There is always a wild and unpredictable feeling that accompanies a move to a new area. In very rare instances, that area is not an unknown arena but rather a time tested experiential location filled with either positive or negative memories and feelings.
With several cases in point over recent weeks which stand out even amongst the 40+ different housing and city changes over the previous 24 months it strikes me that perhaps I am not alone in these occasions.
First, New Bedford – a city built originally on the whaling industry and once the single wealthiest in the entire western hemisphere. It was the New York City of its time. Today, it sits as a sprawling and squalid shadow of its former self. A huge portion of the city hovers under the illegal immigrant status, yet both they and their families are able to regularly and quite effectively work over an already overtaxed system in creative and remarkable fashions. Far from an irregular event is it for a young woman to show up at the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA or “welfare office”) and secure nearly free housing, food stamps, and a guaranteed check on a monthly basis – only to walk out and begin making calls on the newest phone the market has to offer.
The city itself is predominantly populated either by the indigent, nearly indigent, or fisherman who fluctuate between those states depending on the last trip and how much was blown on their return to the docks where the prostitutes, drug dealers, and other “entertainment” providers sit with cars at the ready to ensure the checks are cashed promptly and whatever is desired is immediately available at their fingertips. It is one of the densest concentrations of opioid addiction in a state that is under a crises the likes of which has never been seen. The yellow brick road is a literal pavement of syringes, nowhere more than a casual eyeshot in any direction.
This finely tuned squalor was where much of the insanity that I ran through following my crack cocaine induced destruction took place. It’s where I lost my wife, my home across the river, had my first new love in nearly a decade before losing her to the grips of heroin and finally seeing what it was like from the opposing side of the table – watching an addict you love destruct, and NOTHING you can possibly do will help. It’s where my best friend went from the consummate and brilliantly arrogant healthcare professional I had met originally became an absolute animal. It’s where I learned how to inject speedballs and began my foray into the truly sickening world of dope.
It’s where I went insane for the first time since my years as a teenage meth addict. But as an adult voluntarily living homeless on the streets, refusing to sleep and food in lieu of drugs for days at a time until my body would demand rehydration and yet another trip to the hospital for IVs would begin. New Bedford taught me the real meaning of ignoring tomorrow and living strictly under the immediate need for a fix of any kind. Overdosing and being left for dead under a bush in a bad neighborhood along with the terrible shock of waking up. That there was no light, no memory, no message and just a blackness that was closest to blinking. The initial experience of simply expecting to wake up from death, and the frustration that it seemed that for whatever reason I was not to be permitted such a simple escape from the daily frustration and misery.
New Bedford taught me to pawn everything in sight, that material items, even the most sentimental, intrinsically have only a single value – that of cash. If you refused to close out the memory and loss of each component of what you once considered to be your life it would be enough to send you over the edge. I learned to numb even when the drugs were gone and there was only an aching feeling that something was terribly wrong.
I learned to expect and understand what would transpire if I called certain dealers who would demand sacrifices of the more physical nature. That there was a way to close it out, embrace the pain as deserved an simply shut down whichever part of my brain should have been screaming no in a vain attempt to preserve a sense of personal value. My first true experience with a jail where no one was there to offer their assistance in easing the situation.
New Bedford taught me starvation willingly, arrogance, desperation, abandonment, hysteria, psychotic behavior, willingness to overlook, junkie pride, losing trust, a taste for anger always bordering on violence, loneliness, resignation, degradation, disgust, hatred, shame, isolation, manipulation, lies, betrayal, deceit, hope, disassociation, confusion. It taught me for the first time since I had been in the deepest portions of my meth addiction what it really meant to crave the release of death and how cowardly I was.
And I had pride in how my stories always elicited shakes of heads and the inevitable, “you’re fucking nuts man.”
So I left.
I moved away to program after program, always staying as far as I was able to from a city where it was impossible to walk a street without encountering someone I knew or was known by. Once you’ve been on the news you even become recognizable to those upstanding members of the community who would have had no reason to associate with you other than to comment about how you looked so familiar.
Of course wandering through the streets shirtless with blood streaming down your arms from injection sites and asking strangers for needles is not usually considered to be a low profile method to avoid notice either.
Aside from the point – I left.
Nearly two years later I was offered an excellent job….in that goddamn city. Fresh out of jail, my rationale was that if I maintained several cities as insulation than surely I would be able to avoid the swirling pool of madness that seemed always to draw attempted escapees back in.
I was wrong of course.
There were a million memories on every corner, a recollection of some obscure event, some half remembered person, a story, an event, a failure, a SOMETHING.
Inevitably as always is the case, it became known that I had come back to the area and my phone started to ring again. Even though I was living nearly 10 miles outside of the darkest areas of my past, there was no escaping it. At points of relapse over the previous years there were times when I would willingly spend $75 on a taxi or Uber in order to get to “Brockton by the Sea” (another moniker for Whaling City, or New Beige). Instead of a confident no, it was soon to be a short push into acknowledging myself to be a short bus ride from wherever I needed to be.
When the other shoe fell, and the house I was living at asked me to leave, I was forced back into the more affordable region of the Beige – at $500 a month, which was okay despite the fact no running water existed during the walkthrough, sewage had backed up, dishes had not been done in nearly 3-months, a closet was filled with trash bags since the previous week’s pickup had been neglected.
But it was okay at the time, because it was affordable and temporary.
Even after I saw the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) pamphlet and learned – so I thought – that my new roommate, a remarkably charismatic and intelligent young woman had been in recovery for nearly 8-months. It was thrilling and welcome to be able to share a commonality and bond as we were both working on building up our lives to become more than they had been. There were no qualms about the upfront cash I had given her for my move in, I was back to trusting people, holding onto a naive and woefully childish dream that people were what they said and taking it at face value.
Until I was asked not to tell anyone I was living there, and informed that her father controlled her money and I should give him the rent from there on out, and that she really wasn’t working full time, and that the rent was actually going to be $700 as the landlord had vowed to increase it if someone else moved in, and a million other signs.
Within three days it was simply volunteered that she was actively using, and that the money I had given her had been spent immediately which was why my presence at the house had to remain a secret. Moreover, would I consider lending a few more dollars and shoot her up since snorting the brown wasn’t cutting it anymore – a fact witnessed when nearly two grams did nothing visibly to change her behavior.
She had a dealer that would front and she was into him for several hundred. The issue was resolved initially by introducing her father to her connect and having him pay the difference directly. Than taking in a cat to watch for one of his friends. Eventually the turn was taken as it always is, sexist though it may be, commonly for women and sadly for some such as myself, occasionally for men.
The used condom belied the prior night’s lie that it had been a blowjob and nothing more.
It was amazing to speak with her father, a man of compassion who had not yet been broken of hope and was convinced that a bottom had already been reached. That if he were only willing to selflessly offer support with rides, money, food, hell – a brand new phone that lasted all of 12hrs before hitting the market – everything would be all right.
I saw my mother in him. At least in the earlier years of my spiral.
He was likeable, smart, well read, and easy to talk with.
His daughter reminded me of myself. A face that was easy to trust, a personality open and quirkily cut with intelligence that wiped away suspicion and confirmed.
It was an interesting perspective on how terribly effective what I would consider normal behavior is in ousting others character evaluation and ensuring that there is an immediate thread of trust built. Underneath the easy smile is a raging fire of manipulation and capacity for widespread destruction, emotional scarring, and selfishness.
As things fell apart, in retrospect, I have to look at her as a manifestation of what the world must view me as – that’s a painful thing.
To shorten this up a bit, New Bedford helped terminate my determination and weaken the walls of resistance i thought were built strong.
After so many years away – my family (bless them a million times over) and IIIIMiMiIII decided that it was time to bring me home. Oregon. The one place that called me.
3,000 miles from the insanity, the black balling at hospitals and rehabs, from all the connections and memories I was constantly assaulted with. An opportunity to rebuild my passion for life, and reconnect with the individual I was supposed to, and wanted, to be.
I nearly didn’t make it. I stepped out of detox with a blood pressure of 170/130, but I had to catch a flight and there was no other option….I took the risk of a seizure, because fuck it – I had one shot to do it, and I wasn’t going to miss it for all the tea in China.
At the airport, it crashed in on my (as well as the night at the hotel prior with MiMi). I was going to lose more than just the bad aspects of my life, but the immediate access to the biggest love of my life. I was in many ways abandoning the woman I admire most in the world. Despite my deepest desire to stop hurting her and everyone else that cared I was going to do it again because I was selfish enough to “just go”.
MiMi encouraged me to do it as the right thing. That kind of strength is astonishing.
I am fortunate to have such an option presented to restart my life, I recognize that.
Currently I work serving coffee, beer, and climbing gear at a pay that accounts for a 70% drop. But you know what, I’m happier and more relaxed than I’ve been in years. Climbing again, an old obsession that consumed my life in a very positive way.
Sometimes what has to happen is to jump ship and swim to a new shore.
Though addiction and mental health issues are not immediately tied to the landscape we occupy, there can be an enormous feeling of relief in leaving behind that memory crusted wasteland to one that offers opportunity to plant new roots in welcoming soil.
A geographic is what brought me to New England originally…I arrived with one backpack of clothes. Twelve years later I got off a plane with three.
Let’s see where this goes.