Mourning Through Drug Addiction.
It was raining.
Everyone was hiding under their black umbrellas as they lowered Greg into the ground. I stood next to Greg’s brother, crying and feeling a little dope sick, wishing that I could just roll up my sleeve and slam one home right there in the cemetery.
Greg would’ve wanted it that way.
I was standing next to Greg’s brother Brian, watching his tears race my own, down his pallid face. I told him how sorry I was but he didn’t respond with words, just a simple nod of the head as he continued to stare catatonically at the wet grass.
The rain had stopped for a moment and I was gazing around the cemetery and its uncanny exterior. Its grandeur was something for an artist to draw or paint or sculpt or maybe dream about.
The tombstones were old but stood valiantly with a flash story of the suitably-dressed corpse: their name and day of birth and day of death and age, if they ever had children, sisters, brothers, parents, spouse, etc.
The cemetery sat on the side of a hill and the dirt path that passed through was about five feet wide with black rocks that bordered its edge.
There were not many trees, but the ones that made it inside the walls of the graveyard were massive, and the drape of one tree covered almost 20 graves and their ornamental bones that still lay in their suppressed, wooden beds.
The graveyard was unlit and the rain and clouds held supremacy that day, smothering the sun, bringing an early darkness to the disconsolate day.
Father Gary stood under his umbrella, reading scriptures from the Bible as everyone continued to cry a sad cry. Greg was only 28 years old when he overdosed. He had just been released from doing a three-month vacation in the county when he died in the bed of a girl who was merely a stranger to shooting dope.
She watched him take a few Xanax, do a few shots of heroin, then drift off into an unbounded sleep. It was the first week of summer.
My eyes were starting to drip. I was getting hot but my skin was cold. I remembered I had one 15-milligram methadone that I was saving for a time of desperation. I was desperate, so I subtly threw it in my mouth.
The reception was at a church near the ocean — St. Mary’s by the Sea sits in the heart of downtown Huntington Beach, 45 minutes from the cemetery, on the outskirts of Orange County.
It is a beautiful church with red carpet and vibrant panes of glass glistening from the light of the yellow sun and beams of light leaving green, blue, and red spots on the beige plaster, as the roof’s gable points high to the dripping sky.
The reception was set to be long and carry on into the night. The podium where Father Gary gave his sermon had a silver ribbon mic that people hovered above one at a time, sobbing and laughing over their dear friend and family member.
For the past couple of years, Greg and I had become drug buddies, and together we pushed a little dope and hooked each other up with our favorite connections, which made it easier for the both of us to score. Greg had the most customers, and I had the best connect and wheels.
We were a great team, but I didn’t speak in front of the mourners; I just walked about the church as the sickness crept hastily in my stomach and to the rest of my body. I grabbed my phone. I made the call.
His name was Mitch. Greg had introduced me a few months back, right before Greg went to jail for absconding. Greg never showed up to his probation, and when we would lie in his double-wide, on his dirty brown carpet, there was always a risk of someone kicking in the door, and arresting five or six young adults for petty possessions and paraphernalia.
I walked outside and waited for the blue Volkswagen bus to come purring around the corner; 15 minutes later, it did.
Mitch handed me the dope. He lied and said he was sorry about Greg, then asked me if I needed a fresh needle. I said Yes, then the blue bus purred away into the rain.
I had parked my van around the corner of the church, on Walnut and Sixth. Ultimately, that was the closest place to park. I walked through the church to grab another glass of red wine — the blood of Christ — before wandering off to my abyss, my private shooting gallery I adored so much. The church was still full of people; I filled my glass and headed to the van.
Greg would’ve wanted it this way.
In the van, I turned on the stereo I had just recently installed (Lou Reed, Transformer), spread my tools on the dirty carpet, and lit three white candles that sat on black plates I acquired from an unknown source. It sounded like marbles were being dropped on the roof of the van as the sky poured giant drops of rain on the summer evening.
I unwrapped the black plastic and put the chunk of tar in my silver spoon. All of it. I simmered the water to a light boil and let it mix itself until it was good and ready to be transferred into my syringe, then drew it slowly until it reached the faded number 80.
Then, the habitual stabbing, and the passionate desire to see red turn to black and get pushed into your desolate soul.
The fix took about five minute’s total. I got lucky.
On my walk back to the church, I chugged the glass of red wine. The fix worked. I felt normal again. When you’re an everyday junkie, getting high is something that happens rarely. Getting well is something you never want to have to do. That means you did it.
If one has to shoot heroin — a lethal poison — to function and feel normal in even the slightest activity, you have achieved the curse of becoming a junkie. And the curse is dreadful.
I walked through the church, through the people, and sat down at the white full-size grand piano that sat on the stage and started with one hand playing the high Cs and Ds, softly and carefully. My eyes were glued shut, my jaw reached for the floor.
Everybody stared with the eyes of bitter souls as the wine and the heroin joined hands, and intrepidly showed my embarrassing talent of playing the piano drunk, and exposing what I thought was my furtive high.
In the depth of this ungodly addiction, there is a silver lining that burns the eyes of the envious and brings more anguish to someone like me… a piano-playing junkie, with one less friend.
Jon Vreeland was born in Long Beach, California, and raised by his parents in Huntington Beach, where he became an accomplished musician and struggled with addiction most of his life. His writing paints a picture of the struggles he faced and eventually overcame. Vreeland has six published pieces on Painted Cave and now resides in Santa Barbara. He is the father of two beautiful daughters.