I could tell by the look in this man’s eyes that he and I were on the same mission. He had dark black skin and deep black eyes, which were electrified and wired open. The man was jittery and spoke quickly through his clenched teeth. This man was clearly a stranger, but on streets like this one, strangers like him are all too familiar.
It was cold and the hour was late. I had little left as far as money and there was nothing left as far as my stash was concerned. All I had was my last few dollars. I had a glass crack pipe, or stem as we called, which was burned to a dark black at the tip from the heat of a flame.
I had my cigarette lighter and the last of a few cigarettes tucked in the inside pocket of my black leather jacket. But above all, I had that strung-out feeling. I had the fiend. I had that wound-up feeling inside that comes after a long crazy cocaine binge. The high was gone and all it left behind was a speedy sort of intense desperation.
Same as that stranger, my jaw was clenched and moving back and forth. I was jittery and spoke quickly through my teeth. Same as I knew about this man’s need; he knew all about mine. This man knew exactly what I was looking for. But better, he knew exactly how to get it.
Walking across the street, I followed my new friend down the avenue beneath an overhead train trestle. When the subway passed, the train cars rumbled, making screeches from steel wheels and locomotive sounds.
When the trains rolled passed the noise was so loud—so deafening, and sparks crackled from beneath the overhead subway, causing quick flashes of blue electric light that came from the electrified rails.
At street level, most of the stores were closed. The streetlamps were like frozen tear drops that hung from their lampposts and reached out into the urban street. Below them, parked cars lay dormant. Garbage riddled the sidewalks. Empty beer bottles lay broken in the street—old crumpled paper bags blew from the crazy wind and tumbled like ghetto tumbleweeds that passed by the rundown brownstones.
The storefronts were all covered with steel roll-down gates, and all the roll-down gates were covered with old stickers and spray-painted graffiti
My new friend told me about a better spot. He said it was on different corner where the product was better. It was late and the hours were closing in. Dawn was coming soon and the early morning sunlight was sure to feel like an insult to me.
So as the time became more desperate, I followed my unknown partner into a den like a sailor who was lost at sea would follow another ship into port.
The only problem is this was a port I had never seen before. I had no idea where I was or what I was about to find. All I knew is I was I needed to fix myself. I needed another hit just to keep my head straight.
We arrived at an abandoned brownstone with boarded windows and boards across the front door. There was an official notice on the building to warn about illegal entry. The cement steps were covered with trash and the remnants of emptied crack vials.
“Follow me,” said my new friend.
We walked in through a small alleyway along the side of the broken-down building. With the last of my wealth and property, I followed my dark skinned friend through a side door.
When I entered, I thought how I had never seen anyplace as dark as this. There was light but not much. There were other people inside too, but I only saw their shadows and heard them moving from one side of the room to another.
I could hear whispers—and of course, I could hear the unmistakable sound of a cigarette lighter clicking into gear and then lighting the tip of someone’s crack pipe. This too makes a sound. The sound of a crack pipe begins with a sizzle. Then it switches to an almost high pitched whistle as air moves through the pipe and smoke fills the lungs. This is the exact sound that kept me sick. The results of that sound are what I came for. First your ears clog and then a long, drawn out sound of ringing clings in your eardrums
This was my port in the storm. It may have been dark and it may have been dirty; the room smelled like a mixture of drugs, smoke, and filthy bodies, but at least here I could use the last of my wealth to find my way back to the high.
“Follow me,” said my friend.
“And stay close,” he warned.
He took me towards an old wooden staircase that leads to the upstairs rooms. On my way, I noticed a heavyset woman. She was crouched in the corner. Her eyes were evil. I could see she was looking directly at me. She looked at me from the tops of her eyes while she sat crouched over a cardboard box and used it as if it was a toilet.
My friend tapped my shoulder to get my attention.
“Don’t pay any attention to her,” he said.
He warned, “She’ll cut you when you’re not looking.”
This was it . . .
This was my port in the storm
I met my new friend as a fellow junkie just looking to survive the same game.
“I have a place upstairs,” he told me.
“We can go up there and no one will bother us.
Making our way, the old wood on the staircase creaked with every footstep. I looked down to notice a huge hole located in the center of the main floor. The inside of the hole was black—leaving me with no doubt that several bodies had fallen through that hole. And though I walked up to the second level, I fell deeper than that in the main floor
My new friend told me “Come in here,” and I followed.
The place was as good as any. It was a room. It was dry and away from the outside elements. There was no heat, but the walls were able to stop the outside wind. There was a window, but the window was mostly cracked, and even with the slight burst of outside air, the room still smelled from drugs, smoke, and filthy bodies.
My new friend told me, “We can stay here for a while,” and then opened his jacket.I asked, “You come here a lot.”
“This is where I sleep,” he said.
Then he nodded. “This is where a lot of people sleep.”
Removing one of my last few vials, I emptied its contents into the pipe. My hands were red from the cold. My fingernails black from filth. I dropped two small white rocks down into my pipe and then I readied my cigarette lighter.
An orange flame began to dance, hitting the glass, to create that magical response of melting the drug in the sound of a breathtaking sizzle. I placed the other end of the pipe in my mouth. I inhaled as much smoke as I could to allow the drug to infect my system.
Once underway, I was able to disregard the odor and rotten mess around me. I was able to forget the dark dinginess of the rundown building, which could have possibly collapsed at any moment. I was able to forget the sight of a large, overweight woman going to the bathroom in a cardboard box. In a word, I was high. I was high enough to disregard the world below.
My ears were ringing with a long, high-pitched tone and the top of my spine lost all of its tension. I became instantly weightless, and though temporary, I felt myself lift into the gentleness of a beautiful chaos.
I lifted up from the dinginess of that dark room, scaling the darkness to find the concepts of a white synthetic light. For a brief moment, I was free to rise from the depths of my physical surrounding.For a brief moment, I was weightless and totally untouchable.
I inhaled the smoke until I could not inhale anymore. And when I held my breath; I held the smoke in my lungs until all the chemical was able to infiltrate my bloodstream.
I felt the numbness overcome my chest and the back of my throat. I was no longer in the room. I was no longer afraid. I was perfectly alive while heading toward a terrible death.
This was it. This is what I came for.
I held the smoke in my lungs until the cocaine bugs were burrowed deep in my system. I held the smoke until I couldn’t hold it anymore—and then I exhaled in a bust of thick white smoke.
My heart beat faster like the empty beat of a bass drum. I felt the expansion and contraction of my chest. Then the room began to open up, extending in width and height.
Suddenly a terrible sound interfered with my high and shook the junkie compound. I heard the sound again. It was gunshots.
Downstairs, the floor pounded with the scurry of heavy feet. There was no choice but to run. The only problem was run where? There was no place for us to go. We couldn’t leave through the hallway door. That door opened to the top of the stairs and that’s where the gunshots came from.
We quickly looked through the door to see if we could run out, but there were dead bodies lying across the steps and on the floor.
The gunshots would not stop. I could hear the sound of fast-moving footsteps. This sounded as if people were being chased from one corner of the room to the other. Then shots would fire. Then some of the footsteps would stop.
Everyone scampered like roaches. Some ran up the steps and then down the hall to close themselves in a room.
My friend and I stood together. The two of us were holding the door shut to keep others from barging in. We were alone with no place to go but a broken window that led out to a rusted fire escape.
Looking directly into my eyes, the dark skinned man said, “Let’s go for it,” and we darted towards the window
The window refused to open but the glass was already shattered. I cleared the remaining pieces and without pause, I slipped thru, feeling a left-over shard of glass cut into my back. The junkie followed with a stream of red dripping from his lip.
It seemed strange that I did not notice the blood before. I never heard the ricochet split the wood flooring. I never saw the bullet hit his chest or heard him speak out.
He would be too weak to keep up now. Yet if he followed, I was safe. As far as I was concerned, they would catch him before they caught me. They would tear him apart, and though my thoughts were heartless, at least I would get away.
The fire escape shook as my weight came upon it. I climbed higher instead of down. Sure enough, my friend followed as we moved onto the roof. In all the stress, my stomach reversed in a stream of vomit.
Wiping my chin I asked, “Are you hit?”
He panted with the whites of his eyes bright in the contrast of his dark skin.
“I don’t think I’m gonna make it.”
Blood soaked the front of his shirt. Had the drugs not been in his system to numb the pain, perhaps he would have fallen long before.
“Just let me get one more hit,” he said
“One more blast,” he said. “And then I won’t care if I die.”
I looked around to the other rooftops with nowhere to go. Even if we jumped, the distance was too far. I knew I couldn’t make that kind of jump. I knew my new friend couldn’t make it either—not with a bullet in his chest.
More shots fired and echoed in the street.
I told my friend, “Stay here,” and crawled towards the front of the building.
He crouched in place with knees to his chest and leaned his back against a short wall that bordered the rooftop.
At street level, a man stood with a chrome pistol glistening at his side. Three bodies lay dead in their fallen position, with a fourth one slithering towards the curb.
The gunman wore a black skullcap, a heavy winter coat, with black pants, and deep brown boots. He approached the slithering victim while lifting his shiny firearm. As he aimed, his words drowned beneath the sound of the overhead subway as it roared across train tracks. I could see the man scream as he placed three shots to the back of the last man’s head.
Two other men arrived. They were dressed similarly and equally armed. The three had a quick discussion while pointing away from the building. To me, that meant it was over. The shooting stopped and the gunmen ran off. But soon there would be another problem. Soon there would be a worse problem. Soon enough the police would come and then there would be no way for me to get down or get away.
Although no one wanted the gunmen to show, no one wanted the police to show either. That would create a separation between the crack pipe and the crackhead. The police would search the building and go through every room. Eventually, they would make their way up to the roof. More importantly, eventually the police would find me and my wounded companion.
I hurried back to the man I knew little about. His mouth hung open with a surprised look on his face. His lifeless hand held a crack pipe. The empty vial sat at his feet with its contents already loaded in the pipe.
I shook his arm, but he didn’t move.
“Hey,” I said.
His skin felt cold and I never saw death that close before.
“Hey,” I tried once more.
This time his head fell limp to his shoulders.
This was instantly worse. I had to get away before anyone came.
But before I left, I had to make things right.
The pipe rested between his bloodied chest and right knee. In this case, I did what I had to do. In fact, I did what any desperate man would do.
No, I did what any surviving junkie would do. I took the pipe and checked the man’s pockets. I took his stash, which was more than he claimed to have. I took whatever was in his pockets and while searching his body, I found a picture of a young girl in his coat pocket
The girl was very pretty. She was about three years old if I had to guess. It said, “Daddy’s Little Girl!” in black marker on the back of the photograph.
I looked at the picture and stuffed it in my pocket along with everything else I took. I knelt beside him and placed the pipe to my mouth. In my desperation, I was prepared to steal another man’s high. The only problem is after a while, the high stops, and it becomes more like a struggle in quicksand. There’s no way out when it gets this bad. There’s no way out at all.
The madness seeps in like a fiend. Each time I tried to soothe the madness with another hit; it only paused for a minute. The fix was only temporary. It was short live. But at least now I had more.
Downstairs, I heard squad cars pulling up to the building. The voices of policemen sounded as a grim reminder of what my life had shriveled to. Opening my lighter, I put the flame to the pipe and took a hit.
The hit tasted strong and molded around my tongue with thick smoke falling heavy inside my lungs.
Nothing else mattered
I looked across the divide at the buildings to my left because they seemed closer. I tossed a stone to judge the distance, affirming, “That’s not too bad.”
I thought to myself, “I could make that.”
There were sounds of rumbling that came from inside. Noises and screams shouted from the hidden suspects that found safety from the gunfire. I stood determined to jump from one roof to another and get away.
As more police cars arrived, the urban streets turned alive. White and red flashes from swirling lights bounced against the windows and brick walls of the nearby buildings
I had to jump
I had to make my way to the building across from me
Standing at the ledge, I looked out.
“Fuck it,” I said
Then I leapt across. While in the air, I heard the sounds of arriving sirens and repeated gunshots as if someone was shooting at me.
When I landed, I found myself awake in my room.
It was just another nightmare
These are my drug dreams…