The Early Bird Catches the Worm

5:00-7:00 a.m.: Shake on the couch upstairs, back and forth, back and forth. My face on the cushion is hot. I turn over. My legs become cold so I put on a sweat pants. I haven’t slept at all. My cat is in the room; I can hear her licking herself. I get up briefly and glance toward the window and notice one lone light from a nearby house. Someone else was up early, or late, or maybe withdrawing from Oxycodone like me. Probably not. Back on the couch. The best chance I have of dozing off is by lying on my back and breathing deeply, meditatively – in, out – in, out. One, two -- one two, count the same two numbers until I slip away from consciousness. It doesn’t work and scenes from my recent drug sickness Netflix binge plough through my mind overflowing with scrambled thoughts and vivid images in a schizophrenic movie reel. It’s impossible to think clearly as thoughts rollercoaster along sounding like dancing skeletons with dusty, pale yellow, rattling bones. Oh God, I’m so very sick from trying to withdraw from opiates. Two days without – I thought I was going to make it. The withdrawal started with a vengeance yesterday. Today was hell. Must get to Day Three.

9:12 a.m.: Johnny texts me: “Early bird catches the worm, my friend.”

This phrase implied one thing: the earlier I arrived at the five corners, the best deal I could get on the scripts – 80 mg. Oxys, Percs, and even some Adderall. The thought of getting the pills was floating through my mind like a canoe that wanted to desperately pass by my peripheral vision, but the canoe burns with electric fire, all so visible. The greenish-blue Oxy, going down with a Cola and Filet-O-Fish I would buy at McDonald’s while waiting for Johnny to bring the drugs. The beer I would drink on the TTC on my way there. When you’re an addict, everything is a ritual. Every move, every thought, idea and presence is connected to a set of ritual practices that inhabit me and constitute this sick, tailored narrative. I would go so far as to say that even the drug sickness is a ritual. You spend months on the pills – constantly trying to outrun the withdrawals, scheming for money, trying to live a productive life on the outside of the chemical prison you inhabit on the inside. But it’s hard. And it’s good sometimes … really good. But it’s mostly evil. Addiction to opiates is a road that will take you into the darkest anxiety and most unraveled version of yourself, and eventually you will have to feel the death trance. It’s the kind of sick that makes you want to die, and sometimes this thought makes a little plan in your imagination. Even if it’s not a serious plan that you actually act on, at least the blueprints are there. It’s a dark, small comfort that I hold within myself.

Feeling very sick twice a month now. Then it’s every weekend, when you try to spend time with your family. You’re off your rocker all week, and by Sunday night the sickness is back: extreme fatigue, cancelled eyes, dithering, soaring anxiety, sand baggy crawling skin, sweating profusely, loss of appetite, loss of libido, endless cigarettes … so many cigarettes.

So the early bird catches the worm. When you can’t bear the sickness anymore, you speed your ass down to Queen and Roncesvalles to find the guy who knows the guy who has the stuff. I’m looking for Johnny who is connected to Hal. Hal has a monopoly on the scripts. He hangs out at a dive bar every day where he runs his operation, while drinking beer from noon to nine like clockwork. I’ve never seen Hal, but Johnny has described him to me: “A crusty old fucker. Wears a cowboy hat, loves soccer. Crusty son of a bitch.” Johnny has been on Methadone for years, his liquid handcuffs. He gets a small commission off the deal. I spend 300 and he gets 40. I get just enough Oxy to get me to at least feel normal for one…maybe two days. After that, it’s the dope sickness, and the cycle begins again, scheming for money, and a determination to fulfill my next fix. Every time with the intention that this will be my last, and then do the hard thing and walk (and then crawl) through the withdrawals. It’s becoming more and more discouraging how many times that doesn’t happen.

The early bird catches the worm. I repeat this in my swelling, fatigued mind like a mantra as I start layering up to go out for a smoke. Waiting for ten o’clock when the beer store opens. This is always the longest hour of my life.

9:57 am.: Standing outside of the beer store at Girard and Logan. There are three Asian women and a guy who bikes in the winter, all waiting alongside me. I observe the cashier fussing around in the store, a minute before they open. The store opens right on time. The key unlocks the sliding chain wall, and in walk the customers. I feel perversely pleased with myself for not rushing in. Instead I generously help one of the Asian women carry in a bag that appears to be heavy. Surely this kind of good deed warrants one more dance with drugs – I deserve it. I buy Labatt Blue tall cans of beer – three of them. Planned: one beer in Withrow Park on the way to TTC, another on the TTC, and the last triumphant one on the streetcar ride home from five corners.

The early bird catches the worm. I hate worms. They’re gross. I’m gross.

Johnny is ten minutes late. I’ve gone into the McDonald’s bathroom to masturbate to kill time, but more importantly, to distract myself from my own sickness and the ruthless anxiety that I might not score the drugs right away. That is the absolute worst! That is, when you have made a commitment to do the drugs, had a couple of drinks which lubricate you for the experience, taken what money you have left from the ATM, made the long and tiresome trek to the location, and then there’s nothing for you. Hal might be out – he might not be there, and there you are left feeling shapeless.

11:06 a.m.: Waiting for Johnny. His varicose veins snaking over his legs and toothless mouth are horrid and gross to me. However, at the sight of him walking up the block is like seeing an angel. It’s the first sign that the drugs might be close. Johnny takes my money, and heads toward the dive bar. I go back into McDonald’s to wait. I squirm in my seat like a dirty worm. Johnny’s the bird, and he was up early enough to catch me.