Stuck in The Welcome House, the hours spent in detox time warped and distorted for Lee. The withdrawal had shifted gears into a spiky, kaleidoscopic, cloudy lemonade-like non-existence. Every night the four walls closed in like icing from a stale birthday cake. He was a limpet or a mollusk on a rocky seashore, firmly stuck with nowhere to go. When he was lucky enough to pass out for half an hour, harsh colours and strange smelling dreams confused his mind:
Sinister monsters crept under his bed. High pitched squeals pierced his spleen before setting him ablaze. Lee screamed. He begged to whatever deity did or did not exist to release him from his pain, desperate for the Nirvana of non-existence. Anything, anything. A pretty girl approached and placed her fine silk Hermes scarf over his body before extinguishing the flames and kissing him gently on the forehead. She then leaned closer, peered into his mouth, and pulled out a pickled egg.
Flu . . . my fucking arse! Lee thought, again cursing his insomnia. He turned in bed. Alone, he lay there with only his thoughts.
He remembered how opiate withdrawal was described. They said it was something akin to the flu or a bad cold. For him, it was more like an alley cat slowly scraping the iris out of his eyes. And yet, at the same time, there was no sense in any of his senses, because all pleasure had been taken away. His senses were utterly confused, angry. In revolt.
The cold turkey was eased (slightly) by visits from Wonky Lee and Geoff. Neil would also occasionally wander in at random moments bringing his guitar and playing Neil Young or Johnny Cash songs. It helped distract Lee from the relentless torture. Neil was a tall, thin chap. Some might say wiry. Lee got the impression he must perhaps feel slightly awkward inside his own body—like he didn't somehow fit inside his own skin.
Every time Neil came to visit and sing for Lee, before even strumming the first note, he would make a bizarre statement. His last word would start the first lyric of his next song. Then, upon finishing his song, Neil would always disappear without muttering a word.
“Tonight I'm going to make you a demi god.”
Then, singing: “God is good, god is great, replicate the state don't hate it mate.”
“Apricot jam is for homosexuals.”
Again, he'd sing: “Homosexuals are magical and mystical, it's biological.”
“I once got bummed, but the guy was wearing a condom so it doesn't count.”
Like clockwork: “Count ya blessings one two three, you don't see what I can see.”
One evening after singing, Neil lingered around and confessed to Lee about an event that had occurred in his life. Or, at least the way Neil remembered it . . .
“The last time I had to live in a hospital was because people were conspiring against me. My mother and father were planning something with the Whore of Babylon. My dad's one of the richest men in the world you know? He's actually Darth Vader." Lee listened intently, unsure where Neil was going with his tale.
"I could hear mum and dad in the kitchen whispering and plotting. So, I ran out of the house without my shoes . . . fuck my shoes! I ran across a field and my feet started to hurt. The thorns were making them bleed; it's one of the things that me and Jesus have got in common. And they conspired against him too, y'know. Then, I reached the road and put out my hand. My one hand contained all the power to stop the car. I knew who was in it. I pulled her out of her seat—it was the whore of Babylon.”
After Neil's colourful story had unfolded, his left hand disappeared into a thick, woolen, green jumper. It then wriggled its way under his armpit. After several hard rubs, Neil's hand reappeared and rested underneath his nose like a wine sommelier sniffing a crisp glass of Chateauneuf du Pape. Like any good sommelier, Neil didn't swallow. He swilled his mouth before spitting intently onto the palm of his hand then proceeded to wash his armpits.
Neil's eyes were wide, fear-ridden and disoriented. As he departed the room, his aroma remained.
Lee was left with Neil's parents, the Whore of Babylon, the armpit spit-wash, and of course the question why the fuck Neil was in a rehab and not a hospital. The thoughts as always led Lee back to himself. The Welcome House offered plenty of time to think. To regret, too.
He remembered one time when he was dealing coke for a pair of Scottish brothers in London, "Scottish Al" and his older brother, Gary. They always had quality coke as their connect was in a Columbian crew. It was a heady time. In those days, lots of DJ gigs kept Lee busy, and the cocaine had enabled him to play out his most wild sexual fantasies on an array of willing ladies. He remembers once being so off his head on cocaine, booze and valium that he got some girl to dress up as a clown before fucking her from behind whilst grabbing hold of her red, curly wig and shouting, "Fuck you clown!!"
Ah. Crazy days.
Well, one day, Scottish Al had asked Lee to come and sit in on a deal that they were doing so that he could act as a translator. The Columbians could speak English but had trouble understanding the Glaswegian accent. According to Al, the last time a misunderstanding almost led to hardcore violence or as he put it:
“The cunt was growlin at mae. The shite thought he was pure gallas.”
That's how Lee found himself in a flat on the Holloway Road acting as a translator, whilst two fat kilos of coke were to be delivered. There was a lot of money on the table. Piles, really. Looking back, it was pure comedy, maybe like something out of Monty Python. Sitting in the middle of a bunch of heavy fuckers who would probably chop off your legs for looking at them the wrong way, translating Spanish English and Glaswegian English whilst some really shit Euro pop blasted out of an expensive Bose sound-system, the two Columbians and two Scottish brothers couldn't understand each other at all. Spanish English and Glaswegian English sounded like two completely different languages. Looking back, Lee knew the danger he had been in, but he didn't care. Besides, he got through it.
The older brother, Gary, was the brains behind the operation. He was smart, reserved and didn't touch drugs. Al was more crazy, he loved his drugs and hookers. Gambling too. His love of the high eventually brought him to the heroin. And that made Lee's relationship with Al's really begin to flourish. Lee would often while away the afternoon in Al's basement listening to Pink Floyd whilst counting pigs in the sky. Al's addiction became progressively worse, as addiction always does. The last time Lee saw him, he was swigging a bottle of brandy and snorting heroin as he sat in a chair that he'd not moved out of in days. Both of Al's ankles were swollen and bruised like a floating body in a lake.
The next time he tried to phone Al, his brother answered and told Lee that Al had died. Lee felt some sort of guilt for Al's death. He knew that he wasn't responsible, but he couldn't quite seem to shake the feeling of remorse.
“How ya feeling mate? You feeling like shit, are ya?” Lee didn't pick up on Wonky's sarcasm.
The words slowly rolled out of Lee's mouth. “I'm fucked, man. I haven't slept for days.”
“Well you shouldn't have been doing all that heroin, should ya!”
A huge grin on Wonky's face almost made Lee want to cry, because deep down, he knew that Wonky was right. A million regrets seemed to burst in on the scene like ISIS terrorists on a deadly suicide mission.
Wonky obviously had picked up on Lee's vibe, because he said, “I'm only messing, geezer. Don't worry about it; we've all got shit going on. That's why we're here, innit.” Wonky's words were more statement than a question.
“What's your story, then?” Lee asked. His question betrayed an underlying current of resentment he felt. He didn't like the fact Wonky had made him face the truth, that he shouldn't have been fucking around with heroin.
“I came here on a fucking jail swerve, didn't I. It was either rehab or a long sentence. The judge looked like that muggy cunt from Formula 1, Bernie Eccleston. I told him, 'n all. I said 'You're boring me now Bernie.' The wanker. But I thought, maybe this shit is what I need? I've never been clean before, so might as well give it a go. And it's my daughter, see. She won't fucking speak to me anymore and it kills me; it fucking kills me. I've not seen her for years. When she was born, I was a good dad. I helped out her mum, brought her stuff, all that shit. But the smack fucked me, how can you give a shit about anyone else when you don't care about yourself. It's fucking hard work being a smack-head. Anyway . . . fuck, I don't know why i'm telling you this.”
Wonky Lee stopped himself from pushing further into the tunnel of hurt.
One of the worst things about detox were the flash-flood memories—unstoppable currents powerful enough to burst a dam. Uncomfortable, painful, regretful, unchangeable.
Much like Scottish Al, many of Lee's friends had died. They'd been car accidents, suicides, murders, and of course drug overdoses. The first friend who had died was Daniel. Lee was only 16, and full of youthful optimism and wonder. Daniel had OD'd in a car park stairwell. Lee had seen Daniel lying there, as well as all of the friends with him at the time. Everyone, including Lee, had run away, leaving Daniel to die alone, depriving him of a second chance. They had no idea what to do. They were just terrified kids scared that they'd get into trouble.
The thought of Daniel came at him like two fat knuckles looking to settle a score between Lee's eyes. The fist connected and Lee feel onto his knees whilst screaming into the darkness, into the emptiness of The Welcome House:
“I'm sorry Daniel! I'm sorry!” Then Daniel'a mother, his brothers and sister came into view. Crying. Wailing, all of them. Because their Daniel was no more.
A tsunami of tears burst through the dam Lee kept to hold back any and all emotions. The connection of raw wood onto bone felt cruel and deceitful like a deeply-buried family secret. The moonlight illuminated the spot where he fell. It was quiet and still. A cruel theatrical performance where the only audience was the harsh internal one. Lee put his hands to his face to try and hold back the tears—to shore up the dam, to keep the gush at bay in the reservoir of his mind.
But hands are no match for years of pent up fire. Lee wept, uncontrollably, alone in The Welcome House.
A few weeks had passed and Lee was finally at the end of his detox. It was New Year's Eve and the rehab was hosting a special karaoke night.
“Come on Lee, you ready, it's NYE.” Geoff stumbled into Lee's room looking like he was ready to go to a rave. The gold basketball trainers made his huge feet look even bigger than they already were.
“I ain't going. I feel like shit," Lee said. Although he'd finished his official detox, it was by no means over. “I've not slept for days and I've got no energy.”
Wonky Lee entered the room and said, “What's this? I hear a junkie complaining? Shocking!” He had sarcasm down to a T.
“Leave me alone—I'm fucked.” Lee pulled the covers over his head.
“You won't want us to leave you alone when you check out these bad boys.” Geoff put his left hand into his mouth and pulled a small, white pill from inside his cheek.
“Get that down ya, it'll sort ya right out, without a doubt, then we're playing out...” Geoff's attempts at rapping were extremely poor.
Lee instinctively grabbed the pill from Geoff and gobbled it down.
“Er, what was that?” It hadn't occurred to Lee to ask before taking it.
“It a rivvy, a rivotril. It's for my epilepsy, but they're pokey as fuck, like taking a couple of diazepam.”
“Ere ya go, don't say I never treat ya. Get them down, ya sharpish.” Wonky reached into his pocket and pulled out a couple of pills, which Lee swallowed immediately. It felt like Christmas.
“I brought in a box of gabbys, didn't I? Fuck doing the cold turkey with no help. You're fucking mental for doing that. I saved a few for tonight so we can have a laugh doing the Karaoke. Ya gotta be off ya nut to do that shit, especially with a room full of mentalists.”
Within 30 minutes Lee was feeling the effects of the pills. Calm had once again been restored after an extremely violent storm. Before he knew it, he found himself in the main house and in the group room that was now transformed into a Karaoke den. Or rather . . . some fat bloke with a shit karaoke machine, bad shirt and dimmed lights.
People sat around the edges nodding or tapping their feet to the music. Lee had never done karaoke before, even when drunk. It was not something he would ever contemplate. But he suddenly found himself with a microphone in hand, standing next to Wonky Lee and Geoff, feeling on top of the world and singing The Verve's Bittersweet Symphony. He could imagine himself as Richard Ashcroft strutting down Shoreditch barging into people with swagger. In his head they were absolutely rocking it. The delusion was heavy.
After his performance, Lee went outside for a quick burn. Suddenly, he felt two arms grab him from behind and pull him around the corner, before thick lips locked with his. A wet tongue darted into his mouth. Lee thought that it felt a bit like a slug, but he still liked it. It was cold outside and dark, but it didn't matter, because the touch took Lee to a place of sheer contentment. It was a touch so familiar but at the same time brand-new. It could only belong to one person.
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