Brad Phillips: I Have Written Down the Worst of Me
On Sex, Drugs, and Filling the Empty Spaces
Right now I’m worried I could be in over my head. I’m very weak. I’ve spent all day in bed. When I’ve tried to go out and smoke, it’s been hard to get my coat on, and I’ve only been able to smoke half the cigarette before I need to come back in and lie down. William Eggleston once said that his entire body of work was an attempt to write a novel. I think my entire body of work is a suicide note. But considering how I feel at this exact moment, this might be the most urgent and genuine version of that expression thus far. I feel nervous and rattled, and I’m not sure if powdering 2mg of Clonazepam and putting it up my nose will calm me down, or increase the weakness I’m feeling.
Schopenhauer said that love, sex, physical attraction, desires for certain body types, big hips, tall men—all of it was a prehistoric propulsion towards procreation. I think that sounds right.
Bobby Fischer was a notorious recluse and horrible anti-Semite who let chess crack his brain, or who excelled at chess because his brain was cracked. His dying words were, “Nothing soothes pain like the human touch.” I also think that’s right.
Albert Ayler tried and tried to get clean but ended up walking into the ocean. I think he made the best music of the 20th century.
I’m not used to being touched. My particular sexual behavior precludes allowing myself to be handled softly or lovingly. It breaks the fourth wall. But I could use it now. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I feel like I need to write these things down because I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to. I love my sister, I love one of my ex-girlfriends, I love my two best friends, I love my mother.
In the end, I only believe in Siddhartha Gautama and Bertrand Russell. And although I’ve published many things indicating otherwise, I believe the only truly original artists of the last one hundred odd years are Vladimir Nabokov and Patricia Highsmith.
False alarm. Woke up eleven hours after I wrote the previous passage with a shriveled chunk of pear on my sweatshirt and a lava flow of dried blood that had oozed out of my nose, settled in my moustache and plastered itself to my top lip.
“Many addicts were not held enough as infants, were not soothed enough or were left alone or with strangers. These things are traumatic to the developing child. As children many addicts experienced abandonment, were sent away, or were devalued or rejected by their caregivers in some way. All of these things constitute abuse and lead to problems later on.”
I was told my mother had postpartum depression. I know my father did. I don’t remember being touched much. Psychiatrists talk a lot about self-soothing, which can extend from touching yourself lightly with your fingertips to putting a needle in your arm, to pacing, to preparing one’s suicide like a recipe for risotto.
Irony: Hydromorph Contin beads are very strong and almost impossible to break down into powder. It takes a ridiculous amount of muscle strength to grind the beads into something you can inject or plug or insufflate. That junkies don’t have much strength in their arms makes this type of opiate horribly challenging, although the payoff is enormous.
Comedy: Most “harm reduction” or opiate user websites talk about how hard it is to break Hydromorph Contin down into a powder because junkies don’t have the muscle strength to grind the beads into a form you can inject or plug or insufflate.
So, it’s not all melancholy, sweating and unrelenting itchiness. Occasionally one of the doses you stumble on is comedy.
Important to remember this is all fiction. Directed to myself or to you—it doesn’t matter. It’s all fiction.
Remember though that all writing is fiction.
Woke up panicked today when I realized I’d be five days short of my prescribed Morphine, and it’s fucking raining and snowing here and with only four hundred odd dollars in the bank I’d need at least three hundred to fill the gap I’ve made for myself to avoid being dopesick. So I did the usual, skipped lunch and prayed to God Bobby was at Alfie’s.
My nose is fucking obliterated but I’m still committed to this vow of never injecting, because of my dad. Because of my dad injecting me; because of me tying my dad off and injecting him. I tell myself the minute I use needles is when I’m a real junkie. I know it’s complete bullshit. I’ve been a real junkie for 24 years now. So today, since I can barely breathe through my nose, it’s going to have to go up my ass.
Psychiatrists talk a lot about self-soothing, which can extend from touching yourself lightly with your fingertips to putting a needle in your arm, to pacing, to preparing one’s suicide like a recipe for risotto.
The entire walk from the subway to the corner I prayed Bobby would be there. He wasn’t, but I saw this dude Zeke who had once big upped my shoes inside Alfie’s. Zeke saw me across the street and we did the nod or whatever, then I asked if Bobby was around. Zeke said he wasn’t, but he asked what I wanted. I said down. He said yeah I got that. And so after a conversation of less than ten words I’m home with eight 200mg caps of Morphine. $400.
I needed to be responsible with the pills if I was going to make it to the day my prescription got refilled. But of course I wasn’t. I put 400 milligrams up my ass and swallowed another 200. Now I’m properly high.
I’m forever aiming for high again; higher than I think is safe but not so high that I know I’ll die.
Or that’s what I tell myself. The truth is I probably flirt with death on a regular basis.
I’ve already said an addict is a person with holes. Those holes are either congenital, shot out, or carved and eaten away at until what remains is this thing, the hole.
The hole can never be filled.
The thing most likely to fill the hole is love, but love is fleeting, unreliable, conditional. Drugs are unconditional. Certain ways of being sexual are unconditional. There’s an old story about a boy trying to ward off a flood by sticking his thumb in a hole in the wall. I don’t relate. The character I relate to most is Daffy Duck. Sometimes Daffy would get hit by buckshot. He’d put his finger in a hole in his cartoon body, and then another hole would start squirting liquid. He’d be busy with all his fingers and toes trying to plug the holes that leaked, but the holes were always more numerous than his digits, than his methods for filling them. I am Daffy Duck. I cannot fill my holes. The best I’ve come up with is something like a spiritual tampon that absorbs the hurt and keeps things blocked up for a bit, but the toxic pus of the hole always needs out, or ectopic shock sets in. I’ve felt the masculine equivalent of that shock. I’ve left a certain hole plugged a certain way for too long and it’s backfired. I’ve had seizures, divorces, overdoses, fugue states, failed suicide attempts, fits of anger and dark sexual misadventures. I’m 40 years old as I write this. And what I’ve learned, if I’ve learned anything at all, is that you need to reconcile living with your insatiable hole. You don’t have to love it, but you need to accept it. I’ve come to accept that I’m a fundamentally incomplete creature. Parts of me are missing. I can’t reassemble myself, as much as I’ve tried.
Three days straight I’ve woken up at 2:24 in the morning, which is around the time I imagine my sister is washing her perfect body and getting ready to go to school, to do her MFA across the pond. I don’t believe in numbers. I only believe in the following, in no order of significance: drugs, art, sex, non-duality. The self is a giant problem. The idea that we even have one is a delusion. I remember in the movie Back to The Future, Michael J. Fox is battling to keep a Polaroid of his family from slowly erasing into a white square of nothingness. Most of my adult life has been trying to find a way to laboriously erase the same Polaroid. The Polaroid isn’t of my family, or even of me, but a representation of an idea I have—of something called my Self.
I’ve lost fifteen pounds this month. Not intentionally, but as the result of chronic pain eliminating my appetite, and maybe because of drugs, if in fact I’m doing them. This is erasure. I remember once seeing my psychiatric records, and my doctor referring to my “anorexia.” I didn’t realize until then that anorexia isn’t just an eating disorder. Literally, it’s just not taking in enough food to keep yourself at a healthy weight. I am anorexic then, but not because of any concerns about body image. I am anorexic in that, if only subconsciously, I am trying to erase myself. Each time I make a painting, I give away part of myself. I give it to the world. The world isn’t asking, but I give. Each of these sentences are pieces of myself I am shedding off and hoping won’t rebound and stick to me. Each time I do drugs—if I do them at all—I am trying to slow down my mind to the point of stopping my mind to the point of no mind at all. Bumper sticker says: Know Jesus, Know Peace / No Jesus, No Peace. But there is also: No Mind, No Death. If I can take the slimy orb my skull encases and whittle away at it, through putting art or ideas out into the world, then I can extricate myself of this thing my mind mistakenly calls Mind. I can come closer to Death, and No Death. I can live forever in not living.
Not living is another way to exist in the world.
When I have sex, I give myself away to whoever I’m fucking. Some part of me leaves when they do. I don’t do very much, but what I do I do wholeheartedly, all of it with complete self-abandon. I am trying to abandon an illusory self. It’s like when my father left and I never heard from him again. He left me, but he also disavowed me. If all things I manifest through my mind are my children, I want to abandon every last one of them. My inner child is not something I want to nurture and care for, it is something I want to leave in a basket on the steps of a convent.
I have made myself look very bad. I have written down the worst of me. I feel an echo of shame but mostly a sense of self-loathing. Shame is a feeling people with beliefs tend to experience. Not having any real beliefs of my own, I tend towards clinical self-hatred.
All my work is a suicide note then. This is a suicide note. This is work. I feel that I’m never not working. And the work I’m never not doing is the work of undoing myself. I didn’t ask to be here, and I’m hoping I can, in ways where nobody is aware of it—because it seems like I’m contributing, be it through art or orgasms or essays—slowly walk away from this place, this “self” I had no choice but to inhabit. And for a moment, a very brief one, a small number of people might ask “Where’d Brad go?” But then as now, they’ll go back to their drinks, they’ll go back to gossiping, making plans, talking about their shoes and their symposiums, and I’ll be an ephemeral shape losing focus down an alley, scattering behind me paintings and writing and women’s underwear as I go.
The world will go on. It went on before I was here, it goes on now while I’m barely here, and it will go on soon when I’m gone. I had a nice time. And I had the worst time.
And I love every single creature on this planet.
From Essays and Fictions. Used with the permission of Tyrant Books. Copyright © 2019 by Brad Phillips.