Manchester, England, 16 May 1997.
My name is Matt, I'm 22 and I'm lost. What I'm in search of, even I don't fully comprehend.
For a Friday morning in late spring, something unnatural was stirring. There was a definite chill in the vicinity as an incessant wind jousted relentlessly with the curtains, lapping viciously against the clean, almost clinically white window frames, the windows themselves only slightly ajar.
It was as though the vigorous blast of unconventionally arctic air flooding through my cramped, bomb disposal site of a box room had a premonition, an inkling of future developments, like a palmist or tarot card reader, only to capriciously alter its choices.
I didn’t really sense anything in particular as I rose that same morning at 6am, my yellow T-shirt and baggy pyjama trousers glued to my sturdy frame, as if not wanting to divulge the wind’s secrets.
As I paced restlessly up and down the 8’ by 10’ room, incarceration sprang to mind. My desk piled with mounds of crumpled paper from countless attempts at reconciliation with Michael, my oldest and closest childhood friend, strewn across the antique mahogany wood, as if attempting to erase all known existence of it, replacing it with something more throwaway and mundane.
I reached into my shirt pocket for a cigarette, which I duly shoved voraciously into my dry, chapped mouth, reaching for my engraved Ronson lighter on doing so. The note i had been trying to write was futile, it was clear to me that this was a feud like no other. Sure, we both rowed frequently, but never on this scale.
I took furious drags of my cigarette in quick succession, which seemed to rouse me violently from my sleep-induced funk, the smoke clogging the tiny sanctuary with a dense, blue-grey fog quick to form.
As I finished the last remnants of my Marlboro 100s cigarette, I vehemently stubbed it out into my coffee mug, the final flakes of ash tumbling clumsily into the nadir of the cup, taking with it some specks of unlit tobacco as it fell.
Tony Spencer is on his way over to see me today. We are going to discuss potential song demos for local radio station MCR-FM. He is the DJ on the station which transmitted “Sonic Assault” every weekday evening between 6 and 9pm. Michael and I both held the show in extremely high esteem.
Michael and I are both musicians; he is the edgy, strung-out guitarist whilst I am the more level-headed, intellectual singer/songwriter and keyboard player. Mickey is the unhinged, sarcastic drummer and Chris is the obsessive precise bass player. Together we were called White Noise. We’d been a tight up until now, with great chemistry and a flawless live set of songs like “This Is My Road”, “Acting Up” and “Nothing For The Pain”. We’d run into some trouble recently though, what with Michael’s drug-induced misadventures on the road. I often contemplated what was driving him throughout these episodes. It made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. He was always the real gem of our group – the best looking, the most popular and the most talented. Why was he screwing it up all of sudden?
Anyway, for the past 12 months, I really began to notice a definite change in Michael, a change that greatly concerned me. At 25, he is the oldest one in the group and naturally, you would conclude, the most sensible. Not the case. Sure, all aspiring rock stars are a bit wild from time to time, it’s part of the whole journey. We’d all dabbled in various substances over the 3 years we’d been together, including my uber-sensible self. The difference was, we all knew when to stop.
Michael never could stop.
It was as if his eyes were constantly trying to divulge a precious secret, a sacred trust between him and another that I wasn’t to be privy to. This unnerved me. I hadn’t really slept all that much the previous night, my thoughts preoccupied with Michael’s state of mind – all the fucking time!
He’d been really unyielding of late, as if rebellion itself had become a part of his genetic composition. Like cutting loose was somehow his means of disclosing something without actually disclosing it. I lit a second cigarette angrily, as if incensed at the prospect of yet another encounter with Michael at his worst.
I can’t actually imagine what his “worst” could be right now. Overdoses, fights, drunken arguments, car crashes – the list just went on and on. After finishing my second cigarette, I ran down the internal corridor of my apartment, as if energised by the prosperity that could come from this auspicious day. As I turned on the shower, the blast of water refreshed my weary eyes, recharging them following a broken night.
When I emerged 10 minutes later, I dressed myself and lit my third cigarette of the day. It was still only 6:45am, yet I was already charged with details of an important mission. This time I smoked more slowly, allowing the swirls of tobacco clouds to ebb and flow in tune with my own breathing at that moment.
My telephone started to ring. It was Michael.
“I’m really in the shit this time, Matt.”
“What have you got yourself into this time, then?”
His tone of voice was darker than I’d ever known before. Something really serious was definitely going on, of a magnitude I couldn’t possibly imagine. There was a long silence in the interim.
“Michael, what’s up?” I continued, attempting to prompt him for a response, but this time with more warmth and genuine concern in my tone of voice.
After what was indeed several seconds, I finally heard an abrupt click. He’d hung up. Why didn’t he come clean? Every other time I quizzed him on his antics, after a minute or two he’d always come clean. Why not now? Sensing that he really was in trouble, I reacted immediately.
Dressed in a red flannel check shirt, skinny indigo blue jeans and biker boots, I ran frantically out of my ground floor apartment, jumped in my battered red 1982 BMW 325i, shoved the gear into neutral and started the ignition. As the car roared into life, I reversed out of the driveway. Turning right, I then shoved the gear lever into first and sped single-mindedly down Chester Road, towards Edge Lane in Stretford, where Michael lived, the leather covering on the gear lever quietly groaning as I moved swiftly through the gears. His flat was only about a mile and a half away so I arrived within 5 minutes. When I got there and kicked down the door, Michael was unconscious. A thick, creamy white foam erupted out of his slightly open mouth. He had overdosed – again. It was exactly like that scene in Pulp Fiction when Uma Thurman has that overdose at home and John Travolta finds her, choking to death or her own vomit.
Luckily, I knew the recovery position and other related emergency first aid procedures, having qualified in Emergency Life Support training just 12 months before and which I facilitated in teaching in small community groups. I also knew that Michael had some IV adrenalin on prescription from his protocol-bending GP in case of such episodes. I even knew where Michael kept it. After making him comfortable, I quickly extracted a dose from the IV vial, found a suitable vein in his right forearm and injected him with it. A few seconds later, he came round, coughing and spluttering as he did. He’d survived – yet again. Question is, how much longer would he continue getting away with it?
I find myself asking that same question more and more frequently as time progresses. Something tells me that this is just the beginning of a long road to a mutual realisation between Michael and I.
I am about to be proven right once again.