stories of failure

Photo by Aku Aku. Cementerio de La Recoleta, Buenos Aires.

4. pierre


I had arrived at the airport late and had less than an hour to spare before my flight. I was completely strung out on H and could feel my stomach churning. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten. I didn’t feel right. I bought a bagel and orange juice and sat down, noting the looks people around me were giving me. I didn’t care. I knew I didn’t look well. I would sleep it off on the flight. I was going home for a week and I needed to pull it together.

I managed to drink the orange juice but I couldn’t handle food. I heard the announcement that my flight was boarding. I grabbed my bag and began walking quickly towards the terminal. My stomach lurched and I looked around wildly for a bathroom. I spotted one and began running, one hand over my mouth. I didn’t make it and vomited all over my hand, my coat, the floor. When I reached the bathroom, I caught my reflection in the mirror. I was a mess. I had to get on that plane.

I just made it, and found my seat in between two sorority girls who took one look at me and became fast friends. Neither wanted to change their seat with me but they continued to talk across and over me. I sat back and closed my eyes. It was going to be a long flight.

What the hell was wrong with me, I thought. How stupid of me to get high before the flight. How stupid of me to fuck up my life. I had transferred to the university as a philosophy major, and wound up dropping almost all of my classes the first year. I was searching for purpose in my life. I could find none. I turned to drugs, thinking I was expanding my mind. But I was on a path of escape and self-destruction. The second year I dropped out completely.

I had woken up that morning with the guy I had been seeing in my bed. He had left the bag on my kitchen table from the night before. He wouldn’t get anything for me. He would only share his stash with me, and only in the smallest, safest increments. And that kind of pissed me off. So that morning, I hit it before I woke him, and I had taken too much.

I had taken too much.

Pierre had warned me, but I didn’t listen.


I didn’t know Pierre well. By the time I arrived on campus, he already lived off-campus, in a place that he quickly turned into a notorious drug house whose parties were legendary. I had heard of him in a number of different ways before I actually met him. One of his friends and I used to skip class and go back to my dorm room to get high. At that point in my life, getting high was my way of maintaining a sense of normalcy, and I was indiscriminate about the drugs I took. Getting high was my state of being, my purpose. I had no desire to exist in sober reality, in a world I didn’t want to be part of.

“You’ve got to meet Pierre,” he said each time we hung out. “You’re just like him.”

But for some reason, it took some time before we actually met. My roommate had taken to hanging out at his house and she began pressuring me to go to some of the parties. I was perfectly content to stay in my dorm room, reading and getting high. But eventually I did go to some of the parties, where I’d start off in the basement where the bands were and wind up in some smoke-filled room upstairs for the rest of the night.

When I did meet Pierre, it was at a bar. He was cool, confident, popular. He had long black hair, ice-blue eyes, and a leather motorcycle jacket. Girls were all over him. Guys tried to impress him.  I didn’t see how I was like him at all. He had pulled me onto the dance floor, saying “you’re the Michelle I’ve been hearing about,” then twirled me around and around to disco music in a drug induced haze until I was dizzy. I didn’t think I liked him very much.

The next time I went to one of the parties at his house, I was waiting for the bathroom when the door directly across from me opened. Pierre and I stood face to face, then he took my hand and pulled me into his room.

“Come in,” he said, pushing aside the pile of papers, photographs, and comic books that were on his bed, offering me a seat.

“What are you doing in here?” I asked.

“This is my room,” he said. “Want to get high?”

Despite my reservations or the absolute awkwardness of the situation, that was the one question that he knew I would say yes to. We smoked a bowl together, and the whole time he talked. He talked so much I could barely process what he was saying.

“I know you understand. I can see it in your eyes. What color are your eyes? Are they green or gray or … ”

“Hazel.” I had answered.

“You’re so beautiful.”

I laughed. Beautiful was not quite the look I was going for. I was anti-beauty. I had very short razor cut hair, shaved underneath. I didn’t wear makeup. I had piercings and tattoos. I wore the utilitarian clothing of the early 90s, flannel shirts, one piece work suits, army jackets, combat boots.

“Your eyes are like magic. I love your voice. I wish you would talk to me. You’re so quiet. Why are you so shy around me?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re just like me. You can help me. We can help each other …”

He turned off the light and fumbled against me, kissing me, pushing me onto his bed, all the while trying to unzipper my work suit, my one piece shield. I didn’t know what to do. I was overwhelmed. His need was so strong.

We kissed for awhile and then just laid together on his bed. I listened while he talked and talked in the darkness. After some time, I told him I had to go. He didn’t want me to go. He asked me to come over tomorrow. He asked me to go out to dinner with him. He said he wanted to see me again. He said he needed to see me again.

I didn’t believe him, but I promised so he would let me go. I kissed him goodbye and didn’t see him again for months. After I had dropped out of school and was living off-campus, working at a restaurant near the college to pay for rent and drugs, sometimes Pierre would come in and we’d say hello, but that was it. He was in graduate school for film, keeping himself somewhat clean, and had moved out of the party house into a nicer, more respectable apartment.

My old roommate was dating one of his friends, and that’s how I found myself meeting up with him again one day towards the beginning of fall. We were all hanging out, waiting for our connection to show up, talking about drugs, the one thing we all had in common.

“Yeah, H is heaven and hell. You got to be careful though,” Pierre had said.

“Can you get it?” I had asked.

“Yes …” he said. “But I won’t get it for anyone else.”

“I would never do that shit,” my old roommate’s boyfriend had said.

“I just want to try it,” I said.

“You want to try everything,” Pierre said. I must have given him a strange look because he continued, “I know, because you’re just like me.”

He smiled sadly at me and I blushed, avoiding his eyes.

That would be the last time I saw him. During winter break, he od’d. He was only 22 years old.

During the week I was home, I did a lot of searching and decided that instead of avoiding the world, I wanted to change the world. I wanted to be a teacher. I decided to go back to school and began applying at different places. Several months later, a wonderful school in Manhattan accepted me and offered me a scholarship based on both academics and financial need which would cover all of my tuition. Even though they didn’t offer a BA in teaching, I knew I would have to go to graduate school eventually, so I focused on reawakening my love of learning. It was at The New School where I began to seriously consider myself a writer and blossomed in that transformational space. That summer, I moved back home to begin classes in the fall. I cleaned myself up. I had spent enough time trying to die. I wanted to live.  I would live.



“I am young, still young, and poor / and all my beauties sacrificed to hope.”
~ Cynthia Huntington


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