2020/ Chain of Fools

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Creating meaning out of the trauma and debauchery that was 2020.

2020 was the year I adopted a boiler suit and gas mask as a daily uniform. The world had gone into a global lockdown to combat the COVID19 virus which meant we were only allowed to leave our house for essential reasons such as grocery shopping and exercise. When outside, we were government mandated to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the disease. They made me feel like a muzzled dog and I resented no longer being able to smile with strangers on the street. Feeling like a prisoner in his own home and under extreme stress from job insecurity, my boyfriend Jake’s amphetamine addiction began to spiral out of control.

As a result of Jake’s addiction, we had accidentally befriended a posse of drug dealers and prostitutes- bonded by our love of having a good time and a general disregard for consequence. We met Dani through a call girl friend of mine who had realised the difficulty of making a living through writing online fashion content. Dani had big brown eyes, fat, botoxed lips and dressed only in high end labels like Gucci and Balmain. Born into a wealthy family, she had acquired a taste for expensive things but lacked the work ethic to maintain this taste without selling her body for sex. Dani began to visit more throughout the lockdown to deliver Jake drugs, hidden in a bag of a groceries. One night, she played Carole King on our old vinyl player, while Jake rolled us a joint to share. I flirted with them both, knowing that it would lead to a threesome. We smoked Jake’s joint, snorted lines of cocaine off each other and then took turns going down on each other.

A week later, Dani introduced us to a crew of “script kiddies”- long haired, internet hackers with a love of mumble rap, cryptocurrency and ketamine. I made cocktails for everyone and established that one of these kids shared a mutual friend with Jake. They seemed fascinated by the genuine sexual chemistry between myself, Jake and Dani and expressed gratitude for our generous hospitality. Eventually I came to the conclusion that by associating us with this crowd, Dani had managed to successfully pray on the vulnerable- trusting junkies like us who were lax with internet security and keen for a good time. In retrospect, I wish I had known that Dani was a hustler at heart- making money in any way she could without considering the impact of her choices. At the time however, I felt like we were fully living life in the moment- something I was certain would bring me happiness, meaning and didn’t question her motives for a moment.

Ella, Dani’s best friend, had a boyish pixie cut, high cheekbones and was tall and slim. She had gradually joined in on our shenanigans, along with Mark, a dealer with a steady supply of the best gear available north of the river. We all hung out together in our plant-filled, converted warehouse listening to electronic music and sharing stories about our favourite mind-altering substances. My stories were consistently focused on MDMA. As a notoriously private person, I’d discovered MDMA helped me open up and allowed me to dance, free of fear of judgement. It had also helped Jake talk about the sexual abuse he experienced as child, a fact I doubted would have ever come up without the influence of a truth serum and something which I was certain had driven him to substance abuse in the first place.

While we laughed, chatted and danced with Dani and Mark, Ella, who claimed to be a part time poet and part-time model, entered a viral script virus onto our wireless network by requesting our wifi password. Something we provided willingly, without second thought. This meant remote access to every digital device we owned and access to all stored personal information including scanned copies of our passports and birth certificates.

The issue with Mark, despite his criminal lifestyle, was that he was excellent company. Intelligent, engaging and a DJ in his spare time- we thrived off his love of hip hop and old-school funk. Similarly, he thrived off our property location in the Inner North- close to his regular customers and discrete enough from the prying eyes of authority. We welcomed him into our home with open arms, deprived of social contact through social distancing practices enforced by the pandemic. We held COVID19 illegal gatherings where we got high off Mark’s supply, enjoyed each other’s company while Ella hacked our electronic identities. When you’re lonely, it doesn’t really matter if others are using you and you’re using them. As long as everyone is filling a clearly defined role, the maladaptive social ecosystem continues to function.

It’s unclear exactly how many international drug smuggling routes were established using our stolen online identities before Jake clued on that something wasn’t right. He told me that he had been locked out of his email account, that the speed of his phone had slowed and that he could hear clicking noises during his phone calls. He was certain that his was a breach of online security and started to question the motives of our new friends. I wrote him off as crazy, blaming his excessive use of amphetamines and the psychological effect of social isolation. I was determined to keep my online identity public, obsessed by the idea of becoming the next millennial therapist and too blinded by Dani’s beauty to believe that she would want to harm us in any way.

Eventually Jake’s distress became too extreme to ignore and he shook me violently one night, yelling at me to believe what I had assumed was a paranoid conspiracy theory. A sinking feeling in my gut became apparent when he started to coherently piece together his concerns about his online security issues. I realized that my sense of reality had been clouded by my lust for Dani and by a dark depression that had developed through my work as an essential worker during a pandemic. Based on Jake’s erratic behaviour, I knew we had to get out of the warehouse immediately, but I had no idea where to go and was fearful of drawing attention to any law-breaking activity when police presence was so prominent.

We agreed to seek refuge with our friends Trish and Rick, former 90s British ravers who had channeled their drug-fuelled benders into successful and respectable careers. I called them panicked that night, shaking and rambling about what had happened. Without hesitancy, Trish told us to come over right away. Rick’s brother back in the UK had recently killed himself and they were struggling too. Trish and Rick lived in an affluent area in the inner East which meant we needed to blend in quickly through a disguise of expensive athleisure and an almost painful sense of normality. It appeared that our efforts at disguise were successful and it seemed to result in freedom from any unusual online activity on our devices. We bought new phones, changed our phone numbers, email addresses and disconnected from the outside world for an entire week. We spoke about going to the police, however we both agreed that this would place us at too much risk to the criminal world to be a viable option.

When your online identity is stolen, you quickly start to daydream what it would be like to steal someone else’s identity. For example, what exactly would you do with those proceeds of crime? Which tropical island would you escape to, what designer clothes would you wear, which car would you drive? I quickly became entranced and jealous at the thought of this fantasy life, but then spent time reflecting on my own morality and these feelings subsided. Instead, an intense anger developed at the thought of others taking advantage of Jake and his mental illness. High on a sense of ethical superiority and new found fury, I decided to employ my favourite psychological defense mechanism, repression, to cope with my latest traumas. May you rest in peace, memory, I said to myself before engaging in my daily mediation ritual.

While repressing my consciousness, I also began to focus on the importance of social support. I knew this shit was important but didn’t fully understand until Trish brushed my hair one night, my arms too frail from fear and stress to function. Trish and Rick played familiar Britpop, drank tea and encouraged us to embrace the therapeutic benefits of music through use of the guitar and keyboard that we had brought to their house. We took turns cooking for each other, played board games and counselled each other through each personal problems, one at a time.

Jake and I stayed with Trish and Rick for two weeks until we could establish an exit plan from the city. We migrated to rural Victoria like many other Melbournians, traumatized by the lockdown. The pace in the country was slow yet calming and people genuinely seemed to care about your welfare when they inquired “How you going, mate?” After such an extended period of social isolation, many of us forgot how to interact with others. We valued and craved human connection more than ever, and yet we seemed scared of what we might connect with. We continued to develop our own deformed version of sign language to communicate through the face masks and focused on re-developing social skills that had been lost through extended disconnection.

Jake and I continued to battle through the challenges of online identity theft and the consequences of his addiction issues. Jake’s substance use had subsided substantially without the influence of Mark and Dani and we eventually adjusted to living normal, routine driven lifestyles. He had cycled through periods of problematic use before, however I still felt somewhat shell shocked by the intensity of his most recent relapse. However, one day late in December I found myself wandering through the tranquility of the Otways, fully freed from the constraints of the lockdown which had finally lifted and contemplating my progress in life since leaving this place as a teenager. The rainforest sounds were vivid and the smells of the ocean salty in my nostrils. I wasn’t where I had planned to end the year 2020, but I was alive and I had Jake. And for that, I felt eternally grateful.

Rosso Del Giorno

 

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Submitted: June 11, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Rosso Del Giorno. All rights reserved.

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