Heroin Be the Death of Me

South Beach nightlife sophisticates know they can handle it. A little puff now and then won't kill you. No big deal.

Heroin. Be the death of me.
Heroin. It's my wife and it's my life.
Because a mainer to my veins leads to a center in my head, and then I'm better off than dead.

Lou Reed's raspy voice rises from David's stereo. While in rehab, he listened to that notorious 1967 song over and over again in an effort to stifle his urge to get high. But the tune reminded him too much of the early days in his relationship with heroin, when his pharmacological love affair was young and innocent and sweet, and he believed he could walk away if things got too messy or complicated.

David first tried heroin in the early Nineties, hoping it would lead him to an intellectual precipice, to the dark side of Margaritaville. He had experimented with other drugs -- marijuana, acid, Ecstasy, cocaine -- fervently believing they were opening the doors of perception, intensifying his aesthetics. His was a personal trip, a spiritual journey, an intimate exploration of self, not a textbook progression from stoner to cokehead to junkie, and certainly not some Pavlovian response to a cartel-inspired marketing campaign -- or so he believes and will assert with conviction.

"You start out doing perception-enhancing drugs like acid and Ecstasy," David explains. "But once we've developed our senses and we've created the ability to love at a fucking high range like you can't imagine, and we've learned to really, really appreciate detail and beauty, we now also have the ability to unfortunately see the pain and horrors that we never really noticed before. And you fall into a certain amount of pain. And heroin is calling you."

Two friends -- young, female, and beautiful -- have gathered around David as he speaks. They nod sympathetically. The waterfront apartment, located in one of Miami's most exclusive condominiums, is filled with antiques, paintings, and tapestries.

A gilded French candelabra adds an air of decadence. Lou Reed'sVelvet Underground gives way to ethereal organ music as two men arrive and head for David's bedroom at the back of the apartment. He continues his story without acknowledging them.

"Do you want to the know real, honest, truthful reason I got into heroin?" he says, hesitating with embarrassment. "The physical reason I got into it was honestly to enhance sex." For a year he would snort a touch of heroin before making love. The act was so subtle that many of his girlfriends didn't realize what he was doing. Just a dozen or so grains spilled into a small silver spoon.

By repressing feelings of self-consciousness, heroin also eased David's anxiety during work. He stopped feeling stupid and gawky. He was no longer worried about what people thought of him. And carelessly, he began to violate the rules he had set for himself to prevent addiction. Instead of once per week, he would use smack three times. He would do it on successive days.

Then it happened. He met a girl on a Friday. He snorted some heroin. They made love. "Saturday you're with the same person, and you know you can't do it [heroin] the next day. But since you're on your down day, you're not only not able to have sex like you normally do. You're even worse because you're on your down day. In other words, you probably won't be able to have sex for more than, honestly, ten seconds. She's like, 'What's wrong?' And you humiliate yourself. So you go into the bathroom and you do just one little baby line. Like that." He holds up his fingers, centimeters apart. "It's not going to kill you." That weekend he used heroin every day.

When he woke up on Monday, his eyes were watering, his nose was running, and his hands shook -- all classic symptoms he recognized as heroin withdrawal. "I was addicted that day," David admits. He had a business meeting scheduled that morning and he didn't want to arrive doped up, but he decided to bring along an emergency supply just in case. Halfway through the meeting, he began to tremble and his eyes began to tear. "People are looking at me like, 'Are you crazy?' I had to literally excuse myself and go into the bathroom and do a millimeter of heroin just to be normal." Once he realized he was addicted, his habit seemed to take on a life of its own, and expanded until he was spending $8000 each month on heroin.

At this point David pauses, excuses himself, and disappears into his bedroom. Forty-five minutes later he and the two male visitors return to the living room. One of them, Frank, is a nationally known actor also addicted to heroin. The other, though not introduced as such, appears to be the long-awaited dealer. Frank sits down. Like David, he says this will be his last night using the drug. He started snorting six years ago in part to calm nerves badly jangled by cocaine abuse. "I was really in the phase -- like the song says -- 'I want a new drug,'" Frank explains. For years heroin barely interfered with his work. Then last winter he lost control. He began to nod out, to fall asleep in the middle of conversations. Heroin began to affect his ability to act. This past January he left California and entered a drug treatment program. "I left under the worse possible circumstances," he says. "No car. Being evicted by the landlord. Me, a guy who's in the movies. A supposedly responsible, dependable person." Tonight is the first time he's lapsed. And, he claims, it will be the last.

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