A friend on Instagram said something tonight that struck me, and got me thinking. It was about how people who are not addicts themselves cannot comprehend living so full of pain that the horrors of heroin addiction are preferable to facing that hurt. Most of my thoughts were actually memories that are so much the reason why I do what I do, why I continue to shoot smack knowing the end results- jail stints, abscesses, pain for those I love and the few who still love me, further damage to a liver that screams at me all day every day, homelessness, poverty in the most sincere sense when a loaf of bread is out of financial reach for me, and so much more. So much worse.
The beginning point of my pain was towards the end of elementary school. I never fit in, never had many friends. I switched schools every couple years because I was in the "gifted" program, which also hopped schools every couple years. So I never put down roots, never formed lasting friendships as a little girl. As kids got older, they realized I wasn't like them and turned into the demons I now find almost all kids can be at times. Bullying started, my interests and hobbies became taboo, and my spirit came so close to broken at a very early age. I have always loved animals, canines such as dogs and wolves especially, and that was apparently not cool or okay, and was a "boy thing." So in came the chorus of "lesbo" and "she-he" and words the kids and I had no idea the meaning of, all I knew was they were cruel and they hurt. So I buried that part of me. Never went so far as to hurt or ignore an animal but definitely didn't advertise my love for them like I once had. But still I found myself alone. Middle school brought it's own pain. Kids were even more cruel and far more devious in their bullying than in grade school. They also hit harder. So I quickly found an outlet and a crew- punk rock. Heard a song by Pennywise, "Straight Ahead," on a skateboard show when channel surfing and fell in love. Punk rock saved my life as much as it destroyed it by being my intro to smack. That anger, that energy, and that unity in the scene was what I craved.
After I fell into the punk rock crew I ran with, bullying didn't bug me so bad, although to this day I wonder if it's still the root of my self-loathing- if the words of those kids live inside me still to this day, that I'm wrong, I'm no good, I'm weird and a freak in all the worst ways. But now I carried knives and the tables were turned. Fuck with me? I bite back now, motherfuckers. I became the Hyena, fighting for what I believed in, savage when need be but gentle and caring at my core, showing only those on my crew my soft side. Eventually, as I got older and my skin got thicker, my outside image got tougher, my scars became badges of pride, I had a crew that viewed me as leader, a role I've always hated and never felt comfortable in. I am not a follower, but I hate that feeling of a group depending on you for guidance. My guidance sucked and cost some kids their lives, following me into smack. I rode the rails, hopped freight trains all over the country. And then, I started losing friends to death instead of judgement or my addiction, my scams, my criminal acts, nursing an ever-raging habit all the while. The worst event of my time on the rails were not those friends who overdosed and died in my arms, or those who I gave breath and pulse to and brought back from ODs, or even watching as trains severed arms or legs and changed futures once bright into bleak and limited. It was my riding and using partner Knot and the day he died. It's one of the memories that brings me the most guilt, shame, and a pain that once touched, lasts weeks. I touched it a few weeks ago for the first time in years and it plays through my head on a loop many times a day now. Should've left it buried but I suppose some things just refuse to stay where they're put.
Knot was a scraggly kid with no family, no home, and honestly no future beyond life on the tracks and smack. He was my male counterpart. He was my best friend and my perfect equal match. Dreadlocks with bits of string and beads and ribbon woven in here and there, pierced septum and a dozen self-done safety pin tattoos, two years into a smack habit to rival my own but with a spirit that refused to be broken or held down, Knot is who I think of when I think of heroin warriors. A kid with gumption and pride and a refusal to stay down when hit with whatever life threw at him, he rolled with the punches and threw a few punches as well. He was wise, he knew he wasn't going to settle down someday, he knew his life wasn't going to be long but was going to make damn sure he packed as much living into it as possible before the end. I don't know if he could've seen the end that would come though.
The day Knot died, or in truth was killed is a more accurate description, we had spent the night in some podunk little town in South Dakota, running low on smack and planning to head back to New Orleans where we could get work and gear. New Orleans and Atlanta were the only two cities in the south we ever visited together and except Florida, the only part of the south I've been in to this day. The north and the west coast were far more our style. I must've been around 13 or 14, the exact age escapes me always for some reason. I know Knot was a year younger and looked up to me; I hope he knows I looked up to him just as much, in truth likely more so. We woke up that day and headed back to the railyard we had camped near, planning to catch the first train on the right set of tracks to get us headed the direction we planned to go. While waiting, knowing we'd be getting more smack within a day, we did our morning shots plus a little extra for a nice nodded journey south. That cost my best friend, my traveling buddy, my protector and my confidant his life.
I always jumped first, always grabbed the handles first, chose our boxcar and our moment to jump. I'd ridden longer, had more experience, and just was generally good at judging the right moment. Except that day, I was too high. I judged wrong. I jumped too soon, the train was moving faster than my heroin haze led me to believe, and my hand lost the grip on the handle of the car. I caught Knot's hand slip out of the corner of my vision. We both for some reason, rather than finding footing and pushing away from the tracks as we fell, swung back and down and ended up on our backs.
I landed smack dab between the rails, under the train.
Knot landed smack dab on the rail.
There was nothing I could've done at that point. I know that at least. Though the guilt of knowing I made the bad call that day haunts me and will never be far from my mind, I do know that once the events were in motion we were powerless to stop them. The ad for Trane air conditioners, about "You can't stop a Trane," always brings me to my knees because of the solid and tragic, unfair and terrible truth of that statement. The train was moving too fast. It was over in seconds. Knot's eyes, blue as the sky over the Dakotas that day, never left mine. I could see he knew what was coming, could feel the rail under his back and resigned himself quickly. I watched fear, panic, then peace flash through his eyes while the rumble of the train filled my ears. He never made a sound.
I laid there beside him until the entire horrific train passed. Then I laid there longer. Finally a rail cop ambling along his patrol happened upon us. Or me, and what was left of my best friend, the person who I knew and who knew me better than anyone on earth. I don't remember much beyond the cop yelling for help and kneeling down beside me, on the other side of me from Knot. I must have passed out.
Knot had no family. His real name revealed that was the honest to god truth, that his parents died two years back and Knot was thrown into foster care. So his body is buried somewhere in a Potter's Field in a small town in South Dakota. The authorities were cold enough to refuse me the right to claim and cremate my partner.
I spent the last of my cash on a bus ticket home a couple weeks later. I didn't ride another train until September of 2001, when I was on a train along the east coast on 9/11 and know those planes flew right over me on their way to their destination. That was the last day I ever rode a freight train and I will never hop another car as long as I live. Part of it is knowing that with the damage to my body in the years since, I couldn't keep up, but mainly it's because I cannot hear a train whistle without feeling like I've been shot in the gut. I have no photos of Knot. I have nothing of his but a scrap of red lace I wear on my wrist, the same wrist as my piece of gray lace he tied on me so long ago; I've taken them off for periods but never again. I feel naked without them. I do have memories that I will never forget. Memories of open sky and flat country, of mountains and rivers and close calls and bonfires and fun. True, unfettered, untainted fun. Nights we didn't sleep, just talked. His face in the firelight, eyes sparkling as he told me about his brindle mutt from his childhood named Spot (which is why I named my striped cat Spot) and how he'd always nibble his fingertips to wake him up. Memories of days when it seemed like anything was possible and we were king and queen of the world. Running from rail pigs, laughing as the train pulled away and gained speed while the cop huffed and puffed along, growing more distant. Guitar jams before we sold those off for smack, drum circles with other hobo kids. Him having to literally cut a man with a knife when he wouldn't keep his hands off me on a stretch of lonely track.
But most of all, I remember his eyes. The clear, brilliant blue of the Midwestern sky in August. The way he was so easy to read by what his eyes told me about how he was feeling. I have never seen another pair of eyes the color his were and I know I never will. They were as one of a kind as everything else about Knot. No other eyes will catch firelight the same way, will ever reflect the clouds over a field of wheat the same way. No other eyes will ever have that instant connection with my heart and soul his had, the way they'd always pull the truth out of me no matter how hard I tried to stay strong and resist. If eyes are the window to the soul, then Knot is where he was meant to be- somewhere high above in that perfect bluebird sky, without pain or fear or the uncertainty of a life unmoored, a life in which the only home left was no home at all. But in those last months together, we were both always home. Our homes were each other, the security and safety and comfort of each others' presence. Knot was never my boyfriend- he was always my brother. My blood as sure as a leopard has spots. I get a measure of comfort knowing the last thing Knot saw as he left this realm was his home, boring those blue eyes into mine. Homeless as he was, as we both were, Knot died at home. This I know without any doubt.
I live with the knowledge that my decision, my bad call, cost the truest sibling I've ever had his life. Today, I'm building a relationship, a connection, with a new kindred spirit, Lepurd, so parallel to that I had with Knot it gives me chills. I know that's why Knot is on my mind so constantly lately. Because so much of Lepurd is like him, like the brother watching over me from his perch high in the brilliant blue sky his eyes let me glimpse even on the stormiest days. Lepurd has the same smile that makes it impossible not to smile back, the same softness in his heart and the same warrior's bravery, courage, and strength alongside that softness. He has the same pain as well, deep-seated and staggering but a pain we both know, a pain from youth that unites us in yet another way. We both love so much of the same things, and argue the same way Knot and I once did, in a roundabout way that seems more like discussing but with all the passion of a full out brawl. And we both have furry daughters who mean the world to us, two misunderstood breeds who remind us of our own struggle to be understood or, at the very least, not judged on our outsides or our modes of living. I've found much of life is circular rather than linear, and my circles brought me back to the same type of beautiful, kindred soul that led me to bond so deeply and so timelessly, so unshakably, with Knot.
You have to always keep your eyes open in this life; if you blink you may miss meeting the gaze of the people you are meant to meet. I met Knot on a shitty little street in downtown San Francisco, locked eyes and we moved as one from that day till the end. Lepurd and I met online and it was through locking eyes with his words via email I first realized I needed him without knowing yet that he needed me as well. Smack is present in our connection, but is not our connection. Smack is present in everything for me though, so it's presence means nothing. What means something is the depth and finality of the connection. The way it feels the same as it did with Knot- like if I lose him, I lose myself as well. Lepurd came into my life at a time when I was leaving life altogether, ready and planning to go. He gave me a reason to live. He gave me the courage to fight for one more day. He still gives me that. He stands tall and faces a world that's dealt him blow after blow and he grabs onto the victories in that life that's often so cold to him as it so often is to me- and he shows me it can be done. He is a warrior. He is a kindred soul. He is my excuse for continuing to live a life some say I should end out of mercy for others and society as a whole, he is my reason for continuing to live a life I sometimes feel I should end out of mercy for myself. He is my hope. The new knot around my wrist that won't let me forget I am more than my addiction. I am more than a junkie.
So that pain eats me inside but it also has allowed me to see in Lepurd the best qualities of Knot. That guilt and pain is part of why I prefer the torture and living hell smack addiction often is to the far deeper pain of my past. I do not expect anyone without an addict's mind and past to fully understand.
But I hope maybe this will help those without a junkie's life gain at least a glimpse into what my reality is like. Why I stick around heroin despite the quite obvious and sometimes close to unbearable pain that comes with it. Because that weight on my back is always lighter than the memories everlasting.