Shortly after I moved to the city, I went to a friend’s loft for a party. The place was in a trendy downtown neighborhood, so I could tell my friend had financial means. She could afford a live in a loft, and her friends looked like they could live in lofts, too. I, on the other hand, was renting a small room in someone else’s apartment.
Shortly, I saw a man put some white powder on a mirror. He did the work on a coffee table, in front of several people. I was expecting the mirror to be passed hand to hand, along with a straw or some other inhaler. But the man kept the glass plate for himself. Maybe he was looking at his face in it. He could have been a narcissist. The dust stayed on the mirror until he sniffed it himself.
I left without sampling the snow.
* * *
Over time, I became more cocaine-savvy. I began to acquire small quantities for my own use. Once, I took a vial on a trip to visit a friend.
The friend met me with his car, and I took out my vial in the front seat. I had nothing to spread the powder on, so I used a piece of paper. I had no knife; I shaped the powder with a credit card.
“Do you want some?” I asked my friend.
“I’ll try it,” he said.
“How much do you want?” I asked.
“One line?” I said. “That won’t be enough.”
“That’s all I’ll take. No more.”
After he’d breathed in, he said, “I don’t feel anything. I don’t see what’s so special about this.”
My friend started to drive and presently came to an intersection. He sped up to avoid an oncoming car. The vehicle turned out to be a police cruiser, and the cop at the wheel quickly pulled us over.
“I’m very sorry, officer,” my friend said.
“You could have hit me,” the man in uniform said.
“I was in a hurry.”
“I could search this car,” the cop said. “I could bring dogs and take everything apart. I could find what you have hidden. But I’ll let you off with a warning.”
* * *
On another occasion, I got together with my off-and-on girlfriend, who was working as a temp on Wall Street. When she arrived at my room, she told me she hadn’t slept. She’d spent the previous night inhaling cocaine with a stockbroker.
“His sister is a pop star,” she explained.
When she told me the sister’s name, I recognized it. I could even hear the sister’s hit song in my head.
“What about the coke?” I asked. “Is there any left?”
“I brought some for you,” my girlfriend said.
She took out a rolled dollar bill. “Look at this,” she said.
She unrolled the bill and scraped off the residue with a paring knife. There was enough for a couple of lines.
The drug boosted my libido. When I approached my girlfriend, she said, “You’re too excited. You need to back off.”
I moved away, but only for a minute. I had to use my hands. I had to bring in my whole body. The next time I approached, she said, “You’re scaring me.”
I knew then that I would have to make a choice between using the drug or having sex. One or the other, but not both. Having both could be catastrophic. Who knew what I could do with my body and my hands?
* * *
I went to visit a friend who was in an art-rock band. I’d spent many hours standing in cramped spaces in burned-out buildings listening to his “music.” He knew I was looking for coke.
Under his raised-platform bed, a baseball game was playing on a television set. “I like the green,” my friend said. “The field is beautiful.”
The nail on one of his little fingers was about two inches long. He had painted the nail black.
“I don’t have any cocaine,” he said, “but I can give you this.”
He handed me a small waxed-paper envelope with a semi-liquid substance in it. “It used to be powder,” he explained.
He poked at the substance with his long fingernail and said, “Maybe you can break it up.”
“What is it?” I asked.
He opened the envelope and spooned out some of the gunk with his fingernail.
I looked at the green baseball field on television. After sampling the crystal, I felt I could sit and watch TV for twenty hours straight. My heart was racing and my breathing was fast and shallow. I was cranked up.
* * *
I went to a museum to meet my off-and-on girlfriend. I bought my ticket with confidence, walked past a security guard and studied the artwork. I strolled methodically from one art piece to another.
After a while, I realized I hadn’t seen my date. I walked back to the entrance but didn’t spot her. I went back the show, took my time viewing it, and left.
Later, I got a message from her. “Where were you?” she said. “I waited a long time.”
“I was there,” I say, “but I didn’t see you. Maybe we can meet another time.”
“Sure,” she said, but I didn’t pick up on the way she said it.
After a time, I realized I wouldn’t hear from her again.
* * *
My job offered coverage for counseling, so I made an appointment with a psychotherapist
I took a dose of coke before I went to see her. When I got there, we chatted. I answered her questions, then said, “I’m high on cocaine.”
I expected her to be surprised, to say something like “You don’t look like you’re high on cocaine.”
Instead, she asked, “Why are you telling me this?”
I wanted to say, “So you’ll think I’m bad and evil, like a devil.” But I didn’t say that. Instead, I said, “It makes it easier to watch baseball games. The ball field is beautiful.”
“You sound disconnected,” the therapist said. “Obviously, you don’t know how to communicate. You’ll have to see me twice a week.”
* * *
My nose often bled at night. I wasn’t aware of the bleeding while I was sleeping, but when I woke I saw where my blood had dripped and dried. My nostrils were deteriorating. All of those tiny irritating particles had weakened the nasal membrane.
I could have switched to some other method of ingesting the drug. There were other parts of my body that were membranous and porous. But I didn’t want to think about those parts. I didn’t want to think about how to apply powder to those orifices. The thought was too unpleasant.
I would just have to live without a racing heart and pumping lungs. I would become dull and slow, like everyone else. The thought didn’t sit well with me, but I tried to wrap my sober brain around it.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the books Guess and Check,Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Medgar Evers College and the Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.