It was a quiet night during the coldest part of winter. The sky was clear and the freezing wind was sharp against the skin. Billy walked through a series of familiar side streets and entered the side gate of a white-picket fence next to the detached garage at Mike’s house. It was way passed the midnight hour and the star-filled sky was accompanied with a full moon that shone down on this side of small suburbia.
Billy was covered up and shivering in a long, black overcoat that had seen better days. The wool collar was pulled up to cover Billy’s neck from the painfully cold wind that blew through the streets of his somewhat normal town.
Billy was on the run. He had been walking for quite some time. His filthy, but untied, white shoelaces to his blue Converse sneakers dragged against the ground. The emblem on his sneakers, which used to be a white circle with a blue star at the side of his hi-top shoes, was nearly black from dirt partial homelessness and they were freshly stained with droplets of fresh blood. His jeans had not been changed in weeks and his layer of two gray sweatshirts that covered over a black t-shirt with a V cut into the neck and the sleeves cut off had not been cleaned in a long time and smelled from the stench of underarm.
Billy snuck through the backyard of the small yellow house. He made sure to keep quiet. There were dogs around in nearby homes. Billy knew the slightest sound would trigger an alarm of dog barking, causing lights to go on in homes where nosey neighbors would peek through window curtains to see what was happening.
The moment was too surreal as Billy crept through. His nerves shook and adrenaline pushed through his veins through his fast heartbeats. He was on the wrong end of a long, 48-hour binge. Billy’s luck had run out, —it was late and the moment was crucial. As he made his way, bluish beams of moonlight reflected against the home’s siding and changed the original color of green grass to an almost grayer version.
Billy’s paranoid, rat-like eyes peered around; searching to make sure he wasn’t seen and looked around to make sure he wasn’t followed. Billy crept over to the cement steps that led down to the basement apartment where Mike lived.
Billy’s eyes were wired opened, as if to seem possessed, and his jaw clenched from the speed that ran through his veins. No, the long, two-day binge did not do well for him. He was on empty and desperate. Billy was hooked by the claws of the cocaine demons. He was tall and thin, pale-skinned, with long dark straggly hair that was mostly unkempt and oily to the sight.
Billy was the perfect embodiment and description that defined the results of heavy drug use. He seldom looked clean or nourished. He often had cold sores at the either corner of his mouth, which is why no one in his crew wanted to share a pipe with him. His hands were covered with sores from the occasional warts that he’d tear out from the roots beneath his skin. The sores on his mouth and hands were unsightly, but once the night gained momentum and the drug took over the bloodstream, —none of Billy’s fellow users cared about the cold sores on Billy’s mouth or the open wounds on his hands. Once the cocaine demons infect the bloodstream, no one cares if there was blood or virus on the pipe. No one cares about life or death. No one cares about anything except for their next hit. Once the drug is underway, the mind becomes mindless and like sharks fighting in the bloody waters of an eating frenzy; once the demons take over, the mind submits to possession.
Mike was home and huddling quietly in the dark. He too was on the tail end of a long run. He had just finished emptying one of his last few packets onto a small mirror when he heard Billy at his basement door. The basement apartment in his family’s house was small but it served its purpose.
The uncleaned room smelled from cigarette smoke and the brownish, shag carpet was stained with scattered cigarette burns. The white ceiling tiles in the dropped ceiling were stained with brown spots. Some of the brown spots were from the nicotine and tarry smoke. The other stains, which were closer to rust-colored, were from previous leaks that came from upstairs.
The wood-paneled walls had breaks and holes in them. The dark red couch was filthy with emptied cigarette packages crumbled between the cushions and the volume control on the television was broken. It was used more for a subtle sense of light instead of a source of entertainment
Billy rapped on the glass panels in the upper section of the basement door. He whispered into the crack of the door. “Mike, open up. It’s me, Billy.”
In a paranoid fit, Mike hunched down and peeked through the curtain to see who it was. “If anyone has anything that could help me out, it would be Mike,” Billy thought to himself.
Mike saw the look in Billy’s eyes. They were wired enough to reflect the moonlight. Billy’s tall frame was standing, hunched down, and shivering with his face at the glass panel. He moved his head nervously to try and see through the inside a curtain because he knew Mike was inside.
“Mike, it’s me,” he said again in a louder whisper.
Out of paranoia, Mike ducked beneath the window at the door so Billy could not see him. He shut the television to reduce the source of light so Billy could not see in.
Mike hid in the dimness of an old red and gold lava-lamp, which, other than the stale yellowish light that came from the partially opened bathroom door, were the only lights that Mike would used during nights like this.
Like Billy, Mike also danced with the cocaine demons. But Mike had recently found an excellent remedy for this. To silence and soften the urges, Mike switched speeds from fast to slow. In an effort to solve the intensity of incredible urges, Mike bowed to a different god for a chance at redemption.
He placed a short straw into one side of his nose while closing the other side with his finger. Mike passed the straw over two small piles on his hand-sized mirror. As he led the straw over and sniffed, a flaky off-white powder flew in through the straw and up into Mike’s right nostril. He sniffed quickly to finish the last portion of his fix. Then, Mike tilted his head back while grabbing his nose. He sniffled to make sure each grain dissolved and made its way into his system.
Like Billy, Mike was very tall. He was also just as thin and his skin was equally pale. Mike was well liked by most; however, he did have his share of enemies. Like Billy, Mike traded most of his friendship for a chemical relationship. They were both two kids in the town. Both turned wrong and both were boy scouts at one time; their days of innocence were long gone now.
Same as Billy, Mike was not a stranger to the basic scams that keep the cocaine sickness alive. He was known for selling fake pills to uneducated pill users, looking to be cool or to catch an easy high. When Mike was younger, he placed raw spaghetti in purple food coloring. Then he cut the spaghetti into little tiny pieces and he tried to pass them off as hits of mescaline.
Mike was the first of his friends to sell bags of oregano to the younger, wannabe crowd, because he knew they were eager to be cool and try weed for the first time. He was always looking for an angle and always looking to get high. Neither Billy or Mike were strangers to scams; only, now the stakes were higher and their terrible intentions were more deliberate.
Billy rapped at the door again.
“Mike, it’s me. Open up.”
The crazed sound of Billy’s whisper was not going to stop.
“Mike, are you in there?”
Billy even went so far as to turn and shake the door knob to see if it was unlocked. After hiding the mirror and moving the balance of his stash, Mike poked his head from behind the curtain at the basement door.
“Billy, what the hell are you doing?”
“Let me in,” he answered.
Mike unlatched the system of four different latches and door locks. Then he quickly opened the door, but only enough to reach his arm out and pull Billy inside.
“What the hell are you doing, Billy? You’re gonna wake everybody up.”
Mike was more concerned about Bandit, the dog upstairs. Bandit was a small dog in the terrier family. The dog’s markings were white, black, and brown. Bandit was not too big, but he jumped high and his bark was frantic and loud. If Bandit started, he would wake the entire house for sure.
“Sorry about this, man.” Billy explained. “But I’ve been going hard for two days now and I need something to help me out.”
Billy moved through the dark room without walking into anything. He knew where to go the same way a bat would know which way to move and navigate through a dark cave. He and Mike were old friends and Billy spent many drug-filled nights in the small apartment. He was no stranger to the room or the paranoid reasons of why the lights were out.
Moving closer to the lava-lamp, Billy took off his tattered overcoat and tossed it on the arm of the beat-up couch. Since it was warm in Mike’s basement, Billy took off the two layering sweatshirts and stripped himself down to the old ratty t-shirt. His wiry black hair poked from his underarms of his shirt. He smelled but Mike was too high to mention the distraction; else he might have told Billy to wash but there were other more important subjects to speak about. There was a hole surrounded by a blackened stain, which was wet on Billy’s upper left rib.
Mike pointed to it and asked, “What’s that?”
Still shivering and adjusting from the outside cold, Billy twitched while crossing his arms to warm himself.
“I tried to rob that old Greek bastard at the gas station on Front Street, but that crazy old man had a gun.”
Front Street was only a few blocks from Mike’s house.
“He shot you?” Mike’s eyes opened with fear.
He spoke out in an elevated whisper. “You tried to rob him and he shot you . . . and then you fuckin come here?”
“I didn’t know what else to do,” Billy answered.
“I can’t go to a hospital,” Billy explained. “At least, I can’t go like this. And besides, the cops will be looking for me.”
“That old man knows us since we were kids,” said Mike. “And unless you wore a mask, he knows exactly who you are!”
“Well, then I guess he knows who I am,” responded Billy.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
Billy answered him with a sickened, but nervous laugh.
“I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t thinking.”
Every so often the furnace would turn on and both Mike and Billy would duck as if the police were about to barge through the door.
Mike told Billy, “You can’t stay here.”
“We gotta get you to a hospital, or doctor, or something.”
But Billy ignored Mike.
Billy asked, “Do you have anything?”
The pain was unbearable, but not as unbearable as the nerve-splitting need that comes with the drug demons. Mike retrieved another packet from beneath the carpeting next to his bed where he kept his stash. It was a small white envelope with the word “King” with a crown above it imprinted upon the wax-papered package with bluish, purple lettering. It’s contents were few, which made Billy wonder how such a small quantity could ruin the loves of everyone it infected.
“I have this,” offered Mike. “But you have to get out of here after you take it. That crazy old man knows we’re friends so if the cops are looking for you, they’re gonna come here for sure.”
Billy spilled the contents of two packages onto Mike’s hand-sized mirror. Then he rolled a piece of paper into a straw-like shape before putting one end in his nose and lowering the other end at the foot of the powdery lines.
“I never did heroin before,” said Billy. “But I guess now is a good time to start.”
As Billy snorted the tiny piles, Mike began to feel the effects of his last departure. He could feel the overwhelming rush of a slow-moving justice as the heroin took over his body.
“Don’t worry,” assured Mike to soothe Billy’s unknowing concern for the drug.
“It’s just like slipping into your own soft cocoon. You’ll be fine in no time at all.”
Mike began to feel the shift and the absence of internal gravity. His body was suspended and his mind drifted elsewhere . His eyes closed halfway and his jaw hung open. In an instant, the cocaine demons were silenced by the ambassadors of a new euphoria. This was a gift sent by the dope gods, and as he slumped forward, Mike sat there as if the rest of the entire world was nothing more than unobjectionable.
Mike mumbled to his long time friend, “You can’t stay here too much longer Billy.”
He said, “I’m sorry man,” in a slow drawn out voice. “But I can’t have you here.”
Then Mike slipped into a different atmosphere. As his mind turned inward, Mike felt himself vanish into the warm seclusion of an unthinkable high. His mind, spirit, and body moved like the constantly changing and swelling shapes inside the water of his red and gold-lava lamp. His eyes eventually closed.
Now it was Billy’s turn to drift away.
“I think I feel better,” Billy said and the two nodded off.
An hour passed . . .
Suddenly, a loud burst shot through the basement door to break the silence. Light flared through the room and Mike could hardly open his eyes. He was too far gone to move away from the shouting officers as they crashed through the apartment with their guns drawn.
By the time the police arrived, Billy was laying naked on the tiled floor of Mike’s bathroom. His brown eyes were fixed and dilated and his bluish skin lost the color of its life. Billy was curled in a fetal position. His piss-soaked pants and t-shirt were crumpled up in a ball beside the constantly running toilet. There was blood around the drain in the shower stall. There was blood on the floor, and blood in the sink.
The police searched and found Mike’s stash but he was too far gone to respond to the constant barrage of questions about Billy or the what had happened on Front Street.
Outside, the normally quiet street was lit up from swirling lights that flashed from the top of police cars. The sound of an ambulance siren echoed as it took Billy away and families from the neighboring homes stood out on the sidewalk while dressed in their coats, slippers, and pajamas, just to watch as Mike’s parents saw their only son taken into police custody.
I love it when parents talk about today’s drug culture as if it would never happen in their home or community. I love it when kids talk as if they know everything and they’re not afraid. I love when they think it will never happen to them and that they’ll never get caught. I also love the look on their faces when the cage door shuts and they find out they were wrong!
There is no common face when it comes to addiction and there are no common areas where it lives and breathes. There is only a common problem. Wouldn’t it be best if we organize our strategies and worked together to fight back against tragedies like this?