Inspired by a thread over at Ta-Nehisi Coates' place ~
God, it must be about ten years since I last saw Bill. I'd known him since high school. He was the strange smarmy one out of a group of skater boys I sweated back then. They were a couple of years older and were clearly out to take advantage of my less than desirable reputation. I let them hang out in my bedroom when my parents were out even though I knew they didn't respect me...hell, they probably didn't like me much, if at all. They wrote on my walls with magic marker as was customary when people came to visit. My room was a veritable den of graffiti, covered from top to bottom with spools of thought, off-colored jokes, and pathetic attempts at erotic art. My parents gave me carte blanche for decorating my personal space and as a result, I chose the most garish way I could think of to make it my own.
Anyway, Bill and his friends would come over on Saturday nights when my parents were doing dinner and a movie. I remember one time in spring they came around. I was probably in tenth grade, the boys were Seniors. They trashed my room and one of them left their underwear in my closet. I was mortified but probably would've let them come back again to re-trash my entire house had they wanted to. But they never did. I guess they got bored of how easy it was to treat me like shit.
I never saw any of them again. Except for Bill. I don't recall how or where I ran into him. All I remember is how nice he was. How unbelievably real he seemed. Like a man. A humble and genuinely sweet person. He had been such a fucking asshole back in high school, always up to no good. Always up to the task of making someone else feel like crap. But now there was maturity. There was integrity. There was addiction. Both his and mine.
It's odd to think that someone could develop an intense drug habit while simultaneously re-emerging as a good guy. It's antithetical.
My recollection of details is hazy but suffice it say we came to the rather easy agreement that I'd drive the car-less Bill down to the shadiest parts of the city a few times per week and in exchange for the ride, he'd score me some cocaine.
I didn't want to watch him shoot up his Heroin in my car. It wasn't so much that I even contemplating someone seeing us, in broad daylight. That would've been smart. No, I didn't want to see it, with my own eyes. I didn't want to watch the beautifully concise steps involved in getting the vein ready. I didn't want to watch the needle go in. I didn't want to watch the release. Mostly, I didn't want to watch his face as the immediate and intense warmth coursed through his bloodstream. I didn't want to know how good it was.
I couldn't say no. He asked so nicely. So unlike the Bill I had known in school. So I let him. And it wasn't at all how I feared it would be. Prepping the vein seemed clumsy. With the way he was positioned in my passenger seat I couldn't see the needle go in. His face was expressionless. He smiled at me and his shoulders slumped backwards. He handed me a few bags of coke as I put the car into drive.
We did this a few times that summer. Sometimes we'd go back to his apartment before he shot up. His place was in a complex across the street from my middle school. I'd also spent a few afternoons there in a sweet classmate's apartment when I was 12. I vividly remember my classmate's mom and how hard her life seemed. Two kids, husband long gone, living paycheck to paycheck. Those apartments and the lives inside them seemed like a different world compared to my comfortable house in the cookie cutter development just a few miles down the road.
I'd do a few lines with Bill and we'd talk. We never talked about high school or any of those difficult memories from my childhood bedroom that were permanently etched into my brain. Mostly we talked about music and films and random things I'd probably bring up with someone on a date. It all seemed so easy. No expectations, other than the high. We did our thing, chatted for a bit, and then went our separate ways.
He stopped calling me, out of the blue. I let it go and didn't look back. I felt myself getting too close to a full-blown, no turning back addiction. I was using it to keep boredom at bay, going at it alone, making me not like what I was becoming. I needed to separate myself from people who hadn't come to that realization in their journey. I was successful. I was fortunate.
I used to read the obituaries back then on Sundays while eating breakfast. I'm not sure what I was looking for. Perhaps I was unwittingly attempting to quell my fear of death. Or maybe it was simple curiosity about the world around me and the people in it.
Naturally, most of the write ups were for senior citizens but every now and then I'd come across someone much younger. Like the day I saw Bill's name listed. I must've re-read his name five times before it registered. His family members were listed as well as choices for places to send donations in lieu of flowers. No mention of cause of death. There didn't need to be. I knew.
Here one day, gone the next. Just like that.
I'm glad I got to know the other Bill, if even just for that blip of time. It was nice to know the different side. Sometimes I look back at these experiences of mine and it gives me a chill. The incredible amount of luck and safety bestowed upon me by fate. Internally I work hard at owning these memories and achieving a sense of peace that they all add up to my LIFE, good and bad and in between.
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