By the third sleepless night, the pressure becomes… It can’t be ignored is what I’m trying to say. It’s a similar pain to a sinus infection, but manifests in different places, the gums for example. The gums throb with memories of good coke, of dragging a wet finger over a dusty plate and rubbing the powder into the pink flesh above the top row of teeth. Dead but alive. Numb but electric.
Every sense craves titillation. My eyes sniff out brighter lights, my ears lust after thumping bass and soaring vocals, and my mind becomes a good-time-radar capable of scanning a three hundred strong contact list and narrowing down the five easiest arms to twist in my mission to outdo Icarus.
But I don’t have a contact list to milk, to burn through like crepe-paper in a bushfire. I’ve smoked every one of my closest friends down to the filter. And that’s why I’m here, five thousand clicks from home in Ho Chi Minh City with no plans and no plans to make any. It’s all acquaintances from here on in. One night wonders I’ll never have the time to disappoint.
“Washappenin tonight bruh?” Andy the dread-locked Californian had the ability to make the inch-thin, rock-hard beds in this ramshackle hostel seem like silk hammocks. He was a human valium – a dumb, happy sloth in khaki shorts and pineapple party shirt, his only worry in the entire world the dwindling stash of weed in the metal tin resting on his lap, a yellow smiley face with blood-shot eyes stamped on the lid.
“Me and Dre are gonna blaze a fatty and hit the street markets. You in?”
“We need pay-purrs!” the Frenchman yelled from the opposite end of the dorm, his tanned, hairy legs dangling from the top bunk. “I told you this like five minutes ago you stupid American fuck.”
“Ah shit, yeah man, we’re out of papers. You got any skins Benny boy?”
Andy opened the silver tin for the third time in a minute, as if to check his stash was still safely tucked away inside and hadn’t been pilfered by some slick-fingered weed demon. He picked up a clump of the muddy-green buds and leaves and rolled them between thumb and middle finger, pressing them firmly into his nostrils, inhaling deeply.
“This is good shit man. Who’d have thought Vietnam would have weed to make your brain bleed. Hahaha.”
“You’re cooked mate,” I said to Andy, shaking my head, smiling placatingly. “I’ll catch you boys later.” I didn’t want any THC to dull my high. My brain was swelling with enough serotonin to pop my eyeballs clean from their sockets. I was gaining ground on that mosquito bite itching the back of my brain. A light tickle from from one of Andy’s baseball bat joints was never going to cut it.
“I’m cooked? You’re the one getting dressed when you’re still wet from the shower bruh. Hahaha! And you’ve missed like three buttons. Da fuck are you doing? Hey Dre! Come down here and help Benny get dressed.”
Andre jumped from the top bunk, his thongs slapping on the concrete upon landing. He was wearing a white linen shirt with the top two buttons undone, revealing a thick plume of dark brown chest hair. He strolled down the hall as cool as you like, toes pointed outward in casual sophistication. He could have been anywhere in the world with that walk, the white sands of the Bay of Biscay, perhaps, St Tropez, maybe, but he wasn’t, he was here in this dank, dark hallway, the foetid air thicker than porridge, wading through a swamp of half-finished Saigon Specials, damp socks and pizza boxes.
He sat on the edge of Andy’s bed and combed his jet black hair over his head with fingertips.
“You should stick to singlets like the other Australians. The Bintang, the Singha. Then you no have this problem with the buttons. You Australians have no culture,” he waltzed, the entire paragraph spoken in a wonderful sweeping legato.
“I could listen to you talk all day mate. You speak like a Monet watercolour. I’ll end up taking my shirt off completely if you keep it up,” I countered, slapping my own thongs on the ground, wiggling my toes into place.
He smiled imperiously and rolled his hand over like a conductor paying dues to a violinist who just nailed their solo.
Andre snatched the silver tin from Andy’s lap. Sloth boy’s reaction time was comically glacial.
“Yoooo! Give it back man hahahaha!” That endearing, innocent stoner laugh made me giggle.
“Where are you off to then Mr. Aussie Benno?” Andre asked, prying open the tin to inspect the stash. “Too cool to smoke with us tonight, uh?”
“Not nearly cool enough,” I replied. “Dunno mate, you know that Filipino bloke with the guitar who’s been writing sheet music in pencil all week out the front of the hostel? He reckons he knows a bar with the best live music in the city. Said to meet him downstairs at seven.”
“You mean the old man who wears leather jackets and jeans on thirty-five degree days? You’re kidding me? You’re going out with him? You madman!” Andre looked at me wide-eyed and incredulous. “Okay, whatever, leave me your home address so I can send your things back to your Mother after he chops you up and leaves you in the dumpster.”
“Look around mate, we’re pretty much living in a dumpster anyway,” I spat back in rapid fire – a malfunctioning Gatling Gun.
The clock was moving too slowly. 6:50 limped to 6:51 and 6:51 crawled to 6:52. I prayed the Filipino wasn’t a time thief like the rest of the world’s population. The thought of waiting a second past 7:01 was infuriating. The mongoose needed catching, the leopard must be stripped of its spots. We couldn’t let them get a moments head start.
I bounced from the bottom bunk, my temporary home of the past week, and ripped open the curtain, revealing my sordid little den. The bedsheets told the entire story – twisted and knotted like the recovery bed of a heroin addict on day two of the impossible summit to sobriety – they reeked of torment. The back shelf of the dorm bed, usually reserved for deodorant, hair gel, and empty cans of beer, was stacked with boxes of Lamotrigine and Seroquel. I’d been taking the Seroquel, an antipsychotic sleep medication with mood-stabilising properties, in double-doses for the past three nights.
Those horrible little pills, bullet-trains to hell, injected such vivid, violent nightmares into my mind I’d wake gasping for air, hands scrambling over my body to make sure the stabbing frenzy I’d just survived for the third night in a row wasn’t real. And I knew I would be entering the badlands each time I washed one down, but I was staying the course, doing as I was told, which seemed futile as I was the maniac wearing the Skipper’s Cap.
“What you are describing to me are the early stages of a manic episode. The feelings of invincibility, euphoria, the sense that nothing can go wrong, these are all hallmarks of mania. The first step is acknowledgement. If you had been keeping track of your moods in the mood diary I provided, of which I stressed the importance of numerous times, we could have identified the trigger, if there was a trigger of course. The second step is swift treatment. The level of energy you have described to me is unsustainable and, if left to its own devices, will ravage your mind. Every episode you suffer causes significant damage to your brain, you see. Think of your brain as a complex electrical circuit. Most of us have control over the electrical currents moving predictably along the wires. You don’t. And for each period of extreme, pronounced elevation, you cut and fray a section of wires. You see? You cut and fray, cut and fray. So where does the electricity go when all the wires have been cut? Well it goes wherever the bloody hell it wants. You will lose all control. Your mind will become incontinent. I’m prescribing you Seroquel, a strong sedative with mood-stabilizing properties. Take it, and take it now, or I promise you the landing will not be soft.”
The problem with this advice is – if you’ve been drowning in a tar-pit of depression for a month and, from the heavens, a lifeline is thrown your way, you don’t check the rope to make sure it isn’t pulsing with electricity, you just grab the thing with both hands, open your dry, blood-cracked lips, and whisper – thank you.
“Yo! He’s a pharmacist. Anything in there for me?” Andy swung his legs around to sit beside Dre. It was the quickest I’d seen him move.
“Epilepsy medication, mate,” I said, my hand passing over the boxes of Seroquel to the hair gel. Vanity over health, I thought to myself. It wasn’t a lie, Lamotrigine is a medication prescribed to epileptics, but it’s also an allegedly effective medication to treat bipolar.
“Ah shit, bummer dude,” Andy, the sweet, sweet man replied, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands.
“You take it easy, Mr. Benno,” said Andre, the sweeping legato marinated in genuine concern.
“I’ll be sweet,” I replied, thanking them both with warm smiles, as I applied a liberal amount of gel.
“Enjoy your night, lads. I’m off.”
We exchanged nods and winks before I galloped down the hallway, bounded down the stairs, and jogged to the front of the hostel where, to my jubilation, the Filipino with the rockstar hair was waiting on his bike, a spare helmet in his hands for me.
As I clicked the helmet into place, the words “The landing will not be soft” played over in my mind.
No, it won’t, I thought. The landing will not be soft, it rarely is.
I wish I could recount the night I spent with the Filipino rockstar, but it’s a twisted blur, a broken strobe-light of memories – flashes of the heaving live music bar, the clinking of bottles, weaving in and out of Ho Chi Minh City’s exhilarating washing-machine traffic, then, miraculously waking up in the bed of my dorm at 9 the next morning, frantically checking my body for stab wounds.
You see, for the most part, it’s all a nightmare, even the moments where I feel as though I could reach out and touch the sun.