The first time you are dope-sick, you think you have the flu. You roll over and tell your husband that you’re not going out. You say you’re going to stay in bed and only get up to make some chicken noodle soup. He laughs at you as he zips up his jeans. He sits down on the bed to put on his shit-kicking boots. “You don’t have the flu, babe. You’re dope-sick. It will only go away if we get more to take away the sick. Then you’ll be right again.” You don’t know what to say, so you say nothing. You get up and get dressed. You feel weak, you can’t lift your head, and you have the sniffles. You suddenly sneeze six times in a row and look at him. He laughs at you again. “See!” he says. You really don’t see but you trust him, so you nod. You never had any doubt what you wanted to be and what you wanted to do. Before you knew how to read, you would look at books narrow-eyed, touch their binds in a caress, flip the pages with respect, and bide your time, barely able to wait until you learned how to read them. You poured over pages of your illustrated Bible and imagined that you knew the parables and lessons through the artwork. You especially liked the pictures that showed the impatience of the Israelites when Moses disappeared up Mount Sinai to speak with the God they could not see or touch and how the drawings showed them melting gold for an idol, creating the golden calf. You were mesmerized by the illustrations of the North Star, bright and luminescent, guiding the three turbaned wise men to the baby in the manger. It was the first book you read when you learned how. You want more. So you go to the library. The silence imposed on students studying in the library was a secondary concern to you. You were quiet, because here were all these books, and they quieted you. You were uncertain in this place, though. Without experience navigating the aisles, you were lost in its depths. The deeper you walked in the aisles, the mustier the smell in the binds, and while that soothed you, you always left empty-handed, until Mrs. Fitz, the librarian, sensed your hesitation and introduced you to the fantastical world of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Norman C. O’Brien and The Keepings Days by Norma Johnston. Victoria Holt’s The Mistress of Mellyn was a personal favorite but you realized afterwards that you were not impressed with the romance genre. When you were in the second grade, you entered a Memorial Day Contest. You sketched and colored an Uncle Sam and wrote an original poem in his Top Hat praising America, the Home of the Brave. You received a blue ribbon and five dollars for first place. You were shocked but pleased. When your appendix almost ruptured and you missed two weeks of school, you hung on the couch with lots of pillows, writing poems with different colored pens. Poetry came easily. Later, the best compliment you ever received went like this: “The speed and quality with which you write is impressive.” You wore long T-shirts to cover your lower abdomen so that when you went into a store you could steal books from the best-seller section. During one of these trips, you saw Stephen King’s name on the front cover of Cujo and after checking to make sure no one was watching, you tucked it into the space between your jeans and your stomach, and you’ve never read another author you liked better, before or since. And then came Friday night parties and Grape Malt Duck in little bottles. You eased into Saturdays with a few bowls of Gunja. By sixteen, it was freebase cocaine and a toot of dope. You believed that William Blake phrase: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.” You didn’t want to be closed. You thought the experience would enrich your writing by expanding your mind. You thought the familiarity would pay off in dividends of wisdom and experience. And fun, you can’t forget fun. Someone placed a tab of acid onto your tongue and after that colorful day, you want to know everything about Aldous Huxley. You read whatever you can find from Hunter S. Thompson and Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. You carry the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in your jean-jacket pocket until it is bent, folded, and broken. You finally lay it to rest on a book shelf and replace it with No One Here Gets out Alive, Danny Sugarman’s in-depth look at the enigma of Jim Morrison, and you are so enamored with his face, his leather pants, and his poetry that your bedroom becomes a visual altar to his life and legacy. You find out through reading everything you can about this “sexy mother-fucker in the black leather pants” that he named his band, The Doors, from that very same William Blake poem that you like, which makes you love him even more. You feel a kinship. You emulate his excess. These memories cave in on you like a landslide and you can’t escape. The entrance is blocked with milky-white wraiths, ghosts, that offer no solace—just cold gusts of awareness, reminding you of everything you never were. Decide that this is it. This is the last time that you are going to stand on the corner of East Ohio Street, waiting to turn a trick. You’re done with the deception, sneaking away to get off sick in the single stall bathroom at the hospital after copping in Sandusky Court. And you’re done with Sandusky Court. You’re done with that dead-end cul de sac where the stench of sweat overpowers the nostrils and where the hollow-eyed junkies and crack heads go to buy back the source of their pain, obsessed and demoralized, abscessed and skinny, dirty boys and girls with jail wrist bands still on their wrists and whose teeth are rotting or missing, telling you that they’re gonna see their kids for Christmas but when Christmas day arrives, you see them selling toys to the crack-man, toys still decorated with wrapping and bows, toys that belong under the Christmas tree. You see the blank look in their eyes. It’s the look that shields the thoughts from fist-punching a hole through your resolve to suppress and forget right and wrong, and good and bad. You recognize it because you have that same, blank stare. So you resolve that you are done with this. You are done with the stopping to vomit as you walk up an endless hill in the rain to get to the tenement house where the prepubescent teen sells what you need to get off-sick. You know that kid should be in school, study hall even, and instead he’s here. Sometimes the kid looks at you like you are nothing, like a big worthless nothing. Sometimes he tosses the wax paper stamp bag at you and you scramble for it, hoping it doesn’t fall to the ground and get wet. It’s useless if it gets wet. That little punk would be surprised to know that you have a notebook in your purse filled with poetry, ideas, and rhymes that you don’t do anything with. You recognize that he is as much a slave to the grind as you are so you just take the bags that he throws at you without saying anything. In a pure passive-aggressive moment, if he’s no longer watching, you creep into one of the tenement house hallways and sit on the stairs. There’s a leak in one of the roofs so you choose that stairwell on rainy days because you can uncap your syringe and hold it in your teeth while you cup your hands to catch the dirty, dripping water that you need to mix the dope. You imagine that this experience, in this stairwell, would make a great poem one day, raw and undiluted, but you can’t think about it now because you have to hurry before someone comes and sees you shooting up in their hallway. On one of your many trips up that hill you realize that there is no North Star guiding you to rehab, no staff parting the sea of despair, no burning bush of radiance casting epiphany onto your twisted path. If salvation comes, you know it will come as a sneering cop who puts the handcuffs on you, which cuts off your circulation in your skinny wrists. You will tell the cop that they are too tight and he will jeer at you as he shoves your shoulders downward to put you in the backseat of the car. You will smell the holding cell of the County Jail before you even get out of the cop car and it reeks of rotten bologna, vomit, urine, and moldy feet. If salvation comes, you know it will be painful, like an abscess needing to be drained and packed with gauze. So you continue to trudge up the hill to buy a moment’s peace and you think about suicide when the kid tells you that he just sold his last one. You wonder how you got to this lonely, lonely place. You marvel at the loss of control as you wake in the morning disappointed that you did. When you run a brush through your greasy hair, you see death in your sunken eyes and it looks like compulsion and cowardice swirling in a hazel sea. A million metaphors could describe your dying spirit, but you like how the word ‘ember’ sounds, small and waning. The embers glower and seethe, so you pour some water on the sparks. You cough when the smoke rises and creeps into your lungs. You taste dead ash in your teeth. You decide this is it while you sit on the edge of your bed, with a shoe string wrapped around your wrist, one end of it in your teeth, holding it taut. Your blood is streaming down your forearm in separate lines, like a child painting with red watercolor. You wonder if you can make friends with your ghosts. You wonder if the colors will always blend to black. You wonder if you will ever have one moment of clarity like a Sunkist orange sunset, untainted, stealing your breath like the coarse white powder in a wax paper bag stamped with a bullshit name steals your breath, only better because the sky’s not sucking your soul through a needle and a spoon. You have no veins left in your arm, so you use the tender one in your knuckle and it collapses halfway through delivery causing you to cry out, but it’s not a total waste. You remember that you have resolved to stop this shit-show right after you get right. And then you’re melting, like gold, and everything blends to black.
-- Holly Spencer is a native Pittsburgher and loves everything about her city, from its bridges and rivers to its renowned sports greatness and famous dialect. She is a double-major undergraduate student at Point Park University. In April 2017, she will graduate with two Bachelor’s degrees: Creative Writing and Social Work. She hopes to help others find the freedom from drug and alcohol addiction that she has found, one day at a time, while pursuing her passion for writing.