No matter how hard I tried not to, I couldn’t keep my brain from wandering there. I thought about his body lying stiff on the cold floor. I thought about the pallor of his face and the vomit pooled inside of his mouth, a puddle traced around his head and down the cracked linoleum. The needle sticking out of his arm and the balloon of black tar sitting on the counter between calloused toothpaste and dried mouthwash. I think about his fiancée’s reaction to finding him lying on the ground. I wondered how many times she knocked on the door. How silent it went on the other end before the fear washed over her.
I lit up another Newport and imagined how many attempts it took for her petite frame to bust open the door. Her facial expression when her horror was confirmed. In one version in my head, she falls to her knees in histrionics, pushing her ear against a nonexistent heartbeat, shaking him, slapping him, holding his cold hand onto her stomach and telling him to feel it kicking. Telling him he needs to be there for it. In the version that I prefer, she waddles over to the toilet and sits over his corpse. She cries sullenly, dissonantly shuffling between the reality of her firstborn being raised without a father, but relieved with her high school sweetheart finally being at peace with his demons. A drug addled life, finally being put rest. Her fiancé no longer in pain with himself.
Christian and Mikey had already went out in search of the dealer that had the fatal batch. They wanted it. They needed it. After telling me Daniel had OD’d a few hours earlier, they sat around the coffee table trying to figure out possible situations. Was it cut with fentanyl? Can black tar even be cut with fentanyl? You think he did his normal amount? Regardless, they needed to test it out. Every dealer they contacted denied selling him the bag. The grieving period must’ve been extremely brief. A few minutes into the conversation and you wouldn’t even be able to tell that this was a good friend of theirs that just died. They left out of the apartment in jubilance, the thought of surpassing that virgin high more important than anything else.
I laid on the sofa that Mikey was temporarily sleeping on in Christian’s East Hollywood apartment, fingering a cigarette burn hole while these reveries rewound themselves and alternated. I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach. I shifted on the couch to try to alleviate the pain, but it adjusted.
In a few days Daniel’s fiancée would be strolling through a Target, looking for something she’d never thought she’d have to buy: something black and formal and able to accentuate her bump. I squirmed thinking about how long it’d take her to pick out a dress for her unborn’s father’s funeral. I wondered if she’d cry in the dressing room, her mother caressing her half naked body.
The last time I saw Daniel he promised he was turning over a new leaf. He had a kid on the way and couldn’t continue on the way he’d been doing since high school. He vowed to get clean for the umpteenth and final time, so they celebrated by shooting up together one last time. I watched as the heroin dissolved in the spoon, turning from a soulless black chunk into a beautiful brown amber. Everybody else around him had already shot up and nodded off. I stared as he syringed it up through the cotton filter and pulled down his pants and started fingering around his groin area. He joked and applauded me for never jumping into this lifestyle.
“Look at this,” he chuckles. “You know, when I started out back in the day, I was just like you. I told myself a million times I’d never transfer over to this shit like…”-he nods his head towards Christian whose head is nodded into his chest-“over there. I was popping pills religiously because I felt like my life wasn’t shit. That I was a burden to everybody around me. Whenever you feel like you hit rock bottom, just know, you can always dig a little deeper.”
He shook his head with regret.
“Don’t ever let this happen to you,” he said, looking sternly into my soul. “Every single junkie you see crawling around LA thought they were the exception to the rule. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. They quickly came to realize that there aren’t any rules to this game.”
He sighs and continues searching.
“We can’t all burn out like Anthony Kiedis. Most of us just end up burning.”
When he finally registers in a vein, I can see a slight joy take over him. He shoots it up and his eyes lower.
“The company you keep…” he said in pallid tone. “You’ll never be any better than them.”
I was the only person up with him. I was the last person to see him as he fell into that warmth. I feel like I was the last person to ever truly see him alive.
After that, he disappeared for the following two months. Kicking it cold turkey. He didn’t call any of the guys. He sent Christian a text message saying he was clean a week, and then another one saying he was clean two weeks. And then they stopped. Maybe they felt betrayed. Treated like they were the burden. Maybe I didn’t realize then that a rehabilitated junkie meant the end of a camaraderie. Maybe while I was carrying on with my life and Daniel was getting clean, Christian had already mourned. Maybe Daniel had died two months ago.
When they come back two hours later, they’re already floating. I ask if they got their batch and they giggle like schoolgirls and plop down around me. Mikey tosses me a small, zipped bag including a Narcan kit-medication to reverse opioid overdose-and shows me how to use it in case one, or both, of them starts going pale. They begin to set up their shot, small-talking each other about coagulation and clogging and Cephalics. In another life they probably could’ve been doctors.
Christian looks eager and excited. These are the only times he looks like he enjoys life. I was beginning to see my reflection in him. Maybe I subconsciously started hanging out with him because I felt relieved that there was somebody more fucked up than I was. That there was somebody who had excavated past rock bottom and still seemed to have enough energy left to keep digging. This is the same guy who taught me to pop Benadryl and drink white grapefruit juice to potentiate my pain pills. This is the same guy who convinced me that cold water extractions were for squares.
“You’ll never be any better than them,” I hear Daniel’s phantom say over and over again as they begin nodding off to whatever sphere he stopped breathing in.
My face falls into my palms and I begin to cry. I don’t know why I’m crying, but I know it isn’t for Daniel and I know it isn’t for his fiancée or their bastard child. I know it’s not for Christian and his enabling habits or Micky and his uneventful presence, both of them emotionally barren. I cried for me. For the first time in a long time, I’ve finally realized the person that I could become. The person I was becoming. I look at both of them again, their ability to feel any emotion dulled way past any regular human capacity.
I’m nothing like them, I say, as if to convince myself, ignoring how delicious delusions can be. If I can cry, I’m not completely lost.