I snapped a picture of my surroundings and sent it to him, so somebody would know where I was.
“Pretty,” he said. “Where is that?”
Downtown Newark, New Jersey is anything but pretty, but nighttime hides a multitude of sins.
“Are you going to score?”
“Yes” I texted.
“Don’t be a dumbass” he responded.
“If you don’t hear from me in an hour-there’s a problem.”
An hour later, the most magnificent church bells rang in my soul as I bathed in the warm golden sunshine of a perfect life.
I was jolted out of my reverie by an obnoxious beeping.
It it was coming from my phone. I squinted, got a closer look.
7:45? AM?? Fuck. I’m usually up at 6:30. Get my kid up at 7.
My heart, thudding in my chest, slowed a bit when I recognized the reassuring sounds of his spoon clinking against his bowl of cereal.
I splashed cold water on my face. I was pale except the dark purple circles under my eyes. My hair was matted to my head from sweating profusely. I had a set of scratches on both arms.
I looked like a junkie.
If the shoe fits…
My kid was sitting at the table, eating his breakfast and looking at his tablet. I’ve taught him to be independent in the morning. But not so I can sleep off a dope nod.
“Baby, why didn’t you get me up?”
He shrugged. “Don’t sweat it. Can you make my lunch?”
He didn’t say anything about me wearing yesterday’s clothes. He couldn’t smell the dried vomit on my shirt. I opened the refrigerator door and the light hurt my eyes. Slowly, with shaky hands, I made his lunch.
Mother of the year
This is the last time I get high.
NYC, April 1995
“Where have you been?” I looked up sleepily at Debby. It was 5 am and she had just let herself back into my apartment.
“I couldn’t sleep. I went to cop. You want me to fix you?”
“What day is it?” I looked at the calendar. “No. It’s Tuesday, right? I work today.”
I watched her prep her fix. I loved watching her beautiful, delicate hands do this. Her skilled fingers, the neat flick of her wrist – raised prepping a dope fix to an art form.
“Frenchie just got this in. This shit is supposed to be fire.”
She dumped the contents of her packet into a spoon, flicking at the small plastic packet until all the power tumbled out.
She added a small amount of water to the dope, making it the perfect consistency. She held a lighter to the bottom of the spoon, cooking the mixture to the optimum temperature. She always got it right – hot enough to burn off some of the cut in the dope – but never so hot that it damaged the heroin.
She twisted the cotton off the end of a Q- tip into a tic-tac sized ball. She dropped the tiny puff into the heroin and it swelled up like a sponge. She pushed the tip of the syringe into the center of the cotton, which filtered out impurities.
Slowly, she retracted the plunger until all of the heroin was sucked in.
Using her index and middle fingers she gently slapped a vein right above the crook of her elbow. She never had to pull back the plunger, like most junkies did, to draw blood up the syringe and make sure she was in a vein.
She never missed.
I watched her eyes take on that faraway look of exquisite pleasure, as her brain rode the waves of that first rush. Her facial muscles slackened, her body swayed. She looked at me and smiled.
Those were her last words.
Her eyes rolled back in her head. She slumped to the floor. Her lips turned blue, then purple.
All in slow motion.
I did nothing. I was paralyzed with fear. I could not bring myself to touch her. I called 911 and babbled hysterically.
I could actually see a faint pulse throbbing irregularly in her throat. Her breathing was shallow. Her skin was the yellow color of cafeteria cheese.
She was dying.
She was dying, and I couldn’t bear to watch it.
I ran out of my apartment and stumbled out onto the street. I had on no coat or shoes, and even though it was mid-April, it was only a raw, cold 40 degrees. I ran through the streets barefoot, wild and desperate, going nowhere.
The police and EMT workers arrived 11 minutes after I called 911. The 5th precinct was only 8 short city blocks away. But an overdose, on the Lower East Side? That’s how you clean up the streets. Human pesticide, as far as the police were concerned.
By the time we all got inside my apartment, Debby was dead.
A memorial service was held for Debby at St. Marks Church in the Bowery, the second oldest church in New York and a legendary performance space. Debby knew everyone, and everyone knew Debby.
Her memorial service was standing room only. Several of NYC’s leading punk musicians unplugged and performed acoustic songs.
Debby had introduced me to rock stars and gangsters, and heroin and lesbianism. She was the first and only woman I ever fell deeply in love with.
I wrote a spoken word poem, dedicated to her memory, and performed it at her memorial service.
It was the last time I ever performed spoken word in front of a live audience.
After the service I copped several dime bags of smack down on Clinton Street.
My boyfriend’s face, when he saw them, darkened with rage. He snatched the packets off the table.
“What?!” I demanded. “WHAT?? This is the last time I get high!”
Apparently not. He flushed the drugs down the toilet. He snapped my works in half and threw the pieces out of the window.
I kicked heroin cold turkey. There was no money for fancy rehab.
The plan was simple. My boyfriend would not let me leave the house.
The withdrawal was not so simple.
I had excruciating pain in every muscle of my body. For three days, I threw up violently, and had horrible bouts of diarrhea. I was weak and dehydrated but couldn’t keep food down. I suffered with severe flu-like symptoms; sneezing and sniffling and dizziness and fever. Sweat poured off of me constantly; I was dangerously dehydrated. Sleep would have been a welcome relief, but there was no way I could fall asleep. I had frightening visual and auditory hallucinations.
By the second day, my boyfriend had to call both his brother and his cousin – who played in a band with him – for reinforcements. It took THREE GROWN MEN to keep me inside that apartment and away from my dealers.
I turned into a snarling, cursing beast. In between raging bouts of excruciating pain and illness, I fought them with the strength of 10 men.
My boyfriend’s brother was a recovered heroin addict. I sobbed uncontrollably to him and said,
”This is what it feels like to DIE.”
He answered, “NO. This is what it feels like to LIVE.”
By the third night I was drained and exhausted, and managed to fall asleep at dawn for a few hours.
I awoke Sunday morning. My muscles had stopped spasming in pain.
My boyfriend pulled back the shades that had been drawn for days.
“Let’s get some air in here,” he said.
He opened the large casement windows. Just then, in the distance, church bells began to chime.
It sounded like life.
It was Easter Sunday morning. And like Jesus, I had risen from the dead.
All these years later, and sadness throbs through my body.
There is a price to pay for feeling broken.
I’m aware of how I’m perceived, but I can’t feel it.
Heroin renders me immortal. I am what all humans seek through religion and spirituality.
On heroin, I am my vision of myself.
I’m socially adept, moving fluidly among others instead of hiding in my room.
I’m the writer who inspires, rather than constantly crawling through the wreckage of her squandered life.
I’m a woman capable of love; of intimacy and relationships. Not someone who lets no one get close.
I’m the mother my child deserves, not the one who’s exhausted and impatient and irritable.
Not the selfish bitch who risked her life to get a fucking fix.
This is the LAST time I get high.
This IS the last time I get high.
THIS. Is the last time I get high.
What is, or was, your drug of choice? What finally made you stop?
Did you ever write a post you just weren’t sure you should write, but you did anyway?
Are you tired of your problems? Are you tired of mine?
Talk to me. I’m listening.
This is the most simple, most perfect, most beautiful song about heroin addiction ever.