What I Do and Don’t Remember from the Days and Nights of Endlessly Smoking Crack and Shooting Heroin by Christian Bodney
Christian Bodney’s “What I Do and Don’t Remember from the Days and Nights of Endlessly Smoking Crack and Shooting Heroin” is one of three winners of the 2022 CRAFT Creative Nonfiction Award, guest judged by Ingrid Rojas Contreras.
“What I Do and Don’t Remember from the Days and Nights of Endlessly Smoking Crack and Shooting Heroin” is gritty, feverish, electric. What ensues from its title is a narrative of addiction in list form. The essay’s candor is scalding. The nightmarish harshness of trying to quit, while being under the hold of addiction, is told as if under fluorescent light. There’s using alone, and using with Haley, the essay tells us at its opening. The narrative itself is moving, haunting, as we follow the two in a spiraling bender while still trying to gain a foothold in sobriety. This essay is ferociously intense. —Ingrid Rojas Contreras
It’s all a blur. It can be separated into two five-year periods: using alone and using with Haley.
Haley had piercings everywhere: the bridge of her nose, her septum, her nipples, her belly button. She had stretched lobes—one had torn—and a dermal medusa, labret, and teardrop. Her hair was always changing: a mohawk, an asymmetrical cut, a mullet, and it was commonly dyed: blue, pink, orange, whatever. She was part Cherokee and from Oklahoma City. On her upper arm was a tattoo of the state of Oklahoma. She was a beauty school dropout, had two children who lived with her grandparents, and was twenty years old when I met her outside of an NA meeting. We started using drugs together almost immediately.
There was my mom’s house, my first apartment: a little shotgun house, my mom’s basement, my second apartment, my mom’s guesthouse, several motels, a hostel, a youth homeless shelter, a shooting gallery, Haley’s first apartment, and Haley’s second apartment.
My recollection is fuzzy, but I’m positive that the kitchen sink was dirty in the guesthouse, filled with dishes and cigarette ash, while the empty or half-eaten boxes of pizza from Haley’s delivery job at Domino’s littered the counter, stacked on top of each other like cardboard high-rises. It’s typical when smoking crack to vomit: I would have fled the couch, ears still ringing, toward the kitchen and gripped the countertop where I would have proceeded to hurl. After a certain point, euphoria really sets in, and it was common to smile or laugh while straddling the counter; the pick-me-up energy that followed would lead to briefly cleaning the dishes: the food debris and mold and vomit, spraying Lysol, and scrubbing the countertops until everything approached a shiny and perfect oblivion.
There were detox centers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.
Lower your habit and get back at it. A nice break especially during harsh winters. Establish some new connects and eat some shitty free food.
There were residential treatment centers: thirty days, once, and four months, once.
A little more serious; a frightening commitment. There’s this ridiculous speech everyone has to give near their final day. It’s usually inspirational and filled with gratitude: where I was then versus where I am now. To this day, I hate inspirational movies because at thirty years old I can watch one and believe that being, for instance, a professional tennis player is possible for me, that a little hard work could get me there. Don’t tell anyone, but I secretly love them.
I relapsed on my second day home after the thirty-day treatment center in Mason, Ohio, and one month after the four months in Atlanta, Georgia.
Hope is a fragile thing.
There were half-way houses: three.
Shitty and filled with Big Book thumpers. They all look the same: out of date and falling apart.
There’s always that one guy who works there that looks like The Big Lebowski. He shuttles everyone around in that crappy van while playing classic rock and old-school blues, trading war stories about his drinking and drugging. He starts every sentence with back in the day and he’s deceptively strong.
There’s always another person who is a musician, usually more than one, and they form a band, and they play music from the balcony late at night, and they usually suck: no hard feelings. Like that song I wrote, the chorus, a pun: I went to all of the meetings / hi(gh), my name is and I’m an addict.
Drug tests are mandatory, every couple of days, and the curfew depends on how long you’ve been there.
Let me be clear: early recovery is a horror film: everyone is misbehaving, thinks they’re cool, and is fucking like rabbits, while the character, Heroin, is going around and killing everyone.
There were clinics and doctors for Suboxone and methadone maintenance:
Everyone standing and waiting in line, more miserable than heroin because they aren’t high, but not nearly as desperate, but still desperately dependent.
Here’s the thing: addicts are sent to places that treat addiction, which means you aren’t the only addict there, which means if you end up relapsing, you’ve made more contacts, are hip to new hustles—it’s like prison—and every addict knows this.
One Suboxone doctor got into the lucrative FDA-approved drug trade because his son had died from an overdose. His intentions were good. He was nice and whenever I tested positive for heroin he said, It’s okay. You’ve been blessed with another chance and you made it to your appointment on time. He’d smile, and I wouldn’t feel like I’d done something wrong.
Another Suboxone doctor told me I needed methadone, that I’d been using opioids for too long for Suboxone to be effective. Good, I hate the taste of Suboxone. It’s a sublingual strip: don’t swallow it, let it sit for as long as possible under the tongue. It tastes like the worst kind of cherry cough syrup but lemon-lime flavored. The doctor wrote me a month-long script for it. I don’t want this visit to be a waste of your time and money, she said. I do recommend that you call a methadone clinic and set something up once you leave here though.
The instructions were to take eight milligrams of Suboxone every eight hours. A Suboxone was averaging ten to twenty dollars on the street. I left and shot my last bit of heroin. It wasn’t my plan to sell the subs, or maybe it was. All I know is that when I ran out of heroin, I couldn’t make the transition to Suboxone without being locked up in a medical facility, and of course, I wasn’t ready or willing to go to a medical facility. Within a few hours, I made eighteen hundred dollars and spent it all that evening.
There were several overdoses: lost count. One coma.
I remember when Haley and I scored a superpotent batch of fetty and we spent a whole week slapping each other because we kept falling out. I videotaped part of it on my iPhone. I was feeling good but not royally fucked up and Haley was standing by the little table in her studio apartment at that U-shaped complex we lived in. She kept nodding out at the table, falling over, standing up, falling over. I kept having to get up and slap and shake her, splash water in her face. Haley, wake the fuck up! and she’d incoherently mumble, What? and I’d say, You weren’t breathing.
Everyone knows that sound, that exorcistic gasp, that breathless gargle.
At one point, I was laughing. Haley thought it would be a good idea to smoke some crack, wake up a bit, but as she reached for the pipe and lighter, she dropped it. She was a zombie and struggled to pick it up, kept dropping it as she was in and out of consciousness. The whole time I was capturing her on video. I have to show her this when she isn’t fucked up, I thought. While I was filming, I kept noticing how difficult it was to hold my hand up, my drooping eyelids, and as a result Haley kept oscillating inside and outside of the frame. Every time I noticed, I jolted back up, staring really hard at the camera as I adjusted it. C’mon, Christian, concentrate, I was thinking, until eventually my hand and phone were on the mattress, as well as my head, face-first.
I woke up covered in water and to Haley slapping me.
There were overdose deaths:
Eric was the reason they put a lock on the restroom at the Wendy’s off Eleventh Street and Jennifer was found in that abandoned garage. There was also Tommy and Jill and Michael and Donahue and Reggie and a lot lot more.
There were phases: good, bad, and ugly.
Sometimes, it got ugly pretty quickly, and if you were lucky, it got good again. That’s always the dream: that it can get good again, return to that honeymoon phase, that first hit. If that were true, there would be no need for support groups or recovery.
There were cops, lots of cops.
Like when I was thrown into the back of a police vehicle with Li’l Dummy. His street name should have been a red flag. Every morning, he walked from the low-income affordable housing to the corner store because they sold white T’s. He’d buy one, walk outside, take his off, throw it into the dumpster, and put on his new one.
When I pulled out of his parking lot, Li’l Dummy was smoking the joint of the weed I had just sold him and wearing his fresh new white T-shirt. At the time, I was selling pot to a neighborhood gang and he was a member of that gang. So there’s Li’l Dummy sitting in the passenger seat blowing pot smoke out of the window and then it’s woop woop and there are cop cars, vans, and a helicopter above us. I pull over and Li’l Dummy is shoving the crack rocks up his ass. The cops are yelling stop fucking moving while exiting their vehicles. Their guns are drawn and I’m freaking out because I have a machete in the front seat and some decent weight of blue kush behind the air vents of my car. Stop fucking moving or I’ll shoot! I didn’t know that Li’l Dummy was wanted for double homicide and drug trafficking. As they approached us, all that he said was be cool.
There were drug dealers, more drug dealers than cops.
Like Hot Rod who bred pit bulls to fight. He was tall and had cornrows. His face shared an uncanny resemblance to a bug’s: slightly squished with large eyes. He kept Whiteboy Mikey, a crackhead, in his house to cook and clean in exchange for crack. Hot Rod’s girlfriend didn’t like Mikey but put up with him because she didn’t want to clean, only sit and watch TV all day or spend Hot Rod’s money on what rappers rapped about.
Like Ant who got arrested for homicide as it related to a junkie overdosing and dying. Ant sold the fatal shot. I can’t say this for certain, but I’m pretty sure the death occurred in the parking lot of a duplex. It would have been the same duplex that Haley and I were living in. She received temporary housing through the YWCA. In exchange for a daily allowance of dope, we may have allowed Ant to use it as a trap house. A junkie may have overdosed and died in his car, presumably he would have copped in the evening, used in his car parked in our backlot, and overdosed. His car would have been running all night unnoticed. His body would have been discovered a bruised blue and suffocated gray. Haley and I may have had to find somewhere else to live, fast.
Like Vernon who was shot in the face. Haley and I had been blowing up his phone. It started with the same text every morning: you up? along with the amount I was looking to spend, five hundred? Time passed, which led to us calling. Not much time needs to pass before a junkie starts calling. It rang and rang. Eventually his sister called us back on his phone. We’re at the hospital. Vern was shot. She hung up. Vern had been dealing the best dope for the last week: the kind that can kill you. Haley and I weren’t about to spend a penny on weaker shit. We called all the local hospitals trying to find him and we did find him. Should we just show up? appear concerned? I mean, we are, but also, we need to cop. In the hospital gift shop, I bought an arrangement of flowers. Walking to his room, we bumped into Vern’s mother, a sweet lady who worked as a nurse in an old folks’ home. Vern will be out later today, she said. Don’t worry, we got you. We spent a few minutes with him in his hospital room and a few hours later he called us. I met him in his apartment complex’s parking lot. He had a huge bandage on his cheek where the bullet entered his face. This little motherfucker I’ve been beefing with tried to step to me. I’ll get him on the flipside, he said.
There were junkies, more junkies than cops and dealers combined.
Like Dahlia who shaved her head when she was tweaked out. Was always back and forth between the Mexico border with a fresh batch of tar hidden inside her cunt. Slept in her car.
Like Howie who was that odd mix of both heavyset and slim. Long curly brown hair and an oily face. He wore those serial-killer black eyeglasses. The ones with the thick square frames. His mother woke up every morning with the shakes and Howie walked to the liquor store for her. He always said bubba at the end of every sentence. It’s a coin of phrase that the poor white folks say, but they usually shorten it to bub.
Like Sideshow and Jen and Old John: the oogles with their pet pit bull, Dax, and studs and buttons and patches in and on everything.
Like George who was the smartest junkie I knew, a math whiz, and the best kind of liar. He was ten years my elder and a street teacher of sorts. We were always up to no good, and we always did each other favors, like that one time I overdosed and texted him from my hospital bed. He picked me up outside of the hospital with a freshly prepared shot—all I had to do was tie off with his seatbelt—and there I was.
And there was the cartel:
They operated a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. delivery service. Text them at 9 a.m. what you want and they’ll deliver. They don’t give a shit about law enforcement, driving around with a brick or two of heroin in their car and an Uzi. Miguel always pulled up with some narcocorrido blaring. He’ll sit in your living room and talk with you for an hour or two if he likes you.
There were the cliques, the different scenes like high school.
The punks, the white trash, the white trash acting Black, the Blacks, the Latinx, the queers, the trust funders, the newbies, the sex workers, and the old-timers. Of course, there were more, or you could be more than one. Get in where you fit in, someone once said, and that’s the thing, if you’re a really good junkie, you can fit in anywhere.
There were the times before needle exchanges:
Most times, I was honest with the pharmacists. It was easier than trying to pretend to be a diabetic or picking up syringes for my made-up diabetic mother who just couldn’t make it.
This is what I usually said: I’m opioid dependent. I’m trying to avoid contracting Hep C or HIV or endocarditis. Would you please sell me a box of 31 gauge, 100 unit syringes? I know that there is an ethical clause that permits you to bypass state law. Some were kind and sold them, while others said, I’m sorry, I can’t help you, and they often added, You can stop if you really want to, and I left, and I shared—I should say had to because the choice wasn’t mine—and sometimes the needle was so dull that I literally had to jam it into the vein with such force that the vein blew, and sometimes the vein would just bounce around because the needle was so dull and I’d have to jam it in again.
There were abscesses:
Cut it out!
There was cellulitis:
Haley’s hand was nearly cut off. It swelled up like a balloon, red and bright as a monkey’s ass, and she was still trying to shoot up in it.
There was going to school and dropping out, going to school and dropping out:
That’s the thing about addiction starting young. One time, I actually finished a course and couldn’t believe that I got an A. There was another course that I was flunked in, Developmental Psychology, but I don’t even remember taking it. And during one exam in College Algebra, I didn’t know anything so I just left the whole test blank and wrote: I hate myself and will never amount to anything. I’m pretty sure the teacher passed me.
There were hustles, lots of hustles:
Stealing items from department stores and returning them for gift cards and trading the gift cards for dope or taking them to an Alula machine for cash; stealing items that your drug dealers want; stealing items and hawking them; selling yourself; selling drugs; middle-manning drugs; robbing drug dealers; ad infinitum.
There was copping:
They say I’m around the corner or pullin’ up which really means they’ll arrive with the drugs anytime between now and the next hour.
There was drug tolerance:
More, more, more. Pro tip: buy in bulk.
There was dopesickness:
Shoot me up or shoot me down.
There was the carpet:
Picking up crumbs of crack cocaine to smoke. The problem: sesame seeds and other impediments to discernibility. Anything on the floor that shared a fleeting similarity may be inquisitively eyeballed, rolled between the finger tips, smelt as a last measure, and then smoked.
There was the cardboard:
Something was written on it with a thick black Sharpie: Hungry and homeless. Anything helps, but it was always a lie. Food, water, sex, and housing always came second to heroin. And sure, there was that one time I was really really hungry—starving actually—even the shot of heroin didn’t curb my appetite or help me forget. I hadn’t eaten in a week except for those few candy bars in between, and that one gentleman was nice enough to take me inside the McDonald’s and buy me a McMuffin. It was a winter morning in Ohio. It was below thirty degrees. I was so cold. I was so hungry.
There was the shoebox:
Everyone has some special place to keep their paraphernalia. I entered the code for the door to the hostel near The Ohio State University’s campus. Haley kept everything in a shoebox: used cottons, new cottons, needles, stems, and spoons. We were thankful that the owner was a diabetic and stored boxes of fresh syringes in the basement. I imagined people must have thought it was strange how I entered. Every time, like clockwork, Haley carried the shoebox up the stairs to the community bathroom where we locked the door, played music from my iPhone, and shot heroin. Afterward, we went downstairs, sat on the front porch, and smoked a cigarette. The manager let us pay monthly at a discounted rate and Haley’s grandmother was paying anyway. After a few months, she stopped paying. A month or two later, we made up a payment. Eventually, we stopped paying in general, but the manager didn’t seem to care.
There was also my mom giving me money.
And then there was me stealing money from my mom.
There was a drive to detox and me jumping out of the car and running away.
I promised that I would go to detox but that we needed to stop and get some heroin on the way so I wasn’t sick during intake. After my mother handed me the money, I disappeared.
There was a drive to detox and me, after a few days, calling my drug dealer to pick me up.
There was me, always saying:
I’m not going to do this tomorrow, or I’m not going to do this again, or I can’t keep doing this, or I have to stop, and of course, I’m going to get clean. I was a broken record. I’ll never forget returning to Haley’s apartment, the little studio in the U-shaped apartment complex, and saying I’m not going to do this again as I set the dope on the table no larger than a hairstylist’s color tray. Stop, she said. She started crying, I can’t take it anymore. Just stop saying it, because I had been saying it, in whichever way, almost every single day. The room went black as we turned off all of the lights and sat on the mattress on the floor until the morning when I left to find another way to get money to get high again.
There was junkie love:
Haley hated her uniform but always brought a box of pizza home so we didn’t starve. At the time of her delivery job, a local driver had been robbed and killed for a large cheese pizza, two 2-liter coca-colas, and forty dollars. Haley didn’t think twice about it. We need the money, she said, before leaving to work. And when she got home, once in a while, we fucked. It had nothing to do with being present or passionate: it was all kink and cum and we never wore protection because we didn’t feel like we ever were protected, and it felt better that way, raw and incorrigible. Fast-forward: Haley’s pregnancy test is positive and she’s freaking out because we’re strung-out junkies and she already has two kids she can’t take care of. I’ll drive her to get an abortion and bring heroin for us both for before and after. It’ll happen twice. In between, I’ll go to detox and a woman working there will give me a bracelet that says, “I Hate Heroin.” It was made by a friend of hers for some kid who overdosed and died, and I’ll not wear it because it isn’t true: I love heroin. It’s the only feeling in the world that changes the past. People do drugs for a reason. Haley delivered pizza listening to the mixes I made her and while she did, I pawned what I stole and sometimes I really hit a lick. She got off work and was happy because we had everything we could ever want. She kissed me and I liked it. Sharp white teeth and a gentle tongue. Sharp white teeth and a gentle tongue.
There was heroin:
And then there was heroin and crack cocaine, and then there was a sprinkle of meth here and there, which was profound when injected with heroin but only for a few minutes and then it was a week of no sleep and paranoia, and then there was heroin and crack cocaine and benzos, and then there was heroin and crack cocaine and benzos and booze, and then it was all just heroin, at least that’s what we called it but it was mostly just fentanyl by then.
And then there’s me now:
And you wouldn’t even know it, wouldn’t even be able to tell that I ever used heroin or smoked crack, except the junkies, they all can tell—I don’t know how but they can.
Thinking about my addiction, all those years: the people, places, promises made and broken, failed attempts at sobriety, crime and punishment, and for those last five years, being in love insofar as two people loving a drug, I see primarily one thing, the thing that it was all about: getting high. Or at least that’s what I want to see.
Not to get all inspirational, but the space between who I was then and am right now feels like light-years. I’m trying my best not to forget.
CHRISTIAN BODNEY lives in New York City. He/they is an MFA candidate in creative writing at New York University. He is currently nearing the completion of a collection of experimental essays/memoirs. He has work appearing in Hobart, Ninth Letter, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Sonora Review. Find him on Instagram @sisyphus.is.happy.
Featured image by Brianna Tucker, courtesy of Unsplash.