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July 2018, vol 14 no 2

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Mark Forrester

You Fight Your Fight and I'll Fight Me

In the early 1980s I worked in the kitchen of a resort hotel in the Poconos. Most of the employees were young, and drug use was common. Marijuana was almost always available, of course, and sometimes hash. Lots of uppers – mostly cheap caffeine pills. One time a friend showed up at my door with a large bag of cocaine and a confusing story about how he got it. I didn’t worry much about the story; we snorted some and smoked some sprinkled in a fat joint.

Once in a while someone would bring in some kind of hallucinogen, and the whole place would go crazy for the night. Mushrooms were less common and less popular, but blotter acid and microdots of mescaline showed up with some regularity. Two or three times I scored sheets of windowpane from a friend in Maryland; I used an Exacto knife to cut it into hits small enough to sell.

Most people who worked there, I suppose, were casual users who bought a little pot to smoke a joint or two a week. But there was a significant and avid subculture of drug aficionados, the ones who brought in the pot that the other employees enjoyed on their days off. We studied the pictures in High Times like they were Playboy centerfolds; a couple of people even took pictures of their own stashes to send in, though none (as far as I know) was ever published.

I remember once when Wayne, who had contacts in Allentown, got hold of some “purple monster crank” – big chunks of powerful methamphetamine crystals with a light purple tint. He brought a few friends to his room to see the whole stash spilled out on a mirror. We gazed at it a few minutes in silent wonder, then Wayne began to portion it out for everyone to enjoy.

spring blossoms
in his spoon

One afternoon my friend Duffy and I were driving to East Stroudsburg to pick up a birthday cake for Maurice. We were snorting crank in the car when one of the tires blew. Duffy forced the car to the side of the road, and we hid our stash in case the police stopped by to check things out.

We called a few of our friends, but nobody was able or willing to pick us up, so we ended up hiking five or six miles back to our dorms near the hotel. It was late when we arrived, and we had both missed our work shifts. We went to Duffy’s room, snorted some more crank, talking late into the night. At some point, I let Duffy shoot me up for the first time.

What I remember most from that first injection was my surprise when I tasted the crank in the back of my throat. As soon as the drug hit the bloodstream, the taste hit the back of my mouth, and then the electric shivers ran down my arms and through the rest of my body. Shooting up, the high never seemed to last as long, but that initial rush was more powerful than anything I had ever felt.

Years later the taste of crank would sometimes come back to me. I would be sitting at my desk, or standing in the shower, and that chemical taste would rise again, suddenly and unexpectedly, in the back of my throat, bringing back a flood of memories and emotions.

summer flies
slow circles
in the close air

Once, a couple of weeks after I started shooting up, Wayne – the other Wayne – grabbed my shoulder in the kitchen. “Nice holes in your arm,” he said. I didn’t deny that I had started shooting up, but I denied that I was addicted and that I was spending more than I could afford.

Shooting up became an important part of my life. I had to have the drug, to hide the drug, to sell the drug so I could afford my own portion of the drug. I had to have access to a reasonably sharp needle. (A few news stories about a mysterious new disease were just starting to appear. We didn’t worry then about sharing needles.)

Once I got sick and went to the hospital emergency room. A nurse tried to get a sample of my blood, but the veins were so scarred that she couldn’t draw any.

autumn leaves –
the dry well
at his elbow

When I decided to quit crank, my friends rolled their eyes or nodded knowingly. Most of them had tried to quit at least once.

For years afterwards, I saved my last hypodermic needle, safely tucked away where my wife and daughters would not stumble across it. I knew that I would never shoot up again, but the needle was a reminder of someone I had once been, a soul that I might outgrow but that I could never disown.

What surprised me was not that I missed the rush, missed the high. But I found that I also missed the pain, the ache as I yearned for that next hit. The jones that meant I was still alive.

honing his needle
on an old matchbook –
winter chill