This is the first in a series of excerpts I will post this week. I hope to tell my story in blog pieces, as I prepare to return to New Orleans. Next week, I will post from New orleans, including some videos and pictures….
Flash back to weeks before the storm…the last two weeks before Katrina approached New Orleans were infused with desperation. There were times in those weeks that my whole stability was rocked to the core…and my disease weighed heavy on the levees in my mind. There were also times in those last few weeks that were not unlike the many, many months before then…where I was working in the strip club desperately in search of money to keep this habit flying high. Looking back on it, I am sure it could not have continued much longer. But, then, on the other hand…it could have continued much the same for years and years. And it could have killed me.
In the two weeks preceding the storm, Liam was forced into treatment at Charity Hospital, under dual diagnosis care. Dual diagnosis is a place for those who are diagnosed with substance abuse in combination with another mental illness, such as depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia. The cops ended up escorting him into Charity Hospital, kindly holding his hand much of the way. He checked himself in, under great duress. The levees in our minds already had some serious cracks and water was already beginning to flood my world.
In those days, we lived in a hotel over on the West Bank. We had been living in various hotels and junky establishments for the past year or two. I headed to the ferry to go to the Quarter, work and make money for dope. Liam and I were both dope sick. Neither of us had any money, and I had probably been up much of the previous night shooting coke before I went back to the hotel. Liam stayed at the hotel alone most nights; while I trampled all over New Orleans…doing whatever was necessary to get the dope money.
I am not sure what minor or major conversation sparked Liam’s whole meltdown that day he ended up in Charity Hospital, that fateful day, two weeks before the storm, when pressure began to mount on my own levees. Liam stood on the verge of madness for quite some time, anyway. One can only keep this type of life up for so long without cracking all over, like a broken car window, as you are still clinging to some adherence of your old shape, but you are shattered just the same.
With Liam unable to hold a steady job for several years, the burdens of our addiction weighed heavily on my shoulders. I was determined, and I did all I could to keep us both well, and inadvertently kept us getting sicker most of the time. Liam watched each night as I applied my make-up in the dirty motel mirror, propped up on the cluttered and soot covered countertop, attempting to cover the dark circles under my eyes and track marks on my arms. Tying my neglected and dreaded hair into knots, I looked over my shoulder to growl at him for staring. He watched with envy and pain, masked behind those transparent blue eyes. Yet he sat alone each night, holding in and out, just waiting for me to return with his dope.
As I remember it, that day two weeks before Katrina, he was going to have to stay on the Westbank, sick…until I got back hours later. We did not have enough cash for much else. The exact circumstances I cannot remember. I am sure that in Liam’s eyes I had fucked up the money somewhere, somehow…probably booted way too much up my arms in one concoction or another. In my eyes, he had not worked in months and months, yet he was using at least fifty to a hundred bucks’ worth of dope every day. That day, it finally became too much, and the insanity and Sickness of this horribly devoid way of life came tumbling down.
His eyes went crazy, and he could not see through the madness. And I could not even see his blue eyes through that madness. The usual blue grey was taken over by a raging haze of insanity. He took off running, declaring he was going to kill himself. He ran towards the Mississippi River Bridge, the huge one that connects the Westbank to the rest of New Orleans. I am not sure if it was the crazed look in his eyes that appeared to have taken his soul or the erratic tone in his voice that made me believe him. I knew the dams in his mind had just broken, and the insanity of both addiction and mental anguish gushed out.
In the desperate world of an end-stage junky, the threat of taking one’s own life frequents the mind. In advanced states of addiction, the addict’s mind is eroded by patterns and habit that keep one from seeing past the immediate. One cannot see past the pain. Life is ruled by pure physical need. “The desire to stay well,” as a junky puts it.
The lingo probably seems foreign to someone who does not understand the ways of a world invaded by addiction. Opiate addiction is very different from cocaine addiction in that it is a more serious physical addiction. Cocaine is a psychological addiction, and your brain undoubtedly screams at you for more, but before I did heroin, I had never experienced the true nature physical addiction. I never really understood addiction and its death-claw grips until I started using heroin. The power of addiction remained mysterious to me until I had been using every day for several months. I often think that this addiction was what I searched for all along.
I had no intentions of quitting dope several weeks before Katrina, when Liam’s mind began to slip. No serious intentions, anyway. I talked about it, like all junkies did. When Liam began running that afternoon, headed to kill himself in the Mississippi River, things finally began to really unravel. I am sure our sanity was merely held on by a thin string at that time, and in moments most of the fabric of our lives unraveled to reveal a couple of naked, scared little kids.
Somehow I knew he was serious about suicide. This was not like the other crazy episodes every junky exhibits from time to time. This was the real deal. I could see it in his eyes. I could hear it in his voice. I called the cops when he disappeared from me. I could not hold him back from going completely crazy if I was not by his side. I called the cops, and he just kept running.
The cops showed up quickly. They caught him. When they brought him around to me, he had surrendered in the back of the cop car. He was exhausted, and he slumped down, defeated, in the back of that car. He had tears in his eyes and panic in his voice. I remember tears streaming down his face.
To Be Continued….