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Things We Lost in the Fire, The Intoxicated Years (2)

The Intoxicated Years (2)

Ximena had to have her stomach pumped and everyone blamed us. We didn't care, except that we'd miss her money. That was when we started hating rich people.

1992

Luckily, we met Roxana, the new girl on our street. She was eighteen and lived alone. Her place was at the end of an alley, and we were so skinny we could fit through the bars of the gate if it was locked. Roxana never had food in the house; her empty cupboards were crisscrossed by bugs dying of hunger as they searched for nonexistent crumbs, and her fridge kept one Coca-Cola and some eggs cold. The lack of food was good; we had promised each other to eat as little as possible. We wanted to be light and pale like dead girls. “We don't want to leave footprints in the snow,” we'd say, even though in our town it never snowed.

One time we went into Roxana's house and saw, on the kitchen table and next to the thermos—she always had yerba mate—what looked to us like an enormous white orb, the kind a fortune-teller would use, a crystal ball, a mirror of the future. But no: it was cocaine. It belonged to one of her friends. She wanted to do a little before she sold the rest; she thought the buyers wouldn't notice what was missing.

She let us scrape the magic ball with a razor and taught us to snort it off of a ceramic plate, heated with a lighter. That way it wouldn't get damp from the humidity, she explained; it wouldn't stick and went down great. It was great and we were great with the white light in our heads and our tongues numb. We did it at the table and also off the mirror in Roxana's bedroom; she placed it right in the middle and we all sat around it, as if the mirror were a lake where we lowered our heads to drink, and the stained walls with their peeling paint were our forest. We took some with us when we went out, storing the cocaine in the silvered paper of cigarette packs, and sometimes in little plastic bags. I used pens, Paula had her own metal straw, and Andrea preferred to smoke pot because she couldn't stand the racing of her heart; Roxana used rolled-up bills and told lies. She said her cousin had disappeared while exploring the Nazca Lines in Mexico. None of us told her that the Lines were in Peru. She said she had been in an amusement park where every door led to a different room, room after room until you found the right one. There could have been hundreds of rooms—the game took up acres. We didn't tell her we'd read something like that in a kids' book called The Museum of Dreams. She said that witches gathered in Parque Pereyra, that they held ceremonies and worshipped a man made of straw, and though we were startled to hear about rituals in the park, we didn't tell her that what she described was a lot like a movie we'd seen on TV one Saturday afternoon, a really great horror movie about killing little girls to bring fertility back to a British island.

Sometimes we didn't do cocaine and instead took a little acid with alcohol. We'd turn off all the lights and play with lit sticks of incense in the darkness; they looked like fireflies and made me cry. They reminded me of a tiled house in a park with a pond where frogs played and lightning bugs flew among the trees.

One afternoon when we were playing with incense, we put on an album, Ummagumma by Pink Floyd, and we felt like something was chasing us through the house, maybe a bull or a wild boar with teeth for horns, and we ran and crashed into each other, hurting ourselves. It was like being back in the van again, but this time in a nightmare.

1993

In our last year of high school Andrea found a new boyfriend, the singer of a punk band. She changed. She wore a dog collar around her neck, she tattooed her arms with stars and skulls, and she didn't spend Friday nights with us anymore.

I knew she had slept with him. She smelled different, and sometimes she looked at us with contempt and fake smiles. I told her she was a traitor. I reminded her of Celina, a girl from our school who was a little older than us, and who had died after her fourth abortion, bleeding out in the street as she tried to get to the hospital. Abortion was illegal and the women who performed them kicked the girls right out to the street afterward. There were dogs in the clinics; supposedly the animals ate the fetuses so there would be no trace left behind. She looked at us angrily and said she didn't care if she died. We left her crying in the plaza.

Paula and I were furious, and we decided to take the bus to Parque Pereyra. We were going to look for the girl from the forest again. Could she be our third friend if Andrea abandoned us? By then they'd built the highway and only the worst buses still circulated through the park: the ones with decades of grime stuck to the seats, the ones that smelled of gasoline and sweat, had floors sticky from spilled soda and possibly urine. We got off in the park at sunset. At that hour there were still families there, kids running over the grass, some boys playing football. “What a pain in the ass,” said Paula, and we sat down under a pine tree to wait for nightfall. A caretaker came by with a flashlight and asked us if we were leaving.

“Yes,” we told him.

“The next bus comes in half an hour,” he said. “You'd better go wait by the road.”

“We're going,” we told him, and I smiled. Paula didn't smile because she was so thin that when she showed her teeth she looked like a skull.

“Be careful of scorpions,” he said. “If you feel one bite you, just yell, I'll hear you.”

More smiling.

That September, which was exceptionally hot, there was an invasion of scorpions. I thought maybe I could let one of them bite me so I'd die. Maybe that way we'd be remembered like Celina, dead in the street with her bloody fetus between her legs. I lay back on the grass and thought about venom. Paula, meanwhile, walked among the trees asking in a low voice, “Are you there?” She came to get me when she heard a rustling in the trees and saw a white shadow. “Shadows aren't white,” I told her. “This one was white,” she assured me. We walked until we were exhausted. The lack of energy was the worst thing about quitting eating. It was worth it except for now, when we wanted to find our friend, the girl with eyes full of hate.

We didn't find her. Nor did we get lost; the light from the moon was bright enough to make out the paths leading to the road. Paula found a white ribbon that, she thought, could belong to our friend from Parque Pereyra. “Maybe she left it for us as a message,” Paula said. I don't think so, I thought. Surely someone who'd been picnicking in the park had lost it, but I didn't say anything because I could see she was convinced, happy with her new amulet, sure it was a sign. I felt a stabbing in my leg that was neither a scorpion nor death; it was a nettle that burned my skin and covered it in bloody red spots.

1994

Paula celebrated her birthday at Roxana's house. For the party we scored some acid that, we'd been told, had been recently smuggled over from Holland. They called it Little Dragon. Was imported acid stronger? Since we didn't know, just to be safe, we took a little less than usual—just a fourth. We put on a Led Zeppelin album. We knew it was going to piss off Andrea's boyfriend, and that's what we wanted: to piss him off. He arrived when the record was ending. We were still listening to vinyl then, although we could have bought CDs. All electronics were cheap—TVs and stereos, photo and video cameras. It couldn't last long, said my parents, it couldn't be true that an Argentine peso had the same worth as a dollar. But we were so sick of everything they said: my parents, the other parents, always announcing the end, the catastrophe, the imminent return to blackouts and all the pathetic hardships. Now they didn't cry over inflation; they cried because they didn't have jobs. They cried as if they weren't to blame for any of it. We hated innocent people.

Andrea and her punk boyfriend arrived when the most hippie song on the album was playing, the one about going to California with flowers in your hair, and Andrea's boyfriend scrunched up his face and said, “This sucks, fuckin' stoners.” Paula's brother, who was always friendly, offered him a little acid, just a fourth because he didn't want to waste it on the punk. “Acid's hippie, too,” Paula's brother said, and the punk said that was true, but since it was chemical and artificial, he liked it. He preferred all things chemical, he said: powdered juices, pills, nylon.

We were in Roxana's room. The mirror was hanging on the wall. There were a lot of people in the house, lots of strangers, as tends to be the case in drug houses: those people whose faces are half seen in a dream as they take beer from the fridge and vomit into the toilet and sometimes steal the key or make some generous gesture, like springing for more drinks when the party is about to end. The acid was like a delicate electric charge. Our fingers trembled; we put our hands in front of our eyes and our nails looked blue. Andrea was back with us, and when we put on Led Zeppelin III she wanted to dance, she shouted about lands of ice and snow and about the hammer of the gods, and only in “Since I've Been Loving You,” maybe because it was a blues song about love, did she turn around to look at her punk boyfriend. He was sitting in a corner and he looked scared to death. He was pointing at something and repeating who knows what, the music drowned it out. I thought it was funny; there was nothing left of that arrogant, twisted upper lip of his, and he'd taken off his sunglasses too. His pupils were so dilated his eyes were almost black.

I walked slowly over to him and tried to imitate the look of hatred in the eyes of the girl in Parque Pereyra. The electricity made my hair stand on end; I felt like it had turned into wires, or as if it were weightless, like when a TV that's just been turned off attracts your hair so it sticks to the screen.

“Are you scared?” I asked him, and he answered with a confused look. He was cute; that was why Andrea had abandoned us. He was cute and he was innocent. I grabbed his chin and with my other hand I hit him in the face; I punched him right near his temple. His hair, styled so carefully with gel, became a tangled mess hanging over his forehead. Paula, laughing behind me, threw at his head the scissors we'd used to cut strips of acid. Only then did I notice she had the forest girl's white ribbon tied in her hair. It was pure bad luck the scissors hit the punk boyfriend just above his eyebrow, a part of the face that bleeds a lot. We knew this because once in the van we'd cut our foreheads after an especially violent slamming of the brakes. He got scared then, the punk, he got really scared with the blood dripping down over his white shirt, and he must have seen the same thing we did, or something similar distorted by the acid: his hands covered in blood, the stained walls, the three of us surrounding him and holding knives. He tried to run out of the house but he couldn't find the door. Andrea followed him, tried to talk to him, but he couldn't understand her. When he made it out to the patio, the punk boyfriend tripped over a flowerpot, and once on the ground he started to shake—I don't know if he was afraid or having a seizure. The album finished playing but there was no silence; we heard shouting and laughter. Someone was hallucinating scorpions, or maybe they had really infested the house.



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The Intoxicated Years (2)

Ximena had to have her stomach pumped and everyone blamed us. We didn't care, except that we'd miss her money. That was when we started hating rich people.

1992

Luckily, we met Roxana, the new girl on our street. She was eighteen and lived alone. Her place was at the end of an alley, and we were so skinny we could fit through the bars of the gate if it was locked. Roxana never had food in the house; her empty cupboards were crisscrossed by bugs dying of hunger as they searched for nonexistent crumbs, and her fridge kept one Coca-Cola and some eggs cold. The lack of food was good; we had promised each other to eat as little as possible. We wanted to be light and pale like dead girls. “We don't want to leave footprints in the snow,” we'd say, even though in our town it never snowed.

One time we went into Roxana's house and saw, on the kitchen table and next to the thermos—she always had yerba mate—what looked to us like an enormous white orb, the kind a fortune-teller would use, a crystal ball, a mirror of the future. But no: it was cocaine. It belonged to one of her friends. She wanted to do a little before she sold the rest; she thought the buyers wouldn't notice what was missing.

She let us scrape the magic ball with a razor and taught us to snort it off of a ceramic plate, heated with a lighter. That way it wouldn't get damp from the humidity, she explained; it wouldn't stick and went down great. It was great and we were great with the white light in our heads and our tongues numb. We did it at the table and also off the mirror in Roxana's bedroom; she placed it right in the middle and we all sat around it, as if the mirror were a lake where we lowered our heads to drink, and the stained walls with their peeling paint were our forest. We took some with us when we went out, storing the cocaine in the silvered paper of cigarette packs, and sometimes in little plastic bags. I used pens, Paula had her own metal straw, and Andrea preferred to smoke pot because she couldn't stand the racing of her heart; Roxana used rolled-up bills and told lies. She said her cousin had disappeared while exploring the Nazca Lines in Mexico. None of us told her that the Lines were in Peru. She said she had been in an amusement park where every door led to a different room, room after room until you found the right one. There could have been hundreds of rooms—the game took up acres. We didn't tell her we'd read something like that in a kids' book called The Museum of Dreams. She said that witches gathered in Parque Pereyra, that they held ceremonies and worshipped a man made of straw, and though we were startled to hear about rituals in the park, we didn't tell her that what she described was a lot like a movie we'd seen on TV one Saturday afternoon, a really great horror movie about killing little girls to bring fertility back to a British island.

Sometimes we didn't do cocaine and instead took a little acid with alcohol. We'd turn off all the lights and play with lit sticks of incense in the darkness; they looked like fireflies and made me cry. They reminded me of a tiled house in a park with a pond where frogs played and lightning bugs flew among the trees.

One afternoon when we were playing with incense, we put on an album, Ummagumma by Pink Floyd, and we felt like something was chasing us through the house, maybe a bull or a wild boar with teeth for horns, and we ran and crashed into each other, hurting ourselves. It was like being back in the van again, but this time in a nightmare.

1993

In our last year of high school Andrea found a new boyfriend, the singer of a punk band. She changed. She wore a dog collar around her neck, she tattooed her arms with stars and skulls, and she didn't spend Friday nights with us anymore.

I knew she had slept with him. She smelled different, and sometimes she looked at us with contempt and fake smiles. I told her she was a traitor. I reminded her of Celina, a girl from our school who was a little older than us, and who had died after her fourth abortion, bleeding out in the street as she tried to get to the hospital. Abortion was illegal and the women who performed them kicked the girls right out to the street afterward. There were dogs in the clinics; supposedly the animals ate the fetuses so there would be no trace left behind. She looked at us angrily and said she didn't care if she died. We left her crying in the plaza.

Paula and I were furious, and we decided to take the bus to Parque Pereyra. We were going to look for the girl from the forest again. Could she be our third friend if Andrea abandoned us? By then they'd built the highway and only the worst buses still circulated through the park: the ones with decades of grime stuck to the seats, the ones that smelled of gasoline and sweat, had floors sticky from spilled soda and possibly urine. We got off in the park at sunset. At that hour there were still families there, kids running over the grass, some boys playing football. “What a pain in the ass,” said Paula, and we sat down under a pine tree to wait for nightfall. A caretaker came by with a flashlight and asked us if we were leaving.

“Yes,” we told him.

“The next bus comes in half an hour,” he said. “You'd better go wait by the road.”

“We're going,” we told him, and I smiled. Paula didn't smile because she was so thin that when she showed her teeth she looked like a skull.

“Be careful of scorpions,” he said. “If you feel one bite you, just yell, I'll hear you.”

More smiling.

That September, which was exceptionally hot, there was an invasion of scorpions. I thought maybe I could let one of them bite me so I'd die. Maybe that way we'd be remembered like Celina, dead in the street with her bloody fetus between her legs. I lay back on the grass and thought about venom. Paula, meanwhile, walked among the trees asking in a low voice, “Are you there?” She came to get me when she heard a rustling in the trees and saw a white shadow. “Shadows aren't white,” I told her. “This one was white,” she assured me. We walked until we were exhausted. The lack of energy was the worst thing about quitting eating. It was worth it except for now, when we wanted to find our friend, the girl with eyes full of hate.

We didn't find her. Nor did we get lost; the light from the moon was bright enough to make out the paths leading to the road. Paula found a white ribbon that, she thought, could belong to our friend from Parque Pereyra. “Maybe she left it for us as a message,” Paula said. I don't think so, I thought. Surely someone who'd been picnicking in the park had lost it, but I didn't say anything because I could see she was convinced, happy with her new amulet, sure it was a sign. I felt a stabbing in my leg that was neither a scorpion nor death; it was a nettle that burned my skin and covered it in bloody red spots.

1994

Paula celebrated her birthday at Roxana's house. For the party we scored some acid that, we'd been told, had been recently smuggled over from Holland. They called it Little Dragon. Was imported acid stronger? Since we didn't know, just to be safe, we took a little less than usual—just a fourth. We put on a Led Zeppelin album. We knew it was going to piss off Andrea's boyfriend, and that's what we wanted: to piss him off. He arrived when the record was ending. We were still listening to vinyl then, although we could have bought CDs. All electronics were cheap—TVs and stereos, photo and video cameras. It couldn't last long, said my parents, it couldn't be true that an Argentine peso had the same worth as a dollar. But we were so sick of everything they said: my parents, the other parents, always announcing the end, the catastrophe, the imminent return to blackouts and all the pathetic hardships. Now they didn't cry over inflation; they cried because they didn't have jobs. They cried as if they weren't to blame for any of it. We hated innocent people.

Andrea and her punk boyfriend arrived when the most hippie song on the album was playing, the one about going to California with flowers in your hair, and Andrea's boyfriend scrunched up his face and said, “This sucks, fuckin' stoners.” Paula's brother, who was always friendly, offered him a little acid, just a fourth because he didn't want to waste it on the punk. “Acid's hippie, too,” Paula's brother said, and the punk said that was true, but since it was chemical and artificial, he liked it. He preferred all things chemical, he said: powdered juices, pills, nylon.

We were in Roxana's room. The mirror was hanging on the wall. There were a lot of people in the house, lots of strangers, as tends to be the case in drug houses: those people whose faces are half seen in a dream as they take beer from the fridge and vomit into the toilet and sometimes steal the key or make some generous gesture, like springing for more drinks when the party is about to end. The acid was like a delicate electric charge. Our fingers trembled; we put our hands in front of our eyes and our nails looked blue. Andrea was back with us, and when we put on Led Zeppelin III she wanted to dance, she shouted about lands of ice and snow and about the hammer of the gods, and only in “Since I've Been Loving You,” maybe because it was a blues song about love, did she turn around to look at her punk boyfriend. He was sitting in a corner and he looked scared to death. He was pointing at something and repeating who knows what, the music drowned it out. I thought it was funny; there was nothing left of that arrogant, twisted upper lip of his, and he'd taken off his sunglasses too. His pupils were so dilated his eyes were almost black.

I walked slowly over to him and tried to imitate the look of hatred in the eyes of the girl in Parque Pereyra. The electricity made my hair stand on end; I felt like it had turned into wires, or as if it were weightless, like when a TV that's just been turned off attracts your hair so it sticks to the screen.

“Are you scared?” I asked him, and he answered with a confused look. He was cute; that was why Andrea had abandoned us. He was cute and he was innocent. I grabbed his chin and with my other hand I hit him in the face; I punched him right near his temple. His hair, styled so carefully with gel, became a tangled mess hanging over his forehead. Paula, laughing behind me, threw at his head the scissors we'd used to cut strips of acid. Only then did I notice she had the forest girl's white ribbon tied in her hair. It was pure bad luck the scissors hit the punk boyfriend just above his eyebrow, a part of the face that bleeds a lot. We knew this because once in the van we'd cut our foreheads after an especially violent slamming of the brakes. He got scared then, the punk, he got really scared with the blood dripping down over his white shirt, and he must have seen the same thing we did, or something similar distorted by the acid: his hands covered in blood, the stained walls, the three of us surrounding him and holding knives. He tried to run out of the house but he couldn't find the door. Andrea followed him, tried to talk to him, but he couldn't understand her. When he made it out to the patio, the punk boyfriend tripped over a flowerpot, and once on the ground he started to shake—I don't know if he was afraid or having a seizure. The album finished playing but there was no silence; we heard shouting and laughter. Someone was hallucinating scorpions, or maybe they had really infested the house.

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