The Italian kid next to me was electrically tense. In fact, the presence of him standing over me was probably the thing that made me the most nervous and was also the biggest factor that made me blow out of my nose nervously, spraying cocaine all over the kitchen counter.
“Dannato!” he shouted. “Dannazione!” Something like, “goddammit,” I knew. Anyhow, Vito was pretty pissed off at me.
We’d been hanging out at his place. I was 17, and had been drinking and smoking weed for a couple of years by then. Vito was 19, an immigrant from Italy, and was part owner of the local pizzeria that we usually ate at. We were drinking beers at his house, after an entire afternoon and then evening of drinking, and we were sitting on ratty living room furniture in his small house.
Vito worked about 70 hours a week at the pizzeria, and was squirreling away his savings. He wanted to move back to Italy in a few years and open his own café. To save as much as possible, he didn’t spend a lot on his house or furniture or clothes. Just the occasional couple grams of blow.
He didn’t know that I suspected what he was doing when he traveled back and forth from the living room to the bathroom. After the fourth such trip, I told him I wanted to try it.
“Try what?” he asked, insulting my intelligence while attempting not to share his stash.
I put one finger to the side of my nose, pushing the nostril closed, and snorted. He protested a little more, but finally agreed to let me do a line. After I blew the line all over the counter, he managed to scoop it all back up and strongly cautioned me to be more careful.
I didn’t miss a drop of it in my nose after that.
My first encounter with drugs was, like most kids who have tried drugs, with marijuana. My friends were much older than I was at 14, and I was new in town and eager to impress the metalheads who took me under their wing in the stick-up-the-ass town I’d moved to.
And so it was that one of those positively influencing kids gave me my first hit of weed. The bitter taste was nothing like a cigarette, and I had a hard time holding it in. I finally descended into a coughing fit, and I felt the world closing in around me, but not in the claustrophobic sense; it was more like enveloping, surrounding me like a blanket. It felt pretty good, and made me want to fall asleep.
The guys didn’t spend too much time with me because they, too, wanted to go to sleep, and I ended up walking home from the woods to our second-floor apartment by myself. I opened the door, thinking, “just be cool, man!” and as I began to ascend the stairs, I could swear they were growing longer and longer. I could hear the television in the living room playing some afternoon crime show, and as I finally reached the summit of the staircase, I decided it best to hightail it to my room. My father was passed out on the couch, so I had little to worry about, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
My friends told me later that they were surprised I got so high my first time, that many people didn’t the first time they smoked. All I know is that I was pretty fucked up for my first time.
And the second, third, and sixty-eighth time, as well.
I smoked my fair share of pot in high school. I probably smoked someone else’s share, too, but my use of it tapered off pretty quickly, though I always took some hits whenever it was around.
There’s a little truth to the idea of marijuana being a gateway drug,at least in my case. In grade school, I was always warned about the dangers of pot, but nothing bad ever happened when I would smoke it with my friends. When the time came to try other things, I was less concerned about it. I tried acid when I was 16, though nothing other than extreme laughter came out of it. I smoked some pot that (unbeknownst to us) was laced with PCP, and—luckily—nothing came of that, either.
So when my friend was darting into the bathroom every ten minutes to snort some powder, after my own few beers, trying it seemed like a good idea at the time.
My objection to cocaine had always been snorting it. How could you intentionally inhale a powder into your nose? It seemed preposterous. But after drinking all day, the objection is easily overcome.
On my second attempt, I was successful in taking a whole line up my nose, and the first thing I noticed was a flavor. Well, kind of a flavor. It was sort of like what I imagined glue would taste like, if it were stuck in my sinuses and dripping down my throat. Along with it came numbness in the back of my throat, which became exciting later, when I smoked a cigarette and couldn’t feel or taste the smoke. (It’s easy to get excited about anything when you’re doing coke.)
Within the hour, I was high as a kite. And this high was nothing like weed. In fact, I couldn’t really enjoy smoking pot after this experience. The green leaf, when smoked, only made me hungry and sleepy. I didn’t get a lot from it. Coke, on the other hand, was like shooting electricity in my veins. I became hyper-aware, and I felt like every possible amazing thought in the world was coming into my brain at the same time. If you’ve spent any time around a cokehead, you know how they have to — have to—talk all the time. Well, that’s why. They have so many incredible things to say and they have to say all of them, to you, right NOW.
After Vito and I snorted the rest of his stash, we decided to go to the pizzeria, since it was closed. He made an incredible pizza with all kinds of unusual vegetables, but I wasn’t very hungry. We picked at slices while drinking and talking over each other in the dark restaurant.
That’s when the paranoia set in.
There’s a paradox about doing coke and being paranoid. Sometimes several of us would be at the diner, sharing a couple of grams, and we’d feel pretty paranoid, like someone would find us out. Yet we were all pretty loud and vocal about what we’d been doing. In addition, we would take turns going into the men’s room, leaving lines out on the back of the toilet for the next person to snort.
Being paranoid and high makes for some pretty funny stupidity.
After spending a year getting into pretty bad debt with my dealer and stealing money from my job to pay for the habit (and my debts), I woke up one morning to the thought that I was beginning down a bad path.
Since I’d started, I needed more and more to maintain a high, doing as much as four grams in a day. My dealer, who I also did the stuff with, kept asking me to try smoking it with him, which I finally acquiesced to. That high only made snorting it seem futile; this was our future. I got a few friends to try it with me, and they became far more addicted than me, quickly escalating their purchases. It was turning into a bad movie, some real life version of Less Than Zero.
That morning, it all came to me. I had just cut a line on the jewel case for my Metallica Master of Puppets CD. Ironically, that song is about the dangers of cocaine addiction. The incongruity struck me as funny, and as I thought about what my future was looking like, and the extremes to which I was going just pay for the stuff (when I could), I realized what I had to do.
I dumped the remainder of my stash in the toilet.
And I never touched the stuff again.
My mother and brother are both alcoholics. I know that I can drink without it being a problem. I generally have two or three beers (give or take one), one night a week, when I’m out with friends. I don’t smoke pot, or drop acid, or snort coke. I’ve been a pretty straight arrow for the most part during the couple of decades since my dalliance with drugs.
In truth, I don’t regret it. It was an experience that I had that didn’t kill me, and taught me a lot. But if I’m ever tempted to dance with drugs again, I remember a kid I worked with at the bookstore.
While I was on a break outside smoking a cigarette one morning, he came barreling out the door and into a bush, where he proceeded to vomit. He finished, looked up at me with bright red, fiery eyes, and said, “oh, sorry. I don’t feel so well!” Then he started cackling before going back inside.
A week later, he was dead. Heroin overdose. Apparently he had quit for awhile, but ultimately couldn’t resist the siren call of the White Lady. He went overboard when he returned to her, and it cost him his life.
If I ever think, “oh, I can have a little snort,” I think of him, and how his parents must have felt finding him in his bedroom and not being able to wake him up.I think about how stupid I sounded all the time, talking quickly and endlessly about nothing. I think about all the time and money wasted.
And then I think, “I’ll just pass on that dance card.”