The first time I did cocaine was off Billy Joel’s face. My boyfriend, Shawn, lined a row over Billy’s mouth on the cover of Piano Man. I remember leaning down with the dollar bill in my fingers, locking eyes with Billy, wondering why his eyes were sad, and wondering if I was going to do it right. I put the bill to the end of the row and inhaled the white mustache clean off of him. Shawn gasped. Apparently the whole row wasn’t just for me. I should have just done half, he said. He was annoyed. He was always annoyed.
I had to lie back. My nose burnt. It felt like it didn’t work. I wondered if I should act fucked-up. I tried to remember what cocaine was supposed to do. I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to feel.
And then I felt it. And it was amazing.
No: I was amazing.
That night began my love affair with cocaine.
My boyfriend also loved that I loved cocaine. Before that moment we had never slept together. I was waiting. Or I was scared. Or both. But within hours of that first high I had three more rows and a bump of ketamine, we agreed to break into an abandoned house a few miles down the road, and did some dirty things.
Way to go, Shining Star. Ugh.
I took D.A.R.E. classes in the fifth grade. I listened. I learned. I got my diploma. I don’t know that anyone ever failed D.A.R.E. But, if anyone did fail, it would have been Peter W. Peter was The Breakfast Club‘s John Bender of our class. He began smoking cigarettes before anyone else. He talked about booze all the time and getting fucked up. He mocked the D.A.R.E. officer incessantly when the officer would discuss weed as a gateway drug. If our D.A.R.E. officer ever considered failing anyone it would have been Peter. And yet, there I was just a couple years later, doing hard drugs, breaking and entering, and doing sexual things with a guy who, if caught, would have been arrested for statutory rape.
I should have mailed back the diploma. I failed.
Within a few weeks I was addicted. I was a zombie. My daily routine: wake up (if I ever really slept), cocaine, go to school, cocaine, go home, cocaine. My parents probably knew. My mother said after I was sober that she knew the whole time, but I don’t believe her. I’d like to think if she had known she would have tried to stop me. I know she knew about the liquor, the acid, and the pot. I told her about those. But I can’t imagine any parent being all right with their teen daughter becoming a cokehead. But that’s who I was. It was short-lived, though. No teenager without a job, in high school, can afford a drug habit.
Getting clean wasn’t so bad. Guilt and shame were harder to cope with than the withdrawals, and the dependency on the ego that cocaine gave. I returned to reality months after I began and it was like I had been asleep for years. People looked different. Friends liked different things. Some friends weren’t even my friends anymore. The friends I did have I couldn’t talk to. They were still doing coke. I had to make different friends. New ones. People who never tried drugs. People who never even considered it. People who would call my old friends stoners, or druggies, or losers. I needed that.
We were in a beach house of a washed-up surfer from the 1960s in Baja. I sat at a dirty plastic table with strangers. My lover and I had hitched down and finally made it to Todos Santos, where we were told by those on the road with us we’d find good weed and quiet places to chill out. We wanted that. We wanted to be in love and see if we could stay that way. So we went far away from our friends and families to live on beautiful beaches, eat tacos, and fuck a lot. By the time we reached Fast Eddie’s beach house we were tired, hungry, and dirty. When we got into town unsure where to go we passed another American hitchhiker who told us if we bring a six-pack to Fast Eddie’s then he’d let us shower and camp out in the volleyball court he had in his back yard. So we did.
After our showers we sat around with other restless travelers and Fast Eddie’s surfing buddies, things began to unravel. Drugs were brought out. Fast Eddie got dark and weird.
A paper plate of coke was put on the table. Fast Eddie stood behind us all. “If you’re going to stay here,” he said, “you all gotta do it.” I had been clean for four years. I refused. In doing so, I was berated by Fast Eddie so badly that I began to cry. Monty, Fast Eddie’s last friend, told me to leave the table. Fast Eddie and I both needed a time out. When I returned twenty minutes later, the coke was gone and all was okay in the universe again. Mostly.
I am a magician when it comes to my emotions. Or I should say, escape artist. If I begin to feel, I want to drown it, smother it, put it in a box somewhere under a bed in my memory, and hope I can’t listen to it anymore. This is why I loved coke. This is why I loved painkillers. This is why I loved Jack Daniel’s. Distract before you react.
The last time I did coke was on the bathroom counter in my parent’s trailer. Beside my father’s electric razor and my mother’s Jean Naté perfume, I snorted the last line I’d ever take. The second to last time I did coke was about six minutes before that. The third to the last time I did coke was about ten minutes before that. The last memory I have from that night was looking up in the mirror and not actually seeing myself. I remember I felt panic.
I saw the wallpaper in the mirror behind me. Ducks. My mother loved ducks. White ducks in rows with blue little ribbons around their necks all going the same way. I remember thinking the artist should have put some going the other way. I remember wondering why I had never noticed before. I remember telling myself to not forget about it so I could tell my mother how silly it was.
Shawn is still sitting up. Legs under him. In my periphery I see him going back and forth to the rows of white on Billy Joel’s face. I think he might die. I want to tell him I’m worried. To slow down. But I am silent.
“My dad loves ‘Captain Jack’. That’s fucked up, right?” He crashes down beside me as the record turns.
Jacqueline Kirkpatrick is a writer in Albany, NY. She has been published in Creative Nonfiction, The Rumpus & Thought Catalog.