her disappearance was agonizing at the time, I’m now as grateful for it as a guy can possibly be.
Vic: looking back on us, I finally get that you abused me. I finally get that you, my love, were sick.
To coke up a naive teenaged 3.7 GPA student on a full-ride scholarship and eight years your junior…to pour liquor down his throat until he blacked out over and over…to bewitch him with sex until he was little more than your slave…to cheat on him and make him believe it was her right and his fault…to go to the cops and accuse him unjustly of theft…to con him out of his living allowance…to constantly dog him out to his friends even while living with him…to convince him that lies were truth and reality was unreal…to drive him almost to suicide without making a single move to help him…
Sure, our relationship was our doing and not solely yours. I made bad choices. Is it fair, though, to expect a sheltered middle-class more-or-less innocent kid to recognize such an unhealthy relationship and make good choices? Especially one who’s just left his strict Christian home behind and has very little experience in what his church called “worldly matters?” One whose prefrontal cortex isn’t yet fully developed?
No, it’s not fair. Not one bit. It’s not moral. It’s not right. If somebody was treating my daughter that way, my instinct would be to murder him…but only after working him over with a propane torch for a few hours, or maybe an eight-pound sledge and a box of tenpenny nails.
All I have left of Vic now is a bunch of scarred-over memories and this wine tool. It’s the one she used at the high-end steakhouse where she waited tables. She left it behind the second time she moved out. I’ve used it for thirty years. I used it to uncap the beer I just smashed.
Which is a ritual, of course, and I think I’ve figured out what it means.
If I had any sense at all I’d burn the goddamn thing in—well, here’s our callback—a big vat of acid. Because, Vic, never mind what I said in the beginning…this is a story about drugs. You were acid. You were booze and weed and cocaine. You were kinky manipulative hormone-driven heroin on demand. And you were a vial of thirty-ish valium hidden in a shoebox in my closet.
But despite what you were, and despite what you did…yeah, despite all of that, a little corner of my heart will always be yours.
You evil, evil bitch. How could you do that to me?
- A fucking whopper that’s now easily checked. Vic was her real name, and you can see that on this list of former Miss Alaskas the only name close to Vic is Vicki Tomicek from 1974—way too back in time to have been the Vic I thought I knew and loved.
- Florida? What the hell was all this about Florida? You said you’d lived in Alaska your whole life.
- Or did you?