Colin Linder


"Heaven and Hell combined."

The words are spoken softly, and the listeners all lean forward on their fold-up metal chairs, every eye intent on the speaker.  The painfully thin man with the shocking red hair that hangs in greasy lengths to his shoulders has been coming to the group for four weeks now, but this is the first time anyone has heard him speak.

There isn't one of them there who hasn't lived the tale he is about to tell in one form or another.  Nothing holds the attention of strangers more than a story they can relate to.  They wait patiently as the speaker pauses for a long moment, his eyes downcast as if afraid to meet theirs.  But there will be no judging here tonight.  No matter what things he has to tell, there can be nothing they haven't heard before.

"Take your time, son." Paulie's soothing voice breaks the silence.  "This room is a safe haven and you're among friends here."  Paulie always has interesting exercises for the group and it is this week’s exercise that has finally prompted the man to speak. 'Describe the feeling in five words or less.'

Another moment passes and they can see his shoulders rise and fall as he takes a deep breath and finally lifts his head.  His eyes are a startling blue, a cloudless summer sky blue and they stare vacantly at the group as he begins to speak again.

"I was fifteen the first time and it was just a bit of pot.  Nothing wrong with a bit of pot, right?  Everyone smokes a little now and then, just to take the edge off.  Ricky got me started.  Ricky's my older brother. I caught him down in the basement one morning sucking back a bong.  I just remember the look on his face as he blew the smoke out and the piney scent wafted over to me as I stood on the stairs watching.  I can only describe it as ... peaceful I guess  and I knew I wanted to feel that too."

The words tumble out of his mouth with increasing speed now that he has gotten started.  That's the way it always is the first time they tell it.  It's like they've had it bottled up inside for so long that now that someone wants to listen, they can't tell it fast enough.

"I don't blame Ricky for this though.  I really don't.  If it hadn't been him, it would have been someone else.  Ricky blames himself and I tell him not to, but he does.  'I'm your older brother, I'm supposed to be the one who looks out for you' he says and maybe that's true.  But how was he to know?  To him a little pot was just recreational.  To me it became my way out.

"That first bong in the basement with Ricky became a daily thing almost immediately for me.  I'd smoke one in the morning before school in my bathroom, I'd smoke a bunch behind the grandstands at lunch with my buddies.  I'd smoke after school right there in my kitchen; my mother was never home.  And my father … well he left when I was three.

"It wasn't long before pot wasn't enough anymore.  That first bong made me so euphorically high, so peacefully numb in seconds.  Now ten bongs couldn't do the same.  It was on my sixteenth birthday that I tried crack for the first time.  I was at a party at some guy's house whose name I don't even remember, just puffing a few back and some guy hands me a pipe.  'This'll sweeten you up' he says to me.  Sweeten you up.  The guy's face I can't remember and his name I never knew but I'll never forget those words.

"The high was nothing like pot.  Take the best high you've ever had on pot, that first high and multiply it by twenty and it still wouldn't compare.  I remember it didn't last long, but every fiber of me was screaming for more.  It scared me a little how much I wanted more and I tried to go back to just smoking pot.  That lasted about a week."

He pauses for a breath and the room remains ghostly silent.  He's been talking so fast that he's actually out of breath and a sheen of sweat glistens on his face.  Those watching never take their eyes from him; a heavily pregnant blonde woman is silently crying as her own memories return.

"Soon I was dependent on the pipe.  I was an addict.  I can say that now; I couldn't then.  I wouldn't then.  To me it wasn't an addiction; it was recreation, it was escape … it was euphoria in a glass pipe and heaven rolled into a little white rock.  I started missing school almost every day and the rare days I did go, I was kicked out of class for falling asleep or arguing with the teachers or my classmates.  I found that when I wasn't high I was in a terrible mood, angry and aggressive.  I got in three fights at school in one month, all over nothing.  A look, a comment, a laugh when my back was turned ... that's all it took to set me off when I wasn't high.

"Eventually I stopped going to school altogether.  The school called my house a few times, but my mother as usual was never home to get the calls.  Soon they just stopped calling.  You would think it would be hard to pull off dropping out of school and no one in your family noticing, but you haven't met mine.  My mother is an alcoholic who drinks herself into a stupor every night and Ricky moved out the day he turned sixteen.

"As the months went by and I became more addicted, it seemed I didn't feel normal anymore if I wasn't blitzed.  I was using more and more just to get the high I used to get from one small rock.  And it was getting harder and harder to support my habit.  I stole money from my mother a few times, but I knew even through the haze of her alcoholism she'd soon notice that.  So I started doing a lot of things that I'm not proud of now.  It began with shoplifting a few things here and there.  I could get twenty bucks for a stereo, fifty for an IPod from the pawn shop and that would get me a couple hits.

"But a couple hits wasn't doing it now, I needed a lot more than that.  I was smoking from morning til night and that's a whole lot of rock.  I couldn't keep shoplifting, I knew that.  Sooner or later I'd get caught.  I didn't know what I was gonna do and then I was walking down Sunnydale one night heading to my dealer's house and I saw a guy I used to get high with standing on the corner.  Before I got close enough to talk to him, a car pulled up and the driver and him talked for a minute before he got inside.

"I knew exactly what was going on and I cringed that Chris had fallen that far.  To be honest, it scared the hell outta me and I turned around and went home.  That's not me, I thought.  I'll never fall that far, and I actually went the whole next day without using.  I was so sick by the time the next night came that I thought I was going to die and I realized that yes, I had fallen as far as Chris."

He is silent for a minute now, and they can tell this is hard for him.  He has kept his head up so far as he tells his story to the group, but now he drops his gaze and his knuckles are white on the sides of the chair.  The room stays silent as the seconds tick by; there are tears in the eyes of more now as their own demons are re-awakened.

"I am not going to go into detail about the things I did." The soft voice has returned and his head stays down.  "I did what I had to.  The first time was the hardest; I vomited after I got out of the car and then I went and got high.  It was easier the next time and after that I didn't even feel the shame anymore.  My days became a cycle of getting high, working the streets, getting high and back to the streets.  I was seventeen by then and no longer living in my mother's house.  I had a room in a boarding house.  Nothing but a mattress on the floor and a dirty bathroom, but I didn't need anything else.  I had a pipe and a lighter and that was enough.

"I got busted twice for soliciting that year.  The cops knew me after that and it was getting harder to score tricks.  I was eighteen when I finally got busted a third time.  I remember the first thought in my head when I realized I was going to jail this time.  I wasn't worried about having a criminal record.  I wasn't scared of being locked away.  The only thought in my head was how was I going to get my next fix now?

"Turns out I didn't have to worry.  There are more drugs inside then there is out I think.  I did my ninety days and I think I was high every one of them.  And when I got out I went right back to where I had been. 

"And then I met Jenny."

He is no longer staring down and for the first time a smile graces his lips.  His eyes close for a moment and it's obvious he's picturing her as his hands relax on the sides of the chair.

"I was in a coffeshop one night, too messed up to attempt the walk home and just nursing a cup when she walked in.  I could tell she was one of us, an addict.  There's a look that's unmistakable you know, and she had it.  She must have seen it in me too because she came right over and sat down across from me.  'Hey man, can you help me score some rock?'  Those were the first words she ever said to me and that was the moment that I truly knew I was a junkie.  I could have been anybody, I coulda been a cop even.  But the fact that she instantly recognized me for what I was hit me like a hammer.

"That was four weeks ago.  I helped Jenny score that night, and we got high together.  And that was the last time I used.  The next night I came here.  I have been clean since.  I've been with Jenny since then and she is getting clean too.  I keep asking her to come and she says she will after tonight."

He stops speaking now and the group knows his story is done.  The quiet lasts another few moments and then Paulie begins to clap.  The pregnant blonde takes a moment to wipe away the mascara tracing its way down her acne-scarred face and joins in.  Soon the applause is thunderous and it lasts almost a minute after the thin man with the crystal blue eyes rises to his feet.
"My name is Geoff," he says and his voice is strong now. 

"And I am an addict."







All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of Colin Linder.
Published on on 04/28/2011.


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