Pin it


Yuka lives on the second floor of one of those classic Victorians, directly across from the Palace of Fine Arts. I guess it pays to get a nice fat divorce settlement. The Palace, if you’ve never seen it, is really fucking cool. It’s all faux-Grecian, with huge columns and carved sculptures of angels and gods with headdresses made from leaves. Inside the actual building there’s this place called the
It doesn’t mean anything, but we’ve been fucking for a while now. Like I say, it’s meaningless.

Exploratorium. It’s an educational science center for children, the destination of countless grade-school field trips where, I’m afraid, not much science was learned. It’s a fun place to run around, though. There are different experiments you can do, metal rings to make giant soap bubbles, and this platform that spins around and makes you sick.
     Anyway, Yuka lives across from this place, so I buy another pack of Gitanes at a liquor store, then head into some cafe just around the corner from her apartment. I figure I should probably use the bathroom before heading over.
     In the cafe, couples sit over plates of food and tall drinks, gawking at the Italian waiters with their fucking high cheekbones and square jaws. I hear one woman complaining of the heat. She’s overweight and wearing a black-and-white business suit, eating with a group of equally heavy girlfriends. A waiter with slick, black hair and mouthful of white teeth fishes an ice cube out of her glass and slides it across the back of her neck. She giggles and coos.
     She stuffs a few dollars in his shirt pocket.
     I head to the bathroom and duck in, turning both locks. There’s a small shelf under the mirror, so I lay my stuff out there and turn on the faucet. I fill a spoon with a thin layer of water and drop in some rocks of crystal, stirring it with my finger. With my orange Bic, I heat the bottom until little bubbles collect on the surface. In goes some cotton ripped off a Q-tip, which acts as a filter. I draw up the solution in a small insulin syringe, eat the cotton, then try a few times to get a vein. I push off.
     I may be walking as I re-enter the bar. I’m not sure. My ears are ringing so loud it’s hard to keep my balance. I have to get outside fast and smoke a cigarette. On the way out, everyone seems to turn and stare. I know it’s just mild paranoia, but it feels real just the same. Eyes swarm like wasps, covering me completely. One by one they crawl onto my body, burying their stingers into my skin and falling dead around me. I have to wade through piles of fallen eyes. I push through swinging glass doors and breathe in the night air. Street lamps reflect on broken bottles, stones in the pavement — everything is bright, bright and burrowing in. More eyes: white, weaving, growing larger. Headlights, cars. I’m here on the street, waiting, smoking, easy. After the initial rush dies out, I start over toward Yuka’s.


I hike the stairs to her floor and knock on the door. No one answers. I ring the bell. It chatters like teeth in the cold. There are no lights on; I figure she could be asleep. I try knocking again, and this time I hear movement inside. I guess I figured right. The door opens and Yuka’s standing there, her black hair all disheveled, a pair of tight jeans, a big woolen sweater and no shoes. Her toenails are painted violet.
    Yuka’s actually a lot older than me, though you wouldn’t think it to look at her. She’s real tall, her face narrow and angular, green eyes half-hidden behind thick lashes. To tell you the truth, she’s in her forties, just recently divorced and all. The story goes, she met this amazing guitar player when he was on tour in Japan. She was a college student or something. They fell in love and got married. Yuka got her green card and started playing music. A couple years ago, though, her husband suddenly realized he liked boys. That, sadly, ended the marriage. Yuka was a mess for a long time after that, but she pulled her shit together pretty good. Her own musical career is taking off, so it all works out, I guess. My friend Timo plays drums in her band, and she and I met at some afterparty for one of her shows. Somehow we just started talking and there was this attraction and all. It doesn’t mean anything, but we’ve been fucking for a while now. But like I say, it’s meaningless . . . really.
     “Uh, hey, Yuka.”
     Yuka yawns and turns away from me. With each step, it looks like she’s doing just about everything she can to keep herself upright. I think she could use something to get her heart going, you know? So I head in and lock the door behind me.
     “Yuka, man, where do I go?” I call this out to nowhere in particular. She squeaks a response from the front room.
     “Fuck man, can I turn on the light?” I ask.
     “Do you want some crystal?”
     “All right, all right. Coffee then, how about some coffee?”
     “You don’t have to — “
     “No, it’s cool. Wait here.”

You can see where the acid has soaked into the sugar, transforming the white crystals into something more alive, almost frightening.

     I rediscover the hallway. This time I find a light switch, then the kitchen. I get some water boiling. In the cupboard is one of those French press things and a can of Medaglia D’oro coffee. I do the whole preparation of the coffee thing. It’s not worth describing. The coffee gets made, what more can I say?
     “Do you want sugar or milk or something?” I yell.
     “Both,” is the response.
     I bring the coffee over to her. Pulling back the curtains, I can see her curled on the couch, the room brightened slightly by a streetlight. I place the coffee on the table designed, or so the name would imply, for holding that very beverage.
     “It’s fucking crazy out there,” I say for the sake of saying something. “You wouldn’t believe what a fucked-up day I’ve had.”
     “Yeah,” she says. “I feel like shit.”
     “But you’re all right?”
     She kind of smiles. “I guess so. I mean, well, I don’t know. Last night was . . .”
     “We were really fucked up. Don’t worry about it.”
     “You’re right,” she says, blowing on the coffee. “I’m just trying to sort it out in my head.”
     “I mean, I think you’re really great and all, but we both know what’s up. I’m too involved in this thing to really be there for anyone.”
    “You know Jordan and Adam?” she asks suddenly, looking up at me.
     “Yeah,” I say. They’re part of some emo band that has a couple okay songs. They live together in the Mission.
     “Well, they have this new roommate I’ve gone out with a couple times. He’s a graphic designer. His name is Matt. He’s really together. He’s got a good job, is about to get his own place, and is sort of everything I want.”
     “Well?” I ask.
     “Well, some part of me is just attracted to people who are more fucked up.”
     My hand messes around with the zipper on my hoodie. Yuka laughs, brushing her hair away from her eyes. She won’t look at me.
     “You know,” I say, “in general, I could give a shit about other people. But you, I feel this real connection with. As friends, if nothing else. You feel that too, right?” I can feel the sweat and tweak covering my skin, stinking, breaking through the pores. “All I’m saying is that there’s something there, I mean, here, between us. Who knows what the hell will happen?”
    She nods, looking out at nothing. “I wish I didn’t care about you, Mischa.”
    “You’re sure you don’t want a line?” I say, hoping she’ll just let it go for a second. “I’ve got something else for us too.” I unwrap some tinfoil and reveal the sugar cubes. You can see a brown discoloration where the acid has soaked in, transforming the white crystals into something more alive, almost frightening.
     “Fuck,” Yuka says, rolling her eyes. “Is that what I think it is?”
     “I don’t know, I haven’t done that shit in a long time — “
     “Don’t worry,” I say. “I’ll be with you. Plus, I rented Fantastic Planet. That movie and acid were made for one another.”
     She laughs. “I won’t be able to read the subtitles.”
     “Well, the visuals are cool,” I say. “And so is the music.”
     “I know. It’s like that late sixties, early seventies Miles Davis fusion shit, so funky.”

I don’t know what to do next, so I lean over and kiss her. We kiss, and I feel it.

    I nod and begin the line-cutting process. I’m real particular about the whole thing. I even carry a light bulb around and a small piece of marble I found at some construction site. The marble is for the illusion of class; the light bulb is to crush the rocks down. I even have a razor blade to scrape the crystal off the bulb ’cause it sticks. It’s much better than using a driver’s license or something, ’cause you don’t get all the plastic shavings mixed in with your line. I always make the lines real long and thin, taking them up a straw with one side cut off at a forty-five degree angle.
    Yuka takes one of the cubes and pops it in her mouth, giggling a little. I do the same, without the giggle that is. The lines go up the blue plastic straw. A tear escapes Yuka’s eye, and she rubs her nostril with the side of her hand, trying to ease the burn.
    “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” is more or less all she can say.
     “And we’re off,” is my brilliant statement.
     I drink from a bottle of Jager and sit back on the couch. Yuka puts on an old Tom Tom Club CD, then goes into the kitchen. She returns with a black cordless phone.
     “I’m gonna order some food,” she says. “You want me to get you anything?”
     “I just wanna get something in my stomach before this shit hits me.”
     I look around at the room, which is pretty empty. There are only two paintings on the wall. One’s this white canvas divided into two sections. The first shows a man and woman ballroom dancing, dressed to the nines and floating on an absence of background. The other half is the same, but the guy has a wolfman face. The second painting I recognize as a Chris Johansen. A childish-looking clipper ship is painted on a blue ocean. Above the first mate at the front of the boat is a speech bubble that says, “Sir, there’s land ahead, sir.” A guy in a large captain’s hat responds, “Great. Let’s go there and do whatever we want.”
     I turn, kind of startled.
     “I ordered you some noodles with scallops and stuff. You really gotta eat more. I don’t want to nag you, but it’s important to me.”
     “Cool, thanks.”
     “And Mischa?”
     “Look,” she says, not looking at me. “Last night I was fucked up. I did stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise. I don’t mean what happened between us. More like the needles and shit. I really regret doing that with you.” She looks at the hardwood floor like she’s found a fascinating stain there. “I want you to know that I don’t approve of needles. I don’t want you using them, and you are especially not allowed to use them here. It’s my apartment, so I make the rules.”
     “Of course,” I say, thinking I should be able to lay off for awhile.
     “I worry enough as it is,” she settles on the couch. I hesitate, then put my hand on her leg. She shivers a little.
     “You shouldn’t worry,” I say.
     “How can I not,” she says, passing her fingers along the marks on my left arm. Her hand is cold. “You scare me.”
     “Because I see whatever’s inside of you becoming dimmer and dimmer. It’ll be gone soon. But I feel that, your hand,” she says, closing her eyes. “I feel what you were; I feel that coming through.”
     “But I never was anything,” I say, which is the truth.
     “I think the stuff we just took up your noses is distorting your memory,” she says. “It says you were never happy without it, but it’s lying.”

Her skin feels like liquid beneath my fingers. Flies are in the room, or maybe not. I hear them, or I don’t.

    I don’t know what to do next, so I lean over and kiss her. We kiss and I feel it, you know? I feel her kiss and it makes my head all crazy. Her tongue, her lips, her hands on my back: I feel it. I’m angry and tired and starved and lonely, but I feel nothing else. Just the kiss, through layers of calluses.
     Yuka is crying a little, and the doorbell rings. I go off to take a piss. The bathroom walls are painted red, like a sore, and golden angels are hanging all over. I take down my pants and look at my legs. They’re skeletal; I mean, really repulsive. My dick is shriveled and my balls are not even there. In the mirror, I’m all bad skin, bruises and greasy hair. It’s not even just the acne, my actual skin looks reptilian, scaly. I stare through swollen pupils. Seconds pass and here I am. Why am I so self-destructive? I don’t even know. It’s like, all my life, as long as I can remember anyway, there’s been a vacancy I just can’t fill. I’ve tried everything. When I was little, it was TV. As I got older, it was books and movies. Then I started surfing, swimming, exercising, all that. None of it made any difference. Girlfriends, boyfriends, sex, nothing helped. Every time I thought something was the answer, it wasn’t. Then I found crystal. The first time I did a line, I actually said, “Jesus, why wasn’t I breast-fed on this shit?” It was what I’d always been missing. I felt balanced out. It was like being normal for the first time. But fuck, man. I just dropped acid. If I go into it thinking about this shit, I’m gonna freak out.
    So I go into the living room. Yuka gestures to a white Chinese takeout box with one of those red pagodas on the side. I take some chopsticks and try to get the noodles down. I haven’t eaten since yesterday, and suddenly I realize how fucking hungry I am.
     “Thanks,” I say. “You wanna go watch that movie now?”
     We go into the back room. A futon leans against the wall. Musical equipment is piled everywhere, and clothes are all over the floor. There’s a mirror on the wall and a Boredoms poster. Yuka sits cross-legged on the futon while I put in the video. I turn off the lights and crawl onto the bed, wrapping myself in a “U” behind Yuka’s back. The movie starts.
     For a little while, we just stare at the screen. I feel a sort of pressure building in my head. It’s like I’m tumbling inward. The music becomes a part of my intestines, my organs, my nervous system, my veins, my mind. It moves and contracts inside me.
     The human boy on the screen falls off the ball, which the alien was forcing him to walk on. Yuka and I start laughing and we can’t stop. I light another cigarette and smoke it down to the filter. Little pink-and-green geometric patterns revolve on the skin of my eyes. The room is layered and heightened. I think I keep forgetting to breathe. My mind scatters into a thousand pieces. Disorientation. My hands are wet.
     Yuka falls back, and I touch her, giggling. Her skin feels like it’s turned to liquid beneath my fingers, coursing hot, pulsing. Flies are in the room, or maybe not. I hear them, or I don’t. The walls swell, thick with sweat. Sounds repeat and echo, drops of water in a styrofoam cup. I kiss Yuka. She kisses back. It’s like I’m nothing but a mouth and tongue — light, transparent. I kiss her neck where the jawline ends. She tilts her head back and I run my hand up her stomach, under her sweater, squeezing each nipple. Sitting up, we get that goddamn sweater off her and her pants too. I take off my own shirt and pants and kiss down her body, dragging my tongue and sucking her nipples. She lies still and I move my tongue lower. I push against her insides again and again while I rub her breasts. The heat inside her makes me sweat and I taste her bitter saltiness.

The water makes me feel like my body is one giant extrasensory organ.

     I close my eyes. It’s like I’m only a mouth, nothing else; I exist nowhere but inside her. Such a fucking relief. Yuka makes fists in my hair as her breath quickens and then she gasps, seizing up. Somehow I actually have an erection which is a fucking miracle. Pulling a condom on, I lie next to her and sort of straddle her sideways. This way my bony hips won’t cut into her. I learned this trick a while ago. We hold each other tight, kissing and releasing, moving gently together. We stay like this. The movie ends, and static fills the screen. I pull out. I can’t orgasm, of course. It’s been awhile. Our sweat runs together. The room comes crashing down, fractals in the darkness, trapped within a breathing lung.
    “That was fucking crazy,” I say, which I’ll admit is not the most brilliant statement of all time.
     “Very visceral,” Yuka says quietly. “I never fucked on acid before.”
     We lie there, twisted around each other tight, tight, tight. I rest my head on her chest and listen. I say, “It was also very . . . “
     “Sweet.” She kisses my forehead and stands, walks out of the room. In a few seconds, I hear water running. It’s no hallucination, either. She’s running a shower. God, what a great fucking girl she is. I love that: a shower. Such a perfect idea.
     “You coming?” she asks, reappearing with a towel that she throws toward me. I start to drag myself up, but my stomach tightens like when you jump off a tall bridge, and all the blood rushes out of my head. Yuka comes running over, but she’s too close, hovering. I can’t catch my breath.
     “I’m fine,” I say. “You go ahead, I’ll be there in a minute.”
     Yuka leaves reluctantly, and I pull my bag over. I know what she said and all, but I’ve got no choice. I cook up a shot, and at this point I don’t care if Yuka comes in or not. I push off and my ears are filled with ringing. I let the rush wash over me before I even try to stand again. Head screaming, I join Yuka in the shower.
     She looks freaked out but leaves it alone, thank God. I wash and condition her hair; the hot water makes me feel like my body is one giant extrasensory organ. I press up behind her. In this light, the creases and sagging skin on her body betray her age. I notice this objectively, though. It doesn’t change anything. The track marks on my arm, however, are like glowing fluorescent and I’m sort of trying to hide them. They, after all, change things quite a bit. Far more than her fucking age.
     “Yuka,” I say, my voice half-choked and everything, “if I, uh, were to get some help . . . you know, rehab or something . . . would you wait for me?”
     I feel this sort of tingling at the back of my neck, and I’m kinda wishing I’d just kept my mouth shut. She holds me tighter against her, kissing my forehead — short, longer, longest. I keep wishing we could stay like this, with the water coming down and me curled, all fetal-like, in her arms. It’d be nice, real fucking nice.
    But life just isn’t that way, is it?  


©2003 Nicolas Sheff and

the Sex & Drugs issue  
SubURBAN Photography by Robert Petrie
One, Two by Ian Spiegelman
Lucy & Rachel by Lisa Carver

Romancing the Stoner by Ondine Galsworth
/personal essay/

Clean by James Frey
/personal essay/

Sexy Dancer by Erin Cressida Wilson & Sean San Jose
Dirty by Daphne Gottlieb
I Did It for Science: Drugs by Grant Stoddard
The Night Visitor by David Amsden
/personal essay/
Tweak by Nicolas Sheff
James by Bruce Benderson
Dirty and Sober by Em & Lo
Amanita Virosa by Jenny Boully
A Life of Substance by Richard Hell
7 Days to Better Sex Through Recreational Drug Use by Carrie Hill Wilner
Slippy for President by Steve Almond

Nic Sheff lives and works in LA.