Ezra Titus

1966 – 2009

Saving Gabrielle (A True Story)

I only have one more question

Before my time is through

Please I beg you tell me

In these days of hell

Who are you?


– Black Sabbath


As a teenager in Woodstock, NY during the early 1980’s, I had very little to do except get drunk and take acid with my friends. We usually did this in secluded areas of the forest surrounding the town. We had carved out little party areas that became the spots where the histories of our adolescence would take place. There was “Cheeseball Field”, a circular (or cheeseball shaped) area of trampled grass in the middle of a meadow behind the local convenient store. Then, there was “Mosquito Alley”, a labyrinth of trails within a swamp behind the A&P. Here, we’d steal the A&P’s plastic milk crates and burn them in a little clearing to keep warm, as the time for tripping and drinking had no season; and during the winter, we were happy to freeze our asses off in deep snow, just to get a bottle of cheap vodka down our throats and forget about our miserable parents and confusing lives, if only for a couple of hours. Today, in an area of blackened soil, you can still find the back seat of a car and the four million empty beer bottles that mark the spot where we used to party.


It was rare that we went to “Magic Meadow,” because it was on top of Overlook Mountain, near a Buddhist monastery. This though, was a very beautiful place, reserved for those occasions on which we had special drugs, like DMT, which is like acid that you smoke, or Crystal Meth. For those nights, or days, whichever the case, we wanted a nice place to trip because we knew we were going to have a special time.


Sometimes, the police would chase us, but the “scatter and run” strategy worked all too well and I think we only got caught three or four times during that entire six-year period (after which we were able to get apartments, and could continue our self-destruction in relative comfort and privacy).


I especially remember Gabrielle Emerson. Long before we got apartments, Gabrielle had one foot in the grave. She was the prettiest girl in school, and no one could figure out why she chose to hang out with us. I guess she had something to escape from and, after all, we had the best drugs. People called us the “Death Crew”. We were longhaired scrubs who cared little about anything except how we were going to get drunk or high at any given moment. We didn’t even care much about girls; in fact, Gabrielle was the only girl we let in the crew. Because she was always fooling with her hair and makeup, we called her “Miss Priss”. If nothing else, it was good for appearances.


Along with Miss Priss, there was “Speechless”. I never knew his real name, and if he had one, he probably wouldn’t have been able to say it anyway. There was also “Primo,” who earned his name because he could always get the best pot. Like Speechless, Primo never had much to say.


Gavin was a giant American Indian boy who was the muscle of our operation. If anyone sold us bad acid or ecstasy, Gavin would find him and beat the shit out of him. Before long, no one sold us drugs they hadn’t tested out themselves for safety. There was also “Creature”, a real nature lover who told a lot of stories none of us believed. His real name was Mike, but if you asked him what his last name was, he’d just say “Creature”, and giggle.


Me? I was the youngest, and everyone just called me “Ezzy”. They all looked out for me, especially Gabrielle. If I’d get too drunk or freaked out, it was Gabrielle’s job to talk me down and walk me home. With Gabrielle and Gavin looking out for me, no one could touch me, and if they did, it was always taken care of.


The other Mike was Mike Desnel. We just called him “Desnel,” and when I remember him, well, maybe that’s the saddest of all. Mike ended up overdosing and died on heroin, on a park bench in Queens. By then, he’d tried to commit suicide about a hundred times, so none of us are sure whether he did it on purpose or not. To this day, Mike’s father blames us all for what happened, though to tell the truth, we always tried to comfort him and even keep him from taking hard drugs. Sometimes, when he just couldn’t be satisfied without pills or dope, we’d give him some of Gabrielle’s dummy birth control pills and that would shut him up for a while. Unfortunately, that was the exception rather than the rule. He’d take heroin and Tuinal and he’d get all high, but then, later on, he’d start crying and complaining about “the pain.” We’d all try to tell him everything was all right, but there was no bringing him out of those depressions. He’d say, “You just don’t understand the pain.” He’d slash his wrists and overdose about twice a month. Sometimes, they’d put him in a psychiatric ward and we’d always smuggle him in some weed when we came to visit. I guess we shouldn’t have done that, but it was easy and Mike appreciated it, so we did. We were young.


So, what about Gabrielle? Why is this story named after her? Well, I guess I could write a thousand page novel about the Death Crew, but I don’t have the patience for such endeavors, and the other night, someone mentioned alcohol poisoning. That’s what made the story about Gabrielle come into my mind.


One night, we were all hanging out at “Palace Rock” (a large rock in the woods behind the pinball palace) drinking vodka, and I think Gabrielle had taken some Valium. Of course, none of us was aware that there was anything wrong with that, so no one said anything about it. Gavin had a portable cassette player, and we were talking about how cool Black Sabbath was when suddenly, Gabrielle fell straight backwards and hit her head on a stone. I was concerned when we couldn’t wake her up. Gavin told me to shut up and let her sleep it off, but I ignored him and asked Primo for his pocket flashlight. I opened Gabrielle’s eye and shined the light into it. Her pupil didn’t contract, and thanks to television, I knew this meant that something was wrong. I insisted that we call an ambulance. Gavin, and even Speechless objected to that idea, as they thought we might all get in trouble. Desnel had his head in his hands (wrists bandaged up to the elbows). He was staring at the ground and I don’t think he even knew what was going on. Fortunately, Primo shared my concern and agreed to run to the pinball palace and call an ambulance.


Everyone split right away, as they didn’t want to get involved in it, have the police call their parents and hear about it for the next two weeks. Primo came running back through the woods, told me an ambulance was on the way, and ran back to the pinball palace. I stayed there with Gabrielle, talking to her as I thought it might somehow keep her alive. I was really upset  (Of course, I was secretly in love with Gabrielle, who was so beautiful, who was five years older than I, and who had let me lean on her shoulder as she walked me home drunk on so many nights, telling me everything was all right and petting my hair. I didn’t care if I got busted).


I saw the lights of the ambulance through the trees and ran down onto the road to get their attention. “She’s up here!” I yelled, and led the paramedics up a hill and through the woods to Gabrielle. They got to work, loaded Gabrielle into the ambulance and asked me for my name. I was scared, but I told them anyway and they let me walk. I went through town on the way home, prepared to be arrested, but nothing happened. I spotted Gavin and Desnel slipping behind the bank with a couple of six-packs, but I didn’t follow them. This was a serious night, and I was going home to wait for news. I certainly wasn’t going to “celebrate” in the woods with Gavin and Desnel.


At about ten AM the next morning, I got a call from Gabrielle’s parents. They said her heart had stopped three times on the way to the hospital. Her father, crying, thanked me, told me he had a lot of money and that if I ever needed anything, I should call him. Then, her mother, also in tears, got on the phone, thanked me profusely and repeated this offer concerning “anything I wanted.” What was I going to ask them for? A gram of meth? I didn’t care about anything else at the time.


My true reward came when she got out of the hospital. When she saw me, she kissed me with tears in her eyes. We didn’t talk much about what had happened. She’d already heard it all from Primo, Gavin and her parents. Either way, that was the sweetest kiss I ever got. We all started partying together again, and everything went back to normal…well, whatever “normal” was back then.


The second time it happened, things weren’t so cool. Yes, it happened again – same drugs, same circumstances. I called the ambulance and the whole thing was almost an exact replication of what had happened two months earlier. Her parents called again to thank me, but they didn’t sound so relieved that time. They sounded burdened and ashamed. They sent her to a rehab in Nevada and that was the last I ever saw or heard of Gabrielle Emerson.


Which sucks; because, given the bond I’d formed with Gabrielle, the prettiest girl in school, I’d thought that, some day, we might just end up getting married or something. But that never happened.


My friend Samantha says that angels change people’s lives, but that the angels can never change. She says it’s their lot in life, and I have a suspicion that Sam is an angel, so I believe her. I always seem to be helping people, and I never get much in return, except for the gratification of having helped them, which I guess is enough. Life’s not so bad. At least I didn’t end up like Desnel, except he’s probably in a way better place now anyway. I don’t know. Years later, I tried to call Gabrielle’s parents (not to ask for that money they’d mentioned, but to find out where Gabrielle was) but I was way too late. If you want to get what you want, you’ve got to move a little faster than I did. All I have now are the memories, and maybe, someday, if I write them all down… Well, you never know.


The End