Why you should care
Because dharma gates are endless.
It was something of a rude shock.
That is, to find out on my first day — looking forward as I was to an initial week of irresponsible drinking and, I had hoped, experimentation with various forms of drugs and shagging — that my university was run by the Roman Catholic Church. This little fact hadn’t been mentioned anywhere in any of the college literature I had received, and it can certainly take the wind out of one’s sails to turn up to one’s new home, hoping for a hotbed of interesting and novel ways to have sex, and find nuns — nuns — waddling around the campus.
Within a few hours, though, I had befriended an affable freak by the name of Geoff, a bearded chap in a punk rock T-shirt who has since joined a radical sect of the Catholic Church that denies the Holocaust and perpetuates the blood libel as absolute truth. He doesn’t feature much in this story except to serve as an example of the kind of people attracted to this particular college, and for introducing me to two people whom I will call James and Janet, to protect their identities.
Some months into my first year, I was sitting in my room in the halls of residence, tying on a good drunk and staring at my computer screen waiting for the muse to descend. Just as I decided on an album to listen to, I heard an urgent knocking at my door.
There’s a certain Dada quality to pushing an anesthetic for subhuman primates up your nose in order to feel that you are motionless at the bottom of a deep hole. …
Upon opening the door, I found two of my fellow students. They told me that a mutual friend had just confessed his love to one of them, and that upon being turned down, he had vanished into his own room to snort a lot of ketamine. It was the late aughts in London, and ketamine was very much the drug of choice. There’s a certain Dada quality to pushing an anesthetic for subhuman primates up your nose in order to feel that you are motionless at the bottom of a deep hole; but I digress. They sent me up to his room, as a mutual friend, to see if he was OK.
I jumped on the elevator and went up to the eighth floor, where his room was located. At this point in the story, I really have no excuse for what happened next. I can only offer the explanatory statement of “hey, drunk,” because instead of going to Room 807, I instead found Room 805.
I didn’t bother to knock, because I was still in my first year of university and thoroughly enjoying the notion of being someone who didn’t knock, you see. I simply turned the door handle and marched in.
What greeted me was neither the sight of my friend nor a sight that I had ever expected to see, ever.
Imagine, if you will, a student room with bed, desk and wardrobe, all of which had been pushed against the walls and turned on their side. Every flat surface of the resulting arrangement had been covered with plastic and with dying plant stalks. Evidently the occupants had been to all the local convenience stores, buying the late-day flowers at a severely reduced price. I made this deduction helped by the fact that the petals of the various flowers, varying in color, size and time of life, had been scattered, in a roughly asymmetrical circle, in the middle of the floor. Moreover, the only source of illumination in the room was an arrangement of small candles.
Lying within this curious mix of petals were the two occupants of this room, James and Janet. Both were naked, and both were immediately postcoital. Had I been in any doubt of this fact, the lingering smell of ejaculate and the clinical aroma of lubricated latex (an unusual time to be using prophylactics, now that I think about it) would have convinced me. I took in the tableau, and then asked with no measure of subtlety, “What the fuck do you two think you’re doing?”
There was a beat or two of silence. Then, finally, the one answer for which I was not prepared came from James’ mouth.
“You happen to have interrupted our suicide pact.” He had tears in his eyes, and he was as serious as a heart attack. Janet attempted to roll away from me in a way that would prevent me from seeing too much of her nakedness while allowing her to glare at me.
I then did either exactly the wrong thing or exactly the right thing. I laughed. I laughed right in their faces. I might have pointed. It was the most mocking, cruel, callous laugh ever heard. Because I meant it.
Just as I was composing myself, Janet pointed near the window, to a large kitchen knife and a sheet of ibuprofen and codeine pills they had prepared to end their lives with, which caused me to redouble my laughter. I laughed harder than I ever had before, and have rarely done since. These two individuals, surrounded by candles and withering flower petals — and, I ought to mention, a record by the Doors playing in the background — were so comical to me that I couldn’t even give the slightest credence to what they were avowedly doing.
I simply had to laugh in their faces.
The only thing I said to them, between laughs, was “OK, you two, have some fucking fun.” I left and shut the door behind me, went to the intended room, and had an interesting and damn good night taking drugs and shooting the breeze.
When I saw the two of them at breakfast the next morning, I decided not to feel guilty.