Title: Need For Sorrow
Characters: Isaac, Simone
Disclaimer: Belongs to Tim Kring and all other associated people.
Summary: Pre-Heroes Isaac, covering the 3 times he became addicted to heroin.
Word Count: 3,936
The first time it was because of him. The second time it was because of her. The third time it was because of everybody else.
The first time it was a whole new world that opened to him. He remembers sitting in front of a blank canvas, struggling to think of an image. His mind was empty of ideas. He remembers across that period of time he had felt like a failure. He was a creative person, his mind should work that way; not shut down completely without sending him a memo. Right when he needed it it always seemed to abandon him. Right when he had to prove himself, he let himself down. It depressed him. What else could he live for but his art?
He had one good friend back then. His name was Doyle. He had a brilliant mind, just like Isaac. They both excelled at their art form, though it was in times that Isaac felt this low he wished he had the abilities Doyle did. He held both admiration and jealousy for his friend. But above all it was their friendship that mattered.
Staring at this blank canvas did nothing more than frustrate and depress him. He needed some kind of inspiration. And it was Doyle who provided it on this occasion. Doyle understood the hopelessness he felt. Doyle let him in on the secret to great art.
Though Isaac was at first unsure, he trusted his friend and held his work in high regard. It was only natural to oblige. He wanted to be like him after all, be as good as him. Even if Doyle was a loser in life, he was still a great artist.
He watched studiously as Doyle heated a small pile of heroin powder over an open flame. It would only be this once. It would only be for a great idea. There was nothing harmful in doing this. He only had to smell the smoke that resulted from this action. It would be like smelling smoke from burning toast, but with a much more potent kick. ‘Chasing the Dragon’ Doyle called it; and indeed the trail of smoke whipped up into the air like a dragon’s tail. Isaac inhaled and the effect was almost instantaneous. He felt lighter, better, and began to see things so much clearer.
Maybe he had thought that it would solve all his problems, but six hours later he found himself feeling apprehensive over what he had created. He worried that it wasn’t good enough. He chewed on the edge of his thumb as he looked over his creation, thinking perhaps it needed something a little extra, thinking that he still hadn’t completed this the way he wanted it. It wasn’t perfect.
The more he stared the more down on himself he became. The more despondent he became, the more he craved that joyous high he had felt earlier in the day. He didn’t want to be himself. He didn’t want to feel like this. He needed another fix.
Isaac never anticipated the drugs would become a crutch. He needed them now, yearned for them. He convinced himself that he could never create anything good without them. When he was low, he’d be staring for hours at a blank canvas, but when he was high… that brought the best ideas. That generated the unusual images. That glorified what he did.
He couldn’t remember half of what happened while he was chasing. He simply woke to find what he had accomplished. But it all began to concern him when he noticed grand amounts of money started to go missing. He was desperate, needing to feel that euphoria again, and all he could scrape together were a few notes. He began to wonder if Doyle was stealing from him. He began to wonder if his own habit was out of control. And then he got the news. Doyle had died of an overdose. Doyle had died doing the exact same thing he was doing. Isaac forgot about the money. Isaac forgot about the drugs. All Isaac could think about was that a gifted person like Doyle had wasted his life on an addiction and lost his life because of it. It could just have easily been him. The shock was enough to prompt Isaac to seek help. He checked himself into a clinic.
The second time was like welcoming an old friend. He had tried to come clean, but it was just so uncomfortable: the sweating, the restlessness, the aches. He tried to ignore it. He tried because he didn’t want to end up like Doyle.
He was glad to feel halfway decent when the day came for the auction of Doyle’s last art pieces. He made an effort to go, to see the last remnants of his talented friend. And that was where he’d met Simone. He laughs about it now, wondering how she could have ever been attracted to him when he was so irritable. Maybe she simply put it down to the fact he was grieving for his friend.
She had been so nice to him that day, introducing herself as an art dealer and offering to go back to look at his work if it was ‘anywhere near as innovative’ as his friend’s. With reddened eyes and hair completely in disarray, it was a wonder to Isaac how this curly-haired woman was even able to see talent within him. He took her back to his loft, completely ignorant of any intention other than the fact he wanted to prove himself to this woman. Maybe, if he had someone to believe in him, he could begin to believe in himself. The place itself was completely unorganized – paint stained the shelves and the unlabelled cans lined across them, brushes were strewn all across the workbench. A metal table set aside from the area was covered in sheets of paper with varying images sketched across them. To the side stood an easel covered by a white sheet tainted by a variety of art pieces in progress. Simone slowly passed each piece, looking it over silently. She paused by the table and leafed through the paperwork. She stood before the painting of the Chinese man and cocked her head. Maybe she should have known then that Isaac could not escape his addiction so easily. Maybe she should have realized that the Chinese man was symbolic of the drug that pervaded his mind.
Before she had any time to comment or inquire about the pieces, Isaac’s stomach turned and he found himself racing for the bathroom. Surely he had created a less-than-favourable impression by now, spending half their meeting vomiting into the toilet. And yet she did not leave. She was not disgusted. In fact, she was kind. It not only surprised Isaac, but made him like her a little more. She suggested he lie down. She even went and fetched a wet towel for his now feverish body. And when he had told her that he was merely feeling ill and coming down with something, she believed him. She joked that she was used to taking care of sick people – her father had fallen ill recently and they did not know what was wrong with him. The fact that she was so warm and caring made him like her a little more, made him think he could rely on her more than some clinic who didn’t give a rats about him.
Perhaps it was wrong to start out a relationship on a lie, but Simone gave him a little hope. She seemed to be just what he needed. Someone to encourage him. Someone who naturally gave him that euphoric high. Someone who appreciated him. Until that world came tumbling down. There was one particular painting she had a fascination with – the one that depicted a giant monster fighting a small man in the fiery pits of hell. He told her he’d painted that to remind himself of the demons he had to fight, the problems he had to overcome. In truth, it was the last thing he had painted when he got high.
His concentration soon began to lapse. He had begun writing a comic book, but you couldn’t make money from that. His paintings were his income, and he found himself unable to paint anymore. He couldn’t explain it. His thoughts became so obsessed with the need for inspiration that everything around him began to suffer. He’d heard that artists created their best work when they were depressed, and he wasn’t anymore. He had someone. Yet that need for sorrow was stronger; the need to feel like he could do something for himself. He picked fights with Simone, avoided her, quite often gave her the silent treatment when she became critical of his behaviour. And then the moment hit when he realized he’d lost her. Her father was critically ill, and he didn’t even care. He hadn’t paid much thought to her, he’d ignored her feelings, he was so intent on causing himself misery that he hadn’t noticed everything deteriorating around him.
He remembered that fight, remembered her yelling and screaming that he was never there for her, that he was too obsessed with his art, that all he ever cared about was what was in his own head. He heard her voice echo and each snipe ran through him like a sharpened blade, leaving his heart to bleed onto the floor like oil on a canvas. He had unintentionally caused this, and yet he felt that she was the one being selfish. Where was that caring soul he had first met? Where was the quiet calm they had shared while curled up naked in bed? It had all gone, replaced by this black wash of pain and discontent. He watched her walk out and sank to the floor, staring at the paint that marked his fingernails. Even now that seemed more important to him. He needed to express what he felt, and he couldn’t let out the anguish unless he had an avenue for it. There was no better way to create a path than to start chasing again.
It was a mistake to invite the substance back into his body, but it was a welcome release. He didn’t have to feel the wealth of negative feelings that come with a breakup like this. He lifted a fresh canvas onto the easel and raced over to his workstation, throwing things about as he searched for his watercolour paints. Grabbing the palette, he took a brush and went to work. Splashing the black paint with water from his brush, he set about painting long even streaks around the exterior edge of the canvas, creating the stairs and doorway to his loft. And inside, in the centre of the doorway with the light shining on her, he painted Simone – only her image was black, her face concealed by a dark mask indicating two sides to her personality. And in her hand he recreated the painting of the Chinese man on her briefcase, the one that she carried papers and small artwork in, because to Isaac Simone was the reason he’d gone back to the Chinese man. Simone was the reason he started ‘chasing the dragon’ again.
Time passed meaninglessly until Simone returned. By then Isaac had become truly immersed into his addiction. He didn’t expect her to walk through the door. In fact he had convinced himself that he didn’t need her, all he needed was the heroin. How unfortunate it was then that she had to walk in on such a bad moment.
“Isaac?” she called. Her heels echoed as they clicked down the stairs. “Isaac? Are you here?”
He appeared from the bathroom, clutching his arm and visibly shaking as he walked towards her. He stopped in the centre of the room and glared heatedly at her.
“What are you doing here?” he growled.
“The door was open,” she answered, turning her head slightly and pointing back towards the door.
“It was too hot in here.”
“But, Isaac, you’re shaking,” Simone said with concern. He walked up to the stairs and sat on the edge of his bed, his elbows propped on his knees as he ran his hands through his long brown hair. Simone could see as she walked closer and he lifted his head that he was sweating again. “Isaac, are you sick? What’s wrong with you?”
“You,” he said pointedly.
“Me?” she responded questionably.
He pushed himself up off the bed, rising to his full height over her as she paused at the bottom of the stairs.
“You’re the one that caused this. You made me go back.”
“Go back to what? Isaac, I don’t understand.”
“Have you ever heard of ‘chasing the dragon’?” he asked. Simone wrinkled her brow, obviously not fully aware with the term. Isaac gave an empty laugh. “I’m a junkie, Simone. I can’t paint without getting high. You, I thought you could change that, but you just made it worse. I can’t paint around you. You make me… happy.” He said the word as if it were distasteful coming from his mouth. “I can’t survive like that.”
Simone looked around, her eyes scanning over the paintings. Certainly there were plenty more new pieces he’d done in her absence, much more than he’d ever done while he was with her. In fact she could barely remember even one picture he had painted while they were together.
“You painted all these…” she trailed off.
“Who do you think painted them, Doyle?” he snapped.
“Isaac,” she chastised. Her expression softening, she shook her head sadly. “Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t waste you life and your talent on drugs.”
“What else have I got to live for? You left me, Doyle left me… all I have is my art.”
“I didn’t die. I’m still here, Isaac. Let me help you,” she said, approaching him slowly, taking one stair at a time until she stood before him. Tenderly she placed her hands on his arms and looked directly into his eyes. “Just stop, and I’ll stay.”
“I don’t know how,” he whispered.
His eyes were void, looking right through her as if she were some incorporeal spirit or another hallucination. Lifting a hand to his cheek, she brushed a hand across the line of stubble that had grown on his face.
“We’ll get you into a program, get you cleaned up. And then maybe we can sell some of these paintings you’ve created.”
He nodded numbly.
The third time it was an escape. Isaac knew the world was harsh, but he didn’t allow reality to hit him. To the artist, his world lay in his art. It was a sanctuary that lay far beyond the tragedies that life had to offer. It was somewhere he could send his mind to forget about everything else. He had a range of new paintings now – a girl half-turned towards him, smiling and holding a bunch of flowers; a set of carnations propped against an iron fence, snow and a secluded building set into the background behind this prison, a silhouetted man standing on a plank of wood in the middle of a river, his face turned towards the sun overhead as it blanketed the scene in a light brown that signified the onset of dusk; a young child in nothing but beige shorts crawling his way out of water that rose to his waist.
“These are fantastic, Isaac!” Simone gushed. “If we add them to all the others, I can organize a show—”
“No,” Isaac insisted, shaking his head.
“Why not? There’s enough—”
“They’re not good enough.”
Simone walked towards him, reassuringly rubbing his arm as she stared at the same picture he did. There was nothing wrong that she could see, and she put it all down to Isaac’s insecurity. He was his own worst critic.
“Why don’t we let someone else decide that for a change?” she suggested.
He doesn’t know what it is about Simone that compels him to let her into his heart again and again, but he agrees with her suggestion because she was the one who suggested it.
The night of his first gallery showing Isaac finds himself standing before a reflected image that has been through far more than he’d care to acknowledge. For the first time he’s wearing a tuxedo, at Simone’s request, and not the paint stained clothes he chooses to lounge around in. He smoothes back his hair and straightens his tie one last time. As his hand moves away he looks down and finds himself trembling, his hand shaking violently. His stomach is ready to heave. It’s not a side-effect, he knows that. It’s not the drugs. It’s the fear of the unknown. It’s the nerves that are getting to him. He closes his hand into a fist and tries to steady himself. Simone calls out and asks if he’s ready. Simone tells him how smashing he looks in the tux. And when he confesses that he’s afraid to go, Simone wraps her arms around his shoulders and kisses his cheek and tells him that they’re going to love him just as much as she does.
But things don’t always work out the way you want them to. As Isaac stood in the middle of the room, surveying the faces that were staring ardently at his paintings, his mind began to mingle over the two conflicting thoughts within him. Either they loved his work or they hated it. It was difficult to tell.
“They’re not saying anything,” he whispered to Simone.
She nudged him in the side. “Well go introduce yourself.”
Isaac’s eyes skimmed the room. Out of all these people he had to pick one, and he wasn’t sure who to start with. He settled for one that was analyzing one of his watercolours – a picture of a row of horse-drawn carriages traveling up a grass-line pathway.
“Something in particular you’re looking at?” Isaac asked as he joined him.
“Yes,” the old man said, glancing up to him. He pointed to the red triangle on the back of the last carriage. “What’s that?”
“Stop sign,” Isaac said, automatically catching himself and wondering what he was talking about. He wasn’t entirely sure what it was, he just knew it belonged there – on the back of every carriage. So confused was he that he tried to reason aloud: “I suppose to stop the carriages behind crashing into the ones in front.”
“Ah,” the man said, scratching his face. “I’ve not seen so much detail in a work previously.”
“That’s got to be good, right?” Isaac suggested.
“Hmm,” the man grumbled in response. He looked at Isaac again. “Sorry, who did you say you were?”
“I’m the artist. Isaac Mendez,” Isaac said, offering his hand.
The man looked down at his hand and then looked back to the painting, without offering his own to shake or telling Isaac his name. Stung, Isaac withdrew his hand.
“Tell me, Mr. Mendez, what school did you learn to paint from?” he inquired.
“No school. I taught myself,” Isaac said proudly.
“It shows,” the man said cruelly. Isaac was taken aback. “I have a five year old grandson that can fingerpaint better.”
The man turned away, leaving Isaac no chance to respond. So shocked did he feel at the callousness of the man, he could do nothing but simply back up to where he had earlier been speaking to Simone. Now he paid more attention to the conversations, really heard what people were saying.
“He could have added more colour to that.”
“That circle is far too round.”
Isaac stared with awe at everybody around him wondering how they could all be so negative. He was right to not want to show his work to anyone. All Simone had done was set him up for a fall. Turning, he pulled off his tie, yanking it over his head as he exited the building. Stopping on the street, he turned and threw the tie fiercely against the wall.
“What are you doing?” Simone cried out, bursting through the door behind him. “You can’t leave in the middle of your show!”
“That’s not a show,” Isaac said, jabbing his finger towards the door. “That’s a public roasting.”
“Isaac,” she said sympathetically.
“How can they be so cruel, Simone? Every one of them is here just to criticize me.”
“They’re critics, that’s what they do,” she said with just a hint of amusement, closing the distance between them. “Come back inside.”
Isaac shook his head. “No. I’m no good. They all say so.”
“Isaac, if you just talk to them, help them to understand...”
“They’re not going to listen,” he said. “Go back if you want, but I’m not hanging around to be crucified. I’m going back to the loft.”
She watched him go with saddened eyes before returning to the art gallery. Isaac, however, was in such a furious frame of mind that when he arrived back in the loft his first thoughts were of destruction. He couldn’t destroy his paintings, they were at the art gallery, so instead he turned his fury on the sketches that lay strewn across his table. Each sheet he picked up and tore. One was of a cheerleader peering up into the sky as she trailed a line of train tracks, a young teenage boy with a bike following closely behind. He picked the sheet up, glanced at it once, and then tore the page in half. Not satisfied with that, he tore it again and again, each rip making him feel slightly better, until there was nothing but small fragments left. He dropped them into the wastebasket, screwing up another piece and tossing it in behind. Looking around for a set of matches, he lit one and dropped it into the bin, delighting at the flame that burned there and eroded everything away. Glancing towards the metal table he saw there was one sheet left on it, a very large sheet where he had recreated the image of the Chinese man on a mammoth scale. Isaac stared at this image for a very long time, his gaze soon moving over to the burning embers nearby. He had to take it again, he needed it. He needed to be better. He needed to stop feeling this way. Heroin was the secret to great art, Doyle had told him that. He needed another fix, just to show all those art critics who they were dealing with.
Racing up to his bed, he searched around the mattress until he found the wad of notes he was looking for. He knew he’d promised Simone never to do it again, but it was his art. It was part of him. It would be the only way he would feel complete, the only way he’d be any good.
Isaac went for many months lying to Simone about his habits. He disguised the fact he was chasing again. He hid the needles in a rolled up t-shirt, buried deep within his drawer for when he needed it. And he did need it. Often. Little did he know the masterpieces he created this time around would serve a greater meaning than just his career. Soon he would realize that everything he painted would all come true. And little did he know that once he pushed himself too far, almost to death, he would create the grandest mural on his floor that showed the destruction of New York, the city in which he lived.