He had found himself in the darkness many years ago. Surrounded by it, saturated by it, it was all that he had come to know. Craig was coming into his sixtieth year on this planet and for the vast majority of that time, he had been addicted to painkillers of a high potency. Oxycotin, vicodin, valium, codeine… Whatever pharmaceutical script that he could get his hands on. He had originally been prescribed the painkillers for his back problems. The accident had occurred to him in his early thirties. He had been the victim of a drunk driver who had driven into his car and as a result, several discs within his spine had been ruptured. At first he had refused to take the painkillers, full well knowing their addictive qualities. But after some time, being unable to work and growing bored and weary of day-to-day events. He eventually submitted to the doctor’s advice and started having his scripts filled.
He would sit on his couch watching cable television. His back spasming in pain and then he would pop one or two of the tablets. Then he would melt into the sofa seat, sometimes putting on music that would enhance the feeling and sensations around him. At first he would be careful with how much of the painkillers that he was taking. Making sure that he didn’t overdo it. He would watch cable television shows and become lost in the visions on the television screen before him. Being as high as he was, he found it difficult to pay attention to any narrative that the television shows were running through. He would fade in and out of consciousness, falling asleep at idle hours of the day. It was a feeling of bliss that ruminated through his being. Taking the edge of the pain off. Those sharp, stabbing sensations in his back would disperse and he would be floating. Floating, floating, losing track of his mind and losing track of time. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night with a string of drool running from his mouth to his shoulder. It would be completely dark outside and he would wander outside to stare at the stars and the moon. Half high, half coming down, he would question the way that the world worked and why he was beset with the injury as it had occurred.
In those moments. Staring up at the stars and the moon, he would come to find that we were living in a Godless universe where there was no justice or reason for anything. Or none that he could find. Beneath those moonlit nights he would find himself in tears, crying about the life that had been robbed of him. During the daytime, in the sunlight, he would wear a brave face. He would do his shopping rounds. Buying a dozen microwave meals. Making sure that he didn’t put on too much weight by choosing the meals that were marketed under dietary guidelines. He attempted to face the social dating scene. Going out on dates with other people who were experiencing their own problems in life. Those that weren’t, would not even consider him as an option. It was a depressing experience. Going out on a date. It would be the sharing of tales about the different sorts of medication that they had been prescribed. What had originally happened to them to get them to this state. And in the end, both parties were that disgusted with one another that neither wanted to pursue a relationship with a further date. It was immature… Or was it? When being surrounded with the beauty of celebrities on the television screen, watching countless movies and immersing one’s self in a fantasy world all the while feeling like you’re floating on a cloud. It was a difficult thing to do, facing reality that is. Being half asleep and half awake Craig found himself ever in a dreamlike state. He floated around the house, completing household chores like washing the dishes and mopping the floors.
But for most of the time he was beset with a flood of numb ecstasy. Days past, years past, he would grow beards and facial hair until it became a problem. Catching too much of his microwave meals and snacks in his beard. Then he would shave. He didn’t give much consideration to his appearance. He would not go outside and go for walks to exercise as his doctor said he should do. When he did it was an infrequent occasion and he began putting on weight as a result. Developing a large gut despite taking upon himself the dietary option of food. He put it down to too many snacks. Cookies, bottles of coca-cola, chips and crisps… All packing away the time that he spent in front of the television. Wasting away his existence. The few moments of clarity would always come to him at night. Waking up and wandering outside while the drugs were wearing off. Sometimes, during the night, he would even find himself taking strolls in the moonlight. Gathering some form of momentum in which he would motivate himself to the point where he almost convinced himself to stop leading the cyclical existence of painkillers and cable television. Almost, almost… A sensation of terrible pain in his back would always cause him to pop another pill.
He would up the amount of painkillers that he was taking. He was no longer doing it because he wanted to avoid the pain. He was now doing it to get high. He would put on the Madcap Laughs, listening to the schizophrenic mastermind Syd Barrett. Listening to all that screwed up sound distortion on the stereo system that he was able to afford through the generous payout the insurance company had afforded him. He would pop about six Valium tablets and then listen to the music as it resonated within his soul. Even though he never did exercise like he should, he felt like he was taking a walk on a warm sunny day through the botanical gardens. Every time he was about to get high, he would put on the same album and mumble to himself, “Not a cloud in the sky.” And then it would begin, after the onset of the drugs, that feeling of bliss. It would fill his centre with this warm feeling that resonated and coursed through the rest of his body, taking away all of his worry and pain. As the rest of the world went on descending into the madness of stress and other worldly problems, he would escape it all. With half a grin on his face, he would sip on gin and tonics. He had a constant stream of them, all set up to send him into catatonic bliss.
And then he would wake up as darkness came in upon the land. Coming down off the drugs and with a slightly sore head from all the G&Ts. He would walk out into the night and look up to the night sky. Whispering curses under his breath about that bloody drunk driver who had changed his life so many years ago. And then clarity would come and tears would weep from his eyes at what he had become.
His doctor started becoming conscious of what was happening to Craig. Every time that Craig came in to get his script refilled, it becoming a more frequent occurrence, he would be agitated and sweating. It was clear to the doctor that he was addicted to all of the painkillers that he had been supplying. For a long time the doctor did nothing, reasoning out that this was probably a better state of affairs than putting the man through constant and agonizing pain. At that point in time, treatments had not been revolutionized to the point where medical staff could do anything about his pain.
But after years of prescribing him an ever-increasing dose of the medications. The doctor attempted to talk Craig into alternative treatments. Suggesting that there were alternatives that would be better than the pain medication that he was prescribing. Things that he could do that would improve his quality of life. Craig wouldn’t hear a word of it. Telling him every time to just, ‘sign his goddamn name’, on the script. The doctor would put up little resistance to Craig’s demands.
As soon as he got his script filled, he would immediately pop one of the tablets, muttering, “Not a cloud in the sky.” His drug use was a cyclical pattern, going through: valium; vicodin; oxycotin; and codeine tablets. Sometimes mixing them, always in able supply. Being high most of the time and being all too aware of the dangers he would cause on the road, he took public transport everywhere. He would smile at everyone, being in the dazed state that he was, as he went about the streets. He would sometimes scare other passengers of the public transportation system. Being as lonely as he was, he would attempt to converse with anyone and everyone. He would talk to people about his favourite television shows. That wasn’t that odd… It’s just that his memory of the television series were different than everybody elses’. Being as high as he was, he neglected to pay attention to the show’s narrative arcs. Most people would say that he was talking complete and utter crap, calling him out on the fact. He didn’t mind though, he would simply smile and nod. Caught up in a bliss haze. He became somewhat of a celebrity around the neighbourhood. People recognized that he was high all of the time and they loved him for it. The youth especially. He never did share his medication with others, despite them asking. He was just always so… friendly.
The time came when his doctor had to put his foot down. One day, in early September just as spring was setting in, Craig went to have his script written up. The doctor declared, “I’ve had enough of this Craig. I can’t bare to see you waste away your existence like this any longer.”
“Whadd’ya mean? I’m happy, aren’t I? I’m fine with it.”
“Craig, we both know that you’re anything but fine. You’re using the medication I’m prescribing you as a way to escape reality. You’re not facing up to and owning your problems. And besides that… I’ve become the laughing stock of the neighbourhood. I have junkies coming into me on a daily basis asking for me to give them what I’ve given you. I can’t just keep on doing this for you. I’m not going to cut you off all at once. But I’m lessening the dosage that I’ve been prescribing you. We’re going to wean you off the meds and you’re going to seek alternative treatment. I hear there have been several cases of surgical procedures that have been effective in treatment for problems like yours’.”
“What the hell do you bloody well mean? Wean me off!?” Craig was becoming aggressive with the prospect of having to confront reality, “You can’t just do this to a man! You can’t bloody well get him hooked on this shit and decide one day that that’s it, ‘No more!’ You can’t bloody well do that!”
“Calm down Craig. This really is the best course of action for you.”
“I will not bloody well calm down!” Craig stood up out of his seat and looked around the doctor’s office, seeing a coffee mug; he picked it up and smashed it on the floor. “You can’t bloody well do this!”
The doctor did nothing at Craig’s action apart from giving him a level stare, “I’m your treating physician and this is what’s best for you. Now, will you calm down or do I have to call the police?”
Craig sat back down, defeated, upon the chair in the doctor’s office. “Fine. Just fill out the last script would you?”
The doctor gave him specific instructions on how he should handle the dosage to gradually take him off the medication. But Craig wasn’t listening. As soon as Craig got home, he went about his usual routine of getting high. Knowing full well that it was probably the last time he would be able to do so.
When he came down. He came down hard. The pain was the least of his problems when he was confronted with the withdrawal symptoms from all of the painkillers he had become addicted to over the years. As the drugs wore off he went to the bathroom to take a dump. Except the passing of stool did not come about easily as he sat there upon the ceramic throne, his anus began to burn. The shit that passed from his anus, flowed from his body in liquid form. He was sweating profusely during the whole occasion. At the same time as this was happening, he was experiencing nausea. Not to mention the fact that his back pain had come back upon him in a tremendous fashion.
After he finally felt his body had passed all that he could pass. He felt like he was going to vomit. So, without flushing the toilet, he made the quick transition from sitting upon the toilet to kneeling before it. The smell of his diarrhoea filling his nostrils as he looked at the liquid shit sprayed up against the edges of the toilet bowl. The sight and the feeling in his stomach made him retch. He threw up into the toilet bowl. It was now filled with a colourful mixture of last night’s dinner coming out at both ends. He flushed the toilet and watched it all pass down the recesses of the sewerage system.
After experiencing that onslaught, he returned to his bedroom and curled up into a ball beneath the covers of his bed. Cold sweats broke out through his body. The stabbing pains in his back occurred infrequently, but when they occurred there was a very deliberate sharpness to them. He would call out in agony as they occurred. Making these little yelping noises. Something that you might hear from a puppy that was being kicked. It would be odd to hear the same noises coming from a fully grown man, now in his early sixties.
He attempted to get sleep. But he was wide awake and tears were coming from his eyes. Not from the pain, but from the inertia that his sleeplessness brought. As more time passed, he scrambled up against his bed sheets. Trying to find the position of comfort that would allow him to get some rest. He never found it and eventually submitted his mind over to the fact that without any painkillers, he wouldn’t be getting any rest anytime soon.
He started making a frantic series of phone calls to people that he knew. Members of local RSL clubs and other venues that he had been a frequent visitor. When he asked them if they knew anybody who would be able to assist him in obtaining painkillers, they hung the phone up on him. It was always the same story with every person that he attempted to reach out to. That is, if they had the decency of picking up their phones. Most people couldn’t even be bothered to answer his phone call.
After he had given up trying to ring people, he decided to hit the streets. Surely, there was someone that would be able to help him. Some drug dealer or something… He despised the fact that he was doing this. Despised the fact that a low life drug dealer may be his only chance of escaping this hell that his doctor had forced suddenly upon him. Then he realized, if he had taken the medication as prescribed… Lowering the dosage over time, he wouldn’t be experiencing what he was just then experiencing. But never-the-less, he had little option now. So he thought of a suburb in Melbourne, one where he might be able to obtain such things and then he immediately thought of Sunshine. Why Sunshine? He just felt that it had a bad reputation from all of the migrants who had come to settle in that area.
So he took the first bus and train to the location and started wandering around the neighbourhood. The withdrawal symptoms were getting really bad at this point and his insomnia had distorted his thoughts. As he walked down the urban streets, he felt like there were people following him. The Africans with their black skin, he could feel their eyes upon him. The Asians with their dubious looks. He was breaching past the point of paranoia and he thought that people around him were crawling up on the walls like spiders. Following him, gazing upon him. He attempted to ask an African man if he knew where he could get any painkillers or oxycotin from.
The African man, sitting at a café and drinking a coffee started yelling at him, “No! We don’t do that shit! Why do you think we do that shit for!?”
He was scared away and then kept on walking. On the lookout for somebody who might be able to help him. He had enough cash on him and was paranoid that spider people were following him. Climbing up on the walls and staring at him with their eight eyes.
Finally, he saw a Caucasian man sitting near the train station who was smoking a cigarette. He asked him if he knew of anyone that might be able to help him out with some oxycotin.
The stranger looked Craig up and down. Trying to determine the worth of the man, “Sure, I know someone.”
The man led Craig to a suburban ghetto. Where traffic was passing by at a steady rate and all of the shops had been closed down. There was an iron sheet that the man had to move to gain access to the building. Inside the small flat was a man, with tattoos covering both of his arms. Dragons and snakes. He asked Craig what he needed.
“As many as I can buy with two hundred dollars.”
The man handed over a small bag packed with the tablets and took Craig’s money. Craig was then sent out to the streets to make his own way home.
He found a nearby park, just as the sun was setting and then popped a pill in his mouth, whispering, “Not a cloud in the sky.” And as the pain medication slowly took effect, he watched the sun set in all of its shades of orange and red. Pink and the sublime. The whole experience giving him vertigo.