**Another fiction piece unearthed from the deepest vault. I don’t wish to be a downer during the holiday season, so those who are uncomfortable with dark themes (addiction) might want to skip this post.**


Sometimes I like to leave the needle in my arm longer than necessary. The reflected light a beacon of hope. My salvation. There was a time when the mere thought of such an action would have caused me unbearable anxiety. Now it’s a curiosity, like my passive face looking back at me from this toothpaste-splattered mirror. My glow dissipating. I have not sunk so low. I lead a productive, though unconventional, life. I’ve always made it to my gigs. I love my family. And so on.

I’m not sure what time it is. It’s light outside and I hear people moving about. Cursing myself for losing my watch again, I pick up the phone and dial the front desk. A kind voice tells me that it’s five PM. I don’t have to be anywhere for a while. Good. It’s true that all hotel rooms look the same, but each town has its own charms. And neuroses. I peek through the curtains at the incessant gloom that is winter in the Midwest. Buildings breathing steam. Lights peering dimly from behind frosted, incandescent glass. Signs of life.

Passage of truth
Lead me far from this farce
Coherence is lost
In the forest of my heart

My arms hurt. At least I can pull off long sleeves gracefully in this weather. I remember a dream I had before I started doing this to myself. “Little girl afraid of the big, bad needle,” a seedy, reedy black man said to me as he tied and squirted and smacked and plunged. Yellow dog eyes rolling back in his head. Some of the golden liquid had landed on my hand. “Go ahead. Have a little taste.” Timidly, then enthusiastically, I did so. The glow like a hissing serpent gliding through the lonely corridors of my being. And warmth. Such incredible warmth. And when I woke up I was scared.

Fear is a strange thing sometimes. The great motivator. The great deceiver. You fear that which intrigues you the most. I remember my virgin veins, aroused and eager as they were lovingly tied off and caressed. So many to choose from then. “Relax, baby.” Ryne with his soft eyes and confident touch. I hardly felt a thing. Then: pounding heart and panicked whimper as all control was surrendered: help me. Every pore dilated and weeping. Tender hands stroking my hair. Safe. Safe from them all.

Ryne. It rhymes with shine. Where did he go, my sublime? Oh, he left me for a socially acceptable anesthetic: the Church. Now I’m nothing but fodder for his flock; a radiant example of depravity strewn to the self-righteous masses. They gobble up every last morsel and shake their woolly sheep heads in disapproval.
Choke on me. That’s it. Gag me down. Soon there’ll be no more. Soon there’ll be—

Tears no more
Those glass slippers dangling in scorn

A bath will help. I don’t want to go out there yet. Don’t want to see their frigid concern. The running water soothes me as I notice myself, a faded pastel portrait, gazing back from the depths of this wretched mirror. I am alive. Around my neck, the antique locket’s inscription: For Meredith, who shines so bright. A gift from my supportive and bewildered family. The irony. If only they knew. It’s not their fault, yet they would shoulder the blame. The family closets harbor no boogeymen. This despair is my own doing; the result of a foolish experiment in—

Love not my soul
For it is dubious
Search not my heart
For it is shadowed
Just sing with me

The crowd will be intense tonight. Furiously enthusiastic as if in defiance of the harsh, bitter weather. A welcome change from the beige and preoccupied audiences of the Southwest. It’s different in the North. Surly and aggressive. They go through a lot to get to the show. And they’ve been counting the days.

People come to hear my music and, if I may be so delusional, my words. I used to think I had something to say. Now it seems I could be up on stage extolling the virtues of stale corn flakes and they would still think that I was remarkably profound. Perhaps even more so.

Entombed in this pearly grave
I am precious. I am not yours to interpret
Not yours to categorize, analyze, institutionalize
And –

I am not profound. They don’t listen. I am just the latest novelty. For some, a topic of conversation over café mochas and biscottis. For others, background accompaniment to getting stoned. I’ll never forget the moment when I looked out over a wasteland of rapt faces and realized that they didn’t get anything I sang, and yet they truly thought that they did. Faces that, when it mattered, shot me down and then laughed about it. And now it’s my turn to gloat. But instead of gratification, it was a sickening reality that hit me. It’s too late. I don’t want their love now. And then, the guilt. It’s not their fault. They want so much to understand. They want to be inside my head. To be me. And I began to wonder if I even understood what I’m singing.

Kill me kill me kill me
Set me free
From your endless scrutiny

Morbid, self-indulgent thoughts cascade across my mind as I lie here submerged and cozy. Reality obscured by ripples in this: my coffin of make-believe. The water has grown tepid, but I put off my return to the air. Izzy, my manager, and the others will be here soon. We still go through the motions. They have given up trying to rouse me from my isolation. None of them will look at me directly. They’re planning their escape, biding their time. They say nothing, because, in spite of my sullen seclusion, I still kick ass.

I paint rosebud lips on my listless mouth, butterfly lashes on my bleary eyes. Long lost little lady. Angel hair and ragged nails. It’s hard to imagine a powerful performance from such an image. I still can’t believe I have a following.

Once, I was out there among the lonely and misguided masses. Wanting to be relieved of the responsibility of giving the hurt a voice: tell us what we feel, because we don’t have the guts to dig for it ourselves. My only difference was that the pain was always on the surface, demanding to be acknowledged. There was simply no other choice but to express it. I am such a coward. Yet I’ve been called courageous, passionate. “Elegantly brutal in her relentless search for meaning in an inconsistent universe,” wrote one critic. Cheesy and pretentious, but it’s the only review I’ve ever saved.

I’ve caught the bouquet
That I never sought
I only ever wanted
To not be bought

It was there all along. The purpose of it all. Sadness in everything. Illuminated in a tiny, hollow piece of metal. I will not be getting help. It wouldn’t be the same if I cleaned up and became lukewarm. That’s a death I’m not willing to endure. I will let everything run its course until the inevitable accident. No shotguns, razor blades, or goodbye notes from me. Just negligence and destiny.

I hear them knocking. Time to go out there. I’m not ready to face them, but I will because soon it will all be over. I can already hear what people will say. Some will call me a loser, others a tragedy. They will both be right. For now, I hold my head up. I have seen my end and it’s exquisitely mine.


**”Shine” was originally written in the mid-1990s. It was a time when “heroin chic” was aggressively marketed to the troubled Gen X youth. All the cool rock stars were addicts. Very few are still alive today. My own abyss of depression never led me down the path of substance addiction. My addiction was travel. But I could relate to the alienation and hopelessness. The feeling that no one could possibly understand. It’s not easy to have empathy, if you’ve never experienced it for yourself. This was my attempt to understand.

This was my very first published story, way back in 2003. It appeared in Word Riot, which, for more than a decade, was one of the most reputable online literary journals. It has recently vanished, like so many other webzines from the early years of the internet.**

49 thoughts on “Shine

  1. You do dark well. I mean that as a compliment! Your writing and your photos always have a certain menace lurking in them that is artistically fascinating. I’m a sunnier person in general, but I always appreciate your look at the seamier, scarier, downer side of life. (Being my rosey self, though, I always heave a sigh of relief when you tack on a note at the end like the one here!)

  2. In my naiver (is that a word?) years I used to have a harsh opinion of depression, self-destruction and the feelings of loneliness and inability to being understood like your character’s, Julie. As years have gone by I started to understand that this is not something one chooses to have, or chooses to be, and whilst I’m unable to understand fully – never having felt depression – it makes me, if anything, grateful for not having been in this situation.
    I’ve said it before for your other piece of fiction, but I’ll say it again. I love how you can build a whole imaginary world with just a few strokes of your literary paintbrush.

    (btw: “Shine” hasn’t soured my mood. Going to Sainsbury’s and hearing “let it snow”, though, has).

    • Oh my God. Just the thought of shopping during the holidays is traumatic. The sadistic cheer with the sinister undertones of « consume ». Yeah, I’ll take Alice in Chains over « Santa Baby » any day.

      I’m happy to hear that you have gained some understanding of depression. Like all mental illness, it’s so misunderstood. And the worst thing is to hear « be positive » . As if it’s that easy. After a lot of hard work over many years, I managed to claw my way out without the « help » of pharmaceuticals. But rather than feel smug, it only makes me want to help those who are still trapped.

      • Yeah, I suppose saying “cheer up” with someone with clinical depression must be as useful as tossing both end of the rope to a drowning man… Anyhow, hope you’ll be able to help as many people as you can, Julie!

  3. Oh,my, this was wonderfully intense. You captured the angst, the desperation and the loneliness of those that had that kind of fleeting fame. My favorite line…”tell us what we feel, because we don’t have the guts to dig for it ourselves” Wow.

    Glad to hear your memoir is coming along, Julie.

    • Thank you, Van. It’s always seemed, to me, that people want to take the easy road to self-awareness. So much easier to parrot a pretty quote and adopt the appropriate demeanor than to dive deep within the self.

  4. Very thought provoking, Julie – no longer will I look at ageing rock stars in the same light. No longer will I admire their longevity against all odds nor their pickled insides – I will wonder what tortures are going on inside their heads. Keep up the progress on the memoir – how long before publication – roughly 😉 ?

    • It’s possible that I didn’t get the feeling exactly right, since I don’t personally know the horror of addiction. But I tried. As for ageing rock stars…they may be medicating or they may just be partiers. Hard to believe that Keith Richards is very deep, but who am I to judge. I just watched some clips from the recent Grateful Dead documentary and one scene talked about how Jerry Garcia stopped talking during concerts, because the audience treated him like some kind of messiah. The blind adoration drove him to self-medicate and withdraw. Deadheads are particularly obsessed, though.

  5. A very interesting read. You’ve portrayed the isolation, fear and anger of an addict well, it seems to me. Very intense. I’m glad it was a fiction piece, not autobiographical. So many lives lost.

  6. On a brighter and more worldly note: It is only Michigan, surrounded with the Great Lakes and covered with gray clouds from October to March that is so gloomy and depressing. Always remember, my friend, the sun is shining somewhere.

    • Haha. The Michigan gloom is impressive in its intensity. Actually, Eastern European winter is just as formidable. But underneath it all, the sun blazes.

  7. It used to be thought addiction was caused by a genetic predisposition or an imbalance in brain chemistry. They are now saying addiction is for those who do not feel loved and do not have strong connections in their lives.

  8. Having been closely linked to the drug scene from the early 1970s onwards, I can relate to your story. Though I never became addicted to heroin, I did try it on a few occasions. It is a drug that anaethetises not only the body but also the mind.

    Many of my friends became heavy users, and I sensed a deep inner pain in all of them. Some of them went to prison and a good few of them died. I suspect most had been physically or mentally abused as children, or both. Heroin gave them the escape from pain they so desperately craved. In a perverse way it also gave some sort of purpose to their lives, as the desperate search for relief occupied both their thoughts and time.

    I disliked the effects of heroin, as the mind is numbed to the point where there is almost no real thinking at all. There seemed no point to it.

    I have tried most of the drugs available on the street. and have also drank for most of my life, but I never suffered from what most people would term addiction, as I never experienced the sort of craving that had me waking with the only next fix, snort, smoke or drink on my mind. And I have seen enough addiction to know what I’m talking about.

    This tale rings very true from what I have experienced, and from what I have observed in the back street shooting galleries of London’s Notting Hill, to the homes of the extremely rich and privileged of Kensington and Chelsea in the 1970s and 80s.

    • Thanks for your insight, Bryan. Good to know I captured it accurately. I have self-medicated at certain times in my life, when I was in difficult situations. But I always sought out the mind-expanding stuff, rather than the anesthesia. As soon as my situation improved, the urge disappeared. I have known a few addicts, and, sadly, they are either dead or I had to cut them out of my life. I have empathy for their situation, but when it turns a friendship toxic, it’s time to say goodbye.

  9. Thanks Julie for another well written post, “a blast from your past,” so to say. Way back in the 60s/70s, I traveled on the periphery of the rock n’ roll drug scene. There were so many ways to go wrong. I saw some sweet, innocent souls wander off due to addiction of one kind or another. Luck and good choices in my friendships kept the temptations at bay. I am glad that you also found a safe way forward.

  10. Ooh, that is dark. It’s always a head scratcher to me why folks would be attracted to things like that (or horror movies, etc). Being depressed or angsty is bad enough without reinforcing it. Maybe folks like it just because they can relate.

    • It probably does help to numb the pain in the beginning, but when the addiction really takes hold, then the real hell begins. It’s funny how pop culture, particularly the fashion industry, neglects to show the really horrific effects. It shows enough to be darkly intriguing, enough to make impressionable people curious. Another reason why I profoundly despise such cultural propaganda.

  11. Well, well. I don’t know if that was gloomy or just realistic. Maybe the universe is but a bowl of “stale corn flakes”. 😉 To be honest, I see no reason in this – soon to end – particular, tragic year to think otherwise. Yes there is a bright Mexico winter sun outside my window. 🙂 So? Today it has been 7 months exactly that I flew with my daughter to Los Cabos to the rescue of my missing son-in-law, Andrés. Hours of flight and road, clinging to the hope that he was just missing. Maybe kidnapped by the drug lords. (We’ll sell everything. We’ll get him back.) Only to arrive on a dreaded beach to learn the inevitable. To be honest, again, I have not recovered. Will I ever? My daughter Virginie, aka, Gini, has gone to Asia. To search for peace if not meaning. The only thing I have managed to… figure out and implement is that we are all going to Asia to reunite with Gini. Including grandson Gonzalo! And we’ll bring her back. Leaving on the 14th. So, my dear Julie, forgive me for venting. (This is not an auspicious day) And allow me to wish you a very, very happy Christmas and New year in Angers. And when I say Happy, I mean it. You deserve it. There isn’t much sense anywhere or in anything. Just the – brief – life we have. 🙂 Our only riches. So enjoy it. A bientôt mon amie.

    • Oh, Brian. You can vent all you want. There are things that we never fully recover from. And, you’re right, there isn’t much sense to be found in anything. I wish you and your family a beautiful reunion with your daughter. Hopefully you will find some peace together in that faraway land.

      • Thank you Julie. I’ll try not to overdo it. 😉 Truth is, I can’t wait for this terrible year to end. But more than that, I am really counting the days until the 14th when we start our 30 hours flight. 🙂 It will do us all good. Meantime, Joyeux noël mon amie, if we don’t connect before. Will you spend it in Angers? (It should be interesting. Anthropologically speaking) Bz

  12. A summer here, where the air fills with addictions to a sea, its coastal shore breaks and sparse coastal forests. Where the gloom we wait for is a lively early evening storm with its whispers and volumes to sway the heat to runaway to dissipate. Never really find much to a genuine gloom here, unlike growing up out on the central highlands, where a winter’s gloom might go on for days. Always good reading your fiction, travels, lived tales and anecdotes, Julie.

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