I fell asleep on the floor of his hospital room. By the morning following the stroke he was complaining and demanding his boots. Nurses were demanding he stopped shaking his head around, and forcing him into wheelchairs. He was authoritarian and fragile. Through the haze of the delirium tremens, large amounts of pharmaceutical kindnesses and sedating medicine designed to stop him seizing and causing more damage he was convinced he was in a top secret military medical experiment facility. He kept calling me Cactus Flower, and demanding to know what I knew of life beyond the lens and double sided mirrors. He was a walking, barely talking rolling stones drug cabinet, fueled on residual whiskey, high quality opiates and whatever downers the doctor’s whims and undeserved concern passed his way. He deserved none of it. He had done this to himself, and yet seeing him there in the wheelchair, commanding nurses help him sit up, holding my hand on Valentine’s Day, and insisting on trying to feed himself I found myself protectively pitying him. I held his hand, swabbed his mouth with moistening wands, cleaned his false teeth, carefully held the spoon up to his lips and adjusted the pressure stockings on his poor swollen legs.
There was no point in recriminations. There was no point in fighting – fighting what? The bones of a ghost of a man? The bottle? His selfishness? Instead I indulged him, reassured him that the facility was safe, and they were trying to find out what had happened to him. “It’s the damn aliens, Cactus Flower? I was abducted by aliens?” I told him I didn’t know, but anything was possible, the main thing was to stay calm, the calmer he was the quicker I could break him outta there.
I decided to take him home. I could have sent him into a care facility, that is where the hospital wanted to send him. They warned me he might not survive. They predicted pneumonia from aspirating food, and a quick death. They warned me he would be difficult to care for, and that what I saw that was the best I could hope for that I was going to get as far as his independence went. They were wrong.
I brought him back to the little blue house and the large oak tree, with a walking stability belt round his waist so I had something to grab onto to help him move around, and a large walker. Unloading the commode and the home blood pressure monitor, and the folder with his physio exercises, I realized what I had done. I realized what he had done. I set him down in the futon bed and insisted he take his boots off and change his clothes. Setting him upon a trash bag I worked to clean him up, top to toe, washing him, drying him off, enjoying the look of contentment, and trying trying not to hurt his sore head. He had refused the brain surgery they wanted to do to remove the tumor in his head and the remains of the clotted disaster within it, convinced it would make it worse.
“Billy, Billy. Look at me! Billy. Pretend you are swallowing a grape. Like this…feel my neck, can you feel that strong swallow? Do the same. Swallow BIG, Billy. Come on…one….two…three….Now stand in front of me, can you lift that leg up off the floor, I’ve got you. Just one more today….just one more…
My help had trashed himself. My hero had tilted at windmills and was now in pieces in the bedroom. He was mechanical, android, unloving cold. He never asked how I was. He didn’t try to help me move his body. He didn’t thank me for emptying his piss and shit, or cleaning his body, or dressing his pussing sores. There was no love there, no care, no nothing not heading towards me. He was dependent, like a baby before it gives you that first smile and makes all the sleepless nights worth it.
I had poured away all the booze and got rid of the bottles, including my own. My shakes had subsided into a feeling of sore malaise, an empty clean cold clarity click. Click. Like the top of a bottle being closed, a brain shifting gear. I had an emergency few pounds of dirty poppy pods and seeds for an emergency, a makeshift laudenum kit. I ground up the pods in a coffee grinder no one was ever going to use for anything coffee related, then poured the lot into a cocktail shaker along with some grapefruit juice (great opiate potentiator – sets it off a little stronger) a little hot water and the seeds. Shake shake shake, till you get that plasticene almost almond sweet smell and all the opiates have been knocked off the seeds and pods, and then strain through cheese cloth. The seeds and pod pieces contain nasty stuff you don’t want in large amounts, stuff that causes the jitters and extreme nausea – thebaine, a stimulant. I didn’t have a cheese cloth, so drank the mixture through my teeth and spat out what solids I could. I suppose a shot of brandy would have been authentic as far as laudanum goes, but there was no brandy, not after the rum rabbit hole disaster.
Along with the commode and the walker, the washchair, Billy and the walking balance belt came a large bag full of opiate painkillers. Oxycodone and morphine. Gabapentine – not interested….xanax…put into the maybe pile if I was feeling dirty and had nothing else. I was expected to care for him, dish out his pills and make that my life…oh yeah…and not touch any of it myself.
The poppy pod tea was my attempt not to. It didn’t last very long. That first night I went up to him, my eyes slightly pinned from the edge taking off poppy tea, a tiny buzz, a little warmth and looseness in my legs, and told him he owed me for the bullshit of the last few weeks. He owed me for dealing with cops and doctors, for nursing and for kicking booze on a hospital floor, sleeping on the floor on my knees with my forehead against the filthy tiles, the kids sleeping on the sofa, he owed me for the bad look at the guy next to him in ICU who had fallen into a damn woodchipper, he owed me for making me kick booze cold turkey DTs. He owed me for the ants and snakes under my skin, and the crawling carpet, and the vomiting and shaking. He owed me for pushing me around. He owed me, and I’d take payment in morphine, please.
He woke up. “Half morphine, half oxy” – this WAS how I reckoned it would be. He could find his mind, and it was not swimming with the fishes in the seas of St Lucia when it came to drug math.
I had no interest in the hillbilly heroin, no matter it was the immediate release stuff, not that extended release bullshit. I wanted the morphine.
“Take it, or leave it…” He sniffed and closed his eyes. I considered taking all of it. He couldn’t get up out of bed without me breaking my back. He couldn’t piss without help. Losing my humanity was tempting, but I couldn’t steal his pain pills, not even a share of them, it didn’t fit right. I didn’t NEED them: I just wanted ’em. The resentments were growing too large.
I dabbled rather than maintained a habit since I had become a mother. A little codeine here, a few valium there. A couple of bad times I had got back on the pony, but I was basically well behaved, but jumping from Tokyo and landing here in this mess when I had trusted Billy, when he had promised me he wouldn’t let me down, when he insisted he would make it as safe as possible, that I was safe trusting him, then being stuck with him iced over and damaged and all because of his drinking was just too much.
He slyly poured a few bright pink oxy and a couple of little dark green morphine into my hand and waited for thanks. Gotta throw the dog his bone. Be properly appreciative for his mercy. Thanks was a river that ran one way. I put the pills in an empty pill bottle and hid them in my purse. I was no Glove-Foot woman, with her intensely deferred gratification slow plunger controlled push, but I wanted this to be right. I wanted my privacy, I wanted not to be needed or interrupted later.
Getting up, making a supper of burritos and refried beans for the kids and Billy, sitting and chatting with them while I spooned moistened mouthfuls up to his greedy mouth, wiping away the splatters and crumbs from my jeans as he spluttered and spilled, reminding him to do Big Swallows, and passing him thickened juice through a straw, wiping his face, and reading from The Life of Che Guevara to my captive audience I almost persuaded myself I was in no hurry. “Green goat meat, ma?” asked the Boy. “It was an honor for Che to eat like the common men he led, he was not a poster boy in his mind, he was a fighter, waste nothing, put no man above you, that was the creed. He was deeply honorable.” …”Yeah…but green goat meat, ma….” “And be grateful for it, young man. If it was good enough for the poor people feeding him, it was good enough for him. You think they had good beans and good meat?”
I got up and scraped wasteful plates, washed dishes, poured more thickened juice for Billy and his paralysed swallow, while the Boy chattered at me. “Did the poor people really not have food in Cuba, Ma?” “Really really, kiddo…”
“Greed of the rich. Incompetence of politicians. Fidel Castro and Che tried to make things better for ordinary people.”
“I thought they were communists? Aren’t communists bad? Sorry, I didn’t eat all my supper, ma.”
“No worries, comrade….don’t believe everything you hear on Fox, sweetheart, we will talk about it more tomorrow, ok?” I ruffled his hair. “I cooked too much…Ill have the not-mushed-up leftovers tomorrow, kiddo.”
Billy was playing checkers with the Girl. She was thrashing him. Eventually the kids drifted towards bed, and Billy got himself settled, and so did I.
I drifted off to the bedroom alone, leaving the rest of the house quiet and calm, fed and clean and content. My job was done for the night.
I dug for my bag in the pile of discarded heaped clothes in the closet, as Bobby D played Blonde on Blonde sad eyed lady through the speakers. Billy had set up his turntable towards the start of his drunk, it was good and balanced and loud enough to make me feel shielded from anything outside of the sound.
The pink oxys went between a sheet of folded paper – junkie origami, as I leant onto them with the back of a spoon, crushing them up in rough shards of candy smelling chunks. Pills are such a pain to break down, you don’t want pieces skittering away getting lost between floorboards, wasting a perfectly good high and leaving you sharking the floor for fabled crumbs during dry spells. Pulling out my pocketknife from my back pocket I started to chop them up finer into a dust, enjoying the ritual of work and tasting the bitterness on my fingers. Once fine, I dumped the –mgs into my spoon and looked around, patting with my hand, but there was no needle for my spoon, no outfit to get powder from mainline to the brain. I got up, spell broken, and pulled a thick fast food straw from the kitchen drawer, ignoring the people milling trying to capture my attention: they had used up enough of me today.
I wanted to abdicate for a moment. To get away just for a while. To give up temporarily. To float away…reduced to butter in my bones in my very own twilight zone separated from the sinew and the flesh, from the pain and the life. I wanted a half-life, a toxic semi death with one hand waving free in some quiet Oregon field with the river that ran through it, and the blackberry bushes that cannibalized the back yard, and the signs that warned for cougar on trails that could eat you up if you got unlucky, eat you while you stood and wondered at white plastic bags that sat stuck and heavy in the oak tree above.
Pushing off demands and giving careful and decisive goodnights, I returned to the bedroom, locked the door, cut the pink oxycodone powder into thin careful lines, lines of someone who hadn’t had a tolerance for some time. Ugly medical pink lines on white greaseproof paper. My hair was still long, I pinned it back and leant forward, and snorted one of the lines through the cut off red and white thick wide straw.
I was always a puker, all junkies who truly love junk are, …a wave of vague nausea hit me before the rush or the numb. I felt like a newborn baby junkie all over again, not getting the desired effect, how I disliked not shooting up, not getting that instant mainline gratification, instead cautiously doing another line. Bingo. There it was: walking on sunshine made flesh, light in my feet, drifting weightless above the worries and responsibility, beyond the disappointment and the pain.
I wasn’t expecting much: I am a drug snob, if it isn’t what I want I am slow to give it a chance to prove itself. Once I found what I needed, that was what I wanted, and damn the rest. It quickly became apparent it was better than poppy tea, but not in the same class as heroin: there’s not that intense rush, the speedy thebaine buzz side to it fought off the nod that I treasure, but it is good enough, despite the fastness. More high powdered neon light, summers day in a little pink pill. There are worse things than bottled summer sun. I carried on by myself in the bedroom, night after night, snorting a little more and a little more, eventually hitting the next sweet spot, the next plateau on the mountain. It got tamer, a little more sedate pretty quick. I couldn’t fall in love with the stuff, but it was better than nothing. It eased the pain, untethered my balloon, care- loosened me, freed up the self-less. I was pleased, but not overjoyed.
Billy was holding onto the morphine, they would give him as much as he wanted, not expecting him to survive the next month, and were doping him…and me….up to the eyeballs, but he would not give some up. Our visits to the doctor involved her eyeing me suspiciously and testing his piss for opiates to make sure he was taking them. I sat there and chuckling quietly, and took his scripts to the drug store to be filled, taking my share before I passed him, his. What were they going to do? My eyes pinned, junk-dark, but so was half the town – hooked on the good doctor’s scripts.
Hillbilly heroin, shitty, nasty, toxic, chemical powder made from the buzzy thebaine left overs that sits inside the poppy seeds and pods that you are meant to throw away and not ingest. By-product leavings, lard not wagyu beef. Beggars at the banquet can’t be too choosy about their meat and potatoes. Sometimes all you get is the green goat-meat alongside the other peasants of the town, and have to be grateful for it.
I put my foot down when I cashed in his next script, “Billy, you owe me. I take care of you, you would be in a care home if it wasn’t for me.” I laid it out for him calm and in a way I knew he could dig. Owing not caring. Due it, not gifting. He saw it was beneficial to him to keep me sweet and his own ass out of the care home, and passed over four dark forest green morphine pills.
The morphine, of course, was much more like it, but still not quite the diamorphine smack-horse and that sad lonesome dying dove dust road it takes you down, but close enough – closer. The powers that be in their infinite cruelty have built “anti abuse technology” into the pills, meaning if you try and inject it – break it down and dissolve it into water, it turns into a thick gloop that can cause the user to lose an arm, veins blocked and abscessed, hot and infected and potentially septically deadly. This goop won’t even pull through a wheel filter. This is done on purpose by the manufacturer to punish the junkie, they call it a deterrent, but no one uses opiates would be or is deterred.
Your average user instead will hit up drug forums and dark web communities, and call other junkies up and find as safe and effective a work around as possible, despite the fact that no ‘head should ever be let loose with chemistry and potential harm. The infection is caused by the non dissolving particles clumping together in the dope, not by dirty practices. It would be more humane, more sensible, and for those motivated by such things, less of a drain on resources to make it as safe as possible to inject, not as dangerous, but the straight world is rarely concerned with safety, nor it would appear with making things as cheap as possible for them in both in terms of lives, health costs and social problems. No they want to punish: shoot this shit and we will take your arm. The bastards!
I pushed it further and further, leaving the kids to Billy, their schooling and church groups he insisted on taking them to. I became temporarily unavailable, until one day I went too far.
Snorting the morphine was inefficient. Parachuting the crushed powder proved a little better, unable to find a clean U100 in the two horse town we were living in, and feeling too guilty to risk serious harm anyway, I ended up deciding to channel Stevie Nicks (minus a brave groupie to aid in the escapade), with the door firmly locked, cursing the assholes that mixed the morphine in with pharmaceutical vein concrete, and trying to stay still enough to wait for the solution to hit. The green sludge was not the pleasing dragon in the water, but somewhere in there was relief. Somewhere in there was me.
I sat on the edge of the futon, almost shocked by the suddenness of the morphine rush. It hit me almost immediately with a pillow that had been filled with feathers, heavy leaden sodden concrete feathers. It hit me in the solar plexus first with a warm heavy jelly fish THUD. Water mingled with padded leaden softness it smacked me round the back of the head, the pleasant heat rising with it. THUD.
A wave of opium pleasure flooded through my veins and turned my blood into mercury, sliding and slipping around in formless, poisonous, jiggly tentacles escaping the grasp, coalescing into a molten animated night-running creature. THUD. I was overdosing, the wave of heavy heat rising slowly, dividing me from my body. It was the slowest overdose in the history of overdoses, slow enough to think about it. Slow enough to know about it. Slow enough to care that dying was possible and imminent.
I laughed to myself, the words to killing me softly floating in front of my fading eyes in a little foretaste of hell where you die to The Fugees instead of the Velvets. THUD.
There was no taking it back, I forced myself to my feet, told myself to stay conscious. THUD. That heavy-pillow kept on, now being wielded at my skull. I tried to breathe, looked down and realized. THUD. Realized that my chest was not moving as it should. There was no definite in and out, just a faint struggle. I was in real trouble. THUD. I knew I had to get help before it was lights out for good. THUD.
Dragging myself to the kitchen where Billy was sitting with the kids, I stood and looked at him. He knew that look. THUD. He had seen it many times before…Walking over to me irritated, lopsided, nonchalant, uncaring, robotic, hauling me up and drag-walking me over to the door, opening it. I was under the surface of consciousness by this point and it was continuing to climb fast, ice down my back, water over my head didn’t even feel like ice, just the sensation of something running over my skin. THUD. Billy grabbed my arm hard, and slapped me round the face, his lips moved but made no sound, rag doll loose in his arms unable to hold myself up.
I fought to form a thought and the words that came along with it. THUD. I went to find a breath to make a sound, and failed. THUD. THUD THUD. Knock out punches built up in intensity. I was still aware enough to be afraid: afraid of dying. It was a thought at least, “I am scared” is at least something not nothing.
I feared it would be my end and that Billy was going to let me die rather than making a phone call for help. I found some air, fighting fighting like I had not fought for a long long time. “HOSPITAL”, the word came out small and soft. “Hospital.” It was all I had, all I could say. I was out of energy or breath or fight.
“You stupid bitch, I leave you alone for two minutes and you overdose on MY pills.” It was back to life as I knew it, I was the stupid overdosing junkie bitch going blue in the corner, and he was reverting to druggie boyfriend who didn’t give a shit. Great, we could play Sid and Nancy later, but for now, just for now, I needed him to find a shit. I didn’t let him die, I got help for him when he hurt himself drinking. I should have known better than to expect the same.
The kids, the poor kids, my babies, they would be sent to their abusive father. I tried to remember how to move my chest, to breathe. It wasn’t working. THUD. The ride was still climbing higher and higher, no plateau, no easing up. I was aware tears were falling down my face. There was no intense euphoria, just the numb knowledge that I could be dead before the morning. I started to wish that if I was going to die, that I would not suffocate so slowly. Suffocating doesn’t hurt so much as squeeze the life out of you in an insistent drowning above water. Any other time I had done this, this accidental going too far in a search for relief from mental pain, any other time, it was smack, it was a needle and it was so fast I never even got the needle out of the vein. I survived by sheer luck, or intervention. The panic was momentary at worst. This time I was absolutely aware all the way up …and down…
Realizing no one was calling for help, and I was on my own I couldn’t fight any longer, I had to give in, and if I died in my sleep, so be it, I had no way of stopping it, of staying awake, of fighting to breathe against the paralysis in my chest, so I let myself fall into my dreamworld, rolling onto my side (Billy couldn’t even be bothered to make sure I was not on my back) and letting go – letting go of the fight, of my eyelids closing, of my heart beating as if by will only, of the very conscious decision I had to make to breathe, in and out and in and out…and… I let the morphine take me away.
Morpheus wanted me, sitting in the deep of the Oregon dustbowl, he dragged me through the closest porthole to the past, right back to the wild west. I awoke into the dreamworld of a rangers office, a black and white sweet paint pony with just a rope around it’s neck, nuzzling at my waist. The man behind the counter offered me a ticket for the train, his eyes glowed gold and his skin barely covering bones metallic and silver beaten into dull waves and streaks, mercury rising in his eyes, but unremarkably dressed in a ranger’s clothes. His hair from the grave, dusty and black and long, his fingernails curled and twisted and blackened. I took the ticket from his bony fingers and led the paint out of the door that I did not enter. I exited into Deadwood, at high noon… I could see the horses, and the gun smoke and the dusty streets. Six shooter at each hip, I hopped up onto the pony and rode straight down main street. It didn’t have the quality of a dream, it was a solid, sequential bright technicolor. A woman sat in a rocker, darning socks and monitoring the world as it moved by her porch, nodding at me as we loped past. I rode back towards train ticket booth, with a paint pony trailing me, passing in and out of time. Some story worked it’s way through involving a pot and pan salesman, the pony, and a woman in a saloon. I could see their long stockinged legs stretching past the half saloon doors, and hear the faint strains of laughter and drinking, music and living beyond the grave. A native man appeared out of nowhere and blocked my pony’s forward path grabbing him by the halter. The world around me stopped stock still, sepia, paused, everything stopped except me and the paint and the man with the tan loincloth and the furs around his neck.
It was clear I was to go no further. He didn’t say a word, pulling me towards him, smearing two thick stripes across my cheeks and pushing me backwards harshly.
I woke up vomiting. I vomited over myself, the bed, the floor, pulled backwards by my hair, head plonked into an empty cold white bucket, unable to move from a prone position in the bed. I woke up shaking cold and gasping air into my lungs, utterly dejected, sick and sad, but alive, but awake. Truth was, Billy was glad to take my help, but the rules of the road were suspended in his head: this was the rule of the underground, the laws of junk and the booze, and there is only one rule in this particular set of circumstances: you must never call for help, if they die they die, and no one ever brings the cops to the house. Dig? Dig your own grave if you must, but there is no help, no sympathy, and no cavalry will ever come riding to drag you off your horse if it bolts with you onboard. Unless I am around…I could never allow it…
I quit a few weeks later. Once you have had a habit, it takes less and less each subsequent time to throw you into deep withdrawals – a kindling effect. By the time Billy announced he would no longer be sharing, that he needed ALL of the pills, I was in trouble. He cut me off dead, as soon as he felt strong enough to care for himself. He wordlessly watched me sweat and shake in the bed. He didn’t help me when I had to live on the toilet with a bucket between my legs, naked and desperately kicking.
He saw me off waving a few days later as he demanded I went out to get food, as he couldn’t yet drive, my legs turned to jello and still barely able to move without vomiting. I started to develop a deep dislike that I pushed under, deep under. I used to love him. He used to be my sidekick, my twin, my best friend through the decades, both subject and perpetrator of past angry phone calls from booths and bars in the mid west, to emails and letters from jail (him, not me, I have never been locked up), and for now, I knew I needed him in order to stay with the children. I had leapt out of the lion’s den in Japan, I had no choice. Out of the lion’s den and into the snake pit. I had to make this work, and I hated him for it. There was some kind of affection too, at least for him sober, even though he took, and took but didn’t give back anything at all, not even love or affection. It would get better and worse again before I would leave him sitting in his camper in a forest, and take off for the San Franciscan hills with the Boy in tow.