Junk Sick Collective

As was written: the neighbourhood's heroin junkie community were all cooped up sick in Grace's apartment, laying out in the tawdry summer afternoon, moaning and groaning and vomiting and waiting for something to move. Some addicts were worse than others, some handled sickness better, some were not yet sick and had the added horror of watching what would become of them in the next few hours. It had begun as a din of panic, cursing, snivelling and dripping noses, but as the summer day wore on, as the dealers' phones remained off, as the sun settled in the west and the smell of kebabs and Greek vine leaves made their way down from the high-street, the room fell into a sick and deathly trance. And with the falling light came shadows and into those shadows the features of the ill receded, only the twisted outlines of their forms left visible, each man and woman suffering in their own hell, in their own darkness, their minds wandering over the battlefields' of their lives, a collective of tragic and disquieting thoughts and images filling the room in a tension of atmosphere that hung and buzzed in the air and became the sound of waiting and suffering itself.

The room was square with a bay front window facing out onto the street. Along the back-wall was a decomposing sofa-for-three, along the left-wall a sofa-for-two, and in the alcove, under the bay window, was a bean-bag and on the bean-bag was a dog. The windows were covered by a heavy brown blanket, and in the slatted light, of late afternoons, hung like a thick waterfall of dust. The only time light ever got in, in any decent measure, was when pushing the blanket aside to watch for the dealer coming into sight down the road. But there was no light coming in now, and no dealer was on his way.

Grace lay flopped out on her side, her head resting against the filthy arm of the eaten and mouldy three-seater, warm-sick-tears running constantly from her left-eye and over her cheek-bone. She didn't look at anyone and didn't care if anyone was looking at her. No-one was, of course, there was real suffering in the room and pain or tears had no gain here and so were muted and internal.

As with everyone Grace's mind was ambushed by thoughts completely outside of her control. Terribly bleak images of the past and atmospheric hallucinations arrived as if from another place and seemed to have more to do with the present than anything else. Up in Grace's mindseye, drifting out into the room, were thoughts of her partner George, his mind shot through from years of substance abuse and trauma, laying on the bed in the adjacent room, as sick as anyone but completely unaware it was heroin withdrawals which were raging through his body. She wished that she could be that blissfully unaware of what the sickness was. That's the problem, she thought, knowing that this could all end with just a pathetic quids worth of pathetic smack. Her thoughts of George were clouded by a great sadness. Not for George, for herself, of how she had ended up with this man-sized-dead-weight attached to her and how he was the anchor of all her problems, and yet, how she needed the money his incapacity benefit brought in more than she didn't need him. She thought these thoughts as she lay there, her liver aching from hepatitis and no medication to soothe the pain. At times she wanted to break down entirely butshe knew it would only deprive her of more energy and she had no more to give. She thought of the best-of-the-bad-days, back in the seventies, when she'd had ounces of smack and was doing well and how useless life-lived and former success was now. And yet it seemed so close. Like there was some way back if only she could find it, like she could wake from sleep and rejoin those good moments of her old life, like that heroin and that youth and that flat in Leytonstone were somehow accessible through some as yet undiscovered science. It was hard to accept that all she once had was now gone, that even something that passed only a second ago was over for ever. It wasn't right. To Grace it felt more like she had stored her nuts in the past and was rich and well if only she could find her way back. The idea of time and space were lost in her, and now, all that was left was her ravaged body, suspended in the seemingly eternity of sickness, and memories drifting by as the sticky summer night wore on and brought more pain each moment. How things change so quickly, she thought. How one day you're young and healthy and the next you're 25 years into the future, a long-term-junkie-case with a bad liver and no energy reserves. And that's what Grace was thinking as she lay there sick in her flat that evening with hot tears leaking out her eye and not a score to be found in the entire fucking town.

David was on his back in the middle of the floor, his knees arched, his eyes scrunched shut in pain. Every now and again he would grimace, make a snivelling sound, and then go “Aaaaaaaahhhh” : it was the sound of absolute suffering itself. Sometimes David would shake, intentionally, as a way to pass time and keep his thoughts on the rhythm he shook to and not the illness working away inside him. The most important thing was to not let the present fall still around him, a place where time stops and the true hell of junk withdrawal begins. He was thinking of his phone, imagining it down by his head on the floor, joyfully lighting up and ringing and vibrating, his dealer's name shown across the screen. He was willing it to ring. He thought that by willing it hard enough he could make it happen. Illness was only a good half-a-day in him and already he was onto miracles. His muscles ached and he fidgeted. His spine was sore against the hard floor, but if he moved then his shoulder felt worn and bruised and the angling of his body upset his stomach and he'd then retch and have to rush to the toilet. Memories of his last serious bout of illness settled in his mind, how after a moment he'd given up and just let his body malfunction, but now, today, he figured he had at least another full night in him before his insides melted to mush and his sphincter gave way. At times David would roll his body gently from side to side, and to that lulling motion he would think the words: Ring.Riiing. Riiiiiiiing.

Tabatha sat on the edge of the two-seat-sofa clutching her terribly thin stomach and rocking back and forth with her eyes closed. Her head was down and her straggly blond hair, greasy with sweat, fell over her face in a mop. She was wearing a pair of grey leggings and a dark tube-top and with her flat-chest it looked like her torso was bandaged in black. She was plagued by thoughts of the day her husband was jailed, how she missed the trial from running from one end of the borough to the other on a wild goose-chase of scoring smack. She hadn't seen him since, had missed the two prison visits she had been reserved, but would love to see him now. She was onset by visions of the white handkerchief, held up and waggled in the air, then the same handkerchief taken away by the wind and an inexpressible sadness going with it as it rose and swooned in the blustery day. It was the dealer who had waggled the handkerchief, a black man who had appeared up at the corner of the road, stood there just long enough to be noticed, then held up the cloth and shook it like a dead rat caught by the tail, a sign to all the surreptitious junkie eyes watching that dinner was bagged and ready to be served. Tabatha didn't remember the score nor the dealer's name or face, just the handkerchief and how after conducting business it had escaped his hand and was taken away by the wind. That vision now made her cry. She twisted her face up in pain and anguish and rocked at an increase pace trying to block out and deny the image in her head. That cloth being torn away like that, puffed and sucked and flapped and battered, dropped and then picked back up again, somehow embodied a great tragedy. She didn't understand what she found so tragic in that struggle, or why such a barren memory had returned like this, but there seemed something greatly foreboding in it and her illness unfurled to that blustery day, back then, when scoring her rocks was more important than anything else, more important than her husbands plight and whether he was sent to prison or not. Now, in this position of junk withdrawal, just to have her husband back she felt she could be the most honest, the most trustworthy and self-sacrificing soul ever, that she could do anything just for him, just for the strength of him fending for her - physically rebelling against addiction - stealing and begging to keep them well. It was heroic. He was heroic. She was a miserable bad catch. She thought how lucky he was being in prison, warm and well and not addicted to anything. She wished she was in prison. She was crying inside. She told herself it all had to stop: all the pain, the lying, the cheating, the filth, the illness. But she knew, and her heart knew: this was only about pain, as even while she was in the very midst of cursing heroin and promising to get clean she was there waiting to score, to get better, and once better she knew that all these silly-sentimental-thoughts would end.

Nick sat slouched back leaning against the side of the mounted gas-fire on the right-side wall with his legs pushed out straight. He was a tall, broad, rangy addict with black hair and an olive coloured tint to his skin. He seemed to faintly glow in the dark. He had his shoes off and wore no socks and around his right ankle was dried blood from some old fix. He looked at the blood and as Grace had done with her past now he did the same: tried to figure out the route he had taken from that injection to here and wondering if he could have changed his fate with a few different choices. But something wasn't quite right. In the world of Nick's mind a forlorn omnipresent gloom hung in the heart of all memory, like a default recollection of some barren landscape he had known and which was hard-coded into the kernel of his brain. It felt like à memory from a time before he was born, from a former life, of another world to this one. Nick remembered the golf course on that early winter morning of the day his mother died, cutting across it on his way to score more crack. There was a low mist floating just above the dew on the grass and way over to where he had to get to the sky was pale blue with a small, distant, brittle sun straining useless against the frost. A lone flag rippled on a distant green. He didn't know it then but his mother was spasming and contracting in a hospital bed, suffering the first of two heart attacks she was to have that day without either of her two sons being there. She died alone that evening to the face of a strange doctor and Nick was now all crumpled up inside with guilt and empathy and pain, fixated on the terrible part he had played in her last hours, in her last ever moments in the history of everything. He would never see her again, never have her bail him out with money again, never apologise to her again or gouch out on the seat beside her again. He saw the distant flag flapping in the cold morning. A stray bird scattered like there had been a crack of a shotgun. The smell of the turf rose up from the dew and mist. His mother was gone forever-eternal and he whimpered when understanding the reality of that now and wishing he had realised it before.

And why hadn't Nick made it to the hospital? There had been time. His mother's death had been officially called at just gone 9pm that evening. Nick's mind did not approach this question directly, rather his brain went through the two contrasting fates: his evening, and the evening of his mother (or how his mind imagined it unfurled at any rate.) He had been warned she was gravely ill but he'd convinced himself that it was no longer a matter of life and death, that she'd survived the first attack and was now in the best place possible to be kept stable and calm. And anyway, he had reasoned, she's not conscious so even if I visit tonight she'll not benefit in any way. Junk sickness pawed at Nick's mind and tormented his inner-self. He saw a retracted image of himself, hunched over his crack pipe, like a classic conspirator, loading it up, bringing it to his mouth, lighting it, hearing the crackle of the crack... sucking in... Deeeeeeep... holding the smoke, then, release:...... ........ ........ ........ ........ ....... ....… Going silent as a few seconds of agitated and frenzied brain activity took place within him and he felt a pulsating excitement towards the world – or at least he should have. But Nick was troubled that afternoon, the early evening too. His promise of getting to the hospital had plagued his crack session and all along he cursed his obligation and cursed his mother for falling ill after all he had done to get the money. He told himself he could visit the next day and make up some excuse as to why he'd not been able to get down earlier. But there was no next day for his mother: she died some hours later and Nick missed the call and so received a text with the news instead. In Nick's mindseye now he could see himself stood in the light of a bus-stop, wailing with a face full of tears and grief and bringing up the message to show to his oldest dealer, using his mother's death to procure a free bag of brown. And it worked. He knew it would. It was a calculated decision to see that particular dealer with that particular news. He felt smart at the time, but now he felt like a rat and alongside his ever worsening junk sickness and the bleak and barren world that haunted his existence, he now felt a deep sense of shame, more than shame, because this feeling was internal and honest and connected to his abstract being by a thousand different threads, each one derived from some low or despicable act until now he needed drugs not to block out any pain but to block out himself, so as he didn't have to live with or face up to all he had done to survive. And the evening of his mother's passing, after he finally got his fix, he said it was the greatest fix of his life. Of course it was: he had spared himself one of the greatest and most important traumas a man must live through, and more, had convinced himself that his mother had somehow been embodied in the shot of smack, that she had come to him that way and soothed him and said she understood and forgave and loved him. But now, in this terrible dark light of sickness, in this sticky summer night, in this room of decay and disease, endings were not so neatly tied. In illness memories returned and the internal voice got loud. Nick beat himself up over his actions and grieved for his mother now. He cried, and he did make a sound, and he did say “mum”. But the truth was he wasn't crying for his mother but for comfort, for self-pity and redemption, for something to cure the pain. He was crying for heroin, and he knew it, and knowing it made him cry even harder still.

The dog was on the bean bag, beneath the bay windows, coiled up like a snake. It ressembled a Golden Retriever only with short bristly fur which gave away its mongrel breeding. The dog stank. It stank of tongue and arsehole and bad food and from licking the black resinous spots in the carpet where things had been spilt or thrown up and trodden in. It was hot on the bean bag but it dared not move. In the summer night it was thirsty and panted whenever it lifted its head to look around. There was water in the taps but noone had the strength to get up and fill the mutt's bowl. So it lay there, coiled up and sad, its large eyes, underlined with black, staring over at its owner who lay flopped out on the settee opposite. If there was a worldly sadness in the room, something seeing the greater tragedy, it came from the mutt. The dog understood it all: it understood the tawdry summer night, the passing of time, death and illness better than anyone else. The dog didn't know what was wrong, but it knew from procedural memory that when its owner was lethargic like this that its own stomach got empty, that it had to piss and shit in the hallway or kitchen and that things would only get better once Grace was again animated and talking as rapidly as she usually did. The dog was down. It could sense the weird desperate malaise in the room and didn't yap or whine or interact much at all. Quite unaware of it, the dog was waiting for the sound of its chain, for its empty bowl to be taken and replaced, for someone to beckon him over and allow him to lick the blood from off their fingers. It was lazing just now but it wished it was on a full belly. Hungry and dehydrated the dog couldn't find sleep in its rest. In the heat it would at times uncoil, push its front legs forward, kinda half lift its head and panting, look around at all the junkie bodies sprawled out. Then it would whimper lightly and lower the underside of its jaw flat against the floor. And like that it would remain, its large sad eyes to the world.

Mitsy was maybe more sick than any other addict. She was over a day and half in and hadn't slept and the sound of her dry retching, vomiting and snot bubbling in her nose would be one of the retaining memories of all the group. Mitsy was in her mid-forties, very small and nimble with dark medium length hair, threaded through with grey and pulled back into a dove-tail. Because of her slight size she was always treated more like a teenage girl than an adult female, and because she had always been seen and treated as such she had adapted herself to fit that image and would whore out her adolescent charm, talking in a dumb, babyish way, giving hugs and huge loud ultra-friendly THANK YOUs in exchange for free sprinkles of smack or crack or anything else which came her way. Everyone had a scam, worked some kind of angle, and that was hers. At certain intervals during her sickness she would crawl across the room, approach some addict like a cat sniffing at a face, whisper something like “I'm dying, babes” then take up a position besides him, her body tucked in, rocking in pain before giving up and moving onto the next. Her instinct for whoring dope would not desert her, even when she knew there was none to be had, even when the wells really were dry. So she'd crawl off and take up a place alongside someone else, trying to find a position that'd let her be comfortable for even just a few seconds.

As Mitsy lay on the floor, all the muscles in her stomach sore, she imagined the time before she was a junkie and how light the world now seemed – even with all the problems she thought she had then. Memories of the aftermath of her first real broken heart gripped her, how she wanted to die when that had finished and how she had met Scouse Wally not long after and tried to rediscover artificially in him all she had lost. But this time she would strive to become a part of his existence entirely, be indispensable, so as he'd need her all along his life. She remembered their early days together, in a flat only two streets down the road, how they had lived there with nothing but love, and how the bare walls and floors had held all the promise of a wonderful future together. Echoes of how their laughter used to ring out in that place came to her, how they'd arrive home freezing cold in winter and spring, and having no heating get into bed together and watch TV just to be warm. But these memories hurt now. It seemed the happiest recollections were the most awful and empty. In the dark space around herself she now trembled and retreated alone, her young life playing out in a series of memories in her head, a desperate sadness rebounding away into the forever of time. She remembered bare skin, smooth and soft and clean and unmarked. How they'd scamper naked from the bed to the bathroom and come rushing back, twice as fast, all goosepimply and making cold-sounding sounds FRRRRRRRRR while diving back into the bed and wriggling down into the warmth. But, then heroin came into the flat and that comfort and innocence was never the same again. Suddenly they didn't need each other to make themselves warm, and not long after that they didn't need one another at all. The bed became a pit of crumbs and ash and cigarette burns, both living off their side of it, Wally lent over one way smoking his smack and eating bowls of Weet-a-bix and her lent over the other way doing the same. Regardless, compared to what they would become, the early days of heroin still seemed fun and romantic – going out with unbrushed hair and crumpled clothes, both malnourished through youth and a militancy towards life, running around town grabbing bags of smack from dealers' hands, shopping cheap food and cereal and picking up little things from the market to attach to their hair or clothes. That was before the bite of addiction became lock-jawed and before Wally started borrowing her out to acquaintances for sexual favours.Then Wally got sick and lost all the weight and disappeared, and when she next had news he was back up in Liverpool and was suffering from some kind of cancer. Of course, she knew it wasn't cancer: Wally was HIV+. The doctor at the drug-clinic had told her as much when pushing her to get tested herself. She tested negative, but didn't care so much anyway. All these images and memories that came to Mitsy were blighted with the same bleak and hollow atmosphere, taking place in a weird, estranged space which was somehow her past and future too. I'm sick, Mitsy thought, I'm sick through heroin: I'm a heroin addict. Mitsy needed to vomit again, but there was nothing to vomit. For a moment she thought she was back in that old flat, the bed gone, the electricity disconnected, Wally gone, laying on the bare floor surrounded by all the losing players of addiction. The pain was immense. The pain was torture. Nothing like the flu at all. And for a moment, in the dark of the room, all that could be heard was dry retching and the terrible groaning and crying of a woman who had never grown up, who was trapped in the body of her tragic youth, growing pains splitting her open from inside out. Mitsy wasn't hurting or crying for heroin. Her tears were of her death, of an unrequited youth, for a life she could have had but never did. She had squandered it all and the losses had now come home to roost.

The body laying along the two-seater, on his back, behind Tabatha, was Portuguese Jo. He had been laying there like that, with his arm over his face, his eyes in the crux of the pit of his elbow, since early afternoon. Sometimes he'd unstick his arm from his face and squint out into the darkening room. He kept saying that he was going to leave, that there was “nothing but hurt tonight” but as he didn't have his own phone he was bound there eagerly waiting that news arrived from another source. Jo wasn't ill but would be by morning and didn't fancy being sick and alone and out of the loop on anyone who came thru with a score. In the dark pit of his arm it was humid and sweaty and he could see things, worlds and planets and solar explosions. Sometimes he saw comets too, and the craters on the moon, and sometimes he saw a city, his city, a hellish vision of Lisbon overrun with outside shooting galleries and feral looking junkies and discarded syringes leaking thick contaminated blood. He had died in Lisbon and would be buried in London. But London didn't interest him, not the London he had come to discover anyhow, and so his thoughts wandered through his home city, sometimes a fantastic version and sometimes the real thing – the warm continental nights, the street lights and bars and the mauve summer sky, close, humid evenings as he scored smack around the central station and rushed off to shoot up in the echoey underpass that smelled of piss and wine and the sea. Lisbon. He breathed in and tried to taste his home. Oh, to be back there now it'd be easy. He listened to the noises of the addicts already sick in the room and despised them for it, for showing him so brutally his fate. Or maybe he needed to despise them? Apart from the phone Jo had one other huge problem: he was penniless. No-one knew that of course, except maybe the dog who was staring at Jo suspiciously after seeing him stir and settle back down and who for no real reason wanted to bark. The world of junk is deeply calculating . As Jo lay there with his eyes covered, the heat spread across his forehead and his body moist, he again went through what he'd do and how he imagined it'd unfold. In his internal world, fuzzy empty visions in the depth of the black of his arm, he now saw himself cursing and swearing with the dealer in the apartment. All the sick addicts were uncrumpling their money and buying up what they could, biting open bags, cooking up fixes and taking out syringes. Jo saw himself in a panic in the middle of the room, patting down his pockets and searching under the cushions on the sofa, fucking and tutting and throwing his arms up in defeat and saying he'd left his wallet at home. He'd not ask anyone for cash but would instead play for honesty, asking the dealer if he could hang on at the flat for 15 minutes while he ran home and got his wallet. Of course he knew the dealer would never agree, at least he hoped not, and so from that point on he would be waiting on one of the other addicts to offer to stand him his score. Under normal conditions it would never work, but in this drought, where the dealers stock would be bought up almost immediately, where in 15 minutes the dealers phone would be turned off again, Jo had calculated that the camaraderie and empathy between addicts would be that much more solid and figured that there would be someone who would be uncharacteristically generous and offer him their trust. Illness touches the heart, he thought. Not even I would let someone else stay sick if I could help it. In the worst case Jo envisioned himself being given small pickings from each addict and getting his well-being that way. But for the moment it was all games in the mind and imagination, and for the moment Jo lay there feeling not too bad but better than the others. In the dark he huffed and blew, lit a cigarette and said, I'm gonna leave soon, there's nothing but hurt for us tonight.

George lay mentally bound to his bed, flat out and terrified, in just a pair of summer shorts. He was suffering just as bad as anyone but could not express his illness other than through absolute fear. Unlike the addicts in the front room he thought the sudden violence of the turbulence inside of him was a succubus, an evil spirit that had been tormenting his existence for years and had now finally induced itself within him, within the apartment. On his back, supine on the bed, George lay frozen in a physical and sensorial hell, seeing the world inside his head, hearing voices and frequencies and cringing up at strange alien rain, long thin invisible shards of light, coming down from a fiery sky, piercing him and pinning him down. It was Armageddon, the battle he'd been warned of for so long and which had left him picking holes in the plaster of the wall besides his bed in an effort to unveil the intruders of his mind.

George looked down lengthwise at his body on the bed. He saw himself not from a first-person perspective but in third-person, which is to say, not through his eyes but from a detached position somewhere over him. He was quite literally out his mind. George watched horrified as the succubus snaked and angled about beneath his skin, wormed its way into his muscles and around his joints before settling itself into every cell and atom of his body. At times George would double up with cramp and his legs would violently kick out straight, locking and straining the muscles behind and around his knees. At other times he'd suddenly tense and grip into hideous poses, resembling the contorted forms of the charcoaled corpses of Nagasaki or Hiroshima or Pompeii. At intervals, during the long sick evening, George would struggle to his feet and inch his way painfully down the corridor. In just his shorts he'd stand in the doorway of the main room, his shoulders dropped and rounded, his frail light brown legs bowed, his mouth hung open in the same cavernous shape, a world of dread and conspiracy and paranoia arched into him, looking at the suffering addicts lain out in the room. To George he was staring into a squalid dungeon in Hades, watching the condemned after the weighing of souls, the psychostasia. George would stand there like that, frozen in terror, the junk sickness seeping out of him. Then, without saying anything, he would emit an animalistic sound, a noise which seemed to originate from his entire being, a sound somewhere between a reverberation of fear and pain and that of a mother animal who has lost her young and is calling and grieving at the same time. After a moment the tortured figure of George would turn and slowly make its way back down the hall, a nausea in his stomach and bowels, having visions of snakes and spawn and blood, all tangled together and writhing about inside of him. He'd lay back on his bed, petrified in his own being, sweating and in agony, turning ice cold then raging hot, his shorts pushed down, cock erect, masturbating, muttering, crying. Terrified, George lay there like that, his pupils like saucers, waiting for the dawn and a day of clouds and blackness and the great armies of destruction to arrive. And that is what junk illness was like to George, the balding, schizophrenic, light-skinned Jamaican who wasn't aware that he was even dope sick at all.

For Three days and three nights the flat remained in a death of sickness and despair. Each junkie lay cocooned in his own dark and humid space, suffering not only the most grotesque physical trauma but an existential sickness too, a place where ones own Being is out-of-kilter with the world it should thrive in. It was by no sheer coincidence, as it is already said, that it was the dog who first sensed the changing tide. On the fourth day, just before noon, its ears pricked up and it looked inquisitively at something on the floor. It listened intently then cocked its head to the left and listened some more. And it was not mistaken; and it didn't know why: it just did. It sprang up, its mouth clamped tight shut, whimpering with excitement and turning circles around the floor as a phone lit up and rang out jubilantly. David scrambled for the phone, answered, but in his haste fumbled it like a bar of soap. The phone popped out his hand and went skidding across the floor. For just a moment the world stopped again. Grace held the dog by the collar, her bony pale arm trembling. The dog whimpered even harder still.

You got? You got? shouted David, the phone still on the floor, him reaching across to pick it up.

Yeah Bro, yeah... I got.. … I got

Everyone heard the reply and the room of heroin junkies started stirring and sitting up, their eyes open to the last dregs of their sickness. Grace let go off the dog, brought up something from her lungs and gobbed it out over the arm of the sofa.

George, she screamed, get in here with ya spoon.

From the room adjacent there came groaning and the sound of someone rising and rummaging around for something. A moment later George appeared and stood in the doorway holding his spoon out in front of him. He was dripping sweat and his arms and legs and face were picked to open sores.

Get over here, said Grace, it's over now. George entered the room and sat besides Grace. He looked awkward, rigid and held in, like he didn't want to touch anyone either side. His head was slightly lowered and his eyes stared straight ahead. He was trembling and muttering away furiously, gibberish, like some incantation to keep evil at bay.

He's here, said David letting the corner of the blanket fall back across the window. And for a moment the room descended into hazy darkness, though not for long, just until the dealer was in the room and then the lights in hell came on.

- - -



Anonymous said...

I always look forward to getting an email of your new posts and this didn't disappoint - brilliant, as always! H x

JoeM said...

The pain was torture. Nothing like the flu at all.

I remember reading a thing by Julie Burchill/Tony Parsons in the NME decades ago saying that Heroin withdrawal was no worse than a bad flu and that addicts were just weak, whiny self-pitiers – and that's why they became addicts in the first place (typical Julie B milk of human kindness). Is that why you said that – because others compare H withdrawal in the same way?

The same (alcoholic coke fiend) Julie B also wrote about the horrors of coke withdrawal.

she needed the money his incapacity benefit brought in more than she didn't need him

Oh the plight of the dog took away all my sympathies for the junkies. They couldn't even turn a tap on? I remember really hating Tony O'Neill after reading that he let his cat die of starvation and dehydration – just because he couldn't be bothered to open the door and let it out.

The whole drugs thing makes you wonder about humanity – the fact that The Collective will become New People instantly purely down to the imbibement of some chemicals.

Forget religion, love, learning, philosophy – all human experience, growth, morality, achievement is trumped by a hit of the drug of choice. And that applies to everybody, not just junkies.

Anonymous said...

Hey JoeM,
I am a junky but I feel exactly the same way in regards to being mortified that they couldnt give water to the dog (and I read about Tony's Hemingway too and cursed it!) I just don't get that!

JoeM said...

Thanks Anon!

So rare to get feed back here except from the author.

Tony's Hemingway?

I don't know what that means.

To do with Ernest? (earnest Ernest to Wildly and ungrammatically throw this open...)

Anonymous said...

Joe, Hemingway is the cat they had that starved to death (In Down and Out in Murder Mile).

I got a cat to force myself to keep my head above water (and companionship) cos I knew that whilst I could let lots of bad things happen to myself I'd fight to the death for another creature. It is horrible when people neglect something that is dependent on them but at the same time I'm not sure I can judge them cos I reckon I had better odds not better morals.


Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey Joe, as always (and forever) you get to jump the queue.

I think you must take Tony's (or anyone's) writing with a pinch of salt. He freely admits it's so-much percent fiction and knowing him, and how kind he's been to me and the love he has for his family, i'm not too sure the cat story is what it is in the book. For that to happen you have to be not only on junk but also mentally ill. I've been around some of the dirtiest addicts ever and i've never met anyone capable of that.. certainly not when they've got drugs!!! And I say about being mentally ill for good reason, as I've an unfinished cat story myself (even more hideous than Tony's offering) and the culprit was a man called Pete who was not only on drugs but mentally ill and had just lost his mind in his flat. I won't give the story away here... you'll have to be patient for that.

Yes, the line about the 'flu' was intentional.Everyone describes ity as that, and i have myself, but it's kinda lazy and doesn't really give any idea of what junk sickness is like. Yes, there are flu-like symptoms, but the difference is taht even with severe flu you can lay it out, stay in bed and sleep and sick it away. You feel terrible but it's very different as you can find comfort in the flu and sleep and watch TV, etc. With junk illness you are not only physically sick but existentially sick too. That's to say that your body is out of sorts with the world: your existence is sick and is in agony, and there is not one second where you can escape it. Not only do you have severe flu-like symptoms but every cell in your body is affected. It's not a virus either and so it's not your immune system or your lungs or chest under attack but your entire workings. What is happening is that heroin slows down your metabolism, and when you've not got heroin your metabolism goes bacjk to normal and is too fast for your body. Everything malfunctions and pains and aches: your body is sick within itself. Seriously, if anyone fell ill with exactly the same symptoms and feelings as junk illness (but it wasn't junk illness) they'd not only be immediately hospitalized but would be in intensive care.... and that is no exaggeration. It's why, I think, addicts are so obsessed with describing and talking about sickness, because in fact it is so close to death that it is an experience to feel it and come out the otherside. It's like having been in a terrible war, or having lived a near fatal incident and then having an urge to express that experience to people.

Oh, I used to really like some of Julie Burchill's stuff. Though I was young at the time and trying to impress my Marxist wife!I impressed her alright... she fled after just two days!

I think that all this cheating and stealing through drug addiction is pretty normal and logical. People say that it's the drugs corrupting people, but that's not true. It's just that people are in very desperate situations (gonna suffer from teh illness above if they don't get a score by the evening). With that in mind it's kinda only normal that people in that position will steal and cheat ad rob. Lets imagine another scenario, where oxygen is a commodity you have to buy. People who are running out of oxygen due to lack of money will do exactly the same. It becomes necessary. But it's not the oxygen corrupting people but just their natural instincts and behaviour when desperate. It just happens that most people are never that desperate for anything and so have no reason to resort to such behaviour. Honestly, I'd be very suspicious of anyone who was ever in such a position (dying) and still would not slip a score out my wallet. It's a person not only with no drive or heart or soul but also someone of fake honesty, and i wouldn't want anyone that indifferent to life as a friend. X

JoeM said...

Joe, Hemingway is the cat they had that starved to death (In Down and Out in Murder Mile).



We Love You

JoeM said...

Thanks K and Shane.

Julie Burchill was the greatest writer at the NME in the 70s 80s but she's now a tabloid shadow of her former self.

Eyelick said...

Being in a larger group when you have no idea when it's going to end (although staying together because more resources seems less dismal than just having to rely on your own) sounds a whole lot different than being a couple, or a group of a few people, when you have some idea when it's going to end - like money sometime today or tomorrow, and so are more vocal about complaints and can make bitter jokes about double suicides, or if you know exactly when it's going to end - say a certain time 10 hours later, in the morning - so everyone shuts themselves in different rooms so they don't have to think about how much they despise one another right now... Ha despite never being in your exact situation, it brought up some memories.

You described the physical plus mental and emotional all-encompassing sickness very well, "nothing like the flu" delighted me - seeing "flu like symptoms" or "like the flu" makes me burst into laughter or want to punch the writer upon seeing it. Or both.

Forgive me for my stupidity, but why wasn't George aware of exactly what was wrong with him? Had he never gone without before?

Reading this inspired me... But in what way? Hm :)

Having read through some of your earlier writings lately, it got me thinking. Perhaps you'll get your months overdue return email soon!

Shane Levene said...

Hey Eyelick...

George is a complicated case. I have a post in the works on the relationship between Grace and George, as it is a bizarre and tragic affair.

Yes, George had been sick before.... he was often sick as they both had a dual crack and smack habit and were living off social security. But George was schizophrenic and had other problems beside. He could no longer understand that the illness was drug related... he was too far gone./ He coiuld no longer speak, just sat there shaking with a crackpipe held out all day. Heroin put him to sleep, and he didn't take it himself anymore but had it administered by Grace. She gained because though it was less heroin for her, at least when smacked up George was calm (well, calmer). But if Grace didn't call him and give him his dope he wouldn't come out asking for it. He no longer understood he needed it physically. He believed the sickness was other forces, that he was being attacked by the spirits in his head. It's a sad history, and it got even sadder. X

karl said...

Geat piece of writing Shane.

Anonymous said...

George is a tragic case (although sometimes I do envy people like that), he weirdly reminds me of when I was facing a pregnancy on opiates, a baby wouldn't know why they're in such pain if they were born in withdrawal (and that's hit and miss btw. I was told that sometimes a mother on less opiates is more likely to produce a child in that dependency than one that was on more, it's luck of the draw on that score. Some babies born to female addicts have few or no symptoms and some have major ones but that's another story but what a bloody burden to carry as well as everything else. And btw, to people who don't know this, h addicted mothers aren't allowed to quit cos withdrawal causes the placenta to separate resulting in miscarriage so don't be so harsh on them as this is the one time the reason for quitting is stronger than ever and then they're told it's the last thing they should be attempting.

Shane, I loved the piece and I could see myself in all the people you described but to be a kind of shrink/devils advocate, one question keeps nagging me, and that's what were you thinking/feeling during this ordeal? Did observing and deliberating about others around you help to distract yourself from your own hell or make you feel less alone in it?
x Calamity K
PS. Joe, you're the (big) man x

JoeM said...


It is horrible when people neglect something that is dependent on them but at the same time I'm not sure I can judge them cos I reckon I had better odds not better morals.

Brilliant line – very Shaney!

Happy upcoming birthday.

Shane I'm glad you say Tony was probably fictionalizing and others say H addicts don't necessarily do that. Can't bear cruelty to animals.


Anonymous said...

Hey Joe,

Having lived in many different countries, I have to say that cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans usually go hand in hand. If you find yourself in a place where one is dispensable then usually it means the other is to. That's another reason I wouldn't judge. I'm not saying it's right more that it's just how it is and people survive the best way they know how in those circumstances, and I'm not just talking drugs here, it could be social or political, any extreme existence. That's why some drug stories speak to everyone; extreme situations force the human experience to be condensed and more intense versions of their more stable/normal counterparts.

As far as very 'Shaney', I'll let the man speak for himself just as I can only speak for myself but I am deeply flattered you said that.

Right, I'm off tae ma scratch noooouuuu! Parents visiting first thing. gn all xoxox CalamityK

Anonymous said...

Calamity K - your adorable!!

Anonymous said...


My adorable what??
Grammar aside, people who meet me wouldn't agree with you. I can be a giant pain in the arse. But I have 2 very good reasons:
1. I'm an overgrown child. I never got to be a kid the first time so I'm making up for it now
2. It's never with intent.

Adorable? Nah, 'Wee Diddy' is more familiar and honest x CK

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey Kelly....
what were you thinking/feeling through the ordeal?
In a way that question takes us behind the text and why it is how it is. I purposely didn't put myself in the text as I want people to get used to my writing without myself in it. I need that freedom. And I know that may at first not be what people are expecting, but I believe (and i've tried putting it onto practice with all new work I put up) that each new text, if it's to transcend the subject, should always feel a littlr disappointing in the first instance. It means I'm not being repetitive and each post occupies its own place regardless.
Also, don't lose sight that this text is very contrived. Yes, there were all these junkies in Grace's; yes, the little stories from their lives are true (or told to me by them), but whether they were preoccupied with those exact stories during their illness, who knows??? I don't. But it's not important at all. All that is important is the way of conveying the type of bleak thoughts and atmosphere which cones about during a certain stage of junk illness. It was also a ploy used to get their individual histories into the text, because it's always better to get such stuff across in an interesting way while progressing with the story rather than stopping your text dead to describe someone.
As to what I was thinking during that evening, well, mine was always the same: I'd be in a bar in Putney, a late autumn evening, waiting for my wife. On the juke box plays Bob Marleys Redemption Song. It is my last sober memory before falling completly into heroin addiction.
But in life, at the time, it was a very warm loving evening... Not melancholic at all. Even in memory now it is a beautiful memory. But under dope sickness it became a hollow and ghostly memory... Something fated about it. It haunted my mind and brought me to my knees emotionally. I guess it is the point of having everything you want in the last moment before you lose it, and that is what turned it upside down and made it terribly sad. So my mind always returned/returns to that evening. XXX .

Jess said...

Thank-you. For your wonderful writing. For the agony so visceral in its unrelenting ache and the diffusive pressure of the simultaneous emptiness of it all.

Being that H wasn't my drug and if ever in this state, I would simply pray for sleep and sleep alone, what happens after the dealer arrives?

Is it enough of a salve to just get the hinges swinging or does it become a cool smoothness of utter memory loss of the pain before. Does it haunt you while you're high again? Is it something you only are punished with once the party is "over"?

Or do you glide in bliss and this blissful state, fill the crevices from that experience alongside the other experiences with feelings and thoughts that seem permanent enough to change it all?

There's a lot of conscious guilt during the highs I've experienced, so I wonder how much is erased with heroin, since this "junk" sickness if permanent, seems more than enough to push one to suicide?

Unknown said...

I was just feeling sorry for myself and doing my last half a balloon, pissed that I didn't leave more for this evening because I know I can't score for another two hours. And then I saw this in my inbox. And I remembered I haven't gone longer that 6 hours without junk in a long time. This is child's play. Oh God, I know that feeling so, so well. I pray I never have to experience it again. Yet, I know that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Oh course the day will come when reality comes crashing down. If only I can cut back enough to make next time just a little less painful. But I've been saying that for 18 years and it only seems to get more painful. I'm very familiar with the sound of absolute suffering itself. “Aaaaaaaahhhh” usually comes while I'm on toilet, or rather trying to make my way there.
Alright, I'm going to stop depressing my self, be relived that I have only an hour to go and that some people have it much much worse than me (sometimes).

I know you write all the time, as do I (it's my profession, as I'm assuming it's yours?). I need to start reading more. I'd like to know more of your story.

Peace Love & Rock n Roll

claireangelique said...

Hello there Shane, nicely written, always thoughts from this side of the indian ocean, checkin out, fixing off, auditing in

Anonymous said...

Hello Shane, devoted reader but have been too lazy to express my appreciation of your writing and your efforts to make it available to read. I am always so happy to see a new post in my e-mail.

Anyway, former prostitute, failed lawyer, fired librarian here. So what do I do? Well I work in a nursing home "aiding" nurses and changes the diapers of societies rejects and forgotten. In the Uk I'd be called a "carrer," though god what a misnomer this is in most cases! People who have devastated their bodies and brains in unimaginable ways, either through their own endeavors or just plain shitty luck. Anyway, I understand what you said about seeing the dancing man piss himself and experiencing a "volcano of sadness bubbling" inside of you. There is something about seeing people shit and piss themselves that makes me go "god, time to get off the train, it's all pretty fucking hopeless now friend!" I change mountains of diapers, gallons of urine, piles of shit fill my trash bags at work. Sometimes it's hard to even feel humane. I feed them and hold their tippy-cups to their mouths and then, predictably, out it comes from the other end. In and out. Day in and day out. If I prayed, which I don't exactly, I would pray that we all avoid becoming nothing more than human shit/piss producers.

Blogosławiona Blahggierka said...

Comment, vol.1

Hello Shane,
it took so long since we have talked to each other last time, that considering the huge number of your "fans" and "followers", I truly doubt if you still remember me...
Maybe my disabled language will help you to recognize/identify me again...

I have to confess that for some vague reason I gave up/stopped following your work for a couple of time...however, today I started to rummage some old computer' stuff, wondering about how to update and "wipe up"/"pimp up" my own blog, so I could reach out to more people---this way I ran into your work again...

Well,I'm kinda inquisitive and quite sceptic person by nature, therefore it's not easy to impress me and "provide me with delight by one's work", so to say. Reading your tales, sometimes it happened to me think like "hell, this guy seems to be really gifted, but I already have seen better pieces he has created before. He's definitely able to afford himself for something more bright"...
However, let you know, today I experienced some REAL TREAT/feast from you, as far I'm at all entitled to judge without having my English language' ability "completed", so to say. In my modest opinion, "Junk Sick Collective" is definitely the best of your pieces I ever have had opportunity and pleasure to read. I read it with the bated breathe and really enjoyed it. The deepest insight into the nature of really severe w/d symptoms/cravings/"cold turkey" and the way it manifests itself in the case of any single human beeing (so different/various and so common at the same time, as if users had developed kinda collective conscioussness) resonates so well with the manner of writting.
I think the strong point of your style is the fact you're not "intrusive" in what you're tryin' to convey, I mean you don't "force"/"impose" emotions/feelings that should be "released" in contact with your prose, but kinda "induce" them, being still tactful and kind, building the ambience rather by painting objective pictures of what happens than anything else.

Sure, I have catched you using/refering to some old cheap tricks&thrills like dazzle the reader with suffering-it quite obvious to me that you're tending to find some strange pleasure and perverted delight in playing with pain-you relish it, try to deconstruct it, assign some additional/extra value to the pain (the dope sickness in particular, I guess) as if it embobied/as if it were kinda "reservoir" of all existential pain that occurs...
And there's a difficult question to me to ask, and to answer, would namely be The Drought nothing but just a pretext, such a favorable circumstance what "lures" an ancient, eternal, human' anguish out of its hiding, making it intensified, kinda "emissary" of all sufferings that whenever existed, exist and will be existing, torment in its sheer form???
Even if it might sound a little bit oddly, it does make some absolutely perfect sense to me, it's even "ontologically correct".
If the dope sickness is born at the point where the supplies of PAINKILLER gets ran out/exhausted, therefore must be the dope sickness the purest essence of PAIN ever. The LACK of the substance what deals with PAIN so ruthlessly and to what are our bodies adopted and addicted, predisposes it to be the GHOST of PAIN...
The DOPE SICKNESS is the most precisely ever recording/translation of the logic of PAIN... if you know what I mean...the most accurate,faithfully and nearly mathematically "septic" pattern of PAIN...
If there would be whenever THE FORMULA of PAIN needed/required/searched, in order to reflect/convey the nature of PAIN in the most accurate way, THE DOPE SICKNESS would be probably the appropriate pattern...

Blogosławiona Blahggierka said...

Comment, vol.2


Going "cold turkey" is like to solve the equation of PAIN. It's what Burroughs called "ALGEBRA OF NEED", as I believe, the PAIN in its purest, nearly abstract version...
Not any additional value, just a LACK of something, exactly the same way as they consider HELL to be nothing but just the advancing PAUCITY/SHORTAGE of GOD, whatever does "God" mean.

So well, instead of continue this catchy, quasi onto-logical "rambling"/disserations let me focus on the manner you deal with the subject. I find you being so meticulously in the way you treat it, as attentive, leisurely, unhurried, gentle, insightful and sensitive as it only possible...
The way you "handle" with the Pain (what is the real "maincharacter" of your tale) reminds me nothing else but the sexual foreplay, and, my dear Friend, I can't help anything against the way I'm perceiving it...
As I already mentioned, you act as if it (struggle with the subject of suffering) provide you with some strange pleasure, but, hell, who of us, users, doesn't know that ambigous feeling?
Don't we (at least those of us, who are tend to indulge themselves and relish the perverted delights) cherish the memories of the past pain immediately after the door gets closed behind the dealer and the wave of relief "rinses" whole the dirt/filth of sickness far away from our bodies and minds?

Involving The Dog into your story is in my opinion a thoughtful, professional literary treatment and proves your maturity as a writter.
The Dog "dots the 'i'", so to say.
While the Pain the human characters suffering might be as well just an extension of your collection of rare-ish and unusuall themes, I mean something what dazzle/exite instead of hurt, The Dog triggers some REAL compassion, if you get me.

Without The Dog' theme involved, would be your tale just another one junkies' mental dildo.
Providing The Dog with a decent treat would turn your writting into kinda "Junky's Christmas" tale like, hearting story, full of faith in the power of The Light Side.
But only The Dog negleckted' presence locates your work BEYOND something what is just ACHINGLY BEAUTIFUL/maudlin and turns it into some serious, mature piece of art.

Well, that's what I think.

Maybe you'll be interrested if I tell you, that I'm leaving to LONDON next week. I spent there a couple of a time in early summer this year, but it definitely was not enough to "deconstruct" the ambience of the place...it's like peeling out the next layers, which seem to be countless...

Hope you are doing well
Your truly

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