Freedom, Through The Eyes Of A Junkie.
Freedom — a word used loosely like the words love and rich; we weren’t free… we were slaves…
Every year is the same. The cars stay in their garages and driveways — or in my case, parked on Atlanta Avenue, where the street sweeper is powerless, and the vagueness of the light helps me sleep — bikes are pulled down from the hooks in garages, wheeled out from the side yard, cleaned up, adorned with tassels, not only the handlebars, but the tires, frame, baskets; even the operator of the bike solemnizes themselves with left over tassel material, paints their faces, matches their clothes with everything that is worn, ridden, drunk, and seen with the colors red, white, and blue, and heads to the Huntington Beach Fourth of July parade on Main Street with the rest of the world. Something I have done since I was five years old.
For someone like me, a hopeless junkie who has been ostracized from the common world, riding my stolen beach cruisers up Atlanta Avenue towards Main Street to see the parade is the event of the year, and when you get to Third Street and make a left and head towards the pier, the world gets smaller… smaller… and at PCH the orange cones stand valiantly. Foreshadowing the ones who are waiting to take you to jail for having dyed hair or ripped clothing, or for looking cooler than those who wear Oakley blades and make a living by caging humans. Taking away their precious freedom.
We could hear the marching band from inside. My friend Grayson and I had met up when the parade started at every local’s favorite bathroom, which is just like every bathroom in downtown Huntington — small, with one stainless steel toilet, no mirror, cement floors, and a stainless steel sink with a lip underneath where I hide my rigs so I don’t have to carry them while roving the streets. My dirty little covet veiled from the sun.
The summer before, I got out from doing a smooth and easy ninety days in the county — at the honor farm, which is like going away to summer camp — went back to that very same bathroom when I was released, and found my rig in the same spot, under the sink, tucked safely in between the cool lips of my silver clandestine. (It was mine. I marked the end of the orange cap with a black marker. I was almost sure of it).
With two people in the bathroom, it is crammed; we quickly drew the black and white into our almost numberless syringes — after we mixed both drugs into one spoon — then slammed a giant goofball each.
Speed and heroin. Or as I like to call it, A Hug from God… makes more sense.
The first time I met Grayson, he was living with our other friend Mikey, except they were not my friends at the time because I didn’t know them yet. Our former friend Brandon — former because he is now a rat — had brought me over to Grayson and Mikey’s to score some dope and Mikey overdosed two minutes after I shook his hand; and for some reason I stayed and helped blow air into Mikey’s lungs and shoved full-size ice cubes up his butt. Mikey lived, and Grayson, Mikey, and myself have been friends ever since. Even heroin can bring people together. A shred of soul and a working freezer is all you need.
We rode around downtown. There were hundreds of people on the lawns smoking, drinking, throwing cans and cups of beer at passing bicyclists, screaming from the top of their toxic lungs. Bands played in the back and front yards of people homes, people were starting fights for amusement, paying no mind to cops driving through downtown in their assigned minivans, trying to bust anyone who looks like they might be having too much fun. It was pure anarchy. It was beautiful.
By the time the sun was going down, we were out of heroin — which was a really bad thing — and were only able to find a white powder that was almost impossible to decipher between speed and coke. It was almost an ethereal feeling. “Speed Coke!” We called it. And that is what we sardonically shouted the rest of the day when we saw people we knew, or anyone that looked our way. “Hey, what are you guys doing?” “Speed Coke!”
The sun was gone; and everyone — meaning half of California and our friends Nick and Kristy who were now with us — headed down to the pier to watch the fireworks and drink beer on the sand while the sky lit up with a million colors and a million booms. We found a spot on the sand and waited for the show. The Speed Coke was waning and I really needed a shot of heroin, fast. I looked over at Grayson and he had the same look on his face — a look of severe apprehension from the thought of getting sick on the Fourth of July, right before the night was about to swing into full speed. (Speed Coke, that is…)
We didn’t know what we were going to do. Our solid connect wasn’t around. She lived in Long Beach and we couldn’t get down there anyway because the streets were blocked — congested with the holiday, bounded with checkpoints — so Grayson said he could call his buddy Joe; but when he called Joe’s phone, it went straight to his voicemail.
I was lying on the sand, knowing we were going to get sick anytime. Our skin turning to tin foil, little bumps strewn across our foiled flesh, the air will turn to a stifling brisk, and our eyes a watery red. I must’ve been thinking out loud; Grayson told me to shut up and stop complaining. He always had a more positive attitude when it came to dope than me, always reminding me it was half in my head and I was the one making it worse for myself.
But the colors were fading. Strings of black and white melting from the sky as my eyes dripped down my ashen face, my legs starting to ache, I had goosebumps all over me, and I was freezing cold. I was beginning to curl up in a ball on the beach and pass out when someone gave me a friendly kick in the back. It was Grayson. Joe was on his way.
And just like that the colors came back. The finale lit up the sky with all the color and noise my head could bear. There was no longer black and white dripping from the night sky. It was red, white and blue. It was almost godly. And all from one phone call. From a complete stranger I had never talked to in my life.
We rode our bikes across the street to T.K. Burger to wait for Joe. Nick and Kristy decided to leave, we were all invited to a party in Laguna with Kristy’s friend Andy. There was room in the truck for us and they insisted on us going. But we couldn’t. We had to wait. They of course were free to go. Free to do whatever they wanted. Grayson and I said nothing as we watched the half-vacant truck drive away. Down PCH towards South County. Leaving us in our world of oppression.
And on that night of freedom, the whole world rode past on their bikes and skateboards, as we sat waiting in front of a restaurant that had been closed for hours. Everyone drunk. Having a good time. Laughing and yelling like they didn’t have a fatal disease. Enjoying their freedom.
Joe, or the stranger if I’m referring to him, gave us the gram of heroin, and, before I could blink, he was gone.
Grayson and I rode to the bathroom. We went inside and locked the door behind us, and repeated the same ritual as earlier. When we were done fixing, we left the bathroom, got on our bikes and headed north on Main Street.
I looked at my watch and realized what shred of freedom we had, solely from the American holiday’s declamation, was now gone.
It was just past midnight.
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.