This post was originally published on April 27, 2015.
I never had a spring break experience like the one in Spring Breakers, all of that grimy sunshine and bikini decadence, but I almost did. The year I was 17, when I was a senior, my entire graduating class from my school in Manhattan went to the Bahamas together for spring break. One friend of mine, I heard, ended up smoking crack cocaine on the beach, while another performed oral sex on a priggish classmate for $100; it sounded like such a debauched freakshow, and I was bummed to have missed it, if only for the stories. Luckily, there was enough sin in my everyday life in the city that I didn’t need to do it in the sand, hazy on vodka-tonics, with the same kids with whom I got hazy on vodka tonics in New York.
No, I wanted something different: I wanted to go on a road trip with a boy I loved who lived in Portland, a boy named Sean, and I wanted to go because he loved me back, I thought (after a string of intense, drug-fueled evenings together in Portland over Christmas and endless up-all-night phone conversations in the months since), and also because he was actually a boy, and that meant something to me, because I was a boy who felt like an adult even though I wasn’t one yet. I had spent the winter having a dysfunctional wine-fueled affair with a married man in his 40s who took me to a lot of dreary Brooklyn loft parties with artists and poets and introduced me as his “protege” rather than his “boyfriend” (ugh — once I heard him murmur, “The age of consent in New York state is 17″ in his sleep), and for that reason, I think, the idea of flying to Portland and then driving down into southern California with this freckled, sun-dappled youth in his beat-up old car, staying with friends along the way — that was too intoxicating to resist.
So I went to Portland, and Sean and I bought a lot of drugs, about as many drugs as we could find, because I was in that stage in the life cycle of addiction that precedes its realest, most debilitating grips (I was still a good student and people liked me, for the most part) but is far too chaotic and dependent to be considered healthy experimentation. I wanted to hoover up any substance I could find — it would only be a few months later that I was sent to rehab for the first time, still a few years before I actually got sober — but it did not yet feel scary. It felt wild and thrilling and fun, even if I knew there was already something wrong with my septum and I got shaky when I ran out of Oxy and I’d throw up and Sean would have to hold me for a few hours and rock me back and forth while I made him promise not to leave. He was straight, ostensibly — he had a girlfriend at the time, I think — but when we got high he wanted to be with me, and even though I convinced myself that the intimacy engendered by taking Ecstasy with someone could be somehow transmuted into a sober reality (this turned out to be untrue), it was easier to just be high all the time, to feel the warm glow of endorphins rushing and his affections, his admiration for me. So we bought a lot of drugs, and I had a fake ID so we could buy liquor, and we packed it all up in the car and hit the road. As we drove (Sean drove; since I’d been living in New York, I hadn’t learned how to drive), I played the pop music that he hated, Ashlee Simpson and Robyn, and he tolerated it for awhile before he switched to Cake and Sublime, and I popped a Xanax and packed bowls from the little wooden pipe that he had brought and the sun was shining down on the open road as we sailed through the vibrant green pastures of southern Oregon and I thought that was the happiest I’d ever been, the happiest I could ever be.
It didn’t go well. That Steinbeckian landscape of dried-out fields didn’t look so scenic once I’d finished all the Xanax, and after driving for about 14 hours we stopped at a motel in Bakersfield, ate psychedelic mushrooms and fought for hours; I took more Adderall and grew so frayed I felt like my brain was made of putty, and Sean wanted some too, so I shared it with him, and then once I realized that I was going to run out if I didn’t pace myself I started hoarding them and taking them in secret, and on the third day I got a terrible head cold (presumably from taking so many pills) and my nose wouldn’t stop bleeding. Somehow we ended up in Palm Springs, where I tried to convince a friend to steal her mom’s sleeping pills for me, and she looked at me funny; I knew she wanted to ask me to leave but couldn’t. We drove back through the desert to Los Angeles, where I learned that I’d been rejected from Princeton after having been deferred there early-decision several months earlier; I cried and made Sean drive me to a French restaurant in Pasadena and I ordered champagne and foie gras, not because those were things I even wanted but because I wanted to tell people that that was how I reacted to being rejected from Princeton, and I hated that that was my impulse, hated the caricature of sybaritism that I had worked so hard to become. In Los Angeles, we stayed with another of my friends in her parents’ big house (they were rich and gone, just like everyone’s parents), and we took Ecstasy and listened to “Foolish Games” by Jewel at an ear-splitting volume, howling along to the lyrics and gripping each other tightly, and then Sean spent all his money on Himalayan opium which we freebased in some kid’s Honda Element in a parking lot, filling that odd cube on wheels up with fragrant white vapor, and when we left to drive away and rolled down all the windows there was so much thick, gauzy smoke that it took several miles to completely clear out. My life was a failed Hunter S. Thompson story where all of the little moments of drug-induced euphoria just made me feel empty and all the little moments of emptiness felt enormous. We spent a week in California, and we did not go to the beach.
At the end of the trip, Sean dropped me off at the airport, where I was flying back to New York while he would drive back up to Portland alone. I knew that his patience had dwindled to the point of no return, that I’d run him into the ground, and the ways in which my life was fast-paced and thrilling and glamorous while his was rather average and staid, this sweet stoner boy from Oregon who I’d suckered into getting caught up in the madness of my universe, the slick shellac of all that glitzy adolescent posturing—it had all just turned him cold. He’d been tricked by how dazzling I could be and then gotten close enough to see the bracing emptiness of it, how ugly it was when exposed to the light. I knew he wouldn’t want to get high and make out with me anymore, which was all I’d really wanted anyway — that, and to feel good all the time.
We smoked the last of the opium from his pipe in the car. I was out of money and out of drugs. The sky was a grim shade of gray.
“I hope we do this every year,” I said.