I had learned my lesson with heroin. I would control it this time, and I set out for the city again.
I moved in with my raver friend and a Moroccan man who paid her to marry him for a green card. I danced at a gentlemen’s club where I had an admirer who would give me a wad of hundred dollar bills just to sit with him. I dutifully visited Damon in jail on every available visiting day.
The jail physicians medicated him heavily with anti-psychotics, so I barely recognized him through the scratched Plexiglas. I could only imagine what a scene he caused while he went through withdrawals behind bars.
I contributed all of my stripping profits to Damon’s lawyer fees. I met his mom for breakfast every week to deliver her a stack of cash to pay the bill. She knew where my money came from, but she still seemed to think I was a nice girl and we talked over pancakes about her wayward son.
I worked and I partied, staying on stuff that didn’t hook me like heroin. For me that was ecstasy, coke, and the occasional benzos or Somas. In those days, it was perfectly normal to be on several dangerous chemicals at once. I wrote to Damon religiously, determined to hold on the idealistic star-crossed love I imagined we had, but soon he fell prey to the dogma of the skinheads. I’m sure he was only doing it out of survival, but my feelings for him curdled and washed away with every Thorazine scrawled letter I received.
Then Damon’s friend Will came by to tell me he started selling H. I thought, hey, I’ve been clean for months. Snorting a packet would be nice. And just like that, once a week became twice a week, became seven days a week. I didn’t take it seriously because I was only snorting. Of course, this escalated very quickly. I fell for the trap again.
One weekend I drove to my parent’s. My ex was in town from New York (a boy who broke my heart when I was sixteen) and we got to talking again. Leif was always the wistful wannabe poet and had some serious emotional problems – just my type.
I knew how to make him feel better. I would turn him on to heroin.
At that point, I had graduated to shooting again. None of my raver friends approved. I was a lonely junkie, so I created a new one to keep me company.
I booted Leif up his first time. I saw that dreamy smile and that heavenly slump of his young, healthy body. His fate was sealed at that moment. I felt some sort of gratification because he always treated me like a silly girl and now it was as if I had the upperhand.
Finally I had another partner in crime.
Leif said we should go up north. It was an easy decision for me. After the thousands I spent, Damon’s lawyer wasn’t able to help him at all. He was sent to a prison in another part of the state and I was relieved to be off the hook with him. My sugar-daddy stopped visiting me at the club because his wife became suspicious. My raver friends now frowned upon my intravenous ways and boredom was creeping up on me again. It was time for a new adventure. The adventure.
After a few days on a stank Greyhound bus, I stepped from the Port Authority into the city of cities. It was more than I ever dreamed of or gleaned from the movies. Lives stacked upon lives. The toxic smells. The noise. I was reeling with the possibilities. I dreamed of a having job in a used record shop, living in an overpriced vermin-infested studio, having a circle of artists and misfits for friends. Of course, there would be no possibilities for Leif and I, but I didn’t know that yet.
We had used up our heroin supply shooting up at each of the bus stops along the east coast. We needed to re-up. But I had never bought drugs on the street before. I only ever had to page my dealer for him to come to my place or meet me at a 7-Eleven. Leif had experience copping dust in Harlem. He said for H we’d go to the Lower East Side.
For me, it was like a cultural expedition, observing all these new creatures of the night, taking notes on local customs and slang, learning the dos and don’ts of scoring on the streets of Manhattan.
We stocked up on dope, drank some forties, and took the subway to Penn Station. We had to take the LIRR. We would be staying with Leif’s parents’ on Long Island, about an hour train ride away from our spots in New York.
It was a small one-bedroom condo, all mauve walls and white plush carpet. Leif and I lived in a closet, literally. Behind the dining room table was one just big enough for a twin size bed and a shelve unit where we stored our things and set up a humidifier. The baseboard heating dried out the air and the heroin made us so dehydrated that we couldn’t roll our eyeballs, so we ran the humidifier full blast. We woke up dewy each morning, in each other’s arms because we could only fit if we held one another.
I went through a few jobs–a bagel shop, telephone surveys, manufacturing–but the pay was lousy and I usually ended up quitting because I couldn’t get enough heroin to get out of bed. Leif said he could make big money in the city as a male escort. “Wait,” I said. “Doesn’t that mean creepy gay guys will be asking you for sex?”
“No fuckin’ way,” he said in his thick NY accent. “Not like that. An escort. You know, I would just keep old men company.”
I had my doubts as I walked him to the train station.
When he returned late that night, he was in tears. “What’ happened?” I asked. He wouldn’t talk about it. He just wiped his eyes with the back of a fist as he handed me a wad of crumpled bills. The next day we went into the city and bought a bundle. Getting high made everything okay. We walked to a theater in Soho to watch Trainspotting. This was during the heyday of heroin movies.
Leif’s parents were divorced but forced to live together for financial reasons. The tiny apartment was like a pressure cooker and we tried to stay out of the house as much as possible. We’d languish for days in Manhattan. We’d cop, fix, drink beer on the street (mind you I still wasn’t old enough to drink). We’d eat falafel, befriend weird people, and walk the length of the island in a daze – up to TImes Square, Central park, and back down to Greenwich Village again.
New York bags were ten bucks, packaged in colored wax paper envelopes, stamped with intimidating names like King Kong, RIP, and DOA. Northeastern dealers had branding and viral marketing nailed.
We registered at the needle exchange where we could get free syringes. We’d pick up our rigs, cop our H, and cook up shots in the dingy bathroom of a Ukrainian diner. All was within a few blocks. LES was a surprisingly benign and clean place to be a junkie at the time, but it didn’t take long before I realized Leif and I were far from safe. Some people can handle drugs for a while, and some people are hell-bent on a path of self-destruction.
Leif took heroin use to the very limit.
It’s hard to resist chasing that first high, and after you use for a while, you never get back to that feeling. And being such a tormented person, Leif didn’t seem concerned how close to death he danced to get back to that place I first took him.
He overdosed on me twice – once in front of the McDonalds we just shot up in, and once at his parent’s house. The worst part about it was that he didn’t care. After the paramedics left and the color returned to his face, he would get up and laugh about it.
“You didn’t see yourself,” I’d scream. “You were fucking dead!”
This was the first time I realized what I had done. I had given Leif a loaded weapon and he was pointing it directly at his head.
Then he started stealing from me. He denied it, with his pinpricked pupils and lazy eyes. In my naiveté I thought if there was no honor among junkies, at least there should be among lovers. This was not true for junkie-lovers.
Leif was beyond my control and scaring the hell out of me. His family was dysfunctional and sad. The gloom surrounding them affected me deeply and I wanted to cry all the time. I was homesick. I was still a baby. I missed my dorky parents and their happy home and wondered what the hell it was I came here looking for.
I wanted experience life in New York, not death.
All in all, it was a ninety-day binge in The Big Apple, but Christmas was coming and I was determined to get away. I called my parents for money and they were thrilled to buy me an Amtrak ticket home.
Leif and I scored before I left. We hugged each other until it was time for me to board. I was afraid I’d never see him again, and it would turn out that I was right.
I felt the heroin vanishing from my body with every mile growing between me and Manhattan. About halfway through my long and tortuous journey back home withdrawals set in. The snot dripped, the legs cramped, and I shivered as I looked at my reflection in the window – a withered girl mirrored against the black night.
Mom and Dad saved my old room, so I always had a place to run back to. I finished detoxing, gathered up my strength, got a crappy job at a burger place. I still received the occasional letters and collect calls from Damon. Leif wrote me and called me too, but I became lonely and restless as I always did in “normal life”.
Then my friend Ron called from the city. He was hired by a theme park and said he would hook me up with a job too.
“But where would I live?” I asked. I wouldn’t be able to pull in enough money to have an apartment of my own. Plus, I was still only twenty years old and at that age where I couldn’t imagine living by myself.
“You can live with me,” he said. “I’m staying at Will’s.”
Will, Damon’s friend.
Will, my dealer.
“Cool,” I said. “I’m on my way.”