He dragged his feet like an animal being led to slaughter. I didn’t care though. We both knew he could go whenever he wanted. The only thing stopping him was his own needs and the lure of the drugs. Along the way we swapped war stories about drugs we’d tried, our favorites, those we’d yet to try, didn’t want to try and all the ‘fun’ we had doing them. All in all, it was standard talk that could have been found in any standard text on addiction – if there was such a thing. Now he was starting to appear more like the average addict: a little human and a little hurt – just like me.
Inside the secret enclosure under the stairs across from the Three Bridges clinic, I felt like a lab animal ready to be shipped for testing. It didn’t sit too well with his paranoia either. Not that I cared. I was in the driver’s seat now: I had the drugs and, therefore, the ‘power’. It was as safe as it was going to get and if anything happened, help was across the way.
“What’s your name?” I finally asked, surprised I’d gone through so much without knowing it. ‘Uh?’ “Your name. You know what people call you besides, ‘hey you’ and ‘fuck you’”. He didn’t like that, but if he could read me like I thought he’d know I was joking. “Well, do you even have a name?” I asked sarcastically. ‘Of course I do.’ “Well?” ‘What does it matter?’ “It matters to me. I’d prefer not to do drugs with nobodies, got it? Besides, what if something went wrong?” ‘What d’you mean?’ he said panicking. “Like if something should happen to you. Like if you got hit by a bus…” ‘No buses in alleys….’ “I know, I know,” I laughed back, “but we’re doing drugs and accidents or death is always an option. You know that, right?” I was being harshly truthful. ‘My nickname’s Tick,’ he said somewhat reluctantly. “Nice. Did your parents give it to you?” He scowled, but I slowly turned the baggie of drugs in my hand reminding him of his place. He sighed, blushed a little then relaxed – if DefCon 2 could be called relaxed. Only later would I find out his ‘real’ name was Tom.
I tried figuring out his nickname. I had my own fair share: Creeping Jesus (my mom); The Observer, Absorbing Man, and The Evidence Taker (mine); and some others not fit for print. Being namesake trophies to the past, they were never meant to last. Whenever they did they spoke volumes about the need to cling to the past. ‘I’m not gay,’ he blurted out. Confused by his need to inform me of his sexuality he repeated it again. I looked him directly in the eye, smiled and shrugged. He looked confused like he couldn’t carry on without validation. I didn’t know him and had no idea what he was into. “I don’t care,” I finally said shrugging more emphatically. He looked stunned. I just wanted to get to know him, nothing more. The drugs and food weren’t to get into his pants. Evidently he hadn’t met anyone like me before!
“You got a pipe?” I asked. ‘I only ‘bang’,’ he replied, laughing arrogantly as if I’d revealed some inner weakness. “What’s that?” ‘What’s what?’ he squawked, making me feel even more insecure. “Banging, what’s banging?” ‘You don’t know what banging is?’ he accused, his arrogant tone and cold piercing stare grating my nerves. “No I don’t. Should I?” I mimicked, “there’s many ways to do things, not all of them known by you or me.” ‘Everyone bangs,’ he squawked. “Well obviously not everyone does, ‘cause I don’t. At least I don’t think I do!” I reiterated. ‘Here, this is banging,’ he said showing me a needle. “Oh. Oh….” ‘What, what? What’s wrong with banging?’ I kept quiet, recalling when an old roommate had stopped me from injecting heroin and polluting the rivers of my body. Yet who was I to judge him? I’d polluted just about everything else in my life!
“Keep the drugs, I gotta go,” I said, pushing the gate open. The drugs were his no strings attached, but I had limits. I didn’t want to be around that type of behavior. ‘What? You can’t go. What about your drugs?’ he asked. “I’ll do ‘em later, when someone’s got a pipe I can use,” I stabbed back. ‘No, you can’t go!’ he screamed. I visibly shook, not knowing what’d happen after he ‘banged’. ‘You can’t go,’ he repeated, a little more composed. “Why not?” I shot back defensively. ‘Because, because … anyone who bangs needs a doctor … just in case….’ “A doctor? Well I’m not a doctor, and just in case what? What do you think is gonna happen?” I asked, trying not to sound scared. He laughed. ’I need someone to watch over me while I do my drugs,’ he stated calmly, tuning into my naivety. “So?” ‘So, you’re the doctor.’ “Really? Why, because you say so?” ‘Yeah, exactly. You gave me the drugs, so you became the doctor when you did.’ “Is that how it works?” ‘Yeah, that’s exactly how it works. If you don’t, you’re stopping me from enjoying my drugs.’ He looked so cute trying to guilt me. “And what’s gonna happen after?” ‘Nothing, nothing’s gonna happen. It’s just in case something happens to me after I do it,’ he said somewhat remorsefully, tuning into my agitation. “You mean like a heart attack or something?” ‘Yeah something like that.’ “Why even bother then?” I retorted. He hung his head low.
Rethinking the situation, I complied, hoping to shut him up and get him off my back. A shadow passed through me. In my inability to set personal boundaries a chance meeting had turned into a hostage taking, junkie-overdosing nightmare. “Why do you bang?” I asked, scrambling to remember my basic first-aid training. ‘It’s the best way to do drugs. Those who smoke or snort are just wasting it. They don’t get all of it. I do! They’re just wasting their time, their lungs, their high.’ I laughed out loud; and he thought I was judgmental. “I like to smoke it,” I said making sure he heard me. ‘You would,’ he said condescendingly. ‘What d’you mean by that?” ‘Well, you know.’ “I know what?” ‘You’re a fag,’ he screamed, as if defiling his mouth uttering such a word. I recoiled and smiled. I may have been a ‘fag’, but this ‘fag’ could pay for his food, drugs and a place to live and not beg for money. He was a nothing, a nobody, but I couldn’t tell him that – not without sending him over the top. So I said nothing; smiling, content in my silent win.
He got his paraphernalia ready: a belt, a needle, a blue plastic vial for water and, of course, the drugs. He emptied the baggie into the syringe and added some water. “Why the water?” I asked. ‘So it can dissolve.’ “Why?” ‘So I can shoot it into my vein. I can’t shoot rocks!’ he shouted, irritated by my constant questioning. “And that’s the best way?” ‘Yes it is, now leave me the fuck alone.’ I got up to leave, playing his game. He gave a deep sigh. ‘Look, I’ll talk to you in a minute. If I fuck this up everything’ll be ruined. Okay?’ I nodded and sat back down.
He may have maximized the high, but at what cost to him and future drug use? “How do you deal with OD’ing, bad drugs, infections, vein collapse, track marks and other issues?” I asked, surprised I remembered my harm reduction stuff from treatment. ‘I don’t.’ “What do you mean ‘you don’t’?” ‘I don’t. They don’t affect me,’ he reiterated matter-of-factly. I’d never met anybody who could stop me dead in my tracks before, but he was right – kind of. If you didn’t let something get to you then it wouldn’t, at least not in the short term anyway. Still, his ‘ostrich-head-in-the-sand’ defense only worked when the ostrich didn’t actually get its ass eaten. And how did the ostrich know when the predator was gone?
He plunged the needle in and drew blood. I gasped and looked away. He injected. I forced myself to not throw up. Afterwards we said our goodbyes and left. I couldn’t believe I’d survived another day.
© Michael J. Varma, The Gong Show, 2011 –
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