It's Me, Jon!
Excerpt from It’s Me, Anton! originally published in Forever Mag Issue 3.
I’m sixteen years-old bicycling home from a surf contest depressed because I finished dead last. I barely pay attention as I pedal across Pacific Coast Highway. A speeding motorcycle clips me. An EMT slaps me back to life.
I’m concussed, my arm is badly broken, and several weeks after it doesn’t heal, it is re-broken. That summer, stuck in a cast, I can’t surf. My friends that day on the highway, whom I loved but with whom I have since lost touch, would likely say: Jon never could surf.
These are the types of friends I attract.
I seek out something new to connect me to the summer. Experimenting with LSD fits the bill, and in the fall, I start to sell.
But I’m too easygoing to sell drugs. Too chill. I front friends hits, but when it comes time to pay and they can’t—or won’t—I let them coast.
What am I supposed to do, stab a kid over a seven-dollar dose?
Fast forward a few. I’m seventeen years-old now and my drug dealer, Leonard, lives way out by John Wayne Airport. I have a crush on Leonard’s girlfriend, Ember, who has fibromyalgia and gets government disability checks. Ember has a voluptuous cynicism that acts as an aphrodisiac on me and a whole generation of Orange County punks. Ember also has custody of her sister’s traumatized daughter, which seems at the time, unfairly adult. I can empathize. Already, I’ve been conscripted into the role of parent for my mother, who is coincidentally, also on disability for fibromyalgia.
People suffering from fibromyalgia process pain abnormally. In essence their brain boosts the intensity of normal pain signals, causing the body to feel pain out of proportion, or at odds with reality. In those days, the treatment for fibromyalgia was heavy pharmaceutical opioids: morphine, fentanyl, and oxycontin—downers I stole from my mom’s bedside, though I didn’t enjoy the high.
If you were looking, most nights you could find me sunk in the couch cushions at the apartment shared by Ember, her niece, and Leonard. It’s where I’d go to avoid going home.
One night, Leonard dares me to stick my head in the trashcan where they keep the little girl’s urine soaked underoos.
Uhh, I say.
WEAK, Leonard says. Because for him, humanity is separated into strong and weak. Winners and losers. This is Leonard’s reality and I’m too inexperienced to recognize that he falls squarely into the latter category. Slippery and selfish, the one thing he’ll never be guilty of is being a good guy. But despite the flaws in Leonard’s character, he has a magnetism, something energetic about his blue eyes, set deep in his skull. Deep but not dark, a light behind that keeps you up.
I’m seventeen years old. I’m highly coercible. I’m also curious.
I take an enormous breath. My chest puffs, my heart beats loyally.
I lift the lid on the trashcan and shove my head into its depths. I imagine that I’m duck-diving enormous surf. A nightmare wave. Madness that touches the roof of heaven.
Away from surfing, I’ve lost an elemental part of myself. Something to do with my intrinsic nature. Sorry to sound new-agey, but back then, I was out of balance.
I emerge from the trashcan gasping.
Lungs burning from fumes of pee.
WATER, I say.
Leonard just laughs.
SHHH! the little girl says, finger to lips.
Leonard we need to talk, Ember says, and lays down the children’s book she’s been reading aloud.
Behind the bedroom door the couple’s voices raise.
I light a Marlboro from Leonard’s pack.
So, I say to the kid.
I pick up the book where Ember left off. “A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back.”
The fable is one my mother read to me as a child.
I know how it ends.
It’s Leonard who introduces me to smoking speed. Right away I have a way with it. He also introduces me to his drug buddy, Jay. Unlike Leonard, Jay is easy to love.
Jay has bad skin and knows he’s ugly but is comfortable saying so, which gives him a surety that certain girls find sexy.
Jay works at Taco Bell, but is going to be a DJ. He is the first person I know who genuinely enjoys electronic dance music. I call him EDMJ. When we’re high I like to watch him mix and scratch imaginary turntables on the dashboard of my car.
It’s my first car, has a luxurious all red interior, but the head-lining is unglued, so the disconnected fabric droops and touches the top of your head, lightly. The sensation of being inside my car is difficult to convey in words, but I invite you to imagine a womb.
After I discover how good I am at speed, I stop dosing LSD. My initial revelatory experiences on the psychedelic have taken a turn, and now I think I want to kill myself every time I trip. But I miss the drug’s chimeric journeys of self-discovery. I miss the bonds I felt with myself when I couldn’t trust reality. Which is maybe why I fall for Amanda. I call her Amanda Hug-and-Kiss.
Unlike Ember, Amanda is a flirt. Has curly hair like heroines in romcoms before love straightens things out. I watch her twirl the curls around her pencil in our consumer math class. She has an after-school job at the mall selling traveler’s supplies. I visit at night. We smoke speed in the stockroom behind boxes of neck pillows, carry-on luggage, and anti-malaria kits. If she and I ever did more than kiss, I would remember, because back then I was a virgin. She wasn’t. She was adopted, and had a lot of questions about who she was, actually.
I’ve been awake for two days when I pick up EDMJ in the parking lot of Taco Bell. He’s playing with his folding knife, flicking open the slender blade. Saying, Leonard’s gonna get it.
Leonard owes us each around $60 for a bag of speed he’s failed to produce. Over the few weeks I’ve known EDMJ, he’s mythologized himself as a notorious thug in the rave scene.
He waves the knife around like a glow stick, hypnotic.
I’ve been in a few fights myself, but most I’ve lost.
We smoke the last of our shit in the parking lot of the motel where Leonard’s been living since Ember kicked him out.
Fo sho, Leonard says when he opens the door.
I wish I could say I was surprised to see Amanda Hug-and-Kiss there in the room also, laying on the bed, wearing Leonard’s t-shirt.
Just wait for my friends, homie, Leonard says, and lights a cigarette. They gonna hook you up.
I’m sick of Leonard lying. I want my money, Leonard.
Yeah, where’s our money, man? EDMJ says, near the room’s open door.
Listen, Leonard says, my friend’s shit gonna get you straight.
He looks at Amanda on the bed and she stops biting her fingernails, says, You’ll like it, Jonny.
I look around at the room: McDonald’s wrappers, tinfoil, tweak pipe on the nightstand; tossed bed; Amanda and Leonard. For a long time afterward, my mind will connect the smell of sex to the sour odor of that room.
EDMJ sits down in a wing chair in the corner. Gets comfortable. He acted hard as hell on the drive over.
Amanda turns on the television and all I can do is sit beside her on the bed. Ren and Stimpy plays, a whole half hour and then the credits. I can tell they aren’t real, the fleas that jump between me and her on the bedspread as she flips channels. I follow the itch up my arm. An hour has passed.
I say, Where are they, Leonard?
SOON, he says. Fuckin told you already.
He’s not apologetic anymore. He’s texting. His friends are on their way. They’re close.
Fuck this, I say. Empty your pockets, Leonard.
He gets up in my face. You feeling froggy, Jonny? Jump.
Leonard’s friends are on their way, but we were friends and I’m here now. And so is Amanda. I hold my breath. I reach into my pocket.
Before this exact moment, aiming at the light behind Leonard’s eyes, I never needed to use the petite canister of pepper spray that was a gift from my mother. And because I have never used the spray, there are some things I don’t know, but should. Foremost: how to undo the safety-lock on the nozzle.
The spray misfires across the room in a sideways squirt.
Leonard slaps the can from my hand.
Tackles me onto the hard motel bed.
WHAT’S UP NOW, Leonard says, punching. I cover up with my arms but stingers slip through.
Leonard holds me by the throat, punching. I can’t breathe.
WHAT’S UP, he says in a voice that’s both Leonard’s and not Leonard’s. It’s the voice of a man and of a thing that wants to pose as a man, a voice I still hear when I’m held too long underwater; it comes up from the deep as I swim to the surface.
I can’t breathe.
Past the punches, I see EDMJ. He’s in his Taco Bell uniform, black slacks and a purple polo. No slip shoes turned toward the open door.
Outside it’s Orange County, it’s California, and another sunny day, but I’m drowning under Leonard and the room is getting dark.
And then— I can breathe.
EDMJ drags Leonard by the t-shirt onto the floor.
STOP, Amanda shouts, standing atop the bed. GUYS, STOP.
Just give us our money, EDMJ says, very reasonably.
He towers over Leonard, fist cocked.
Owwwwrrgh, EDMJ says through his hands, bleeding.
Leonard is up.
I bum rush him against the bureau and the bolted-down television. I pin him between the television and the wall, shove his face into the crevice.
When my homies get here, Leonard says, out of breath, Their gonna—
Shut up, I say.
I look up at EDMJ, Where’s the knife?
What? Leonard says, squirming.
EDMJ’s nose bubbles blood.
The knife, I say.
EDMJ reaches into his pocket.
I have Leonard locked up and his t-shirt has ridden up. Kidneys. Liver. Lungs.
EDMJ opens up the knife.
STAB HIM, I say, in a voice that doesn’t sound like mine.
JONNY DON’T, Amanda yells.
PLEASE, Leonard says, in the crevice. Please, guys.
The way EDMJ holds the knife tells me, he won’t use it.
I raise up my hand to my friend.
Give me the knife.
The air through the open motel door is wet. This close to the ocean, you taste it.
Jon Lindsey lives in Los Angeles. He is the author of the novel Body High.