One summer Dick and I went through 9,600 mg of Dilaudid. “Kiddie dope,” Dick called it. He called me kid. “No more of the hard stuff for me, kid,” he said.
How it started was one day I asked him, “What was heroin like?”
“None of your business,” he said, “that’s what it’s like—none of your goddamn business.” But I could see he wanted to tell me by how his mouth kept moving a little even after all the words had come out.
Then one day he said, “I’ll show you something. Not heroin, but kiddie dope.” Later I learned that Dilaudid isn’t really what’s considered kiddie dope, but that was the way Dick wanted us to think of it–something perfect for a twelve year old.
How Dick had come to take me in is that I’d run away from home. I was lugging my backpack, my easel and myself away from what had been my home, when a young man in an old Cadillac stopped beside me. It was an okay suburb of Minneapolis, not a place where you see many old Cadillacs. The man said, “You need a ride little sister?” I nodded. “Well, I got one for you.” The man thought I would want to go to the arts high school.
“Mary’s Place, please,” I said.
He looked at me hard for a moment, then said, “Well shit,” like he’d figured something out, but not quite all the way out.
I’d read about Mary’s Place in People. The article said Mary Jo was an “urban saint” and the photograph of her seemed to support this. She was smiling so big that her eyes nearly disappeared. I wasn’t sure if the staff at her shelter would be as saintly, but I hoped they would see the bruises on my arm and not make me go home.
As we headed towards Mary’s Place though, I started to worry. What if there wasn’t a bed available? Would I be forced out alone onto the streets of North Minneapolis? And what if Mary’s Place wasn’t where the man was taking me?
When he stopped for a light I got out. But it was too late, I was already in North Minneapolis. Seventh and Emmerson.
I felt my whiteness and imagined myself glowing, but not in a way that would scare anyone. More like the glow of a firefly with tiny delicate limbs and big eyes. I walked quickly down seventh. Mary’s Place was only five blocks away, but could I make it? A man who was only my height, but weighed at least three times as much as me, stood in front of me on the sidewalk. He was looking at me with more hatred than I’d ever seen in the entire world up to that point. I stepped into the street and pretended not to hear honking and peoples’ shouts, “Get out the road fool! Git the fuck out the way!”
I didn’t even care that I’d left my easel in the man’s Cadillac. Someone would have taken it and maybe me along with it. At that moment it seemed like the only way I would ever stop being afraid was to die.
Then an engine came to rest idling beside me and a white man’s voice reached for me. “Kid, you’re not going to make it out there. Get in.”
As soon as I got in and closed the door, I felt safe. I hadn’t felt safe in a long time. I could tell from Dick’s eyes that he was smiling gently at me, even when he wasn’t saying anything.
We drove to Mary’s Place. When we got there I wouldn’t get out of his pickup and he wasn’t one to put his hands on a twelve year old girl. He let me sleep on his couch while he snored nearby in his recliner, and after a few days he stopped trying to make me go to the shelter.
“Stick with me kid, you’ll be farting through silk,” he said. I didn’t care about farting through silk but I really wanted to stick with him anyway. He didn’t make me eat three meals a day, go to school, or brush my hair. I could say shit and fuck if I wanted to.
With him I felt not only safe, but also like the world was a magical place without rules.
Getting the kiddie dope wasn’t easy. Dick had been in prison three times and didn’t want to go back for something as “pussified” as writing prescriptions. “I’ve only ever gotten packed once,” he said, placing a hand on his backside, “and it wasn’t pretty. Hey, that reminds me,” he was so deadpan I knew he was going to tell a joke, “You know, I’ve been roofing for thirty years and no one ever calls me Dick the Roofer. But suck one cock…”
We pawned Dick’s TV and DVD player, then ripped the copper out of a few houses that Dick said were “asking for it.” They had plywood in the windows. Dick used a hammer and screw gun to pull the plywood off and in we went, me holding the flashlight. I shined it on the ceiling as he cut piece after piece of copper, filling our whole bucket until it was too heavy for me to carry.
“I’m getting too old for this shit,” Dick said after the fourth house. “Get me seven—no nine—Ibuprofen out of the glove compartment.” He took them without water and leaned back against his seat with his eyes closed for a moment.
K&K Recycling only gave us a hundred dollars. When we added in what we got for the TV and DVD player, and what was left of Dick’s SSI check, we still didn’t have enough for even one bottle of Dilaudid.
I felt bad that I didn’t have money of my own to pitch in. Dick shared everything he had with me. “My Section Eight home is your Section Eight home,” he always said.
But when Dick couldn’t find anyone to lend him some money he finally said I could help. We went to see a man named Orlando.
“You wouldn’t expect this guy to have connections,” Dick said, “but I tell you, he’s the ticket.”
Orlando was exactly the sort of guy I would expect to have connections. A busboy with an Escalade. He looked me over and nodded. Dick held three condoms out to me. When I tried to take them he tightened his fingers on them. I pulled as hard as I could, and after a moment Dick winced and let go. The condoms trembled in my hand while I waited outside El Meson for Orlando’s shift to be over.
He didn’t say anything when he came out and walked to his Escalade. I watched him, relieved and disappointed that he’d forgotten about me. But then he pulled up and the passenger door swung open.
“Come on,” he said. My hands were still shaking as I put my seatbelt on. He unbuckled it without looking. “I’ll tie you up later,” he said, and laughed.
Inside he asked me if I like wine. I nodded. “Shy,” he said, as if to himself. I wasn’t used to wine, and he stood in front of me and refilled my cup after each gulp. “Let’s dance,” he said. I tried to stand up. He caught me and hugged me while swaying back and forth. The strangest sleep was starting to take hold of me. It was as heavy as an anvil but not so solid. I heard Orlando singing softly in Spanish as he danced us to the bedroom.
I woke up to men’s yelling. I didn’t even recognize Dick’s voice at first because I’d never heard him yell before. The yelling got louder, then the bedroom door flew open and Orlando fell into the room. Dick was behind him and he held the three unopened condoms in one hand. “Get up,” Dick said to me, then stopped. I looked where he was looking, at a little smear of dark red on the sheet.
Dick threw Orlando against the wall. Orlando stood slouched against it for a moment before slowly–as if he weren’t afraid–walking to the closet. There were scratches on his chest and–I noticed happily–blood under my nails. Orlando pulled out some little bottles which Dick looked inside.
“Alright,” Dick said. Then he punched Orlando in the face. I took the opportunity to add a scratch to Orlando’s cheek while he stood there and let me. With Dick I felt like I could get away with anything.
“Where are your clothes?” he asked. I didn’t answer right away so he snatched a blanket from the foot of the bed and wrapped it around me as we left. “This is the last time you ever score our dope.” I noticed that he didn’t call me kid.
When we got home Dick’s hands moved quickly and steadily as he crushed up some of the pills, mixed them with water in a spoon, held a lighter under the spoon until the mixture started to boil, put cotton on it, drew it carefully up into the syringe, and—my second first in two days—shot me up.
We quickly developed a routine. He picked up his Methadone each Thursday morning and we drank it all as soon as he got home. Then Friday through Wednesday were what I called Dily-Days, and Dick liked that. “A girl’s touch with the language,” he said appreciatively. That made me happy. I wanted to be as fun for Dick as the “Olden days.” He talked about them a lot.
“I was at the movies with this chick Rona. This was back in the day. We were seeing… I can’t remember. Anyway, Rona had the bladder of a gerbil, I mean her piss didn’t always make it to porcelain. She wore dark clothes, lots of leather—well pleather, that’s what it was, like the jacket I got you. We were watching some movie—I can’t remember what the hell it was. We were watching this movie, and she had to piss like a race horse, or actually, as I said, a gerbil. So she got up and I’m sitting there with this popcorn box in my lap. Just being a kid you probably don’t remember, but the boxes used to have this slit in the bottom. I’m sitting there looking at it and thinking I can just barely fit myself in–oh alright I can fit myself in with room to spare. I worm in and wait, and when Rona comes back I say, ‘Hey, you want some popcorn?’” He paused, and looked at me to make sure I was listening. I was. “I tell you, she did want some popcorn. I could hardly get my pecker out of that box.” He patted his pants with his liver-spotted hand, and said, “Back in the day…”
Dick’s dick didn’t work and that and the no more heroin were why he liked to talk about the Olden Days. The best I could do for him was listen, thinking that these might one day be Olden Days. Especially now that we had the Dilaudid.
Dick was getting our stuff at that point but not always enough of it. So one day I went and started scoring on my own. I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore except not having enough.
After a few weeks something inside me started to hurt and then it caught on fire. I couldn’t figure out what it was. I’d never felt that part of me. I’d imagined it was empty space where the air goes when you breathe in deep and don’t breathe out right away. It wasn’t my vagina, and it wasn’t what Dick called, “the remote control.” It was deeper.
Dick told me to ignore it. He was holding the syringe and he said, “It’s better when you’re sick. Don’t you want to be sick because of how good it feels?”
He and I ran around the apartment and out onto the streets of Minneapolis. We talked on the bridge over Hennepin Avenue while throwing litter at the big spoon with the cherry in it at the Walker Art Sculpture Garden. Dick always pretended my litter had landed in the spoon, “Another three-pointer!” We talked about all the things we were going to do. Dick was going to write his autobiography and I told him I’d help; we were going to open a vitamin store; and we were going to learn the Tango and do it in strange places: McDonald’s, Home Depot, Payless Shoes, Circus Pizza…
But when something soupy started slipping out of me and I showed Dick my underwear, he dropped me off at the Red Door Clinic. “I’ll be back in two hours,” he said.
A nurse looked at me—at my inner arms, and my eyes—a few seconds without touching me, then went to see if she could find a small speculum. I lay on the table with my feet in the stirrups thinking of the nurse’s look. Dick always hit the same place so I wouldn’t have tracks; it just looked like an irritated bruise. But lying there, I didn’t think we’d fooled the nurse, and I wondered if I would get in trouble, and then I wondered if the fire beneath my stomach would spread through my body and kill me. Is that why the nurse looked at me so closely?
She came back with a little speculum and used a long cue-tip to reach inside me, then wiped it on a slide. “Your poor cervix,” she said before leaving the room. I’d never heard of a cervix. Half an hour later she bustled in and handed me a cup. Whatever someone gave me, I always took it without asking any questions. But as if I needed to know, she said, “Zithromax. Gross, isn’t it?” She handed me a mint. “I’m also going to give you these.” She gave me condoms, new needles wrapped in plastic, a pamphlet with helpful resources for runaways—which I threw in the trash on my way out, and an immunization shot in each shoulder. “You’ll need one more of the Hep A, and 2 more of the Hep B.”
“Condoms next time,” Dick said on the way home, “or I’ll knock off a liquor store to pay for the shit.”
“We could volunteer at a hospital,” I said.
“Why would we do that to somebody?” Dick asked. It was the first time he’d said something mean not just about himself, but about both of us.
He always shot me first, with a new needle. But when we got home that day he said, “I’ve popped a lot of cherries in my time, but you’re going to be the last.” I thought he was saying we would be together forever. But then he said, “No more of this shit for you,” and only shot himself. He kept our dope in a trunk that only he had the key to. But he’d left the syringe with his blood on it on the coffee table.
It seemed to me that as he watched me walk across the room, he flinched slightly. I picked up the syringe with his blood in it. He was looking at me the same way the nurse had. I didn’t like it. I was going to make it so he never tried to keep me from getting high again.
“Don’t,” he said.
His doped blood didn’t give me much of a rush, and I saw for the first time that he was old and dirty, someone I might once have been embarrassed to be seen with.
“Give me the key.”
“God damn it,” he muttered. As he fished the key out of his pocket he looked magical to me again.
Dick’s mom died, and we were going to take the $12,000 Dick got from it and go to Bangkok. “Drugs are cheap there. We can live for six years on that, and then we’ll die happy.” But before we bought the plane tickets he turned yellow and was sick all the time.
In the hospital he said, “You’re a good kid. I’m sorry.” His body wouldn’t accept anyone else’s liver, and he got yellower and died. But first he said, “This won’t happen to you for a long, long time.”
I wanted it to happen as soon as possible, because why would I want to be alive without Dick and our Dilly-Days? “That sucks,” I said.
He laughed, then got serious. “Kid, I’ve never cried at a funeral, but I would have cried at yours.”
After they kicked me out of the hospital, I went and stood on the bridge over Hennepin near the Walker Art Sculpture Garden. “I hate you!” I screamed at the traffic, the people walking along the street below, and especially the big spoon. “I hate hate hate hate hate you!”
Other men came along, but they weren’t like Dick. I didn’t want to hear their stories more than once, or do everything they’d done just so I could know them as well as possible. Jeff comes close though. We met six years after Dick died. It was my third treatment and his first and it worked. Now, even though I have hepatitis C and a past that would prevent someone from ever running for public office, I’m happy enough. Sometimes Jeff and I sit at the breakfast table and we can’t believe it: here we are, two clean people waking up at a reasonable hour in the morning, about to shower and go to work.
After work I do things like walk the dog, pick up groceries for dinner, remember friends’ birthdays, rake leaves, try to remember the washing instructions on the clothes with worn out tags, use my coupons before they expire… and it all seems normal enough. Around seven Jeff comes home from the plant, and we talk about our days over dinner. At night I sleep like a baby.
But every morning I wake up and for a moment I’m that girl again, the one I used to be with Dick. The world is big and magical and there’s hardly room inside it for all my awe, and all I want to know is: What does Dick have in store for us today?