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Twisting all the bad things into good

Nov 9, 2011

The Nitty Gritty, Part 14: My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies

“I admire addicts. In a world where everybody is waiting for some blind, random disaster or some sudden disease, the addict has the comfort of knowing what will most likely wait for him down the road. He's taken some control over his ultimate fate, and his addiction keeps the cause of his death from being a total surprise.”
 -Chuck Palahniuk, Choke


           Dirty whore and her hypodermic needle keep getting closer. She asks me if they have heroin in Florida. I tell her what she already knows, that yes, of course, there is heroin in Florida. I was trying not to show how truly terrified I was by what I knew she was about to ask me to do. Asking or requesting were not in her nature. She only knew how to insist. I was not so much appalled by the thought of doing heroin as I was by the filthy syringe she held in her hand like a switchblade. There was no doubt in my mind that the weapon she wielded was infected with certain death. Unlike having your throat slit, this would be a very slow death. Even though I had been inviting death to put me out of my misery in the recent weeks, I was hoping for something as painless as not waking up in the morning, almost in envy of how my dear friend, Mitch, probably just never stopped dreaming one night. The idea of dreaming forever sounded like bliss. I loved and missed dreaming, the best part of sleeping, if not the best part of living. I did not care about the promises of Heaven. Heaven to me would be to dream forever.  Those dreams that when you woke up, your heart hurt a little bit to realize it was only in a dream that you experienced an ideal situation that the reality of the day ahead of you could never promise or provide. There is nothing I would rather do for eternity than have the ability to fly, to touch a beautiful woman that you had only seen on a movie screen or magazine cover, to find yourself reunited with friends and family members who died or a past love who now belonged to someone else, and best of all, to not have any idea that these fantasies are not reality. I had no idea that the hallucinations that filled these 6 days were not reality. I was walking around in a dream state, but I was not experiencing the kind of dreams that, when you awoke, made you want to immediately go back to sleep and jump right back into. These were nightmares. The kind of dreams that made you afraid to go back to sleep. The greatest dreams and the worst nightmares share one thing: At the time, there is no doubt in your mind that they are reality. This was not the kind of dreaming that I would have optioned over Heaven. This was Hell. Hell is what the whore had in her hand. If that needle stabbed my flesh, the temporary pleasure of the rush of dope through my veins would be followed by months or years of what would be nothing less than Hell on Earth. Some people say that heroin is the devil, but I was not afraid of the smack. I was petrified of this demon who held both a filthy needle and my fate in her hand. Heroin I could handle.

           The painkillers I had been addicted to over the last 5 years were nothing more than synthetic heroin. Both are opiates and like heroin, the roxy's are often snorted or injected. Countless heroin addicts see there habit develop in the same way mine did. They suffer some kind of injury, maybe to their back. Most of the time it is not through any fault of their own, like a responsible husband and father who gets hurt on the job while working construction. Then there are those who can only blame themselves for their injury. Maybe they had been drinking for 2 days straight on 4th of July weekend and decided to dive into a shallow pool and hit their head on the the bottom, miraculously not breaking their neck and ending up paralyzed or dead. Either person is prescribed painkillers. They realize that the pills kill both physical and emotional pain, and they slowly start to abuse them. If the doctor has any ethics, the patient is cut off after awhile. Either the patient finds a crooked doctor, a "pill mill" that calls itself "pain management", or they begin buying them on the street. Pills on the street are very expensive. They vary depending on city, supplier, local pharmacy shortages, volume purchased, amongst many other factors. Once I lost my insurance, my doctor visit and prescriptions ran around $800 per month, and that is before I ran out and had to pay street prices. My habit in street prices in my area at the time would have been about $150-$200 per day. When people realize how much cheaper a bag of heroin is, many make the switch. They first snort it and then eventually inject themselves. Because of the stigma attached to heroin, I never sought it out. If anything, I knew I would like it too much. In the meantime, all I thought about was pills. When I ran out, I would have dreams about finding a lost bottle of them in my room. I did not think that life could be any good without them, that I would not be able to feel any kind of pleasure without them. I convinced myself that the pain caused by 2 herniated discs was reason enough to be on pills for the rest of my life. I had no intentions of ever stopping. Like Lou Reed said in the song "Heroin", it was my wife and it was my life. It was not my top priority, it was my only priority. I was fooling myself to think that since I was not on heroin, that I was not still just a junkie. It was the inevitable next, if not last, step down.

            Just about everyone I had admired at some point in my life was either a junkie, addict, or alcoholic. Substance abuse was a common theme in my interests. Drugs always fascinated me. I loved movies about drug dealers and undercover cops. I used to pretend that I was going undercover and would hide a toy gun under my shirt and stick it behind the belt buckle in the waist of my pants..... my Catholic School uniform pants..... and then I'd go to school and pretend to be an undercover cop trying to find out who was flooding Our Lady of Mount Carmel Elementary with drugs. I was 10.  At the end of that same 5th grade year, I decided to take part in the talent show. I decided to channel my favorite addict at the time, Ozzy Osbourne. I had a large rubber vampire bat that I had my best friend toss to me as I finished lip syncing "Crazy Train". I put the bat's head in my mouth and shook my head like a madman. Again, I was Catholic School. Needless to say, the teachers, nuns, and I'm sure a few students were appalled by my brilliant, yet disturbing performance. I'm so glad my mother was not there. She would have been humiliated that she had introduced herself as "Jimmy's mother". She would not have been able to take pride in my spelling bee victory after this. The mothers who were in attendance must have wondered what possessed their  own child to vote for and award this boy, who seemed to actually be possessed,  the class leadership award. At least they could all take comfort knowing that this influential and insane 5th grader would be spending 6th and hopefully every other grade in Florida. As stirring and distressing as my performance was, neither I nor my classmate's mothers could have expected that 25 years later, like Ozzy, I would be going off the rails on the aforementioned  "Crazy Train". Well, maybe the mothers could have.

           It's funny, I probably haven't thought about that in 20 years. It's funny to look back at that little kid...and to realize how "complicated" I was even back then...before I could blame drugs for my bizarre thoughts and behavior. As I write about and remember that kid, it makes me sad to know that for whatever the reason, he never had a chance. There was no way that this ultra sensitive kid who lacked any control over his extreme emotions would eventually find himself in over his head. It was just a matter of time before the white powder he would cut into lines and snort would no longer be Sweet n Low. My younger cousin and I thought we were funny calling it "Sweet n High". If we had any idea what the future had in store for us, we would not have been laughing. That same cousin would become addicted to heroin and spend most of his adult life in the revolving door of rehab and prison, where he is right now. It would seem that he didn't have a chance either.

           Was it even possible for me, a kid who idolized Jim Morrison, to not experiment with drugs at some point? Who else but this kind of kid could be so oblivious to the fact it was a bad thing that his idol was dead at 27 after years of alcohol and drug abuse, and a rumored heroin overdose that put an end to his life. When you're 14 years old, 27 does not seem that young.  I never really acknowledged any tragedy in Jim's death since, even though his life ended 4 years before mine began, I still grew up idolizing him. I even wanted to take "Morrison" as my middle name when I made my confirmation. My mom said I had to take the name of a saint, so I made up some bullshit story about Saint Morrison being the Patron Saint of the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she didn't buy it so I went with "William", even though I still have no idea who the hell St. William was. Actually, I'm going to google St. Willy and see if my namesake can maybe be worked into whatever it is I am writing about since I'm not exactly sure yet. Let's see, Saint William.... Patron Saint of......adopted children? Are you serious? If I would have told my mom that the imaginary Saint Morrison was the Patron Saint of Adopted Children she would have laughed at me and called me a liar. The adopted children thing doesn't really work into the whole dead rock stars tangent that I am about to go on. It looks like there are a few St. Williams, but only one is the Patron Saint of anything. Here we go, this one works for a much needed segue. There was a Saint William of Norwich who was the victim of a ritual murder at the age of 12. 

           I was 12 when I saw La Bamba (you like how I did that?). It made me sad to know that, in  a plane crash with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens died at 17, barely 5 years older than I was. Even if the 17 year old Valens died at the age of the 25 year old Lou Diamond Phillips brilliantly portraying  him, it would still have been a tragedy. For some reason, I never comprehended the tragedy of dying young in the cases of those who were responsible for their own early demise. I could only recognize the tragedy in the deaths of those who did not kill themselves in one way or another. Otis Redding sang "Pain in My Heart" and that's what I feel when I think of him making that last phone call to his wife and children shortly before dying in a plane crash at the age of 26.  As much as I love Otis, I think there is only one voice better. I have never heard another man who could sing the way Sam Cooke sang "You Send Me". One of my favorite songs of all time is Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come". No matter how many times I hear this song, it's almost too much to take when he sings," It's been too hard living but I'm afraid to die". It just crushes me every time. That incredible voice even makes it hard to laugh during the classic cafeteria scene in Animal House. It's bad enough to think of John Belushi's eventual overdose, but then combine that with hearing Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" playing and knowing that he was shot dead at 33, well, it just makes me sad. Another person with the voice of an angel was my favorite female singer ever, Patsy Cline. Hearing her amazing voice sing "She's Got You" already stirs my emotions to the extent that I can feel it in my chest. If I think about her death in a plane crash at the age 30 when I hear "I Fall To Pieces", well, I know how she feels. Another one of the greatest female singers was Mama Cass, who died of a heart attack at 33, not from a ham sandwich as Austin Powers and many others would have you believe. Another legendary singer whose weight struggle sadly led to an early death was Karen Carpenter, who died at 32 from heart failure due to complications of anorexia. I can't say that I'm a Carpenters fan, but knowing that even someone as  decent and wholesome as Karen Carpenter had her own inner demons, it's hard to not feel a little gloomy even when hearing the most beautiful voice I have ever heard sing songs like "Superstar" and "We've Only Just Begun" ...and "Rainy Days and Mondays"... and "Close To You"...and "Solitaire"...and "One Fine Day"...and probably the best Christmas album of all time...and that song "I guess I might as well just admit that I am clearly a Carpenters fan after all ". I never realized until I started thinking of how many classics she created that there is no doubt about how amazingly talented Karen Carpenter truly was...and that just makes it sadder. She never did drugs or drank anything harder than iced tea, but she still fell victim to self destruction.

            I can't say that I have any understanding of the psychology behind eating disorders, but I do feel quite comfortable in assuming that there is a difference in sticking your finger down your throat and sticking a needle in your veins. Then again, I may be completely wrong. Maybe both come down to being a way to deal with fear, anxiety, pressure, depression, or self image issues. I still have trouble comparing a Karen Carpenter with a Billie Holiday  or a Janis Joplin, who both destroyed themselves with heroin and alcohol until their final hours. Billie died at 44. Janis died at 27, becoming one of the earliest members of the now infamous "Forever 27 Club" that spans the death of Robert Johnson in 1938 to the recent death of Amy Winehouse, and includes Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and my former idol, Jim Morrison. When I was reading every book I could find about Morrison at the age of 15, 27 seemed like a lifetime away. If 27 was far away, then even further away was 28, the age that Brad Nowell of Sublime died of a heroin overdose and  Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon died of a cocaine overdose. Since their music lived on after them and I considered them responsible for their own deaths, I didn't fully comprehend how tragic not only their deaths were, but also their lives. As I've grown older than these all of these people that I admired, I realize how young they really were. And it's not about dying before 30. I am now beginning to realize that John Lennon, murdered at 40, still had so much to look forward to. So did Marvin Gaye up until the moment his father entered his room and shot him, killing him at the age of 45. Even though Elvis had his better days, 42 was too young to die from abusing prescription drugs. Though it seems far away, I am sure that as I approach my 50's, I will realize that even Jerry Garcia missed out on far too many good years when he died at 53 from a heart attack during heroin withdrawal.

           I have only made mention of musicians who died too young. I have not even mentioned actors or writers who did the same. All of these people were addicts in one way or another, and all were people that I admired. It never occurred to me that all of the people who epitomized what I thought was cool had basically killed themselves. Maybe that's why I could not see that, like my idols, I was killing myself. By not seeing the tragedy in their lives, is it any surprise that I was just as blind to the tragedy that my own life had become. By not fully comprehending how tragic their deaths were, I had no comprehension of how tragic my own would be to those I left behind. I now realize that unlike those idols and addicts, I could not have avoided my life being seen as a waste. I would not be remembered as any kind of legend. The tragedy of my death would not have been because my life was short and I would soon be forgotten. To those who knew and loved me, my  death would have been tragic because my life was short and I would be remembered... and missed. 
           Considering the people I admired, it's a wonder I had never smoked crack. There is a stigma attached to crack and heroin that I always felt separated them from all other drugs. I could not justify smoking crack or shooting heroin by referring to it as "partying" like I did with cocaine. There was a time when I told myself that I would never do cocaine, and then someone offered it to me. I would put cocaine on weed or the end of a cigarette and smoke it, but somehow I still convinced myself that I would never smoke crack.  Who knows what would have happened if it was ever offered to me though? I doubt that if I was in party mode, I would have turned it down. After all, I always said I would never do heroin, but then the first time I was offered it, I did not hesitate to accept.
           The whore asks me if I've ever done heroin. I figure no matter how I answer, she'll use it as a reason for me to do some. I decide to be honest. I tell her that, yes, I did heroin. Once. Of course, she wants to know more. I told her that I was addicted to painkillers and that a few months ago, I ran out and I could not get any until at least the following day. I was working in an office and was trying to make it though the day without getting sick since I could feel the withdrawal starting. One guy told me he couldn't get any pills, but he could get me a bag of dope to at least stop me from getting sick. Stopping myself from getting sick had seemed to be my main priority over the last year since I hardly even got high from the pills anymore. I knew that since I had been so deep into it and for so long that the sickness would be much more than I could handle.  I told him to get the dope and I would meet him in the parking lot outside the office. He brought it and I took it to my car. I immediately poured it out on a cd cover and snorted the whole thing in one line. Then I went back to my desk.

          Although snorting heroin was a big deal to me, this junkie street hooker was not impressed so she asked me if I ever shot it. I told her that was the only time I had ever even seen or tried heroin. She started insisting that I take the needle and shoot it. I told her,"No fucking way". She started telling the pimp not to let me leave if I didn't. Either the pimp agreed with her or just wanted to further antagonize my cousin, so he agreed with her and told my cousin that he was the one responsible for whatever happened since he brought me there. Their conversation got more and more heated. I wanted to stop this from escalating and do what I had to do to get out of there alive. I interrupted, telling them to bust out the heroin and I would snort it. This wasn't good enough for them. Dirty junkie whore tells me I have to shoot it. My fear was turning into anger. I was angry at this whore turning this situation into what it had become. I was angry with my cousin for involving me in this shit. I was angry at myself for ever starting on a journey that could lead somewhere like this. If I was not already in Hell and just didn't know it, there was nowhere lower that I could descend to without walking through it's flames.

          I told her to grab me a brand new, clean, unused syringe and I would shoot up so I could leave. My cousin started to interject but I said I would do it because I just wanted to get the fuck out of there. She told me that was the only needle so I had to use that one. I told her to forget it then. She asked,"Why not?" I snapped,"BECAUSE YOU'RE A FUCKING WHORE, WHY DO YOU THINK?" This set something off in the room because suddenly my cousin had his arms stretched as if being crucified, pointing a gun at both of the 2 thugs. He told me to be calm and we were getting out of there. I still had no idea what the fuck we were even there for. As soon as I heard the police sirens blaring outside, I turned to look. At the same time, the whore stuck the needle in my neck, injected me and then ran out the door. All I could think was that I had just been given a death sentence through a dirty needle. Even if I made it out of this room alive, I was still a dead man.

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