The sound of doors slamming in the distance, and the quick beep of horns signaling cars being unlocked woke me from my light sleep. The air inside the laundry room was dry and dusty, and yet the old blankets and towels that I had piled together as a makeshift bed between a dryer and the wall smelled extremely musty. I awoke wiping the sleep from my eyes and immediately wanting to light up a cigarette. I couldn’t smoke in here in the morning though, not while the residents of the building were up and on the move. The smell of smoke might alert them to come look inside and find me down here where I don’t belong. The sight of a homeless junkie squatting in their building may threaten their whole ecosystem, and the fabric that holds together their seemingly perfect little worlds. Without question, the police would be called, and I would be scolded and forced to leave carrying my tattered belongings out with me and into the rain to start all over again.
I climbed up onto a washer to look out of the small recessed ground level window into the parking lot. It was pouring, again. For three days straight it had been raining incessantly. It was as if the atmosphere reflected my pain. At this point in my life sunshine felt more like an insult, rather than a blessing. I didn’t have the privelege of staying in and hiding from the rain either. For one, I didn’t belong here and the residents may be coming down to use this laundry room throughout the day. I came here late in the evening, and left early in the morning. Secondly, I had to get on the move, my body was already frail and weak, but the more I awoke the more the sickness would inevitably set in. My body craved heroin, like the normal person craves water, but worse. I could go much longer without water than I could without heroin without completely losing my mind. My arms were a smattering of black and yellow bruises among trails of red dots where dull needles had entered repeatedly. I was 19 years old but looked like I was 40, and my body was the size of a malnourished preteen. My life was a never-ending series of disappointments that I could only trace back to blame on one person, myself.
I had no one left. My own family had gotten restraining orders against me in order to protect their possessions and my younger siblings from my influence. My only friends were the other addicts that I got high with, and they all scattered and disappeared when the money ran dry. I was alone and had been for a long time. I knew nothing but loneliness and felt much more comfortable there. There was no one left to disappoint or hurt when I was alone. All that I knew was pain, which was occasionally interrupted by the soft bliss of a heroin high. The longer I used though, the shorter those highs lasted. I was feeling last nights high recede at the current moment.
I knew that for every moment that I was awake, the panic, anxiety and hyperawareness would come flooding in and further intensify. Those feelings would soon be followed and intermixed with sickness. I had to force myself to get up and move, and not be stuck in this laundry room being physically and mentally tortured by the withdrawals. I had slept in my clothes as I always did. A thermal shirt, hoodie and baggy sweatpants adorned my skinny body. I also had a book bag full of stolen hygiene products, that I scooped up and strapped over my shoulders. This was all that I owned, and I knew it was going to get drenched by the rain. I had no choice but to walk out into it, and get soaked. I had to move, and keep moving until I had found the money to get well. Getting well meant feeling normal again. I would shoot heroin just so that I could function at a normal level. If I was lucky it would be potent enough to give me a slight high. Once I had secured a feeling of normalcy, I could do regular things like eat a meal, and then return home to go to sleep. Then I would wake up and be forced to do it all over again.
I listened carefully until it was quiet in the building, slid out of the door to the laundry room and up the stairs to the front door of the apartment building. Pulling my hoody up over my head, I exited the front door and into the rainy streets. The mall was about a half of a mile from where I was, and it was my only safe haven from the rain. I walked through that downpour as the rain drops pelted angrily at my hoody, and my sweatpants grew heavy with saturation. I was a madman, doing his daily walk of depression through the streets of a wet hell. My only reprieve was the shelter and opportunity of the local mall. There would be bathrooms for me to clean up in, dryness, warmth, and most of all plenty of places to steal from.
When I arrived at the mall, I was an outsider. I was an alien visiting a foreign world. Among the hundreds of Christmas shoppers I stood out entirely in my drenched sweat clothes, but no one seemed to notice me. They buzzed around me in different directions carrying shopping bags, laughing and smiling and carrying their coffees. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt joy in the small things, or when the last time I openly laughed at anything was. Life just wasn’t fun or funny anymore when it was a daily race for sanity and survival.
I headed straight for the bathroom to wash up, brush my teeth, and apply deodorant. Then I would go outside of the mall and find a place to hide my book bag until later. I had to find a way to get money so that I could get high, nothing could stop this mission. Outside of the mall, I knew where there were some bushes beneath an overhang and away from the rains reach. I stuffed my book bag behind them, and headed back inside.
The sound of Christmas carols played softly over the speakers in the hallways as I slinked through them. I was an invisible ghost weaving through the crowds. The smells of candles and lotions coming from the various shops plagued my senses with holiday memories and I was taken back. I stopped in mid motion and surveyed my surroundings. My wet clothes still clung to my frail body as people moved around me, some serious and some smiling. All of them dry, and there to shop, not to steal like I was. “Jingle Bell Rock” played over the sound system, and the scent of gingerbread lattes, and pine scented candles took my mind down memory lane. I drifted back to Christmas at my parents house and how it was decorated every year the day after Thanksgiving. I smelled my mothers baked cookies in my memory, and could still see the decorations and tree in my minds eye. As a child I could hardly sleep for weeks leading up to Christmas, it was the most magical season. Church on Christmas Eve meant singing “Silent Night” while holding candles in the dark, which always transported my mind and heart to far away Christmas lands. The holidays warmed my very soul every year, and the family came together frequently with a final grande finale on Christmas morning when we’d come racing down the stairs to a treasure trove of goods left by Santa himself.
I drifted back from these memories and found myself wet standing in the middle of this mall again focusing on the people around me. The music, the smells, the smiles all reeked of holiday cheer, and I was the grinch. I was a lecherous plague to this very environment that I was standing in. I was sick, and ready to rob and steal whatever I could to get well. I was a disease to the Christmas spirit. I was a walking zombie, and an anti-thesis to everything that this holiday stood for. There was no love, no cheer, and no joy in my life. I embodied pain, hurt, misery and selfishness. There was a monster inside myself that I had to feed. Realizing all of these things, I still couldn’t stop myself. The monster was hungry.
It took me less than an hour to work my magic. Even though I stuck out, I was seemingly invisible. I was lost in the crowds, and the stores employees were too busy to notice me stealing as everyone else shopped. I got what I needed and got out as quickly as possible. I was almost sad that I had to leave that magical Christmas wonderland and step back out into the rain to head to the bus stop. Soon I would be in a whole different world, one that reminded me of my future much more than my past. I’d head first to a pawn shop to trade these goods for money, and then go into the drug neighborhoods of West Baltimore to get my medication.
The mall was a blessing and a curse. It provided me with what I needed to get my fix, but it also reminded me of who I could’ve been and where I came from. It showed me the warmth of the lifestyle that I chose to abandon through a series of poor choices. Now I had lost all control and was surviving only to feed a sickness that controlled me. I was injecting to live and living to inject. I was an invisible nothing, with no purpose, and no future.
I trudged to the bus stop and climbed on the city bus heading downtown and leaned my head against the window looking ahead. A small wreath with a red bow on it hung from the rearview. It was staring back at me as the bus rattled and bumped through stop after stop on its way downtown. My head bounced against the window, and I let it in order to distract me from the sickness welling up within. The wreath stared at me, at the pathetic lump of me. It stared into my soul, my pockets full of stolen goods, my heart as cold as ice. The ride seemingly took forever. I had to get away from that wreath, from that mall, and into the thick of these streets. I had to get away from all the “could’ve beens” and “should’ve beens” and into the now. I had a demon to dissolve.
When the bus let off, I headed to the pawn shop. Then with new money in hand, I headed to the dope strip. My body and clothes were getting wet again, but my money would stay dry. Balled up, and crumpled tightly in the palm of my hand, I wouldn’t let it go until I had my sweet savior in hand. I walked through the rain even faster now. The rain had actually slowed to a soft mist by the time I got to my destination, as if it was clearing a path towards my freedom. Eager to get well, I almost ran the last two blocks towards the drug spot. I rounded the corner breathing deeply, ready to buy two pills of scramble heroin from my usual guys. As I popped around the corner, I saw a group of young guys against the brick wall who turned immediately in my direction.
Before I could say anything, one of them yelled out “Ayo let me get five dollars boy”. I ignored him, and asked them “Who’s out? Is B out” trying to stay focused on getting my heroin.
“Fuck I just say? Lemme get five dollars” he barked.
“Nobodies out today?” I asked desperately now, wondering why the block was empty except for these guys.
“Come here junkie, I got something” one of them said.
I could tell this wasn’t right. I could feel their energy, they were up to no good. I turned to walk away quickly.
“Don’t ignore me, come here boy!” one shouted behind me. Then I heard their footsteps. They were loud in my ears like a small stampede catching up to me. I winced because I already knew what was coming. I felt a foot land in the middle of my back as I went spinning forward into the street. I slid across the wet ground as another foot connected squarely in my face.
“Fuckin junkie yo!” one of them said and then spit on me as my nose opened up gushing blood onto my lips.
I scrambled to my feet, slipping and skidding across the wet pavement, barely dodging another blow as they came after me. My hand clutching my cash for dear life as I ran. I made it off the side street and onto the busier street as horns blew at me and I dodged through traffic bringing one car to a screeching halt. The boys had already stopped chase and turned to walk back up the block, and I bowled over breathing heavily and tasting blood as I watched them walk slowly up the street. I was like a sick, weak gazelle who had just barely escaped a pack of hyenas. Now I was even more broken than before. I wanted to give up. Like so many times before, I wanted to give up, but then the unrelenting sickness and terror takes over. Those feelings are worse than any beating, or any physical pain, and so giving up isn’t even an option. I stumbled into a McDonalds as the patrons looked up at me in disgust. I was soaked from the rain, with blood running down my face. I was white, and frail, it wasn’t hard to figure out what I was, and what I was doing in this part of town.
I stumbled into the bathroom, aching and ashamed. Even in this pit of despair I hadn’t lost my ability to be embarrassed of what I had become. I was beyond repair, and couldn’t begin to see a way out. I headed to the sink and began to rinse my face with cold water, wiping away the blood with paper towels. I would have cried, but my tear ducts dried up a long time ago. Worse than any of this physical pain was the impending sickness, and I still had the money to get rid of it. I had to get back into the streets and quickly.
After wiping my face clean, I walked out of the McDonalds refocused on the mission ahead of me. There were hundreds of other places to score heroin in the city, I would just have to hop back on the bus and get away from this area today. As I walked back towards the bus stop, I happened to look across the street to where my beating had just taken place. There was my guy “B” standing on the side of the busy street waving in my direction. My heart raced, I was going to get well. I moved quickly across the street to my savior, eager to hear what he had to say. As I approached him, he gave me a look of mock concern.
“Yo how much you got?”
“Twenty” I replied, and before I could tell him what just happened, he cut me off.
“I heard what them boys did to you, I handled that. Don’t worry about that shit again, your moneys always good here.”
I handed him my twenty dollar bill, and he reached into his pocket and handed me something back. It didn’t feel like pills of dope. He looked at the confusion on my face, and cut me off again.
“Its something new. Trust me, you’ll love it.” and with that he walked back up the block.
I looked down at my hand and opened it up quickly enough to see a sealed wax back full of white powder, and what caused my heart to bounce for just a split second were the words that were stamped on it in red next to a small red musical note, they said “Jingle Bell Rock”.
I floated through traffic, across the wet asphalt back towards the Mcdonalds down the street. I walked in and past the patrons dining there. This time I wasn’t embarrassed, nor in pain because this time I had my medicine in hand and was ready to relieve myself of this inner plague. I knew that when I walked back out, I would be a normal man again. I couldn’t wait.
I walked into the empty bathroom, settled down in the stall, and pulled out my works. I dipped my needle into the toilet bowl after giving it one quick flush, and pulled up some water. With trembling hands, I then cooked and drew up the mixture into my dull, worn out syringe. I stabbed my bloody arms three times before I was able to find a usable vein, but once I did the rain stopped.
After four full days, the rain stopped. In fact everything stopped, and I floated. My body slumped backwards and slid lifelessly onto the floor of that pissy McDonalds bathroom and I drifted out of it. I drifted back into my Mothers kitchen. Wrapped up in the aromas of chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon sticks, my spirit danced. My spirit danced through the hundreds of candles that lined the darkness that was sandwiched between the stained glass windows of the church I once sang in on those magical Christmas eves. It flew far way from that laundry room that I called home this week, far from the streets of west Baltimore. It was finally free. I was finally uncuffed from this curse that ate away at my soul, from this eternal nightmare that I trudged through day in and day out. There was no more pain, and misery, and most of all no one else to disappoint. Now I could start over, I could be who I wanted to be. I was free. A tear rolled down my lifeless body as it lie slumped on the floor against the cold toilet and my feet jutted out beneath the stall door.
I no longer had to feel the wet clothes that hung on my weak limbs. There would be no more stealing and lying, no more beatings, and sickness. No more worrying for my family, I was finally in a safe place. I was free and was returning home. The journey had finally ended here in this bathroom stall and I couldn’t be happier. I no longer had to go to bed terrified, and wake up terrified at the impending sickness and feelings of depression and anxiety. I no longer had to live with and compile more guilt. I was afloat in space, I was returning home to the warm comfort of God. I floated blissfully and finally at peace. I floated, smiling because it was all finally over. I floated and floated dreamily until I was woken by an intrusive voice.
“We got him! He’s alive!” A man exclaimed loudly.
My eyes snapped open and my body lurched forward. I was immediately launched back into existence and overcome with sheer terror. Who was this? Where am I? Why would they do this? My mind was racing. I tried to float, but I was up and heaving. Why can’t I get back to my floating? My heart was palpitating.
“Sir are you ok? Are you ok?” I heard this loud voice and it reverberated through my body.
I ignored the question. I didn’t want to speak. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to float.
“Sir what is your name. Are you ok? You were dead. We just saved your life!” The horrible voice said.
I tried to hide from it. I needed to get away. My body was wrenching and shaking. I was deep in the stages of withdrawal. I could see the Naltrexone shot that this stranger had given me laying on the floor next to me.
“Can you speak? Let me try to help you up” the voice said again. He was leaned down talking to me inches from my face. Behind him I could make out a handful of McDonalds employees looking down at me with both interest and horror on their faces.
“Yes, yes I’m ok” I muttered.
He extended his hand to me, and grabbed mine pulling me to my feet. I stumbled back into the wall for a second before gaining my balance. My body was on fire, heart racing, and my anxiety was coming over me in waves.
“Why? Why would you do that?” I asked, terrified.
“Do what? Buddy, I just saved your life, you were gone! You should be happy!” He exclaimed.
He had no idea. I was happy, and he just stole that happiness from me. All I wanted to do was float. I had to get away from here. I had to run far away. This McDonalds bathroom was too bright, the voices were too loud. My mind was racing as fast as my heart. I was terrified.
“I’ve got to go” I said quickly and moved past him for the door.
“Wait! The police are on their way!” He tried to grab my shoulder but I shook him off as I marched out of the door.
I walked out of that restaurant and into the cold night, back into the rain. I walked as fast as I could into the city side streets. I didn’t care if those young boys were out, they could beat me again. I didn’t want to see that laundry room again. I didn’t want to be anywhere except where I just got pulled back from. I just wanted to be floating, floating back through those magical Christmas memories growing up and floating back towards my creator. I wasn’t that lucky though. Apparently I didn’t deserve any of that, I was meant to suffer.
I walked fast and hard deep into the darkness of the city night. I had to find money. I had a sickness to get rid of. I had a monster to feed, and he was always hungry.