Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I knew that crystal meth sometimes induced audio hallucinations. I had been hearing noises for awhile. But I remember the first time I heard her voice like it was yesterday.

We had just moved back to Manhattan from one of the dreaded outer boroughs. We didn't need to move. Our apartment was great. We had a backyard. The rent was reasonable, especially for two people. But I insisted. I was making too much money now to stay out in the boondocks. It took a full 30 minutes to get to midtown from where we lived. And since by that point I was taking cabs everywhere, I argued that it made sense to spend the money on our living space rather than on transportation to and fro. I never really considered that maybe Rafael (my boyfriend at the time) didn't want to move. As was typical during that period, I figured since I was paying there was no need to ask him what he wanted.

So, I found an apartment and plunked down a stupid pile of cash for us to move in. In hindsight, it's either the best or the worst decision I made during that period. I suspect that if we had stayed where we were, I could have held it together for a lot longer than I did. And I would have almost definitely been able to manage the rent in the old apartment after Raf decided he'd had enough. But the longer I held it together, the riskier it would have become. Accelerating the falling-apart process may have saved my life.

For some ridiculous reason, we had house guests the week we moved in, so it wasn't until the second week that I found myself alone in the new place. It was a Monday morning in August and I was sitting in the second bedroom -- that I had claimed as my "office" -- smoking. The a/c was on of course (I was always sweating during that time so I ran the a/c even in the middle of January), so there was the white noise that facilitates the Paracusia phenomenon. But I was used to the murmuring that would produce, so I usually could just go about my business.

What was difficult to tolerate, however, was how thin the walls in this new building were. And how the sound ricocheted in ways that made me always a little unsure where it was coming from. I was just starting to get a little bit agitated when I heard our front door slam. Maybe Raf had forgotten something and had to come back to get it. I called out. No answer. I got up and went out to the living room. No one there. What the hell. I'm not crazy. I heard that door slam. I looked at the door. Locked.

I looked at the doorknob, my heart pounding (actually pounding as I write this). Is someone jiggling the knob? Who's there? No answer. I look through the peephole and see no one. But I look again at the doorknob and it's definitely moving. Now I'm really terrified. Who is trying to get into our apartment? I summon all my nerve and open the door. The hallway is empty.

Just as I'm about to go back inside, I hear her whisper, "He's a drug dealer you know. We have to do something." Now I'm completely terrified. Who is this woman? And how does she know I'm a drug dealer. We haven't even been here two weeks. And where the hell is she anyway? Why can't I see her? I listen again. It's coming from upstairs on the third floor. She must be standing at the top of the stairs with someone. I tiptoe over to the stairs. Now, it's 10 am and the hallways in this building are well lit. I don't know why the hell I thought I needed to tiptoe, but there you have it. By the time I got to the bottom of the steps she must have backed away. I could still hear her. "Don't let him see you. We can't let him see us."

I ran back inside and locked both locks on the door. What the fuck am I going to do? They know I'm a drug dealer and they are out to get me. Think. I have to change the locks right this minute. Do I even know how to go about getting the locks changed?

I find a yellow pages and rifle through it until I find the locksmiths. I call the first one I see that has "emergency" in their ad. The guy tells me they can be there in two hours. Two hours?! What is your definition of the word emergency? OK. Just get here as soon as you can.

I hang up and I'm trembling and my heart is racing and I can't think. I head straight for the pipe. This was just at the beginning of what would become an ordeal and my terror was still interspersed with belligerence and outrage. Who do they think they are? It's my fucking apartment. I'll do what I want. I lit the pipe and did my parlor trick I would always do for people I just met. I lit it and drew in and in and in, so that when I exhaled my head was completely obscured by smoke. HA! Take that.

Just then I heard the door slam again and the pipe went flying out of my hand. I tried to catch it, then realized it would be searing hot and batted it toward a pile of towels I hadn't found a place for yet. It bounced off and fell to the floor, but didn't break. Fucking bitch! Get out of my apartment right now.

This time I'm not so brave. I just poke my head out of the office doorway and look toward the living room. No one. What is going on?

At this point I needed back up, so I called Raf. I knew I couldn't actually ask him to come home but maybe at least talking to him would calm me down. I told him about the locksmith. I could hear in his voice that he wasn't thrilled about this. But I explained that someone was trying to break in. This wasn't actually helping, so I said goodbye and got off the phone.

I was still shaking though, so I had to do something. I called a friend that I knew would come over at least for awhile to smoke. If I just got him to stay until the locks were changed, everything would be OK. I guess my voice cracked or something, because he immediately asked if I was OK. I explained the situation and, thankfully, he said he'd be over in 20 minutes.

With 20 minutes to kill until Chris got here, I tried to gather my courage again. I went back over to the door. I could still hear her out there talking to someone. "What should we do? Should we call the cops?" Is she on the phone? Why can I only hear her? Who is she talking to? I spent the next 20 minutes standing guard at the front door, making sure she didn't try any more shenanigans.

Of course, since I was standing right there, when the buzzer rang I nearly leapt out of my skin. Shit! Fuck! Breathe. Chris? Come on up. Thank God you're here.

So for the next hour, Chris essentially babysat me. We smoked, then he went in the living room to watch TV. I had to make sure everything was put away before the locksmith got here. I at least had the sense to realize that the front door would be open while the locks were being changed, so I spent about a half hour hiding everything that looked even remotely cracky.

When the locksmith arrived, he gave me my options. If I wanted the lock that has the key that can't be duplicated it would be $650. Whatever dude. I want the Fort Knox special. I don't care what it costs.

Everything that happens after that still confounds me. The things I was hearing that day were, to me, absolutely real. But for some reason that I have never quite understood, I never enlisted anyone else to corroborate any of it for me.

The locksmith gets to work, with me standing about eight inches away from him. I'm not letting him out of my sight. When he rang the buzzer, I heard the woman upstairs conspiring again. "I can't believe he's changing the locks. He's such a stupid fucking crackhead. We have to get a key from the locksmith before he leaves." So, I'm on this guy like white on rice. No way I'm letting him out of my sight.

Almost the instant he gets the old lock off, he realizes he forgot something in his truck. Shit! I obviously can't follow him down to his truck. What am I going to do? Oh. I know. I follow him to the top of the stairs to make sure he's going down to the first floor (he had to have thought about not coming back at that point) and then I stood in the hallway between the stairs and my open apartment door. Nobody was getting past me to talk to this guy.

Upstairs, she's cursing me but still plotting to get a copy of the key. I am still wondering who the hell she is conspiring with -- apparently someone mute. But no matter, she's not getting that key.

It only takes about 20 minutes for the lock to be installed once he has the tools he needs, but in that time I must have made him confirm that I would have the only two keys to that lock at least a dozen times.

When he finished, I left Chris to watch him while I went and got the money to pay him. I thought I heard her coming down the steps so at least twice I poked my head out of the office to make sure they were still alone. Once I gave him his money, I told Chris to stay in the apartment. I was going to help the locksmith take his tools to his truck. You know what, on second thought, you help too. This way I can lock the door and she can't come down here and try to get information from you. (That last sentence was what I thought, but managed to keep from saying.)

Once I watched the locksmith drive off down the road (sort of like you watch your family members drive off after a visit before you go back in the house), we went back upstairs and I barricaded us in with my new $600 locks. I could hear her cursing me as we were coming back in, but I didn't care. I won this battle, bitch!

Maybe so, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. I so thoroughly convinced myself of the dangerous conspiracy being conceived that day, that from then on I trusted no one. I believed everyone that came into that apartment was being pumped for information about me.

Not only that, but it would be 13 months before I had even one minute alone in my head again.


  1. I kind of got chills from reading this. My imagination started to jump and I couldn't help but think "what an awesome plot for a horror movie... drugs and ghosts."

  2. I think in future, I need a warning when you jump from Christmas music to scary stories...

  3. This was not only the scariest part of your life, but also of mine. I don't know that I ever told you just how scared I was for you and that, even during our time together, I never felt like I needed so much to try to protect you and make you feel safe. I don't know that I did, but I am not yet able to read this entire posting. I promise, though, that I will before the year ends. In the meantime, I'm off to sleep.

  4. OK. I need to go take a shower now and wash off the fear.

  5. Wow Petr, I had a nervous stomach ache reading that. I'm so sorry that you went through something so awful and we didn't even realize what was happening.

    (I agree that the jump from favorite Christmas carols required a warning! :) btw - my fav is "Let There be Peace on Earth" - most any version)

  6. This story is terrifying. Very good, but terrifying nonetheless.