Growing up, I spent a lot of time on my own. I never knew my dad, and mom was always too busy working to spend time with my brother and me. Now I know she was doing her best and was exhausted after pulling double-shifts at the hospital, but as a kid, I thought it meant there was something wrong with me as if I’d done something terrible to drive her away.
My brother was two years older than me, and we were best friends until he finished high school. We used to spend time together every day, sometimes playing video games, other times running around the neighborhood committing silly acts of destruction like knocking over trash cans.
After graduation, he had trouble finding work, and he started spending a lot of time with friends across the river in Philadelphia. All through my junior year of high school, every weekend, I’d beg to come with him across the river to hang out with his friends, and every weekend he told me I wasn’t old enough. He grew more and more distant, even when he was home, and wasn’t interested in playing video games with me anymore.
MY FIRST TIME USING
Finally, at the beginning of my senior year, my brother said yes, and one Saturday morning we caught the Speedline across the bridge to the city. We walked south for several blocks from there until we ended up in a neighborhood I’d never been in before.
He told me we were going to his friends’ apartment and took me into a run-down brick building with a broken elevator. We took the stairs to his friends’ apartment, and I still remember the look they gave me when the door opened like I didn’t belong there.
My brother told them I was cool, and they let me in. They were all taking turns shooting up, which was something I’d never seen before. I remember two of the guys had track marks on their arms, while my brother and the other guy shot up between their toes. I was scared because I’d grown up in a neighborhood with junkies and nobody, I mean nobody respects a junkie. But I was also excited because there was a chance to share something with my brother.
I asked if he’d teach me to shoot up, and he told me not today. It was too dangerous. Instead, he cut a line of heroin on the coffee table and let me snort it. I’d smoked weed a few times before, so I thought it would feel like pot. Instead, it was the most intense high I’d ever experienced. Even better, I was doing it with my brother.
FROM USE TO ADDICTION
I started going with him every weekend, but he didn’t let me shoot up until after high school. By then, I’d started snorting heroin during the week, and my grades were suffering, but I still graduated.
I thought I had everything under control, but once I started shooting, I couldn’t go back to snorting. The high from the shooting was so much more intense that I couldn’t imagine how I’d ever enjoyed doing lines. I bounced around from one fast food job to another and spent just about every dollar I made on heroin.
I told myself I wasn’t addicted because I wasn’t a junkie. I had a job. I had a roof over my head, and I was too ignorant to understand that the only reason I wasn’t squatting in an abandoned building was my mom’s hard work. Like it or not, I was an addict.