By Ken Krayeske • 8:00 PM EST
Heroin, by the Velvet Underground. Lou Reed attended Syracuse University, dropping out before graduating. I listened to this song when writing this story 14 years ago.
From my archives: I wrote this piece in spring 1994 for a magazine class my senior year at Syracuse University (Check out the .pdf from the prototype we called Seriously.) With all the press about heroin in the suburbs lately, I think this contribution to the dialogue remains valid. I tightened up a few words I couldn't live with, and I added a few details about the drug, but it 95 percent original.
I lived with Pat and Colin, the people in this story, the insane year that they started to do heroin. Last I heard seven or eight years ago, Pat and Colin were doing okay. I wish them only the best now. Hopefully, they’re lucky enough to be clean. And we're all lucky enough to be alive. Happy Holidays.
Rochester, NY, February 9, 1993. Today is Pat’s 20th birthday. His favorite band is playing at a small theater in town. He celebrates by snorting some heroin.
"I started using it because all the other drugs I was using weren't getting me high enough," Pat says. "It me feel unbelievable. It was dangerous, uncharted territory."
Syracuse, NY, May 12, 1993. Sunlight, rare in Syracuse, shines into Pat's bedroom. It is the last day he will live in Syracuse. After spending the last two years tripping on LSD, freebasing cocaine and selling marijuana to pay for his habit, he has now flunked out of two colleges.
Tomorrow, he will move home to Rochester to run his landscaping business. He watches his favorite soap operas, but he feels alone and bored. He snorts a bag of heroin.
Pat's friend stops in, and Pat asks him for a ride to Tully, 20 minutes due south. Pat wants to check on his blue Volkswagon van because the man servicing it lives on a street endangered by a mudslide.
On the way, they stop for some hot French fries. Pat has a few, then throws up on the side of his friend's station wagon.
"Heroin gives me an upset stomach," Pat says. "I'll clean it off later."
They pull up to the street his van is on, but a policeman sits in his car, watching the mudslide area, blocking the road. With pupils shrunken to pinheads, Pat says he will get them past the cop.
He chats with the cop for 10 minutes, but gets nowhere. So they leave.
Rochester, NY, May 20, 1993. Pat mows some laws and earns enough cash to pick up his van, then tour with Phish and the Grateful Dead. Sumer means live music under the moon and drugs.
"Heroin took you to another place where you had no cares about anything but yourself and the drug that you were on," Pat says. "I lost all grasp of reality. It basically really fucked me up."
Chicago, IL, June 16, 1993. Pat gets a scare when his friend Colin's heart stops beating for two minutes after shooting up outside a Dead show. Someone saves Colin using CPR. The dreamy narcotic high of heroin results because the opiate slows your metabolism. Too much heroin will make the heart stop beating.
Colin's been injecting heroin since his birthday in May. But Pat decides that since he only snorts, he has little to worry about. Delivery mechanisms don't matter: once heroin enters the bloodstream, cells undergo a chemical change in which they need it to function, thus creating an almost instant addiction.
"It started once in a while," Pat says. "It turned into a way of life. They it took my life away."
Lexington, KY, June 23, 1993. After a Dead show, Pat's blue van attracts police, and they smell marijuana. They search the vehicle and find a few bags of some drug. A few minutes later they learn it's heroin. Pat spends three days in jail. He schedules a court date for mid-October.
"They wanted to get me help in jail, but they treated me like shit," Pat says. "I was detoxing. I was sick in jail. As soon as I got out, I was looking to get high."
Middletown, NY, July 21, 1993. Pat and Colin go to New York City on their way to a concert to score some smack. A man pulls a gun on them. They lose $300, but cop 10 bags of H.
"Obsession," Pat says. "Because you just have to have it. You can't live without it. You always think about it. When you're gonna have it, when you’re gonna do more."
Pat figures he has spent more than $5,000 on heroin, sometimes snorting five bags over the course of a day. A bag usually runs $20 and the dreamy, narcotic high lasts four to six hours. After effects include constipation; opiates create a water deficit in the human body.
Much of Pat's habit money comes from dealing grass and a little heroin.
Woodstock, NY, August 20, 1993. An undercover cop arrests Colin for selling heroin. Colin has three felonies and a few misdemeanors pending against him.Colin has a trust fund, too. Colin comes from a broken but wealthy family.
"If you have money," Pat says, "you can get out of anything."
Lexington, KY, October 15, 1993. Pat and his father take a road trip from Rochester to court. His father dishes out $5,000 to hire a lawyer to get Pat out of a misdemeanor and a felony.
The judge offers Pat a choice: quit or go to jail. Pat says he'll quit.
"Basically, you gotta have the desire to stop," Pat says. "You can talk about quitting until you are blue in the face, but you gotta have the desire."
Tallahasse, FL, November 1993. Pat moves into a halfway house.
"Detox cold turkey really sucks," Pat says. "I was in there seven days, but I will be detoxing the rest of my life."
Then he enters a twelve-step rehab program. He stays for 24 days at $1,200 a day.
"Twelve steps is a good thing; you need the support," Pat says. But he adds that he "had to get out of there," away from the crackheads and crazies living in the house.
Tallahasse, FL, January 19, 1994. Pat is clean and homeless, living in his van on a beach. He looks for a job, but can't find one because he is leaving Florida in March. He would leave sooner, but his van won't make the drive to Central New York in the dead of winter.
Pat's brother, a truck driver, arrives in Florida on a run. Their dad rides along. They see Pat for 10 minutes. His dad gives him $100, and they leave.
"I had grown far away from my family," Pat says. "But my parents supported me and tried to get me help. Without my family, I'd be a hobo on the corner."
Rochester, NY, March 20, 1994. Pat drives home from Florida to move back in with his family, but he is uncomfortable there because his parents, still living together, have just filed for a divorce.
"All my court stuff is done," he says. "Everything is cool now. I'm not going to the spot where you go to cop a high. It's five minutes from my house, but I haven't been there."
Ridgefield, OH, March, 24, 1994. Pat and a friend arrive in town to see the Grateful Dead. They put a cooler on his skateboard and stroll around the parking lot selling imported beer. They make enough money to buy a few tickets and gas for the trip home.
"When I was at shows, I thought about it," Pat says. "But I didn't cruise for it. Right now, I feel pretty good that I won't try it again. I know how I felt before and I don't want to feel like that again. I'm sick of the roller coaster ride.”
Rochester, NY, March 30, 1994. Pat sits at home. He's trying to read a book about the five senses and their functions and how they work, but he can't concentrate.
He keeps thinking about where he's going to live when his parents get divorced. They have a buyer for the house and it will be sold by the end of April. He doesn't want to live with his mother or his father. He's thinking about moving out West to make a new start.
"It's hard to start over where everyone knows what happened to you," he says. "They're all in shock and they say 'Wow, that's heavy.'"