How A Breakup Inspired My Attempt At Breaking Bad

"When my friend pointed out that I was holding crystal meth, I broke into a sweat."

BY MELANIE GARDINER

As I looked down at the small bag of crystals that resembled rock salt in my hand, I had no idea what I was actually holding. When my friend Ian pointed out that it was crystal meth, I broke into a sweat.

I was no Jesse Pinkman, the meth addict Breaking Bad had introduced just before I arrived in Australia. I was more like Dorothy of Oz: naïve, well-mannered, and lost in a foreign land. As a 21-year-old aspiring music journalist from Central Jersey, I was a college senior with a 3.8 GPA and four younger siblings who looked up to me. I liked being a role-model. Yet when my boyfriend of four years suggested we go on an “indefinite hiatus,” as if we were a has-been band that might reunite sometime in the future, I set out on a self-destructive path. I became addicted to escape—whatever form it took.

In the beginning, I pretended he was dead. When he began dating his new (and I assume, "perfect") girlfriend, I couldn't get the image of him banging her out of my head. I concluded I‘d never love again, killed off the rational part of myself, and replaced it with an insatiable desire to feel anything but sober. After a year and a half of running into him on campus, getting drunk became mundane. I needed to take myself to new levels of numb. I needed to not be me.

I used “studying abroad” as my ticket away from Rutgers. I was on spring break during my semester at the University of Melbourne, when a Friday in September in Sydney seemed the perfect night to pop my ecstasy cherry. Ian, my newfound friend and study abroad partner in crime, was a tall blonde DJ from Chicago. He had rolled more times than he had fingers, so I enlisted him to help me find my first taste. We went to find pills in Sydney’s red light district, “The Cross,” home to nightclubs and bars galore, where the sidewalks were laced with ravers, drugs and prostitutes.

We asked a scruffy man sporting a hoodie if he was selling. He said yes, asked for $50 Australian dollars a pop, and promised to retrieve the goods from his apartment. Within five minutes, (which I spent worrying that cops were going to find us and throw us in Australian jail) the dealer returned and quickly handed us a bag saying, "Here's your ice." We didn’t ask any questions. We didn't discuss amongst ourselves. We took it and walked away.

Our American English didn’t translate well into Australian drug lingo. We’d accidentally scored meth, king of the uppers.

As Ian placed the evidence of a drug deal gone wrong into the back pocket of his skinny jeans, we sensed each other’s fear. How did two good college kids end up with a bag of meth? We just wanted to get high and dance. In truth, I didn’t even know how one would go about smoking meth. In 2008, all I knew was that I was far too cute to risk becoming a post on the “Faces of Meth” site.

Ian and I decided we would toss the baggie into a dumpster. We found an empty alleyway and I stood guard as he threw away our unintended purchase. Feeling defeated but not enough to bail on our search, we took one last shot at finding ecstasy. I wanted to feel the euphoria Ian had talked about.

We dished out another combined $100 to another Cross character, making sure we specified which drug we were looking for this time. He handed us a small skull-patterned plastic bag from his jacket pocket that contained two white tablets. 

We turned the corner and Ian inspected our buy under a streetlight. "These look like Smints," he sighed, showing me the white triangular mint candies imprinted with “S.” There was no way after all of that we had been duped again. It couldn't be.

"It's possible they were dipped in acid,” Ian said. “We’ll try them and see.”

At that point, stripped of my money and with nothing to show for it, I’d try anything. We rushed back to our hostel and went into a staircase where we each placed one on our tongues. 

I waited for the rush. I wanted bright-colored hallucinations and mind-altering visions. I wanted a shit-eating grin plastered to my face while Ian and I danced. Like many times post-breakup, I didn’t care what happened, as long as I was happy for a moment. As long as I didn't feel this.

We only had two hours before the sun came up, but we stayed awake and stared into each other’s eyes, waiting to see if our pupils would dilate, since Ian said it was the first sign of tripping. Then paranoia set in. 

What if it works and I don’t like it? 

What if it kills me after mixing with the alcohol I consumed earlier in the night? 

I waited. And waited.

Nothing happened. The Smints turned out to be just Smints. My first attempt at ecstasy landed me meth and my second gave me really good breath. I flunked drugs. 

In the end though, I was relieved. I wouldn't have wanted to lose myself more than I already had. After that laughable night, I started allowing myself to feel again, even if it meant hurting. I was so concerned with not being me, I'd forgotten that's really who I needed to confront: me. If I continued flirting with the need to escape, I probably would have never been able to rekindle things with Shane, a guy I had briefly dated before leaving for Australia. We picked things back up almost as soon as I returned, and the breakup that sent me down under no longer mattered. 

After accidentally buying crystal meth, I had to really look at myself and decide who I wanted to be. I wanted my integrity back. Bryan Cranston defines the show’s title as a colloquialism for when someone takes a turn off the path of the straight and narrow, whether it’s for a day or a lifetime. One brush with breaking bad was enough for me that evening in The Cross. Barely veering off course made me realize that I’d much rather experience crystal meth from the comfort of my Brooklyn living room with Shane, who I married almost four years ago. After developing our Netflix addiction, I score every night.

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