The Feel-Good Hit of the Year by Liam Pieper


the feel good hit of the year

They were bohemian, sure, but it wasn’t a sixties-style commune with everybody jumping in and out each other’s futons.

When they came around Dad had to make himself scarce, lurking in the music room like a pallid, vegetarian phantom.

Drugs were everywhere. The wisdom of the time was that weed was a harmless alternative to alcohol. Joints were passed around like Carlos Castaneda novels.

…he looked like Easy Rider dressed as John Lennon for Halloween.

The citizens of Labassa wanted to explore an alternative lifestyle, and while one baby was a karmic blessing, two looked like selling out.

Ardian used to roam the streets collecting aluminium cans, for which a local recycling centre would pay him one cent apiece. He’d carry them in a huge hessian sack that he dragged behind him like a Dickensian-era Pooh Bear.

Pot smoke was our matzo ball soup.

…vegetarian, karma-neutral foods.

I also picked up bits and pieces from other religions—Buddhist parables from my Malaysian godparents, scraps of Hindu and Jewish wisdom from my parents’ friends—and by the time I started primary school I was a fizzing mess of confused, contradictory hippie bullshit.
These stillborn communiques broke across the faces of people I tried to talk to in waves: confusion, incomprehension, dismissal.

…with lots of pleases and thank-yous, like a tourist trying to order coffee in Paris.

During our lunch ours together, I’d act steamily towards her—not like a Latin romantic, more like a dumpling. I was clammy and pale, a thin white skin covering meat of dubious provenance.

People glanced at me, then quickly looked away. At the time I thought they were just being street smart, but the response was probably closer to confusion and pity at the chubby, ponytailed androgyne twitching down the street like a traumatised chimp who’d escaped from a Krispy Kreme research facility. But I believed I looked dangerous and that’s what mattered.

He was like the Aldi of narcotic wholesale.

After a lifetime of wanting the Australian idyll, he’d ended up in a Tim Winton novel.

There are a lot of writers who try to dress up death in pretty words to make it more palatable, but I can’t do that. Death looks like what it is, and Ardian looked dead. I could see where he’d bled, trickles had dried on the side of his face from his nose and mouth, two rivulets that merged in a fork that ran down his check, black blood on blue skin. His skin was starved of oxygen, a choked-off purple-blue that whitened as it moved down his body. I could see every bit of sparse chest hair, every follicle of his beard, or at least as much of a beard as he could grow. He was twenty-one.

The dead are not static. Long after they are gone, your relationship with them remains, grinding on, as relentless and world-changing as tectonic plates. Every night for months, I would dream about Ardian suddenly walking through the door, or picking me up from school, or calling me on the phone, with some simple explanation for how his death was a mistake, that everyone could stop worrying, that he’d been living on an island in the Philippines, that he was fine. ‘Of course I didn’t die of an heroin overdose,’ he told me in one dream. ‘As if. What a cliché!’

So here’s my metaphor: grief is a long, dark night in a wet sleeping bag at a shitty music festival that everyone seems to be enjoying but you. It’s cold, it’s raining, it’s unpleasant, but you’re not going to wriggle out of your damp cocoon because the alternatives are even worse.

…and ended up spouting Yiddish truisms like some suburban Woody Allen.

Katya was, in a word, Russian. She was diminutive, violent, sexy, vicious, brilliant and alcoholic.

The whole place reeked of decay, despair and abandoned dreams.

Often I would meet someone nice at a bar and invite them home, only to generate from an excitable, eager-to-please lad into a twitchy, sullen Gollum in the space of a taxi ride.

Now, lying shrivelled in the doctor’s palm, my dick looked like an abandoned yum cha dish.

Apart from those who had been foolish enough to move in with me, any real friends were all gone by now, tired of my shit. The times we’d shared and the memories we’d built were left on the cutting-room floor as I edited my life into a version that let me get on with wasting it.

The one thing that being wretched teaches you is that there will always be someone willing to grind you deeper into the dirt.

With no access to coke or any other uppers, I just drank heavily. To borrow from my father’s old Zen books or, indeed, my new home, I was all yin and no yang.

Long-lost regrets crowded in from the back of my mind, fighting for real estate.

I could feel the guilt and anger and sadness that I’s been hanging on to for years turn up to the party, with friends.

Psychiatrics call what happened to me the ‘onset of dysphoric syndrome’, alcoholics call it a ‘moment of clarity’, but it felt to me like the end of the party.

Regrets that I’d deferred thinking through years ago rose up from the dark and found me, and each felt like trying to pass a gallstone of Catholic guilt.

She was beautiful, yes, but in the same way a glacier is beautiful as it inches down the valley to crush your village.

Church runs in my veins. Long after the Catholicism has left a family, the traits run on; the tides of shame and judgement, the secrets they necessitate, they stay in the blood. Deep in each of us, the value of discretion, the clandestine church-pew whisper, the moral cowardice afforded by the Serenity Prayer.

The hippie generation passed me a torch, and I used it to burn the world down.


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