“Dude, it's just a plant.”
“I don't know Cain. What does it feel like?”
“It's the best feeling in the world. Why do you think they call it a high?”
“I've never used any drugs. Are you trying to help me or get me hooked?"
“You've been in the dumps lately friend. Weed is not a drug. It's all-natural. It's a gift from Mother Nature. If you don't like it, remember it's the thought that counts. I'm turning you on to help you out.”
“O.K. Give me the damn pipe.” I fondled the stem nervously, plucking the red bic lighter from Cain's outstretched hand. Flicking the wheel, the flame danced on the metal rim, its orange arc bent toward the bowl. The crystal-covered flower popped and crackled as the tetrahydrocannabinol melted into smoke. I inhaled deeply and held it in my lungs before heaving a cough and blowing the half-burnt marijuana out of the pipe and into the floorboard of the passenger seat of Cain's car.
“Alright nube, pass it back, that was five bucks worth of my smoke you just wasted.”
I handed him the pipe before the first few waves of the buzz washed over me. I looked out the window as Cain drove, humming along with the music. I felt, at that moment like it was the first time I had ever really heard music. Each note trembled in my ear as a smile crawled onto my mouth from my ears. The trees wooshed by with colors bleeding from them like echoes. Everywhere I looked shadows blossomed with vivid geometric designs, as if the ink of darkness was alive.
I was lost in my mind as we raced through the valleys and hills. No wonder artists liked this stuff. It seemed as if another dimension had been opened up to my senses. I dared ask it, “How much?”
“Eighty for an eighth ounce.”
“How long will that last?”
“For you probably a week. It won't last me a few days, but I'm a seasoned smoker.”
“I got it. Run me by the cash machine before you take me home.”
“Alright boss. Open the glove box, there is a bag in there already weighed out.”
Cain giggled at me as I held the bag up to the light. “You can do that when you get home. Are you trying to get us pulled over?”
Back at my apartment, I peeled the cap off a bottle of domestic beer. My mouth was dry as the Gobi desert and the beer tasted like heaven, adding a mellow footnote to my thoughts. Noodling around on my guitar for an hour, my hand looked like a spider drumming on the frets. I cracked open books of art prints and cartoons, laughing out loud as hidden designs and meanings jumped into my eyeballs. Flipping on the stereo, I tuned in to my favorite album and drifted off into my subconscious.
When I woke up, my head banged and ached. Realizing I was on the floor, I sat up and rubbed my temples. Looking at the coffee table, the rest of my six-pack of beer was empty bottles littering the top. Late for class, I hopped in the shower to shake off the brain rust. I felt like garbage. Churning through Chemistry class and Calculus, I couldn't stop thinking about the way I felt last night. I was sober as a rock and the lovely plant kept pushing its way into my thoughts.
It didn't take long before I became a daily user. After I spent a few weeks blasted every evening, I decided to wake and bake. The herb made studying tolerable. My diet expanded to include junk food and my abs gradually bloomed into flabs. Within a few months, everything in my life revolved around smoking sessions.
After six months and sinking grades, I just didn't feel normal unless I was high. Everything became an excuse to light up. Worse still, I never could get back that feeling, I smoked to feel normal. I decided to call Cain.
“What's up, Bud?”
“Nothing really. I remember you said if I ever needed anything to hit you up.”
“The weed just ain't doing it anymore. Do you have anything stronger?”
“I'll be over in an hour.”
Time stretched on. I itched and coughed, smoking the rest of my bag before Cain showed up, so I wouldn't have to share. The screens in my life tortured me with commercials about shaving cream, food boxes, and the latest greatest pharmaceuticals. Then Cain knocked.
I grabbed him by the hand and half shook it and pulled him into my apartment. Reaching into the front pocket of his jeans, he flipped a baggie in front of me, it donked between two empty beer bottles. I held it up to the light.
“What is that? It looks like a burnt meatball.”
“Isn't that the stuff that caused Chairman Mao to execute like a billion Chinese people?”
“I think this is from Afghanistan. It's made from a plant. It will set you straight. You can thank me later.”
“Do I smoke it?”
“That is the quickest way to get off on it. I'll make this one on the house. You can pay me next time.” Cain waved and walked out the door.
I scraped the bowl out on my pipe and cut a tarry bit of the brown stuff off with my pocket knife. I had found my religion. The acute rush of euphoria made the marijuana I had been smoking seem like child's play. The high seemed like something archaic that had been missing from my body my entire life. After a few more puffs, I was nodding off into a dream-like state birthing worlds that never existed within myself.
I woke up. My body was relaxed and flaccid. My mind felt like an empty bowl as if my brain were missing. I kept chasing the dragon until midnight when I finally passed out for good.
The next morning was like many dozens after that. After flunking out of college, I held down a job washing dishes for a greasy spoon. It was one of the few jobs that didn't require a drug screening. The jonesing and itching progressed for weeks. I was usually off work before 3pm, having worked my way up to the day shift. Now the space between 7am and lunch felt like an eternity. I wondered if I could keep my pipe in my pocket and take a few puffs by the dumpster. Nausea from withdrawal kept me from eating. I wasn't sure what the cook would say if he found out I was barfing in the bathroom.
Cain had been dropping off my bag. Once a week had become a few times a week. I decided I needed to confront him. The sickness was getting worse and I felt like I was dying when I couldn't get my fix. The next time I handed him the last of my cash I called him out.
“Cain, I'm sick all the time now. I can barely make it to work without getting high on that shit. Why didn't you warn me.”
“You just need to step it up a notch.”
He flipped a tiny bag of white powder onto my table. “This is the real stuff. You do some of this and you won't get sick for hours. It's all-natural, from a plant.”
“What do I do? Snort it?”
Cain fished some syringes out of his shirt pocket. “I'll throw these in on the house. It's your only option. You can get the legal pills, which are synthetic, but if they catch you Doctor shopping they will cut you off. You cook this stuff down in a teaspoon and put it right in your vein. Mainline.”
“You have to be kidding me, Cain. How long before I'm living in a cardboard box behind a dumpster?”
“You'll be fine. All the best artists and musicians use heroin. Didn't you say you were an artist?” Cain folded my money and left.
The waves of sickness washed over me. The chills and shudders wracked my thin body. Finding a vein wouldn't be difficult. I was a skinny puppy with sunken eyes and gaunt features, bones popping from my flesh.
I sucked in a ragged breath as I recalled first taking his gift of the pipe. He said something about how it was a cure for depression. I lit a candle and went for a metal spoon. I wrapped my belt around my bicep and pulled the liquid into the needle, pushing the air out before piercing myself. My old self came back to life, the one before the sickness, the one just looking to escape life's ravages. How had it come to this?
When I came to, the candle had melted into a puddle on the table, flowing around empty beer bottles and leaving a frozen waterfall that reached the floor. For once in the last hundred days I didn't feel sick. I felt relaxed and normal. I looked for the baggie. It was crumpled and empty next to me on the couch. I called in sick that day for work. I didn't really know what sick was, yet.
Cain wouldn't answer his phone for days. After calling in to work again and getting bitched at by the cook. I had to do it. I had to go out to the street and find some junk. I grabbed my pocket knife for protection. I knew just where to go. Dealer's Point was down by the strip joint on the other side of the tracks.
I shook as I fumbled while putting the keys in my beat-up old ride. I put my hood up to hide my face, deciding to stop at the first dealer on the corner. I rolled down my window and just showed him the needle in my hand. He smiled, gap-toothed and pulled out a foil bindle, and flashed some fingers. I handed him the bills and he put the drugs in my hand. I drove home slowly, not wanting to get pulled over and suffer withdrawals in a jail cell for days.
Well, if you are reading this you found me and it is the end, my end. I wrote this the first time I bought heroin on the street. I figured it would only be a matter of time before I bought some junk spiked with Fentanyl. There is a number for the city morgue written on the back of this letter. They have a pauper's grave for people like me. Just remember me if you have children. It only takes one time.