No matter what kind of game you find yourself in, no matter how good or bad the luck, you can change your life completely with a single thought or a single act of love.— Gregory David Roberts, author of Shantaram, a novel.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore / “Published by Hutchinson Books affiliated with Penguin Random House; ISBN: 978-1-78-633162-5, Both in the USA and the United Kingdom”
“In 2009, Liz Moore accompanied photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge to the Philadephia neighbourhood of Kensington, where he was documenting the human cost of the area’s high rate of opioid addiction. The interviews and sketches she began to write on the subject laid the foundations of her fourth book, Long Bright River, a novel 10 years in the making that bears witness to the author’s extensive research and first-hand experience of the lives of those who fall through the cracks.”
“Long Bright Mirror” by Liz Moore, is a book that is both frightening and warm, about two sisters in Philadelphia who have been slammed by the opiate crisis. Mickey or Michaela, the older sister has become a police officer who regularly patrols the 24th District called Kensington.
Her younger sister, Kacey, a heroin addict, is a working woman of the streets. The two women, both going in different directions but related to each other by blood and life choices, are on opposite sides of the opiate crisis that has worn Philadelphia thin, as it has done to many cities in the world.
Back when I was using, court mandated to a methadone clinic, my former wife, who now rests in the sleep of death, and I were traveling down to see my parents, also gone, in Florida. The only way we could travel was to get legal permission to stop and be dosed by clinics as we rode the dark highway.
One of our stops, traveling from Massachusetts, was a methadone clinic in Philadelphia and I was struck by the multitude of people of all shapes, sizes, and races that were waiting to be dosed. We had legal papers from the clinic in Cambridge and it still took a while to be processed for our legal fix. I could tell that Philadelphia, even back in the 1980’s, was a heroin city.
But back to “Long Bright River” and Mickey the police officer who says, “The first time I found my sister dead, she was sixteen.” When it comes to heroin, an addict can die many times, if they are lucky enough to be Narcaned back to life, cursing and spitting at their twisted fate.
Mickey runs across overdose victims so often that she becomes armored, however, that does not mean she doesn’t shed inner tears at the fate of the women who work the area she patrols. Her great fear, as she approaches what may be a body with the soul already gone—or not—that it is her sister Kacey.
Michaela (Mickey) and Kacey were brought up by their grandmother Gee, who is an angry and wounded woman, because her daughter Lisa, Michaela and Kacey’s mother, died of an overdose. Their father Daniel stuck around for a little while but then he fled to seek oblivion in some other dark bathroom.
The police patrols have gotten tense because there is a killer in town, someone who is strangling the women of the streets, scattering the streets with murdered sex workers. Some of the police really don’t care much; other police, such as Mickey, have a total investment in bringing this killer to his final end or justice, whichever comes first.
Every time Mickey and her ever changing partners come upon a body, she reacts and thinks, “She’s not Kacey. That’s my first thought: Thank God, I don’t know her. Her death was recent: that’s my second. She hasn’t been lying here long. There’s nothing soft about her, nothing slack. Instead she’s stiff, lying on her back, one arm contracted upward so that her hand has become a claw. Her face is contorted and sharp; her eyes are unpleasantly open. Usually, in overdoses, they’re closed—which always gives some measure of comfort.”
The book has flashbacks to the past that show the relationship between the two sisters when they were young, how extremely close they were and how they were united against the sometime bitterness of Gee, their grandmother who was reluctantly trying to raise them.
The house was a three bedroom, but Gee slept in one bedroom and the two sisters slept in another. The middle bedroom was the one where their mother, Lisa, was found dead and neither of the sisters want to rest in a haunted room.
The book is a tale of hunting and haunting; searching for Kacey who is missing but not found dead; searching for the predator who hunts the sad women of the streets; and in the meantime, Mickey is hunting for a police partner that she can work with; someone who has empathy for her hopeful search for her sister. Michaela and her young son Thomas are also searching for their family.
This is a powerful tale, full of twists and turns. Liz Moore spins a terrifying story of a city full of ghosts, some living, some in half-life, and others already dead. Moore was a winner of the 2014 Rome Prize in Literature and is herself a resident of Philadelphia.
Just the other day I saw this book, signed copies, in the Harvard Book Store, which I frequent quite often. Please pick it up—you won’t regret it.
Heroin’s harbor is the addict, as Marc D. Goldfinger’s collection of poems and stories, Heroin’s Harbour makes harrowingly clear. Heroin is the body of the addict that craves the drug, and it’s the mind of the addict that cooperates with the insistent body, paradoxically rationalizing any action that might provide safe harbor for a poison. Human beings are frail things, ultimately, Goldfinger’s poems and stories illustrate, too weak to commit to our resolutions or to stave off gratifications that have become needs. Goldfinger’s work does more than merely describe the habits, lifestyle, and thoughts of a junkie; he takes his reader hostage, straps us to the back of his motorcycle so that we do more than simply observe—we participate. Goldfinger’s craft enables us, along with him, to feel the needle and the need.
In “A Junkie’s Prayer,” one of the first poems in the first section of Heroin’s Harbour, “An Epistle to Opium,” the reader is told what the junkie prays for: not redemption, not relief, not freedom from addiction. The narrator of this poem is so embedded in his world of dependency—the “harbor” of the drug—that what is prayed for are his most immediate needs: “please keep our needles disease free”; “keep us safe from those who would poison our dope”; “keep the police the police from our door”; “keep us free from abscess.” What is prayed for is not an escape, but that “heroin’s sweet sleep” will “ease the pain that lives within our hearts.” The junkie does not beg for a way out and doesn’t seem to want one, asking only that God “keep watch over the farmers and the fields of poppies they tend.”
A poem like “What Would You Do for a Fix?” lacks a religious core, but uses liturgical “call and response” and repetition to emphasize the all-encompassing nature of a junkie’s need. In this poem, there are sins against the family: “For a fix/ I would steel my mother’s purse; For a fix/ I would take my sister’s coin collection; For a fix/ I would desert my children.” There are sins against the purity of his own body: “For a fix/ I would risk hepatitis; For a fix/ I would shoot toilet water.” There are sins against society: “For a fix/ I would take the money out of the pocket of an unconscious man on the street, For a fix / I would sell dangerous drugs to novices.” Later in the poem, further biblical allusion occurs in another repeated construction: “In the beginning, I got high because I liked it./ In the end I got high because it was all I had left . . . In the beginning I got high because I was searching for the way./ In the end I got high because I was searching for the way out.” As the narrator concludes in “I Have Trouble with Names”: “Some of us name the Gods. / I have trouble with names.”
Love itself for the junkie isn’t to be found through religion, as Goldfinger testifies in “Drug Store Christ (Heist): “They tell me to turn to Jesus Christ/ Just wait till I do this drug store heist/ . . . ‘Well, we found God/Just sittin’ in the safe of that drug store.’” And True Love for one’s significant other, as described in “Junkie Love” means “giving her the biggest hit,” or when you’re strung out and broke and don’t ask her to hit the streets.”
Again and again, Goldfinger repeats the message stated in “Death Trippin,” one of the poems written in hard driving couplets that he suggests are “songs” but are all the more frightening in that they come off more as feverish rants: “One thing I know, Heroin’s the best/ For nullifying the pain that’s in my chest.” The shift from reading Goldfinger’s poems to reading his short stories is like a shift from listening to songs to watching a movie that uses those songs as background music. The refrain stated in the poem “Getting Fixed in South Carolina”: “addiction only remembers what it needs” throbs through the prose of stories that describe in detail the underworld of junkies. There are stories about dealing with crooked pharmacists and hard-ass police (“A Controlled Dangerous Substance Act”); stories about navigating life with various women who shared the narrator’s addictions (“Femme Fatale”); stories about obtaining prescriptions from doctors (“Running on Empty in Vermont”); stories about living in filth and failing to care for those innocents for whom you’re responsible (“Two Dogs and a Kitten”). The long poem “Getting Fixed in South Carolina” is itself expanded into a short story that depicts the life-threatening hazards a junkie will undertake to satisfy his habit. These stories powerfully convey the life of addicts whose focus is reduced to remembering “what it needs.” But even detailed stories are insufficiently descriptive, Goldfinger asserts in “The Rocking Chair,” which shows a recovering junkie’s return home to aged and ailing parents: “The imagination is limited when it comes to the real. Things get left out.”
Recovery for the junkie seems a struggle doomed to Sisyphean failure. In his second section of poems, “The Fight to Stay Clean,” Goldfinger presents several portraits of those lost to drugs (“Medusa with Fire,” “One of the Tough Guys,” “Significant Other,” “Open Casket,” “The Way She Shakes”), or those who will be (“A Couple of Kids”). But there is a whisper of hope in the sisterhood of “The Angels of Gloucester,” who “walk an ancient path now, join hands at signs of trouble, hug each other’s children, knit their families into hot strong blankets with threads of prayer.” Ultimately, Goldfinger points to the necessity of the recovering junkie never losing sight of the fact that he is “The Split Man”: two alternate realities, this poem illustrates, are perpetually present, contending for the junkie’s heart: “I am the happy married man/ the junkie in the street begging/ the house-owner sitting sitting at my computer/ in the bathroom sticking a needle in my arm . . . / I am a split man, this half of me dances with joy/ I am a split man, this half of me is dying day by day/ I can choose, I can stand by a lake holding the hand of my wife/ or my choices are gone, I probe my arm looking for a vein.”
With devastating honesty and heartbreaking detail, Marc D. Goldfinger offers in his poems and stories glimpses into the lives of tortured souls who have abandoned themselves to an all-consuming, unsafe harbor. “A junkie’s body never forgets,” he concludes in the poem “All of Me”: “If it was just physical, I would never use dope/ again. It is not my body, it is me, all of me, my body, my soul, my mind/ interlocked in heroin hypnosis, even/ free, I will never be free again.” Goldfinger’s words seem less buoys warning of an unsafe passage than a testament to the hope of a single split man’s survival. — Gregory J. Wolos
It’s official. As of Monday morning, January 6, 2020 the Impeachment of President Trump is on the second page of the Boston Globe. Clearly our President took a lesson from a previous Republican president. When polls threaten to decline, start a war.
President Trump just assassinated General Qasem Soleimani, the top General of Iran. Of course the people of Iran are disturbed, upset, mourning, angry and threatening to attack Americans.
The Doomsday Clock is now at two minutes to midnight because of the Climate Chaos, the imminent threat of nuclear war and the basic instability of so many countries in the world. Iran is abandoning its pact to limit nuclear arms and announced it will enrich uranium without restriction.
Our halfway Impeached President Trump warned Iran that he has targeted 52 sites inside their borders, which include cultural sites. This is retaliation for the 52 hostages held at the US Embassy in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution in 1979, so he says.
It appears that we have a madman at the helm of state in America. Forget that he doesn’t believe in Global Warming or the incipient deep fry of our planet! Forget that he doesn’t really care about common people like us and only favors his rich cronies and crooked Senate pals like Mitch McConnell. We try to forget but we just can’t.
Our national debt has increased astronomically since Trump took office while losing the popular vote. I know, I know, what would Hillary Clinton have done? Well, I don’t believe that she would have done as much damage as Trump in the short time that he has been in power.
Do you feel safe yet? Does the fact that scientists all over the world think that Donald Trump is an idiot mean anything to you? Are we safe?
I remember in the movie Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman when people kept asking, “Is it safe?” as the code which meant that things were totally out of control!
Folks, things are totally out of control. The fact that we have to ask the question, which Democratic candidate can beat Trump in the 2020 election; the very fact that we have to ask this question means that things are totally out of hand and the system is failing us all.
Okay, I enjoy these big football games coming up even though the Patriots are out of the running. I like the San Francisco 49’ers led by Jimmy Garoppolo and the Baltimore Ravens led by Lamar Jackson. Really readers, but so what!!!
Our world is on a high state of war alert just because we have a crazy red-headed stepchild at the nuclear control button. This isn’t about some crazy television show where he can just fire people, bomb people, burn the world to the ground around us.
The rain forests are burning; the continent of Australia is burning; the state of California is burning; New Orleans and Florida are beginning to drown; weather events are destroying the infrastructure of our civilization and only a 17 year-old woman named Greta Thunberg is making sense.
How did this situation begin? Are the people who keep Trump in power really this stupid or is it only in my quite active imagination that things have gone FUBAR? Is anyone controlling him? Who are they?
Is it safe? How safe do you feel right now? Do you know that homelessness is rising across the world in startling numbers? Just look around your cities. I mean really take a look. Should people in what is foolishly regarded as one of the richest countries be out on the streets begging?
And why do you think the suicide rate is rising? Why do you think the amount of people picking up drugs and alcohol to escape is reaching record proportions? Is it safe? How safe do you feel right now?
Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement and Greenpeace would make a better government than we have now.
Please people, wake up! The Doomsday Clock is two minutes to midnight and at midnight everything ends, so to speak. The question is what are we going to do to make things right? Somebody must make a move. This is checkmate folks.
I took a short ride in my car yesterday and was listening to a group called Jersey Dream put out by Clifton Records. They are an acapella group. The lead singer is a friend of mine named Ron Trautz. I was enjoying his voice and thinking about how much he has accomplished since we ran wild together back in the 1960’s.
Just to brag about his accomplishments for a moment, Ron Trautz obtained his LCSW & his LCADC and became the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Counseling Center in New Jersey after graduating from Rutgers University.
Ron has over 40 years of experience in the treatment of Substance Use and Co-Occurring Disorders and is experienced in treating people both inpatient and outpatient. He also had a private practice and worked with other non-profit agencies.
That’s pretty wild when I think of the times we got loaded together on codeine based cough syrup back in the early 1960’s. We made many trips from Jersey to New York City, along with a group of other wild characters, in my 58 Plymouth Convertible Belvidere with a push-button transmission.
The first drugstore we hit was called Zelnick’s, named after the proprietor. I remember the first time I walked in there and asked for a jug of Robitussin A-C and the pharmacist looked at me and asked me how many people I was with. I didn’t understand why he asked that question and I queried him back.
He said, “Look, I don’t want a line of you guys running in and out of my store because it just doesn’t look good. Tell me how many bottles you want and I’ll give them all to you as long as you pay for them.”
I told him that there were six of us and we each wanted two bottles apiece. He went into his back room and brought out three 16 ounce bottles while I ran out, collected the bread (money) and ran back in. Needless to say, we were all thrilled and quite loaded by the time we hit our favorite diner on Route 3 in New Jersey to have a couple of cups of hot tea.
I was still in high school at the time and so was Ron. We used to go and “hang” at a friend’s house in Livingston whose parents took off every weekend. If the house wasn’t available we would go to Livingston Lanes and hang out at the coffee shop there until we became personas non gratas—in other words, until they kicked us out.
I remember how the town detectives would always follow us around, but back then they were too lame to make any definitive arrests. They would actually come to the parking lot at the Livingston Lanes and chat us up to see if they could glean any information from us. We were just teenagers but thought of ourselves as having the art of misdirection totally under control.
Some of us got out of the life, Ron being one of the lucky ones. There were others too. But I continued on the long road to heroin addiction and never wanted to stop, nor did I think I could.
Ron got clean, went back to school and studied to become a drug counselor and was a success. He kept singing vocal group harmony with his specialty being acapella. His album, called Jersey Dream, is just one of the groups he sang with. Ron sang lead vocalist with Jersey Dream and hearing his voice is like a trip in the way-back machine.
I struggled for over 3 and one-half decades with my opiate addiction and now I am about to celebrate 15 years of sobriety with my home group. I actually passed the 15 year mark in September but, because I dislike chairing the meeting, I put it off and then realized that it would be a good thing to do to show that a once hopeless case like me, can actually recover from this illness of the body, mind and soul.
I have to admit that sometimes I think about using or, as the term goes, “picking up” but every time I think of it, the thought of that terrible Fentanyl crosses my mind. Today, I love life, and I realize that if I were to stick the needle in my vein I might not be alive to pull it back out. That’s what happened to one of my heroes by the name of Lenny Bruce, a great comedian who was ahead of his time. He passed at the age of 37 in 1966. But it wasn’t Fentanyl, just an overdose but he is gone except for his comedic legacy.
Ron is the other side of the story. He spent 40 years of his life treating people with addictions as both a counselor and the Director of the agency I mentioned earlier.
Unfortunately, Ron is quite ill now with various age-related afflictions, but he is totally valued by his wife, family and friends. When I think back at how wild we were, I find it amazing that he accomplished so much. Of course, he was one of the brighter people in the club we called the Hats in Livingston High School.
I guess both of us are lucky, both Ron and me. I worked as a drug counselor for a few years, but it was at the Cambridge Needle Exchange and it was too close for my hungry monkey. I relapsed on the job.
Now I work as a writer and I’ll soon be having a book published of short stories and poetry. I’m looking forward to it but keeping my life in the moment so I can stay drug free. After all, I know I’m not bullet proof.
He tried to drive away, twenty-one years always running from his shadow but it was holding onto his shoulders from the inside; he tried to drive
away; it was the cage he was running from; it was always hard to run when you’re already in the cage; he tried to drive
away. He didn’t ask the cop to jump onto his car. But the cop jumped on his car; he chose to do it. What’s
a junkie to do? He was just trying to run; that’s what junkies do; but this cop jumped onto the hood of his car; the blue
gang are always trying to be heroes. But the junkie tried to drive away; that’s what junkies do. The cop was holding on for dear life; he didn’t think, he didn’t think it was going to go down like this,
he thought the junkie was going to stop. Junkies run; that’s what they do best. So the cop screamed “Stop, Stop!’ and pulled out his gun and said, “Don’t
make me do it, don’t make me shoot!” like it was the junkie’s finger on the trigger, but all the junkie wanted to do was run, so he hit the gas and the cop
freaked out. He pulled the trigger wham wham wham and glass metal blood; nobody thought it would go down like this. All the junkie wanted to do was run; he’d been
running all his life, just from the pain of being alive. He tried to drive away; all he wanted to do was drive but the cop but the cop jumped on the car thought
he could make him stop but it was scary, too scary just hanging on to the hood of a car, the hood of a car that wouldn’t stop moving but it wasn’t
the car moving made him shoot; it wasn’t the junkie behind the wheel of the car that made him shoot; the junkie was just trying to get away when the cop screamed,
“Don’t make me shoot!” But the finger, it was the finger of the hand, the finger of the hand of the cop who was scared because he didn’t think it would go down like this
that pulled the trigger, pulled the trigger, blew the junkie’s face all apart splattered blood all over the car, he was just driving the car, all he wanted to do was run
pulled the trigger, pulled the trigger, pulled the trigger, what was he thinking when the bullet drove through the windshield into his mind bringing with it the
shards of glass sharper than the memories that drove him to run; memories of bits of broken glass; he tried to drive away; wham wham wham; all his life . . .
**printed originally in Poiesis, A Journal of the Arts & Communication, Volume 8, 2006
I met my beloved wife in 1994 at a support meeting for alcoholism. Both of us were closing in on our 50’s. We often went out for coffee together and became fast friends. Each of us was struggling with our own demons, yet we were able to give each other loving support. The key word is “loving” and not until 1999 did we start dating, very casually, going out to movies, eating dinner at her place, listening to her play the piano while I kicked back. One night Mary Esther and I went to a party where her close friend was celebrating many years of sobriety. After the party, we came back to her place and just because it was time, we fell into each other’s arms for our first passionate kiss. We didn’t have time to consummate the strong desires that we both were feeling because I had to get to the station to make the train back to the recovery house, called Moore’s Way, that I lived in on the North Shore in the great town of Gloucester.
We both promised to deal with this gift the next time we saw each other. Both of us were dealing with some major wreckage of the past and we both agreed that we would not consummate our relationship unless we both comitted to a monogamous relationship. Needless to say, we agreed and have enjoyed a wonderful relationship over the years. However, there have been dark shadows. On April 7, 2001, we came home from church and were eating dinner at her place when she started having tremors and couldn’t stop shaking. I asked her if she could take some deep breaths and she couldn’t. We both realized this was serious and I asked her to get into her car and, despite the fact that I still had no driver’s license (for some major infractions that took place many years ago), I drove her to Mt. Auburn Hospital which was the closest hospital. We parked by the Emergency room and I walked her in. Immediately the staff there recognized that something serious was happening and they took Mary Esther right in and hooked her up to various intravenous machines and then they let me come in to sit with her while she was being evaluated.
The physician was very concerned because all of her vitals were skewed a bit and he said, “We’ll keep her now for observation until this clears up.”
Suddenly, all her vitals started to crash. The physician and staff ran a line to her heart and told us that they were going to have to intubate her because she was rapidly losing the ability to breath on her own. Our eyes met and I was as frightened as she was as they led me out of the room so they could deal with this major event. To make a long story a bit shorter, what they found out was she had Sepsis. There was a cyst on her kidney that had started to leak poisons into her bloodstream and that was what started the tremors. While she was on the table in the Emergency room, the cyst burst and flooded her system with the lethal poison. For about two days we did not know whether my wonderful woman was going to survive. A priest that she knew came in and gave her Last Rites. I had called her mother, who lived downstairs from her, and she came to the hospital. Her name was Mary and she was around 88 years old at the time.
At the hospital, she looked at me and said, “Remember, she was mine first!” I looked her in the eye and said, “I know that, and I will always be grateful that you brought her into this world to grace my life.” She came into my arms and cried. By the end of the second day, Mary Esther started to improve, and they were able to take the intubation out and she could breathe on her own. She still couldn’t talk because they had a mask on her face to help her lungs with pressure. When I leaned over to kiss her forehead, Mary Esther gave me a head butt! It was the only way she could communicate and she wanted me to know she was still there. I realized then that she was going to be okay. For the 12 days she was at Mt. Auburn Hospital, the doctors brought resident physicians around to meet the woman who had survived Sepsis. They told us that if she was not at the hospital when the cyst burst, she would have been lost.
During her recovery, I actually watched Mary Esther go through all the stages of growing up. At first, she was like a little child but then, as she recovered, she grew up into the woman I had fallen in love with. While she was in the hospital, I asked her to marry me because we both felt that time was shorter than we knew. Even though she was committing to a homeless drug addict struggling in recovery, Mary Esther accepted. We were married at a friend’s house, in a large backyard on June 22nd, 2002. It was a great wedding, totally alcohol and drug free, and even the caterers had a great time and didn’t want to leave.
Obviously, there is more to this story, but I have run out of space. It is now 2019 and the leaves are coloring, and the acorns are dropping as the holiday season creeps up on us. Mary Esther and I believe that, for us, God saved the best for last.
I took a short ride in my car yesterday and was listening to a group called Jersey Dream put out by Clifton Records. They are an acapella group. The lead singer is a friend of mine named Ron Trautz. I was enjoying his voice and thinking about how much he has accomplished since we ran wild together back in the 1960’s. Just to brag about his accomplishments for a moment, Ron Trautz obtained his LCSW & his LCADC and became the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Counseling Center in New Jersey after graduating from Rutgers University. Ron has over 40 years of experience in the treatment of Substance Use and Co-Occurring Disorders and is experienced in treating people both inpatient and outpatient. He also had a private practice and worked with other non-profit agencies. That’s pretty wild when I think of the times we got loaded together on codeine based cough syrup back in the early 1960’s. We made many trips from Jersey to New York City, along with a group of other wild characters, in my 58 Plymouth Convertible Belvidere with a push-button transmission.
The first drugstore we hit was called Zelnick’s, named after the proprietor. I remember the first time I walked in there and asked for a jug of Robitussin A-C and the pharmacist looked at me and asked me how many people I was with. I didn’t understand why he asked that question and I queried him back. He said, “Look, I don’t want a line of you guys running in and out of my store because it just doesn’t look good. Tell me how many bottles you want and I’ll give them all to you as long as you pay for them.” I told him that there were six of us and we each wanted two bottles apiece. He went into his back room and brought out three 16 ounce bottles while I ran out, collected the bread (money) and ran back in. Needless to say, we were all thrilled and quite loaded by the time we hit our favorite diner on Route 3 in New Jersey to have a couple of cups of hot tea.
I was still in high school at the time and so was Ron. We used to go and “hang” at a friend’s house in Livingston whose parents took off every weekend. If the house wasn’t available we would go to Livingston Lanes and hang out at the coffee shop there until we became personas non gratas—in other words, until they kicked us out. I remember how the town detectives would always follow us around, but back then they were too lame to make any definitive arrests. They would actually come to the parking lot at the Livingston Lanes and chat us up to see if they could glean any information from us. We were just teenagers but thought of ourselves as having the art of misdirection totally under control. Some of us got out of the life, Ron being one of the lucky ones. There were others too. But I continued on the long road to heroin addiction and never wanted to stop, nor did I think I could.
Ron got clean, went back to school and studied to become a drug counselor and was a success. He kept singing vocal group harmony with his specialty being acapella. His album, called Jersey Dream, is just one of the groups he sang with. Ron sang lead vocalist with Jersey Dream and hearing his voice is like a trip in the way-back machine. I struggled for over 3 and one-half decades with my opiate addiction and now I am about to celebrate 15 years of sobriety with my home group. I actually passed the 15 year mark in September but, because I dislike chairing the meeting, I put it off and then realized that it would be a good thing to do to show that a once hopeless case like me, can actually recover from this illness of the body, mind and soul. I have to admit that sometimes I think about using or, as the term goes, “picking up” but every time I think of it, the thought of that terrible Fentanyl crosses my mind. Today, I love life, and I realize that if I were to stick the needle in my vein I might not be alive to pull it back out. That’s what happened to one of my heroes by the name of Lenny Bruce, a great comedian who was ahead of his time. He passed at the age of 37 in 1966. But it wasn’t Fentanyl, just an overdose but he is gone except for his comedic legacy.
Ron is the other side of the story. He spent 40 years of his life treating people with addictions as both a counselor and the Director of the agency I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, Ron is quite ill now with various age-related afflictions, but he is totally valued by his wife, family and friends. When I think back at how wild we were, I find it amazing that he accomplished so much. Of course, he was one of the brighter people in the club we called the Hats in Livingston High School. I guess both of us are lucky, both Ron and me. I worked as a drug counselor for a few years, but it was at the Cambridge Needle Exchange and it was too close for my hungry monkey. I relapsed on the job.
Now I work as a writer and I’ll soon be having a book published of short stories and poetry. I’m looking forward to it but keeping my life in the moment so I can stay drug free. After all, I know I’m not bullet proof.
I kept drinking the wine so the withdrawal from the Klonopin wouldn’t hit me. I didn’t want to have a seizure out here in the boondocks. My wife, Debbie, has already gone into detox at a place called Scatterberry Farm. St Dismas House said that they had an opening for me but it would not be until Monday. It was Saturday morning and they might as well said eternity.
I thought it would be a good idea to see if I could make a doctor. I pulled out the phone book and flipped to the yellow pages. There’s not a hell of a lot of doctors close by in the hills of Vermont. I felt a chill and threw a couple of logs in the wood stove. I came back to the phone book and dropped my finger on a doctor that was in the town of Ludlow. A woman doctor.
Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes not. Usually a woman doctor can be conned the first time, but every now and then you can run into a real bitch. I crossed my fingers and then dialed the number.
Two rings. Click. It was her nurse or secretary and she said she had an open time at 1:30pm. I looked at the clock on the wall. Almost 11 o’clock. Fuck. Two and one-half hours. And not even a sure thing. But I had to stop drinking the wine because she’d never come off with the script if I smelled like a boozer. I thought that I would try for both cough syrup and the pills. That would hold me until Monday.
I smoked a joint of the homegrown and walked outside. The rabbit cages were covered with snow again and I brushed them off and put fresh food inside the little bowl. I brought their water bowl into the cabin, popped the ice out if it, filled it with warm water, and brought the bowl back out. I looked into the hutch and realized that there was only one rabbit left. I decided to eat the last one. I pulled out the black and white bunny by the ears and put it down on the ground under my foot. Held it tight while I pulled out the .38 and pumped one bullet into its head. It jerked for a moment and then lay still. Slit it and cleaned it and pulled its skin off like taking a foot out of a wet sock.
Then I brought it inside and made some sauce for it to soak in. Usually I like to let it soak for a few days to improve the taste but I was out of food and didn’t want to waste money on food that I might need to cash the scripts. I’d cook it tonight if I was loaded. If I couldn’t get any drugs I wouldn’t be hungry anyway.
I looked at the clock. Almost half past twelve. I figured I’d pull out and go to the doc a little early. Maybe her first appointment wouldn’t show. Maybe I could just catch her going in and she would take me first. Maybe maybe maybe. Three miles of dirt road in the snow and seven of country highway. Good to get a start on things anyhow.
I grabbed my props: an old bottle of syrup from a previous script and a vial of pills with just the right run out date on them. I always could come up with them because I had a satchel of them saved just for this purpose. A lot of doctors would come right off with the drugs if they saw that another doctor where I used to live gave them to me. Chronic medical conditions. Bronchitus. Anxiety because of the respiratory ailments. I’d chain smoke non filters all day before the appointment and my lungs would sound like I was really congested.
I used to love it when I came down with a real bad chest cold because then I would travel all over the countryside making doctor after doctor. I could even get people to come and bankroll me on the scripts because they knew I was almost a sure thing. It always seemed funny to me how, when I was high, the doctors would come right off for me but if I was dope-sick, that’s when I would have the most trouble.
I was dope-sick. And I was nervous. I tore apart the dresser drawers just hoping to come up with a pill or something. I went through the satchel with all the Tussionex and Hycodan bottles to see if maybe I had left the wash in one of them. No luck. I guess I had gone through them and already done that. The thought crossed my mind that this seemed all too familiar.
I put the rabbit in the pan up on top of the fridge, got my hat and coat and boots on and grabbed the keys to the truck and crunched down the drive to the pickup truck. It cranked slow because of the cold but it kicked over and I rolled down the incline into the dirt road. I had snow tires on all four wheels and the back of the truck was loaded with sandbags so the going wasn’t too bad. I smoked a joint and then ate a lifesaver to kill the smell. I don’t know why I smoked the joint because all it did was make me more paranoid. By the time I got to the doctor’s office I felt like my head was going to explode.
I really wanted to smoke a cigarette to calm down but I didn’t want to walk in there stinking of tobacco, so I just took some deep breaths and listened to the phlegm in my chest rattle. It sounded great. When she put the stethoscope to my chest she was going to hear all the right noises.
I walked into the office. There was an old woman sitting there. Doctors that treat old people sometimes are easier to make than others. I nodded to the old lady when she looked up at me and then sat down and picked up a magazine. I flipped through the pages but I couldn’t keep my mind on the articles, because I was thinking of what to say to the doctor to get the drugs. My stomach was all nervous and I could feel it gnawing at itself. I had to urinate and I looked around for a bathroom. I didn’t see one and I hoped it wouldn’t be too long before I could go in.
The door opened and the doctor came out. She looked to be in her late thirties and wore brown glasses. Her hair was brown and hung loosely onto her shoulders with a little wisp over her glasses. The thought crossed my mind that I was glad that her hair wasn’t tied up in a bun. An old man followed her out of the office and the old woman sitting near me smiled at him and stood up as he walked over to her. My heart leaped in my chest. They were together and I was next. The old woman was just waiting for her husband to come out of the office. I saw the scripts in his hand and I wondered what the doctor had given him.
They all talked for a few minutes and then the doctor motioned me in. Good. No nurse. I chatted with her as she took my weight, my blood pressure, and my respiration and pulse. I looked as she charted my blood pressure and I was happy to see that it was elevated. That always helped me get the pills.
She got up and left the room for a minute and I looked around to see if there was anything worth taking. Then she quickly returned. I told her how my chest was all congested and I had trouble sleeping at night with all the coughing.
“This happens to me every winter. Maybe I should move south. I don’t know. I just like the change of seasons.”
“Maybe you should quit smoking,” she said.
“Well, I’ve cut down a lot. I only smoke a few cigarettes a day.”
“You should quit altogether.”
“I’m planning on it soon. I haven’t smoked yet today.”
“I smell cigarettes on your clothes.”
“Oh, yeah. My wife is a heavy smoker. It would be easier for me to quit if she didn’t smoke so much.”
“I see. Well-” she paused.
I held my breath. My props were in front of her. My heart felt like it would pound out of my chest and my stomach felt like it was full of ice-cold water.
She pulled the prescription pad out and I watched the pen move. Yes. Yes. Yes. She wrote for the Tussionex. Only four ounces but I didn’t have to share it with my wife because she was in treatment so it would be enough. She wrote for an inhaler. Screw the inhaler — I would trash that scrip. And she wrote for the Klonopin. The benzo’s are great opiate boosters and my heart was dancing and leaping around in my chest. She pushed the papers to me and I folded them up and put them away quickly. I was afraid the doctor would change her mind at the last minute.
She made out the bill and I paid part of it and told her that I would mail the rest of it in. She took down my address. I always paid part of the bill if I had the money because it was better in case I went back there again. I could pay it off then and owe a whole bill next time. If a doctor kept writing I would keep paying. If they didn’t write I wouldn’t pay at all.
I left the office and drove over to the pharmacy. I hated this part. Some pharmacists were real assholes and would do their judgment thing and say they didn’t have the drug in stock just because they didn’t want to give it. I pulled into the parking lot, turned off the truck and got out. I took a deep breath and walked into the store.
The pharmacist had grey hair and his glasses rested down on a bump in the middle of his nose. The counter woman came over and I handed her the scripts. She asked me for my address and wrote it on the scripts. I hated when they did that if they didn’t cash them because then you had to take it to another pharmacy and the evidence was there that one pharmacy had already turned you down.
She walked them back to the guy and he looked at them for what seemed to be an eternity and then he started to type. He walked to the back and I saw the yellow thick liquid in the Tussionex bottle. He shook the bottle. I feel as if I might have said something if he didn’t shake the bottle because it says that the active ingredients settle to the bottom and to shake it before you take it on the prescription instructions. He poured and it came out slow and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I heard him shake the pills into the dispenser and then he finished typing and he handed the two packages to the counter woman.
She called my name.
I can’t describe the feeling when you walk out of the drug store with the stuff in your hand. It is like the whole world is yours and you got over on the best of them. I wanted to dance out of the store but I just walked. I strolled over to the coffee shop next door and took that piss that I had been holding since the doctor’s office and then ordered a coffee to down with the pills and the medicine. The hot coffee pumps the drugs into your system and there’s nothing so good as the cigarette with your coffee after the medicine slides down your throat. Then the high comes on.
I looked around the parking lot to see if anyone was watching. No one seemed close. I threw three 2 milligram Klonopin into my mouth and lifted the Tussy jug to my lips. I held it up until the last of it spilled into my mouth. Put the cap back on it and stood it upside down on the seat for the residue to drain into the cap so I could suck it out later. Lit a smoke and sipped my coffee as I decided what to do next.
I figured that I would visit my wife. That was my first mistake.
Right away she could tell that I was high and was pissed off that I didn’t save her any. I told her that I still had Klonopin to give her but that wasn’t good enough. She started yelling at me and the people at the treatment center told me that I had to leave and she said she was coming with me and that I better have another croaker all lined up for a script so she could get high too. I just wanted to enjoy my high and all hell was breaking loose and I knew that it was going to be a big hassle to cop for her and she would bitch the whole time there until we got it. I wished she would stay at the treatment center and I wished I hadn’t gone to see her there but it was too late now.
I don’t know how I always keep making these mistakes over and over again.
They told her that if she left with me that she couldn’t come back and that if she stayed they didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to come any more. I knew that if she stayed they would try to turn her against me and tell her that she should find another place to live, so even though I wanted her to stay I told her to come with me.
I was high and so I knew I would be at my best now for making doctors.
She threw her shit in her bag and we blew out the door of the treatment center. She ate two Klonopin as soon as she got into the truck and made me buy her a beer to wash it down. We stopped at a phone booth and looked in the book for another doctor. There was a doctor in Brandon and I called him and he said that he had one appointment left and could I get there by 4:30. I said yes and let her drive so I could dig my head.
She bitched at me for the entire ride. I chain-smoked and nodded while she talked.
Finally we pulled into the parking lot. The office was in an old colonial house and I went in. The waiting room was empty. He came out and beckoned me in and I laid my rap on him. He took my vital signs and listened to my chest. He thought it sounded terrible and wrote me a script for four more ounces of Tussionex and gave me one of those garbage inhalers and some antibiotics.
We raced to the drugstore because sometimes in these little hick towns in Vermont they close real early. I filled the antibiotics with the cough syrup but I threw away the script for the inhaler. I had learned that those inhalers cost a lot of money from past experience.
I got back out to the truck and I told her that I was going to do one ounce of the syrup because I went in to make the croaker and did all the work and she complained but there was nothing she could do about it. I ate two more pills and did a heavy ounce and then let her do her three and she drained the bottle and took a few more pills.
I took over the wheel after we had coffee. We were turning into Route 7 heading into Rutland and I heard a screech of brakes and this guy almost hit us as we came onto the main highway. Then the creep starts riding my ass. I just hadn’t seen him and it wasn’t my fault and he was beginning to piss me off so I turned around and flipped him the bird. He had an older woman in the front seat and someone was sitting in the back seat too.
My wife said to let it slide but the dude was riding our ass real close so I slammed on the brakes just for a second and he came up on me and freaked because he though he was going to hit us and he locked up his brakes and his car spun sideways as I hit the gas and pulled away laughing like a loon.
He was on us again like maggots on garbage. Coming real close and looking real grim when I peeped into the rear view mirror. We were coming into town and the lights on the highway were green. I saw that the light by the Mobil gas station by one of the main roads into the shopping section of town had changed to orange and he was still coming up on us so when I stopped I looked into the rear view mirror and I saw him ripping out of his car with a crow bar in his hand and he looked like this giant woodsman over six feet tall and I knew that we screwed the pooch.
I figured I’d have as much chance as a pigeon in a wolf pack if I went physical with this Vermont mountain man and I was so frightened that my bowels felt like they’s been turned to oil. I hit the gas and turned the steering wheel and flew through that Mobil station like it was an interstate. My wife yelled at me as we pulled out into the adjacent roadway as an oncoming car swung wildly around us blaring on the horn and I told her to “just shut up” and she did. The guy chasing us jumped back into his car and was on us again.
He had anger fueling his jets but I was running for my life so I had some edge on the creep. The light turned red ahead and I flew through it like it was bumper-car city and pulled a sharp right with my wheels screaming for mercy. Looked back. Heart pounding. Debbie yelling at me. The guy was coming but he’d lost a little ground. The thought of the gun back at the house ripped through my head and I knew just why I never carried it with me anymore.
Red light ahead. Cars stopped in my lane. Debbie screamed as I crossed the line into the oncoming lane and took a left through the traffic. Horns blowing and the screech of brakes and I didn’t look and I hit the gas and the stores and people were flying by the truck in what was once the quiet streets of Rutland. I looked back for a second and didn’t see him. I kept going making rights and lefts and found myself in the residential section of town.
I slowed the truck down and my head and heart was still racing. Time to head home. I felt like my head from the drugs was almost gone but I figured that if I ate some more pills that it would creep back. So I did.
The next thing I remember was we were back at the house and the rabbit was in the wood cook stove. I had a glass of wine in front of me and Debbie was rolling a joint and talking about calling the detox tomorrow to see if she could get back in. We nodded out and the rabbit burned all on the outside and we picked away the burnt flesh in the morning and cut up the meat that wasn’t burnt and ate it for breakfast. It was one hell of a good rabbit.
Debbie called the detox and they said the only way she could come back was if I didn’t’ come there to visit or call her. She decided to go and I dropped her off at Scatterberry Farm.
The next day, sick and shaking, I checked into St. Dismas House and that put another forty mles between me and Debbie. They had to medicate me heavily for about five days so I wouldn’t have a seizure.
I was still being withdrawn slowly from the Klonopin and I had been at St. Dismas House for seventeen days when they called me into the office. My counselor was there and they told me that they had something important to tell me and they sat me down. I knew it was about my wife.
I was right. They said they had to tell me that my wife had left treatment this morning. She left with someone else. Another guy.
I felt like my whole world spun into black holes and I got dizzy and didn’t know what to do. I wanted to run. I wanted to get high. The counselors talked to me for a while and I don’t remember much of what was said but my throat hurt all the time they were talking.
They kept talking and then gave me an extra dose of medication and they said that I could stay an extra 21 days because they thought I needed it. I said I would stay.
My wife and the guy had rented a small place in Ludlow and after eight days the police came and picked him up for violation of parole because he was court committed to the treatment center as a condition of release. They lugged him back to prison.
Debbie started coming around to St. Dismas House and asked me if I would go back with her. The counselor there said he thought I should go into a halfway house and keep away from my wife for a while. He started the process to get me into a halfway house that was affiliated with them. Right before the interview for the house I left treatment and moved back in with my wife but things just didn’t seem the same.
Three days later I cashed a refill for some Klonopin and then went to a doctor for some Tussionex. We didn’t have enough money to fill the script so we pawned the guy’s tools that he had left in the garage behind the apartment house. On the way back I was too messed up to drive and sideswiped a chain link fence. A section of it came down and my wife took over the wheel and we sped away before anyone came.
Two days later when my retroactive disability check came I went to a doctor to get another script and he said that the pharmacy had called him and that I had been going to doctors all over the northern part of Vermont to get narcotics and everyone had my name. He told me if I ever came back again he was going to call the police and I was through around there. He was still yelling at me and I gave him the finger as I left the office.
Debbie and I went to a bar and had a few drinks so we could think straight and we decided to move to South Carolina with the $9000 we had. This way we could start fresh and make a new life for ourselves. That night we loaded the truck with the stuff that we wanted and left for South Carolina at sunrise. I was starting to get dope sick so we stopped in the Great Brook Valley Projects in Worcester to buy some heroin so we could make it into New York City. We figured we could get enough heroin in New York to hold us for the entire trip.
The stuff we got in New York was so good that we stopped in a motel just past Washington DC and didn’t leave the motel until the dope was all gone. We started hitting doctors in the small towns on the way down. Once Debbie fell asleep at the wheel on Interstate 95 and we scraped a cement bridge and the truck spun around on the highway but nobody hit us. I took over the driving.
When we got to South Carolina we found a place to rent really fast and it was a lot cheaper than up north. We were really excited as we moved into the new place and I went to a small medical center and got a script for Tussionex and Klonopin and we celebrated that night.
I fell asleep with a cigarette and when I woke up the couch was smoking and I could barely see. I opened the windows and the door and poured water on the couch. I fell asleep next to Debbie on the bed with my clothes on and that night I had a dream about being in a church. The church was empty except for me and I woke up crying. The crucifix was upside down and there was a pool of blood beneath it with a bent motorcycle wheel in a slow spin.
Well, heroin isn’t exactly gone however, it’s not exactly true “junk” either. This Fentanyl thing has crept into the scene and seems to have overpowered life on the ‘nod’ side. As an old time junkie, who hasn’t used for over a decade, ,the kill rate of this new not-junk thing, is kind of terrifying. I mean, who would want to relapse after many years in abstinence, if you couldn’t find real heroin. I hear of people taking a shot and then blacking out for a few hours, then waking up when it’s time to trundle off and get some more. Really, if you can’t enjoy the high, what’s the sense in it? If all your friends are taking the big “dirt nap”, well that’s kind of a drag. In the beginning, way back in 1964, I remember the time that Joey Marantino and I went into the Newark Projects in the hellish state of New Jersey. We only had enough money for one dime bag ($10), and we were sweating it because we usually buy one bag a piece. But as things go with junkies, we were broke and lucky to have the gas money to make it to Newark.
We saw the guy who we usually buy from, made the deal, and headed to the gas station, where we always go to shoot up. Grudgingly we split the bag. After we cooked it up and prepared it, we shot it. The next thing we remembered, we were picking ourselves off of the floor of the bathroom. We were lucky that we couldn’t afford a bag each. If we had shot a whole bag, we would have been dead. But back then, it was heroin and we could count on that for the most part. Never fentanyl. Sometimes, if we got beat, ( mistakenly bought a bag of chalk or flour) we would know it as soon as we tried to cook it up.
I used heroin for over three decades and for most of that time, I never wanted to stop using. My first detox was in Alice Peck Day hospital near Lebanon, New Hampshire. I left on the third day. I remember arriving and laying down on the bed and then the resident came in and handed me a schedule full of meetings for the next day. I was a bit taken aback and said, “All I need is a detox and some bed rest. No meetings please.” Then, when I found out they didn’t give methadone for detox, I knew I wasn’t going to stay. My wife Sascha had dropped me off and I had no vehicle, otherwise I would have left right then. My wife called me the next day and told me she had picked up our paychecks from the New Hampshire State Hospital where we worked as Mental Health Technicians. The checks were big due to all the overtime we had worked during a two week period. I told her to pick me up the next day and we would go to cop some dope. Back then we had real heroin, which was truly a gift in my insane thought pattern. Now, even after being clean for so long, every now and then I get the urge to go out and buy some junk. However, all there is around here, in the Boston area, is fentanyl which I have no urge to use. So the presence of fentanyl and the lack of true heroin is quite a deterrent to me. Heroin is my drug of no choice for sure.
Of course, in the way back of the 1970’s, opium would sometimes arrive when I lived in New Hampshire. It would come shaped like a tootsie roll with paper and Chinese lettering around it. I loved to eat opium and then have a cup of hot coffee to rush it through my system. When one eats opium it creeps up on you over the period of an hour or so and the arrival of the feeling is quite nice. I always worry, even in my double digit sobriety, what would happen if I ran into some real opium. I don’t know if I would have the wherewithal to turn it down. In the parlance of recovery jargon, I guess that means I have a reservation. Usually the reservation is for a place in hell but the journey, lies my monkey mind, would be quite pleasant. Addiction is the illness with a voice. The one thing I can count on is that “this monkey is a liar,” a phrase that I have used in poetry and in my story called “Getting Fixed In South Carolina,” which is sometimes available on a CD or a download. It is performed by the Jeff Robinson Trio, a great jazz band, who also wrote the music. Believe me, it does not glorify the life. You could probably find it on-line somewhere.
It would probably be easier to find that CD than to find real heroin around here. This fentanyl is lethal. From my experiences in San Francisco in the 1980’s, where Fentanyl was called China White, the high was never as good as real heroin. Additionally, it’s much easier to shuffle off this mortal coil with a careless bang of fentanyl, which is really a synthetic narcotic. It takes Mother Nature to make the real thing. I’m not recommending anyone to go out and try it. I truly believe that narcotic addiction is a one way trip to hell whether or not you get to live through it. They call it junk for a reason, you know. And it will cycle back. It always does. Actually heroin came by the name junk because, in the way back, junkies would strip the copper pipe out of abandoned houses and sell it to the metal man as junk for money to score dope. It also has the nickname “dope” because if you fall for the false promise of heroin then you become the dope you shoot.
Sorry about that. No insult intended. I just don’t want anyone to fall for the illusion that took me down that long road. I was one of the lucky ones. I lived through it. At least, so far. Like my doctor says, “just because you don’t want to pick up, doesn’t mean that you won’t.” And he has wisdom that doesn’t come from my monkey mind, for sure.