Here’s a link to AA, because you just find trouble at Narcotics Anonymous.
We were burned out on the Sunset Strip. We’d been through Reagan and most of the first Bush. The Berlin Wall was down, we’d Just Said No, then we said fuck it. The 90210 fantasy didn’t belong to us. We hated the suburbs, and we loved getting high.
I remember the 90’s in buzzes. Nicked bottles of booze, dime bags, and psychedelic scenes. Everyone I knew played in a band or dated a musician. I did both. They were good times.
Except when they weren’t. Except when teenage experimentation only died off for some of us, because some of us are born predisposed to addiction and can’t do anything in moderation. When heroin and crack usurped acid and pot, things changed. When we became ghosts with needles in our arms and toes haunting the periphery, the fun faded. Some of us just died.
It’s not easy to write about this stuff, but every year on April 5, I reflect on it. It’s a Sad Tribe day of remembrance. Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley both passed away on this date, close to one decade apart. Kurt in 1994, a suicide, and Layne fell to a narco-pharmaceutical cocktail in 2002, both ruined by heroin. If you don’t know, heroin feels like velvet. It lines you on the inside, flows up from the point of entry in a warm kiss. It lets you drop lit cigarettes on your body and not mind. Throwing up signals pleasure. It kills you.
They say Layne Staley weighed 86 pounds when he died. He was over six feet tall. He’d become a hermit. He wouldn’t answer his door. His mother found him in his apartment surrounded by needles and crack pipes. He died the way a million other nameless junkies have died: sick and alone. Loved.
My first love went out in a bathroom. The last time I saw him alive, he said he knew drugs would kill him and that it was all right. My infant son was with me that night, still in diapers. I should have been your dad, he said. We locked eyes at the door when I left. That stare felt like forever. I still see it.
His name was Michael Nikruto. I don’t say his name out loud often. I overdosed a few hours after his funeral. I’d been clean for almost two years. I complained like a no-missed-beats junkie about not having a needle, then I snorted some anyhow. I left my body. Went blue. Unlike Layne, I wasn’t alone. A friend was there. Depending on when I’ve asked and who has answered, I heard she sat me up and my body pitched forward, and that’s when I smashed my face on an open dresser drawer—or—she panicked when she couldn’t wake me up and punched me in the face. When I still didn’t start breathing, she took my sleeping son and ran outside to call 911.
Adrenalin to the heart, naloxone neutralizing the drugs—there’d been dope first and coke later to straighten up before going to the chapel. The second round of heroin is what killed me. I woke up covered in my own vomit and convulsed all the way to the hospital. I asked the EMT if I was going to die; he didn’t know. In my memory, he was young—like me—and he sounded lost.
The next morning, they cut me loose from the ER. My legs collapsed and I threw up on the way to the exit. No one walked me out. I didn’t know my nose was broken until I got home and saw the swelling and two black eyes in the mirror.
This is really heavy, my friend says now when he reads this.
It is, I tell him and keep writing.
I had a roommate they found face-down dead in the projects. He used to shoot up in his bedroom all the time with another one of our friends who later jumped from a balcony in South Beach. Rumor is they were together when the first one died, that the second one—the jumper—called 911 and ran, that grief and guilt left him suicidal. They used to overdose in my roommate’s bedroom. I’d hear a crash, silence, then laughing. They were CPR pros. The difference between him and me lies only in luck.
On April 5, I remember the dead and the dying. I fill my lungs with the oxygen I’m privileged to still breathe and consider the alternative timelines I’ve avoided. I question if I deserve it. I throw a Seattle fest on my speakers and let myself wallow, because with or without drugs, I like a little suffering. And I miss my friends. Goddamn do I miss my friends.