Addicts usually take comfort in their own kind. If nothing else you don’t have to hide when you’re getting high. But when I was shooting heroin every day for seven years the last thing I wanted was a girlfriend in addition to my all-consuming vice. Junkies had expensive habits, rarely wanted to have sex and were an all-around reminder of why I hated myself. So I had a string of flings with straight girls that would last until my behaviors added up to something that—even if they couldn’t place—were impossible for them to ignore.
The last of these relationships was with a tiny 19-year-old brunette who made me desperate to kick dope. I met her when she walked into Kenny’s Castaways, the Bleecker Street dive where I was tending bar. She was wearing black leggings, flats and a long yellow tank top. I felt her staring at me whenever I poured a drink. Eventually she said her name was Keira, then she took my number, kissed me on the cheek and scurried out. A week later she visited from her college in New Jersey, and we spent the day shopping for used CDs on St. Marks and making out like high school kids.
Sitting in Doc Holliday’s, holding hands, Keira suddenly asked, “Do you do drugs?” I felt like I had been pushed off a cliff. “I might snort coke every once in a while, why?” I mumbled. “Someone that knows you says you’re into heroin.”
Panic gave way to cool, though. I thought, “I can handle this,” and I feigned quiet indignation. Finally, I said, “Do I look like a junkie?” Her expression lightened, but she didn’t look convinced.
Whether her doubts about me were assuaged or not, we began spending a lot of time together. Keira would come into the city after her Friday class and stay over at my studio on Elizabeth Street. We would fuck during the day and go see bands at night. I always had to make sure I had enough dope to last through her visit, and I obsessed over not leaving glassine bags where she could find them. By the end of one of her stays I would be out of drugs and getting sick, I would get irritable waiting for her to leave so I could go score. I pretended that I was upset because she was going home.
She missed me when we weren’t together. She called me and said, “I figured out what I want to be when I grow up.”
“What?” I asked. “I want to be yours!” That made me forget what a fraud I was. I loved her for that. Then she told me that after school ended in May she was going to come live with me for two weeks. She was so excited about playing house that I didn’t have the heart to try and get out of it. She constantly reminded me of the date; it hung over me for months.
Keira staying with me motivated me to find a way to get straight, so I decided to get on Buprenorphine, then a relatively untested opiate substitute, and scheduled an appointment for the morning Keira was to arrive. On paper the plan would make me heroin-free for her stay. I took the subway up to a suite of cramped, shabby offices on Fifth Avenue where a thin, worried-looking psychiatrist gave me a horrible- tasting orange pill to dissolve under my tongue as a nurse cheered me on saying, “No more heroin!”
Fifteen minutes later, something went horribly wrong. My limbs were shaking uncontrollably, and I felt cold and dizzy. All my muscles were burning, and I started puking. My condition was later explained as “precipitated withdrawals,” but the inexperienced doctor only thought to give me another pill. The cure was making me very sick.
Dizzy to the point of near collapse, I broke through the doctor and nurse— they were trying to bar the door—and ran out onto the avenue to hail a cab. “You won’t be able to get straight!” the psychiatrist yelled after me. The medicine was supposed to block the effects of opiates. I couldn’t even sit up in the taxi I was so sick. Keira was calling me from her train but I didn’t answer. All I cared about was meeting my dealer at my apartment.
As soon as I pushed the H through the barrel of the syringe and into my vein, I started to feel better. All of my muscles relaxed and the heightened withdrawal symptoms vanished. I heard Keira ringing my buzzer as I wiped the blood oozing from the crook of my arm. She looked into my colorless face and constricted pupils with puzzled concern, but I was able to distract her with sex. I never had trouble getting hard, but I was completely unable to cum—a known side effect of opiate use—and that always bothered her a lot. I invented psychological excuses and wondered what her problem was. Why did she care as long as she was getting off?
The idea that it was important to her that I had an orgasm never occurred to me. Afterward, I was lying in bed and trying not to nod out as she unpacked her clothing into a drawer I had emptied out. Standing above me in nothing but striped boy shorts, she looked completely exposed, and I felt a wave of guilt. But I blurted out, “I’m sorry, you need to leave. I just can’t go through with this.” Sobbing, she grabbed all of her belongings, got dressed and ran out the door.
I had been clean for several months when she called me. She sounded nervous, spoke rapidly, and took a while to get to the point: she sputtered, “Were you on drugs when we were together?” It would have been a relief to tell the truth, that our relationship ending so badly was one of the reasons I had gotten straight, but I denied it completely.
I rationalized that I was shielding her from something she didn’t want to know about. It was just more bullshit. Lying was just another habit I needed to kick.