|Illustration by Jordin Isip|
It is the early 1980s, and I am still new in America, having escaped my teenage marriage to a gay street hustler in Vienna. But I have already managed to get myself strung out on crystal meth and heroin. I have to have both drugs, or I can’t function at all. It has now become a full-time job to score.
One of my speed dealers, Bruce, lives on Benton Way, in a dilapidated house that is supposed to be a sober-living home. At least 30 people live here, in makeshift tents and behind blankets strung up to provide some privacy. It stinks of piss and dirty socks and spoiled cat food. I have actually watched one of the inhabitants eat out of a cat-food can.
Everybody seems very old. At least 30. Everybody scams all day for drugs, for cigarettes, for money and food. I love that I look so good compared to these freaks. Bruce’s wife, Fifi, is grotesquely obese, despite her little habit of shooting speed in her feet all day long. Her ankles, at this point, resemble purple tree stumps. “I used to be a bikini dancer,” she whines to me every time I stop by. “Sure you were, honey,” I say. We have the same conversation over and over. I know my lines.
Bruce makes Fifi leave their corner whenever I show up. Given the amount of speed he consumes, I imagine his penis must have shrunk to the size of a doorbell; still, he has developed a serious crush on me. Part of the deal is that I shoot up and hang out a little bit, just to be nice. As an addict, it’s part of the job description: hanging out with people you wouldn’t be caught dead with if you didn’t need what they were selling to make it through the day — or the next five minutes. The problem is that Bruce has gotten so interested in me that I might have to start buying from the other weirdoes in the house, like “face-pick” Jimmy and his sister, Doe, a skeletal woman who’s either 29 or 90 — there’s just no way to tell. Speed has leeched her of everything but cheekbones, skin and eyes, like a demented Keene painting.
One Friday evening, I arrive at the house to find Bruce on the sidewalk, twitching and pacing, having a vertical seizure, if there is such a thing. “Gimme a ride, gimme a ride!” he chatters at me. His breath reminds me of the time a rat died under my sink. “I gotta pick up some awesome product. It’ll scald your brain!” He looks more fucked up than usual: sunken eyes, feathery spit-flecks stuck to the corner of his mouth.
Once in the car, I realize that his body odor is even worse than his breath. I roll down all the windows, but it doesn’t help. Even worse, he is so wasted he doesn’t know where he is going. “Bruce, how long have you been up this time?” I ask him. I know that he prides himself on staying awake for days, sometimes weeks at a time.
“16 — no, 17 days,” he sputters proudly. “But I’m losing it . . . keep seeing these giant ants. Goddamn it, Monah, turn here, you stupid bitch.” We are on Rampart, turning into a tiny, barely lit street called Dillon.
“Hey!” he says, suddenly swinging his ferretlike head in my direction. “Let’s get a motel room after we cop! You and me, we’ve had it coming for a long time. I see how you look at me. You want me, don’t you?” Before I can think of a response, he blathers on.
“I’ll pay for the room, baby, I’ll take care of you. Look! Look at all my cash!” He reaches into one pocket, then into his other pocket, into both his boots, then again his front pocket. Each time he comes up empty-handed, he looks at me. He pats himself frantically, like a man putting out a fire. “You whore, you fucking, low-life witch! You stole my money! Fourteen-hundred-and-twenty-three bucks. You fucking took it, didn’t you?”
I manage to stay calm and keep driving. “How the fuck could I have stolen your cash?” I ask him. “You just got into the car. I haven’t even been close enough to touch you.”
“You’re a witch!” he shrieks, his voice so high he sounds like an old woman. “You’re a witch, everybody says so. You can steal by thinking about it. You took it with your thoughts, you voodoo whore! You used your fucking brainwaves, I can feel it! Bitch, give me back my money, or I’ll kill you.”
If I didn’t need the speed, I would laugh in his face. “Listen, man, I don’t have your money,” I say. “But I’m gonna be nice. I’ll drive you back and you can check the house. You probably left it in a drawer.”
I don’t know if he can even hear me — his eyes keep rolling back. He sinks down in his seat, and I figure he’s played out for a while. But I when I turn down another dark street, he lurches across the seat and grabs my neck. The car swerves crazily. I try to hold on to the steering wheel while he yanks my hair. I manage to drive the car back to the curb without hitting anything and screech to a stop.