Placebo (revision one)

(“Crawling in my skin…these wounds, they will not heal

Fear is how I fall…confusion what is real…” –Linkin Park)


There are times when the need is so real it itches, so intense he can feel it slithering under his skin, angry ants marching along highways of veins.  It is subtle at first, just a little breath of desire, a hushed voice muttering nonsense-words in his quiet mind, a random impulse easily squelched with discipline and vigilance.


It started just like that.


It became a little more as outside pressure increased…studio heads calling at all hours of the night, calling him “honey” and “baby” and “money,” but meaning “whore” and “product” and “ticket.”  The voices grew a little louder, angrier, fuller, like a choir, hammering away at the same sharp note, until he would do anything to silence them.  Anything at all.




The pills are in his kitchen cabinet on the highest shelf halfway up the vaulted ceiling, hidden in a shoebox, trapped inside a child-proof bottle.  Secret.  Sordid.  Like the impulse itself.  He can close his eyes and concentrate and imagine the chalky texture sliding down his throat, the bitter aftertaste making him grimace, the awkward shape making it hard to swallow, lodged so securely no amount of water can wash it away.


When that feeling has passed and the pill is melting inside his body, he waits, not-so-patiently, for the slip-slide of the drug to bowl him over.  Sometimes it takes a few minutes, sometimes more than an hour, depending on whether he has eaten or whether he’s chased the pill with a liberal splash of whatever liquor is closest.  But slowly, surely, like the pulse of a steadfast heart…it comes.  Numbing his senses.  Dulling his mind.  Slowing the frenetic pace of his life, closing the doors to the outside world just enough so that he no longer cares what is on the other side.


He likens it to a river…a slow, lazy, murky river whose water no longer rushes, but chooses to ooze…thick and twisted and bottomless, spiraling downward to a pit of mud.


He will stumble to the couch and lay vacantly, staring into space, until day melts into night and night back into day.


And the itch returns.




It took the others awhile to notice…a strange look here, a whisper there…a gentle order not to drive, a stern glare when his responses veered on the dangerous side of lethargic.


“What the hell are you doing, man?”  They’d ask, view askance, worry bubbling same as the river through troubled eyes.


“Nothing,” He’d mumble, dismissing them with a clumsy wave of his hand.  “It’s perfectly legal.”


And it is.  Perfectly legal.  In the form of scribbled words on a prescription pad that comes from a doctor whose care can be bought.  It doesn’t matter.  He is willing to pay.




He remembers being angry when Chris came over unannounced to find him on his couch, Jack Daniel’s decorating week-old jeans.


“Open your eyes!” The older man had demanded, and it was several moments before the younger man obeyed his request, choosing to peer from glassy, unfocused orbs that blinked uncertainly, hazily.


“How much, C?”  Chris’s voice was grim.  “How much this time?”


“Does it matter?” was his lazy reply.  “Does it really matter?”


His perception was too flawed to read the answer in the other man’s eyes.




One day, his house is no longer a home, and he loses his right to privacy and trust.  His mother and father show up at his doorstep, their expressions mutating from shocked to angry to very, very hurt.


He stoops to his knees and laughs ‘til he cries.


He doesn’t remember the color of the car that drives him away, but he remembers every subtle nuance on Chris’s face as he stands stoically at the end of the driveway, official-looking documents clutched in his hands.




He tries to forget the clinic.  Tries to forget the papers peppered with words like “foreseeable harm” and “imminent danger.”  The only word he remembers clearly is “involuntary.”


He hates Chris for that.




They talk to him like he’s five in clinic, asking him to describe his dreams.  To describe his pain.  To list everything in his life he’s thankful for.


He smirks laconically at his therapist and in a lazy voice drawls, “Vicodin.  Percocet.  Tylox.  Valium.”


The rest of his session is spent in silence.




He watches the clock with a heedful eye, counting down seventy-two hours with vigilance foreign to his life of late.  He chooses not to sleep, instead staring at the walls until a nurse in purple pants brings his dinner.


The tray slams into the wall with a satisfying clatter, and the clock ticks down another hour.




He leaves the clinic after the third day, and returns to his home, alone, or so he thinks until he pulls into his driveway.  There is a black Harley-Davidson blocking his door, and the satisfaction he gets from kicking it out of the way is immeasurable.


He ignores the four men he once called brothers huddled in his living room, and walks to his bedroom. 


His scream can be heard down the hallway when he realizes his locks are missing.




The itch begins at four AM, as real and as pure and as terrifyingly lucid as it was mere days earlier.  With a start, he sits up in bed, eyes darting nervously around a room that feels almost foreign.  With shaking fingers he reaches for the water glass he keeps on his nightstand, and when that is empty, he pads down the stairs to his kitchen.


He paces across the hardwood floors, pattern so repetitive he’s sure if he reaches down he will feel a groove beginning to form.  Angrily he glares at the cabinet with its shoebox hidden on the top shelf.  He stares at shaking hands and curses silently.


The itch intensifies, and he swears he can feel bugs below his skin, scratching, crawling, demanding to get out.  A quick perusal of the liquor cabinet reveals what he already knows:  empty. 


In desperation he opens a bottle of cough syrup and pours the foul concoction down his throat, managing half a bottle before his body revolts and he is retching into the sink.  The tears that fall from his eyes aren’t purely a physical by-product.


He sinks to his knees, curls up on his side, and shivers, waiting for morning.



He wakes in his own bed, covers pulled snug around his body, just the way he likes them.  Faintly, he can smell bacon, and the aroma is oddly comforting, until his stomach speaks up and his face goes green and he barely stumbles to the bathroom in time.




He doesn’t say a word to Chris as he walks into the kitchen.  Calmly, he pours himself a cup of coffee and sits at his kitchen table, determined to ignore Chris the way he ignored his therapist.


He doesn’t realize the tenacity of Chris’s will.




Night falls, and the itch returns.


This time, he is tottering on a chair, straining to reach the narrow shoebox on the top shelf.  When he touches it, it’s like coming home, but the sensation is eerie, unwanted.  He stares at the orange-brown bottle nestled in the corner of the box, and shudders a shaky breath as he carefully pops the top off.


There they are.  Small.  White.  All in a jumble of jangled nerves and empty promises. 


He plucks one pill from the bottle and holds it in his hand, turning it over and over, relearning its texture.


He brings his hand to his mouth and swallows.


He lets himself cry.




It is just after two when he stands from the floor, joints creaking and groaning in time.   Carefully he shuffles up the stairs, down the hall, past his bedroom.  The loneliness, the need to be touched and comforted, is as concrete as the reality he’s trying to escape, and when he pulls back the covers to the bed Chris lies asleep in, he can feel a lump in his throat.


Gingerly, slowly, he slides under the sheets, inching closer to the warm body on the other side of the bed.  When he can feel a strong expanse of back against his chest, he sighs, relaxing, finally relaxing.  He moans, just a little, at the feel of heat, and before he can stop himself, his hand is in his pants and his hips are thrusting and a sticky, wet warmth is soaking his shorts like shame.  For one long, aching moment, his mind is clear and he is quiet.


“Get out, C,” comes the voice, low and rough and filled with hurt.  “Get the fuck out of here.”


He can’t bring himself to object.




On Friday the tables are turned and it is he who receives no reaction, no acknowledgement from the other man sharing his house.  Instead, he listens to plates slammed on tables and stereos cranked to ear-shattering volume and heated, angry conversations behind closed doors.  It is just as well.  Life this loud destroys the silence.




Four AM finds him staring into the toilet, little white tablets melting into nothing, swirling down a drain.  His shame is at his peak when he plunges his hand into the water as the pills swim away, fingers scrabbling for one last chance, for anything.


He crawls into Chris’s bed at six, shaking and sobbing and trying to be as quiet as he knows how, but when warm arms wrap around him and soft lips find his hair, the dam breaks and his sobs echo off white, white walls.


It’s okay, C…” comes the voice, but this time it is tender; quiet and hopeful.


He’s afraid to believe.




Breakfast is different on Saturday morning.  There are soft words spoken, muted sounds of encouragement, gentle touches that soothe the itch, warm hands that smooth away troubles.  They lie on a couch, JC’s head cradled in Chris’s lap, careful fingers tumbling through unruly curls.


JC closes his eyes, and begins to speak.




He is staring at the clock when it clicks to four AM, and again his skin crawls, itchy, unsteady.  He shifts his feet restlessly against smooth green silk and sighs once, heavily.  He can feel his fingers curling, his jaw clenching, his heart pattering in a pounding, relentless rhythm.


He is so tired.  Tired of resisting.  Tired of wanting.  Tired of needing, only to be denied time and again.


He stumbles out of bed, heeding the call blindly.


Chris is waiting for him when he crawls meekly beneath the covers, eyes wide and very, very scared.  His breathing catches when hesitant hands smooth worry from his face, and gentle fingers press invitingly against his hips, drawing him closer.


When he opens his eyes, Chris is there, tongue in his mouth, lips so soft against his own.  Connected.  Intuitive.  He moans eagerly, so desperate for another’s taste, another’s touch.  Hands scrabble helplessly against clothing, against heated skin, and he cries out in frustration as firm fingers encircle his wrists.


“Slow, C…slow…we’ll get there,” The voice this time is kind, gentle.


He bites his lips and looks away.




The silence is oppressive, crawling under the door, stealing the breath from his lungs.  Temptation, rich and heavy, reminds him of the piece of paper tucked in a desk drawer, reminds him of the nice lady behind the counter who would hand him the bottle and…


“Damn it, JC!  Are you fucking listening to me?”


He shakes his head adamantly, snaking a firm hand behind Chris’s neck, crushing their mouths together.  He is harsh, demanding, forceful with his touch.  His skin crawls and his eyes burn. 


“Please, Chris,” he begs, “Please…”


“Not like this…”


“Yes,” he whines, thrusting his hips up, “like this…”


Helplessly he stares into the older man’s eyes, hates the pity he sees there. 


“I love you, JC.”


Sharply he stares at the man in front of him, and his body flushes hot/cold in a fraction of a second. 


“Do you hear me?  I love you.  And we’ll get through this.”


The cackle that escapes his mouth is low, ugly…obscene against the moonlight spilling gracefully onto the bed.


“Love,” He scoffs.  “Of course.  You LOVE me.  That’s why you threw me in that fucking place, Chris!  That’s why you wouldn’t talk to me for TWO FUCKING DAYS, when you KNEW how badly I needed it…”


JC waits for the protests, for the vicious rebukes to come fast and furious, uncensored, pure Chris…but there are none.  He stares at Chris, who watches him with a blank sort of horror.  There is a fragile sort of resignation on his face, and together they sit on the rumpled bed until sunrise, until the weight of his eyelids and the soft call of fluffy pillows becomes too much to bear.


JC wakes up alone.




The itch begins at four AM, and in his house, alone, Chris long gone after a muted goodbye, JC cries.  It is involuntary.  He hates Chris for that.



© 2003 ~A