In the beginning, Larry’s rule for non-habit-forming intravenous therapy involved portion control, he explained to Liz. Other regulations limited his use to post-sunset hours, and to no more than three days consecutively, nor more often than five days in any two-week period. Further prescriptive subsets did their level best to control the substance’s purity as Larry began injecting more frequently. But let’s be real for a second: this was street level remedial treatment, certain risks and disappointment come with the territory. For instance, some bags’ purity was cut way down as one sub-dealer stepped on another dealer’s product until the diamorphine hydrochloride (heroin) was around three or even two percent of the bags’ content, with no detectable sesame scent. Larry’s loaded up and shot half a bag of dope so watered down it wouldn’t make a housecat dozy, and so he had to break his own rules in service to his continued therapy. Something you learn pretty early on from using dope is that no rule is golden, nothing sacred outside how you feel. Your inner life and feelings are everything. Larry would learn a lot about his feelings and their complicated relationship to reality, and especially about sacrosanctity. But in the beginning, there was the word, and the word was forgiveness, and the word came with rules. Larry followed them faithfully, the rules. Addiction and ODs scaled with volume is the point, he told Liz, and rule numero uno regulated ingestion to no more than half a bag per night. It’d been an effective prohibition and kept Larry out of addiction’s tomb for years. Until, of course.
Anyway, Didlaudid®. That’s really where it started to go downhill in terms of Larry’s slippery therapeutic experiments with emotion tapering opioids. Dilaudid 4mg hydromorphone pills were safely predictable and packed a wallop. But more to the point they were always available. Larry’s best friend, Dan Fournier, a born-with-the-disease addict and a prolific doctor shopper, had near unlimited access to scripts early in America’s undetected opioid crisis. Twice a month, Larry rode the Long Island Rail Road from Penn Station to Huntington Station, where Dan picked him up and chauffeured him to his house.
Dan Fournier’s earliest memory is set in a haunted house. He’s sitting on a cement floor, hugging his knees to his chest, all of his focus centered on another boy sitting across from him. He’s roughly the same age as Dan at the time, like maybe four, Dan reckons, but his head is massively disfigured, elongated from the eyebrows up and mushrooming above the right ear so that the cranium resembles a flesh-tone stovepipe joint covered in straw blonde hair. The memory gains weight and texture as steam organ music plays though the glass walls and screams erupt amid sadistic laughter. The memory always begins this way, mid-crisis, at the memory’s endpoint: he needs to get away, out of the haunted house. He has no memories that involve leaving the haunted house, and that’s at least partly what makes this memory so disturbing and irrepressible, though he’d like to repress this memory very much indeed. He never beckons this memory from the psychic deep, it rather bubbles up unbidden through the fuzzy conscious strata between toddler and childhood. Could be anytime. Could be at a commercial break in televised college basketball. Could be during a quiet backyard smoke. Could be midsleep, the memory crossing the fuzzy deep to whatever brain lobe or wrinkle commands bodies to sit straight up in bed and throw covers off in order to address life-threatening emergencies. Where is his father? He isn’t sure if he asks this himself or if the deformed boy asks him. There are is no sequence in this memory where his father strides along and finds him. So when the memory arises unprompted, flooding Dan with powerlessness, he’s learned to hug his knees and just let it unfold, because the only way to exit the memory is by going back into in the haunted house to find his daddy and safety therein.
Dan reckons he was four-years-old when his father flicked off the living room television, packed Dan into his Chevy Silverado and drove to Long Island’s Adventureland theme park during its “Halloween Fright Week.” “We’re going to the haunted house,” his father announced ten minutes down Route 110. “It’ll be fun,” he said, “just remember it’s not real.” Dan’s father was tall, up over 6’3” even with a posture stooped by years of literally back-breaking work clamming in the Long Island Sound. From the moment they got their tickets and stepped onto Adventureland’s House of Horror line his father held him tight against his chest, each paternal arm bigger than all of young Dan. Just outside the House’s gothic archway, waiting their turn to enter, Dan heard a startling yowl from the soundtrack playing inside and threw his arms around his dad’s neck. “It’s okay,” dad said, his voice resonating in Dan’s chest. “Look,” he jammed a thick finger into the doorway’s arched façade and tore a chunk off the staged stone. “Foam rubber,” he said. “Feel it. None of it’s for real, just us.” The door opened with a theatrical moan and in they went, Dan with a finger plunked inside his cheek and grasping a handful of his dad’s arm hair. He practically disappeared into those arms when they passed through the duvetyn curtains separating Dracula’s Lair from a blacklighted Haunted Cemetery rolling with dry ice fog. Dan wasn’t frightened, he remembers. He felt safe, protected by the muscled nest of his dad’s limbs. The far-off sounds of torture and screaming women and wolves howling over steam organ music washed up and died at his father’s boots. Each monster lurking in the shadows boosted Dan’s sense of security and paternal care so that by the time they reached the Torture Chamber Dan felt so confident that he could shriek with laughter at the bug-eyed figurine strapped to the skull crusher. His hands held fast to his dad’s forearms as if to the taffrails of a great ship as it plowed through wild seas. Soon they came to the House of Mirrors. Zigzagged and glaringly bright, it appeared to Dan as a dazzling blue-hued glass origami unfolding infinitely. Dan’s dad placed him on his feet and told him to just find his way through to the other side. Dan put his arms up. He wanted to be cradled again. The blue horizon was disorienting, impossibly complex. “It’s only fun if you walk it yourself,” his dad assured him. “Don’t be afraid.” He turned Dan by his shoulders and patted him on the caboose. There were no monsters hiding in there, no ominous noises, just distorted reflections of Dan’s four-year-old bodily self that he stopped to stare at with fascination before moving on and face planting a pane of glass. “Keep going,” he heard his father say. Every few steps he’d see himself at various angles, from the back, and from the side, his reflection fleeing around a corner at confusing angles and even sometimes upside-fucking-down and receding impossibly from his approach, and he collided with another glass pane already streaked with nose grease from a previous disorienting reflection. Right there’s where the fun stopped. Dan spun on his heels looking for his dad, to be reassured and patted on the caboose and told to keep going, but instead discovered that his dad was nowhere in the reflected vicinity, and he panicked when he realized he was lost, stranded in what appeared as a wide-open space but what he learned as his forehead’s crown collided with one dead end after another was a narrow, writhing warren. His memory leads right up to when he face-plants hard enough to split his lip and he collapses into a knee-hugging heap. It was there on the floor, staring at the disfigured boy, when a nerve broke off and began floating around inside him, turning up at points through the years the way gelatin threads turn up floating through his vision, and feelings of unresolved powerlessness undertake to howl through his protoplasm.
Dan lived within Huntington High School extracurricular earshot. He grew up listening to the crack of springtime baseball bats and the airhorns of autumn Blue Devils football from his backyard deck. During his high school freshman and sophomore years he played the tenor drums for the high school marching band. He liked to imagine his percussions rifling through the surrounding neighborhood as he drilled in the school’s parking lot, his suburban audience bobbing their heads to his beat. He imagined his mother sitting on the deck, smoking a Vogue cigarette, listening to his racket. In those early teenage years, Dan wasn’t much taller than his drum kit. He was thin as his sticks. He was a wormy mathlete, a pimply straight-A student and a bit of a wise-ass with a fondness for Wu-Tang music and Newports. That all changed over his Junior year summer, right down to his choice in smokes.
What happened during that summer break was Dan shot up a foot and a half. He outgrew his sneakers twice in a month. He gained a pound at every meal, which feedings were a relentless concatenation of microwaved burritos, mixed cereals, barbecued chicken, potatoes boiled whole and dipped in economy sized buckets of sour cream, Coke by the 2lt. bottle, oven fires, tantrums, cupboard doors loosed from their hinges. Dan hit a growth spurt more like a pachyderm’s than a pubescent human’s. His mom used to say if he’d sit still long enough you could watch him grow right in front’a your eyes.
When he showed up for marching band practice one morning in the Huntington High School parking lot early in June before the school year had officially begun—a practice that coincided with the Blue Devils football summer camp affectionately known as “hell week”—Dan got to striking the drums with such force it sounded like someone’d opened fire on the grounds, drawing the adrenalized attention of the football team’s head coach, John Patsy.
Dan stood out in more ways than aurally. He was the tallest weenie in the band and the broadest. His belly’d gotten so big the quads balanced on top of it, along with the crumbs from his breakfast food items. Dan’s blurred sticks blatted machine gunnerishly across the drumheads, his eyes closed, mouth a loose wet oval, his forehead already greased with sweat. Space opened around him as other band members made way, as you do when a fight breaks out, or for like a dance circle, but in this case to protect their eardrums. Coach Patsy, on a jog, spotted the noise’s bullseye in the student circle and doubled his pace. As he got closer Dan’s full size took dubious shape; his body clearly more massive than any body on the Blue Devils offensive line, his chubby legs were pole straight and ankleless, and his dull round face a mask of moldable aggression. Coach Patsy’s been molding pubescent male bodies and aggression for a decade-and-a-half here at Huntington High School, starting as an assistant coach straight out of college. Patsy’d played serious ball for what in Long Island was considered a high-level ball playing college, an institution that molded its fair share of men’s minds and physiques. Coach Patsy never hesitated using his own chiseled anatomy as testimony and like Exhibit A when it came to what his molding ability’s full potential looked like. Plus since he became the Blue Devils head coach seven years ago their record only improved year over year, until they’ve recently become contenders for the Long Island Football Championship’s “Division 3” title. So, as like Exhibit B, when Patsy sees a power eating, drum annihilating, from-what-he-can-tell-on-a-run 6’2” -or 3” galoot with a passion for making serious fucking noise, he knows its molding potential. Patsy’s feet hit the pavement at about the same pace Dan’s sticks hit the drums. And rumor has it he snatched Dan out of his drum kit and weenie uniform so fast the feathers whipped off is hat’s plume, and Dan was suited up for hitting drills before the feathers had time to settle on the parking lot asphalt.
Dan took to hitting drills like waves to a beach. It was natural, relentless, and came from a deep and dangerous place. He was thrilled by the newfound power he discovered in his thighs as he leapt from a squatted position, his muscles coiling and releasing with terrific thrust. He liked the popping sound his shoulder pads made in collision with a blocking sled. He liked Patsy’s calm instructions for concentrating and projecting his, Dan’s, full and considerable weight from his hips through his shoulders, transferring the force from his massive body into the block. He liked the dispassion and precision with which coach explained controlled violence’s function, and how he threw a conspiratorial arm over Dan’s shoulder while personally encouraging him to pursue his offensive line goals with brutality and honed aggression. He liked learning little pain inducing tactics, tricks at the trade’s legal edge, e.g. swinging his elbow sharply up from a three-point position and thrusting it shank-like into a defender’s celiac plexus.
Dan had always been a weenie. He was never bullied or anything like that, he was simply a pallid, formless, unaggressive waif. Physically unobtrusive. It’s like he never had a body before, he was a body, incapable of experiencing his physicality in a separate, objective way. But now. Now Dan had a whole bunch of body, and it was hard for him to separate the joy in his size from a latent resentment for not having said size before. Joy and hostility. Gratitude and aggression. Speed and size. It’s like God and coach had opened a wonderful destiny to him, one he never knew he’d wanted. He was big, and he liked it. His size was practically another person he enjoyed and admired. It was good to be big. Each time he threw his body into the blocking sled, sending it five yards, seven yards, ten yards downfield as coach Patsy hollered “drive-drive-drive” then ordered one second-string defensive back after another onto the bull rush sled for added weight—each time Dan hurled himself against the dummy pads he felt awoken.
And it only got better. As in more exciting and awakening. Football practice revealed new and wonderful emotions when coach replaced the blocking sled with adolescent bodies. Patsy started Dan off with junior varsity linebackers in live hitting drills; oversized sophomores, soft and hairless who, after Dan flattened the first by planting a thundering forearm into his substernal flesh, shook visibly beneath their pads. Dan found that human resistance moved in unpredictable ways when fear and pain were involved. Defenders didn’t simply slide backward in ten-yard paths but rather vectored left or right depending on whither went their weaker side until they crumpled into heaps with an oof and a hiss that aroused something below Dan’s conscious threshold. Driving his helmet’s crown into a sophomore’s chin, dropping him to writhe in practice field pain, Dan felt wild hungry urges to get right down there in the unkempt grass to plant more and then more blows into his soft pudgy underclassman body. Patsy, face streaked with sweat (or possibly tears of joy), mercifully pulled Dan off the bait dogs and pitted him against varsity defenders arguably closer to his size. The entire Blue Devils defense turned out to be as effective at stopping Dan’s hunger as his breakfast sausage.
At each practice Dan grew bigger, more insatiable, his confidence outgrown and jutting out in loud ways that intimidated. A pink fat roll on his neck squeezed between his helmet and shoulder pads. His blue jersey stretched like a training bra, his belly hanging below the jersey’s hem was wider than his hips and shoulders, his bell-shaped flesh rang with endorphins and jovial belligerence. The whole package was wound tight and radiated with the ominous feeling that it was about to reach its limit and burst. During scrimmage, Dan drove holes through the defensive line so wide you could parallel park in it.
Patsy tried Dan at center, but his thighs turned out to be too thick, and when he snapped the ball it got stuck between them, and Dan was five yards downfield with forearms under the chins of left and right defensive tackles before the ball popped loose from his groin and fumbled to the game field’s turf. With a predilection for driving off his left foot, and a joy for plunging his elbow into substernal bellies that Dan once heard Patsy call rapturous, Dan turned out to be a tailor-made right offensive guard, and coach orchestrated his offensive strategy around your most bread-and-butterish off-tackle runs. The trouble Dan amounted to was injuring his teammates on the scrimmage line’s other side or intimidating them until they faked an injury to avoid facing Dan’s elbow and helmet crown, Patsy wasn’t always sure. So at this one practice the weekend before the season’s first game, Patsy got down in the dirt with the defense, no pads or nothing, just his blue polo and black breakaway warm-up pants and cross trainers. And to the whole team’s audible shock and excitement, he lines up at the defensive guard position opposite Dan and calls the play, a run to Dan’s left side, the “zero” hole. Dan sort of refuses in a silent way to even get down in his three-point stance as the quarter back sets the line. Patsy’s grunting all these challenge type insults at Dan that Dan’s never heard before that Patsy learned and polished playing high level Long Island college football. Dan’s taller than coach but coach’s thighs are thicker, and he’s just generally more developed in terms of musculature, and he’s hairier, and he’s got no helmet or nothing on, not even a mouthpiece in his teeth to keep them from getting knocked out if Dan smacks his helmet into coach’s chin, which self-disregard forces Dan to question coach’s mental health. Dan is standing straight up in casual disbelief with his hands on his hips communicating body language-wise you don’t really expect me to face off with you, right, is anybody seeing this shit when the ball’s snapped on the second “hut” and Patsy explodes off the scrimmage line, knocking Dan back five yards and dumping him on his caboose. Coach howls with collegiate polish. But then he also blows his whistle, Patsy does, and charges Dan for offsides. Dan’s real slow getting up off his caboose. The whole team is peering through their face masks as Dan hobbles over to the offensive powwow forming a few yards off the ball. But there’s no need for a huddle because Patsy calls the offense’s play for the whole team to hear again. A run to Dan’s right side, the “two” hole. This time Dan squats into his three-point stance, smiling jovially to communicate to coach he was ready this time and he’d learned his lesson and maybe take it a little easier. “Bring it here,” Patsy screams over Dan’s shoulder to the halfback, a 150lb Asim Lewis, pointing at Asim with menace then pounding himself on the chest. Asim’s got his mouthpiece in sidewise, chewing it. Patsy’s nostrils flare and Dan thinks he might’ve seen steam come out of them. Dan and coach are face-to-face when the ball is snapped. Coach bolts into Dan’s belly. Dan feels a great deal of upward force, sees stars and then possibly his own feet rendered against the open sky. Coach doesn’t even make an attempt at tackling Asim because Patsy’s collapsed the “two” hole, giving Asim no room to run, allowing the linebackers to finish him off the way mother lion teaches her cubs to kill wounded defenseless prey. The defense does their best to whoop with collegiate polish. Dan isn’t sure if coach is really strong enough to manhandle him or if he, Dan, is just off his confidence’s feed. He feels all kinds of squirmy emotions plus confusion and, when he takes a second to examine it, fear. Coach scares him, but not physically. Dan’s just taken Patsy’s best shot and, yeah okay, it was harder and by far more intense than any defender on the scrimmage line’s other side, but Dan knows he’s got more to give in terms of his own self-generating force and whatever it is Patsy’s talking about when he talks about heart.
“Run it again,” Patsy orders. His hair is wild and Dan sees he’s pulled his polo shirt sleeves up around his shoulders. He’s got some serious pipes, coach does, with veins streaking through them like permanent lightning. They dwarf Dan’s long, flubby arms, Dan notices. “Run it again, come on!” Patsy’s pointing at the floor, daring Dan to the scrimmage line. “What you got 65,” he barks, referring to Dan by his jersey number. “I got you all damn day, 65. All damn day. Whoo!” Sidelined assistant coaches hug their clipboards and pretend to notice things on their shoe tips. What scares Dan is something he can’t identify, it’s protoplasmic, a detached nerve floating up from the depths when he sees coach pacing at the line. He’s not scared of coach Patsy, he’s scared of the scenario Patsy’s arranged, and its outcome. Dan is aware of the fear and his curiosity surrounding it distorting the fear into unfamiliar shapes.
Dan knows he cannot let coach force him backward, collapsing holes and losing ground. He has no choice but to meet coach’s force with his own size and force. He does not want to hurt coach but he intuits that that’s what coach wants him to do, to fight back and at least try to hurt him. Dan senses there is probably method to coach’s meatheadedness. Dan’s got way more potential energy coiled through his thighs and back than he’s shown coach so far, and he’s counting on surprising him with a little extra oomph at the next snap to get him to maybe feel satisfied with his inspirational coaching duties, bringing Dan back online with his confidence, gaining a little mutual respect for once instead of just pulverizing defenders. Dan tries to imagine driving coach backward in five-yard vectors, opening holes wide enough for Asim to stroll through casually chewing his mouthpiece but cannot visualize it. He assumes this to be coach’s ultimate goal, programming Dan to achieve things he can not visualize himself achieving, molding Dan into better versions. The quarterback sets the line. Dan gets very low into the three-point, his forearm poised to strike at Patsy’s unpadded chest, his helmet aiming an inch below coach’s square chin. He’s got heart and he’s going to show it right now. He digs into the turf with his cleated left toes. He will hold coach at the scrimmage line then drive him back, molding respect and managing fears. He feels an enormous amount of pride and mutual respect in one frozen moment. And just before the ball is snapped Patsy drills Dan with an elbow like a piston. Dan loses his breath audibly and crumples to the floor like a man executed. “My bad.” Patsy’s standing over him. “I think I was off sides,” he says with PhD level sarcasm before blowing his whistle and penalizing the defense.
Dan’s on the ground sucking air, watching padded bodies organize by offensive and defensive jersey colors. Encouraging phrases emit anonymously from face masks, but no actual help arrives to lift him off the turf. It feels like a valve’s been opened in his back, hissing out whatever oxygen Dan inhales.
Coach’s blue polo and black breakaway warm-up nylon pants stand incongruous against the white defensive players’ jerseys. The empty bleachers past the track look way too fragile to hold a full crowd’s weight, it occurs to Dan. He’s never practiced his drums on the actual game field with the band, and he can’t remember if he’d ever bothered to look at the empty bleachers. Dan doesn’t feel anything, in terms of physically. He recovers fast, he realizes. He tries to imagine what he will look like on the field from the band’s roped off section in the stands. He hears general encouraging noises behind him. Dan’s sitting on the field’s grass. What he thought were mud clods kicked up by cleats are actually goose shit, he identifies. His own yard’s grass does not look like the field’s grass. Dan hugs his knees to his chest when he thinks about his drum kit siting in the hall-ette thingy between his home’s dining room and the kitchen that has no obvious practical nor ornamental architectural purpose, it’s just an extra-long threshold with a slightly bowed crown, and his drum kit is just inside the molded opening on the dining room side, untouched since his first football practice day even though his mother keeps threatening to put it down at the curb for the trashmen if he doesn’t put it away. He either ignores the coach or doesn’t hear him yell. He knows the deformed boy sitting across from him is his own reflection, but it still brings his heart into his throat when the memory detaches from the deep and floats up. The weirdest part about the whole reflection thing is that when he went back to Adventureland during the theme park’s “Halloween Fright Week” with a his friends in the in the 8th grade he’d totally forgotten that Adventureland’s famous House of Horrors was the deformed boy’s origin, even though the boy was a constant vision during psychological distress, so when Dan and friends bought tickets and waited in line then entered the House one by one it wasn’t until Dan took his first look into the blue hued glass horizon that he reconnected with his one directed loose-nerved memory, and felt enormous panicky waves crash and flood the psychic depths, but when he looked into those distorting funhouse mirrors his reflection was the normal bathroom mirror-type reflection, nondeformed. He checked every goddamn mirror in the House, face planting several. They were all the same, just regular mirrors, albeit placed at strategically deceptive angles. Dan searched the path looking for a deformed reflection as if it were a lost friend trapped somewhere in the House who needed to be found and helped, because he’s still in there stuck and distortedly scared and cannot leave but only go back, back to find comfort rather than freedom, until one and then another ticketed guest passed him, Dan, and then four or five more, until finally a walkie-talkie wielding Adventureland staffer came and shined a flashlight on him and told him to leave. And that night he had a sweat-inducing nightmare in which he was paralyzed, his eyes frozen open staring at the deformed boy, and that’s it, that’s the whole dream, and he’d sat cinematically straight up in bed and his bedsheets needed to be wrung out over the bathtub and washed.
“On your feet, 65,” Dan hears coach holler. “Let’s go. Bring your ass to the line or lose your spot.”
But the weirdest part is he can’t remember leaving the House for the second time, and the terrible in-reverse memory has grown more complexly terrifying.
Dan’s heart is way up in his throat as he walks to the line. He feels nothing from the Adam’s Apple down. His body is a Dan sized water balloon with a loaded spring inside. The colored jerseys spread out and line up opposite one another, face masks turning away from Dan in a way that underscores they’d been waiting for his return. The walkie wielding staffer had pointed his flashlight at the ground near his feet and lead the way, illuminating the tracks the mirrors were mounted in, obviating the path. This secondary memory leads him right up to a certain bend in the path and no further. Dan is in his three-point stance before the quarterback sets the line, and even squatting and touching his right hand to the goose crappy grass he’s still taller than some of the O-linemen are standing up. “It’s coming our way,” coach tips off Dan before lining up so closely face-to-face Dan can see single hairs coach missed shaving this morning plus the abrasions on his forehead from colliding several times with his helmet. Dan says nothing. Coach smiles in a way that forces Dan to notice his own smile, and he’s momentarily shocked by the discovery, but the moment is broken by the snapped ball and his drilled-in reflex to spring forth. There’s a satisfying pop Dan’s shoulder pads make hitting coach’s padless torso and something else, meaty and squooshy at once, and as Dan bolts his forearm piston-like into coach’s sternum he feels a warm spray against his face. It’s like time slows way down to a freeze-frame then spools to hyper speed Dan feels frozen in. When the play resumes normal speed motion Dan is standing not only above coach but on the bodies of two other linemen. It isn’t clear at first whether coach is bleeding from his nose or mouth. But he doesn’t seem to mind either way. And a contusion roughly the shape of Dan’s size 15 cleats on a linebacker’s thigh beneath him probably didn’t feel so bad either when that linebacker imagined hanging a “Division 3 Champions” plaque on his bedroom wall, courtesy 65.
Asim was crossing the 50-yard line, trailing D-backs, his head way up, chest out in a dead sprint towards the end zone when Patsy jumped to his feet and without wiping the gore from his face grabbed Dan’s facemask and announced, “We’ve got a monster on the squad!”
Monster. That felt good. That felt right. The monster from Hell Week, Dan thought.
And then he was like a monster in the Huntington High School hallways, too. By the time the school year started Dan was a completely changed weenie, except for the breakfast crumbs clinging to his shirt. Dan was a sight and he knew it, walking strictly down the hallway’s center. The oncoming student body opened before him and waked behind him, lowerclassmen and upper swiveling their pencil necks. “Jesus, is that Dan Fournier?” Those who inaptly kept their heads down, eyes busy with books or just like watching their sneakers got mushed right out of Dan’s goddamn way, sending their papers sliding nerdily across the polished floor. His own Air Force 1 sneakers bulged at the sides and liked to burst. His jeans were vast and shapeless. His backpack a stunted snail’s shell, a bookless pocket between his shoulder blades stuffed with snacks and cigarettes. He was all new, wearing the first-day-of-school traditional Blue Devils jersey, body so wide he filled the English Lit class’s door frame as he stood looking into the room with jovial menace, is when Larry saw Dan for the first time.