Lilly says the meth-heads she knows are too scary, though when I see her for the first time in two years, she cries, “Did you see the end of Breaking Bad?!”
Anyway, I have a methamphetamine user in mind. She’s an in-law, five or six times removed, which is the approximate number of times she’s removed herself from my relation. She’s prone to mood swings, the stories say, which is one of the hundred or so side-effects of meth use. Her relations are aware of her drug use, but only her fiancé of six years has confronted her about it. Until now.
Daria has a baby on the way – she’s got the bump to show for it. Last I heard, she was horribly skinny. Now she appears to have swallowed a tire. Little of her stomach is due to baby. She’s pale, and her hair appears to be perpetually wet, like she climbs in and out of showers wherever she goes. Her veins are prominent, but I see no prick marks. I’d bet she ingests rather than any of the other methods. I don’t want to consider the suppository possibility.
Why has she agreed to meet me? No one knows. Her fiancé is as bewildered as ever. It’s especially bewildering when she greets me, “You Tom? Get in,” and walks away from the front door, letting it slam behind her.
We sit down in the living room. Magazines, clothes, cat hair, and full ashtrays abound. A rotund, orange, striped cat saunters in. Daria shrieks at it like a Jersey housewife and it flees like a floating keg on tiny legs. She lights a cigarette and interrogates me about this interview. She doesn’t want it printed, she says. After a moment, I say, “Okay.” She doesn’t want me talking about it, either. “Okay.” She tells me, “If you start shootin’ your mouth off to people I’m gonna fuckin’ give you nightmares” – her voice rising in a violent crescendo. I say: “Okay.”
She says: “What do you want to ask? If my life’s a nightmare? It’s fucking hell. I wish I could shoot myself in the face. I’ve thought about it. I wish I’d never been born. But at least I’m not living in a dreamland like everybody.”
What does she mean? Her face scrunches up and she says, “Oh, like this fuckin’ – the TV and YouTube and fuckin’” – she lists off a dozen things I can’t keep track of, and before the end of the interview she’ll erase my tape.
She believes people are getting stupider and stupider – “All this Justin Bieber and shit,” she says. “You’re really gonna write this all down? What for?” After I tell her: “It won’t make any difference. People think anyone else is shit, no one really wants to help, it’s just gonna go on and – we’re going to hell together.”
Then, abruptly: “But I’m really not depressed. You know [her husband]. He’s as good as they get… and now I got this little rat.” She points to her stomach.
“Are you still using?” I blurt.
“What the fuck’s that your business?” she snaps.
Methamphetamine passes through the placenta into the fetus when used during pregnancy. It can also be secreted in breastmilk. Babies born to meth-using mommies have smaller heads and lower birth weight.
“Have you ever tried to quit?”
Now she’s still. The tension goes from her face and it looks like the cigarette might slip from her fingers.
“Yeah,” she says. “A couple times. More than that.”
She remembers the cigarette and puffs. “Why don’t you ask me if I’ve tried to quit this?” She waves the cigarette around.
“No. Why would I?”
“Well, Daria, when did you start using meth?”
She says middle school – and I must look surprised, because she grins. It’s unsightly. She suffers from that most mythological of druggie signatures: the meth-mouth. It’s not so bad you could arrest her for that, but any dentist might be compelled to make a citizen’s arrest. The edges of her teeth seem rough, as if filed, and her teeth are like sand. Cleaned up, she wouldn’t be a bad-looking woman at all, which makes her hellish grin all the more disruptive. Meth-mouth is more common among those who inject rather than ingest, which suggests I just haven’t noticed the prick marks.
She says, “I just wanted to see that look.” She means the one on my face; she thinks it’s from the idea of a middle school meth-user rather than my reaction to her smile. “No, it wasn’t ‘til after high school. I don’t know, twenty-one? Twenty-two?” She thinks: “No, I guess it would have been… twenty-three? I was with Brad then…”
Brad didn’t introduce her to it. She’d snorted coke but never tried heroin. (“It freaked me out,” she says.) One of her friends described using crystal meth, “and I was like – rock candy that gets you high? Heeeellll yeesssss!”
“Sometimes when I run out of money I stop if I have to. So I guess I could quit, but… I don’t know. It keeps me going. You want a drink?”
“You ever drop acid?”
Next I ask if alcoholism runs in her family. She says yes, her father was a drunk. Or is. She can’t tell. She says she tried to get him off it, then they were estranged for a while (she doesn’t use the word “estranged,” or phrase it so diplomatically), and now he says he quit, but if not, he’s halfway to the grave anyway.
Daria works for a farm on the other side of the river, in New Hampshire. She’s the bookkeeper. A friend got her the job. She’s worked there the last year. She’s the farm’s store clerk in the winter, selling authentic maple syrup, plush cows, and postcards.
“Do your co-workers know?”
She shrugs and doesn’t say anything else.
“They don’t know,” I suggest.
“Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.”
“What about the guy who got you the job?”
“Yeah, he better know. He’s done it with me twelve times.” She laughs.
“What’s your husband think?”
“What’s your girlfriend think about what you do?” she fires back. “Hang out in people’s houses asking them questions, digging up all their shit?”
She starts to accuse me of something, says she’s not an animal in a zoo, asks what I’m even doing with my life, and on noticing my recorder again, says, “What do you, take that home and listen to it when you get to bed? Do you jerk off to it?”
“I think I’d better go.”
“No,” she says. “Delete that. Delete it. The whole thing. Right now.”
I can’t just delete it – it’s an analog tape recorder. She says to give it to her and she’ll keep it. I hand it over and she smashes it under her foot, which must hurt, since she’s barefoot, so she picks it up, tries to snap it, can’t, and flings it again the wall furiously.
“Get out? You leaving? Aren’t you leaving? Didn’t you think you should go? Should go? So go! Hell fuckin’—”
As I move down the hall toward the kitchen, she shrieks, “FUCK YOU!”
I pick up my pace, expecting to turn around and see her running at me.
Out the door, down to my car. No sign of her. Even as I’m backing up, I expect to turn and see her running at me, like a horror scene from Twin Peaks. But it doesn’t happen. Fortunately, this is real life.