To protect his identity, I’ll just call him the kid. He’s only just turned 19 — 19 going on 13. He’s from a broken home where alcohol was the addiction. He was kicked out of high school in grade 11. He’s no longer allowed in the mall. He gets chased out by security every time he steps foot in it. What’s a dropout kid going to do in a small city if he can’t hang out in the mall?
The last real job he had was two years ago. He’s been unemployed for months getting by on assistance cheques, a few bucks here and there from friends. He spends his time online, looking at anime porn (yes, there is such a thing), Facebook, and fantasy websites. He’s a gamer – a master of World of Warcraft, he says. Sometimes he gets on healthy eating and fitness binges between drug binges. That’s a common cycle for addicts.
In the aftermath of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death, everyone’s been OD’ing on heroin, metaphorically speaking. I thought I’d slam, too — metaphorically speaking. But this isn’t the story of a great actor, a Hollywood star. It’s about a kid in a remote, transitioning community. It’s about heroin making a comeback, especially among young people, because, as the CBC recently reported, it’s cheaper than it’s been in a long time, and it’s potent.
And it’s about how all addicts aren’t the same, despite what you may have been reading.
He says drugs screwed up his brain — the heroin especially. There’s the other stuff, too, like LSD, cocaine, Ketamine, GHB, DMT, MDMA, Ecstasy, meth, mushrooms, and weed. He took them all, often together, and still takes some of them. He’s done the entire medicine cabinet; believes in better living through chemistry. Believes in learning through chemistry. Did I mention the heroin? Smoked, not injected. He’s come close to OD’ing several times. I didn’t mention that.
He laughs about it. He’s happy when he’s high. He calls the drugs “learning tools” because they strengthen his spiritual powers. Any addict I’ve ever known will say the opposite. You lose your power to drugs. These tools can’t help him get an education or a job. He says, with a crazy kind of laugh, that he is crazy. “Why doesn’t anyone believe me?” he asks.
He was arrested a year ago and sent for a short stint to prison. For theft. He and some friends got caught breaking into cars for pocket change so they could buy a few packets of heroin. That’s not much In comparison to Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman had 50 packets of heroin and other drugs — prescription muscle relaxants and blood pressure pills — in his New York apartment. But the quantity doesn’t make the addiction any less.
When the kid got out of prison, he claimed to have kicked heroin cold turkey. Has anyone heard that one before? Ask Russell Brand about that. Brand thinks about heroin every day. When I first met the kid, he said the same thing. Any addict will tell you, once an addict, always an addict. Time will tell.
From what he told me, he’s only done heroin once, maybe twice since getting out of jail. He has trouble with memory. He asks, “Why can’t I remember things? Why aren’t I any good with words?” After one of those recent relapses, he said, “Well, that was an interesting adventure!” After the incarceration, he was arrested again. He allegedly had a rather large amount of Ketamine in a plastic bag on his person. Now he waits for another appearance before the bench on another charge relating to drugs.
Since getting a girlfriend — 14 going on 10 — he says he only does mushrooms and LSD because she tells him that’s okay. Kids who are mentally 10-years old don’t get what enabling and co-dependency is all about. The only real worry he’s expressed about his girlfriend is the fact that she’s a dragon and, apparently – this was news to me – dragons eat elves. And he’s an elf.
At this point, you think I’m making this up. I only wish I was.
He’s also a truthsayer, a spirit guide. Like Hardball, he can create energy balls with his hands. Once he claimed to be the chosen one and asked me, “What does it mean to be the chosen one?” In his hallucinogenic states, he goes wandering in the woods at night with his invisible elf friends and searches for Wonderland. Yes, that Wonderland. He looks for rabbit holes. He wears a Mad Hatter’s hat.
Is he crazy? As one who has a diagnosed mental disorder — not serious, and I’m fortunate to have recognized it and dealt with it — I recognize that I shouldn’t be using that politically incorrect word. But he uses it, and from one crazy guy to another, well . . .
I’m no addictions counselor or doctor, but I’ve been close enough to drugs throughout my life and I fear — no, I know that the kid has been ruined by them. He always seems frightened — of evil spells and black magic. That’s sad. It sometimes doesn’t seem strange to think of him as an elf. A fragile, endangered being.
You might think I’m being too hard on him. Through no fault of his own, from the day of his birth into a broken home, he was caught up in the addiction cycle. His mother, an alcoholic and coke addict, abandoned him. She left him with his dad, another alcoholic. Or so the kid says. He doesn’t talk about him much.
He’s a drug addict. He’s an outsider. Legally, he’s an adult; he can’t be forced into recovery. Ironically, one of Canada’s top drug rehab centres is located in the town where he lives. I don’t think he’s ever been there. He lives alone, in a low-rent, two-bedroom apartment in a sketchy part of town, watching cartoons on his flat screen TV. (Yeah, I know — flat screen TV and likely no food in the fridge.) He hasn’t been able to find a job in months. He’s living at the end of the road on a one-way dead-end street. And that’s the point.
The kid actually has some things going for him. Like Hoffman, he’s an actor. Addicts are great liars; so are actors. He says he’s a drummer. He’s never drummed but — who knows? — maybe he’d be a great drummer, if he could ever afford drums. But here’s the thing. Thirty years ago, Hoffman was a kid growing up in Fairport, NY, with prospects. The kid is a kid growing up on the edge of nowhere, with none.
He’s just one of — Who can guess how many? They live a lonely life in clusters all over the country, getting high on heroin in rundown cities and towns. What’s their world like? It’s crashing with friends who have a couch in a place. They become thieves and liars for money. They’re known as part of the bad crowd, a bad kid. It’s a dirty life. It isn’t glamorous. They lie and steal for drugs. It isn’t handed to them for being famous — “Here Phil, have some heroin. No, no. It’s cool, man, it’s on me. Here, take as many as you want.” The circumstances of their lives force it on them. They don’t live in a New York brownstone. The body bag that they’re taken out in won’t be through a gauntlet of cameras. Their deaths won’t be diagnosed. They won’t trend on Twitter and it might be days before somebody notices that they haven’t been on their Facebook page.
So while you’re mourning Philip Seymour Hoffman — and you should — mourn them, too.
The kid says he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t. Nobody knows what to do for him — not his social services counselor, not his probation officer, his lawyer, not the doctors who prescribe medications that he doesn’t take, not his dad, grandma, not his mom. His family all believe he’s an addict. He might wonder what to do, but as long as he’s lost in his Wonderland, he’s happy. He doesn’t understand why anyone would want to leave Wonderland.
Sometimes, I don’t blame him.