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.