When I was a child never thought I would become a part of a junkie’s dream, where real clouds are research chemical and methamphetamine smoke, where needles are used for injecting liquid euphoria that turns veins brown, rather than healing the body. It’s an unorthodox healing process—a disappearing act taking me away from my soul.
“We’ve got to get the fuck out of here,” he says. It seems like I hear him say the same thing every day. Getting the fuck out of here is our mantra for living a wrecked existence.
I wipe the blood off of my arm and stash the needle into a hole in my suede purse before driving off into the Baltimore night. The shot was impressive, but the void inside of me cried for an additional shot. Kevin agreed.
“Let’s go to the park and do a little more and then walk around,” I suggest. My sweaty hands are gripping the steering-wheel. Like clockwork, I check the rear-view mirror to see if any cars are following us. Thank God, the black Escalade behind us does not make the same turn down the street. Every car looks like a government surveillance vehicle.
We do end up going to the park. I lie down with him underneath a huddle of leafless trees and a black glassy sky. He lays his head on my concave stomach and strokes my right thigh, my faded black tights slightly shielding the ability to feel all of his touch. He grabs his overstuffed backpack sitting next to me as I dig through my purse for my stash of meth. We pull out what we are waiting for: More. More is what we want. More is our addiction.
Our tools and spoons and crystals are sprawled across his Marilyn Monroe sweatshirt on the damp grass. The preparation is exciting, but comes with an uneasy weight of impatience. My stomach flutters and my entire body aches to feel the venom drown my body right that very instant.
“Can you hit me this time?” I ask.
“Of course, sweetheart.”
I sometimes do not administer the drug on my own because when someone I feel love for sends the pleasure into me, I feel closer to them. The act is a different form of copulation, one where I can drift outside of myself but feel whole. He also could qualify as a skilled phlebotomist. The punctures he makes never bruise my arms.
“Shablackity!” he exclaims once the needle connects to my vein right away. I take my supple veins for granted, not imagining that one day maybe they will fail to work anymore.
“Shablackity,” I repeat, my voice staccato, and ears ringing. My heart becomes heavy with dense beats. I get the urge to talk a mile a minute, but no words slip out of my mouth. Instead I turn my blurry gaze straight ahead and pray that this rush does not leave. The stream of perfection always fades, even though the side effects last for hours. The first couple of minutes after the initial blast are the moments you want on repeat. “Sleep in the stars,” he says.
3:00 A.M. on an early February night. Kevin and I have been in the motel room together for about ten hours, minus the time we went out to grab some food and cop more Tina (methamphetamine). I am lying on the bed holding a plastic vile filled with crystals, about to put it away, until he stands in front of me.
“Can I have some more since I found that other vile in the drawer that you would’ve forgotten about?” He is talking about when he looked in one of the drawers and discovered that I had accidentally put away some of my stash in there. I probably was going to find it later before we left because I usually tear apart motel rooms just in case I’ve misplaced some of my drugs. In this case, he is proud he found something of mine so he can potentially manipulate me into me giving him more. I have been giving him my stash throughout the day and night. He had a bag for himself earlier, but he blew through it within a handful of hours. This was not my problem, but he was making it mine.
“I don’t know. I gave you shit all afternoon and it’s not my fault that I saved up my stash and you’ve run out,” I reply.
“I set up everything for us tonight. I went all out and even got you some baggies—“
“All of which I did for us last week and the week before and the week before that, so it’s about time you contribute.”
“Why can’t you give me a little?” He starts looking more perplexed, but heated and vexed by my “stubbornness.”
“You think I’m weak—that I’ll always say “yes,” staying all complacent and ready to give you anything you want! Not this time.” A lump is forming in my throat as I raise my voice. Nothing I do is ever enough when it comes to me hooking him up with Tina and I know he was trying to manipulate me again.
“You don’t have to yell. What’s your problem?”
“You don’t respect me,” I said without hesitating.
“Yes I do! Are you sure you didn’t buy another time this week behind my back and that’s why you have such a big stash?”
“I saved since Monday! Monday! Ben gave me extra and I’ve been saving it for us.”
“You sure you didn’t go again Wednesday or Saturday?”
“You know what? If I wanted to I could rob your whole stash right now right in front of you.”
I fall apart crying, stinging with the realization that this drug is all he cared about. I start packing up my belongings.
“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” he says.
I pretend, before I say anything else or continue to melt down, that it was a couple hours earlier. We were having sex, fucking, and making love. He’d held me so close at times that I’d also wrap my arms around him. Moments like those confuse me because I feel some strange energy from him that brings him closer to me, but my walls are not broken and neither are his. If I let mine down, I am almost certain I will only feel regret.
I am washed up after our fight, the second one in one week. I cannot remember the last time I screamed at a person I am so close with. My temper has always been present beneath all of my other reactions, but he knows how to sting me. Anything negative that I sense when it comes to my generosity (money and drugs)—jadedness—shuts right into my face. Everything that is quiet in me comes out in powerful tears down my face and cries from my heart. He knows how to fight and passive aggressively beat down anything I respond with. And he can make things seem like they never happened, even pull out a few jokes when we converse during the aftermath. I am still holding onto his words as I’ve always been prone to do, both the beautiful and the ones meant to make me disappear just a little more. Do I really know which words are true and untrue—mistaken? I notice the times when he is patient. He looks me in the eyes as we lie on our sides, talking slow, but with self-assurance. Those are the moments when I don’t feel as scared. But then, maybe even the next day, I bring up some feelings, which I think need to be shared, and I see how perplexed he is—like I’m telling him concerns that are only a part of my irrational thoughts. He looks surprised, yet annoyed when I express anything that makes him feel insecure. I once said that he seems to talk about himself and not really listen when I voice my thoughts. I know he’s working on his listening skills because I see him trying. He still tends to bring the conversation back to his own similar experiences, attempting to empathize and relate to me, but only muting what I’ve been saying.
“Don’t get upset,” I say to myself.
“Don’t cry,” I repeat in my head.
He’s asked me before not to point out everything he is doing wrong, even though he does it to me; he denies doing it. My goal is not to make him feel bad or berate him, but to address what I see going on. I do not want to have to tell him that he is being unappreciative or greedy, that I feel like giving up when he asks for more from me.
When I slam the motel door as hard as I can, I hope he sees how I am checking out.
Kevin. He goes by Be-bop. He goes by Kwik and is part of GDF (Grateful Dead Family). He watches the world go by with a smirk on his face. His nails are dirty, but evenly bitten. You love his sand-colored short wavy hair, his distracted gaze, his angular features, and his thin raw body chiseled by fourteen years of chronic dope and meth abuse. His voice is monotone, but oozes conviction—a desperate attempt to use crafted manipulation and fling it at everyone.
You hiccup laughs while falling into his scar-tissued arms. You both stay on the splintery floor of his room and reminisce about the world and the absurd people you’ve met—laughing about drug dealers with non-intimidating names, like Baby and Money. Each day of using represents all of the nonstop madness for each Baltimore hardcore drug addict, which is an impending torment, no matter how much willpower and control you believe you possess. You can be a kid with him.
Thirty-one years old and he makes it look “okay” to be a full-time drug addict. If pleasure comes in the form of an IV shot, then it makes sense to spend every single fucking day chasing a substance with no brain. He licks the blood running down your bruised arm, and then kisses you. You forget that you are able to cry.
You are no longer at the beginning. You try to retrieve the days lost to maniacal chaos, the complete necessity to have needles on you at all times, and watching meth smoke float away from filthy glass pipes.
And after three years he still wanders into your life. You go back to him, a habit you have not kicked. But you know if you answer him over the phone or on Facebook you will descend beneath the murky way of life, which you might never leave, ruining the opportune life you are capable of having. You wonder about what life could have been, while you dance with a void that is never as numb as the ones in your dreams.
You wake up this morning, checking your phone and finding missed calls—ringtones ignored from the guy your parents would never want you to marry. Your mind is shaken by a foreign sensation. You feel clean.
The first time I meet Kevin is the end of December 2013. He comes down the damp cellar steps of Kenny’s house—a safe haven for drug addicts to live. He has a winter hat on that looks like one an elf would show off. He is bundled up and I assume he has spent the entire day out on the streets hustling. Even now he is going to hook me up with Dilaudid and I will give him one of the four pills in exchange. He has a good routine going. My friend Peter introduces us and I am uneasy watching Kevin nod off and talk about how we do not have to drive far to get the shit.
Kevin coughs and hacks up phlegm onto the street as we walk up the block to my car. I try not to act like I am with him. He picks up a cigarette butt off of the sidewalk as I let him into the car. He gives me directions to that old lady’s house, the one who has the pills. His words are slurred and he is taking hard puffs off of the lit cigarette butt. I tap the back of another car while parking. I am anxious to get my drugs, but more on edge because of Kevin being there. I hate driving when there is another person in the car.
On the ride back, he all of a sudden does not stop talking and I am in a trance from his disjointed speech, trying to drive but wanting to look over at him the entire time. Just in that short amount of time, the stories he shares are mesmerizing, verging on utter fiction. His mind is not a room temperature-IQ one like some of the other dregs who come in and out of Kenny’s house. He has a Charlie Chaplin-esque beauty to his disposition and an artful eloquence.
I continue talking to him later that night after I inhale the drugs while in bed. I keep Facebook messenger up on my phone so we can talk more. But I have one image in my head: A needle. Kevin mentioned in the car that he shot the Dilaudid, along with all drugs. Every drug I use flies up my nose.
I remember the day when I went to Kevin’s room and left behind a life that could have been beautiful. I pull the sleeve of my fleece jacket and stretch my pale arm out, showing off one of my various supple and untouched veins.
I bring my own needle. I purchased one for a dollar the other day. I know very little about where the needle exchange program is, so that’s why I went down the street with a guy named Jack who lived at Kenny’s. He has Hepatitis C and yellow eyes. He ran into a row-house and came back to my car holding the foreign tool that supposedly had never been used. I wanted to make sure it was clean, but the top of the plunger had heroin dross on it. Jack said that the person told him he just used the top to mix the heroin with. Part of me wanted to give the needle back to Jack because the thought of getting Hepatitis C, HIV, or God knows what else was realistically scary for me. But I took the swing, and did not let myself get out of this situation. I gingerly put the needle into one of the pockets of my purse, waiting for the opportunity to use it once I copped more dope.
Later on, after buying $60 worth, Kevin shows me the preparation for the first time. He is fastidious, each step flowing into the next. He makes sure to not even give me half a cap (each cap was $10) because the potent drug could easily make me overdose the very first time I use. We are left with a residue- burned spoon and a syringe filled with food. I do not look away when he breaks through my skin and fills it with one of the substances I almost want to do every day for the rest of my life until I am literally no longer a part of this world.
Kevin finds a way to see and talk to me again: a shared cell phone in prison. My heart beats faster than usual when he messages me February 2019. We Facetime. He’s at San Quentin for a minimum of 15 years to life. He shaved the side of his head and he’s grown chin-length dread locks on the other side. He says he buys Tina all the time—that it’s better than any Baltimore kibble, and that he can get an ounce for $200. I tell him I cannot send money over to him, even if it would be for Tina. He hides the cell phone whenever a CO walks by his cell. I hear from another friend that the courts can extend your sentence if a cell phone is found on your person. What more does Kevin have to lose? He’s adapted to prison and might have to do life there anyway. He says he’s taking college courses and eventually will be granted a degree if he completes the program. He gives me the correct mailing address and I have yet to compose a letter to send those thousands of miles away. Maybe he’ll find himself in San Quentin or grow complacent with whoever he is now. He brings back our memories every time I converse with him—even the cloudy ones from the beginning of our connection. He’s drawing; no one can ever take that gift away from him unless they cut off his right hand. He has not contacted me via cell phone in almost six months.
I’m not scared for him anymore, but I am scared for myself. The addiction is still in hibernation and its threat of its coercion never left, even after spending months of my life in multiple rehabs and psychiatric hospitalizations. I wake up in the morning, not only wondering if I’ll hear from Kevin, but speculating if the addiction will ever control me again. I am only a few decisions away from ambling down Baltimore’s pot-holed streets and into the arms of using buddies, dealers, and drugs. Sobriety and Kevin cannot coexist, but sobriety and I might be able to make it through the fog.
Clara Roberts is a graduate of the MA in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry and nonfiction have been published in Idle Ink, detritus, From Whispers to Roars, Gravel, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Back Patio Press among others. She lives in Baltimore where she finds material to write about every day.