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BY PJ STUART I stood just inside the alley at Roosevelt and State Street. Counting the seconds, I waited for him to show. If I had a buck for every second I wasted waiting for him, I could buy a lot more than I could afford tonight. I felt myself growing angrier as I waited. Didn’t he get it? This was not a game. I was hurting badly, I needed the only thing on this Earth that would take my pain away and he was choosing that moment to take his own sweet time. I had to wait whether I liked it or not. I was shaking inside. It reminded me of a commercial I once saw, the one that featured hundreds of little silver ball bearings vibrating to the bass sounds emanating from a giant amplifier. The more the bass riffed, the harder the little spheres quivered. That was what my body was doing; it wouldn’t stop. If that wasn’t enough, I had the constant urge to vomit. I couldn’t even keep water down any longer. Swallowing my own spit made me gag. No matter how much my stomach heaved, there was nothing inside to eliminate. Not even bile made an appearance, my gut had been emptied hours ago and now my stomach lining was on fire as the tissues fed upon each other. I popped another Tums. That was a mistake, I realized, as the uncontrollable gagging began again in earnest. Completely pissed off, I struggled out of my old blue jacket. Just a few minutes ago I felt chilled to my very core. I searched my pockets for something to wipe the sweat from my face. I felt like I was burning with fever. The sweat poured down my forehead and into my eyes. They stung unbearably. My pockets were empty but for the tightly folded twenty dollar bills I had for him, if he ever showed. I was in full and painful withdrawal. I needed my stuff and all I could do was stand there and wait for my supplier to grace me with his presence. I tried to convince myself this couldn’t last forever. I looked at my wrist to check my watch; how long had I been waiting? “Shit!” I muttered under my breath, as I remembered what I had done. I could hardly believe I’d forgotten. I felt my face burn with the shame at the memory of my drug induced actions. I had sold my grandfather’s Rolex. He had been so proud the day he’d given me that watch. He had handed it over to me with such ceremony I felt as if I was receiving the Crown Jewels. To my grandfather, the watch was as equally important. The Rolex had been his pride and joy and the evidence of what an honest day’s work could achieve in the life of a man with integrity. Times had changed a great deal since Grandfather began his journey. Those he’d known all of his life often said, “He’d never forgotten from whence he came.” He loved telling me of that reputation and spoke of it with such pride. I guess it was a
compliment, I never quite figured it out. They handed him the gold engraved Rolex watch at his retirement banquet. The engraving read, ‘Congratulations and thank you for 40 years of exemplary service’, Grandpa loved that gold watch and he loved me, I was glad he was dead the day I sold what was his only material proof of a life well lived. The only evidence left from all those years was long gone, spent to help me fly. Grandpa’s pride and joy was worth $550 to a downtown pawn broker. I took the cash from the broker’s sweaty hand and never looked back. It was a day I would rather forget, but that was what I was waiting for; sweet, mind numbing denial. I was cold again. What was the point of crawling back into my ratty old downfilled jacket? I knew the sweats were only moments from returning. Where was he? I had been waiting for what had to be well over an hour. If this had been a grocery store or the place where they changed my oil, I would have left in a fit of temper. I would have vowed as loudly as possible to never do business there again. But for this guy I’d wait. I’d wait until hell froze over, if I had to, I had lost the power to choose. A movement at the far end of the alley caught my attention. My heart jumped in my chest; was it him? I crept further down the dark passage, sticking as closely to the shadows as possible. The filthy place was littered with overflowing trash bins and discarded junk. I heard the sound of a man and woman arguing coming from a window in the building that lined west side of the dark and foul smelling stretch of cracked cement. I knew nothing good ever happened in places such as this place. Out of the shadows came a man zipping his pants. He saw me and quickly averted his gaze. He hustled past me and walked out to the busy street, his perversions satisfied for the moment. The young, wasted girl followed a few seconds later. “Looking for a date?” She asked with a slur and a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. I noticed the yellow tone of her skin. Her clothing was disheveled and consisted of a black spandex miniskirt and a white tube top. Easy access, I thought. Her eye make-up was smeared and gave the impression of lifeless blue eyes surrounded by blackened and bruised skin. I imagined that she might have been pretty once; long, long ago, when she was her parents’ little princess. There could be no doubt that the streets had changed her from the girl she was once upon a time. I wondered if her parents knew what had become of their little girl. In my naiveté, I doubted it; if they knew certainly they would come and take her away from this hellish life, selling her body to whoever had enough cash at the time. Sometimes, if I lied to myself in a convincing manner, it helped me carry on for one more day. Like the lie I told myself each morning; “You can stop anytime.” “No thanks.” I muttered not wanting to hurt her feelings. She was a disgusting sight. I laughed at myself for judging her lifestyle. I was the one skulking in a Southside alley, waiting for the most important person in my world these days. I felt another feeling of panic deep within my soul. How in the name of all that’s good
had I managed to end up here, in this defiled alley, living my defiled life? It had begun just one short year ago. What a difference a year can make. I remembered it as clearly as I remember my own name. I was at a party. I have never been much of a party person, but I let her talk me into this one. It was at her best friend’s place. She begged me to go, pleaded, like it was a matter of life and death. I gave in after what seemed a million ways of saying no; I caved; besides she didn’t like hearing any word but yes. This was all her fault. If she hadn’t insisted we go I would have never… I had to quit lying to myself. No one made me take that first hit. I didn’t like the way he was looking at her, as if she was nothing more than a piece of meat for his consumption. When he held out the glass pipe, I took it in defiance. But, oh my God, the feeling! I still remember my first taste of the chemical filled smoke as it rushed down, down into my lungs. It only took a minute for the drug to course through my body, leaving a feeling of complete bliss and contentment. I took another hit. My skin felt alive, I could feel it breath and each breathe was a sensation as close to perfection as I’d ever known. By the end of the night I’d forgotten all about her and found my new best friend. I didn’t even see her leave. I was glued to the side of the man with the pipe. I would follow him to hell and back. Since then, I had many times and it seemed I was back in hell again, alone in that putrid alley waiting for the guy with the pipe. The unbelievable smell hit my senses as I reached the half way point down the dark, dank stretch. I didn’t need a medical background to instinctively know it was the smell of rotting flesh. I still cannot tell you what force of self destruction caused me to take a closer look, but I did look and my body recoiled until I was flat against the opposite wall. The sight of the dead man was the stuff of nightmares. All that was left of a man, dead and alone in an alley occupied by rats and cockroaches; his face and hands had obviously been used to fill the stomachs of the vermin that called this particular alley home. It took me a moment to recognize the sound that thousands of flies made when invading human remains. My empty stomach reacted at once as the dry heaves racked my body again and again. As quickly as I could coax my legs to move, I began to run. I took off at a dead heat and propelled myself forward, tripping and falling several times before I again saw the lights of State Street. Only the thought of escaping the repulsive sight carried what was left of me out of the long hideous passage way. Finally back on the street I stopped. I tried desperately to catch my breath. The smell of decomposing flesh embedded in my nostrils, the taste remained on my tongue. My stomach revolted once more. Passersby stared at me and cut a wide path around where I stood as I tried frantically to regain some control. I was shaking from more than withdrawal now, I looked at my hands; they trembled like leaves in the breeze. Suddenly, my entire body began to quake. I grabbed the closest lamp post to steady my body. I was on the verge of hysterics. When exactly had my life had come to this?
As I caught my breath and let my stomach settle down to just good old nausea, I began to think. Was this what I had signed up for when I made the choice to play with fire? I had seen enough movies to know that an addict had to sink low enough to ask for help. Here I stood, a twenty-nine year old man, a college graduate from a solid upper middle class family waiting on the street in the worst part of town for my dealer. My dealer! That was the truth of the matter; I had a dealer who was on his way to sell me very illegal and deadly drugs. In waiting for him to show, I had experienced a waking nightmare that I knew instinctively I would never shake. The picture of what I’d witnessed was already flashing over and over in my mind. In just over an hour, as I waited to purchase something that could very well cost me my life; I’d seen a vision of hell. Perhaps even a prophetic look into my future. This had to be the definition of insanity. I’d had it, this was definitely the end. I was better than this; I was born into this world for more, I’d always believed I was destined to be something great. Certainly I deserved much more than the life of a junkie, physically craving my next purchase to the point of desperation. In that moment I made a decision. There would be no more crack, no more pipes, no more waiting on the precipice of hell for my dealer to show with a pocketful of baggies that wouldn’t last me a week. I was so much better than this! I slowly let go of the lamp standard and forced myself to stand erect. I lifted my head with pride; the memory of my Grandfather filled me with resolve. Sure I had a tough road ahead. I knew that overcoming addiction was not for the weak. Of course, there would be days and days of feeling ill as I allowed my body to rid itself of the craving for drugs. I wondered how long it would take to go through the physical withdrawal. Maybe I would need a treatment center. Rehab was the new thing to do, wasn’t it? Every day a different celebrity’s name was linked to the words; ‘Stint in Rehab.” I was having a hard time imagining myself in a treatment facility. I was not the type of man able to sit in a circle with real drug addicts talking about feelings and terrible childhoods. I could probably handle it on my own. Sure I could, I would just stop. Right now, cold turkey, no more drugs for me; honestly, how hard could it be? Quitting cold turkey seemed a bit harsh. Why suffer that kind of pain when I was sure I could wean myself off the drug, a little at a time. Yes, that seemed right. Come to think of it, I was blowing this all out of proportion. Seeing the dead guy had freaked me out, it would freak anybody out. It was not a sight a person of my stature saw every day. After all, it wasn’t like I ran in such circles. I only came down to State Street to score. This wasn’t my neighborhood; these people were not my friends. “Yo, Charlie.” My train of thought was severed at the sound of the familiar voice calling my name. “Sorry dude, I got hung up.”
“No worries.” I replied, watching him pull the small bags out of the special pocket sewn inside his long black leather coat. As if by rote, I pulled the folded twenties out of my jeans. The exchange went quickly. Conversation was unnecessary. It was over in seconds. “See ya next week.” He said as he sauntered away, he didn’t look back, he was already running late. I didn’t respond, rocks in hand, I hustled to my waiting car. I was going to wean myself off, really. One more blow out and I was done. You couldn’t expect a guy to change overnight. Once in my car, I lit up, inhaling deeply. I closed my eyes and waited for that familiar feeling. As I let the drug overtake my senses, I searched my mind, trying to remember what I was thinking about while I waited. My mind was a blank. I laughed out loud and took another hit. Maybe I’d remember next week when I waited for him just inside the alley at Roosevelt and State Street.
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