Bravery is not the absence of fear. Bravery is the ability to respond in spite of our fears. I know this now because even in my bravest moments, I was still petrified.
I see my faith in a similar way. My faith does not come without doubt.
I have doubt, but yet still believe.
And though sad times and bad news comes for us all; I still believe in the heart of man. I still believe there is good in the world. And though I have prayers, I understand the answers to my prayers are not always answers I can understand.
I have faith.
Even in my darkest times and while in the darkest of places; I always had faith.
Even when I wished I never did; I still believed.
I was beneath a floor and closed off in a dirty storage room of a bar that took the corner spot in a strip mall at the corner of Front Street and Merrick.
With the exception of thin beam of light that crept beneath a door at the top of of concrete steps, the room was blank. The door at the top of the steps opened up to the upstairs tavern where people laughed, drank heavily, and danced to the music on the jukebox.
It took time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Eventually, my senses sharpened enough so that I could function in the absence of light.
Outside, the night was wet with heavy rainfall. I needed a place to hide. I needed someplace dry and with all my wealth spent on a white powder, my nerves frayed like the end of an old tattered rope, my jaw grinded back and forth, and with shaking hands and a shaken mind, I sunk through the partially opened cellar door behind the building. I slipped through and hid behind a stack of boxes to complete the last of my habit.
Above, the sound of music and happy people drinking happy drinks echoed throughout the crossbeams and floorboards that were over my head. Of all my times in the drug scene, I suppose this was one of the darkest.
I felt a pain in my chest and numbness in my arms. My tools of the trade rested on a dirt-covered floor. I used a candle, a dirty metal spoon that was bent upwards at the bottom. I kept a small bottle of water to cook with. I had a little package of baking soda, and of course, I had the remaining contents of what was once a hefty package of cocaine.
I only lit the candle when necessary. I did not want to disturb the darkness. Instead, I wanted to mesh with it and hide away in my fit of paranoia. When the candle was lit, I took the spoon and placed a dose of the drug in the spoon’s basin. Then I added the baking powder, and then the water—but not too much. After I prepared the mix, I drifted the spoon over the flame and allowed the candle to heat the batch, which quickly bubbled until the contents solidified the drug into a smokable form.
Next, I loaded the end of my glass pipe with as much product as I could fit. I put flame to the end of the pipe, causing the batch to sizzle and smoke. Once this began, I place the other end of the tube-like pipe (or stem) in my mouth and drew as much smoke as my lungs could handle.
A thick stream of white smoke shot through the clear glass pipe. The glass tip blackened from the flame and turned almost red from the heat. As the smoke drew in, my chest numbed and my heart was overwhelmed with the narcotic sensation. I underwent the systemic changes the washed away the gravity in my head.
Only this high was too quick to enjoy. I was at the end of my binge and all the flash was gone, All the sweet surrender of a cool numbness that soothed the mind had vanished and left me in desperate mess of paranoia and listening to my imagination of schizophrenic whispers. I was at the end of my wealth. All that remained in my package were tiny crumbs, which were like unsatisfying morsels of food to a starving addiction.
I could see shadows in the candlelight. I could hear the sound of rats maneuvering through the basement, screeching, and scratching their way into a series of boxes that piled across the room.
After finishing my ritual, I blew out the candle and returned to darkness. I sat in the dark with only the orange glow from the end of my lit cigarette and the insult of that thin beam from beneath the door to the upstairs tavern. I wished I could block the light completely. I wanted to block this light because it shed light where I wished there was none. The glimmer that came from beneath the door allowed a faded reflection of me against the glass of an old broken mirror. As dark as it was, I could see what I had become. As dark as it was, I could still see what I was doing.
Even in darkness —
the smallest amount of light can brighten the truth . . .
I was shivering. My clothes were wet and the room was damp. I was on a dirt covered floor in a dark basement. I could feel my heartbeats become overwhelmed by the chemical that pushed through my bloodstream. I thought I was going to die.
I said to myself:
“Please God . . .
just get me out of this.
Get me out of this and I will never do it again.”
Two weeks later on the last Sunday of August in 1989, I was arrested and taken into custody. Less than one month before my 17th birthday, I was brought to the station and placed behind a fenced-in cage. After they processed me, I was taken to a holding facility where I was processed again. Then I was printed and pictured.
After being moved, cuffed, and shackled to desks and benches, I was escorted down a long hallway in the holding facility where I passed small jail cells with men sitting on hard wooden benches. They sat across from a stainless steel toilets with water fountains at the top. All of the men in the cells had the same facial expression. All of their eyes were wide-opened—like animals in a cage, and I was about to become one of them.
When placed in the cell, I could hear the sound of keys jingle as the officer removed my handcuffs. The next sound I heard was the sound of the cell door rolling shut before coming to a punishing slam. I turned to face the escorting officer and I noticed he was laughing. I assume he laughed because he could see my fear. Maybe he laughed because he felt a small sense of perverse enjoyment. Maybe the guard liked the justice of seeing a wise-ass kid lose his sense of humor when facing the fear of say, being locked up or raped.
Whatever the reasons may have been; the guard laughed and there was nothing I could do about it. There was nothing I could say.There was no place for me to hide and there was no way I could get out of this.
I had asked God for help. I had asked Him to help me several times before this, but in my mind, God had forsaken me. In my mind, God forgot all about me. He was not taking any requests. Not when it came to me.
I never knew that being locked up was God’s answer.
As darkness turned to dawn, I sat awake in that cell. I stared up at the frosted window, which was partially opened and tilted inward. The window was across from my cell and hung just below the ceiling height. I was only able to see a small piece of the morning sky. The rest of my view was taken and ugly. Even the air I breathed was stale and synthetic. The corridor smelled from men who needed baths. The hallway echoed with complaints of fellow inmates and the dry-heave retching of drunks as they vomited the last of their stomach into the stainless steel toilet. The strangest part of all this is that I felt relieved.
I was relieved because I knew the next day would be different from the one before it.
I knew there was a change coming.
Even in the darkest time of my life —
there was still hope because even in darkness there was still light . . .