Conversations with a dope user: The author’s account and conversations with heroin users, hooked and desperate as they struggled with addiction. Somewhere in Bushwick, Brooklyn, NYC.
I’ve been sitting in the hollow annals of a nondescript living room waiting for whom for the sake of anonymity I will call Jamie to return from a quick run down the street where he will score dope for the couple sitting in front of me. Who the couple are I haven’t the faintest idea, but telling from the way they hold themselves one thing is for sure they’ve got money to burn and are as jittery as hell. A cursory observation at the male side of the couple will reveal him to be wearing one of those nice cashmere sweaters that Ralph Lauren are so good at making even though his brogue accent (south Boston I wonder?) and worn white sneakers defy that image, even though the presence of a diamond pinkie ring the size of a cicada does make one wonder.
It’s been at least 15 minutes and Jamie hasn’t returned and the couple who for anonymity’s sake I will call Jack and Jane are already chain smoking on their fifth Marlboro. By now we are all done with the usual formalities of what we all do for a living (Jack sells medical equipment and Jane does something with motor vehicles) and as much I don’t particularly mind them I’m wondering why Jamie (who for most ostentatious purposes is a good friend of mine and as well as a published author who happens to also write for some of the nation’s esteemed journals) has left me in this very unsavory position.
Even though I personally don’t use dope (heroin) I have tried to understand its attraction and appeal. On a molecular level it’s a derivation of morphine which is synthesized and derived from opium poppy. Introduced by physicians in the nineteenth century to deal with traumatic pain it helped sufferers alleviate pain by shutting down certain nerve receptors and fueling the release of endorphins from the brain which to the uninitiated user leads to sudden violent vomiting. I don’t know why but one look at the middle aged couple in front of me tells me that they wont be vomiting any time soon…
Ever since I have known Jamie he has used heroin. According to one chat I had with him one day- he started using when he was fourteen years old, first sniffing and then eventually injecting it. I remember asking him if he had ‘chased the dragon,’ a process which involves inhaling the vapors over an aluminum foil as it is heated with its content on top. If I recall correctly he said it was too messy and anyway he nearly burned himself one day and at this stage of the game he only ever gets off on it if he injects it.
While we are waiting, listening to Beethoven in the background (Jamie after all does have eclectic taste) the three of us become acutely aware of the empty dope bags scattered along the floor and the half empty syringe filled with fluid and blood sitting on the table directly in front of us. For the uninitiated it can be a crude display of table manners but in Jamie’s case he rarely invites people over except if they are close friends and inevitably very aware of his particular peccadilloes. In any respect the sight of a daggered flimsy instrument capable of delivering so much pain and comfort is an audacious one.
It’s at this point that Jamie finally arrives, half breathing out of breath and half elated.
“That fucker Nelson- I told him he better not rip me off and he nearly would have if I hadn’t kept an eye out on him.”
How fentanyl would end up becoming the leading cause of death amongst Americans ages 18-49
Nelson if one is to understand it correctly is the go between, the dealer that holds court in the projects 3 blocks away who has managed to make a name for himself. As much as Jamie can’t stand Nelson, he enjoys the occasional treat that he will drop by if he is in the neighborhood. Of course Jamie is under no illusion that these treats come if Nelson hasn’t heard from in a few days as for anyone who knows a committed heroin user has to maintain his daily retinue of dope or begin to go into agonizing withdrawal symptoms.
Out of his coat Jamie pulls out a tidy plastic bag with at least ten bundles with an estimated street value of $700 which he has managed to pick up for what he later tells me for roughly $575. Taking a nice stack for himself he then begins the delicate task of prepping himself. First he finds a tablespoon, dispenses the contents of the small white bag into the spoon, tops it with some water and a tiny cotton bud to act as a buffer before pulling the syringe in. He then looks at you as if he were drinking lemonade before sliding up his sleeve and calmly injecting himself.
The couple on their half take the product, dispense it on a plate and begin to take out $50 bills, neatly curling them before using it as a surrogate hoover to inhale the contents. As unsavory and formidable as it all seems it ultimately is for everyone involved a very calming effect. At first slightly jittery, everyone seems to now be relaxed, although Jamie is admittedly jittering like a squadron leader sent into enemy territory. He soon reaches for a bottle of vodka, calmly pours some for me and himself (the guests strangely decline) before wildly gobbling at it.
A tea party it is not, but the irony is that the thing that all these 3 people have taken in some coarse fashion is a scene that is played daily in millions of suburban homes as the average American reaches for his or prescribed oxycotin (itself a derivative of opiates) the legalized painkiller anyone can acquire upon receiving a doctor’s prescription and never mind the new overdose drug death of choice overtaking America– fentanyl and come 2022 (author update revision) the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 49.
Heroin users- in search of a fix to avoid the void inside
For a while the snorting and the shooting continues while I sit there with a manuscript that I wanted Jamie to look over. At first inclined to leave, Jamie insists that I stay.
“Did I tell you about the time I held that guy up and pistol whipped him,” Jamie suddenly retorts.
The couple whom I later find out he has only met twice before through a mutual friend don’t know what to exactly make of Jamie but perhaps od my continued presence they remain calm if not a little skewered themselves.
“Yeah, we had this tip, that all this barge was coming to town and it was easy money.”
Part of me doesn’t know whether to believe him or whether he is putting this on all for show. He continues for a while until the vodka is finished and the couple suddenly realize that they must be on their way out.
The first thing Jamie will tell you is when he wakes up is how he has to hustle for the dealer to make it over. He used to keep some hidden for the morning, but that became too hard to keep away so now despite the aggravation of having to wait for the dealer to arrive or even pick up he just calls him. As I’m listening to him I half wonder how he manages to write the way he does, but according to Jamie- the drug helps him go to territories that he may otherwise may stay away from. By this stage we are talking about his ex wife and the current girl friend that wont return his phone calls and some manuscript that he’s been working on.
“The thing with Napoleon is that the Russian totally underestimated him, but the irony is he underestimated the Russians even more.”
For a while he considers what he has said before suddenly nodding off to sleep. I stand there not sure what to do, before turning to now leave myself. I leave my script on his table, do him the courtesy of putting the empty vodka bottle in his recycling bin and stare gingerly at the needle protruding by his bedside as I finally close the door behind him.