The following is an extract from Luke Williams’ memoir, Down and Out in Paradise, published by Echo in September.
Before I went to Asia I lived at the Gatwick — the pre-renovation show Gatwick. The Grandma-burnt-her-filthy-eggs-again-scented Gatwick. There, I hatched a plan to be a rapper, a famous one. I stayed in a room next to a man who wrote in my notebook saying he used to go by the names Wolfie Woolf, Lebio Lebo Lebi, Angry Anderson and David Bowie. We all thought we knew who we were, what we would become, why we did not belong.
The old woman across the hall never left her room. She argued with herself. The Scottish accent would accuse, “I know what you’ve done, I know what you’ve done,” then the Australian accent would respond, “I, I, I, I haven’t done anything wrong, nothing, I promise”. It would go on and on, round and round, all day until dusk when I rolled and smoked a joint while watching the rainbow lorikeets fly in and hang upside down from the branches of the American oaks as they ate the tree’s round, brown seeds outside the window. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong, either; my drug use seemed part rebellion, part medicinal – a whole of fun.
One day at the half-way house a punk girl said there were cameras concealed in the sprinklers above us, cameras concealed in the ring she had stolen, cameras concealed behind the left eye of the pigeon that slept on the bathroom’s outside windowsill (by the used syringe on the inside windowsill that had sat there for three weeks). The pigeon’s eye therefore recorded another woman injecting crystal meth into her neck as that woman’s 23-year-old daughter watched. The 23-year-old then invited me to join the party. She sold me the meth I injected in my arm. A bald man politely offered to shred my face open with box cutters that night. “Do it,” I said. “Do it. I’ve been suicidal for months anyway.”
By daybreak, I was in a hospital being rudely interrupted by an irritable Irish nurse – “I don’t have time, just swallow this pill,” or something to that effect. By the week’s end, I’d booked the cheapest international flight out of Australia.
Less a destination than an escape. An escape from Australia, Australians, an Australian Community Service Order, my sister, my former psychology clinic who was trying to sue me. It was not, as I saw it, an escape from High Culture.
I hadn’t travelled overseas in seven years. I’d spent nearly my whole life in Melbourne. I had nothing tying me down. I believed that by creating enough new neural pathways in my brain they would eventually criss-cross, connect; new talents would be birthed; I would write songs, design costumes and perform in a minimalist Berlin bar. The young would be there, the good-looking too, along with the editor who rejected all my stories and the radio station program director who said, “Have you considering getting someone else to host it?” to my demo that was five years culmination of work, the culmination of my then-failed ambition to be a radio presenter.
I booked the cheapest flight I could find. I took the flight while coming down off crystal meth. I flew north by north-west. I went east. That’s when the fun really begun. I had no money so I stole food. I worked as a sex worker in Pattaya where I got paid to pretend to break in a man’s apartment so he could tie me up. I paid a man with schizophrenia to give me a tour of Jakarta’s red light district, got addicted to valium in Bali, met someone who said they can channel St Germain in India, went to jail in the Philippines and then came back to Australia for a first-class, luxury stay in a public system psych ward. So I guess it’s fair to say I’ve been to paradise, but I still haven’t been to me.
If you are experiencing issues with substance abuse, addiction or mental health, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. You can purchase Down and Out in Paradise online.