Works laden with detail regarding substance abuse ought to be considered as admonishing and informative as they are compelling. Too often is access to precautionary data taken for granted, permitting the blight of oblivion and, furthermore, that of drug addiction. Awareness has proven minimal, neglecting to forewarn those with no exposure and slighting those headed toward chronic usage. Upon introduction to written works that divulge statistics and/or detailed and honest personal accounts about recreational drug use, we shall approach with a fertile mind and then a willingness to teach. We escape discussions of this nature with unyielding urgency and the belief that the subjects of drug abuse cannot be nearby or redirected by interference.
Higher offers a look at one girl’s discovery of a regionally popular opioid and her stifling addiction to it. However, it’s useful to take heed of the universal components of the story. Not particular to the author is her introduction to heroin, her abrupt graduation to dependency, and her struggle to kick it. While the memoir belongs solely to the author and elicits certain sentiments, it is also didactic—a piece for analysis.
“Jess, this doesn’t feel right.”
I can feel my heart beating through my chest like a prisoner pounding on his cell walls, desperate for escape.
What’s wrong with me?
My lungs feel as if they’ve stopped working and every breath is more taxing than the last. I sit on the edge of the bed and squeeze fistfuls of its scratchy comforter. The air is hazy with cigarette smoke and the once baby-blue walls are gray with its stains.
“It’s okay. You’re okay. Do you want to go to the hospital?”
I reach for a gallon jug of water on the sand-colored, carpeted floor and take a swig. Each drink feels better than the previous one and I chug it until I am finally full.
“No, they’ll call my parents. They can’t know. I can’t go to the hospital.”
Jess lay next to me. Her 90-pound body looked like a deflated balloon sunken into the middle of the mattress. She had long bleached blonde hair which hadn’t been washed in a number of days. The gray sweatshirt she was wearing hid her scarred arms, painted with purple marks up and down her veins. When she spoke, she stared at me with her eyes half-closed, struggling to stay open against the burning of the smoke in the air.
“It’s okay. You’re okay. Just rest your head on my chest and match your breathing to mine. Breathe like I am.”
I had done too much and I knew I was fucked.
The first time I tried heroin, I was 20 years old.
I’d been living in New York for only a few months and I missed home. When I moved to the city, I knew no one there. At first, I loved the idea of being alone, starting my life from scratch. I was meeting new people and learning how to take care of myself. But as time went by, I missed my family, my friends, my life.
I grew up in the rolling countryside of southern Pennsylvania surrounded by farmland, predominantly Amish-owned. I lived in the same house my entire life; our brick home situated between cornfields and friendly brimmed hat-toting neighbors.
I missed the quiet in the dead of the night, where the only noises were the chirping crickets and the occasional coyote howling in the distance. So I went back there as often as I could, traveling from the city on a bus headed to the outskirts of Baltimore. From there, my mom would pick me up in her bright blue FJ cruiser–Toyota’s version of an off-road Hummer–and drive me about 30 miles back to our house.
The city of Baltimore was close enough to drive to within an hour, and my friends had no problem driving there at a moment’s notice to pick up drugs. One night I was smoking weed with my best friend, Meghan, and her boyfriend after we had all watched a movie together. Meghan was one of the few people from my graduating class that I had chosen to stay in contact with after high school. We had always gotten along well and I valued our friendship for the sheer fact that her company was always pleasant. She was one of the scrawniest people I had ever met, next to Jess, and she always wore skinny jeans with fitted flannel shirts, her medium-length ash-brown hair laying neatly on her collar. Meghan’s boyfriend Chris was a blond shaggy-haired skateboarder whose body stature and facial features made him appear as if he had never quite finished maturing beyond age 15.
The three of us sat in Meghan’s bedroom, those two on the bed and me sprawled out on an oversized beanbag chair in the corner.
I was aware that heroin had overtaken my hometown, a product of its proximity to Baltimore and the lack of really anything else to do in the area. And I knew my friends were doing it, though I had never seen them use it in front of me. So when Meghan offered to go on a “road trip” in the middle of the night to Baltimore, I knew it was to pick up dope. And I agreed to accompany both her and Chris knowing full well that once I got in the car, there was no turning back.
The thing is, heroin had never been anything more than casual. Anytime I had heard anyone talk about it, it just seemed like this thing that people did for fun. It didn’t seem like this super hard drug that you see in movies. It was just a drug that made people happy. And it was everywhere. So I knew that if I didn’t try it then, I would try it later. Because I had always been receptive to peer pressure and I needed an escape. I needed an escape from my family–which had changed so much since my dad’s accident. It was the accident that I thought surely would kill him. Instead, it was the accident that left him handicapped forever, and in need of constant care, like a child whose mother happened to be his own wife.
And so the three of us rode together in Meghan’s white sports car, her and Chris in the front, and me spread out across the entire back-seat. We glided down the highway with her sunroof open, the crisp autumn air dancing through our hair.
Once we made it into the city, Meghan drove onto a side street and approached a man, hardly older than ourselves, wearing black sweats, who immediately sat next to me in the backseat and rode around the block with us. As Meghan drove, Chris exchanged a wad of cash for a small baggie of whitish-brown powder that the man retrieved from his pocket. Once the transaction was completed, Meghan pulled the car over. Then, the man opened his door and left. She then drove to a nearby fast food restaurant parking lot, which was nearly empty except for a few cars parked closer to the door. Our car pulled into a space just far enough away from the restaurant that those inside or walking to their own cars could not see in, and just close enough to it that any police officers driving by would not see it as suspicious.
Once she turned the car off, Meghan took the bag from Chris and opened it, dumping the off-white powder onto an index card. She then used another card to separate out a portion of the powder and arranged it into several lines, passing the card to Chris, who used a rolled up dollar bill to snort one of them. After she snorted her own, Meghan looked back at me.
“Do you want to try this?” She wiped her nose with the back of her hand as she spoke.
“Is it okay?” I replied with my hands tucked into the leather seat under my thighs.
“You’ll like it and you know I’ll take care of you. If you want to try it, I’ll make sure nothing happens to you.” Meghan spoke with a softened voice that made me feel reassured and less apprehensive. I had tried opiates once before, and I remembered them warmly. But I had heard that heroin was the highest high you could attain, and I wanted to reach that.
“Okay, I’m down.”
I grabbed the dollar bill from Meghan and violently snorted my nose, sucking up every grain in the line of powder.
My nose burned as the powder settled in my mucus. I lay back in the seat and continued to sniffle until I felt the bitterness drip down my throat.
Then, ever so smoothly, I felt my entire body heat up. It felt like the universe was hugging me with a warm blanket that shielded me from every trouble I had ever known. When I looked over at Meghan, she smiled at me, and in that moment, I felt as if the world stopped spinning. I existed in that period as an entity detached from itself, perpetually in sync with all the other particles in the universe around it. I was lost in a bubble of pure euphoria, elated to even be existing at all. I knew that heroin was a feeling and experience that could top all others. And I knew, then, that I wanted to feel this way forever.
By the time I started using with Jess, I had already lost about 10 pounds.
I was mixing heroin with cocaine, or “boy with girl” as they referred to it on the street, creating a speedball, and using almost every day. I was dangerously close to trying the needle for the first time, since snorting it seemed like a waste of supply. With drugs like that, you don’t need nearly as much to get high when shooting up as you do when you snort or smoke it. Jess was living proof of this, surviving as a full-blown addict with a small amount every day which she shot into whichever vein she could still poke.
On one particular night, I was with Jess in her bedroom and I had just snorted probably three lines of speedball while she shot up maybe one cumulative line and was still on a much higher level than me. The thing about heroin and cocaine is that they essentially have the total opposite effects. While dope makes you lethargic and euphoric, coke imbues you with energy. The resulting combination is a clusterfuck of competing physical and mental effects which can ultimately prove to be rather dangerous.
My heartbeat was probably double its normal rate and I began hyperventilating. As she instructed, I laid my head down on Jess’s chest and mimicked her breathing. I closed my eyes, not knowing confidently if I would ever open them again. And I fell into a deep sleep; the deepest slumber I had ever known in the deepest place I had ever been inside of myself.
Once my drug habit became desperate, I resorted to stealing from my father.
Six years earlier, he had been involved in a motorcycle accident that left him without a leg but with an abundance of opiates. When my connections to heroin ran out, I decided that his medicine would become my own, and would serve as something to hold me over until I could get more dope. And once I started getting sloppy with keeping track of how many pills I was taking, my parents caught on to my habit.
Eventually, they intervened. As they sat me down on the same bed that I slept on as a child and expressed both their concern and disappointment in what I was doing, my nose immediately began to secrete blood as if the gods I had never believed in were finally making their presence known by serving me with a cruel and untimely retribution. It was then that I realized and admitted that I was an addict and decided to get clean, if not for myself, then I’d do it for my parents.
Then, I got clean. I decided not to go to rehab and dealt with the withdrawal at home instead. I must have slept for 14 hours the first night I quit using. When I woke up the next morning, I felt as if every muscle in my body had been stricken with an acute pain. My limbs felt as if they were cemented to the floor and every movement was unendurable.
But with each day, my body felt lighter and lighter, until eventually, my physical health was back to normal.
I still deal with cravings every day.
But it’s not so much the drug that I crave—it’s the feeling.
With heroin, I was on top of the world, looking down at it and smiling. I was a god whose presence was felt by every human being down on earth. And I will spend the rest of my life searching for that feeling again. I now know that it’s possible to feel ever-so-close to the top without dope, but eventually, I will find that sentiment to its fullest extent. I will reach the top of the mountain.
And once I do, I will never go back down again.
By Rebecca Simon
Cover Art by Goldie Gross