The support group is full, and the general anxiety level approaches something between last call and the moment when the bar lights come on. I've probably slept with someone in this room -- or worse. Note to self: You might be an addict if you can't decide if his arms look familiar from the gym, or from shoving a syringe into one of them at some point -- you know, just as a favor.
"Sharing" will be expected. I begin a mental scan of my drug-related dramas, considering something to spill. It's like calling up stories at the family picnic, but with crystal meth and paramedics involved.
A boyfriend once fell from the sling and cracked his head, but I was partying in the next room and was too busy to check up on him. That might rate some gasps. I wonder if barebacking is provocative enough. Probably not. Not anymore.
My mind wanders to a recurring dream, and I follow it nervously. I'm digging up the ground with my bare hands. I work feverishly, scooping one huge handful after another. I know exactly what I'm unearthing.
I find my buried treasure, just as I left it. Carefully, I wipe the dirt from an exposed limb, an arm, and then the body reveals itself. I brush dirt from the face -- my previous face. It is without damage, as opposed to the destruction evident in mine now.
I want to hold the body and weep.
"You ruined me, you arrogant asshole," it calls out to me suddenly. I'm stunned by the words and the vindictiveness in the voice -- my voice. "You told me you could handle it ..." I can't speak. "You make me sick."
The face is damp with tears. It spits the words. I can feel flecks of mud splattering me. "I trusted you, and you made me a whore, Mark." I scramble backwards, grabbing the dirt and throwing it back on the body, covering, covering. It doesn't muffle what is now screaming, half buried, furious and mournful. "Do you remember your self-respect, Mark S. King? Is the AIDS activist now a loathsome drug addict? Please let me answer for the two of us, OK? YESSS!"
My head lurches up from my private torment, and my hand is raised. In the front of the meeting someone is pointing to me, nodding, smiling helpfully.
I scan the room. My eyes are filled with resentment for the very existence of this place. I hate them all.
My gaze is returned with comfortable but curious glances, as if they see something peculiar they recognize. "There you are," they seem to be saying. "We saved that seat for you."
I lower my hand and briefly touch my face, as if brushing something away, and then I begin to speak.
Mark S. King's new memoir, A Place Like This, chronicles his life in 1980s Los Angeles, and is featured in the award-winning documentary Meth. To view an excerpt, click here. He can be contacted via www.marksking.com.