I sat in the car as the bus pulled up across the road. I watched and waited,
secretly hoping he had changed his mind and let me down again as I was accustomed to him doing. I felt sick and resentful as I asked myself for the
hundredth time, “Why do I still allow him to pull me into his nightmares?” Some sense of loyalty which I knew was ill placed, a belief that friend’s look after each other through thick or thin, or just the commitment to long ago promises that I
couldn’t bear to renege on. I don’t know. Maybe I just have some deep psychological need to help the helpless or an inability to let myself feel like the bad guy. The last time I had seen him, I had screamed at him, “Never Again”
and I meant it then as much as I had meant it all the other times.
I hadn’t seen him for two or three years, although every few months I would get a late night call and a new, all so familiar drama or crisis of some kind, would be relayed in a slurred or desperate voice. He would cry and plead with me to take him back or to at least help him. The promises would play out and repeat like a scratched record. I had heard it all so many times – he could have just shut
up as I could have done all of the talking for him.
Four nights earlier he had called again. I knew it was the end of the line for him.
He had just come out of the hospital, and for the third time, he had been dead on arrival. His day had come and he knew it. Either he straightened out now or he died. Everything was finally closing in on him. He had debts and some potential jail time hot on his heels.
I hardly recognized the person walking towards me. I’m sure the look on my face let him know how repulsed I was to see him. He was a skeleton in loose orange skin, his eyes were yellow, his hair had been bleached, but done badly so it was also yellow and his teeth were rotten.
I knew the minute I first met Stephen that my life was about to change. We moved in together within weeks of meeting and were inseparable for the next four years. Those four years were filled with love and laughter. He was my best friend, my lover, teacher, brother, parent, and child. I have never before or since
known someone as well as I knew him.
We were young and healthy and filled with possibility and we brought out the best in each other. He was charming and worldly, so charismatic that people from all walks of life wanted to befriend him. Women of all ages became easily infatuated with him, yet he was also a man’s man. He had it all: looks,
intelligence, sensitivity, warmth, and humor. He was dynamic, capable,
adventurous and talented. Everyone expected him to be some kind of Superstar.
We began arguing more and he had longer and more frequent bouts of depression and listlessness. He was unmotivated about most things and had given up his job as the dope was more fun and made him more money. L.S.D. and speed were just beginning to make their way into our circle, and it was easy for him to expand the business and give himself that extra zing that had been missing.
There was no point in trying to speak with him when he was out of it. When he was straight, he seemed paranoid, restless and morose. His personality had changed dramatically and he became sneaky and secretive. Some days he would stay in bed, often he would not leave the house for weeks. He started telling me stories about how lonely and unloved he had felt for most of his life and kept obsessing about painful events from his past. His self-confidence and self-esteem had plummeted to a frightening level. Then the suicide talk started.
When he was up, he was extremely up, and he took everyone up with him. He began a number of successful businesses and was something of an entrepreneur in his own right. Even when he worked for others, he always outshone his colleagues and impressed his employer right from the onset. There were many times he was able to employ friends and many times he made small fortunes. It seemed to me, that no matter how far down he got, he was always able to pick himself up and shine again. What confused me the most about this though, was that it was when he was doing well that he seemed to have the most trouble. I often accused him of being more afraid of success than failure.
He would make heaps of money and dazzle everyone. However, it always ended with him sabotaging himself and giving the money away in some sort of reckless way. He would then retreat, hit the booze or the dope and go into weeks of despair. I once pointed out that most people have an emotional swing about six inches either side of center, but he seemed to swing up and around the bar until he flung himself off and landed in a heap.
I finally left after a very ugly and an all too regular rage of jealousy. His depression and despair had become some kind of paranoia of which I had somehow become the center. He became so overwhelmingly possessive that he began to abuse anyone whom he felt might steal me away from him.
I moved across the country, became a different person and led a completely different life. Over the years, he would show up from time to time. Although I kept the distance between us, he always managed to create some kind of chaos and then he would be gone again. He had become a heroin addict and his life was out of his control most of the time. He had become an exceptional liar and a habitual con-man. I had heard that he had done a few short stints in jail and probably as many stints in hospitals. Every now and again, he would clean up and get it together for a while, but he always managed to come undone.
He had broken my heart, disappointed me, embarrassed and frightened me. I will say in his defense though, that he did not steal from me and only rarely did he attempt to lie to me. I mention this because heroin addicts can usually only exist by lying and stealing. I’m not sure if it is pure desperation or just the strong belief that what they are saying is true at the time they are saying it, but they are phenomenal liars. Stealing is usually an essential way of life for a junkie, whether it’s burglary, shoplifting, fraud or robbery.
I had seen Stephen in physical pain as well as almost insane with panic in his desperation for heroin, and yet, I always knew that he would not rip me off financially nor would he hurt me physically. A couple of times he did try to lie to me, but he could never do it while looking at me. In fact, he was so ashamed that
he would drop his head and speak so quietly that I would ask him to speak up and look at me, but he never did – he just walked away.
So here I was all these years later, looking at a yellow skeleton with bad teeth. He was smiling and looking a little timid and, I suppose, secretly hoping that I would hug him and welcome him. He looked like a creature from some unknown source, but with an ever so slight resemblance to someone, I once knew. I experienced a range of reactions and emotions as I stared blankly at him. The one thing I
remember most about that moment, was the voice inside my head that stated, ‘Stephen is dead and this is his murderer.”
He stayed a few months and those months were difficult and uncomfortable for me and I am sure they were hell for him. He did straighten out and he did it all on his own. It turned out that he had hepatitis and had also become epileptic since I had last seen him. Physically he was a mess; although not yet forty, he had a heart condition and had suffered a couple of minor strokes. We didn’t talk much as I could barely stand to look at him. He spent most of his time reading self-help books, eating well, sleeping long hours and walking.
One thing that I did find quite peculiar was that when we did speak, he seemed to be relating and acting in the same way as he had when he was in his twenties. It was like fifteen years had not passed. His style of dress, music, jargon, interests, and self-image were all caught up in a time warp. I mentioned this to a friend of mine who was a psychologist. He said that it could be that events which occurred under the influence of the drugs or alcohol may not have been stored in his memory. It appeared that his most recent recollections were those things which had occurred prior to the drug taking. That made things pretty bizarre for me, as he was remembering me as his girlfriend from yesterday, and I was seeing him as a dead man walking, who occasionally reminded me of my old friend Stephen.
Even though he had straightened out and found himself a job, new friends and a place to live, I didn’t really believe that it would last. After years and years of pleading with him to get straight, the hardest thing for me to accept was that a drug-free life for an ex-junkie is a sad and lonely anti-climax. He was living in an old man’s body. Without drugs, he was in constant pain, discomfort and anxiety. He had a criminal record and no real skills, so his job options were limited, boring and low paying. Intellectually and emotionally he was immature and therefore most comfortable with people many years younger. They generally found him difficult to relate to. In the back of my mind, I began to wonder if perhaps he may have done better to live hard and die young after all.
When he decided to pack up and go back East I was relieved. He promised he would stay clean, but we both knew he wouldn’t. I still had that voice in my head telling me that Stephen was already gone and whoever this replica was would soon be gone as well. I could no longer convince myself that if and when that happened, it might not just be a better option or at least a kinder solution. I had been so sure that kicking the addiction was the most important part of it all that it never occurred to me that life thereafter would be painful, joyless and hopeless for him.
I also heard that when he overdosed, the people who were with him managed to get him to the hospital, but due to fear of the legal consequences, they simply dropped him off outside and sped off. We are not sure how long he had been there, but he was found unconscious in the car park and a day or so later they pronounced him “brain dead”. His father’s final decision for his son was to give his permission to turn off the life support equipment.
Over the years, I have crossed paths with drug addicts and alcoholics, but I certainly haven’t involved myself with them in any real way. I had well and truly decided that no one wins this game. I promised myself that I would not trust a junkie nor would I try to help one. I was convinced that if my son ever ventured down that path, I would chain him to a bed, at an isolated house, deep in the outback of Australia. Luckily I never had to take that option, but regardless of promises made, I did find myself being called up againTags: addiction, bipolar, heroin addiction