THE 7 : 3 RESEARCH EXPERIMENT
It was November, 1982. I was now 15. The streets in Novi Sad were wet from the rain which had been falling all day. As my friends and I turned the corner onto the next street, it began to slow and finally stopped. We were in the market part of town. Large houses lined the street—homes the rich and established families of Novi Sad had lived in for generations. You could smell the history in the architecture that late autumn evening.
We were walking down the middle of the road toward the gray villa at the other end. The air smelled damp and the sky was gloomy. I looked down at my Doc Martens boots—a very popular symbol of the rebellious youth in Novi Sad—which mindlessly pounded the concrete almost in military step with those I walked beside. We all seemed to enjoy the rhythmic thudding of our boots.
We arrived at the villa, which was overgrown with ivy and surrounded by fir trees, its facade lit up by floodlights. As we got closer, our shadows appeared on the concrete in front of us. The outlines of our black leather jackets gave us unnaturally wide shoulders, making us look like giants. The plans I had in mind for that night gave me a great sense of power, but false one.
My friends were strong, not just physically, but emotionally, and that gave me confidence too; made me feel secure in a special way. And security is what I craved. I remembered one January night the previous winter when I’d been thrown out of the house into the snow in my cloth slippers, after yet another of Dad’s drunken tirades. He’d become a monster in my eyes, annihilating everything good about the word “father.”
But I felt safe and powerful when I was with my friends. They cared for me, would look out for me. We were united by fierce loyalty and an unspoken readiness to do anything for each other. As in Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange, we had our Doc Martens on and were ready to drink our “milk” and party the night away.
I had met my friends, Sasha, Steve and Mladen, through my cousin Datza. We would occasionally meet up in town, more in passing really, and Datza would hook us up at Steve’s insistence. But then Datza had fluttered off with her new boyfriend, Dragon, without so much as a word of warning. So the four of us—Sasha, Steve, Mladen and myself—hung out. Occasionally we’d stand each other up or not be where we’d agreed to meet, but for the most part we found ourselves on the same road—a road that led us right into the Punk culture.
“The-kiiids-are-ouuuut-toniiiiiiiight-to-plaaaaaaaay… The-kiiids-are-ouuuut-toniiiiiiiight-to-gooo-craaazy… The-kiiids-are-ouuuut-toniiiiiiiight-to-plaaaaaaaay… They’re looooking for fuuuuun toniiiiight... Modern yooooooouth, modern yooooooouth...” sang Steve, hopping on one leg.
“Steve, you’re singing out of tune again. Spare us, will you?” Sasha complained. And to make a point, he began to sing, “Steve-stop-siiiiinging-out-of-tuuuuunnnnne” in a marching rhythm.
“What do you know? You can’t sing at all,” Steve replied. “Everyone says I’m a good singer. Anyway, Sasha, you’d better be good or you won’t get you-know-what.” Steve’s mouth spread into a wide, conspiratorial grin. There was no question in any of our minds what he meant.
“What’s that, kids? What’s that, kids? Tell your Uncle Mladen, what have you got?” Mladen burst out laughing, and we all followed suit. I loved the fact that we were all so peculiar in our own quirky way.
We stopped in front of the door of the gray villa and rang the bell. We had no idea who lived here, but there was a party underway, we’d been invited, and that’s all we needed to know. It was not so much the party we cared about. We were looking for a comfortable, out-of-the-way spot for what we were really planning.
A chill went through me as I walked through the door. Sure, I was among my friends and wasn’t afraid, even though I planned to use drugs for the first time that night; but I wondered if I’d manage to get home safely after it was over, and not be found out by my parents. Up until then I’d been a “good kid,” “top of my class,” and so on. No one would ever have suspected me of what I was about to do, but curiosity drew me in. I wanted to see what it was like and how much control I’d be able to retain over myself under the influence of drugs.
The interior of the house was ultra-luxurious, with deep carpets, original oil paintings, and candelabras hanging from the walls with candles flickering in them. It was a bit gothic for my tastes, but still it was very cool. Even so, I got the feeling that at any moment, from behind the thick, dark curtains, some kind of modern-day Dracula might appear; a dealer who would drug us up, suck out our blood, take our money and disappear. A pretty pathetic fantasy, I’ll admit, but it was this fear that I found exciting. Finally, some true feelings!
“I hate those cheap horror movies where the main actors, even though they’ve been warned, stay in the haunted house,” I joked. We’d just dispensed with the introductory drink-related formalities. We would be drinking juice, so as not to mix alcohol with our drugs.
Steve approached with a smile and whispered, “If you’ll be so kind as to give me your hand, I’ll take you for a tour of the house. Ha! Just kidding!” Then his smile turned to a smirk. “Open your hand,” he said, and I did. “I’m giving you ten pills. Take seven now and the other three later.”
I lifted my juice glass and did as I was told. The others followed suit. Then we sat down and talked about music—our favorite subject—and awaited the effects.
It affected the guys first. Their behavior didn’t change much, but they said they could feel the drugs in their system, and began to talk more slowly. Almost nothing happened to me, right up until the end of the evening, and then it hit me too.
“Steve, I’m really starting to feel it,” I said, resisting a wave of fear. “What if I can’t make it home?”
“Don’t worry, that’s just the initial effects. You’ll be fine.”
“We’ll all walk you home together,” another friend said, “or we’ll call a taxi. Come on, it’s nothing, you’ll see.” Their assurances were sincere and well-intentioned, as though they were the best friends I had in the world.
The “hit” turned my boots into someone else’s, me into someone else, and everything that existed into something that it wasn’t. Warped reality, chemicals attacking my brain. I thought, “Well, okay. Now you know what it’s like, and that’s that. You’re not dead, it’s nothing terrible, tomorrow you’ll think back over the experience and it will all be over.”
“Lana, hey, aren’t you having a good time? I’m really into this!” someone would call over to me from time to time. In reply, all I could do was numbly agree that the feeling was unusual …but disturbing. That part I kept to myself. The responsible person inside began to regard me with suspicion, separating out from me and looking at me like a schizophrenic, friendly ghost, asking me questions like, “Should you be doing this? Are you going to become a drug addict now? Is it true that once you try it you can’t stop?”
It was then I became fully aware for the first time of this blatant interrogation of my conscious, this sub-personality, devil, demon or whomever, who was always asking the worst questions at the worst time. The questions always came in moments of emotional euphoria, sounding so destructively ominous that they might have come from hell itself. “Does he really love you? Will he really never leave you?” These were the weapons of her arsenal, from which she had been unleashing salvoes of live ammunition. Now that I had done this thing, she bombarded me with even more questions.
I pushed aside these unpleasant thoughts and returned to the conversation. “I read somewhere that Hemingway said that a good book had to be written from the inside out. The mere technical arrangement of words, even when you’re talking about songs, can’t excite the feelings.” I was talking about Steve and Sasha’s latest songwriting efforts.
“We’ll give it all to them, everything we are feeling, and it’ll be straight from inside, you can be sure of that,” Sasha said, defensively.
“That’s what I like to hear, Sasha,” Mladen purred. “We weren’t born to be fakes. You know those people whose whole lives are just a farce, just faking? That’s what I like about you and about us, we’re not like that!”
I tried to continue the conversation, racking my brain for other interesting morsels, but my head just lolled to one side. After a while, someone shook me and said we were going for a walk, and then we’d all go home.
When we got outside, I felt queasy, as though I was going to be sick. “I think I should go home,” I said. “Would you walk me home first?”
They were agreeable as I only lived a few streets away. I walked hastily, wanting to get there as soon as possible. I tried to calm myself. “It’s no big deal,” I told myself. “It’ll all be over in the morning, then you can decide whether or not you ever want to do this again.”
My black stockings had several runs, right where the boots tied up. In my numbness I had over-tightened the laces before we left the villa. I was a sorry sight, but then again it was part of the punk look. Stockings didn’t get torn only by accident.
Tomorrow seemed like it would never come. The effects of the drugs lasted hours. All night I dodged the inner clones of myself—first, the me who said this was not such a bad experience, and then the other me who was accusing and condemning. The second me would chase the first me, who would insist that this wasn’t dangerous, until finally a third couldn’t-care-less me came on the scene, and on it went.
The sun finally rose, bringing with it the end of my all-night mental war. I looked at my weary self in the mirror. “Look,” I said, “you took it, and you’re fine. You’re not dead, so drugs aren’t as dangerous as they say. It’s all just scare stories.” Everything—and nothing—was the same as before I had taken the drugs. I looked the same as far as I could see, but in essence I was changed. I was intact in appearance only.
In my naivety I was sure I’d be able to control myself, and that’s exactly how I fell into the trap. Blinded by a foolish belief in my own ability to manage my drug use, I fell, like countless others before me, into the downward spiral of addiction.