The Teacher Of Pity

I was slouched in the passenger seat, staring out the window, letting the freeway lights parse my wretched existence into flashes of memory. In the distance were the lights of the Coronado bridge, indifferent to my saga like the eyes of a distant lover. The window was cracked open and air was screaming into the car; the sound was all-consuming. I desperately needed fresh air. I needed anything I could get at that point to keep from falling into a disabling withdrawal. The breeze across my forehead gave just enough relief to keep me semi-lucid.

Veronica was driving us down the I-5 south. It was ten in the evening on a Sunday night, and the San Diego freeway was empty. We hadn’t said a word to each other since getting in the car. All I could hear was the sound of rushing air. I was curled in a ball with my arms wrapped around my stomach and facing as far away from her as I could manage. I didn’t know which was worse: withdrawal or pent-up acrimony.

We had been out of meth for three days, and I was well into the sickness. My habit took me upwards of two grams per day, so dropping off the edge was a long fall, indeed. Veronica didn’t use as heavily, so she was better able to manage, but I suspected she had been hiding a reserve stash.

The situation was beyond toxic. Veronica tried to end our relationship a month earlier, but I wouldn’t leave. I lived at her house and wouldn’t accept the truth. The tension, paranoia, and hatred were heavy in the air, but that night, we came together, united by our one dismal cause.

I had done those trips before, but never with her. Usually, when my supply was getting low, and I knew Donny Stone couldn’t score, I would drive down to Tijuana alone and roll the dice. Sometimes, I would get ripped off, and sometimes, I would end up scoring some decent shit. Through my previous attempts, I’d managed to find a source who came as close to trustworthy as was realistically possible in the Tijuana drug racket. I had called Jose earlier that day and told him I was coming down.

I had never been out of dope that long since first indulging two years prior. I kept waiting for Donny to come through, but each day was another case of meth story fiasco: this person got arrested and that person went to sleep for the first time in weeks. I eventually found myself in bed, weak and nauseous, as the days became longer and felt more cruel. On the third smokeless day, I finally realized I was on my own, so I asked Veronica to drive me to the border.

When I told her I had done this before, she was surprised. I hadn’t mentioned the capers I’d gotten up to, and botched, in search of dope when Donny Stone was out of pocket. All Veronica knew was the nice man we affectionately came to call Uncle Don, the guy who drove down from Big Bear every few weeks and made a normal event out of his drug deliveries, like family visiting from out of town. I never told her what happened when Don wasn’t able to plug, and she never bothered to ask how it came to be that we always had a steady supply of meth.

I had scoured the greater San Diego area, going from one junkie referral to the next, ending up in decrepit, run-down houses, abandoned, full of squatters, or passed down from generation to generation of degenerates, reeking of piss and full of wide, contentious, predatory eyes looking for someone to rob, all in pursuit of the next fix. I think the only thing that kept me from being hijacked on those expeditions––from Escondido, to San Bernardino, to the back alleys of Tijuana––was my intimidating size. Time and time again, I saw the look of a tweaker sizing me up and reconsidering his method of swindle. In the end, my downfall was always trust. Separate me from my money in the guise of friendship––a tweaker could tell me he needed to go to the dealer’s house and that dealer didn’t trust anyone else coming along––I was desperate enough to believe the story and give him my money. Then, I would wait at a gas station for hours. Anticipation and hope followed by suspicion, panic, anger, defeat, and finally shame; time and time again, I wallowed in demoralizing shame as I realized I was a slave to crystal methamphetamine, and I had been cheated once again.

It was an odd way to bond, but the withdrawal brought Veronica and me closer together than we had been in months. Despise me as she did for not letting her have her house back, her life back, there was still a sense of compassion in her, and seeing me sick pulled heavy on her heart. She brought me water that day and cared for me while I lay ill in bed. That act alone held more compassion than any other kind deed had during our good times.

I waited for night to make the trip because I was more comfortable in the dark. Walking the crowded streets of Tijuana, on a sun-filled day, while dope-sick, was awful. The sun is not a sick junkie’s friend. But as the moon rises, so does the level of danger. The streets of Tijuana at night were like a mining town of the gold rush era: loosely lawful and prone to violence. Every form of vice was available to satisfy the degenerate palate.

My weary eyes were fixed on the passing scenery. On the high banks of the highways edge, fence lines indicated a steadily decreasing property value. Finally, we reached our exit.

Camino de la Plaza


We passed the outlet shops and a few parking lots as Veronica pulled into the passenger-loading loop at the very end of Camino de la Plaza. Already there was a different level of action, and I hadn’t even crossed the border. There’s a compelling correlation seen around the world, i.e., as wealth increases, so does isolation. Rich neighborhoods are desolate and quiet. Conversely, the rougher the neighborhood, the more people tend to socialize, loiter, mingle, or just emanate a sense of unity that only the poor seem to grasp.

Through the commotion, I spotted the jackals strategically positioned among the grazing herd, their leering eyes always betraying predatory intentions. I counted three, but I was sure there were more. One stood with his back against a building, hands in pockets, scanning the crowds. Another was talking to a buddy and smoking a cigarette, but his stare never met his friend’s face; decoys and shifty eyes. The third was next to the metal, one-way revolving gate, the mouth of the beast, the all-consuming inhaler of souls where gringos went to indulge and Mexican nationals came back from 12-hour workdays. All three men honed in on our car as we pulled up.

“Are you going to be okay?” Veronica asked me, feigned sympathy in her tone.

I couldn’t look into her eyes. I looked down at my shoes and felt my eyes begin to swell.

“Please give me another chance.” I whispered with my eyes closed.

“Anto. We’ve talked about this already, and I told you I’d see how things go. You asked me to give you a ride because you were sick. So can we just focus on getting you back here safely tonight?”

I stared at my shoes and absorbed the gravity of her deflection. It was over; all of it. I was just a chicken still dashing around the yard, not accepting the fact that my head had already been lopped off.

“Make sure your cell phone has a signal. I’ll call you when I’m heading back,” I instructed.

“Okay. Be safe.”

I didn’t look at her or say anything in response. I opened the door and struggled to my feet, leaning against the top of the door for balance. My knees were shaking and my legs felt withered and feeble. My stomach was twisted and angry, and my head was loose and hazy; a little like I was drunk, a little like someone punched me clean on the temple.

The air was thick with car exhaust. The border checkpoint on the freeway, visible through the chainlink fence, was loud and imposing. Bright lights beamed from every conceivable angle down onto the bottleneck. I walked slowly toward the revolving gate, needing extra effort to keep my balance, and I saw one of the vultures flick his cigarette and start moving briskly in my direction.

He caught a stride directly next to me but never looked at my face. When he spoke, he did so looking forward and using a muted tone.

“Hello my friend. You need help getting anything tonight?” the man inquired of me.

“No.” I was curt.

“Are you sure? I can get coca, or girls, or maybe just some mota? Whatever you need my friend.”


“Steroidas. Amphetamines. How about a donkey show?”


I adopted a firm but neutral tone, never saying more than I had to at the risk of revealing weakness or giving him a reason to call his buddies over the border and have them mug me with impunity. My cell phone rang just before I reached the gate.

“Anto. Are you okay? You’re walking like you’re drunk. And why is that guy following you?” Veronica sounded nervous.

I swung through the gate and stepped into the neutral corridor between two worlds. The pedestrian border crossing going into Tijuana had the appearance of a prison yard with chain-link fence everywhere, razor-wire lattice, and a 50-yard strip of concrete between two gates that was the path of truth. Poverty has a way of demanding honesty from a city.

“I’ll be fine. Stay on the phone with me,” I assured her.

The vulture didn’t pass through the gate, and I was walking through the show before the show. Makeshift stands sold a few basics like jeans and horchata, and little kids ran up to me tugging at my jeans and yelling

“Chicle! Chicle!”

I put one hand in the pocket with my wallet and kept the other high to my ear, holding my phone, so they couldn’t dig or grab.

“Just stay on the phone with me until I get into the cab,” I said to Veronica.

“Okay. Why? What’s going on?”

“Makes it easier to look like I have somewhere to be instead of just a wandering junkie.”

The truth was that I wanted her to stay on the phone so she could feel the full weight of guilt I was trying to lay on her. I wanted her to know just what I had to go through to keep us supplied with steady crystal. It was all I could think of at that point to keep her from leaving me. I had nowhere to go, and everything I had worked for over the past two years was built into the garage of her house. I couldn’t bear losing it all, so I thought if she knew just how hard I had worked to keep her from going through withdrawal, maybe she would allow me a little more compassion and not boot me out of the last hope I had of achieving something in life.

I exited the high-gated corridor and entered the streets of Tijuana. Lights and sounds, smells and people, everywhere. It was 10:30 on a Sunday night, and there was no shortage of action in TJ. Visually, Tijuana looked like a group of children had over-decorated a place for the holidays. Plenty of colorful lights were everywhere, and the buildings were all painted in a playful mishmash of bright hues. The odors were stubborn in the air and did not pass by easily with a breeze. It smelled of diesel fumes and garbage and fornicating dogs. I walked toward the plaza where I told Jose to pick me up. All the food vendors had retired for the evening, so their kiosks waited in silent moratorium. Empty kitchenettes looked dreary in the shadows, like circus grounds at night.

I kept walking and pulled out a cigarette to hang from my lips. Young women walked by dressed in alluring outfits, as if they were going to a nightclub, but it was standard attire for a single lady out on the town. A man in a cowboy outfit was standing with one foot perched on a step, offering wild Mexican love stories to one of the beautiful young ladies. She smiled and gestured animatedly as she rolled her eyes in that irresistible Latin style, causing the gentleman caller to put a hand on her arm and assure her of his genuine interest.

The streets were dirty and the garbage cans all had reached capacity hours ago. Dogs roamed the streets without reservation. People stood, people walked, people lingered and chatted. People were everywhere. I spotted my taxi waiting in the usual spot, just past the bus stops.

“Okay. I found my taxi. I’ll call you later,” I told Veronica.

I hung up the phone and climbed in the passenger seat.

“Hello my friend. Que pasa?“ Jose asked with a wide smile on his face.

“Not much Jose. Don’t feel good tonight.”

He looked at my face and his smile receded a few degrees.

“No problem my friend. I already called my guy, and he is waiting for us.”

“Thanks, Jose. You mind if I smoke in here?”

“No problem.”

I lit my cigarette, and he started the car. Perception shifted from first person to third as I watched the scene playing outside the car like a movie. We left the hustle of the border plaza and hit the freeway. Two minutes since getting in Jose’s car and already I had lost my bearings. Tijuana freeways were not like American ones. They did not shield you from the face of poverty. The night was dark, but not dark enough. The bleak reality of shantytowns announced itself quickly, and I was left to reflect on what real struggle looked like.

A few minutes later, we pulled off the freeway and drove into a quiet neighborhood. We pulled into a parking spot directly in front of an empty basketball court in a semi-empty park. The park was dark, but the court was brightly illuminated by stadium-style lighting. Around the caged perimeter, there were shadows watching me, the glow of cigarettes revealing their positions. Jose asked for my money and told me to wait in the car.

Surrounding the basketball court were trees with wide overhangs and thin, ghoulish branches that danced in the night’s breeze. The lighting was morbid. For everyone except me, the trees provided cover from the bright lights that beamed from high above. I was left blatantly visible, exposed, while monsters lurked in the shadows.

Jose had walked down the block, and I lost sight of him. A couple strolled by on the sidewalk, hand in hand, and they both stared at the out-of-place gringo sitting alone in the taxi. A man emerged from the shadows, stood for a few moments staring at me, then stepped back into darkness and leaned against the chain-link fence. He watched me and remained still.

I knew I was in danger, but I did not care. What was the point of trying to fight it at this point? Anyway, my thoughts were elsewhere, away from Tijuana and back across the border where Veronica sat waiting for me to return. She was going to leave me, and the thought was boring a hole in my head. Deep anxiety coupled with the pulp of withdrawal left me alone in a car, on a street I did not recognize, far away from home, ruminating as I realized the insanity of my own internal bluster.

A darkness inside me rose, and the monster awakened; something clicked, a gear found teeth, and a long brooding anger saturated my blood. The game I played was a mixture of narcissism and manipulation. I was a child crying for his toy. I was a boy lying to his mother. I was scared and angry, so I turned my focus on the woman who was waiting for me across the border. She wanted to end things, to leave me or, more accurately, have me leave her. She knew the cards she was holding. That garage was all I had left, my last chance at redemption, and I had sacrificed far too much to walk away. And there I sat, in that miserable fucking city, sick and trying to score meth, while she waited across the border safely, probably smoking a little right then, because I knew she kept something for herself, that miserable fucking cunt. I called her, and she answered on the first ring.

“Hey. Are you done?” she wanted to know.

“No. I’m waiting. I don’t know where I am. My guy left me waiting in his car, and I’m in a bad place.”

“Oh my God, Anto, what are you going to do? What can I do? Can you just come back?”

“No. Too far, and I don’t know how to get back. I’m just going to wait and hope these guys don’t rob me.”

“What guys? Oh my God. Are you okay?”

“I’m in front of a park, and there are people watching me from the shadows. They haven’t approached the car yet, but I don’t know how long they’ll leave me alone.”

“Oh, Anto. What do you want me to do?”

“Just stay on the phone with me. I feel better hearing your voice.”

“Okay. I’m here. I’m here.”

I took a few moments’ repose and lit a cigarette as the silence calmed me down.

“I know I fucked up babe. I know I’ve been spending way too much time down in the garage, but I swear I can change. I can fix things, Veronica. Please give me another chance. Please stay with me.”

“Anto, please. Not now. Not like this. We’ve already talked about this, and this is not the time to go over it again. “

“Why would you leave me when I’m almost there? Why would you kick me out when you know I have nowhere else to go? When you know that everything I have I’ve put into that garage?”

“Maybe that’s the problem, Anto. You’re obsessed with that garage, and that’s the thing you’re really scared of losing more than me.”

“But I’ve been working for us. I’m doing all this for us so we can have a nice steady stream of income, so we can finally get some cushion, some time, so we can both get off meth, and get back to what we used to be. Normal people. We just need to make it over this last hill. We can’t give up now. And what about me sitting here in Tijuana? Do you think this is all for me, too?”

“I appreciate you doing this, but I never asked for any of it. I just don’t know, Anto. I never said I made up my mind about anything, but I needed to share with you how I felt.”

“I know what’s coming Veronica. I know you’re going to leave me. You don’t have to play it off like you’re still thinking about anything.”

“Anto, I really don’t want to have this conversation again right now. Can we please talk about it later?”

As my anger faded into acceptance, a great wave of despondency washed over me. I’d lost her, and I knew it. I could hear it in her voice. Begging didn’t work; neither did the guilt trip. What other forms of manipulation could I possibly use? It was teetering there before me, but I would not accept it, the great revelation of failure. Was this how it all came crashing down for me? Was this where it ended?

I was leaning off to the side of the passenger seat, huddled in a ball against the door, holding the silent phone to my ear, with slow tears steeping on my face. The driver’s door opened suddenly, and I flinched with fright.

“Sorry my friend. Nobody has any crystal around here. Only coca. You want coca instead?” Jose asked with eager eyes.

“No, Jose. I need crystal. Can you get it anywhere else?

“Sure. Sure. No problem. We’ll go to my friend’s work.”

“Okay. Let’s go.”

I put the phone back to my ear and told Veronica I would call her back.

“Okay. Be safe, please,” she pleaded with me, and I shook my head as I disconnected the call.

I lashed out at her in my mind: Be safe, please? You want me to be safe while scoring dope in Tijuana? And what the fuck do you care at this point? You’re willing to kick me out at the lowest point of my life, and you want me to be safe in the meantime?

A long-winded argument ensued in my head as Jose drove back onto the freeway. I played back Veronica’s words and thought of different foul responses to use when I saw her again.

Be safe. Be fucking safe. What a joke. What a hollow lie. That miserable fucking . . . I never should have . . .

And on and on it went that way inside the mind of the demented. I was back to anger. Always back to anger. I lived inside my head, running through “what if” and “I should have said this” scenarios. But I was only talking to myself, having conversations with the voices in my head, and the audience was growing restless.

Jose had a mini DVD player set up on the middle console of his cab. He opened it up and pressed play as he drove. The MGM lion gave his dispassionate, surly roar, and I recognized the pipes of Chris Cornell begin the introduction of James Bond, Casino Royale. Mexican bootleg movies––perfect.

A few minutes later, we pulled in front of a large nightclub that looked like a remodeled warehouse. A long line of boisterous and well-dressed youths snaked around the building. Men wore collared shirts unbuttoned far past appropriate, with heavy metal shining from their exposed necks. Every haircut was flawlessly faded and had been retouched that day. And the women––oh my, the women. Dresses clung to Latin curves like Saran Wrap. Every dress was minuscule, and every heel a tower. Black and white were the colors of choice. Dark brown thighs stood at perfect angles  to accentuate fertile childbearing hips. Oversized hoops dangled from earlobes under beautiful, flowing manes of black hair. The lionesses stood close to their mates, stroking, cooing, and primping.

We pulled into a parking spot marked “reserved,” about a hundred feet from the front door, and received a nod from a bouncer holding a clipboard.

“Wait here my friend,” Jose ordered.

As if I had a choice. Jose left me in the cab, and I didn’t bother to watch where he went. Instead, I focused my attention on the movie and tuned Tijuana out. Tuned out, tuned out my life, tuned out the sorrow and the loneliness. Distracted myself from facing the truth. God, I needed more meth so I could tune out everything else, hurry up and finish the room, and save my relationship.

It felt relieving to lie to myself: She’ll come around, I know it, as soon as she sees what I’m able to make in that garage. It’ll be a fucking cash machine, money growing on little trees. Just gotta get one more bag. I’ll make this one last, cut my smoke in half. I’ll start tapering off the shit, and I’ll finish the room, and I’ll make her love me again, and then I’ll get clean and then . . .

Shadows moved in my periphery. Commotion. Shouting. I looked up from the small screen and saw men dressed in combat fatigues, pointing AR-16’s, storming the warehouse. They moved in small groups to different entry points of the building, always in a phalanx assembly. Their heads were covered with black helmets, and they wore large ski goggles across the eyes. The pods moved with symmetry and fluidity as if all part of one organism.

The line of people waiting to get into the club was now a panicked fire drill. All the bouncers were face-down on the concrete with a soldier standing over them and a gun aimed at center mass. Men ran away from the frenzy at full sprint. Women scampered away in small, awkward, stiletto shuffles and held their dresses up at the bust line. One woman fell to the concrete as her heel snapped, and she was trampled by the crowd multiple times before she could get back up. I noticed she was not wearing any undergarments.

After a few minutes, the commotion settled, and it was apparent the soldiers now had control of the structure. A handful of men were lined up against the corrugated metal siding as soldiers patted them down. One suspect turned back and said something to the soldiers, who responded with the butt of an AR-16 square across his jaw. His face hit the wall with a bounce and left a Jackson Pollack in midnight red spattered on the canvas before he hit the ground.

A soldier crept up from my blind-spot, and the first thing I saw was the wandering barrel of an assault rifle. When I turned to look, I saw him standing at my most vulnerable angle, pointing his gun at my face, and shaking his head with cold, calculated dominance, as if to tell me not to move a muscle. I felt my balls immediately tuck and hide, and all I could do was look away and turn my attention back to the little screen on the center console. The soldier slid into the shadows, and I kept my eyes fixed on the movie. I was just a guy watching a flick, hoping they didn’t decide to pull me out of the car. I was so scared that I didn’t dare take my eyes of the screen for the next 15 minutes.

The driver-side door opened abruptly, the cabin light came on, and my intestines nearly spilled everything as my rectum held the dam closed for dear life. Jose plopped in and quickly shut the door.

“You okay my friend?” he asked nonchalantly, as if discussing last night’s dinner.

I turned my gaze to meet his eyes, and he cracked a playful grin when he saw the terror on my face.

“Don’t worry. It’s no problem.”

“What the fuck was that Jose? Did you know that was going to happen?” I asked in a panic.

“No. No. No problem mi amigo. I didn’t know, but I got your shit, so everything is bueno.”

I looked around and saw nothing. Everyone was gone, as if nothing ever happened.

“What the fuck was that Jose?”

“Is no problem. They come for some narcos who party at the club.”

“They looked like soldiers. Holy shit Jose. Was that a raid?”

“They’re like your DEA my friend. But they no send everyone to jail. Maybe narcos pay, maybe narcos no come home again. But is no problem for you.”

Jose handed me a cigarette pack, inside of which was something other than cigarettes wrapped in multiple layers of plastic. He told me not to pull it out, just to put it in my pocket. He gave me a serious look, in case I forgot there was a police raid nearby not more than 15 minutes ago. I did as I was told.

We drove away, and the movie was still playing on the mini screen. On the freeway, I took the bag out of the cigarette pack and hid it in my underwear, tucking it snuggly under my balls. Soon we were back at the border plaza, and Jose let me out close to the pedestrian bridge on the Mexican side.

“Thanks, Jose. I’ll call you and let you know when I’m coming down again.”

“Okay my friend.”

Everything felt better already; Pavlovian anticipation. Now that I had an eight ball hidden in my underwear, the battle was more than halfway won. My brain connected missing links and I felt a pre-rush as serotonin and dopamine receptors blossomed in anticipation of being pollinated.

Even Mexico felt lighter now that I was almost home. My armor receded, and I no longer kept my eyes on constant rotation to scout for predators. Stray dogs became less hostile, and as I walked through a small park, I caught the eye of a rose in bloom. She looked at me with effortless grace, pink and white voluptuous petals flaunting her femininity, standing on a tall, slim stem, and unafraid to show her thick, exposed roots as a declaration of years of dedication to a proud culture. I marveled at the simplicity. How could I have forgotten? How long had it been since I’d seen the world? How long had I been living in the myopic darkness of my own mind?

As I approached the entrance to the walking border checkpoint, a group of children ran up to me and started gesticulating playfully.

“Chicle! Chicle!” They all shouted, dancing at the same time. One little girl, no older than five, didn’t know yet; didn’t know what she was doing, didn’t know the burden of the poor; didn’t know what the gringo in front of her represented. All she knew to do was mimic the older kids, so she jumped up and down and waved her arms, and smiled and laughed, as if it were all just a game.

What a smile! What a beautiful, radiant, innocent smile. The older kids pushed the box into my chest, and some tried to sneak a hand in my pocket. But that one little girl just stayed in the background and danced as though she were on a playground, a true child of God.

To calm the feral pack, I took out my wallet and handed over one American dollar to the alpha. He snatched it out of my hand like a lizard catching flies. I shooed them away, and the leader accepted my gesture as he ran off with the box of gum. His herd followed. The little girl was slow, so before she finally took off, I managed to slip a five into the front pocket of her overalls and pointed her toward the fleeing pack. She trotted off in clumsy little steps, and I watched her with shame. What a shame that she didn’t yet know to pity herself. What a shame that I was there to teach her.

Thankfully, the walking line was short at that hour of night. I called Veronica as I made my way toward the immigration checkpoint and let her know all was well and to wait for me outside the building.

The officer who called me up to his station was about as typical as they come. Fade, high and tight. Mustache, thick and trimmed. Stare, ominous and distrustful. I did my best to play the role I needed to play: Gringo partying in TJ, booze and whores, friends left earlier because they couldn’t find me, and I woke up in a brothel and didn’t know how I got there. You can say a lot with just a look and intention. I handed him my ID and felt my heart palpitating uncomfortably in my chest. My sphincter tightened. I needed to take a shit.

“Purpose of your trip to Mexico?” he asked.

“Fun weekend,” I tried my best to look him in the eye, but quickly retreated, as I was certain my entire life was written on my forehead and equally certain he could read it all.

“How long were you in Mexico?”

“Came over Friday night.”


“No. There was a group of us,” I lied.

“What happened to your buddies?” he pressed.

“Got split up. I think they came back yesterday.”

He stared a hole into my soul, and I stood there wilting. Seconds felt like years, and my entire life was distilled into that one passing judgment.

“All right. Be careful next time. You don’t want to be down here alone.”

“Thank you,” I managed to squeak out in a high, cracking voice as I forced an uncomfortable meeting of the eyes with this man who had allowed me to continue my own delusion.

He handed back my ID, and I scuttled off. I could feel the sweat soaking my armpits and trickling down the small of my back, but I made it; I was safe, back over the border, and I had what I came for.

Veronica was waiting for me just outside the station, and I quickly climbed into her car.

“Get me the fuck out of here,” I practically shouted as I flopped into the passenger seat.

“Are you okay? Oh my God, I was so scared.”

“I’m fine. I don’t want to talk about it. Can we just go home, please?”

“Yeah. Okay. No problem.”

As we drove, I reached into my underwear and pulled out the bag.

“How is it? Did you try it?” she wanted to know.

“Don’t know. Didn’t have a chance with all the shit going on.”

As we pulled onto the freeway, I reached into her purse and pulled out the sunglass case in which she kept her pipe. I was fumbling with the bag and pipe, trying to scoop some shards into the neck of the oil burner, and my mind was exploding with anxiety and anticipation. Finally, I managed to get everything where it needed to be, flicked my lighter, and began melting the crystals and twisting the pipe.

We were on the I-5 north, and not another car was visible for miles. The freeway lights created a distorted projection of time as I stared down at the pipe, waiting for the right temperature, and seeing life in flashing segments of orange and black. The car was quiet, and my brain was fully focused. A little smoke built in the bubble, and my eyes grew wide as I put the stem to my lips, continuing the rotation and heat pattern, and came face to face with my maker. Glaring junkie eyes and flickering shadows on my face. The moon stared down at her poor, sick boy and wept as she looked on in silence.

I inhaled deeply, filling my lungs to capacity with the simmering narcotic, but something didn’t feel right. I began coughing and let the smoke come back out sloppily. That taste. I knew that taste.

“Goddamn mother fuckers!” I mumbled between coughs and gasps of air.

“What’s wrong?”

I put my pointer finger over the exhaust hole of the pipe and blew out. Instantly, it turned white.

“Fucking pieces of shit. This is almost all MSM. It’s all cut.” I was livid.

I stared at the tip of my finger, now powdered white, and felt the free fall of my gut as my brain computed the math.

“What do you want to do?” Veronica asked with gentle sympathy.

“What can we do? Nothing.” I stared at the pipe in my hand.

Then I put the pipe back to my lips and began reheating the compound.

“Why are you smoking more? I thought it was no good?” she wondered.

“What else am I supposed to do? Hopefully there’s a little bit of real shit in here, and if there is, I’m not wasting it.”

“What if it’s all cut?” she asked while looking over at me.

“What if? What if Veronica? So many what ifs.”

She turned away because she knew what was coming. I looked down and kept smoking with spurn.

Anto LjoljicComment