I’m on my knees hunched over the toilet with a toothbrush in hand scraping black lines off the inside of the porcelain until they fade away with my dignity. It smells like shit and piss and Lysol. This is my daily chore at my halfway house in Beverly Hills.
I take off the long yellow rubber gloves, and throw them under the sink with the rest of the cleaning supplies. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, noticing I’m getting a little color back. Ninety days ago, before stumbling into rehab, I was the color of the gloves. But the whole time all I could think about was getting fucked up.
My short brown hair looks healthy again. The dark circles under my eyes are fading and my cheeks don’t look so sucked in. Bones aren’t poking from underneath my shirt anymore. I have on clean clothes, and my eyes are clear. I smile at this new face in the mirror, and turn off the light.
I make my bed and clean my room quickly so I don’t get written up by the staff. Then I walk outside and climb in my old grey Taurus on my way to Hollywood to buy some coke. I’ve earned it after being sober for ninety days.
It’s the middle of summer and hot outside. I start my car and Tupac blares through the speakers. Cruising Sunset Boulevard, the sun shines on the palm trees, buildings, and people walking. Some are shopping, others beg for change, women are selling their bodies, the homeless sleep on doorsteps.
I pass the Body Shop, a famous strip club where I once fucked a stripper on the sidewalk out front. The Viper Room and the Saddle Ranch where I’d drink whiskey and snort blow until closing. And The Standard Hotel where we’d rent the suite and party with porn stars until the drugs ran out. The memory nearly coats my throat with the taste of whiskey and coke.
I drive faster, weaving in and out of traffic, smoking cigarettes and throwing them out the window. I pull up to my friend Tim’s apartment in downtown Hollywood, a white one-story building on a residential street. I walk up to the front door and my other friend Mark answers. He’s pale with bony shoulders and brown shaggy hair, wearing sunglasses.
“Shouldn’t you be in rehab?”
“How long you been sober?
“Why are you here?”
“To get fucked up.”
He pauses, lost in thought as I squeeze through the front door and walk to the fridge and grab a Heineken. I open it and take a sip and it’s the best Heineken ever brewed. Just the right amount of hops and barley. Mark walks into the kitchen and I ask, “You got any coke?”
He smiles and gives me that you-know-I-got-coke-look and we walk into the living room and sit down on the old tweed couch. He pulls out a gram and empties half of it on the dirty glass coffee table making a line and handing me a bill. I put it in my nose and bend over the powder, swooping down, bringing the coke to the bill like a sand storm. It burns worse than gonorrhea and I stand up and light a cigarette.
Mark and I talk about the last three months of our lives at Mach speeds. He tells me about parties and girls and booze. I tell him about rehab and chicks and God. I say how fucked the program is and how everyone’s crazy and that I have my life under control. Tim walks out of his room. He’s nineteen, heavyset with shaggy brown hair and gauged ears.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Celebrating my ninety days.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard. You need to leave.”
“This isn’t what you want.”
“How do you know what I want?”
“Yeah, how do you know what he wants,” Mark interrupts.
“You guys are fucking children.”
Tim walks back into his bedroom and slams the door. Mark spreads another line and we drink beers until hours pass and I realize I have to be back at the house in thirty minutes. I tell Mark goodbye and walk into the sun, flinching. I get in my car and drive carefully to my halfway house high as a fucking kite. I walk in with sunglasses and a clinched face and sit down at the table with the guys. “How’s it going?” My roommate Devin asks.
“Fine.” I grab the salad.
“It’s not that bright in here; you probably don’t need those sunglasses.”
“Probably not,” another roommate says.
I shake my head and take off my glasses. My pupils feel like marbles. Devin shakes his head at me in disappointment but doesn’t say anything. I eat spaghetti that makes me gag while they enjoy their food. I know I need to get the fuck out of here so I get up with everyone watching and go into the kitchen and throw my food away and walk out the front door hoping they won’t rat me out.
I haul ass back to Tim’s house, but not before stopping at the grocery store and buying a twelve pack of Budweiser. Mark’s still there doing lines off the coffee table and somehow has more coke. “The guys at the house know I’m high,” I tell him. “Well you better get fucked up to forget about that then,” He says.
I sit down and he pours a bigger pile, making two huge gaffers. I bend over and snort mine coming up with a smile on my face. We spend the next few hours repeating this process every twenty minutes, drinking beer and smoking a cigarette every ten. Tim walks by giving us dirty looks on his way to the fridge for beer. We talk about things like hating George Bush, the movies we’re going to write, and what to buy with the money. Then we start getting paranoid, looking out the windows and yelling at each other for no reason, pacing around the apartment.
It’s been dark for hours and I realize I need to be back for curfew. I’m scared that the guys told my house manager I relapsed and that they’ll be sitting in the living room with my shit packed when I get there.
I step out the front door, surrounded by identical apartments and the long street lined with palm trees. My phone rings, it’s Osmin, my movie producer. He says he’s got a new girl for me to check out.
“What’s she look like?” I ask.
“Young and hot, that’s all you need to know. You available for an audition tomorrow?”
“I think so.”
I hear people walking behind me.
“I got some shit going on; let me get back to you.”
I hear footsteps behind me and turn around to a fist hitting my face and me hitting the ground. All I can see is a dark-colored person wearing a hoodie, not making out their face. It comes again and again while someone goes through my pockets. I try to hit them off me but they hold me down and I look up to a gun in my face. I lie completely still until the guy going through my pockets steps away, then the guy with the gun turns around and they both run off. I collapse to the ground and my jaw hurts and my ribs hurt and I’m completely fucking sober. I get up and all I have on me are my keys, which are wedged between my legs in my pocket. I limp to my car and get in, checking myself in the mirror. I don’t have a phone so I can’t call my house but I drive back as quickly as I can.
I walk in the door and my house manager Buck is sitting on the couch. He’s bald, 6’4” with wide shoulders and large biceps. A biker.
“Where you been?”
“I was mugged. They took my phone.”
He has a cup in his hand.
“I need you to pee in this.”
“I was mugged.”
“Rules are rules.”
“Make an exception, Buck.”
I walk towards the stairs, he gets off the couch and blocks the entrance.
“Pee in the cup, Toby.”
I pause. Look down.
“Because I’ll fail.”
“Then get your shit and get out.”
He points upstairs. I lower my head and walk to my room and pack one bag and leave the rest of my belongings. I walk out the front door slamming it shut and telling Buck to fuck off as I get in my car and drive away.
I get back to Tim’s house, where he and Mark sit, now both doing lines. “Can I stay here tonight?”
“What the fuck,” Tim says.
“I got kicked out.”
“You dumbass. Yeah, stay as long as you want.”
“Thanks.” I look at Mark.
“Can I have another line?”
He points to the pile on the table and I do another line and grab another beer. I spend the next two hours telling Mark how fucked it was that Buck kicked me out.
“I was almost killed.”
“Damn right that’s fucked.”
I take a sip of my Heineken. There’s only a couple inches left. It’s warm, tastes like piss. This is the piss test I’m willing to take. It’s my cup of piss and no one’s going to take it from me. It’s my bitter cup. I made the decision to relapse and I control my life. I will decide if I want to get sober again and I will decide if I want to keep drinking piss and die. No one but God can take that choice away from me.
Toby earned his Master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco and a Post-Master’s Certificate in the Teaching of Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. He teaches Creative Writing and has been published in Knock Magazine, Recovery Quarterly Literary Journal, and Reed Magazine.