It came to me. A boy, his girlfriend and his little sister hopped out of their 90’-something Lincoln. They all had sunglasses on, accompanied by baseball tees just long enough to cover their arms. They had crooked grins and husky laughs. I remember stepping out of my best friend’s house and being so intrigued by them, unaware of how much of an impact they would have on me over the years to come. My boyfriend at the time, *Christian, a 19-year-old who it would turn out had lied about pretty much his whole life, came up to me with a wide grin. He told me they could get dope, he told me a bundle was cheap, he told me we should both do it.
I was 17 and desperate for anything that could be considered love. My whole perception of what love could be was torn from my psyche only a few months prior when my first ever boyfriend got my best friend pregnant. In my teenage mind, what I needed was someone to hold my sometimes-shaky hand and tell me that the world was going to be okay and that I would be okay, too. So if Christian wanted to do heroin with me, I would do it - I wouldn’t be so dumb as to let another opportunity of true love pass under my nose.
I went up to the boy. He told me he’d run to get it for just three out of the 10 glassine bags. I looked at my boyfriend – he was so excited he could barely stop jumping. What was I supposed to do? Follow my parents’ footsteps and get high? Or turn my head, call them crazy, lose what I thought would be the best relationship I would have? Obviously not the latter. They came back 15 minutes later. On the east coast, heroin is packaged in little wax bags that have different colors, cartoons, or sayings on them. Bright red block letters stared at me: ‘La Cura’. My hands shook while I put the bundle of heroin in my purse.
To be honest, I forgot I had them in my bag. I forgot I could’ve gotten arrested while I sped up and down I-95. I forgot I was about to ruin my life. So when Christian, the person I would date until our addiction proved to be too much, kicked our friends out of my room, I was confused. When Christian went into my purse and pulled out a bundle of heroin, when he asked for a knife, I was taken aback. He had told me he was a heroin addict, that he had been using for months prior to this day, so when I saw him struggling to open the glassine bag, and when he asked for my help, I was confused. But it turns out it was his first time, too.
Christian was someone who survived entirely off of lying; lying was his way of surviving the scary world he inhabited. When word got around that someone I had dated was now a heroin addict, Christian changed his life story so that he became a heroin addict, too. He was no better or worse than I, just a boy looking for love in the wrong places, and it brought him here: a small apartment in the bad area of Trenton, New Jersey about to do three bags of heroin for the first time. They were small in my hand. I remember holding it up to the light and seeing the powder sway inside the bag, thinking to myself that this couldn’t possibly be what drove so many of my friends mad, this couldn’t possibly be what ruins lives. But what did I know? I was young and impulsive, so after many minutes when I finally opened the damned thing, I wasted no time in pouring the white-brown powder onto my dresser, the same dresser I had since I was 10. I was ruining my childhood; I was becoming what my family feared.
It burned my nose. It made my eyes tear. It gave Christian a menacing smile his otherwise fragile face and body couldn’t bear. It made my life go before my eyes. It made me hold the straw I used in my palm fiercely. Christian sat on my twin sized bed with pink sheets and I followed him, muttering something about how my head felt light. I remember staring at my cigarette stained walls, thinking that every twitch that flowed through my body was the opiate kicking in. It wasn’t until I felt warmness trickle up my spine and my eyelids close without my asking them to that it truly began to hit me. It wasn’t until cigarette after cigarette, each one burning my skin or sheets, that it began to hit me. I was hooked, even though it was my first time and in the moment I thought it wasn’t a big deal (I would remain in denial until March of the following year). I don’t remember falling asleep that night, or the next few nights after that. I just remember that every night until the first bundle disappeared, I went to sleep peacefully. No night terrors, no PTSD episodes of finding my father overdosed when I was eight, no depersonalization episodes. I was free, I was happy, I was in bliss.
My parents were addicts, and so were my grandparents. I don’t think I was ever worried about becoming a drug addict, though. Most of my life, from the age of eight to thirteen, was spent on Neopets telling other virtual pet caregivers how bad drugs were. Finding my father overdosed and choking on his own vomit traumatized me, giving me PTSD for years, and I was determined to make sure no one made the same mistake he did. However, like most coming-of-age stories, I approached my freshman year of high school and the need to be cool gnawed at me. If that meant drinking 40’s of Olde English that a homeless man bought for me and my friends in the woods, I did it; if it meant going against everything I knew I really was, I would happily do it. My life spiraled quickly – before I knew it I was doing ecstasy at the Jersey Shore and snorting Roxy 30’s to come down.
When I think about it, it’s not much of a surprise that I became a drug addict; I believe addiction is a disease that is passed down, and it has always lingered in my chemical makeup. My father and mother were both hooked on heroin, leaving me to be taken care of by my grandmother from the time I was five until I was nine. Those are very important ages for a young girl to be left without her mother. My memories of those years are clouded by my father’s drug use – me being eight and finding him overdosed, naked in his own vomit; waking up to run to his car and putting on shoes that were covered in vomit because he had gotten too high; meeting strange people all times of the day and night that locked themselves in my father’s room with him to get high. Although I was under my grandmother’s custody, my father took me away from my cozy home in a densely populated urban area in New Jersey and moved me to Staten Island. I remember crying a lot and making up excuses such as “my appendix hurts” when he had R-rated movies on that I knew I wasn’t allowed to watch. My mother reentered my life following my father’s overdose stunt. She took me into her arms and a year and a half later moved us to New Jersey.
I like to believe that if I could go back in time, I would stop myself, but I don’t think that’s the case. My years of addiction held some of the most amazing learning experiences I could ever go through. I learned that I was fucking resilient – even being beat up by my ex-boyfriend who wanted me to go find cigarettes or walking two miles back to my apartment after being pistol whipped and robbed, I never once stopped fighting. That said, if I could grab everyone else who was about to start using by the shoulders and try to persuade them not to, I would. I know they wouldn’t listen, though – I didn’t listen when older addicts told me to quit, or when inmates came to visit my high school. I know my efforts would be futile.
I am now 23 years old and have been clean for two and a half years. My mother put me on a methadone maintenance program that I sincerely believe saved my life. I am now in an amazing relationship with my fiancé. My version of love is still a hot mess, and I think because of how my mother raised me, always with a different man around, it always will be. For now, however, I think this relationship is as healthy as one between two young addicts can be. My father just received three years clean, and after a short slip-up with crack cocaine, my mother has forty days clean of anxiety meds, methadone, and everything in between. I live with my fiancé, I work full time, and we’re looking for our first apartment together.
I don’t know if I’ll ever forget my first date with heroin. It was messy and secretive and beautiful at the time. It was warm. It was comforting. But getting clean was the best decision I have ever made. I have a strong support system and I love life because I don’t wake up sick. There is help out there. Please don’t make the mistakes I did, though I recognize that’s easier said than done. This all started because I was lonely. I was lonely, I wanted love, and I wanted my head to be quiet. Please believe me when I say there is help and support available, and in case anyone hasn’t told you today: I love you.
*Names changed to respect the privacy of the individuals.