Heroin, My Only Friend
I met Roger at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Tucson, Arizona. I had gone there because AA had started to bore me. Recovering alcoholics never seem to have any fun. I mean the type of fun where you wake up in bed with someone and can’t tell if you just met them or if you’re married to them. Or when your girlfriend presents you with a bag of pure meth—the huge quartz-like crystals guaranteeing authenticity—and you decide to try it. Neither of you have ever done meth, but wouldn’t it be fun to find out what it’s like? Besides, you’re going to be evicted from your house in two days, so why not have an all-night packing marathon? Moving is never the same after meth.
My favorites were opiates and hallucinogens. I remember the first time I tried heroin. I was chilling at a friend’s house. She lived with a drug dealer, and there was some heroin lying on the coffee table in the living room. She offered it, I accepted. I smoked a little, and a touch of Divinity entered my body. I relaxed, and as the sweet brown sugar smell of burnt heroin infused the air, I began to dance. Mazzy Star—the quintessential junkie’s band—emanated from the stereo, and the tone of Hope Sandoval’s drowsy, seductive voice commanded me to lose my clothes. I did, and the rest of the evening was a glorious nocturne of Heavenly bliss—a cantabile of spacious melodies like the departed’s final wish.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is a respectable drug—everyone from writers to lawyers to televangelists can drink it without being ridiculed. It’s the classy way to get loaded. And to my intelligentsia family, a perfectly honorable way to destroy one’s life one day at a time. My paternal grandfather succumbed to the bottle when I was five. I can’t even remember him. From what I hear, that’s for the best. I’m sure we drank for the same reason though: to numb the pain of life.
My first attempt to stop drinking came by way of LSD. I had always wanted to try it, and like a gift from the gods, one day I was given a handful of acid-laced sugar cubes by a traveling magician. I remember popping one in my mouth, taking a nap and waking up feeling so good that I popped another. Twenty minutes later I fell into a never-never land where time stopped and the bottom of the universe dropped out from beneath me. I entered a world of beauty and terror, as fear gave way to elation and then back again. It was a night of intense personal growth—like my own private twelve-step program. I surrendered to a higher power and had a spiritual transformation. I lost all desire to drink. Thereafter, I dropped acid every Sunday. For six weeks my world was beautiful. Then the LSD ran out, and I hit the bottle again. Eventually, I read that Bill W, one of the founders of AA, had used LSD to maintain his sobriety and recommended it to recovering alcoholics. He thought it lowered the barriers the ego forms that stand in the way of the experience of God. He was right.
I tried to imagine doing LSD and going to an AA meeting, but it would probably be awful—like getting stuck in an elevator with people you don’t like. Everybody dressed in sweatpants and old sneakers looking down and twiddling their thumbs as they tried to avoid being called upon to speak. A sea of hapless humans whose smiles had long since evaporated from their faces—their minds tranquilized by antidepressants and the reality of existential existence.
A few years after my LSD miracle I entered AA, but it didn’t stick. I kept falling off the wagon, until one beleaguered day I wandered into an NA meeting. Things were different there. Everyone was laughing. People were throwing cigarettes at each other and telling jokes. It was like being in a room full of teenagers. Sugar infused preschoolers darted in and out at random. By the end of the meeting I was thinking: these people are really enjoying themselves even though they’re not high. I envied them. They had community and camaraderie in their suffering. I had nothing.
I thought back to a conversation I had with an old wino many years before, when I was homeless in Seattle. We were sitting outside a food bank near the Woodland Park Zoo, when he suggested I get an addiction.
“The social services do-gooders will help you more if you have one. Go get hooked on something.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.
Now here I was, after a couple of years of being a junkie, at an NA meeting in the cold basement of an old brick church near the University. Thirty of us were sitting on those annoying folding metal chairs that get allocated to self-help groups with little money, in a house of worship whose services probably attracted a crowd not much bigger than ours. But who knows? I never went to their Sunday celebrations. I didn’t have much to celebrate, so I stayed underground with all the other societal outcasts.
I wasn’t there to get sober anyway. I was just hoping to make new friends or sell a few extra oxys I had from my doctor—back in the good old days when it was socially acceptable for physicians to prescribe pain meds to anyone. If I sold my pills, I could get just as high on heroin and still have some money left over.
I liked Roger the moment I saw him. He just wanted to get high. I knew that. And he knew that I knew. So he walked on over to me—no reason to be shy when you need a fix.
We immediately hit it off.
“Hey, what’s up?” he asked, as he spied my backpack in the corner. “You living on the street?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“How long?” he asked.
“A few weeks,” I said.
“You still getting high?” he asked.
“Of course!” I said, “Aren’t you?”
“What’s your drug of choice?” he asked.
“All of them.” I admitted.
“You got anything?” he asked.
“Maybe.” I said, “Let’s talk outside.”
Once we made it to the parking lot we were free to be ourselves. No more pretending to be sober for a cup of cheap coffee and a few stale cookies.
“I got some oxys.” I said, “Fifteens. Seven bucks a piece.”
“I’ll take a few,” he replied. “Why don’t you come over to my apartment? You can crash there for the night.”
How kind of him. A relationship based on mutual understanding!
Roger was the attractive cool-looking dude that every preppy girl in high school or college wanted. Dirty blonde hair, blue eyes, muscular, California tan—he looked like he should be playing professional beach volleyball in Malibu.
Roger lived on the fourth floor of an apartment building in the student ghetto section of town. In number four-twenty. I kid you not.
When we got to his apartment, he looked at me and said, “I could kill myself at any time. I might jump over the balcony without a moment’s notice. Are you cool with that?”
“Alright,” I said, as I met his gaze.
Death had haunted me since I was a child. Now it was staring me in the face.
Roger’s pad was nice by homeless drug user standards: a corner unit conveniently separated by hallways from the other apartments, so none of the neighbors would overhear our illegal activities—nor be bothered by strange odors that might emanate from the residence. It had three bedrooms, was fairly clean and boasted the aforementioned balcony with which to watch the gorgeous Tucson sunsets.
It was summer. School was out and Roger’s housemates had long since vacated the premises, so I had my own room. I tried to ignore the fact that this would be really fun if Roger wasn’t going to kill himself. But we were addicts, the fun never lasts for long.
“I’ve been on and off heroin since my teens,” Roger informed me as we smoked some weed.
He was twenty-two. Rich family, suburban enclave, cool friends. In college he volunteered to work with orphaned children in some third world country—the type of stuff that can make your parents proud of you. Also good for a college essay or two.
“When I was nineteen I ended up homeless in Prescott,” he continued. “Spent nine months living under a bridge and trying to get off heroin. Met this cute yoga teacher. We used to practice everyday.”
I had the feeling that he still cried about her when nobody was around, but I didn’t press him about it. I had just been through a string of unremarkable drug-addled relationships myself. They had all ended badly and I didn’t want to bring them up, so I let Roger keep talking.
“I dated this ballerina in Seattle named Sarah,” he said. “She used to love it when I shot her up with heroin in her vagina before we had sex. If you ever run into her, don’t mention anything about drugs. No one in her company knows she’s an addict.”
I imagined Sarah: a tall, thin brunette as graceful as a swan, but struggling with body image issues until she discovered heroin was an easier way to deal with weight gain than anorexia or bulimia. A shining ballet star awaiting her own Faustian fall.
I wondered if I would ever meet this poor woman. Would I end up back in Seattle years from now and befriend her in detox—her face prematurely aged and her life ruined? Or would I become a successful writer—my lifelong dream—and hobnobbing with high-society, run into her at the opening reception for the Black Swan or whatever ballet ballet-people go to?
Soon Roger’s current girlfriend would be over, but for now we were alone. We spent the rest of the day reminiscing about drugs. The what, where, with whom and when of it all—never able to ask, let alone answer, the real question: why? Sometimes it’s harder to tell the truth then to commit suicide.
The weekend before I met Roger I had attended a regional NA conference at a plush Tucsonian tropical resort on the west side, near Saguaro National Park. I had gone there with my backpack and a small stash of oxys I hoped to sell to those in need. I spent the nights sleeping on a lush terrace on the top floor. The hotel employees didn’t seem to mind. During the day I wandered between workshops and meetings. Soon I found a woman in her mid-twenties, blonde and beautiful. She was sitting by herself in the dining hall, but I instinctively felt she was under someone’s watchful eye. I made my way over to her and introduced myself. We hit it off. She was living in a halfway house in Phoenix, had two kids in foster care and needed a fix. I sold her some oxys. I was trying to think of where we could go to be alone when her guardian devil—the maitre d’ of minders—swooped in to steal her away.
I never saw her again. Might have been for the best. She could have been drug tested when she returned to the halfway house and gotten kicked out. Life is harsh. Addicts look out for themselves, not others. We try to survive, try to avoid capture. As far as I knew, nobody ever died from the stuff I sold them. Was it good karma or the luck of the draw? Who knows?
I had tried to stay on the periphery of addiction, but that’s not a choice you get to make. Addiction takes you where it wants to go. A couple of months before I met Roger an evil drug world acquaintance shot at me when he broke into my studio to steal my stash. I survived, but with no more pills to sell, I couldn’t afford to pay rent.
After the NA conference I went back to sleeping in the desert on the northside in an empty river bed—my slumber softened by pine needles and dust. It was June—sometime around the solstice—just before the monsoons started. Once the rains began I’d have to flee to higher ground. I was exhausted. It was over one hundred degrees every day and too hot to sleep at night.
Then I met Roger.
There wasn’t any food in the kitchen, but there were a good set of chef’s knives in one of the drawers.
“These are some top-grade knives,” I said. “They yours?”
“Yeah, I was a grill chef at the Old Pueblo Cafe,” Roger replied.
“I got busted for a DUI a few months ago. I missed work and I was too ashamed to show up and tell them why.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“I don’t know. I’ll figure something out.”
“Can you still drive?”
“Not really. They installed an ignition lock system in my car, and I smashed it one night when I was drinking. I might get arrested if I get pulled over now.”
“See that picture,” he said, as he gestured to a poster of a skeleton in tactical fighting gear on the living room wall. “That’s me on Xanny bars and alcohol.”
“Scary,” I replied.
“Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you,” he reassured me.
I believed him. I trust anyone who can tell me they’re going to commit suicide the first day I meet them. Why would they ever lie to me?
The sun was starting to go down.
I asked Roger what he wanted to do tonight.
“How about we go down to the Taco Shop?” he replied. “We can eat there and then get some Four Locos at the convenience store, come home and rail some oxys.”
It sounded like a plan. We didn’t need Sarte or Kierkegaard or whoever to tell us life was absurd. We were living it.
The next day I introduced Roger to my friend MXE—a research chemical I had procured by mail order from a trustworthy Chinese vendor. “Schmeow” we called it, after its more famous cousin Ketamine. Cheap and easy to use, Schmeow—in low doses—is to humans what catnip is to cats. A medium dose is like becoming a flying cat superhero. A high dose is like a journey to the cat afterlife.
Within forty-five minutes of ingesting 25mg of my beloved queen, Roger and I were rolling around on the carpet laughing. The world became a soft and cozy place. I felt resplendent and naturally aged—as if I had been transformed into a fine wine. It was a pleasant afternoon and all my worries were whisked away.
After a few hours the MXE began to wear off, and I was left feeling homeless inside a home.
“Do you have any left?” Roger asked.
“Yes, but we’ll have to save the rest for another day,” I said. “It’s like LSD—the tolerance builds up quickly.”
Soon we were completely sober—and sans both beer and cash. I felt a touch of sorrow about our predicament. Then I heard a car door slam far down in the parking lot.
“Damn,” Roger said. “That’s my girlfriend, Jennifer. She’s a bitch, like my mom. You’ll have to leave when she gets here.”
I planned a quiet escape—I didn’t want to jeopardize the only place I had to stay.
There was a knock on the door. A tan, bubbly blonde entered. I exited. Not much drama there. Later Roger told me she didn’t like me. There was nothing he could do, he said. She knew what I was about. She was trying to help him. I was just a menace to society in her eyes. She didn’t know he was suicidal. Didn’t know that I wanted to stop him from killing himself.
I was welcomed back the moment the conjugal visit was over. We spent the next week talking about God, the Great Spirit and Death. The rest was a blur of drug use, but a few incidents stood out.
Roger went to a party with Jennifer one night and came back on crutches.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I fell down the stairs after I punched a guy,” he said.
“Why did you punch him?”
“I don’t know.”
Roger seemed to be looking for some unseen enemy that was responsible for his plight.
A few days later, after he ditched the crutches, Roger announced that he was going to go out to see if he could find someone to beat up. There was nothing I could do to stop him. He returned after midnight without any luck. Thank God.
The next day Roger’s best friend, Tommy called from Seattle. He was getting married to his long-time girlfriend and wanted Roger to be his best man.
“I can’t believe he’s going to marry that bitch,” Roger told me when he hung up.
It reminded me of the time I was hitchhiking in Florida, and this middle-aged man picked me up in an Oldsmobile. All he said during the forty-five minute ride was “Goddamn those fucking bitches!”
The way Roger saw it, women had been responsible for his downfall. He never told me why, but I knew, because I felt the same way about the women in my own life. My mother had withheld her love, punished me for her own failures and left me all alone when she should have been right beside me. Add to that a hateful sister and an absent father and you have a matriarchy from hell. The most important women in my life had disappointed me, and I couldn’t cope. The result was an empty black hole that threatened to engulf my soul. Roger’s world was a mirror image of mine with different faces and different places, but a heart still far from whole.
The monsoon was late that year. It hit one hundred and fifteen degrees near the end of June. I tried to walk to Fourth Avenue that day, but I only got about half a block in the accursed heat before I felt overwhelmed and turned around to go home.
Roger’s lease was up on July 25th. His mom was going to visit and help him move into a new place. To start over. I would have to find somewhere else to live. I didn’t want to go back to sleeping outside in the heat, so I decided to skip town.
Roger didn’t want me to leave, but I was worried he would die and I didn’t want to be there when it happened. I was too afraid of death. I thought I’d have blood on my hands even if I was innocent. I introduced Roger to my friend Michael—another homeless junkie like me, but somebody who liked to help others nonetheless. He’d take care of Roger. I arranged for him to come over.
“If you steal from me I’m going to kill you,” Roger said, when Michael walked through the door.
“Alright,” Michael replied with a firm understanding, as they clasped each other’s arms in greeting.
Having found someone to look after Roger, I scoured craigslist for a ride back to Seattle. I found one going to Montana. Roger and I spent our last days together scrounging for money to get high. Then the fateful day came. On the first of July I smoked the last of the heroin I had with him, keeping a few oxys and some meth for the road. Tears withheld—I had a feeling I’d never see him again—we parted ways.
The ride up was torture. I didn’t have enough oxys to stave off withdrawal completely, and the meth was the only thing that helped me remain focused enough to drive. I accompanied a pretentious twenty-something who played a book on tape about self-absorbed young people. She was just out of college and had recently ditched a heroin addicted boyfriend. Like Jennifer she had fallen for the wrong guy. I didn’t like her. The feeling was mutual.
We parted ways in Missoula, and on the Fourth of July I found a ride to Seattle with a twenty-something pot growing couple. The girl was a mess. Her boyfriend was not much better off. They were moving to Seattle to live with her dad, and it was causing them an emotional upheaval. I drove their truck, they drove their car. Half way there the truck got a flat tire. It took roadside assistance a couple of hours to get there, and as the sun went down, the girl screamed in anguish. I absorbed the sting of her cries as the rest of humanity drove by—oblivious to our suffering. Flat fixed we drove for an hour before exiting the interstate for gas. As I made a left, the front passenger-side wheel decided to continue in a forward direction. The truck ground to a halt, and I stepped out to watch the wheel roll down the street. A police officer stopped and got out of his car to watch it with me.
“It’s rolling far,” he said.
“Probably the bald tread,” I replied.
Somehow I wasn’t nervous, even though the back of the truck was filled with marijuana plants. The girl’s father came and drove us back to his place—a well-built ranch style house in a nice, heavily forested semi-suburban neighborhood outside Seattle. The father—a respectable looking forty-something year old—had procured a new wife from a group of eligible bachelorettes in the fashionable Pacific Northwest middle-class marijuana subculture and gotten her pregnant. He grew pot for a living as well. This was before legalization. They were gracious hosts. Just as I fell asleep mother-to-be went into labor, and I moved into a vacant RV to continue my slumbers. I didn’t mind. The baby was cute.
The next day the new dad dropped me off in Seattle, where I hooked up with a well-known woodsy area on the northside that provided luxurious glamping within the established urban boundaries. Nature is like a steady girlfriend to me—always there when you need her. My new home was a brightly colored cedar forest tucked between the sea and an institution for higher learning which offered internet access and was convenient to bus lines. This is just one of many hidden stands of wilderness in the Greater Seattle area overlooked by most homeless people, who prefer a closer proximity to social services and the urban environment. A backwater to them, a haven to me.
I had been wise enough to get traveling prescriptions for oxys from my doctor, so I still had a way to support my addiction until I found a new M.D. For a minute I considered traveling the Inside Passage by ferry up to Alaska. I had wanted to take that trip since childhood, and I knew I could get a lot of money for my pain pills up North. But it was too much of an unknown. I had already been through a lot of drug-induced adventures in the past couple of years. I’d be better off staying in Seattle. Roger’s connections could introduce me to dealers in the area. He had even given me some tips: don’t deal with so and so—he’s a jerk who rips people off. Somebody once tasered him in revenge, so he kidnapped them, tied them up and tortured them in retaliation. I heeded the warning.
I continued communicating with Roger through phone calls and texts. One day Michael found Roger with his wrists slit. Michael bandaged them up. I didn’t know what to say or do. At least I had left someone to help him.
By mid-July I moved in with Roger’s friend, Tommy, who had space while his mother was on vacation. Tommy was a hen-pecked boyfriend, his girlfriend was a monster. I argued with her. He stole from me.
Roger messaged me a few days after I moved in: “Man I’ve been up for three days. I’m doing Dust-Off. This stuff is great. Whippets and rush don't get me high anymore.”
He sent me a picture of himself wearing a gas mask as he huffed a can of compressed air.
The end was near. I knew it. Tommy knew it. But Roger’s parents—they still had high hopes for him. Maybe things would change?
When his mother flew down from Seattle to help him move into his new apartment, she found him hanging from the ceiling.
I knew what happened from the moment Tommy answered the phone and said: “I understand.”
The next day I talked to Roger’s dad. He hadn’t known Roger had been suicidal, but he took his death better than I thought. He had been worried that Roger would kill someone else, not himself.
Still in mourning, a devastated Jennifer got drunk and called me late one night. She hadn’t seen it coming, either. I realized he had only told a few close friends—and me, a total stranger the day we met.
“Why didn’t you do anything!” she sobbed into the phone. “You let it happen!”
Eventually, I called Roger’s mom. She said she was fine. I didn’t say anything.
The rest of the summer passed. Tommy’s mom came back and kicked me out of the house. I stayed in the woods for a few days before moving on to the Olympic Peninsula. Within a year I’d be clean and sober, but Roger’s suicide would still haunt me. I always regretted leaving him to die alone. I had spent so much time running away from life that I never faced reality. Instead, I had allowed heroin to become my only friend.
Eros Salvatore is a writer and filmmaker living in Bellingham, Washington. This half male/half female human has made two short films that have appeared in film festivals and won awards, and is currently working on a magical realism novel entitled "Psyche's Dream." S/he holds a BA from Humboldt State University and is the foster mother/father of a beautiful young Afghani woman from Swat, Pakistan. Eros delights in discovering what it means to be both male and female, and in giving young men and women the parental love they missed out on. www.erossalvatore.com
Listen to the author read their work below and on our soundcloud page.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.