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xmag.com : November 2003: Heroin


YOU HAD ANXIOUS, SQUIRMY EYES that made me uncomfortable around you. Creepy but earnest, a little chubby and stubbly, you ran around doing favors for people. You were usually very, very drunk whenever I'd see you, and while on one of your benders, you confessed to me that you hadn't been laid in two-and-a-half years.

I figured you'd be a little calmer if you got yourself some gash, and I made it a personal goal to find a woman in Portland willing to engage in the sweaty mysteries of sexual intercourse with you.

Unlike most people your age (mid to late twenties?), you were passionately interested in ideas. You once got into a late-night argument with my girlfriend about whether the US government was worse than most communist regimes. (You thought it was.).You were obsessed with writers and the act of writing. You'd often hand me your latest essay and ask me what I thought about it, and honestly, I rarely looked at any of it, but once or twice, I swear I saw something good in there.

I knew you'd done some time in an Alaskan prison, presumably for something drug-related. I was unaware that you were actively using dope.

A couple of weeks ago, all alone in your room, you slammed a shot of dope into your arm and overdosed.

Your e-mails are still in my inbox, but you're dead.


I WON'T GIVE YOU any moralistic admonitions about monkeys on your back and chasing the dragon's tail. I just want you to know where I stand on all this. I don't like junkies. It would weaken my estimation of ANYONE to learn that they were a junkie.

I suppose I might sound a little square about this. I confess to a distaste for syringes and a disdain for addicts. Using a needle to get high is a barrier I've never crossed and never want to cross.

And heroin, for some reason, still bears a stigma for me. It's just that using heroin shows...I don't know...really BAD judgment. Of all the dumb mistakes I've made, I've always had enough sense to avoid heroin. There's something extraordinarily final and extreme and bleak about it. Maybe it's my hangup to think there's an indelible taint to heroin.

Two generations ago, a drug addict was among society's most-stigmatized characters. A junkie was considered among society's dregs. A "hype" was nearly as low as a child molester or a commie. Now, with half of the population on illegal drugs and the other half on prescription drugs, being called an addict doesn't have nearly the same sting. This is largely because drug dependency has become widely viewed as a "disease" rather than a character flaw. (It is, of course, a character flaw.) Let us bring back the shame of addiction and force dope users to feel bad about themselves.


I KNOW I WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO HANDLE IT. I know how compulsive I am. I'm not strong enough to swallow poison all the time and live. I respect it too much to do it. I'd be strung-out instantly. I'd be Sid Vicious in less than a week.

What made you think you were strong enough?

People don't become addicted to things they hate. One guy in jail told me it felt like your whole body was covered in an electric blanket. Someone in my college writing class said he tried it once and vowed to never do it again--it was so good, it scared him.

I've never known anyone who's been able to handle it. No one who can control it. It's just too powerful.

So what made you think you were strong enough?

I've never known anyone who hasn't been made worse by using it. I've seen it turn hot young girls into sallow old hags within a year or two. I've seen men who swore never to try it wind up wallowing in their own vomit and pus, ready to kill for a fix.

Know your limits, ye weak men. Death can be beautiful, but living death is always ugly.

Heroin is a seductive party treat that turns around and eats your life. And if it doesn't swallow you whole, it always kills parts of you forever. Everything that's vital withers and rots. Human beings turn to garbage--they smell like garbage, they look like garbage. Relapses and OD's and robberies and handcuffs. Hep-C swelling your liver like a football.

Crusty, unwashed, sallow and jaundiced, the opiated zombies snort, smoke and shoot it. Smashed glass, fast-food wrappers, ghetto insects. Endless sickness, decay, rancidity and potato chips turning moldy to green.

Pieces of flesh fall off their faces as they vomit, sweat and writhe. Selfish, self-pitying, scabby angels. Bleak sick cancer waste depression. Slow pathetic zombie suicide. Bowels turning to concrete, they squeeze the cotton balls dry. With that pathetic waifish searching in their eyes, their brains all gummy and sludgy, each cell junk-drenched, these gaunt, spectral, idiot addicts prove that heroin is everything NOT romantic.

It sure turned you into a dried lump of dung. It flooded your cells and wiped you away. The heroin has taken you. You became its dead bitch.

Life turns you into a bitch in so many ways over which you have no control; that's why choosing to become a bitch is so despicable. And that's why I have little sympathy for overdose victims.

Heroin is the choice of cowards, escapists and underachievers. It's an act of despair, a way of saying, "I give up." It's perfect for submissive types, because you have to prostrate yourself and pay tribute to the smack. But there are enough slackers. Enough apathy cases. Enough do-nothings. Enough shrugged shoulders.

Was your life too hard, my little poppy seed? Were you sticking it to the man by sticking it in your arm? That's always good for a laugh--hearing heroin-charred waste cases complain about the "system"--these junkies who can't even run their own lives!

I'm sorry--I know I'm being harsh. It's because I feel guilty. I have a confession--when a friend first told me over the phone that you'd OD'd, he paused and then laughed awkwardly. Then I laughed a little bit. Then we both started laughing--a LOT. And even though we didn't feel good about doing it, we kept laughing.

I'm sorry for laughing when I heard that you'd died. I wasn't happy that you were gone. But Jesus Christ, a heroin overdose is such a pathetic, BORING way to go! It's not like it's a new way to die. Maybe it had a tabloid-shock cachet a couple of generations ago, with Puerto Rican kids nodding out and falling from Cleveland tenements in the 1950s. But these days, the sight of white hipsters dying from dope only annoys me.

And it's hard to feel sorry for you. When you try heroin, you know what you're getting into. If you choose to shoot smack aware that it could kill you, you deserve to die from it. How could I pity you? It's like feeling sorry for someone who got killed while running across a crowded freeway. If you wanted to do heroin, God bless you. Just don't expect me to be a pallbearer. No pity for junkies and fuckups.

Eulogies are never pleasant, and without being asked, I volunteered my services to deliver this sermon about you. It is not my intent to besmirch your memory, O dearly departed, although I feel like I'm standing over your carcass, spouting off. I'm constantly reminded that you're freshly dead, and I keep checking what I say.

I'm not sure what I expected of you, but I expected something better than this. I thought you were capable of more than suicide-by-dope. Maybe I'm not pissed at you, but at the situation's predictability. Show biz is all about entrances and exits, and you made a lackluster exit.

If you're in some other spirit realm where you can hear me but I can't hear you, well, you're one up on me. If you're just gone, well, no harm done in making an example of you.

I could have gotten you laid, man. I know I could have. I could have gotten you laid...






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