The Shadow of Moroni, Part I • 7 January 2008

The other night I exited the 10 Freeway at Overland and drove north all the way to Wilshire under the shadow of Moroni. I considered the prophet’s anger.

Overland goes from thoroughfare to commercial zone to quiet residential, with the gilded Moroni on a spire, on a huge square pedestal many stories up and gleaming in floodlights, just staring you down the whole way, as you approach from the bottom of his long slow hill. I felt pretty well shaken by his gaze from up there on the Los Angeles Mormon temple: retribution for the horrible little gift I left there at the temple gates one night in 2003.

Get away from Moroni! Seriously, you might want to stop reading now.

What I left at the gates, there at the perfect perpendicular intersection of Wilshire and Overland at the bottom of the Temple Hill, was—not that I remember the leaving it—a little pile of vomit.

Worse—so much worse: I left the exact same gift a half mile west, at the gates of an even more tragic institution. The Los Angeles VA Hospital. The reason you should have stopped reading is you don’t want to know… that the VA never cleaned it up and neither did I. I drove Ohio back and forth to school for a week, like a dog that returns and returns and returns, as the little alcohol-laced pile sat there and rotted.

So horrible, to disgrace the maimed like that. Who wouldn’t stop in her tracks after that?

I had blacked out an hour before the vomit vandalism, late at a party celebrating a dear friend’s joining the Bristol professorate. We started with a rich pinot and went on to good whiskey, but what killed me was the Transylvanian plum wine brought by a Serbian who is obsessed with saving people from themselves. Is that what Sasha was doing with me out by the pool—making me face myself down, down the neck of a bottle—right before I started revealing departmental secrets to the little crowd? Is that—a self-reflection—what I was gazing into well into morning as The Editor held my hair in the bathroom?

As if I remember. Learning all I had revealed and disgraced was a good shake the next morning, because usually the blackouts didn’t end in overshare or sickness like that. But blackouts were common.

I was a good enough drinker—having begun at 14 at cornfield keggers in a state where there is nothing else to do outside the back seat of a car—that I could ingest large amounts and appear to be in control physically and conversationally. In college the philosophy boys liked that I could drink them under the table. But the truth was that my memory would usually go blank by midnight. My friends were numerous and true, so the blacking out was, when we reckoned it out the next morning, regarded as amusing if not a little sweet.

I had a way of drinking in high school that was as immature as any Montana teenager’s; and my college way of drinking was not much different except that it was luckily more rare because I worked late most weekends. By the time I was 22, I still had the free-for-all, go-for-drunk relationship to alcohol that you would expect to see in a teen using it aggressively to celebrate–to create–her freedom.

The morning after Moroni, lying destroyed on the sofa, I tried to remember how many blacked-out nights there had really been over the years. I tried to look at the compulsion that took me to that place over and over again. The edge where I took advantage of the loss of inhibition not to feel a buzz… but to drive on for more and more.

It was sort of horrible going through that stuff I had never examined; and then I ran into the memory—or non-memory—of leaving a kegger one night the winter I was 15….

(More in a day or two.)