“Graduation” from rehab can mean anything. Some people walk out the front gates anew. Their stay is transformative, and it helps them recognize the problem for what it is. Or for what it requires: consistent daily action to combat something that has the capacity to ruin their lives. This wasn’t my case. I left the front gates with every intention to stop drinking and drugging, but with no intent to follow the advice that I’d heard for the last 30 days. “ I’ll just stop,” I told myself.
I worked hard to accrue the things that I thought would make me happy post discharge. This work consisted of long elaborate phone calls to beat my parents into submission. The right blend of words garnished a cell phone. A few weeks later, a composite of anger and depression got me a car. Within months, I had played their heartstrings like a puppeteer, remote-clicking my way into a guard-gated community populated with palm trees, swimming pools, and bleached blond women. I had arrived.
Days were long and hard. Monday through Thursday I put in a solid three hours at the local country club, picking up golf balls on the driving range. I listened to music on my iPod as I drove the cart to make the job tolerable. For rest and relaxation I went tanning, trained with my personal martial arts teacher, worked out with my personal trainer, or plucked the guitar with my personal guitar teacher (he was always frustrated, I never practiced). When life felt truly unbearable, I cruised Pacific Coast Highway with the windows down and wind in my face, thinking of the next best way to improve upon my lot.
I had everything I wanted, but my senses were dulled by a lavish lifestyle that I thought would yield endless pleasure. The thought came: booze makes things better. I brought vodka to work and mixed it with the free fountain drinks for employees. They had Mellow Yellow, which was quite the treat. Blaring 2pac and chugging Mellow Yellow-Smirnoff, I ripped the range cart up and down the field, tempting the golfers to hit me by running horizontal routes ten feet from the tees.
Boring. One day I stole 15 drivers from the bag room and never came back. I didn’t need the money; the juice was in the squeeze. Then came the morning drink and doctor shopping. Within days I had sock drawer full of pharmaceuticals that could put down a thoroughbred. During scattered periods of lucidity, I noticed the prodigious amount of miles I was putting on my car.
I thought about rehab. Not about the counselors, the foreboding, or the spiritual malady. I thought about that wiry guy from Montana, Joe. One day in the smoking pit, we were talking about shooting up. Joe said something like, “ You’ve never IVed? It’s really intense, mannnn.” Thirty thousand dollars for rehab and that was what echoed in my mind months later: I should try intravenous drugs.
The search began. Connecting with people on the street had become a drunken art and passion. I had a peculiar pride about scoring, but I always needed to be liberally inebriated to do it right. My induction into the world of true junkyism happened while drunk in a McDonalds parking lot.
I had a hankering for McDoubles with cheese back then. They were still on the dollar menu. Two all beef patties, a modest amount of fixings, a sesame seed-less bun, all for a very reasonable price. My McDouble fondness was kicked into overdrive when I would imbibe. Ethanol has that effect upon me. A pint of plastic bottle vodka purges a bottomless pit in my stomach, making way for an endless onslaught of cheap meat, melted ice cream, and elaborate combinations from the nearest gas station mart.
And so I drunkenly sat on a curb outside of a McDonalds in Newport Beach California, consuming McDoubles with Cheese at an alarming rate. A grease-bathed bag was parked next to me on the sidewalk, my only friend. At one point it had 18 cheeseburgers in it, the most you could buy for $20. I always had to reassure the clerk that my order was accurate, “ Yes, I want 18 McDoubles with Cheese.” In a standard night I could consume most of the bags contents, if not all.
In between hasty swallows of under chewed bites, I touched eyes with an unscrupulous looking fellow. He was a black guy about my age. His clothing ensemble tried to say gangster, but everything else about him screamed addict. His demeanor was simultaneously friendly, beggarish, and ill-fucking-kill-you-if-you-look-at-me-the-wrong-way-ish. It was a mishmash of identities cycled through desperately to get something: money for drugs. “ What’s up dude?” I slurred through a mouthful of meat.
An hour later we were in a motel down the street with a pocketful of heroin and fresh syringes. The guy, we will call him Mishmash, had clearly been living there for several weeks (and opting out of maid service). There was a white girl half naked crashed out on the bed, already high on dope. I could tell she came from a wealthy family from the way she diverted her eyes when we saw each other. Pure shame. I wanted to shake her and say, “It’s okay! I’d probably fuck someone for drugs if I could.” No judgment here. She was probably a California transplant to one of the local rehabs, just like myself.
On the floor in the corner there was a little Indian guy (dot not feather), about our age too. He sat upright with crossed legs, widely alert and anticipating our return. He had a sweet set up- several blankets folded into a tiny bed, a nicely fluffed pillow, a cluster of water bottles, and one sparkling spoon.
“ I go first,” I said with bravado after seeing the spoon, pretending to be more intoxicated than I was. I had found over the years that people don’t like arguing with a drunk. There is a fine line between “ Don’t argue with him,” and “ Let’s rob him” though. I skated that line gracefully. Besides, I bought the drugs; I should go first.
I asked Mishmash to fix me, nervous that he would give me some song-and-dance about how he never shoots people up for the first time. Nothing. He just wanted to get the shit into my veins so he could get the shit into his.
I sat in a chair and continued my McDouble feast while he drew up the shot. When it was ready I offered my arm nonchalantly, like I was getting a flu shot on lunch break. Mishmash found a vein immediately, drew blood, and hastily pushed the brown contents of the syringe. He didn’t play with the plunger to confirm the needle was in place during the shot, or inject the drugs slowly to make sure the dosage was right.
Lights out. I woke up hours later in the same chair with my arm still distended and a thin trail of dried blood at the injection site. I felt good. My eyes registered a large light brown stain on my white t-shirt. Then I spit out a wad of chewed McDouble meat. For hours I had been profusely salivating on the contents of my mouth. My chin was slick with McDouble grease, my shirt a catch basin for the potentially deadly combination of heroin and hamburger.
As the gnashed burger bounced down my shirt and landed on the floor, I laughed. “ That was intense, mannnn.” I made way for the door and my permanent departure from the three poor soul’s lives, although we were all headed in the same direction. The white girl “slept” peacefully on the bed; the Indian boy was out too, his corner-camp as neat and tidy as it had been when I entered. As I left the motel, I heard Mishmash on the phone in the bathroom. He was begging his mom to extend his stay at the hotel, threatening homelessness, and playing her heartstrings like a puppeteer.