The first time I met Heroin, she was smeared with static, spiraling down the coast in electrical signals, crowding my ear with a dull silence that I struggled to fill.
“Did you smoke it?”
We’re real safe about it, promise.
“Cheaper up here,” he’d added, and suddenly, she appeared to me, thick on his breath. What could I say? I barely knew her then. I only knew her through the wire, through word of mouth. We’d never sat down together, never looked each other in the eye. Besides, she was shy at first. Didn’t like getting out in the sun very much. So she crossed my mind a couple times that summer, and I just shrugged her off, shrugged off that first meeting the way I was instructed to. (“It’s not a big deal, honest. We’re real safe about it.”)
That was two years ago. But I left home then and left the thought of her behind completely—that was, until the following summer, when I decided to take a road trip with my old best friends to a music festival in Tennessee. That was the second time I met her. She was still very shy, but in a different sort of way. I could always tell that she was there even when she hid out in the back of the tent away from the action. Like the dark matter of the universe, I knew her presence not by her explicit physical existence, but instead by the effect that she had on all the matter around her. I saw her in the faces of friends—withdrawn, hypnotized. They stared at her the way you’d stare at the sky or at a flock of pelicans circling above. She crawled down throats like cotton balls, and I heard her in the muffled silence. But again, I shrugged her off, thinking, “It’s just two of them, using.” I thought, “The rest are all right. And they don’t do it very often, so it’s not a big deal. We’re at a festival—of course it’d happen here.” Of course.
Right now, I’m on the bus ride back from my third meeting with Heroin. The Greyhound’s a rough, bumpy ride north, and I just want to sleep but I can’t get the thought of her out of my head. She wasn’t shy this time. She unfolded herself out on the couch and in all the dirty cracks in the floorboards. Like a host, I met her through the bodies of the souls I know, or through the bodies of all my old best friends, souls I thought I knew, once—but I don’t remember when anymore. She is not a person and not a powder. She is sunken, purple-rimmed eye and cheap perfume and raw skin. She is the dulled edge of a crappy joke, the broken hand on a clock, a Hep-C diagnosis, a shrug of the shoulders. She’s cold sweat and loose summer night. She is the wall between me and my old friends, and I know that no matter how hard I try, nothing can knock that shit down, because I may have seen Heroin in 200 shades of grey, but I’ve never seen her in white, and she’s never filled the hole of my eye, and I am sure that I want to keep it that way.
I didn’t know what I was leaving when I went to UWC. In a way, the two-year window saved me from existing in that entropy, in that environment of slow degradation that doesn’t look so slow when you’ve been gone for a couple years. They don’t notice the difference in themselves. In each other. But it hits me the minute I walk through the door. I’m glad it hits me that way.
“The best feeling in the world,” she tells me. “Nothing matters. That’s what it is. Nothing matters. But that. But that feeling.”
But I don’t want the best feeling in the world to come in white. I want it to come in whatever color I decide to paint with. I want to set my own threshold of happiness, because yes, in the grand history of this blue dot, of this “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” nothing really matters. But there is something to that. There is something to the quiet insignificance of our lives that is liberating. There is something to our smallness, to the way that we pass in and out of the world, branded only in the dust of memory. There is some hidden mystery, something ancient and full of water and light, something beautiful that I’ll spend the rest the rest of my life trying to understand. That is the essence of the human condition. I only hope that I will not betray it. I’m not going south anymore. I think I’ll stay up here for now…