First check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here
My mom and I rode in the car that the producer sent. She was quiet. I was hung over. The driver had to pull over twice so I could barf on the pavement.
“You just had to go and be stupid, didn’t you, Birdie?” my mom asked.
“My name’s Fiona.” I believe I followed that up with some unkind, out of contract words. It no longer mattered.
The producer sat behind a huge desk. It felt like I was walking into the principal’s office at school. He was full of disappointing glares and shaking of head.
“You’re finished,” he said. No flash of white teeth. His lips were drawn tight across them. “We won’t be airing the last season. Security will escort you out.”
They nearly had to carry my mom out. She kicked, screamed, spat. It was humiliating. And, of course, the cameras caught the whole thing.
“You’ve ruined everything!” she screamed at me. “You have destroyed my life. I’m done with you. Don’t come back to the condo.”
“Right. Fine with me,” I said. She didn’t realize that the condo still belonged to the network. They’d be kicking her out within hours.
She’d be fine, though. She had all my money. Every single penny. I had to get some work.
My mom went one way down the sidewalk and I the opposite direction.
My cell phone rang. I didn’t know if I should answer it. But I was 18. I always had to answer the phone.
“Hey, Fiona. It’s Ramona.”
“What’s going on?”
“Oh, man. I am so sorry. Somebody stole my camera and put those pictures up.”
“Whatever.” I tried to act relaxed. “Listen, my show just got dropped and I’m kicked out of my house. You know of a place I can hang out for awhile?”
“Sure. Come over here. I’ve got lots of room.”
Ramona had her own loft. My mom had my things delivered there and agreed to pay my part of the rent.
I found an agent. She got me a few parts in movies and connected me with a recording studio. I made a few albums, but it still wasn’t my kind of music. Those songs required a lot of grinding in the videos, if you know what I mean. All day I’d work, building up my career again.
And all night I’d party. At first it was just alcohol and pot. Nothing serious. There were a few mornings when I wasn’t sure what happened the night before. It was okay. Ramona and I were watching out for each other.
As for being under-aged – well, that word doesn’t exist for young stars like myself. The velvet ropes opened to me wherever I went. But the paparazzi followed closely. My agent said it would be good exposure.
“Any press is good press, Birdie,” she’d said. Yup. Still Birdie Leigh. Nobody would have hired me under a different name. They wouldn’t have known who I was. I hated it when my mom was right.
One night Ramona and I decided to have a quiet party. Just a few friends getting smashed at our house. There was a new guy there. One I’d never met before. He wouldn’t leave me alone. I kind of liked the attention. Late in the evening he pulled a kit out of his pocket.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You never seen this?” He laughed. “Guess Birdie Leigh’s a little sheltered, huh?”
“Seriously. What is that?”
“Aw, baby. It’s liquid gold. Can’t go a day without it.”
“What’s it like.” I was curious, but also scared. But I didn’t know how to use my brain yet. The smart girl would have run out right then. I, however, was very, very stupid.
“Hey, try this,” he said, offering me a needle. “You’ll never be the same.”
“I’m not sure. It’s not a good idea.”
“I swear, the needle’s clean.” He came closer. “Just try a little. I promise you’ll like it.”
Ramona called over from the other side of the room, “Fee, you should do it. It’ll be a good time.”
He put a rubber band around my arm, made my veins pop out. It wasn’t hard on my too-skinny arm. He drew out a little blood then pushed the liquid into me.
It felt like spinning, but dull, too. Then the world looked different. Everything seemed okay. And so very beautiful. It was as if I’d become part of the music. That I tripped along the notes. I sang. Who knows what I sang. But it felt good. Like honey from my lips.
I spent the next four years trying to get that high again. What you don’t know when you first shoot up is that that is the best high you’ll ever get. It won’t get better. But you still try and try and try to feel just like that. It keeps you up at night, makes you feel crazy. And then, after awhile, if you don’t use something, anything, you get horribly sick. I mean, frothing at the mouth, puke your guts out sick.
But when you’re young and you’ve got a couple platinum albums and a tour bus with your name on it, well, let’s just say certain things aren’t so hard to get. Most junkies have to scour the streets for money and to find their dealers. All I had to do was tell my assistant. She’d get it for me. How majorly messed up is that?
Rumors spread throughout the media pretty quickly that I was an addict. Not out of concern. Oh, no. The magazines only published the articles to make money. They got the worst pictures possible of me. And America just ate it up. They mocked me, condemned me, turned the eyes of their children away from the television when I was on the screen.
“She’s gonna die a early death,” my mom said in an interview, faking the tears. “All’s I gotta say is that it’s what’s comin’ to her.”
That was my mother. Keeping it classy.
I became the stumbling, tortured artist. The one who had incredible talent but pissed it away on drugs. Birdie Leigh couldn’t perform like the old days. But it sure was entertaining. Although I hated to admit it, I knew that they were right. It occurred to me that I was far gone when I looked in the mirror.
Red, puffy track marks down my forearms. I didn’t even try to hide them anymore. Vacant look in my eyes. Skeleton for a body.
And yet I still sang to sold out crowds. My albums kept selling. But what they didn’t know was that I didn’t give two farts about the fame or the success. All I cared about was getting enough money to get my next fix.
But here’s the thing, I wasn’t a bad person. And even through the drugs I could feel heartache. Every time a tabloid slandered me, it was a cut. And I felt it.
The little secret that nobody wants to admit is this; addicts are people. Addicts struggle and fight their drugs. They despair because sometimes there is no family to help them. Some addicts don’t get an intervention. Because nobody cares enough about them to lend a hand.
It’s just easier to gossip about them. And so I kept using. Because nobody really had a vested interest in me living. The record company would make double album sales if I kicked off. My mother would get a book deal or even an after school special. Not to mention the talk show circuit. And the media wanted just one more fatality to prove their point. That drug abusers deserve death.
It just seemed easier to put more poison into my veins.
(to be continued)
This is a short story, but it’s got a novel’s worth of pain. Only thing is, I’m not sure if I could handle the long, slow waltz with the devil. If it were my kids, I’d say, OK, now write me a day-in-the-life excerpt, a flash, a strobe-light capture of what it feels like to get up in the morning with nothing to hope for, and no thought but the needle. Ah, it aches my soul!
Rob, I think it aches the soul because there are people who live this pain. But there’s always hope. Just wait.
Oh Susie how do you write such real characters? God’s given you a gift and you are using it so well. I love you.
Jessie…you are so encouraging. I love you, too.