For your summer reading pleasure, BURNAWAY brings you Just Like Suicide, a novel by artist Mery Lynn McCorkle, set in the Los Angeles art world. She writes from experience, having lived for years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when it still was the art frontier, and then LA; she now resides in Rome, Georgia. She describes the book as “a compendium of interlocking tales cataloguing self demolition and success in the Los Angeles art scene, from the point of view of artists, dealers and family members.”
We’ll post sequential chapters from McCorkle’s book every Wednesday and Friday over the summer. Or click here to buy the book now.
From his very first memory, someone had been telling him what to do. Who to be. How to be. How to look. What to say. Hondo opened his eyes and the first nurse he saw tells him he should apologize for kicking her. Apologize, apologize or she’ll pluck out his eyes. He said nothing, blinked a few times rapidly, trying to make his eyes focus on her. Yeah, she’s not a hallucination, she’s actually standing there, repeating that he should apologize. Apologize and she’ll get him some water. Apologize. Oh crap. He’s landed in a ten steps to recovery clinic and they expect him to take personal responsibility. Crap. Apologize. Apologize for what? Any real nurse knows how the shakes work. Wild spasms come with withdrawal. It’s like demanding apologies for sneezing around pepper. But she whispers, apologize, apologize and she’ll get him some water. Fuck her. No one will pay the bills if he dehydrates. He gagged and leaned over the side of the bed, aiming for her shoes. Oh yeah, nausea and dizziness and a runny nose. Yeah, he’s started the next phase in withdrawal. Crap.
When the spinning finally stopped and he sat up, here they all were, lined up in their white coats, asking how he felt, what he wanted. The guy with the white hair and ugly silk tie was obviously the top doctor. So, son, do you know where you are? How do you feel? What was he supposed to say? He felt like shit? He was trapped in a white room with the walls closing in on him? He was still hallucinating? He was thirsty and suffocating from all their smug attention, the weight of all these phony concerned looks? He wanted to scream at them but knew better than to tell them any of this. They didn’t want an honest answer. They’d never want an honest answer. He’d gone through this before. He knew the fucking drill. He merely blinked and smiled. They smiled. He’d learned it was better to smile and say nothing. We’re glad you’re back with us, son. You need to take better care of yourself, the doctor informed him, so fucking pleased with himself. We’re going to help you. We’re going to help you learn to help yourself. What he was really saying is your parents want us to fix you. Your grandmother is shelling out obscene sums of money for us to fix you. We know what’s best for you. You must listen to us very carefully and follow our instructions. You can’t take drugs. You need to be sober. You need to accept reality. You have to be like us. You have to want to be like us. Crap. He really just wanted to be somewhere else. Somewhere, anywhere but here with all these phony caring people in their carefully ironed smocks that smelled of phony fresh fabric softener.
He smiled anyway, sipped some water and then closed his eyes. He was too tired to pretend anything, too empty to be angry. Angry took too much energy. It wasn’t worth the effort.
The pillow was soft but the pillow case was almost rough, washed in lavender scented detergent. The smell was enough to make him gag. The nurse was telling him she would look back in on him. Please don’t, he wanted to say. Please go away, leave him alone. Take that vile musky smell she’d sprayed on herself away from his air space. Away. All he wanted was to be away. Away. Away. Away from mistakes, into perfection, into a world without edges. Drugs took him there. Sex took him there. Loud music took him there. Everything else was a firm foot on his chest. Keeping him in place. Pinning him down. Down. Their reality was never nearly as good as they thought it was.
He was thankful over the next few days that the clinic didn’t allow visitors – no family allowed in. Family. Why didn’t they just get their own lives and leave him alone? All of them. His dear grandmother, the grand puppeteer, who controlled the purse strings and with them everyone in the family. She wanted him to be an artist and groomed him accordingly. Matisse, she bragged to everyone, was his second word, after gama. He was her vehicle to have the family name on the museum walls, in the art history books. He was her chance at immortality because he was sensitive. He was smart. He was her lovely boy. He had true talent. He couldn’t stand her nudging and pushing. He couldn’t stand that look she got on her face when he fucked up, so patronizing and pleased. So the harder she pushed, the more he escaped. In high school he cut classes to work on cars and got his lovely hands all banged up and greasy. He didn’t even apply for college and still got accepted in one, because of his grandmother who knew what was best for him. And despite his intentions, everyone called him an artist. He was one of the chosen, one of the special successes, the mirrors to the soul. He was profound and important. What shit. He didn’t care. He just liked taking snaps. He liked hanging with his buds. He liked sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. He liked the club scene, the flashing lights, the flesh so exposed and willing. But his grandmother, well, she was happy. Her happiness spoiled his. He just wanted to be invisible, somewhere else.
The doctors. The doctors were such fucking hypocrites. They kept pushing him to take antidepressants, to try methadone again. Didn’t they even hear what they were saying? Drugs are bad, everyone repeated over and over. Drugs destroy you. Stay away from drugs. Say no to drugs. And then with their next breath: here, take our drugs. Our drugs are good for you. Take one in the morning, one at night. Right. What kind of quality of life is there on antidepressants and methadone? Phony happy pills happiness – how was that really different from heroin happiness? Hell, heroin was easier to kick than methadone.
Methadone gave him a constant headache, a stomach ache after eating and he was always sleepy on it. It was a Puritan addiction – all the suffering with none of the pleasure. Heroin left him beyond care, in a zone where there were no irritations, where only the good things, like the colors and lights floating around him, touched him. He was happy then, so free and light, like his skin was made of air, warm crinkly air. Life was perfect when he was high; it was like stepping through euphoria – everything was transformed, colors, sounds, smells, all floating in this diffuse happiness. An avalanche of amazing smells rolled over him, being cushioned in a cloud of perfection. It was sort of a contradiction really: the outside was heightened while he fell totally inside of himself, a contained system where nothing outside mattered. Totally sober he didn’t want to be a human any more, couldn’t stand the smell of his own breath. Sober he hated everything. Just wanted to stop being. Only drugs made him happy in his body, in this world. But that’s not totally true. One time he was sober and happy. Lori had forced him out of town. He’d been on top of a glacier. The air so clean and cold it hurt at first. And then the sense of being there and above. Light headed and grounded, simultaneously. The clear smell of purity. But even that had passed and he was simply breathing heavily, standing on snow, the parallel trail of his skis behind him, nothing but dizzying whiteness ahead.