it crawled out of her mouth and into mine. it was 1:43 according to the clock. i hadn’t slept in weeks and couldn’t be sure i had seen it correctly until i felt it over my teeth. in my throat. my stomach. through my ruined bowels. past my rotting guts. looking for my heart and settling for what it found. i thought of her and him and the long nights of no sleep and the pain of heart and the abyss that is life and being born dying and waiting for some breath stealing act of clemency by a god that doesn’t favor the kind and it knew. it knew i was soft inside. “you can’t hide from us” it cackled to my ribs. the worm tumors fed on the seeds of doubt in the pits of my tummy and grew large enough to caress my cancerous soul softly singing seductively in my ear. my fathers voice telling my mother he loved her. and my atrophied love snickered “we’ve seen you and we reject what you are”. i looked at you sleeping so peacefully next to me and heard you whisper “it’s hopeless” and i knew it was true
This is a piece about sharing space with another junkie by my bff K. Sabatini a San Francisco native as well as a person who has struggled with mental health and substance abuse issues for fifteen years. I have written about him in several of my stories. (yes he has read them).
Yesterday two heroin addicts went out for lobster rolls and to a movie. No one dies in this story.
There was a point in my life when every cent went to dope. Every fucking cent. I would sit on the sidewalk when my hustle was weak. I would beg for change (fuck some food) to scrape up enough money for a bag that I knew would do nothing but barely get the sick off. Then I would have to do it all over again. Work was completely out of the question when your habit is THIS BIG. It also would take me 1-2 hour on occasion to find a usable vein. Using was an all encompassing endeavor. This isn't every one's story. This is just my story.
Enter into my life a friend. Now, dear readers, we all know how isolated your average opioid user is, even if they are sober. I am not sure what it is about our taste for the opioids but we are an intelligent bunch that tends to run on the sensitive loner side. How many of us like to read books more than go out or watch a good movie over deal with people. We struggle with the outside world. For many of us, opioids are the initial lubricant for socialization that spirals into never leaving our rooms. At many years "clean" or whatever the term you want to use it, I did not think I would meet a new friend. My friends have died/left/moved relapsed. I thought that game was over. I was wrong.
I made a friend ( a few in fact) at 46 years old when I took the plunge, left my insulated over scheduled world last year. I went on book events for "The Big Fix". I spoke about harm reduction. I got out of my shell. It was scary as fuck but I did it. I got to meet some of y'all around the country. It was lovely. It was inspiring. It changed me. I did not want to be caught in the social isolation bubble again.
Fast forward to yesterday. I went with my best friend to get lobster rolls and see a movie. Seems simple but to be in a place in my life where I can not only do whatever the fuck I want (within reason) because I am not using and have the money AND be able to do that with another human is pretty monumental. For him as well. It was kind of magical really. What was more magical was walking through the city we both love without having to cop anything beside a slurpee.
Yesterday, I decided to take my son to an art gallery opening in the city. I am interested in the aesthetics of graffiti handstyles. I thought this would be a fun thing for the two of us to enjoy together. My son is eight. He is very sensitive in the ways that I was sensitive when I was his age. He looks just like me. He likes many of the same things. The big difference is that by the time I was his age, eight years old, I had already tried drugs. I never want my son to go through the things I went through in my first thirty years on this planet. I let my kids know about my drug history. I also keep them sheltered. I can count on one hand the amount of nights my son has spent away from me- three of those involve the birth of his younger brother. I have sacrificed nights out, vacations, friendships, and job opportunities to be with my kids. My primary concern in life has been keeping them safe.
When I realized the gallery opening was in the city, I didn't even think about the fact that my son and I would be walking through the Tenderloin. Maybe I am immune to it. My son certainly was not. A confusing jumble of homeless folk, people asking for change, and individuals selling drugs on the corners. "I am glad we don't live here mommy". I had to explain to my sweet sweet son that I did live here. All the corners had ghosts. All the places reminded me of my past. The overwhelming smell of piss on a warm day was something he could not understand.
As we tried to get to the "better" blocks to walk on, we passed by a young man shooting up on the stairs to a doorway. He quickly turned to hide himself a bit. I quickly placed my hands over my son's eyes. "Don't look," I asked him. My son kept asking curiously what was going on. At that moment, I was completely disgusted. Not at the person shooting up necessary. I was disgusted with myself. I was disgusted that I was the person who used to shoot up absolutely any fucking where. I don't remember turning to hide myself if anyone (except the police) came by. I did not give a single fuck. I was selfish in that way. All I cared about (in life) was what that syringe could do for me in that moment. I would pull my pants down to get a hit. Puff my neck up in a car mirror. I just could not care. I did not even try. Here I am, at 7:30 on a warm San Francisco night confronting my past with an eight year old in tow. What have I done?
The show was a blur. The walk was a blur. We got some ice cream and talked and walked back to the train station. We went through some different blocks. I would point to different things to get his attention. He was fascinated by all the playgrounds in the areas where I used to sleep outside. I don't know what I could do differently. I just know that I can't change the past. I live with it, like the scars I carry around on my body. I had a good night with my son. But we both got a look at too many painful things for one trip to the city.
I bit my nails to the beds,
Thinking about the last time I saw your face.
I start a text. It says "I love you".
I quickly fumble for the backspace.
I can see you when I close my eyes.
I can feel you deliberately brush my arm.
"Try it" you said. "Trust me" you said.
You're so beautiful to me. What's the harm.
I smell you in my t-shirt when I'm sick,
I taste the salt from your cheek on my lips.
I breathe you in as all my "reasons" slip away,
Here's my last crumpled twenty spot,
Get us another shot,
Promise me you'll stay.