Excerpt From ‘The Cessation of Massachusetts’

Part of a chapter from the middle of the novel after the band, and group of friends break up. For Kevin he has hit bottom… and built a castle there…

It was dark and smelly and it didn’t seem to matter.  There he was in the alley just sitting and staring up at the smoggy night’s sky and it didn’t seem to matter.  His arm hurt like it hurt all of the time now with its track marks and punctures.  He’d just shot up and nothing seemed to matter. 

Sounds drifted to him in the alley, sounds from the bar across the way.  It must have been their jukebox or maybe just the house music, it didn’t matter, but something did matter. What mattered was the music he was hearing.  He remembered playing drums on that track and remembered it not being his best stuff but it was good enough to become a radio single.  ‘Desert’ was not his favorite song from their catalog but it wasn’t bad.  Even after all of this time it was still catchy and he hummed a bit of it as best he could with so much heroin rushing through his veins.  ‘Desert’ was the last memory he had of that night as he woke up in his loft on the other side of the city. 

Heroin had become his life.  His accountant was good enough that he never had to worry about money and his friends had all left him so he didn’t need to worry about them. His family was scattered to the four winds and as far as he was concerned they never cared about him so he wasn’t going to worry about them. He had no worries. 

Life wasn’t easy even though all it was about the fix.  No dealer would go anywhere near his house after the raid and the arrests and no respectable dealer would be seen with him; he was a bust waiting to happen.  Sometimes the cops would just stop by to see what was going on.  They tried to use him as leverage and failed. Once you become a rat there’s no way to get your fix and he knew it. 

With no friends and no suppliers, he’d taken to sneaking around the seedy parts of town looking for someone, anyone really who could get him high.  He never worried about the police coming for him on his little jaunts; he was a small fish buying from other small fish in a sea of addicts, pimps, and whores.  Vice units had bigger things on their plates than the habits of a washed up rock star provided they even recognized him as Kevin from Anarchist’s Union.  He was too skinny by a lot, his hair was too long by a lot, his beard was whiter than it should have been and hung nearly to his chest, and though he lived in lush appointments and had access to the finest clothes he looked like nothing more than another homeless junkie. 

He sat up and looked around his room his head already pounding and his arms already itching.  He fought the urge to scratch his arms; though he was an addict and though he looked like an addict, he tried hard not to have addict like mannerisms.  He tried successfully sometimes, to hide his track marks under long sleeves but sometimes it was too hot outside to wear them and on those days he was a prisoner in his own home until night.  Some of those days were tortuous and filled with pain and terror as he came down from the previous night’s fix and other days were better; on those days he’d find that he had some heroin left in his pocket or on his nightstand or on the living room table from the night before and he’d be able to get high before the crawling of his skin and the itching in his arms drove him out of his mind.  Some days when there was no fix to be had he’d take a few extra pills and pass out until nightfall when he could roam the streets like the walking dead.  His collection of pills was staggering and even if you discounted the heroin he’d still have a serious drug problem.  Uppers, downers, anti-depressants, sleeping pills, pain pills, muscle relaxants; it was amazing what money could get you in Los Angeles. 

His head pounded as he made his way to the kitchen to chase his dreams away with rum and cola and a few pills.  He used to be careful about the quantity of pills he took and alcohol he drank and coke and heroin he snorted, or shot up as the case was now, but moderation was a word he no longer had in his vocabulary.  It wasn’t that he was indulging to an extreme to impress anyone, as there was no one to impress, and it wasn’t that he was trying to die but more that he just didn’t care whether he lived or died.  His overdose, and he was sure that someday there was going to be an overdose, would be called ‘accidental’. He wasn’t sure if he’d die from this inevitable overdose but he knew if he didn’t they’d send him to serious rehab and that scared him.  It always struck him as ironic that the only thing keeping his habits under control was a fear of rehab, a fear of losing his vices.  In a way his vices were either like children, things he loved and nurtured, and like parents, things he loved and obeyed. 

It took a while for the pills to quiet his head and settle his stomach enough for him to be hungry.  In his fridge there was only leftover pizza and even as he decided he was going to eat it, he had no memory of ordering pizza ever; in truth he didn’t remember much anymore and little details like meals weren’t important enough for him to try and remember.  That bar from the previous night was something he’d committed to memory though he couldn’t remember why.  Part of him said it was about the music and another part of him said it was about the great dope that the guy a block away had sold him and a third part of him said it was both reasons.  He doubted that the music had much to do with it but he was feeling a little nostalgic this morning.  For a musician, even one as washed up and at rock bottom he was, he listened to surprisingly little music.  It was like it left a bitter taste in his mouth to listen to others perform because deep inside under all the drugs, he wanted to be the one performing.  He had an entire room in his house dedicated to drums and he hadn’t even opened the door to that room in ages. 

There was fear and hate and jealousy and ups and downs and euphoria and despair associated with his drumming and he just couldn’t take the flood of emotion that playing brought to him.  Some days he wanted to drum so badly but knew that he wouldn’t even be able to open a jar of pickles in the shape he was in and that truth made him cry.  Some days he wanted to take his drums out into the yard and watch them burn; they were from the past and he wanted to move on.  On those days he’d think about trying to get his demons of his back but would inevitably end up turning to them for solace like they were his only friends.  Sometimes he came to the realization that they were his only friends and that drove him into a downward spiral that ended when he woke up at home with no idea how he got there.  Inside he knew none of these things were healthy or safe or even normal but he couldn’t stop; as much as it disappointed him this was his life and he was destined to live it.  In a way, a big way, he thought of it as penance for his friend’s death and that’s what kept him going; he didn’t think that he deserved the peace of death. 

In his living room there was a platinum album above his mantle, ‘The Cessation of Massachusetts.’ And he thought that those last recording sessions were the best time in his adult life and even during those weeks he wasn’t anywhere near straight any hour of the day.  It all seemed to be coming back together then, the band, his friends; life was good again for the first time in a long time.  He was too deep in now to do it but he thought that then he might have been able to shake the monkeys from his back.  He was going to sit here, wasted in his living room, and take an honest accounting of his life; he decided to let the truth out.  He wouldn’t have been able to break his habits then, he was still functioning and they were still ‘fun.’  He probably had a better chance of coming clean now than he did then if he wanted too, if he felt he deserved to. 

Another thought another pill… he wondered what was going on with his friends.  It was a passing thought; he barely cared how he was doing and they were just a distant memory of a shadow to him.  What he really wondered was whether any of them were still making music.  He suspected that they were, maybe not together, but instead because music was such a part of all of their souls.  He thought briefly that if he wasn’t then they weren’t either but hoped that wasn’t true; he had to get to the bottom to lose his muse and wished that on no one.  Were he a God fearing man he’d pray for them but he and God were having a disagreement about who lives and who dies and he thought that asking something of God right now might not be in his best interest. 

In terms of music, he knew that Michael had gone on to front a metal band for a while and he remembered it not going anywhere.  The last he heard Roy was in the hospital and the visit wasn’t a short one.  Paul was producing records for their old record company.  Kevin wasn’t sure if that counted as ‘making music’ but it might, and that brought a little smile to his otherwise emotionless face. 

Another thought another pill… his mind wandered to ‘Touched.’  It was incendiary; it was epic, and it was a cover.  That song belonged on ‘Cessation’ but was ahead of its time.  ‘Cessation’ was his best drumming, more due to the emotion behind it than the technical aspect of playing it, but ‘Touched’ was his best technical drumming as well.  Those two ideas, emotions versus technique, battled in his mind for a few moments before he came to a realization; when it’s someone else’s music technical is what you shoot for but when it’s yours it’s all about feeling and soul. 

‘Where,’ he thought, ‘did that leave ‘Black’?’  That was a conundrum that needed to be puzzled out and it was another thought so there was another pill. 

He remembered the first time he really listened to ‘Black.’  It was a day when he and Roy were just sitting around playing video games and it came on the radio.  He was familiar with the song but hadn’t really listened to it with his full attention until Roy spoke up and said “This is what we’re shooting for, something as moving as this,” while nodding his head towards the speakers.  In that moment it all solidified for Kevin, all of their hopes and dreams could be summed up in just a few minutes by Pearl Jam and he knew than that music was going to be a huge part of his life even if being a musician wasn’t. 

This time there was no thought but just a pill, and that pattern continued… all day.