Shine

**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.**

Shine.

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.

**”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.**