A Need(le) to Live

By Steven Connors

My ‘98 Saturn glided like a phantom through the neighborhood of identical, white townhouses. Jamie, a good friend of mine, had recently moved into the neighborhood with his family so I often made appearances. Jamie had a problem. Actually, he had many problems. But, there was one that consumed him during our final year of high school and he chose to leave school for good.

“Which one is it?” Steven asked, curiously, while he peered out my dreary, passenger’s side window at the row of houses.

“This one,” I said, as I pulled up to the curb beyond Jamie’s driveway and parked.

Steven hadn’t seen Jamie since he left school during the first semester. They were only acquaintances, anyway, not really close friends. Since I was close to both of them, it would be an interesting visit. I was excited for Steven to see Jamie, in a slightly twisted way. Jamie had changed drastically. It was a lot like show and tell to me, really.

“He knows we’re coming right?”

“Yeah, I already talked to him. It’s straight.”

“Alright,” Steven said, as he reached for the door handle and pulled it, exiting the car into the fresh, spring atmosphere. I followed him to the steps of Jamie’s front porch; then we switched places and I began to lead. It was 11:00. I knocked on the front door without hesitation. At any other house, I might have been weary of angry parents behind the door, but Jamie’s were completely permissive. He had submitted them. Even still, I was always as polite as I could be to them both.

“Hi, boys,” said Jamie’s mom, as she opened the large door which seemed to be twice her height. “Jamie’s upstairs, in his room,” she said, and began to walk away before we could even greet her back.

“Thanks,” we said, simultaneously, to no audience but ourselves. We wasted no time running up the stairs, which were right inside the front door. Jamie’s bedroom door was closed. Steven looked at me with an uncertain look—the same look he gives me every time he’s apprehensive about something—so I opened the door.

“Yo, what’s up?” I asked Jamie, as he got up from his bed to give Steven and I daps. His palms were drenched with sweat, like always.

“Nothin’, just been chillin’, you know,” he answered me, then quickly turned his attention to Steven. “Damn, Steve; I haven’t seen you in a fucking minute, kid.”

“I know; it’s been a while, man. How have you been?”

“Shitty. You know how it is,” Jamie replied half-jokingly, as he sat back down on his bed. I sat in the armchair across from his bed and Steven sat next to Jamie. Steven laughed, half-heartedly. He looked really uncomfortable. They both did. Sure enough, however, Jamie had his own remedy close by.

© Petergau | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
© Petergau | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
The same remedy that had him slumped over, lethargically, as he sat like a hunchback; the same remedy that drowned the pupils of his bright blue eyes like ships sinking in the ocean; the same remedy that consumed my friend whole and vomited him up slimy, tattered and torn.

We sat and talked for a few minutes before Jamie made a subtle move to his closet. He climbed through the mountain of stuff and retrieved a black, rectangular kit that was enclosed by a zipper. He sat back down next to Steven, casually. Jamie had a problem, but he didn’t have a secret. Steven knew that night what he might see. Everyone knew about Jamie.

“Steve, you can’t tell anyone about this, man,” Jamie said, nonchalantly, as he unzipped his kit, revealing a number of items: three or four syringes, a grime-encrusted spoon, small baggies, and a lighter, among other things.

“I won’t, dude. I got you,” Steve assured him, somewhat convincingly.

“I’m serious, man; I don’t want people thinking I’m a fiend and shit. I don’t even do this shit that much anymore, just here and there.”

Here and there? Jamie was a prodigal liar.

“He won’t say anything; its fine,” I finally declared, moving things along.

“Alright. Cool. I don’t mean to be a dick; I just don’t want all the faggots back at school talking shit about me behind my back. You know what I mean?”

During the next few minutes, six eyes were on Jamie’s movements. After all, he was performing a delicate and curious task. First, he located his 80mg tablet of OxyContin and broke it in half. He then grabbed his spoon and placed half of the pill in it. Next, he took the water-dropper from his kit, and then he let it quench its thirst from a water-filled cup on his nightstand. Then at Jamie’s careful discretion, a tiny bit of water dripped from its mouth onto the spoon. After that, he lit the lighter under the spoon and melted the pill into remedy-form. This was no doubt Jamie’s second favorite thing to do: prepare. Nothing else existed while Jamie held the spoon still and sucked up a little puddle of opiates with his needle. In subsequence, he threw the spoon back into the black kit and clamped the syringe in his teeth like a cat does her precious kittens. With freed hands, he took off his belt and tightly fastened it around his left upper-bicep. His left hand groped at the air then clenched into a fist.

For a brief moment, Jamie surveyed his arms. I looked at them, too. They were riddled with track marks and as thin as the needle with which he was about to fuck his arm. Jamie’s attention was perfect. He held the syringe tightly, but with profound delicacy. His life-force was inside, after all, and soon it would be back inside of him, after a quick, liquid transaction. Slowly, he slipped the needle through his skin and into a jittering vein. The metal must have felt so cold inside the warm, pulsing vein, I thought. Once the remedy entered his bloodstream, I could see the weight lift off of his shoulders. A half-smile crept across his countenance. I could see Steven watch on in confusion, or perhaps curiosity—probably both. Perhaps Steven, like me, felt disgust when Jamie withdrew the needle from his arm and sprayed the backwashed concoction of his own blood and leftover OxyContin into his mouth, under his tongue. I think we were all feeling mixed emotions. Each of our skulls had a different brew of feelings, melting together like the shit in Jamie’s spoon. Jamie’s needle, his anathema, was simultaneously his best friend. It was a double agent that had him wrapped around its handle. He fucking loved it. I’m sure that he fucking hated it, too. I hated it.

“Man, I can’t keep doin’ this shit,” Jamie admitted. “This will probably be the last time for a while,” he lied. It wasn’t a bad lie, though. I mean, it wasn’t us that he was lying to. He was high as fuck. Every time he got high and said he would stop, I believed him less. I knew that he would be singing a completely different tune if he was sober.

“Why don’t you just stop, then?” I asked, challenging him.

“It’s not that easy.”

“You can do it, man,” Steven added, positively, yet ignorantly.

We ignored his input.

“At least try to boot that shit less,” I said, “go back to blowing it or some shit.”

“I don’t know, man; it’s fucked up. It’s like I’m addicted to the needle now. I mean, it doesn’t matter what kind of shit I’m using—Oxys, dope, whatever—I just want to shoot up. It’s part of the high for me, now.”

“That is fucked up.”

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