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Chris was a kid that I met in rehab long before his vein was ever stabbed, long before he’d first maintained a habit, or given the end of his last rope a grab at it. That didn’t happen until he met me. Was I a bad influence? Sure. An instigator? Definitely. But all of us begged for the chance to suck the devil’s dick, so nobody can say with any certainty that Chris’s downfall was my fault entirely. Before I met him, Chris was a DJ spinning at parties, filling the house with vibrating bodies and pounding bass, frat boys, wing men, and department store Barbie’s with thick makeup cakes on their faces.
Everyone knew him, or claimed that they did … when name dropping games came to their lips in barroom crowds, with the music too loud, while siphoning phone numbers from behind a mask of lies from some tan candy-ass with round hips and azure blue skies in her eyes who thought the DJ was hot, and that by association that hotness rubbed off, so anyone saying they knew Chris had a shot.
Some people can, and others cannot. Well Chris could, and he did it a lot, he always looked good and he never got caught, and the party didn’t start until he got to the spot. They all said Chris was headed for the top. To talk to him then you’d think nothing could stop him. He had all kinds of plans and he spoke of them often, and everyone knew that he’d do something awesome.
So the day came that the party died down, and Chris decided to leave Youngstown, and he went westbound on a fast moving Greyhound toward the big dreams he’d been tossing around his whole life. He’d have his very own studio with foam on the walls, expensive soundboards and adjustable floors, in an unmarked building on the north end where one day his fans would walk by and say to their friends, I think this is the place where it all began.
But Hollywood was hollow to this kid from the burbs with his plans to make a living putting music to his words. He’d hardly stepped off the bus at the station when his bad decisions shook the foundation of all of those naïve plans he had growing up. In a small hometown he was ten feet tall, and the skills he had overshadowed them all.
But there in L.A. ten feet is nothing, and the foundations of most dreams are planted in mud, or even worse, quicksand, where there’s no solid ground on which to stand. Where in a crowd of people, nobody’s hand would extend to help you out, and you’re pulled under without ever being noticed, to the bottom, where everyone wants one and nobody’s gottem’.
Into this world, Chris was coming in hot. Into an endless availability of distractions from side to side that strayed from the straight line that stood between him and the end result. They were innumerable, and unavoidable to anyone whose taste was inexhaustible. But with unscarred knuckles, Chris entered the ring swinging. With small-town-visors over his eyes, brass balls and cocky, he got off the bus at Pico & Sepulveda in Los Angeles, a city with a dark side as black as a tar painted Nazi at midnight, and he hooked up on Oxy’s before the first round of the fight was even over…
At first, he got a good price, and the high was nice, like a soft pillow of dreams he had all the time in the world to forget. Like a newborn baby in a bassinette, moving innocently into a dangerous world without experience enough to suspect that some people are going to be out there feeding. And soon the price went up, and so did the amount that he ended up needing… until the cost of his habit was far exceeding the limit of what he could earn, and he was forced to turn to an ethics code as malleable as clay, which molded itself around the needs of each day. “It’s weird,” he’d say. “Half of the addiction is feeling it drain down the back of my face.”
But the thing about painkillers is that if you take enough of them without true pain to kill, it’ll create a pain of its own. So without at least one of those tiny blue pills, crushed up in one of his last dollar bills with the hard side of his lighter, and lined up with his student ID, on the backside of his Fundamentals text book, and pulled up his nose like one of those old pros who put on Eighties television shows, the withdrawals would have Chris bent over a toilet bowl, and he’d be sicker than he’d ever been before in his life.
And he’d wake up in the morning curled on the bathmat, covered in puke, and sweating with chilly skin crawling – he’d do anything to avoid a sickness like that – which meant thinking up more and more ways to find cash, because if he didn’t have money, he’d have to miss class, and with attendance like that there’s no way he’d pass.
So, as it goes with most of those who attempt to stay high forever, the kid who couldn’t lose, whose good luck seemed to ooze from his pant leg out onto his shoes, was brought down, eighty milligrams at a time by the bluish-green hue of the latest opiate based craze of the day. And that bright future on which everyone was hoping was snuffed out when the cell doors opened.
He kicked for two weeks on a jail cell floor, shivering and shitting while sitting on a cold metal toilet seat in front of thirty grown men, all completely fed up with his withdrawal symptoms. Sympathy drains quickly from a room when there’s no way out of it. Finally he was looking at his trial date, and the judge said it would end one of two ways. Either Chris returned home with his tail between his legs, defeated, with stories on deck of how he was cheated, for a ninety day rehab stay – or spend the next year-and-a-half being fucked in the ass by the California Penal system.
So he came back to Youngstown on the same bus that took him to Hollywood, a wiser man for having traveled. Armed with stories of a town outside the Midwest, he came stumbling into the same rehab that I was sweating out my own bad habits at. And that’s when I met him. But everything’s fine in rehab hang-time. Like a sheltered bird in a controlled environment… there will be no spreading of wings, but not much is expected of you either. It’s easy to stay clean when you can’t leave the house, when no one comes in or out without signing their name on a clipboard of paper, and where there are no hooded men hanging out on the corner, with hands in their pockets and folded up dollars.
So we dreamed big dreams of what we’d do if we were clean, and our drug counselor was just as much of a dick as he was trying to be. And in circled groups of fiends we shared our fears and all of those dreams that nobody else ever believed in. Some of the residents broke out in tears, revealing things they’d forced from their minds for good reasons. It created a certain bond you get when experiencing life’s trials with others. So that summer, Chris and I became brothers.
Then I left and didn’t see him again for years.
When I did, it had been long enough for me to have had a chance to fall down on my luck, and I did, hard. I was sitting in my car, parked in a lot on the corner of Market Street and Indianola Avenue. I had on a completely different attitude than the last time we’d spoken. Sitting there with cigarette smoke choking me, hunched in the driver’s seat of my car, stabbing like a madman at my arm, which was covered in blood and puncture wounds from a needle that was duller than the rounded edge of my black bottomed spoon.
I remember it like I’m right there now, I was shirtless and bloody, with purple bruises all over my body from where my veins had collapsed. And you walked up to my driver’s side window and you laughed. “Thomas Frye,” you sighed, with a hundred sixty milligrams numbing your insides. “Looks like you’re a little worse off than I.”
And what should have sent you running for cover, for one reason or another, prompted you to ask if I had a phone number.
But I gotta be honest Chris, the whole reason why I write you like this essentially boils down to one afternoon, when I was as sick as a psych ward slumber party with no chance of relief without your seventy five dollars. So I pointed out your skewed economics, that’s what a good friend I am.
I said, “For the price of one of your pills, I could get a half gram.
“And that’s a whole lot of powder for somebody that could nod for hours on a tiny bump off the tip of his front door key. It would last you much longer, and damn is it stronger, trust me,” I said. “Give me your money and I’ll go run and get it, and you’ll see what I mean and you’ll be glad that I did it.”
Then I ran to the Eastside and met the man as if my knee was hit by a doctor with a hammer in his hand, whose itchy finger was headed straight for my prostate gland. Hitting the dopehouse was the appropriate reflex action any time I found myself holding over ten dollars.
With the corner of a baggie tied in a knot above a brown ball about the size of a walnut, I returned to my apartment, where you were waiting with your girlfriend, about to go alone down the same road you were walking down with me, and I told you how happy you should be. That the stuff was good, like you’d know any different. And that he gave me extra when I knew that he didn’t. In fact, that walnut was actually puny in size, because I’d pinched it for tax purposes, telling myself that I had to get mine, but you had no way of knowing I was lying, and I spread that half a gram so far across the table it went on for miles. I saw the look in your eyes, like that line stretched clear to Texas, as any half gram of heroin does, to anyone who doesn’t know what a half gram is supposed to look like.
From then on, it all was irrelevant. So I hipped you to the needle… big deal. One way or another you’d have found it. But I sold you to the devil and you came around willingly into the arms of a lifelong habit you’d box with 20-unit gloves for the remainder of what’s left. And soon, as it always does, the money ran out. So with no other options but theft or drought, you did what you felt you had to do. And before long, it caught up with you, and another week or two you spent kicking in a cell with a corner window view, where you sat on your bunk and watched the Greyhound busses pull in and out of the station from the fourth floor of the county jail on Fifth Avenue.
And after a different judge took the same stand you lost a lot of years buying soups from The Man, on a commissary-carousel with spades in your hand.
It’s sad when a junky who’s as talented as this, sells his talent for a tracked up needle and a fix. On the Westside well, on the Eastside sick, and somewhere in the middle is a scared little kid, paying with his time for all the shit that he did to deserve punishment such as this. In a jail cell studio rhyming through the walls to a junky in the next cell sweating out the withdrawals.
I’m eager to see where Chris goes from here, in a prison cell writing down the words that he hears to a song in his head with a pen on the back of a medical request. And in 3 to 5 years, when the streets know his name he can start again clean. Sober, serene, and done with the obscene routine that caused his fall. From hanging with fools, ignoring the rules and grasping at coping tools to caffeine and meeting halls. From dirt ball back to ten feet tall, with all the crawl gone from his knees that he drags by on.
Of course the other choice goes the other way… Chris could hit the streets and be high in days, or maybe ride the rehab-high wave. Or maybe make his home-group on Wednesdays.
But all the coffee in all the world, and all the meeting sheets filled with words, and all the judges that lock you down, and all the piss-cups and piss around will never stop you from getting high. It’s the rotten truth of an addict’s life. You won’t kick tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes. The excuse is a crutch that lets you run from yourself, and your dreams are dwindling as you push them aside as you hide in the spoon and the rush that keeps you alive.
Now fast forward to the release date. Three years of paper Chris is doing for the state, means three years of PO’s and random UA’s, and three years of sweating out three day math: three days till I’m clean and I can pass. Because there ain’t no chippen around a habit. If you’ve got to have it, then you’ve got a habit.
And the shitty thing is you can walk a straight line, strengthen your spine and try and stay clean. For years you can disappear from the street and the scene and get a house and a wife and a kid and a lawn and in one weak moment you can lose it all. So the best you can hope for is to find something, like a reason to live, or a childhood dream, or an art, or music and a mic & a stage.
But it’s got to be something they can’t take away
and it can’t be a girl with a pretty blond face, because if she leaves you, you’ll be in the same fucking place. And it can’t be a piss-cup, it’s gotta be you.
So you do what the fuck you got to do Chris. A second last chance doesn’t often come, so if one does you should use it. Focus on writing down the words to your music, or figure out what you love to do and do the shit out of it. But you’ll never escape the tar pit unless you get out of it. So when they let you out the joint you hit me up, drop a couple of hundred and jump on a bus, and take the scenic route here and stare out the window at the plains and mountains and the desert dust, instead of the usual prison walls and rust, and friends you can’t trust, and diseased fiends without dreams, and piles of powder and rehab freaks. And as long as you’ve got a plane ticket home, you can crash on my couch for a couple of weeks. The change of scenery will give you an inner peace and the desire to go home and get the fuck up and go.
Your viable clean slate dies a little more each day you stay in Youngstown though. That’s my hometown too, and I’ve got love for it bro, but you ain’t staying clean in a town like that with the kind of people you know. Cause there’s a thousand junkys in a thousand towns but most don’t have the talent that you’re flushing down. And I know I’m no different in the things that I did, but I’m saying this to you because I give a shit. But your life is yours Chris and it is what you make it. So, just know, the exit is there when you’re ready to take it.