I was walking fast, my long grey coat flickering. The smell of gas fires and central heating mingled with traffic fumes. Sounds of conversation and garish music from the swinging doors of the cafes and pubs.
I checked the diary entry in my glowing Blackberry. “Amari Baraka, free showing, Birkbeck College,” it said. Beneath that was a screengrab of Google maps. I looked around the dark roads as people flowed past.
I had been holed-up in my parents’ house in the country for the last year – away from civillisation and the drugs that oiled it. I would get two months clean and then find a way to score, perhaps on a trip to visit friends and even using the now defunct online drugs market, Silk Road.
My friend and I had planned this trip a week ago by email. It was his 30th birthday and I was able to make my visit to him coincide with a meeting I had planned with a city girl interested in funding deadbeat poets.
Before leaving I told my therapist about the trip. “Are you worried about being around old triggers?” He asked.
“Not really, I think I’m over it now”
“How long has it been?”
“Nearly three months which is the longest time ever”
He gave me an indulgent smile, “Well done,” he said.
I turned onto the car-filled thoroughfare of Euston Road and felt a familiar tingle bubble in my belly. Gaining momentum the feeling started to swam in my skin before bursting into consciousness. Fuck, I used to score here.
It rushed back, those days when anticipation caught in my throat and I could barely breathe for need of the drug. The orgasm of the tear in the plastic wrap and the flowing brown powder hitting metal. Angelic release. Sobriety was mundane in comparison. Learning to live within normal boundaries of emotion and behaviour had been a mourning process.
I had stopped walking. My eyes took in the dark alleys where I used to meet my dealer. Well, the dealer usually stayed in a nearby stash house; it was the runner, a kid under the legal age for prosecution, who’d meet me. I’d spot his gangster bob coming down the street, he’d whistle and I’d follow him to the nearest dark corner. “Nice trainers,” I’d say by way of conversation.
I was about to turn and leave when my phone vibrated. I looked and felt my heart burst. I hadn’t heard from my dealer in over a year. He knew I was clean. I hadn’t received one call and no text messages either. And then, just as I stood yards from his turf, there was a text:
“On. 10/10 banging gear. Delivery on orders over 2”.
Let’s say, instead of heroin, I had been reminiscing about an old girlfriend. I had been stood looking at roads where we walked hand-in-hand and the pubs where we drank and, at that moment, with no word for over a year, she texted me – that would be a sign, right? That would be a sign that I should meet up with her. Which lead me to wonder in that moment – do synchronistic events include heroin?
Probably not. I shoved my phone back in my pocket and walked away. That wasn’t me any more. I had changed. I wasn’t interested in smack. But the idea had already settled deep in my stomach where it rested – a pleasant, warm pressure.
The film was projected on the wall of a small lecture room high in the university building. The crease-faced poet was bawling lines in between the bellows of a jazz trumpet. Absorbed by his performance, I forgot about the drug. For five minutes. And it then it was back. That old anticipation growing in my guts.
All through the question and answer session it trembled in my skin and when I left the building I tried to walk away from its incessant call. If I could just make it to the tube and put some distance between myself and it…
But the phone was already out of my pocket. I disassociated, as if something else moved my hands as they pressed the buttons to call the dealer. It felt good not to fight anymore. As if I had been holding onto a rock and I had finally let the torrent take me and I was now weightless on the cusp of a waterfall.
“James? Long time bro!” said the dealer. Junkies brood dragon-like over their contacts so I had changed my name to mask the fact I was stealing good numbers from their phones.
“Just head to Chalk Farm, take a right out of the station and wait up there, he’ll be there soon.” The location was on a quiet residential street. It was 10pm when I got there and waited, leaning against a stone garden wall. No-one else was around and I was as conspicuous as a lemon.
Back was the old impatience. Junkies spend half their lives waiting for dealers and that was not something I missed. It wasn’t too late to leave but I felt anchored to the process. The part of me that wanted to use was finally out and it wasn’t going back without a struggle.
It was the runner with a limp. He was older than the rest of them. Probably a junky himself funding his habit by street dealing. “Three yeh?” drug dealer conversation is nothing if not functional. He silently dropped three tiny plastic footballs into my palm. Shoving his hands in his pockets he ambled away. I turned around and walked back up the dark street.
The rush wasn’t the same. My heart sank with the futility of trying to recapture those days where I ran heedless with heroin. I knew too much now. Rehab had shown me the desperate shells that human beings can become when caught in addiction and I couldn’t unlearn all that stuff.
But the bags stayed in my pocket. There was still enough titillation at their presence to prevent me from throwing them away.
I inhaled a good hit of heroin and reclined, softly knocked out, on my friend’s bed. He had shown me around that morning: the fridge, the communal kitchen down the hall. He was staying at his girlfriend’s place round the corner. I had thanked him for the loan.
The next morning there was still two balls of dope left. My tolerance was way lower than it used to be. But now I wasn’t thinking clearly. The best way forward, it seemed, was to smoke it all. I left the flat and went to find my friend swinging his keys on fingers blackened with soot from heated foil.
On the train to visit my friend whose birthday it was, I rocked between sleep and wake, and wrote te poem that become, “Agreement” (also found on this blog). After returning from a failed birthday night where my lack of enthusiasm for partying had to be explained away with old excuses of tiredness I stood in front of his flatmate in my pants, swaying and dreaming that I was being seductive.
Two days after returning to the countryside I was in my therapist’s office telling him the whole story.
“Urgh I just don’t want to that again; it’ll take two weeks before I begin to feel normal,” my therapist silently rested his cheek on his hand. “It was strange though,” I continued. “To get a text from my old dealer at the exact moment I was in his area thinking about him…”
“Maybe you needed to take the drug once more,” he said.
The next time I thought about heroin was four months later when an attractive girl had invited me out with her friends. Her friend Brian liked her too and saw me as a threat and her other two friends were entirely charmless. Blaming myself for the lack of connection with any of them, my mood went downhill enough to consider using drugs to aneathatise my suffering.
It was then I realised, fuck, I hadn’t even thought about heroin for four months – the longest time I had been without the drug since I had started using it four years earlier.
There had been no struggle and no thought of relapse either. The urge to use had just gone. I thought back to that last time in London, how the events had come together in such a weird synchronistic way and what my therapist had said about it. Could it have been a coincidence?