despondent, 2003 -- by chad

(this post was originally composed December 14, 2004.)

The one drug I absolutely do not tolerate is crystal meth. In fact, I have thrown two people out of my apartment for having it, not only ushering them out my door, but down the stairs to the front door, past the gate, making sure they were completely out of my building. It has destroyed so many lives, and once you get hooked, it's excruciatingly difficult to escape from its grasp. It's said the relapse rate is 94 percent.

Yeah, you read that right. Ninety fucking four percent.

It's Satan in chemical form, and rots your soul along with your body. Once Tina gets inside your head, that fucking bitch will whisper to you in moments of weakness, scream inside your head on occasion, and will be with you forever.

As I write this, I am fighting back tears, and have been doing so for over an hour. Early this afternoon, right after finishing lunch, I ran into an old friend of mine at the corner of Broadway and Van Ness. He saw me first and quickly started walking the other way, but I recognized him after a few seconds and called out his name.

He is a 26 year-old crystal meth addict. I was told he died in a residence hotel over a year ago (from several sources, actually), so I was quite startled to see him. At first, I thought I was experiencing some sort of Twilight Zone thing and was seeing a ghost.

The last time I saw Edward was over a year and a half ago, when he showed up at my front door completely unannounced one sunny afternoon at my old flat on Jackson Street in Russian Hill. He appeared to be malnourished, and his clothes were literally hanging off of him. His appearance was startling compared to how he looked only a few months before...he had lost approximately 40 pounds (he's only 5'9" or so) and he looked absolutely sick. He told me he had an ingrown hair in his armpit, and wondered if I knew what to do about it. I wasn't prepared for what followed.

When he lifted his shirt, the entire area under his right arm was caked with dried blood and chunks of pus. When he lifted his arm, there was a golf ball-sized tumor in his armpit, oozing more blood and what appeared to be bloody cottage cheese. A pungent odor...the smell of rot and death...hit me, and I had to choke back a wall of vomit that almost burst forth from my lips. Apparently, he thought it was a pimple or ingrown hair, and had been stabbing it with a dirty hypodermic syringe, hoping he'd just pop it. Instead, a staph infection had set in, and his arm was jaundiced and swollen, the skin taut and shiny. It was amazing...I had never seen anything like it in my life, except maybe National Geographic.

He was in complete agony.

Horrified, I went into mechanical mode...I do that when I have to set aside my emotions and need to do something quickly and effectively. It's what I do when I witness a car accident, or there is some sort of disaster going on around me. Everyone else is freaking out, and I'll be the solitary calm, focused person in the midst of chaos. Hey, when everyone else is losing their shit SOMEONE has to take care of them. I firmly made him remove his shirt and jacket, which I promptly threw in a garbage bag after donning my yellow dishwashing gloves. I tried to clean him up best I could with a warm washcloth, gave him a clean t-shirt, and promptly put him in a cab; I instructed the driver to take him to the hospital REGARDLESS of where Edward told him to go. Of course, the driver showed back up at my place 20 minutes later, screaming at me, saying Edward had just jumped out of the cab in the middle of the Tenderloin and dashed into a residence hotel, keeping the cab fare I had given him (big mistake...I should have just given it to the driver). The driver demanded money from me, and to remain in good standing with Veterans Cab Company, I gave him a $20 bill for his troubles. Hey, he had to eat too.

I hadn't heard from or seen Edward since then, and assumed he had died.

lost lost lost, 2004 -- by chad

So today, after calling out his name, he stopped, turned around, and stared at me with these hollow, haunted eyes. If you can believe it, he looked even worse than he did a year and a half ago. His once beautiful face was sallow and pockmarked. His big brown eyes, once sparkling with life and intelligence, were glazed and lifeless, yet quite doleful; they appeared to have sunken into their sockets, and had dark brown circles underneath them. Half his teeth were gone, and the ones remaining looked brittle and cracked. His black hair was matted and greasy and filled with large flakes of dandruff. I'm 34 years old, he's 26, and yet he looked at least a decade and a half older than me.

He must have seen the shocked expression on my face, because he walked up and hugged me. When I squeezed him, I felt like I was embracing a skeleton wrapped in a few blankets and sweaters, and I heard a few of his bones crack a little. Maybe I hugged him a little too hard, because he started wheezing and coughing a bit, then hugged me again, and didn't let go.

"Hey guy," I said gently.

"Hi," he replied, still holding me tightly, his face pressed against mine.

"Still around, huh?"

"Yeah, I've had pneumonia, though."

"I heard you died."

He tried to muster a chuckle, but couldn't quite produce one. I heard the air whooshing in and out of his lungs as he gasped for breath...his death rattle. "Yeah, I actually did die for about 10 minutes, but they brought me back, unfortunately."

We talked for a few minutes like this, me holding him on the busy street corner while he kept his face firmly planted against mine with his arms wrapped tightly around me. He hadn't been to a doctor in months, and I knew his HIV infection was absolutely ravaging what was left of his immune system. I was the last person who ever tried to help him...I took him out to lunch once, and he told me about his neighbors in his residence hotel spying on him, setting up little microphones around his room, and boring holes in the ceiling to spy on him with fiberoptic surveillance cameras. He told me how he was arrested and thrown in jail, and I knew then there was nothing further I could do, other than calling him every now and then to make sure he wasn't dead. The drug had taken over his mind, and paranoia set in. Soon, his cellphone number was disconnected, and I didn't hear from him again. I've tried to help him on several occasions...gave him information on some treatment resources, kept him fed, given him medicine, but unfortunately, he doesn't want help. You cannot force someone into treatment, and you cannot save someone who ultimately wants to die. I've done absolutely everything I can, and no matter how much I want to be, I'm not God, I'm not Superman, and I'm definitely not a guardian angel.

"Edward, I have to go," I finally said.

"I know." He stood back and looked at me with those huge doe-like eyes of his, now brimming with tears. I looked into his face, which looked little more than a death mask hanging off his skull. It was the face of a dying man who had completely lost hope...a once robust, beautiful man who was a gifted concert pianist and talented artist with a promising future. It was the face of a man who realizes he is doomed, and that haunting image will be burned in my mind, forever.

His breathing became labored, the rattle coming from his chest becoming more pronounced. He started coughing; it wasn't the kind of cough someone has when they have a cold, or choke on something. It was one of those deep, diseased coughs...the kind that generally precedes a life-threatening illness, and ultimately, death. After he regained his breath, he looked up at me and said, "I've gotta go now too. What's your phone number?"

I told him, knowing full well he wouldn't call.

"I'll call you in an hour," he tried to convince himself.

"Goodbye, Edward," I managed to say, blinking away tears. I fully realized at that point I'd probably never seem him again. As I looked at him, looking past his ragged, damaged face into the eyes of the tortured soul standing before me, a tear rolled down his cheek.

He hugged me one last time, and turned away from me. Sobbing quietly, he walked down Van Ness Avenue towards San Francisco Bay.



At 00:38, Blogger Lee said...

Gads! What a utterly heart-wrenching story. SO sorry to hear of your friend! One of the hardest things to bear (on top of seeing someone you care about in that condition) is knowing there's not a damned bloody thing you can do about it.

I know we barely know each other but hugs to you, in case it helps any.

At 01:40, Blogger Kiks said...

Oh fuck.... I heard that Tina is a bad bitch, but that bad? Have you seen him since that december day?

And its true, people who are addicts cannot stop that easily. A friend of mine say that he really wants to quit, but he calls it more a phychological addiction then a physical. His mind can't get off it, although the body wants to.

At 03:17, Blogger Michael said...

God damn. This honestly left me with tears streaming down my face. What a sad sad story.

At 04:43, Blogger hidden said...

Terribly sad to say the least. I do know there is a big problem with that drug here in Atlanta. Hope your friday is filled with joy. Sad, sad story.

At 04:56, Blogger mcguile said...

I don’t know what to say, but I really feel sorry for your friend. It reminds me of my big brother. He’s into drugs too you know. Before, our family and mostly I did help him for a lot of his troubles, there comes a time that I rushed into hospital early in the morning because he caught in a fight were in he had three stabs in his body and in additional to that a head fracture( not to mention this is the second time he got in the hospital because of the multiple stab wounds)… Because he is my older brother I didn’t understand why he’s giving our family a big headache but still he is my brother and I love my brother and I really do love him. So I leave my job for many weeks and I took good care of him until I know that he’s recovered. Not to mention of coming back and forth from bank and drug stores, pay our bills in the hospital and consult our lawyer, and somehow I wish that he might learn something about his tragedy. After a year he is still got into a lot of troubles and much much more troubles, we really couldn’t do anything but you know there is something that comes in my mind after I read the story of your friend and having a first hand story of my brother. I think sometimes maybe…maybe if we really want to help a person we have to neglect him in all his troubles (but not to the point of letting him die) so that he may realize that he need to rectify all his bad doings because there is no one to catch him if he fall into a deep shit. I really regret the fact that we treat our brother like a baby that’s why he doesn’t learn until now. Maybe I am too wicked or nasty or a man with no heart, but I’m afraid of when will I try to neglect my brother. Hmmm…maybe someday when it’s really too late for him to change... You know what hurt me most is that seeing my brother in jail every weekend since June last year...

At 05:31, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my heart goes out to you both. I wish I could say something else, but I can't find the words.

At 07:09, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry. This is so heart breaking. It must be a thousand times worse for you. Hope your life will be filled with goodness forevermore. hugs, Josie

At 08:24, Blogger Zeitzeuge said...

I've seen this same scenario with friends in the past and unfortunately still seeing it with a few friends today. The helplessness that you feel can be overwhelming. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. I would hope and pray that he would somehow get some help, but like you said 94%.....

big hug

At 10:08, Anonymous Brian said...

Shit. Shit, there's little else to say. One friend, one ex, and eventually I lost any compassion to help them. Good for you that you could offer him something, at least some comfort, one last time.

At 10:21, Blogger Knottyboy said...

Christ almighty...What to do or to say? I've only dealt with drunks here where I live, never the ravages of drugs. I'm dumbfounded by the pain and suffering that people choose to endure for a habit. Its foreign to me so maybe I should know more before saying anything.

At 13:08, Blogger teh l4m3 said...

Crystal is fucked. Full stop. I've reached out to drunks, junkies, assholes, and my compassion in such cases has known no bounds. But meth seems to be another animal entirely. After a couple of abortive attempts trying to help out tweaker friends, I realized I could not find the same compassion -- their behavior fucked with my head too much. I ended up not wanting anything to do with them ever again.

You're a better man than I am, Chad.

Chin up,

teh l4m3

At 13:12, Blogger Matthew said...

Christ. :(

At 15:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right, its really difficult to give up.
I thought when I found out I was positive, getting it from manic weekends of tweaking and having endless sex with countless partners, I would be shocked to stop using. My shock lasted 5 days, now I say I need it to deal with the reality.. yeah right, why I really need it is to not deal with reality. You are a good friend, you are right, there is nothing you can do...

At 16:29, Blogger Recycled Soul said...

It is so very nice to see people who will put their foot down, unwilling to tolerate the experience of people rotting their lives away.

Kudos to kicking people out of your house who posess it. Been there, done that before.

It is horrible that people get addicted to that shit, but sometimes, tough love is the only way to deal with it.

At 16:41, Blogger Mariana said...

One of the most horrible things about drugs is that they turn you into the same person: this guy who thinks of nothing else but drugs, and taking drugs, and how to get more, etc. Once you're hooked, that's all you are. It's unimaginable, the mental desert, the boredom, the pain of wanting to think about something else, do something else with your life, but discovering you've become a slave?

At 20:40, Blogger Andrea said...


I'm terribly sorry about your friend.I'm sorry that no one can do anything for the poor soul either....or can do anything to sooth your conscience because you feel the way every noble soul does when it wants to help but can't"I should have done something sooner."
Kudos to you for trying your absolute best to try and help your friend out.
This entry was amazing. Well done.
Always Yours,
Found your link again through Michael's blog,although I'm pretty sure I stumbled onto your blog before he did

At 20:57, Anonymous myke said...

that was very powerful, chad.

At 21:19, Blogger SparklesMpls said...

Wow, Chad - the story is truly sad... and it's a story unfortunately not unique to your friend's situation. It's awful to see these things happening. They don't even know they need help half the time. I'm sorry you had to witness this, but I'm glad you were able to be a friendly face to him.

Just stopped by after you commented on my blog - I like it here. I'll be stopping by again.

At 00:16, Blogger Jon said...

I've seen meth heads before and it's not pretty. While it may be a long shot, I'd like to hope that your friend can turn his life around. There's always hope, right? I know this may sound trite, but I don't really know what to say. Powerful post.

At 07:25, Blogger jimg said...

Great entry. Crystal is a killer, it takes away a persons soul.Just because it has an extremely high relapse rate however does not mean that there is not hope for the people who want to get clean. I shot crystal, plus a combination of other drugs and the omnipresent alcohol, for 10 years in order to dull my pain. Feb. Fifth I marked six years clean and sober. There is hope for people.
Great blog.

At 17:37, Blogger Jase said...

Amazing post. Thank you for sharing that.

Although I've never had experience with people who had a meth problem, I've known others with drug problems and it is hard just knowing there's nothing you can do about it.

At 06:57, Blogger Joe said...

A story I could have written myself, just insert a different name. I've had 4 friends die from crystal use, many more have ruined their lives.

You are a powerful writer, Mr.Chad.

At 06:15, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear sweet Chad,

One of the reasons I love you (and we don't even "know" each other) is that even tho you are faced with gut wrenching can't do a thing to change the outcome tragedy - you don't turn away - you do what you can and don't allow the inevitable to make you bitter or callous. Faced with almost insurmountable odds, you never let it change your kindness, empathy or compassion. You care as much as you are able without getting sucked in or pulled down. In a world of quasis and posers you, dear boy, are the real deal and that is a very, very rare and precious gift to anyone who is lucky enough to know you, even a little.


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