Arthur was a Rolling Stone

Submitted into Contest #26 in response to: Write about a character who was considered a prodigy when they were young.... view prompt

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General

“We were gonna top the charts, kid,” he says, the hand holding his cigarette shaking violently, “We were gonna go far.” 


He’s talking to me, but he’s also talking to everyone else – all the shapeless, nameless voices in his head. His name is Arthur McCarthy, and he was the lead guitarist in a rock band called, “The Weeping.” He’s also my bunkmate at St. Lucia’s’ House, the rehab facility I’ve been living in for the last six months. 

Rehab is sort of like the first day of school, every day. Despite the fact that we all wear nametags, we still sit in the same circle, introducing ourselves and admitting our “drug of choice,” over and over. Arthur’s “drug of choice” was the same as mine – heroin – and we are the only two heroin addicts currently living at St. Lucia’s, making us the last of a dying breed. 

Like Arthur says, no one does heroin anymore. Heroin has been replaced with other drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine and psychedelics and prescription painkillers. No one is brave enough to put a belt around their arm and a needle in their vein anymore. They want easy drugs. They want fun drugs. 

“I started playing guitar when I was three, can you believe that shit?” he says, still rambling to me and the invisible audience. 

“No Arthur, I still can’t believe that,” I say, slowly and rhythmically. 

“I was a prodigy, ya know. I blew ‘em all away.” 


 He’s right about that. A quick Google search of Arthur McCarthy turns up page after page of headlines regarding the “boy wonder” who could play guitar at the age of three better than most adults. There are pictures of him from his hometown newspaper, clutching the guitar in his lap, forcing his tiny hands to stretch along the fret. He looks small compared to the instrument – almost comically so. There are articles about him in most of the famous music magazines, pages filled with interviews of his family and friends and band members, as well as photos of him growing up – a handsome, clean-cut, boy with an amazing gift for music. 

It wasn’t just guitar – Arthur could play anything. There are videos of him on YouTube, strumming and blowing and playing instrument after instrument flawlessly, with a distinct twinkle in his eye. He knew he was going to be famous, even then. His parents had hit the genetic jackpot, and their son turned them into celebrities overnight. Before long, his family, which had survived just below the poverty line, was sensationalized. They were filthy rich, capitalizing on their son’s talent like leeches. 

I, the other heroin addict, did not have such a storied and vivid past. Where some have said Arthur had no choice but to become a drug addict given his circumstance and early celebrity, I choseto be an addict – and I chose it excitedly, even proudly. I tried it in college for the first time, snorting the white powder off a countertop in a stranger’s apartment, and I fell in love instantly. I had the same twinkle Arthur had in his eye as he played his instruments, only my twinkle wasn’t marked by confidence. My twinkle was marked by the insanity and bravery that only drug addicts possess – the unquenchable, insatiable desire to get high by whatever means necessary. 


“You ever miss it?” he asks, putting out his cigarette and reaching into the pack to light another. 

“Every goddamn day,” I say, reaching over to steal one as well. 


We’re on the back patio of the facility, looking off into the green fields and watching the sun set behind the trees in the distance. This is my favorite part of the day, because it’s the only time Arthur and I have together to discuss what we really think, uncensored by the rules we have to follow. We sit out here, day after day, and chain smoke, reminiscing about just how much we miss heroin – a big “no-no” inside the walls behind us. 

Other addicts, the ones who used lesser drugs, repeat over-and-over how much they don’tmiss it. They don’t miss getting high. They don’t miss spending copious amounts of money on drugs. They don’t miss hurting their friends and family. They don’t miss getting sick because their supply ran out. They don’t miss getting bad batches. They don’t miss anything. 

Arthur and I, on the other hand, miss everything. We miss needles in our elbows. We miss blowing out vein after vein, finally resorting to shooting up in our necks. We miss the colors of heroin, ranging anywhere from white as snow to black as night. We miss the high – the very specific, very vivid high that only comes from a strong opiate like heroin. We miss the moments after shooting up and feeling our bodies relax and fill with sand. We miss it all, and that’s what I love the most about Arthur – he isn’t afraid to admit it either. 


“Tell me about the first time,” I say, lighting the cigarette. 

“Oh, come on, Mikey, you’ve heard that story a hundred times,” he protests, but there’s a smirk on his face promising that he’ll tell me anyway with the right about of flattery. 

“I know,” I say, “But I want to hear it again. Just one more time.” 

“All right, all right. Don’t beg,” he grins that big, toothy grin. 


The first time Arthur tried heroin he was backstage at a concert with one of his earlier bands before he really made it “big” in the music industry. What they don’t tell you about child prodigies is, when they stop being children, they become just like anyone else – with a few extra pages on Google. Arthur was the best, sure, but he was just another guitarist in a sea of guitarists in an ocean of bands. 


“So this girl, this fucking beautiful girl, showed the guy at the door what was under her shirt, and he let her come backstage with us. She walks in, confident, and opens her little backpack and dumps a whole mess of drugs on the table, right in front of us.” 

“What did she have?” I ask, even though I know the answer. 

“Oh, Mikey, she had everything. I was sixteen, ya know. I had smoked some pot, bumped some coke, drank some beer, but I had never seen that many drugs in my life. There was cocaine and weed and pills of any color you can imagine and tabs of acid and little baggies of other shit, but the white powder – that’s what caught my eye.” 

“How’d you do it your first time?” 

“I snorted it, like she did, real slow.” 


Arthur snorted the heroin with the random, beautiful girl who had made her way backstage, and the rest was history. After that night, he tried to find it everywhere, and, lucky for him, he grew up in the days of real heroin addicts. He grew up in a time where people weren’t afraid to share needles with their friends, and he joined every circle he could find. My track marks are deep, but his are legendary – making little, purple mountains in the creases of his elbows. 

I did not grow up in the days of real heroin addicts, so my journey to satiate my cravings in college was bumpy. I spent hundreds of dollars on fake heroin, shooting myself up with random concoctions, using needles I had stolen from the nurse’s office on campus. They were too big, but I didn’t care. I wanted it to hurt, because I wanted the heroin to make me feel better– and, when I secured the right bag, it always did. 


“So, I read your interview in Rolling Stone earlier,” I say, flicking my cigarette and watching the ashes fall onto my shoes. 

“Oh shit!” he exclaims, “I almost forgot I did that, man.” 

“How high were you?” I ask, trying to stifle my laughter. 

“I was fucking gone,” he slaps his knee, laughing at himself. 


In the interview, the journalist asked Arthur what it was like to grow up as a child prodigy and achieve such an intense level of celebrity so early in life. While I’m sure she expected to get a heartfelt and meaningful answer from him, probably detailing the hardships of growing up under the spotlight, he said this instead: 

            “Well, I guess it’s like this – I didn’t ask to be famous. I didn’t ask my mom and dad to send off those tapes of me playing. I didn’t ask anyone to come to our house to see it for themselves. I was just a fucking kid, ya know. I still am, even now. I just wanted to play guitar, all the time. I didn’t care whether I was good or bad – I just wanted to do it. Next thing I know, they’re all over us like fucking animals – just chewing and biting and gnawing away at everything. My little sister, Jenny, she dropped out of high school this past year because no one would leave her alone. My mom and dad, I mean, yeah, they wanted the money, but it got to be too much for them. It’s just like, if eyes are windows to the soul, then we’re all just peeping toms, ya know. And everyone wanted a fucking peep at us.” 


“If eyes are windows to the soul, then we’re all just peeping toms.” That was my favorite line, hands down. The first time I read it, I couldn’t shake it. He was right. We’re all just peeping at each other like perverts, tiptoeing by windows and hoping to catch each other naked or doing something stupid or crying or whatever else. We’re merciless to each other in that way, because no one can hide their eyes – not really, anyway. Sure, we can try to put up curtains and we can try to be on our best behavior, but people look at each other not to see the good or to see what we want them to see but to try and find our weaknesses, our embarrassments, our regrets. In Arthur’s case, growing up in the public eye the way he did, no one wanted to hear a “feel good” story about the child prodigy turned doctor or lawyer or growing into an upstanding citizen – they wanted the gritty shit, and he delivered. 


“Hey, kid, tell me about your first time,” he says, pulling out yet another cigarette as he ashes into the small tray. 

“Well, I was in college,” I begin, turning to look him in the eye, “And I had been out with my friends all night, drinking and playing darts or pool or whatever. One of the guys we met that night had started tagging along with us, and, when the bars started closing down, he invited us back to his place to keep the party going.” 

“Hell yeah,” he says.

“So, we went. Of course. And when we walked in, I saw it sitting on the table.” 

“What color was it?” he asks, almost frothing at the mouth.

“It was the whitest shit I’ve ever seen. I thought it was glowing.” 

“Oh man, that’s the good shit,” he smiles, leaning back in his chair. 


It was the good shit – the best heroin I ever had. I snorted a line sitting at the kitchen table, and I felt my arms go limp against my side. I watched my friends, eyes like marbles, as they drank and snorted their cocaine and laughed with our new friend, and I couldn’t muster the strength to smile. My whole body had sunk into the chair, and everything felt lucid – like a dream playing out in front of me. It was pure bliss, and I knew, almost instantly, that I had to have more. 

We stayed there until the next afternoon, and I took turns with the stranger, snorting line after line as he did, feeling like I was having an orgasm all over. When we left, I tried to catch his name and number, but he was passed out on the couch – dead to the world. Except, he was actually dead. All it took was half of what was in that bag, coupled with however much he had already done, to kill him. I saw his picture and obituary in the paper the next week, and I felt heartbroken – not because he was dead, but because I had no idea how to secure heroin on my own. I spent the next few years chasing it down. Arthur was a “rock star,” so drugs like heroin came easy to him. He’s been here for a little over a year, clean and sober, and he talks about heroin the way military men talk about their wives when they’re overseas. 

Arthur hit it big with his band, “The Weeping,” and they headed out on a cross-country tour, toting an immeasurable amount of drugs and booze from state-to-state. The night it all went up in flames made headlines, becoming the primary subject under his name on any search engine. He and his band had been partying all day before a big show in Las Vegas, and Arthur had shot up so much that he could barely stand, much less play his guitar. Just before they went on, someone had weaseled their way backstage, promising a bag of pure, glowing white heroin if they let him in. 

So, without question, his band members started shooting up with the fresh bag, putting needles into infected injection sites and passing them around like party favors. Since Arthur was already blissed-out, he turned it down, trying to ride out his high for as long as possible before re-upping. The venue filled, everyone took their place on stage, and two of the band members – the drummer and bass player – died almost instantly. After months of shooting up with weaker, lesser heroin, the large amounts of pure heroin they had just injected killed them without a second thought. 

It was pure chaos. The crowd didn’t know if this was a planned antic or something serious until Arthur dropped his guitar and started doing mouth-to-mouth on them both, alternating at a rapid pace. It was too late, of course. They were dead, the place was in a full-blown panic, and the show was over before it started. Journalists called it a “catastrophe” and said it was the “consequence of the ‘rock-n-roll’ lifestyle.” It was a little over a year ago, and Arthur’s band manager insisted that he go to rehab in an effort to salvage what was left of his reputation. 

I came here voluntarily, but I also had a moment of clarity. I was shooting into my neck, standing in the bathroom, when I heard a knock at my door. Pissed off at the interruption, I put the needle down and opened the door, only to find my mother on the other side of it. She looked me up and down, taking in my unhinged appearance, staring at the marks on my arms and neck, before saying, “I just wanted to see if it was true,” and walking away. I called to her, but she refused to turn around. Word had gotten back to her that her son was a drug addict living in a run-down apartment, and she wanted confirmation. She wanted to be a peeping tom to my descent, and she had gotten her wish. I shut the door, walked back to the bathroom to finish shooting up, and decided that it was my last time. I drove myself to St. Lucia’s, checked in, and I’ve been sober for the last six months – still missing every moment I spent on the other side, getting high all by myself. 

            

“Arthur,” I say, putting out my last cigarette of evening, “Do you think that being a ‘child prodigy’ is the reason you started using?” 

“Christ,” he chuckles, “Are you a reporter now too?” 

“No,” I say, pulling back my question, “I just want to know. I mean, you have real talent. You were born to play music. But, do you think that’s why we’re both here, talking about the first time we did heroin on the patio of a rehab facility?” 

“Well, Mikey,” he stands up from his chair, pacing in front of me, “I think it goes like this – I think I was born fucked up. Yeah, the music part of my brain is perfect – fucking perfect – but I think, because of that, the other shit in my brain took some losses.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“I think nobody gets to have it all, right? I mean, you’re either really smart in school or really smart in the streets. You can either play football better than any other asshole, or you can beat everyone at chess. Nobody gets to have everything. So yeah, I was born to play guitar or trumpet or piano or whatever else you throw in front of me, but I wasn’t born to turn down drugs. And, that’s the fucking problem. That’s why everyone is so obsessed with ‘rock stars’ and shit – because we’re fucked. We get pumped with all this talent and passion, but we miss out on other shit. Jared, my drummer, he was an amazing drummer. But, he couldn’t read to save his life – never learned. We had to read all his contracts for him, out loud, so he could understand them. Levi, my bass player, held our sound together like glue. But, that poor asshole couldn’t put two-and-two together to get four with a calculator. Me, I played guitar better than anyone they had ever seen – I had been playing my whole life – and yeah, I could read, and yeah, I could add and subtract with the best of them, but I couldn’t say no to a needle right now – even after being clean for this long.” 



January 31, 2020 11:38

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2 comments

Tim Law
11:03 Feb 06, 2020

Hell yeah... They don't make junkies like they used to! I loved this story Najwa. You captured the soul of the hooked. I was brought back to the day I watched Trainspotting with my mates. Well done.

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Najwa Zandlo
23:38 Feb 06, 2020

Thank you so much! I wanted to play with the prompt from a different angle - the child prodigy gone bad - and I'm glad I was able to do so in a way that was understandable and relatable. I'm glad you enjoyed reading!

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