(Painting by Thea Wolfe)
It was April. I turned 29 years old. For my birthday Auggie smacked me on the shoulder called me “old man” and said “it’s time to grow up” in the same sentence. From the breast pocket of his shirt he then handed me two Colorado Rockies tickets compliments of the shop and smacked me on the shoulder again. That night, the night before the game, I invited Blake and he and I made plans to head to Denver early in the morning. My brother agreed to let me borrow his car if I brought him back some drugs. It was nine in the morning and smelled like spring when I went by Blake’s house. He and Kate were arguing. Kate wouldn’t let him go unless she went too. She wasn’t stupid, the Rockies tickets gave us an excuse to be in the neighborhood, what we, or what I planned in my head was to score some smack before the game, go to the game and have fun because we were high. Nothing was fun anymore unless I was high. I was excited to spend some time with Blake. I saw him almost every day, but Kate was always there. Blake was loyal and liked to laugh. He was also down to try anything at least once.
Anyway on this morning Kate decided Blake couldn’t come with me unless she came along too. I couldn’t argue, it was either all three of us or just me alone. I had never gone down there alone before.
We pulled out of Cheyenne and got gas at one of the mega-truck stops, one oasis at the crossroads of I-25 and I-80. These places were the last chance to indulge on fried foods and trucker hats for miles of prairie and they were full of more amenities than most Wyoming towns. Traversing the state line from Wonderful Wyoming into Colorful Colorado, Terry Bison Ranch rested in the valley. There was a false-front general store and blacksmith shop, camels grazed in their pasture, a herd of bison heads down dotted the hill, and up on top three big white crosses, station to station the interstate kept moving. The sky was so clear and the mountains looked so much like mountains they didn’t seem real—landscape wall-paper from the seventies type of unreal. Pronghorns grazed along the highway and the morning was already warm for the beginning of April, perfect for baseball. Traffic backed up around Coors Field, our car trudged through and I parked where I usually parked. Blake and I stepped out, immediately scored a few dime pieces and walked back to the car where Kate waited. Easy. It was a sign an omen if you will, the drug gods were looking out for us. Blake and I cooked up front, while his girl sat in back waiting impatiently for him to help her. She wasn’t comfortable putting a needle in her own arm yet. Five seconds after I did my shot, I tasted it in the back of my throat, the sound of the city faded out like that same god was pulling down fader knobs on a massive sound board. I heaved. It was way above average. So good I had to puke. Which I did, half in the car, half in the gutter. The door ajar, my eyes watering and drool hanging from my chin I turned my head and said something like, “Be really careful. It’s good shit.” I had a higher tolerance than both of them, or maybe I took things farther than they had to go. Blake was better than I was at controlling himself, but not much, and Kate, she only did as much as Blake thought she could handle. You never knew the potency of dope you were going to get down there. Sometimes it was a black rock, sometimes brown, light brown, yellow, sometimes powder. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was alright and once or twice it was an actual rock, a pebble wrapped in plastic. This stuff was better than usual. My nerve endings tickled the underside of my skin like a mother’s long fingernails. The world wasn’t so bad sometimes. The sun was a giant breast I fed from. And for now, I was happy to be alive.
Blake did his right after mine, right after him and Kate argued who would get to go first. “It’s easier for me to hit you if I’m high first. You know how I get shaky,” is what Blake said. He was already nodding out, a bead of sweat collected on his upper lip, he was barely capable of dropping the tar into the spoon. He added water and held the lighter under it until it was a boiling thick and brown. Kate laid her dainty arm across the back of the front seat. Fear held the blue edges of her eyes. Blake held the tip of the needle up into the sun. With one eye closed and his tongue peeking through his teeth he inspected it like a surgeon, and flicked it with his forefinger twice and mumbled, “You ready baby?”
He held her wrist—so supple, so fair, so pure against his calloused hand— and found a vein, the blonde hairs on her arm electric in the sun’s rays. He pushed his values leisurely into her blood stream. Everything seemed fine. “Let’s hurry. Get out of the car and let’s find that guy again so we can get some more of the same killer shit,” I said. “We probably look suspicious, just sitting here.”
“Yeah suspicious after you puked in the street,” Kate said. She was smiling and the freckles on the bridge of her nose were more pronounced than usual, like each one was still a part of the little girl she had been not so long ago. The sun brought them out the same way it made flowers open their petals or gave people cancer.
As we walked, a mid-day rush of suits taking lunch breaks hustled down the avenue. From Coor’s Field a bunch of solitary whistles, gained momentum, multiplied into one gigantic whistle. Something good must’ve happened on the field. And now the world wasn’t so bad for those people in the stadium either.
I was leading our little group, zig-zagging a path through the crowd when I heard a THUD!—a soft bowling ball being dropped on a hard surface. I turned around, there was Kate on the ground convulsing, eyes rolled back in her head, her face the color of a storm front. It didn’t seem real. This isn’t really happening, is it? Blake’s expression said that it was. Getting on my knees I pushed her onto her side and pounded her back and whispered into her ear. “Katy, Kate? Wake up! Wake the fuck up please!”
Blake crouched down beside me, his face so tight and waxen it almost looked like hers. The things they did to each other were questionable, just like any relationship but they loved each other more than anything. Neither of us knew CPR but that didn’t matter at the moment. He slapped her face and blew into her mouth. A crowd assembled—more of an entertainment break for most of the people, than a life or death situation. It wasn’t life and death to them. It was a television show. Tension tells the best stories—what would we do next? Would she wake up? Maybe she dies in the end? I thought, does that type of stuff happen to us?
Her eyes popped open, bluer than ever before. On her back—scant clouds meandered and she watched them in child-like wonderment, startled from something she couldn’t explain. She tried to catch her breath like she had just been born. Soft-blue drained from her lips back to pink. She didn’t know what happened. I was relieved. The crowd dispersed.
“Baby, are you okay?” –Blake
“Why are you looking at me like that? Why am I on the ground? Did I fall?”—Kate
“Oh fuck you scared the fuck out of us.”—me.
“You fell out. Fuck.”—Blake.
“We should probably keep going. I don’t want one of those people to call the cops.”—me.
“You guys tell me, did I die?”—Kate.
“I hope not.”—me.
“You should have let us sit in the car for a minute before we walked.”—Blake
“You’re the one that gave her too much. Don’t blame me.”—me.
“Just shut up! Let’s go. Juice you should have let me sit for a minute though.”—Kate.
So we walked. Five steps. THUD! I turned around and this time her flesh was like a beautiful day, blue like the sky, bluer than before. Her strawberry-blonde hair swept the sidewalk. A lady with curly hair called 911. Help is coming, she said. I ran over to a nearby trash can and stashed the syringes from my pockets. I kept running. I ran to the 7-11 on the corner. I bought a bottle of water. I figured water would help, like in the movies when they throw it in a person’s face and they wake up. Mostly I was just killing time, running away from my problems again. Water was my excuse for my cowardice. She was Blake’s girl. He put it in her arm. I didn’t want her to come with us in the first place.
I knew I had to go back to her. I didn’t run back, I walked, walked so people wouldn’t notice me. I wanted time to not be time anymore. A fire truck, an ambulance, and a cop blew past me, rushing to the girl, the girl I knew and called my friend laying there on the sidewalk.
How could this happen? Why her? She was a cheerleader in high school. Her dad was mayor at one time, a conservative, a church goer, he had a mustache. She got straight A’s in college. She had silver braces on her teeth. This was supposed to happen to homeless men with imaginary friends and two different shoes. This wasn’t supposed to happen to someone I knew, someone so beautiful.
When I finally got back to the scene: the ambulance, the cop car, the fire truck were all out in the street and the men that arrived in those vehicles looked around dumbfounded—Blake and Kate were gone.
I made my way over to the 16th Street Mall. I figured I could blend in with the crowd and wait until the heat was off of us. I would worry about what to do when I had to, I was just glad it wasn’t happening now. My eyes wouldn’t stay open. My heavy heart rate pushed the heroin through much faster and now I was terribly high.
“Juice,” was what I heard, a loud whisper from the doorway of a Jamba Juice. Blake explained how she woke up again, like the first time and how she couldn’t walk very well and how he had to carry her away before the cops got there. Kate still didn’t know she died, died even more this time. She didn’t know anything but she was breathing and the color came back to her face. I was angry. I was relieved. I was a coward. I did drugs not to feel these things. After that I really didn’t want anybody coming with me to score. By myself, I was the only one that could die, and it wouldn’t be on my conscience for the rest of my life because I would be dead.
On the way back to the car I ran into a different dealer and bought us more heroin and a little coke for me, since I had to drive us back to Cheyenne. And when I was driving I remember looking over at Kate and I saw a little girl there. I felt like I let her down. I wanted to hold her and have her tell me that everything would be okay, but she was Blake’s lady. Not Mine.
We crossed the state line. The wind was blowing. The pronghorn were out there somewhere but hard to see. The sun was about to go down. The bison were up over the hill now. The camel back in their pen for the night.
Jason Hardung’s work has appeared in many journals and magazines including: 3AM, Monkey Bicycle, Evergreen Review, Metazen, Entropy, Thought Catalog, Word Riot, Thrasher Magazine, Heavy Feather Review and The New York Quarterly. He has two books of poetry out on Epic Rites Press and Lummox Press. He has been an editor for Wolverine Farm Publishing and the Front Range Review in Fort Collins, Colorado where he lives in a commune. In 2013 he was voted poet laureate of Fort Collins.