How I Learned to Tune In and Turn On,
But Not Drop Out
Love is the magician that pulls man out of his own hat. ~Ben Hecht
My first clue should have been his flat refusal to discuss ‘The Incident.’ That’s not my name for it, by
the way. Me, I like to call it ‘That Time I Was Kidnapped And Strung Out On Heroin.’
I knew it had been tough on him, and I understood that he might not want us rehashing things constantly. But it’d been
a lot tougher on me, and I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated everything he’d done. I wanted him to know how
much he meant to me. It’s not every buddy who will hold you when you’re shaking and vomiting and... worse.
I first tried back in the alley.
Starsky let go of me like I’d suddenly contracted leprosy. “Oh geez, look at the time! Better get a move on,
if we’re gonna catch the bad guy.”
Okay, he might have had a point. However, I became suspicious of his real priorities when he stopped for a quick side window
repair job on his way out to the bust.
I tried again a couple days later.
“Starsk, when I was strung out--”
“Have you seen the new waitress down at Mario’s Deli? She’s a real foxy lady. And nice, too! If she’s
got a friend, we could double date. Take them down to that new disco...”
I don’t think he gave me a chance to get a word in edgewise for a good fifteen minutes. It was impressive, even by
his standards. I got the message, though. When Starsky doesn’t want to talk about something, there’s nothing
in the world that’ll change his mind. So, I shelved the subject.
I was sure he knew what I wanted to tell him, anyway. Best friends just don’t need all that mushy stuff.
After that, things seemed to be back to normal – as much as they ever are for us. Though the number of times I looked
up from my desk, or over from the wheel of my car, to find him staring at me should have been my second clue that something
had changed. Or maybe my third, if you count what went down between him and Gillian before she died. The problem is, I’m
still not entirely clear on exactly what that was. I got a handful of mumbled words out of him at the time – something
about ‘she loved you, too’. I could have pressed for a better explanation, but frankly it wasn’t something
I wanted to examine too closely.
It hurt too much.
Then I damn near got my hand blown off in Memorial Hospital’s parking lot.
Let me tell you, in all my life I was never so happy to see drugs as I was when the nurse pushed that trolley into the examining
room. My hand was burnt black and bloody and I was in the worst kind of agony I can describe. It was worse than getting
knifed. Worse than getting shot.
It wasn’t worse than heroin withdrawal, because I knew that the doctor was going to make all the pain go away with one
nice little shot from that hypo he was tapping with his finger. At the time, all I was thinking was that I would have happily
taken an air bubble or two if it would speed things up.
"No, wait! Hutch can't have morphine!"
I couldn’t have heard him right. “Uh, Starsk,” I gasped. “Actually...”
Starsky’s arm tightened around my shoulders. "No, Hutch. Remember? Morphine's made of the same stuff as heroin."
He sounded really scared. I blinked and tried to focus on his face. “I'm not going to get addicted.”
Starsky had that stubborn look, the one that usually means trouble for anyone who gets in his way, including me. “It's
too close to the same thing. You don't want to go through it again. Trust me!”
I think I panicked a bit at this point. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I’m pretty sure it was something
stoic and manly along the lines of, “But it really hurts!” With tears.
The doctor cut in. “Does he have an allergy to morphine?”
“No!” I said.
Almost simultaneously, Starsky said, “Yes!”
“Liar!” I was getting desperate. Starsky was supposed to be looking after me, not denying me the medical help
I needed. “Doc, gimme my morphine!”
The doctor looked at me, and then at Starsky, and then back at me again. He looked like he was about twelve years old, red-headed
and freckled, and thoroughly intimidated. “Well, I... Hey!”
“STARSKY!” I bellowed. “Give him back his syringe!” It’s amazing how anger can clear your
head. Suddenly the agony of my injury took a back seat to the overwhelming need to strangle my partner.
Starsky was backed up against the opposite wall with the hypo in his hand, obviously trying to decide between making a break
for the door or the window. “No! Hutch, you heard the doc. He said your burn was superficial! You don't need drugs.”
“Actually,” said the doctor, tentatively. “Superficial burns are the most painful...”
“Bullshit I don't need drugs! You're going to give that doctor his syringe back and you're going to let him give me
my morphine. Because...” I thought fast, reaching for the one thing he valued more than anything else in the world.
“Because if you don't, I'm going to cut the brakes on your baby and push her into the bay!”
Starsky’s jaw dropped. “You wouldn't!”
“I would, and I will!”
He looked at the hypo in his hand, clearly undecided. I was surprised by his hesitation. Either he didn’t really believe
I’d do it, or protecting me meant so much to him he’d even risk having his beloved Tomato end up a rusting hulk
at the bottom of the bay.
For a split second I glimpsed something huge. Just the overall outline of an idea. But there was no time in the midst of
the current crisis to figure out what it was. My hand picked that moment to remind me it was there. I grabbed my wrist and
rocked forward with a gasp, nearly losing my balance on the edge of the examining table.
A strong grip steadied me, and I realized that Starsky was back at my side.
The doctor said, “There’s no risk of developing dependence on the drug.”
I could see the hypo in Starsky’s hand. Damn, but it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. And what I
said next took more willpower than I think I’ve ever needed in my life. “Something... else?”
I felt a startled jolt go through Starsky’s body, as he realized what I was asking. “That’s right, Doc,”
he said, excitedly. “Isn’t there something else you can give him? Something that’s not, uh...”
“Not an opiate,” I finished, looking wistfully at the hypo in Starsky’s hand. I really wanted morphine,
but I know my partner. I know how stubborn he is. Either I gave in on this issue and let them give me something else, or
we’d still be stuck in that room and I’d have had to chew my arm off at the elbow.
So they gave me some other drug, one I’d never heard of and which didn’t work half as well. And, thanks to Starsky,
there’s even a note in my medical file now. No opiates.
We were too busy tracking down my stalker to talk after that. And when it was all over, I was left feeling like no one had
won. Prison wasn’t nearly enough punishment for that chicken hawk, and the kid he had doing his dirty work was only
fit for a straightjacket. My girlfriend got caught in the crossfire and consequently dumped me on my ass. And Starsky?
He tried to show me his baseball cards. I think he was attempting to distract me, but I wasn’t in the mood. I dragged
my sorry self home and did my best to crawl into a bottle.
I only had a couple drinks. However, combine that with the pain medication I was on, and by the time Starsky let himself
into my apartment, I was on the floor watching the ceiling spin.
“Aw, geez...” Starsky had that ‘What am I going to do with you?’ sound in his voice.
“Life is suffering.” I thought that was pretty deep, considering the condition I was in. It’d been a bad
couple of months for me. Gillian was dead. Abby had dumped me. Some juvenile delinquent murderer was cracked up and blind
and I didn’t even know him, but I still felt bad for him. I held my bandaged hand up in front of my nose and tried
to wiggle my fingers.
All Starsky said was, “Hutch.” And then I felt his hands under my armpits, and he was hauling me up off the floor.
I explained my revelation to him as he dragged me into the bedroom. “Life is suffering. We’re born, we hurt,
we die. That’s all there is.”
He pushed me down on the bed and started tugging off my shoes. “Things will look better in the morning.”
“It’s an illusion,” I told him. “The good times? That’s just how we know the bad times are
really bad. Th-they...” I was having a little trouble with my tongue for some reason. “They provide, uh, contrast.
S’like... is like a red balloon. It’s got to pop someday.”
“God damn, you’re fun when you’re depressed,” said Starsky.
He was working on my belt now. “You drive me nuts, you know that? I worry about you.”
“Sorry,” I said again. I was feeling genuinely remorseful. I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass, honest.
I don’t know why he puts up with me. I patted his head with my good hand, and discovered that his hair felt nice.
Springy. I did it again.
“If I didn’t love you...” he said, as he worked my jeans down over my hips.
And suddenly, there it was again. That big idea. Except this time I could see it perfectly clearly. In vino veritas. There
really is truth in alcohol.
I started to laugh.
Starsky stopped undressing me and straightened up, frowning. “What?”
I kicked my jeans the rest of the way off, and tried to clear some of the alcoholic fog from my thoughts. “If it came
to a choice between me or your car...”
“I’d choose my car.”
“And you’re drunk,” he shot back.
“Yeah,” I said. “But I’m an honest drunk, and you’re a sober liar.” Sure, I was on my
back in bed and the room was doing cartwheels around me, but I’d never been more confident of anything in my life.
“You love me.” He would have let his car sink to the bottom of the bay before he’d let any harm come to
me. Even irrational fantasies of harm, like thinking that morphine is anything at all like heroin.
“I love my girlfriend.”
“But you love me more.” He’d have ditched his girl at the park without a second thought, if I’d asked
him to do it.
There was a bit of silence after that. Then I heard him sigh, and the bed dipped as he sat down. Finally, he said, “Go
to sleep, Hutch. You’re drunk.”
The bed moved again, and I knew he was getting up to leave. I reached out blindly, and by pure luck I managed to snag the
back of his jeans. Luck... or maybe it was fate. “Stay.” I’d like to think it was fate.
“This is a bad idea.” But he let me grab his shirt and tug him down beside me.
His face was a few inches away from mine. The clarity of that moment must have extended even to vision, because I remember
everything. The texture of his skin, the mole under his right eye, three chicken pox scars barely visible at his hairline
and one more on his chin... “I love you,” I said.
He wrinkled his nose. “You smell like the back alley at Huggy’s.” But the look in his eyes didn’t
match the tone of his voice, and a moment later he lightly touched my cheek. I leaned into his caress and his fingers worked
their way into my hair, tugging lightly.
When I kissed him he made a quietly resigned sound. I didn’t care. I was bone tired and hurting and I just wanted
to be close to someone who loved me. I wanted him to thaw some of the chill that had settled in my bones. I wanted honesty,
even if it was just for a few hours that evening.
I pulled him closer, his body against mine. He wasn’t hard, but then neither was I. That wasn’t what I was after,
really. What I wanted was the scent of him, and the feel of his skin under my fingers. I reached down between us and pulled
his shirt up, working it up over his head. I smoothed the rumpled hair on his stomach. I buried my face in the side of his
neck, and this time he made a different kind of noise.
When I rolled onto my back, he came with me, bracing himself on his elbows. I’ve had ninety pound girls who felt heavier
on top than he did that night. He grabbed my wrist once, but it was only to move my bandaged hand out of harm’s way.
His breathing quickened, and I felt his hips begin to rock.
But when I looked up into his face, his eyes were closed. That scared me a bit. Took me out of my own selfish state of mind,
and set me to wondering how he felt about all this. I wanted what I wanted, true, but that didn’t mean I intended to
take advantage of him or force him into something he didn’t want. I reached up and ran my thumb across his eyelids.
There was a drop of liquid at the corner of one eye, and I dragged it across, his eyelashes clinging together into spikes.
He blinked twice, and then looked at me. His smile was pure affection, and I had to blink a few times myself.
Even when his gaze glazed over and the rhythm of his movements took on an edge of urgency, he never completely lost control.
He was painfully considerate and gentle.
I reached down between us and undid his jeans, easing them over his hips. I could feel the quivering tension in his thighs.
When I touched him, he groaned softly and his eyes closed again. He fit perfectly in my hand, and when he came it was with
a sigh, not a shout.
The next morning, Starsky bounced out of bed and raided my fridge and talked a mile a minute about anything except what we’d
done the night before. His eyes moved restlessly, landing on everything except me. But he didn’t run away. He didn’t
even look up his girlfriend-du-jour to reaffirm his masculinity. He sat on my kitchen counter and kept rattling on about
nothing much, his heels drumming on the cupboards, until it was time to go to work.
I didn’t press him. As sexual experiences went, this one stood in its own category. It wasn’t passion. It wasn’t
lust. I suppose it was the alcohol in my system that kept me from achieving more than a state of low simmer that night.
Normally that would have been an issue of grave concern to me, but this one time it didn’t seem to matter.
I understand now why they call it making love.
However, the upshot of it all was that I wasn’t in any hurry to try to reenact the experience. I figured it could only
lead to disappointment on both our parts. And as it turned out, two weeks later Starsky introduced me to his newest love,
a sweet girl named Terry.
Last week, he said, “I think I like her even more than my car.”
I grinned, and watched the tension go out of his shoulders. “She must be pretty special, then.”
See, I’m not worried. Even if this means we never end up in bed together again, I still know exactly where I stand
in Starsky’s life.
The view from up here is spectacular.