The first four years that I used heroin was all about feeling good, getting that high. The last three years were spent just trying to keep myself from coming down. It wasn’t a cheap habit. I still have no idea how much money I shot into my arm.
One morning I woke up. My bed felt like it was sideways, as if it was on the wall. As I became more and more aware I realized that I was sitting on the floor, my back against the wall. On the other side of the room from my bed. I must have passed out there. Why hadn’t anyone moved me back to my bed, I wondered.
“Hey!” I yelled. My memory was failing me. I couldn’t think of my assistant’s name. It must of been the drugs. I’d had the same assistant for years. “Hey! I need some help in here.”
She came in. There was no worry in her eyes, no alarm. She must have been used to me calling out to her. “Do you need something?”
“Yeah. Could you help me get to my bed? And get me my medicine?”
I’d called it that for the last few years. Medicine. I guess I was trying to fool her. Thought she didn’t really know what was in that syringe. She reached into the bedside table. Watching her hold the lighter under the bowl of the spoon, turning a solid into a liquid made my heart quicken. My body couldn’t wait to feel it go into my blood stream. She couldn’t have gotten it to me any faster.
“Where do you want it?” she asked, drawing the liquid into the syringe.
“My arm.” I slapped the skin on my forearm. “Get the band. I’m going to need some help with the veins.”
“Do you want to shoot it?”
“No. You can.”
She wrapped a leather belt around my bicep. No veins popped up.
“Try the other arm.” I held out my right hand. “You ever try a little of this?”
“No. This stuff’ll kill ya.” She looked up, shocked, realizing what she’d said.
“Don’t worry. I know it will. It’s okay.”
She tried different spots in my arms and legs. The veins were hard. They wouldn’t let the needle break through.
“Where else should I try?”
“Go for the vein in my neck. We haven’t done that one in awhile.”
We tried for hours. Nothing worked. I started getting sick. Sweat beaded on my skin. I felt like a crazy person. But, then again, that’s exactly what drugs will do. They turn a completely normal person insane.
“Can you drink it or something? Inject it under your tongue?”
“No. I don’t know. Just give me one of the rocks.”
I ate one. Anything to keep the edge off. It took almost an hour for it to do anything. And then it was just a buzz.
“Give me some more. I need something else.”
“Sorry. That was the last of it. I can go find some more.”
“No.” I stood up. My head felt empty and yet somehow heavy. I tripped and stumbled my way to the door. “I’ve got to get some air.”
Outside it was so cold. And bright. The sun beamed into my eyes. It felt like a nail being pounded into my brain.
“Birdie! Birdie Leigh!” The paparazzi were waiting for me. I should have known. “Birdie! Where’ve you been? You’ve been in there for a month.”
“Don’t take my picture!” I screamed. “No!”
The shutters of their cameras kept opening and closing. I could hear nothing but clicks and my fake name yelled over and over.
“I said no!” I pushed one of them down. “Don’t you dare!”
They kept taking pictures. Raping me with their intrusion into my life. I’d said ‘no’.
I fell. The concrete jarred my body. There was no more cushion on me. I was just lanky bones and flappy skin.
The photographers stood around me, capturing my bloody knees and my anguished face. Not one of them tried to help me. Not one asked if I was okay.
“She’s so high, she don’t know what’s goin’ on,” one of them said.
The others laughed. Mocked me. I felt like I was spinning. So fast. I barfed. They took more pictures.
“Hey, all you boys,” a voice called. “You stop. Leave that girl alone.”
A woman’s voice. Southern accent. Warm like fresh baked muffins.
“Now, just git away from her, hear? Let her be.”
“We’re just doing our job, ma’am,” one of the paparazzi said.
“No, you just tryin’ to make a couple thousand off a girl’s hardship. Not git. Or I’ll call the police.”
They walked away. Their cameras held plenty of marketable pictures. They’d done a good day’s worth of work. and all it cost was my dignity.
“Now, honey,” the woman said, kneeling down next to me. “Let’s go get us a cup of coffee, huh?”
How could I have refused? She lifted me to my feet. Wrapped her jacket around my waist. Apparently, I’d forgotten to dress before leaving the apartment. Fortunately my assistant always put me in a tank top.
“What’s your name, sugar?”
“Fiona.” I gulped. It felt like a lie. “What’s your name?”
“Miss Baker. Now, how about we have that cuppa in my apartment. Might be more comfortable. I promise, they are no cameras where I live.”
Her space was fresh. Like the country was brought right into the city. Yellows and creams and small touches of bright color comforted the eye.
“I love your apartment,” I said. “Who’s your designer?”
“Little old me. I can’t hardly abide the thought of hiring that out.” She poured me a cup of black coffee. “You coming down off’n something?”
She was direct. It made me respect her.
“Yeah. I ran out of my medicine.”
I nodded, sipping my coffee.
“What been so bad in your life that you aim to kill yourself?”
“I don’t know.”
My father killed himself when I was 3. My mom used me and threw me out. No one cared who I was. I hated myself. What else? Maybe that I ruined my life with one night of partying.
“How we gonna get you off that junk?”
“We? I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Listen, sugar, you ain’t bad. You’re beautiful. And you’re talented. Don’t think I didn’t recognize you. But I knew that you weren’t no Birdie Leigh. You’re something far better than that.”
“I just don’t feel like I’m worth anything.” I started to cry. “All I’m good for is a morality lesson for kids. ‘Now, children, don’t do drugs or you’ll end up like that Birdie’.”
“Well, we can’t let you feel like that.”
She sat next to me on the couch. “You should have seen me 20 years ago.”
I turned toward her, folded my leg up under me.
“I went for crack back in those days.”
Could this sweet little lady have been telling me that she did cocaine? I couldn’t believe it.
“You’re surprise, I see you. I didn’t have no sense in those days. Just snorting and smoking and shooting up. It seemed like all there was in the whole world.”
“I feel that way,” I whispered. “All the time.”
“I know you do. But you can quit it. If you don’t you won’t live another year.”
“How? I don’t know what to do. I just love it too much.”
“I did, too. But I knew it had to be over. So, I quit.”
“How did you do it?”
At first I thought she was cussing. The only time I’d heard that name in my adult life was in a string of curse words. But she smiled. So warm, so gentle. I knew she was talking about the guy. That Jesus that I didn’t even know.
“I don’t know him.” It was embarrassing. A 27 year old not knowing who Jesus was. “I mean, I know he’s what they talk about at church.”
“Oh, sugar! It’s time to listen. First, I gotta pray that you can stay healthy enough to hear the Word.”
She told me all about Jesus. What He did for me. What He could do. She prayed over me, sang a song. Her voice was shaky, thick. But beautiful.
I still felt sick. My body ached and tugged and screamed at me to get something to shoot into my blood. I shook, felt cold then hot then cold again. Mrs. Baker took me to the hospital. Then to a detox center. She stayed with me through it all.
It’s a year later. I’ve put on weight. Had to buy all new clothes. The paparazzi doesn’t care about me anymore. Now that I’m clean, I’m boring. I’ve been in the “worst body” section of the tabloids. It made me pretty proud.
A year of sobriety. A year of asking forgiveness. A year of mending bridges. Of changing my outlook. A whole year of Sundays and Wednesdays in church. Say what you will about Christians. They may have made some mistakes. But knowing about those errors made it a whole lot easier for me to know they’d accept me. But, careful, when you tear apart the Christians, you’re talking about me now.
That’s right. Born again Jesus Freak. It’s the only way I’ve made it this year. He’s the only way I’ll make it next year and the years after that.
There’s nothing like being on stage. My voice raising the praise for the mercy I found in Him.