My First Pill is a series where writers tell the story of the first time they, well, took a pill. Previous entries in the series have seen Clive Martin, Joe Bish, John Doran and Esqueezy wax lyrical about little white pills. This time round, our contributor has asked to remain anonymous, for the sake of his mother. While we think he's a total wuss, we're going to let him off this time. Answers on a postcard, please, if you think you can identify our mystery man.
Growing up in England's rural arsehole, I was a sheltered teenager, terrified of drink, drugs, the opposite sex, fun, adventure, excitement, intrigue, anything and everything that wasn't listening to the same four or five minimal techno mixes and posting on the same shitty messageboard night after night, thinking myself as above my pissed peers with their hangovers and stories and lives. While they were out experimenting with WKD and fingering, I was out on half-arsed bike rides and absolutely nailing onanism.
I didn't drink till I was 17 and that first night on the booze — NYE at a friend's house — was a rude awakening. I remember repeatedly asking my best friend's girlfriend what having sex was like and trying to play Fight Night Round 2 on the Playstation with an increasing lack of clarity. I vowed never to drink again. And I didn't, really, aside from a can of Stella on my 18th birthday, until I made my first voyage to jewel in the crown of Norwich's nightlife, Mercy.
After another summer of listless masturbation I started a degree at a university that's rested on its laurels since Damien Hirst and the YBA pack of twats haunted it's corridors before ruining art forever. I started drinking in the way all uncomfortable first year students do; with a passion that bordered on life-ruining fanaticism. In kitchens sodden with cheap cider I banged down can after can of K, slammed six packs of Oranjeboom, struggled through bottles of Glens.
Until the night I took my first pill, I'd never seen drugs. The closest I'd come was the night I tried to smoke a joint with a flatmate from halls once, the night after the morning our cleaner had stolen my wallet. He walked down the high street to the Red Door Store and picked up a ten bag of no-doubt terrible weed. Neither of us had rolled a joint before and after an intense YouTube tutorial binge, we were no closer to cracking the case. He struggled on and produced what was, essentially, a cone of wet paper with something like weed in it. We stepped out into the courtyard and lit the doomed-to-failure construction, watching in complete non-surprise as it burnt to a cinder in seconds. Coincidentally, that was the last time he and I really spoke. After that evening he had a brief fling with an Australian backpacker — who he'd fuck to the Cure's greatest hits — broke it off with her, shaved his hair and eyebrows off and took to drinking red wine in the kitchen, alone, in the dark.
Fast forward a few months and I find myself on a bus to Camberwell getting ready to spend the night at a warehouse party thrown by Platform Magazine, a now defunct blog that kickstarted the Boiler Room revolution. I'm sat on that bus next to a girl who has just pissed everywhere. The piss is trickling down the top deck. I am watching the piss in horror. I have never seen anyone piss on a bus before. I am transfixed by the lapping of the piss. It isn't a good start to the night.
We disembarked, carefully tip-toeing over the golden stream, making sure that our white plimsolls remained pristine in the face of the piss. I had never been to a warehouse party before either. We entered and to avoid making conversation with people I barely knew, I started buying vodka Red Bulls willy nilly. These were served in plastic cups out of 2ltr bottles of Blue Bolt or Boost or whatever the cheap stimulant of choice that night was. They were warm and the vodka overpowered the apologetic brown of the fizzy taurine. Basically they got you very pissed very quickly.
When someone in our nebulous network, a network with me resolutely remaining peripheral throughout, suggested getting some pills in I was more than happy to scrawl my PIN on someone's wrist, eagerly awaiting the moment my sweaty twenty transmuted into a pair of easily-ingestible tablets. Given that I'd struggled in the past with paracetamol I was surprised by my own eagerness to gulp them down. Our carthorse returned from an ATM apologising to each of us one by one for the £1.80 surcharge the hole in the wall asked every card to stump up. Someone vanished with our money, returned with rations. Unsure of what to do and afraid to ask for guidance from people I had no feeling of warmth towards but whose acceptance I desperately craved, I stumbled towards the makeshift bar and washed the pill down with an edifyingly warm cup of the good stuff.
The party, if memory serves correctly, which it often doesn't, was terrible. Utterly terrible. I remember mirrored ceilings and floors strewn with throws. I remember dubstep and poppers. I remember feeling utterly alien but incapable of leaving my surroundings. I remember feeling myself going through the motions; my jaw clenching, my wrists tensing, my heartbeat increasing incrementally, my face feeling redder and redder, my tongue looser and looser.
I remember speaking to someone who now presents BBC3 documentaries about sex work, and someone I'm still friends with, as if the three of us had grown up together. I remember feeling completely at ease with these strangers. I remember being convinced that the first pill was a dud, panicking and secreting myself away from my new pals to drop the second.
The room, the rooms, were full of people who couldn't have been much older, or younger, than sixteen. As someone rapidly approaching my nineteenth birthday I looked at these children with contempt and, sadly, a hint of envy. They were so young, so free, so fresh and unencumbered by the dawning realities of adult life. I thought about council tax and how much I wanted to have a piss.
At some point, my new friend decided to ask girls to take their tops off so he could photograph them for a magazine. Many of them obliged and he politely, or as politely as one can in this situation, took the camera out of their hands, photographed them and handed it back. The pictures, he told them, would be online on the Monday after the party ended. They believed him. I, for a second, believed him too.
All parties end and I was dragged out of this one, removed from the smoke and mirrors and drapes and blocked toilets and writhing bodies and casualties and Chase and Status remixes and the horror of it all, wrenched back into reality, wandering the backstreets of Camberwell looking for a bus back home.
We found one, boarded, thinking we'd be home soon enough. We sat on the top deck, a mercifully piss-free top deck, and I shut my eyes, imagining how great it'll be to lay down on a bed and stretch. The bus was stationary. We looked out of the window. Twenty cross-dressers were trying to board. Twenty, it conspires, Portuguese cross-dressers. There wasn't room for all of them. A downstairs kerfuffle kicked off. My heart beat faster than I thought was possible.
Eventually we arrived back in Brockley and the girl I went to the party with's flatmates are sat in their kitchen topless, drinking tea, listening to thrash metal and smoking weed. An impromptu arm wrestling competition ensues, and even at that moment, even at that moment when I felt closer to death than I have ever felt, I was painfully aware of how horribly studenty this all was. I lost the arm wrestling and went upstairs, tried to sleep, only I didn't know that pills basically mean you aren't going to drift off peacefully. I lay on top of the covers thinking about the heart attack I was surely going to have within the next ten minutes. To calm our nerves we watched an episode of Prison Break, except it was the one where the inmates try to break out of the prison and it was utterly, utterly horrifying. There was also a mouse on the loose in the bedroom. I was dispatched to search every nook and cranny, lift up every book and pair of pants, move all the pasta-stained plates and coffee-coated cups trying to find the little furry fucker. Of course it was in the wall. It was torture.
I lay awake until around 8am and decide to put my coat on and walk back to my own flat. I leave quietly, still feeling like death is a very immediate possibility. I stumble down the road very slowly. A mother shields her young son's eyes from me. I am changed forever.