Chapter One - How Did I Get Here? I regained consciousness on a putrid, old couch from a heroin induced nap, or “nod” as we junkies called it. The night before, I injected an extremely potent shot that caused warmth to permeate my body. Immediately, I drifted off into a semi-conscious state and all my cares disappeared into the darkness. It was the closest thing to heaven I could possibly imagine at the time. It was the only time I felt peace.
On that particular day, I was exhausted because sleep had eluded me for several nights. I hadn’t been in the room long enough to remember much about it. All I recall is I was in a strange, dark bedroom with a sofa, and a TV on but muted. I looked over to the bed and saw him lying there face down. Thinking back to the night before, I barely remembered meeting him when he pulled up beside me on the street. He held up a bag of dope and asked if I wanted to party. I never turned down free drugs, especially heroin.
The dope was a master at not allowing me to consider the danger of climbing into a car with a man I didn’t know. I honestly didn’t care what might happen. The potential to make money or get high was at hand and that was motivation enough for me. I blocked out any hint of intuition that told me it was a bad idea.
We headed back to his place, not saying much of anything along the way. I’m sure we made the regular small talk, all of which was unimportant and quite honestly, very unnecessary. Neither of us truly cared who or what the other was or did. Upon arrival, we quickly prepared our drugs and took the heroin. I shot mine up, while he sniffed his. I must have immediately nodded out because I don’t remember anything until the moment I woke up on the couch. I know we didn’t have sex, because when I rose, I was still dressed and so was he. I don’t think I even knew his name. But that was normal; I rarely knew the names of the men I did business with.
Stumbling over to the bed, still high from the dope, I said, “Hey, get up. I gotta go!”
I didn’t know where I had to go. All I knew is that I just wanted to get out of there. If we didn’t have sex, then he wasn’t going to pay me and all the drugs seemed to be gone, so there was no reason for me to stick around.
I yelled again. Nothing.
“Hey!” I said louder as I leaned over and shoved him a little. It was cold in the room, and he felt cold as well. Although it was still dark, when I rolled him over, I could see he had a purple tint on his face. I snatched my hand back and my breath left me for a few seconds.
From the corner of my eyes I could see colors streak and run together from the TV, blinking its light into the room. It reminded me of a horror movie and at any moment the killer would jump out from behind a door or piece of furniture. My mind raced with the situation, the truth of what my life had become and the darkness I was living in.
Am I dreaming? Is this real?
In my drugged condition, it was difficult to comprehend what I was seeing. The denial that the drugs allowed entered once again. It helped me cope through so many situations that without it I may have lost my mind completely. Reality was something I didn’t contend with very well. I took great steps to escape it. The main step was using drugs. All steps included drugs.
Sometimes after shooting up and getting on the train, I’d drift off into a nod so soundly that I would miss my subway stops. Other times, if I was eating, I would nod right off into my food. I had done this several times in various dives, which was just as embarrassing as if it occurred at a five-star restaurant. But, thankfully the drugs would whisk away the humiliation and I could continue in my denial. Any normal person might learn their lesson from such situations, but not a junkie. The drugs convinced us that no one noticed. And who cares if they did notice. But at this moment it could eliminate the current catastrophe I found myself in; at least in my mind and I desperately needed a fix.
I couldn’t bring myself to check his pulse or touch his skin. I had never seen a dead man before, much less been alone in the same room with one. I tried to convince myself that he merely passed out. But I knew in my heart he was dead. Reality crept back into my mind and my heart sank down to my gut as the certainty of it hit me and I panicked. It was quiet in the room and I could hear my own breath, my heart pounded like a drum, and every noise outside on the street echoed throughout my body, lingering until the noises competed for my mind’s attention.
I don’t know how long I had been nodded out, but the sun was just beginning to rise. The shades were drawn, however a faint light peered into the room illuminating the dust particles flying in the air. His silhouette was outlined in the dim light as I began to back away from the bed.
Don’t throw up. Just get outta here. Where the hell am I?
I checked my purse, “Damn, no money,” I stated out loud, as if he could do anything about it. I don’t know why it was such a shock; I never had any extra money. As soon as I got it, I immediately spent it. If I had ten dollars, I bought drugs, if I had a dollar, I bought cookies or some sort of junk food. I had a talent for being able to spend every cent I had. A nickel would buy me a piece of candy or gum. I could work it down to the penny with tax and leave with zero.
I carried all my worldly possessions in that little bag. It seems hard to believe that a person could carry all of their belongings in a pocket book. But I had to keep it that way. I didn’t have a home and as a prostitute, I simply couldn’t push a cart around. No john would allow you to carry a bunch of stuff into his car. I had to travel light. One might think that in New York City, you could find millions of places to hide your stuff. But most of the time, someone else had already found that spot and if their own stuff wasn’t there, they would steal your belongings if you decided to leave them there. No, I had to travel light.
I looked again over at the bed and saw the bump in his back pocket. His wallet. I went back into escape mode, where I could ignore what I was getting ready to do. I walked back over to the bed, pushed him a little to access the pocket and took out his wallet. As I looked inside I thought “Thank God” to a God that I didn’t even believe existed. I grabbed the small stack of cash inside, threw the wallet on the bed and sprinted for the door with the unrealistic hope that all of this would go away as soon as I got to my dealer.
Once outside the apartment, the sun was getting brighter and higher in the sky. I was momentarily relieved, breathing out a giant sigh. But now, a new anxiety overtook my thoughts.
I need to get to my dealer in Manhattan and get some drugs. But where am I? I must be in one of the Burroughs. This is not the city. God, I hope it doesn’t take too long to get there. I was so immensely afraid of accepting the truth that I would have anxiety attacks. These attacks made me believe I would die if I had to deal with situations without the assistance of my drugs.
As I tried to figure out a way to get back to the city, more thoughts assailed me.
How did you get here, Dana? How did you get to this point in your life? What happened? Where did you go wrong? This is not how you should be.
I tried my best to ignore these latest thoughts. Reality scared me and only brought me pain. My life had never been very warm and fuzzy. First, I was a difficult child and my adolescence was hard, all stemming from my own insecurities and rebellion. Now, the current brutal truth hit me. I was a homeless prostitute, addicted to heroin and cocaine, and I had found myself in a room with a man I believed to be dead. Plus, I had zero self-esteem. Zero. The only value I understood was the amount of money a man would pay for “me.” I was at the lowest point in my life, and the only way I could survive was to avoid reality; and that needed to happen as soon as possible.
Finally, the restlessness and nagging of needing to self-medicate took over again. I required an escape. I started walking down the street, not knowing where I was going, just going. Fortunately, a gypsy cab came and stopped as I waved it down. Gypsy cabs were usually un-metered and unregulated cabs that were run by people trying to make some extra money. I understood that concept and it didn’t bother me at all.
All I could muster to say to the driver was, “9th Street and Avenue C, Manhattan.” I could hardly wait to get to my cocaine dealer’s spot and feel that rush of relief I always got from shooting coke. I alternated between cocaine and heroin. If I experienced heroin withdrawal, I would buy heroin. If not, I bought cocaine. Cocaine allowed me to stay up and active, which is necessary when you live on the streets and need to be ready for any opportunity to make money or need to get out of danger.
I curled up on the back seat of the cab to avoid looking at the driver. I was very withdrawn when it came to normal everyday things like riding in a cab or the subway, but when it came to making money, this alter-ego protruded from my personality and allowed me to be someone else. Someone that could sleep with men she didn’t know for money and someone who could take money from a dead man’s wallet.
I noticed the cab smelled like armpit, but I wasn’t sure if it was the driver or me. I hadn’t showered in a couple of days and felt sure he hadn’t either. It was a toss up of who the odor was coming from.
Having a shower was a luxury for me and many other street people. Most of us just stopped trying to find a place to shower and became used to our own smell. Occasionally I could shower at a john’s house or at the hotel where we did our business, but most of the time, we were in a car. A few johns would put me up in hotels and buy me clothes, but not many and not very often. But, even when they did, the clothes would eventually be lost to the city out of need to find something cleaner to wear. I didn’t own a toothbrush or a hairbrush. I wore whatever I could find that someone had thrown out. My clothes never fit and sometimes they weren’t even women’s clothes. They were always dirty, some worse than others. I was always dirty. A homeless prostitute certainly isn’t glamorous. No prostitute is glamorous. It is actually a pretty pathetic, demeaning life, and so hard to escape. Despite my multiple attempts.
I found the battle with myself, in my mind, to be futile. It didn’t matter what I wanted to happen. And when I tried to crawl out of the hole I was in, my addiction would seize all thoughts and refocus my mind on getting more drugs. So, in order to have any peace, I gave in to its control.
I felt sick to my stomach and tried to focus on getting more drugs and not the harshness of what I just left back in the apartment. But, reality consumed my mind again. In a fetal position on the backseat, I covered my face with my arms and sobbed all the way to the corner bodega. There I could get something to numb the emotions I was feeling. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at the little store, my bodega, my haven.
I threw $40 over the seat, hoping it was enough, and jumped out of the cab. I wasn’t as cautious as I usually was when going to buy drugs. Most of the time, I would get dropped off around the corner and look down the streets and on the roof tops before going into the store, but this time I got out right in front and went straight in. I was desperate, more so than usual, and I thought I would expire if I didn’t get something to numb the hurt I was feeling.
Inside the musty old store was a small counter immediately to the left. On it were clear plastic bins filled with bite-sized candies. All different types, Butterfinger, Milky Way, Gobstoppers, but the Now and Laters were my favorite. The sweets were probably the only food items in the store that anyone ever purchased. Once past the counter, there were about four isles of convenient mart style foods, cans of pork-n-beans, boxes of Hamburger Helper, Vienna Sausages. All of it was covered in a layer of dust you could write your name in. No one bought food there, just cocaine and candy.
I was relieved to see that my favorite dealer was there behind the counter. He was a neatly trimmed Dominican, always wearing gold necklaces or gold bracelets, and had a flair for fashion. Most of the Dominicans I knew did, they prided themselves on looking good. He was always friendly to me. He smiled when I came in and never looked down at me like most of the dealers on the streets. He made me feel like he liked me, although I knew he didn’t. We could never be real friends. But, at that moment, he was the only thing close to a friend that I had. I knew I could tell him anything and he wouldn’t share it with anyone. He kept secrets. So I asked him for some coke and nervously told him what just occurred.
He looked genuinely concerned and told me in his Dominican accent to, “jus’ relax.” His eyes said that he had also seen this same thing I was describing. It was obvious that he understood.
“Here, take dis,” handing me the small bag of white powder.
He didn’t ask me any questions about what I told him. I knew he wouldn’t, but just telling him and getting it off of my chest made me feel much better.
After I calmed down a bit, I asked, “Can I use your bathroom to shoot this? I don’t have anywhere else to go,” my eyes pleading with his sense of compassion.
He looked around and out the window and said in his mixture of Spanish and English, “Si, go ahead, rapido,” waving his hand toward the back of the store.
Grateful, I smiled and hurried to the back room and into a dirty little bathroom. It smelled of some chemical and obviously had never been mopped. The toilet cover was gone and stains coated the bowl. Of course that didn’t bother me; I had gotten high in many nasty places.
At the time, I considered his gesture of the use of his bathroom to be extremely nice. I think he did too. I mean, I was nothing but a homeless junkie and he knew it. He was a hard core drug dealer. Drug dealers always look down on junkies. They think they are better than us. They don’t have to sell their bodies, or live on the streets because most of them don’t actually use the drugs, and the ones who do are supported by their families in the drug business. I couldn’t believe he actually let me use his restroom to shoot up.
I was completely brainwashed by the drugs I was using. Under their influence, I thought lies were the truth, and the truth was a lie. On drugs, I was completely mixed up. My mind couldn’t grasp what any normal human being would have seen in this situation; only what the drugs let it see.
In the restroom, I filled the end cap of the needle with water and drew it up into the shaft. I didn’t have anything to filter the coke, so I just hoped it wouldn’t get clogged. Sometimes the stuff they use to cut it doesn’t dissolve and can clog the needle. I poured the bag of coke, a little bigger than a packet of salt, into the end cap, squirted the water from the needle on top of it and swished it around. Then I drew it all up into the hypodermic and looked for a vein. Surprisingly, I found one almost immediately.
At last, the pain of reality was gone again and the long awaited rush of the cocaine surged to my brain. The distinct, bitter taste of the drugs was always such a sweet welcome. I could feel my heartbeat throbbing in my head as I closed my eyes and easily forgot the unbearable events of the day.
My cycle of daily life had started again. Get high, make money, buy drugs, repeat. I was back to my old, uncaring, selfish nature; so grateful not to be dealing with the feelings that naturally would come along with the recent events. I didn’t know it would still be years before I would finally face reality with courage and stop my cycle of endless bad decisions.