Sometimes I miss it still. All the beautiful lies we told each other, the way I led myself on. Sometimes I miss that darkness inside of me. At least that was simple.

My name is Elise. I grew up in Houston, Texas and I had a problem for 28 years: life. I was born into a stable, middle-class family of grade "A" psychos, struggling to appear normal in the mid-seventies while America raged around them. Vietnam, Jimi Hendrix, and those damn hippies were in full swing, luring the impressionable youth of that day and age down the path of sin. Luckily for my family, I had a little too much youth on my side and missed that particular bandwagon (although god knows I would have run off with the cast of Hair any day). No, I was born a little too late for the acid generation; I got punk rock instead. The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Black Flag. All these belonged to me- my generation's anthems sprang from the throats of musicians like them. By the time I got to high school I had the leather jacket, the torn and safety-pinned shirts, and the addictions that went hand-in-hand with the scene back then. My having to make up for my affluent background got me to the hard drugs faster than most kids; by fifteen I had tried speed, cocaine, LSD, uppers, downers, weed, angel dust, and- exactly 32 days after my sixteenth birthday- heroin.
Some people will try to tell you about smack. They'll sit for hours, stuttering, gesturing, searching for something to compare it to. "It's like, you're skydiving, and then you pull the parachute string, and it goes out and you're like, whoa! I mean, no, dude, that's not it." Odds are that whoever that person is, their brains are so fucked up from using that they'll Inever/I find a way to tell you about their addiction. They might die that night, overdose accidentally or even on purpose, and become another member of that limitless Doe family. Endless graveyards of Johns and Janes, going on forever.
I will never forget when I first shot up, although who I was with I'd rather never remember. It was at one of those parties where everyone is there and nobody knows anybody else; invitations trickle out via the endless spiderweb of friends of friends. I went in a cab and left flying, or at least that's what it felt like to me. When I was high, even breathing felt like flying.
I walked in the door and immediately fell into step with the music, swaying my miniskirted hips as I scanned the crowd, picking out pimps and whores, dealers and junkies. There were the speed fiends, always seeming to move in some other dimension stuck on fast forward. A group of regular potheads sat sprawled across the stairs passing a joint around with the usual vapid grins pasted onto their vacant faces. A pair of cokeheads stood talking to each other, pointedly ignoring a prostitute propped up against a nearby wall. One of them is looking hungrily at the stoners, obviously tempted to lace a joint and slip it to them. He must be a dealer; he has that predatory look about him, always out for new customers, hooking the city's beautiful youth like so many sparkling tropical fish. Suddenly someone's warm breath is on my throat, a pair of muscular arms are around my waist, and a husky voice I don't recognize at first is greeting me. "Long time no see, Kitten." There's only one person that calls me that; it's Sid, my speed connection. "Don't do that, Sid. I was about to hurt you," I say, loosening up and leaning against him, trying to mask my fluttering pulse. Sid chuckles. "You're still just like when I first met you, Elise." I wince at the memory of that naïve preteen, set on forgetting the world and proving all who thought I was pure dead wrong. "I'm sure," I reply. "How's business been? I haven't heard about you lately." He shrugs. "Not as good as a few years ago, but it's picking up again and if I ever need to waste some time it's always easy." Sid says the last sentence with a sly wink at me, making me feel briefly like he's shared some deep secret with me until I snap out of it, smile flirtatiously and slip away into the crowd with a murmured farewell. This scene is all about manipulation, and I have the two crucial components to perfect it: youth and beauty. My eyes flash green and gold at a boy tripping in the corner and he is immediately entranced. He stumbles after me as I weave my way through the crowd, calling after me: "Hey, green-eyed lady!" Two whores turn to look at him, eyebrows raised. "You talkin' to me, sugar?" One of them drawls, leaning towards him and heaving a sigh that leaves her breasts threatening to spill out of her shirt. He stops, and as he watches her she turns purple and shatters any seductive elements that may have been there before. Giggling, he returns to his corner, forgetting me for all intents and purposes (although he will dream of a green-eyed shadow for weeks to come).
I finally escape the press of bodies in the house and make my way down a path to a gazebo hidden in the shadows of the backyard. Here is where I belong; this is where the heartbreakingly beautiful youth of the city gather to die, the near-children who have done so much that their bones stand out on alabaster skin like the rungs on a ladder to hell. These are the people whose eyes cut into you like knives as you walk down the street and haunt your wholesome existence for days. These are what I would call my friends if only I knew them at any other times than these, and tonight they have a new kind of suicide.
As I get closer to the quiet group one or two look up and raise their hands in greeting. One girl stands up and says my name curiously, her voice riddled with incredulity. "Elise?" I recoil immediately. This is Stacey, and she is my father's mistress.
I know this because once, about a month ago, I was sneaking around in his office looking for money to steal (it was easier to just ask, but where's the rush in that?), padding through the study in bare feet and pajamas, ransacking drawers and shaking out books. Suddenly the door to his office burst open and out came Stacey in some kind of lacy red negligee, followed by my lecherous, balding, middle-aged father with a hard-on so obvious I nearly vomited at their feet. "Jesus, Dad!" His lusty grin dropped like a stone. Stacey ducked behind the desk, muttering and pale. "Oh shit." my father began. "Elise. please don't tell your mother. please don't tell." I quickly recollected myself and put on the teenage façade I had perfected months before. "And why shouldn't I?" I said coldly, calculating. I watched my father's shallow mind race. I have always hated that man. "Lissy." he began. "Don't you dare call me that," I snapped. "You had better give me a damn good reason not to tell Mom." I added an artful tremble to my voice, drew myself up straighter, played that rat like putty in my hands. He paled, swallowing nervously and glancing at Stacey. "Three hundred dollars a month," he says. I pause, calculating the hits in my minds, adding up how much I could forget. "Five," I say. I want to fly. I want the best. He wavers and I take a step towards the door. "Fine," he says. "Fine." I can't hold back a small smile as I nod mockingly to him and Stacey, still crouching behind the desk. She blushes furiously, and I close the door behind me. Father doesn't come downstairs for another hour.
Snapped back to the present. "Elise?" she says again, this time with doubt in her voice. I shake my head. "No," I say, dropping my voice just enough to be unrecognizable, keeping Stacey in the dark. I go up the stairs to the gazebo now, sit next to a dark haired boy whose name I think is Adam, although I can't be sure. "What do we have tonight, kids?" says someone with a deep, rolling voice, the kind of voice that vibrates in your chest and makes you trust its owner immediately- a fatherly voice. People with that kind of voice, unfortunately, are usually the kind of people you shouldn't trust at all.
Someone else reaches into a bag, pulls out a cylinder, a small foil package, a lighter, and a spoon. I hear another girl across the circle hiss through her teeth. "Smack?" somebody asks uncertainly. "I dunno, man, that shit can kill you. Really fuck you up." Others murmur in agreement, nodding nervously. "You can leave if you want, dude," says the boy who pulled it out. "I'm not keeping you here." There is an uncomfortable silence. People shift quietly where they sit, waiting for someone else to speak. "Whatever," the nonbeliever mutters. He stays where he is.
I, for one, am not scared. I have stopped being scared of new drugs. I am the perfect user: I do not OD, I do not go on bad trips, I do not have allergic reactions or get a cough from smoking. I was made for this fast life of slow suicide, or so it seems. I am merely curious. What will this new sensation be? Will I hurt, hallucinate, want to die? Will it be the one thing I cannot do, me, Elise the wonder junkie? I know it will not be, and I go forward to where I can see the moonlight glancing off of the needle. "I'll go first." The boy glances at me and then at my outstretched arm and blinks. I don't think he meant to use this heroin, merely to thrill us with its presence. He certainly does not want the needle in his hand to end up in my arm.
I tilt my head expectantly, putting him on the spot. I am sure of myself and what I want; I know I can survive one little needle. Suddenly his friend beside him is beside me, putting a thick leather belt around my slender upper arm and drawing it tight. The first boy seems paralyzed by this movement for a moment, shocked that something happened in those few seconds as he watched my face in the moonlight. I can tell he thinks I am beautiful. I can see him memorizing my curves, my face, and I know he will remember exactly how my breasts curved underneath my shirt later when he's lying alone in bed and dreaming. He knows that he will probably never see me again, and yet at the same time cannot fathom that we are not somehow lovers. This is the price one pays for being beautiful.
Suddenly there is a needle in my arm and fire flashing through my veins. I arch my back and moan (Boy files this away as well), then fall back and lie spread-eagled no the deck. I can feel the expression of bliss on my face even as all of my worries slip from my mind and life becomes perfect.
This is the reward one reaps for being beautiful.

center* * */center

We are still in the gazebo, listening vaguely to the roar of the music in the house and the blood in our ears, but now everybody is floating with me. These people are suddenly very dear to my heart, dearer than anyone else had ever been. I am holding one girl's hand. My other lies entwined in some gorgeous boy's glossy black hair as he rests his head on my stomach. I know their names now, seemingly learned by osmosis, because I know no one has spoken: Adam, Cassie, Nathan, Stacey, Martin, Renata, Aaron, Samantha. The love I feel right now for these eight people is so strong that I can't repress a sob. Adam turn his head and kisses my stomach, then begins to cry with me. We both weep silently until we fall asleep, the universe spinning on oblivious around us.