His name was Phil. I took him for his word. Many people did. Phil was charismatic and knew how to take control of a situation. He was well liked and seemed to be enjoyable company. Parents loved him, teachers found him entertaining, and students idolized him. He was the ideal student, athlete, and judge of character. Phil was the kind of person people preferred. My parents preferred him, and so did I at the time. Phil was very intuitive. He would manipulate empathy, and in doing that, gain your trust. To some trust means very little, but to me it brings the worst vulnerability when broken. Phil broke me down and made me evaluate myself constantly. We walked into a different world together holding hands. When Phil got greedy for the feeling of euphoria he would grasp tighter, his hand eventually crushing mine. Two friends holding hands is a symbolic image, but that isn’t the tone and image of this story. This is about the deteriorating hands. This is about the deteriorating friendship.
“I’ll be at your house in like ten. Grab me a drink brotha,” Phil said, “And be ready, we have to go get treats.” Phil hung up and I knew I had ten minutes. He was good with time and direction. He was known for his word.
I woke up feeling bored, yes I know that is a bland word, but that is the best way to describe it. Most of the time I would feel this way, but usually Phil and I would find something with enough interest. Weekends brought parties, which were perfect times to be completely reckless. The weekdays were mellow. It consisted of work and the mid-day doobie. Drugs were usually involved, and we couldn’t care less. We were experimenting, and that didn’t seem cliché.
Ten minutes had past. The rumble of an engine was approaching. It was Phil, and it was exactly ten minutes. This is still something I have trouble understanding. I think he respected time more than people. But nevertheless, he was now here and waiting. I grabbed two bottled waters (my idea of a neutral beverage) and headed out to meet with Phil. I got in his car and took a breath. I wanted to be the bottled water. I wanted to feel neutral.
The first thing I notice in Phil’s car is his can of soda in the cup holder. His freshly opened can of coke (With the tab turned to the side. All apart of this style that people wanted to emulate) dripping with perspiration. Condensation never hides its intentions. Just like Phil, asking for a drink when he already had one. This was one example of him displaying his power hungry tendencies.
“Did you grab drinks?” He said, “We’re going to need em.”
“For what?” I asked, my curiosity peaking.
“All in good time young one,” he said sounding smug. He was certain, he was aware, and he knew he was in control. We were in route to our destination. I had no clue where we were going. As soon as Phil got on the highway my idea became clearer. When we passed the Now Leaving Jacobsville sign I started to piece more together. And when we drove pass the Entering Bromley sign I knew exactly what Phil had up his sleeve. His cards were on the table, but I wouldn’t let him know this, He was still trying to bluff.
Bromley was what candy was to a child. It was where every drug addict went to score drugs. From the harmless stuff like marijuana, to the harder stuff like heroin. The street corners were always filled with buyers and sellers. As you would drive through the area you would hear the chants of “readies” and “dope.” All that was was the “Daddy Drug Dealers” calling out to their dependent children. Their customers.
Phil got off exit 36A, the exit to New Jersey’s drug capital, and made the necessary turns. I was surprised at how well he could navigate around this area. This was foreign territory to me, and he was mapping it out. He was plotting points on the high seas. The next part is what changed our friendship. Phil dropped anchor and explained to me what we were doing here. He wanted the message to sink in.
“We’re going to beat somebody,” he said.
“I’m not doing that shit.”
“Well I am, and if don’t want to that’s fine. You can get out here.”
“Are you serious?”
“Dead fucking serious,” Phil said, and he was. My reflection in his eyes told me that. His eyes were dilated. He needed a fix. The car felt empty at that moment. There was no sign of emotion, thought, or voice. Phil achieved his goal, which was total compliance. He didn’t need any other thoughts clouding his judgment. I wouldn’t say he cared, because that word wasn’t in his vocabulary. It wasn’t the fact that Phil didn’t know what empathy meant, he could define it but never apply it. This is what made Phil different. It made him detached, and it opened his mind to manipulation. Phil slowly became a man with words, and if he didn’t get what he wanted he would use guilt. He knew how to make a person feel empathetic towards him, when all the while he had not one clue what that felt like. When guilt did not work he would try to intimidate the person. He knew how to draw from weakness. He saw me as weak and clueless, but I was playing the same game he was. I knew Phil’s intentions most of the time, and I never stopped him because I wanted what he wanted. I wanted to be euphoric. I wanted to feel numb. But most of all I wanted to shut out Phil.
Now that we were in Bromley, and now that I knew I was stuck in this car I decided to rest my head back. I was already in the car, and I wasn’t getting out of it anytime soon. I figured resting my head was a comforting option. I started to slow my breathing down and put my anxiety at ease. If I didn’t take this time out to do this the outcome could have been much worse. I knew I was shaky, and I knew that I would need to display a certain amount of confidence to not look suspicious. It felt like hours; a lifetime before Phil spoke. When he did, I was all ears. Although I wasn’t partial to his plan, I knew that I had to know what he intended to do. The more I knew the better I’d be if anything bad happened. And now that the sun was starting to set I knew my chances were better if I had to run. Even though I was in foreign territory I was certain that my power to live was stronger than a livid drug dealer.
“Call Mook,” Phil said sounding irritable.
“Mook, the guy we are meeting. Can you pull your head out of your ass?”
“Just make the damn call.”
That became the most unnerving phone call of my life. My palms were sweaty and my voice was scratchy. I was worried at that point. I didn’t know how I was going to stay calm during this encounter if I couldn’t even keep composure on the telephone. I got through the call and told Phil we were to meet Mook at Garland Park. As soon as the word park left my mouth Phil was speeding to the destination. My only thought was that Phil had been here many times. He was good with direction; he was taken for his word. Five minutes after we were told where to go Phil pulled up to the park. Mook never told me to be there in five minutes, but he must of done business with Phil before. He must of known that Phil was a man that respected time, because as soon as we parked there was a man approaching Phil’s car. It was Mook, and I was petrified.
“Before he gets here you need to calm down,” Phil said. He was trying to comfort me. He knew that if I screwed up he would be in serious trouble. Both with Mook and his withdrawal pains.
“He needs to think everything is cool, and then we’re good. This will take two minutes and we are home free.” Phil said with his fatherly tone. I cleared my throat and faced him.
“This wasn’t my idea, but I’ll play ball. Just know that if something goes wrong I’m not sticking around to see it get played out,” I said. I knew I had to show him I wasn’t his follower, but I wasn’t going to give him too much. If he knew I wasn’t as weak as he thought our “friendship” would be compromised. And though I resented Phil I also knew I needed him to score drugs. This became the defining moment in our dependent relationship.
“Okay, you’re right. I put you in this situation so I understand, but just know to be cool. Just act like everything is good now, and everything will be a million times better later. Like I said, this will only take two minutes. I know you’ll be fine…okay here he comes. Just be cool,” Phil said, finishing up his speech right before Mook approached his car window.
“What up son!” Phil said to Mook. I was shocked at how natural he acted. I knew I had to be just as good. I turned my conscience off and jumped in the conversation.
“What’s up dude? I’m Rob. You can call me a redneck name like Jimbo if ya want,” I said. I apply humor in most social interactions. Whether they are good or bad. I only hoped Mook would get it.
“What’s good little homie. Yo Phil, you got a funny ass friend,” Mook said, and I was relieved.
“Yeah, I keep him around for a few laughs. So what’s good?” Phil said, still sounding casual. He sounded like he had money for the product he wanted. He wasn’t casual, and he had no money.
“You tell me? Whatcha need?” Mook said.
“Will you hook somethin’ up for sixty?” Phil said. I wish I could of laughed when he said that. I was blown away that he asked to be “hooked up” and had no intention of paying.
“Yeah, I got you,” Mook said while reaching in his pockets.
“Alright, be quick.”
“Cool,” Phil said as he put the dope in his pocket. He fished through the opposite pocket and pulled out some cash. It was mostly one dollar bills and maybe a five. He put his car in gear before handing Mook the money. Mook didn’t think twice about any of this. Mook seemed to genuinely trust Phil.
“Alright brotha, I’ll be calling you tomorrow probably,” Phil said
“Yep, ya’ll be safe,” Mook said as he starting heading towards the park.
And that was it. We drove away, and there was nothing. No attack, no screaming and yelling, no anything. We were just driving along as if nothing had happened. This is the part that bothered me the most. In my mind there were many things wrong, and what just happened in that parking spot wasn’t over. Nothing was ever that easy, especially when consequence should be apparent. Phil on the other hand was gleaming. He thought he won. That was his biggest downfall. He didn’t see consequence and thought he could always run.
We eventually drove out of Bromley and onto the highway heading home. I was starting to feel better than before, but at the same time I just wanted to be high and forget about everything. I wanted to be high, and I knew that would make me totally careless. I would be euphoric, and I needed to be euphoric desperately. I glanced over at Phil to evaluate his mood. I had to be subtle to get what I wanted, so I thought out my questions to ask. Phil was concentrated on the road. He wasn’t speaking, and I’d like to believe that was because he was nervous or scared after what just happened, but that wouldn’t be him. Most likely he was full of adrenaline and had little regret. He didn’t seem angry so I knew I could take a chance and start asking my questions. I figured if I praised the situation, praised him, I could get a fix immediately.
“You did great man!” I said, sounding as sincere as I could. Phil smiled, “Yeah you didn’t do bad yourself. I told ya you could do it. You were almost as good as me,” Phil said while smirking. I knew I was on the right track so I pressed on.
“So, how much did we get?” I said.
“We got enough for about a week, brotha.”
“Nice, you think it’s any good?”
“Oh yeah, I’ve gotten off him a few times and it’s always quality stuff. Supposedly he has some of the purest dope around, but you know how everyone claims that shit.”
“You got a point, but you can’t always be sure.” I said. I knew this was the fire I needed to ignite.
“What do you mean?” Phil said sounding perplexed. I knew this was my chance. I knew if I instilled some doubt in Phil’s choice of drug dealer he would be more likely to test the product now.
“Like, you can’t always be sure. You know? You always have to taste it. People always beat people, but we were quicker. You did great, but you always have to be sure. Think about it dude, he didn’t call us or try to run after your car. Maybe we all did the same thing? Maybe we all beat each other and got off even?”
“I didn’t think about it that way. It is kind of weird he didn’t run after us, isn’t it? You wanna try it out then? To be sure and all I mean,” Phil said. I didn’t trust anything he said though. I knew he was testing me, so I had to be either one step ahead of him or at least on the same level. That’s when I knew what to say to make him less suspicious of my motives.
“I’m not trying it alone. Fuck that man. What if it is beat or what if it is bad stuff?” I said. When the words left my mouth I knew I had him hooked. He took the bait. Hook, line, and sinker.
“Okay, let’s pull off at a Wawa or something and try it out.”
Within a matter of minutes we were pulling into a Wawa parking lot. We were about to try the product. We were about to be high. We were about to start our dependent relationship. This is the moment that bonded us together in the world of manipulation and drugs. We both knew what we did, and in a twisted way it made us equals. We each took a bag of dope and did our usual routine before using. The routine consisted of us pouring the drugs out on a CD case, putting a cigarette behind our ears, and having a bottle of water ready so we could snort some of it to wash down the remaining drugs stuck in our nasal cavities. Sad to say, but even drug addicts have routines. We had everything set up and prepared to indulge. Right before we could Phil’s phone started to ring. Phil picked up his phone and looked at me in a way I’ve never seen. He didn’t look scared, but he did for once look nervous. Just as quickly as that emotion came it went. Phil was expressionless once again. He showed me his phone, and blinking on the screen was the name Mook. We both sat and looked at the phone not talking. It eventually stopped ringing and we were still silent. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, or more ironically you could hear a syringe drop. Before we could say a word to each other Phil’s phone beeped. He received a text message and was hesitant to look at it. He opened his phone and read the message. After reading it he handed me the phone so I could read it. It was from Mook. It said, “Don’t worry about calling me back, I’ll find you.” It was a reality check. The message was confirming my worries in the beginning. I knew we wouldn’t get away with this. It seemed too easy, but I guess it always does in the heat of the moment. I handed Phil back his phone and rolled up a dollar bill. I didn’t want to care. Didn’t need to care. I bent down and snorted the drugs I so desperately wanted.
Months after the incident happened I was worse than ever. I was frail and always tired. I was only up and mobile when I was on drugs or going to get them. My fingernails were yellow. I barely showered. My bedroom (which was in my parent’s basement) was full of dirty ashtrays, mucus encrusted on the walls, water bottles filled with stagnant urine, and plenty of tools needed to cut up and inject drugs. I fell into a never-ending cycle of mediocre highs, complete constipation, and intense withdraw pains when sober. I started stealing money from family members. I would pawn jewelry. Sell video games and movies. I would hustle people for drugs to score my own. My only goal in life was to be high and always have a resource to be high. I was slowly becoming a sociopath. I abused empathy, and forgot what it felt like. I manipulated everyone that stood in my way. I thought I was charming, but I can’t even be too sure anymore. Everything became a confusing mess. I was delusional half the time, and the other half I was paranoid. Whenever I had the opportunity to think clearly I would start to cry. And eventually that would lead to more drugs. The only thing that wasn’t in my life was Phil. He had disappeared a few months after the incident. At first I was thankful. I thought the end of our relationship would mean the end of my drug use. I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly. Drugs will do that to you.
My parents saw the change in me and were devastated. They couldn’t fathom the idea of having a drug addict for a son. It was irrational, and most of all it was a terrible image that I was projecting on my family’s name. I couldn’t let my parents suffer through embarrassment because of my selfish needs. When I finally had this realization I brought it to my parent’s attention. I told them in full confidence that I wanted to seek help. I wanted to be in a rehab facility. They were welcoming and made arrangements for that same day. That was the best decision I’ve ever made, and I thank god I made it every day of my life.
During the first couple days of treatment I met with about five psychologists. I was evaluated, and studied. I was asked what I wanted out of treatment, what my interests were, what my long term goals were, and about any other question you could think of. On my third day of treatment I met with an art therapist who took a liking to me. I was confused at first considering all of my charm was used negatively recently, but he saw that I was worried and assured me that it was very natural. He asked me what my favorite subject in school was which was odd in my eyes, but I answered him and told him English. He suggested I write down some of my exploits. He told me to be honest with myself before I could start to be honest with others. Those words stuck with me and I started writing my heart out. I would write at meals, during our television time, during groups, and even before going to sleep. I constantly wrote and it felt good. I was cleaning my conscience. And I needed something to occupy my time. I was still very weak and malnourished. I had markings all over my arms and legs. My hair was thinning out and looked discolored and dead. I was unrecognizable to many, even to my own family and friends. And to tell you the truth I was glad to see myself like that. It made me sick, and it made me resent the lifestyle I had chosen.
I met a few people in treatment that were like me. Some were looking for help; others were looking for a place off of the streets. But nevertheless I did meet a few people that wanted their lives back. I respected that, because I wanted mine back as well. There were two guys in particular that I bonded with the most. One was a guy George, who before getting to treatment had a five hundred dollar a day cocaine habit. The other guy was a young fellow that I called Tebo. He told me how he hated his name and had many nicknames. We joked about nicknames in general. We joked about a lot. During that week we started to bond and became close. We ate meals together, smoked our cigarettes together, basically everything besides using the bathroom together. We became each other’s support.
Tebo and I had another week in treatment before we could be discharged. We talked about our plans for when we got out. I told him how I wanted to pursue old hobbies and maybe put some weight back on. He told me in full honesty that he’d probably go back to hustling on the streets. He told me that’s all he knew. He started telling me stories of his drug dealing. About the money he made, the women he fucked, the free drugs. He said that it is a rough life, but it’s a fun life if you can control your urges. He said that all you need is a little self-control. And honestly, I understood what he meant. He wasn’t lying about his ways. He was only saying that’s all he knew how to do. So we continued talking about his lifestyle and why he even came to treatment. He told me he just needed time off. He wanted to get away, and going to treatment wasn’t so bad because you could always find a customer or two. I had to give it to him. The man was a great hustler, and he seemed to be ahead of the game.
The final week came and I was packing my things up to leave. I wanted to get my belongings situated before breakfast. I cleared out my drawers one by one. I collected my toothbrush and deodorant from the bathroom. And lastly I grabbed the notebook I had been writing in from my time in treatment. When I had everything packed up I went down the corridor to grab breakfast. I ate very quickly and was surprised to keep anything down. My nerves were a mess. I was excited to leave and start figuring my life out. I went back to my room and collected my belongings and made my way towards the staff desk to be discharged. Before I reached it I realized I forgot to say goodbye to Tebo, so I made my way to his room. I knocked on his door and he happily said to come in. I entered and we had our last discussion.
“So I guess this is goodbye, huh?” I said.
“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” Tebo said.
“Well maybe I’ll look you up,” I said with a wink.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Tebo said with a laugh.
“Alright then, well until we meet again I guess.” I said.
“Well if you’re ever around Bromley look for me. Just ask for Mook.”