I recall the drive to a place in an upstate town that I had never heard of. I was never much for these long drives, least of all the drives like this one, sitting in the backseat of my family’s old Caprice with my Old Man behind the wheel. I can recall sitting in the backseat of the car with the side of my head leaning against the cool glass of the passenger’s side window. I was looking at the scenery and noting how the drive went from suburban, to urban and then finally to more of a rural kind.
We were in the middle of nowhere. I had never heard of these towns before. Ellenville? Kerhonkson? What kind of places were these? What do people do in places like this, watch the grass?
The roads were otherwise empty. I remember noticing the homes on the side of the road, which to me was strange. Who chose to live in places like this? I remember hearing about a town called Deposit. What kind of name was this? I heard about the different places I might be shipped to and all I could do was watch the houses we passed on the road.
I wondered who lived in these homes. What did they look like? What did they talk like? How did they live or what did they do for a living? Or better yet, how far was the nearest drug store or supermarket because aside from their little roadside homes, there was nothing else around but land and mountains. I’m sure they had a liquor store somewhere. Right?
I was in the midst of sweating out a personal cure. I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t sure why I felt the way I did. I wasn’t sure what was about to happen to me. All I knew is that I was going someplace where people like me go to find help — whatever that means. But I didn’t need help. At least, I didn’t think so.
There were so many things that went through my mind. Simple things too. Or stupid things really, like, I wonder what it would have been like if I grew up in places like this. I wondered if I would have been someone else. Or, would I have felt the same as I did if I came from one of these little towns. But who knows? If I was someone else then I wouldn’t be me. And then what?
It would be a lie to say that I was ready for this change. It would also be a lie to say that I was brave or that I was taking this trip on my own accord. No, I had a collar around my neck that was attached to a leash that was held by the Nassau County Court System. I was in trouble. There was no other way to explain it. I was named in the paper after a night that I will save for another time. I was tired of myself. I was tired of my life and I knew that something had to change. But what?
I couldn’t figure out why I was always sick. I couldn’t understand why I always felt both physically and emotionally uncomfortable in my own skin. I couldn’t process the reason why some people were cool and others were just unnoticed.
I wanted better for myself.
I wanted to be cool.
I wanted to be wanted and included and most of all, I wanted to be invited, which to me, being invited is more than just being involved. This means I was valued as being “Part of,” but somehow, I found myself on the vicious side of a social food chain.
I never asked for this.
Why was it that some kids found themselves at the top of their class, which seemed as if this came naturally. Yet for others, why is it that some kids find themselves at the bottom of the class?
Why did I look like me? Why couldn’t I have been taller or faster and stronger?
It’s no wonder why I had so many dilemmas. I was stuck in the rut of self-hatred and shame. I didn’t know how to free myself — least of all, without a mind altering substance. But that wasn’t my problem, right? It wasn’t the substances. It was my life. After all, you’d want a drink too if you lived in my world.
We were at the end of the summer months and at the same time, I was at the unknown end of a crazy journey. I had seen things. I witnessed the ugly side of my City. I watched the war on drugs from an insider’s perspective. I saw the guns go off. I saw a bullet pass through flesh. I watched people slither through streets, looking for their fix, and their eyes — God, their eyes were like zombies, thieving for their special food — only, their food wasn’t food at all. No, this was sold in tiny plastic vials or little white envelopes that contained powders fit to kill yet, this was the only way they could stay alive.
I remember a dream of mine. I was dreaming but I didn’t know that I was dreaming. I thought this was real and that I was back in the saddle.
I must have tripped and fell. Maybe I lost my way and something happened but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know why I was there. I knew where I was.
I also knew there would only be one reason why I was there. I must have tripped. Maybe someone talked me into it. Maybe the devil tricked me and somehow, I felt the old sensation in my bloodstream again.
Or, maybe I was tired of the clean life and tired of walking the line. Maybe I had another fit and I was angry. Quite possibly, maybe the old pains came back. In which case, I went back to an old routine to settle my nerves. Either way, I found myself in the late night streets of an old familiar place.
I was not alone. I was with someone. He was shadowing me, looking to score, the same as me. I suppose both he and I came to the same place for the same reason. Both of us had an evil fiend beneath our skin. We had the need that only came with one answer: More.
We had the grind that churned our nerves yet, all we wanted was that fix to feel high again. And this is what was strange. I knew what to do. I knew the old feelings because this wore on me like an old shirt that I had not seen in decades.
I didn’t know this was only a dream.
I can remember thinking, “How am I going to tell everyone that I fell?”
I remembered being worried about the same. I gave away something that it took me decades to build. And I was back at it again as if I never left. I fit in without a hiccup, which was downright frightening to me because it was that easy to flush it all away.
I remember going in through the doors of an abandoned brownstone. There were people in the center of the room. They were like black serpents with white eyes, glaring at me. I remember there was a hole in the center of the floor, which led down to the abyss.
I walked up the stairs. I went into a room with the person who shadowed me. There was nothing in the room but sad walls, dark and depressed. The moonlight was creeping in through the broken window.
Suddenly, there were gunshots. Someone was running up the stairs. My so-called partner and I escaped through the window and climbed up to the roof from the fire escape.
I was fine but my partner was hit. I can remember seeing his blood-soaked shirt beneath his green army jacket. He had a glass pipe in his hand, all set and loaded with a series of white rocks, just waiting to be smoked. You want to talk about the epidemic? We knew each other on a first-name basis. This is nothing new. This war has been around for centuries.
I was trying to look around to see if anyone was coming. I could hear the scurry of feet and the loud charge of people. They were coming.
I went to tell my partner but he didn’t make it . . .
I took the contents of his pockets and the pre-loaded pipe. I ran to the front of the building to look down and see who was below.
I can recall watching a man slither on his belly on the street below. He was trying to escape. He was trying to get away but he was stopped when a man walked up and hovered over him and then POP, POP, two shots burst into the back of his head — dispersed like two bullets that exploded through a cantaloupe.
How was I going to explain this?
How did I find myself back here?
I was here before but what happened?
Why did I give up on myself?
I knew there was someone coming for me. I knew that I had to get away. Otherwise, I would be caught or dead, or worse; otherwise, I would be stripped of my belongings which meant the worst because death wasn’t the fear — if you want truth, the fear was that someone was going to steal my high. And what else did I have? I knew there was something about to happen. But what? I also knew there was nowhere left for me to run. So, now what?
There was another brownstone connected to the building but there was a divide between the two roofs, which meant that I would have to jump. I’d have to run fast and jump far. Otherwise, me and the ground would come to a fast introduction.
“Jump!” I thought to myself.
And I ran for it.
I ran from one side of the roof to the other. I ran with all my might but my dream legs were melting down into the soft tissue of the black tar roof.
There were swirling lights from police cars. Now they were coming for me too. And as I jumped I could literally feel the despair in my heart.
I could feel the cold, weightlessness of my stomach dropping as if I was falling to the ground and crashing from a great height.
I was in the air and then the next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and I was awake in my bed.
Thank God, this was only a dream.
I go back to the ideas of that car ride I took back at the end of the summer in 1989. I think back to the times I had to return before the process stuck and the magic took hold. I learned. I lived. And I grew.
I think about the stigmas and the people who hide from themselves. They do this because they are afraid to be judged. I think about this. I think about the times I wished I was someone (or anyone) else.
I think about the times I wondered about who I’d be if I grew up in one of those houses upstate.
Then I think to myself, “Let this be me.” Let me be who I am, real as ever and so much more than a stigma. Let me identify this way, as someone who has struggled and redeemed. See me as someone who walked the line as well as fallen. Let me be seen in the honest nature of who I am, which is frightened but brave enough to admit to it.
Sometimes, I swear I want to scream:
“Hello world. I don’t know what I’m doing but hey,
at least I’m not the only one!”
I still have that same fascination about those little houses you see on road trips. I still think about those little towns in the middle of nowhere. I never thought I would be in the position to buy one. Then again, I never thought I’d get past the age of 19 or 20 — at least, not alive.
I have learned to pull my routine into a nice trick. I have learned how to share my exercises and how to distribute my understanding, which is not to say that I have perfected anything.
I can only say that I’ve improved from my purgatory. I don’t have to explain and I don’t need to complain anymore. All I want to do is live.
Someone called me raw. Then fine. Let me be raw.
At least I’m not pretending. I’m not waving a flag or virtue signaling.
Someone told me that I was lucky.
I say, “Fuck that!”
I worked for my luck.
This coming April 1, 2022 will make 31 years free of any mind-altering substances.
I don’t have nightmares like that anymore. They differ now. Besides, I’ve learned different tactics to take care of myself. This way nothing will ever take me down.
I looked around the other day. I noticed that I’m not alone anymore. In fact, I never was.
You were there for me the whole time.
But then again, you already knew that.