Discover more from Dangerfield's Exaggerations.
Life's a bitch and then you're born
Covert incest. That’s what Anu Cooray, the Sri Lankan nurse at the Hollies detox Center called it; ‘it’ being the relationship I had with my mother. It’s a bit heavy for eight thirty in the rattling, opiateless, emotionally haggard morning of yet another detox center, but that’s why I’m here, so I take it on the chin like a slowly deflating blow-up sex-doll.
A detox center isn’t a rehab center. It’s more like a taster, an introduction to what the next decade or two of your (my) life will consist of every time you decide you’ve had enough heroin – which is never – but outside influences such as your mother (the one with whom you’ve apparently got a covert incestual relationship with [insert wolf-whistle]) will occasionally squeeze your heart so tight, and with such a loving hatred you convince yourself you’ve had enough heroin – you never have – and so here we are.
It’s never too much heroin, it’s too much hassle of acquisition; of money, of scoring. It’s too much of the drama that surrounds the whole addiction to the point of becoming it. And really – that’s what needs to be treated, would they ever actually approach something like the truth, rather than sell you the disease model. “So, I knocked my grandma clean-out, sucker punched her so I could steal her wedding ring.”, “You’re not a bad person William, it’s a disease.” What? No William, you sound like an arsehole, a real cunt. “I carry so much guilt and shame over the things I did during my addiction” Well maybe you fucking should, I mean, from what I’ve heard, Willy, you’re guilty and have behaved utterly shamefully.
It’s a three-week program in your run of the mill detox center. You arrive, you detox, you have a bit of group therapy, you get told off for not making your bed, then you get pushed out the door into the Hellish permanent dawn of life without opiates; vulnerable and emotionally naked, frightened and miserable, and thus making space so the next broken-hearted, selfish little shit can come in, take your place, and pretend he wants to be there. Once kicked out back into the world you have a couple of choices. Move on to rehab proper, that lasts anywhere between three and twelve months, or go home and try to recover, grabbing a bag of heroin on the way as a treat for getting clean.
Covert incest is where the parent looks for emotional and social support from the child. In a functional and/or complete family this would be provided by their partner. But if they’ve died, fucked off, or are physically present but emotionally absent, the child becomes a replacement.
“Your mother, even though she cries herself to sleep every night, also gets quite a lot from your addiction. By providing you with a room, food, cleaning your clothes and providing money for drugs – in short colluding with your using – she gets you sitting on the settee with her, watching daytime television, or going to Sainsbury’s and helping her with the week’s shopping. You’ve become a stand-in for her dead husband, your father”
This isn’t nice. Not only is this place in my home town, but the other clients are people from my using community, and with the relapse rate of such places being nearly everyone, there’s a good chance I’ll end up sitting in a crack house in a few months’ time with half the people here knowing the ins and outs (not the in/outs – covert incest isn’t sexual) of the deep and dark psychology of my family life. It doesn’t feel like the safest place to be discussing such things. I bring that up in private to Joe, a likeable Irish man who runs the place and who actually cares about addicts (rare in such environments, bizarrely) and he suggests I don’t relapse and then won’t be in the aforementioned crack house and won’t have to face it. Nice idea, but two days later I leave, knowing I’m not going to stay clean, so why punish myself anymore?
I wake up. Not from sleep, but from a kind of semi-conscious game of hide-and seek with myself. I know I’m not asleep, but since the early signs of a withdrawal are making its way deeper into my body, towards what feels somehow cellular, I just keep it at bay by not being quite awake enough to be able to properly feel it. Of course, the withdrawal wins, it always does, and after a few hours between sleep and awake, the noradrenaline starts flooding my brain and an artificial energy takes over, forcing me, like it does every morning, to confront it. The day. The sickness. The lack of funds. The lack of heroin. The lack. The life.
Sweating, shortness of breath, pins and needles, the sneezing, the crying, and an existential catastrophe that’s become so real, yet so repetitive, it’s pretty much background noise at this point. I’m not sure what that says about the level of the catastrophe or the level of my existence. Probably nothing, probably everything. So indulgent.
Lifting my aching bones from the duvet-less, sheet-less, pillow-less, bed in the back room of my mother’s house, my thirty-year-old body deals with the first major physical struggle of the day, standing upright. There are a few items from my teenage years in a box in the corner of the room that mean so little to me, I’m surprised I notice it.
Next on the agenda is mum. Having slept in the clothes I haven’t changed in over a week it’s just a question of getting downstairs – asking her for some money - and, well, my next state of play relies on what she says, so…
I manage to procure a tenner. It can’t be easy to see your child in such a mess, in such a state of desperation, so just to be sure, I exaggerate it – although not much – in fact, the exaggerations are probably more for my benefit; like everything in my life. I can’t think of the last time I did something for someone else. But it’s worse, I can’t imagine why I would, either. A junkie friend once asked his mum for twenty-quid and she gave it to him in a book called ‘Mum Can You Lend Me Twenty Quid’, which he got a quid for from the second-hand bookshop.
I shuffle down to Dartford station, chuck a blanket I found in a bin on the way and grabbed for the purpose, over the anti-climb paint next to the tracks, climb over, hop across the tracks and get to the platform just as the quarter-past train pulls in on the opposite platform. The fifteen-minute train ride takes forever and as I notice it getting dark, I realise I must have woken up later than I thought. This adds another level of desperation to proceedings. Most of the dealers switch off around early evening, and there’s few things worse than having money and not being able to score. Sure, there’s the odd bastard who works late around here, but the chances of getting ripped-off, under-weighed, cut-to nothing, or simply mugged as you walk around Abbey Wood estate with a big sign over your head screaming ‘very weak and desperate man here – probably carrying at least ten quid’ are high.
I’ve tried all my numbers and predictably no one’s answering. Now it’s just a question of walking around and finding a junkie, which isn’t too hard in these parts, and maybe they’ll know someone who knows someone, whatever. I’m nearer to scoring than I was lying in bed, so progress has been made, however small.
And there she is, Lizard Jane. The bottom of the barrel. When all you have is Lizard Jane to save your day, your day has already lost most of what gave it the little value it had.
A phlebotomist at Darenth Park Hospital a year or so ago, when jabbing me all over like a human pin-cushion, looking for a vein I knew he wouldn’t find, told me his sister was a junkie, it was then I saw the resemblance, “Lizard Jane, right?”, “We usually just call her ‘Jane’, but yes, that’s her” he said. “You are twins, right?”, “Not identical, and then of course there’s the thing where she injects intravenously, and I extract intravenously” Great joke. I can’t even pretend to smile as he sticks the spike in yet another dead vein. “That will collapse if you…. too late” as he pulls the needle out of the collapsed vein on the back of my forearm. I could pull 2ml of blood from my femoral vein without looking were he to let me. But no, that’s not allowed, ‘in case something goes wrong’ so I sit here, covered in claret, welts all over my arms, trying to come to terms with the fact if this twit can’t get the blood sample, he’ll probably have to make an incision, and clean up the vomit which will undoubtedly follow, if not precede such barbarism. It’s not needles I have a problem with, it’s other people with needles. Which I should be, that’s a fair fear. Left to my own devices I’m more than happy to jab myself around fifteen times a day, but this is like him trying to scrape shit out of my arse with a feather rather than letting me take a dump.
“Can you score?” I ask Lizard Jane, A pointless question because she’s going to say ‘yes’ anyway and I know it. And she knows I know it. It’s like a theatre of cruelty between us this little performance. More theatre: “OK, I’ll walk with you”, “No, give me the money, he won’t serve me if you’re there”, and with that I realise the chances of losing my (mother’s) ten quid is in the high ninety percent range. But I’ll pretend to wait here and when she’s around the corner I’ll sprint and follow her – keep an eye on her. If she tries to run with the money, I’ll chase her and take it, if she scores and tries to run with the heroin, I’ll chase her and take it too. I’m in a mess, but not as much as a mess as Lizard Jane, she’s a living mess. The story goes that she was once a catwalk model, and her dog was prescribed phenobarbital sodium for seizures. Being a sixty-kilogram Bullmastiff, they gave her loads of the stuff, and the needles to inject it when the hound started expressing pre-symptoms. It didn’t take long for a friend to offer her money for a few ampules, which at the same time introduced her to the world of shooting ‘barbs. And the rest is history. Barbiturates were pretty much phased out in the nineteen-seventies due to them being very addictive, widely abused and causing nightmarish, protracted, and often fatal withdrawals. They were replaced with the much nicer sounding ‘tranquilizers’ (benzodiazepines) such as Diazepam (Valium), Nitrazepam (Mogadon), and Alprazolam (Xanax) which kind of backfired since benzos are very addictive, widely abused and cause nightmarish, protracted, and often fatal withdrawals. It was our good friends at Bayer Pharmaceuticals that invented and made a fortune from barbs, and heroin, too, the naughty boys.
Anyway, once Lizard Jane’s dog died from a seizure (‘Where’s the ‘barbs, Jane?’) and the vets refused to prescribe meds for a dead dog, she moved onto benzos, and then heroin. And here she is some twenty years later looking like a skeleton with barely enough skin to cover her frail and fatless body, it’s no surprise it’s covered in scabs, and cuts, and abscesses, and weeping sores; the type of filth someone who has – out of necessity – learned to be proud of, even love – squalor. Her permanent expression is one of hate, of bitterness and spite. Her drawn on eyebrows are so high and angled inwards she looks like (and is) the type of person who would steal something from you she neither wants nor needs just to deprive you of it. This purchase should go well.
“Wait there” she says, reminding me to do the complete opposite, and as soon as she disappeared around the corner of the block, I get a shuffle on, my withdrawal now kicking in fast as it’s prone to when relief (however unlikely) might be approaching – like it’s almost appearing like a reluctant apparition on some horizon of hope. I quickly (relatively) get around the corner and she’s nowhere to be seen. It’s like she’s just vaporized into thin air, all twelve kilograms of her, if you include her clothes and buckets of spite. My eyes dart around the area, less to look for somewhere she may have gone or might be hiding, but rather to delay, even just for a few blissfully – illusory – ignorant seconds, the truth of my situation; that I’m in Abbey Wood, rattling my spine loose and Lizard Jane has stolen my (mother’s) tenner – and with it probably my last chance of scoring. And while that’s a nightmare, knowing it would almost certainly happen, knowing giving Lizard Jane a tenner was about as worthwhile as trying to poke the damn thing into my vein, makes it worse. And more. That repulsive, wizened, coffin-dodging, hepatitis riddled, scabby pus-bucket will, in about five minutes, be pushing heroin into her veins on my mother’s purse, without even knowing who she robbed it from, because it matters not to her since other people are not significant enough to her to leave even a trace in what’s left of her memory.
Humiliating myself further, I even wait around for nearly an hour, as if the universe may in some way feel sorry for me and rearrange the actual course of events so Lizard Jane does actually come back and give me a bag of smack. It doesn’t and she hasn’t.
There are few options left. All the shops are closed so grafting is out of the question, and even if I could lift some meat or booze, where would I sell it to now at nearly midnight? I can’t rob anyone, it’s not my thing at the best of times and this certainly isn’t one of those, so the only score I might get, is all the way up in Brockley, from a twenty-four-seven dealer called ‘R’ and it needs another ten pounds, ten pounds I don’t have even if I could bunk the train up there.
INTERLUDE (The End of ‘R’)
In about a year someone decides to rob ‘R’. A junkie makes the call and waits on the pavement for ‘R’ to pull up in his brand spanking new BMW ‘M series’, paid for by the collected thievery of thousands of South London junkies and stained by a strange yet necessary clash of worlds as their piss-stained and sweaty arses jump in the back and bring rot and decay into the otherwise pristine interior of ‘R’s motor. ‘R’ is huge. I’ve never seen him standing up but this Jamaican all-hours dealer barely fits in the car, his shoulders significantly wider than the seat, which itself was pushed as far back as it could go. It appears most of his weight was taken by the door on which his right shoulder always leaned, or occasionally, his forearm - the size of my thigh - resting on the opened window. He had hands like shovels, one of which that would come between the seats, (after you’d laid your money down) fist clenched so he could release his grip slightly and let the tiny bags fall into your dirty palms without any contact being made. So, he pulls up and the sound of the central locking alerts the punter to open the door and get in, which he does, followed rapidly by another man, a Jamaican wearing a balaclava who came out from behind a tree and joined this little gathering. He held a gun to the back of ‘R’s massive, round head, the barrel touching the many, thick, ripples of skin on the back of his neck and instructed ‘R’ to drive to the car-park behind the Co-Op. The story gets a bit sketchy here as junkies do like to exaggerate, embellish, and simply lie (often without knowing, so fine the line between reality and imagination in a world that requires the dissolving of such distinctions to make it at least occasionally bearable). The junkie was ordered by the Jamaican in the back to gaffer-tape ‘R’ to the seat, three or four rolls of the stuff apparently, before taking his keys, being collected by a transit van and driving to ‘R’s house, which they emptied of all expensive electronic equipment, a few kgs of heroin and crack and nearly a quarter of a million in cash. All in all, a well planned and executed robbery – there’s just the one issue that was overlooked – it included a junkie. And anything and everything that includes a junkie includes problems. And whether he was involved in the heist or just exploited and a victim himself, stories were told, information was leaked, and one Sunday morning, ‘R’ knocked on the door of a man’s house in Brockley, and when it opened, he took off his face with a sawn-off shotgun. Apparently ‘R’ was back in Jamaica the next day. A shame really, handy to have an all-night score, which was rare in those days.
I dry heave a few times, but there’s nothing in there to expel, just my body knowing something major is wrong and is doing what it can to help. My back is ice-cold and water runs from my eyes and nose as I walk back towards the station, trying to think about how I can get something, anything that might help, someone who might give me some heroin, just enough to take the edge off, which is as likely as asking the drunk Rastafarian I’m watching having a piss up against some wheelie-bins for one of his kidneys.
I hear my mum’s voice as the operator asks if she’ll accept a reverse-charge call from her son, which she does, because she’s my mum. “Hello, I need some help, I’m in real trouble (and Nurse Cooray said we had a covert incestuous relationship so apparently there’s something in it for you too) I got mugged, and haven’t got any money.” “Who mugged you? Are you hurt?”, “No I’m not hurt, I’m OK, well I’m not OK, I’m sick, and it’s getting worse and I’m running out of time.” “Who mugged you?” Am I really going to say ‘Lizard Jane’ to my mum? Just the thought of mentioning that rotten person’s rotten name (Lizard Jane was proud of her name, she’d introduce herself thus, like it was something to be proud of) to my mother seems insulting, degrading, two worlds that shouldn’t make any contact, like Lizard Jane was a Junkie’s arse and my mum was the back seat of ‘R’s car. But the worlds do collide, as Lizard Jane, eyes barely open, is walking towards the phone-box. “Hang on mum…where’s my fucking money, you piece of shit?” I try to act like a hard man, but my body and mind are softer than marshmallow. It sneers. Snot hangs from its nose. It drops the carrier-bag it was holding and opens its arms like it’s being crucified. “I haven’t got your fucking money”, “Who is that? Don’t get in any more trouble!” says mum. “You’re filth, absolute scum…”, “Sorry?”, “No, not you mum.” I put my hand over the receiver… “Whatever hideous and horrific things happened to you as a child that turned you into the disgusting slither of stinking, pitiful, shit you are today, I’m fucking glad, I couldn’t be fucking happier. You’d get turned away from Auschwitz for looking too emaciated, you’d give the place a bad reputation, you septic slice of AIDS”, “I haven’t got your fucking money!” it screams, ripping off its T-shirt, pulling its bra down to reveal a couple of dehydrated udders, like a couple of toddler’s cocks. Then the skirt’s pulled up around its waist, the cunt playing second fiddle to the mass of scars, sores and weeping boils that surround the area. “You can stick your hand up there if you want, I haven’t got your money!’ And with that it starts pushing two fingers into its snatch, dribble coming out of its mouth and its eyes looking in different directions now but focusing on nothing “Of course, you haven’t got it, you spent it on fucking heroin, my heroin, you fucking witch!” And with that it runs at me, tits and fanny out, an opened can of baked-beans – the entire contents of her carrier-bag - now slowly spreading onto the pavement. Whack! I clout it right in the left temple with the telephone handset, and down it goes, its body stiffening like an ironing-board as it hits the pavement. “Hello mum? Can you pick me up from Abbey Wood train station?”, “I can’t, I’ve had a bottle of wine”, “Please, can’t you get someone else to drive?”, “Are you in danger?”, “No, I’m fucking withdrawing and I had my (her) money nicked and now I’m really sick and getting sicker (I need to lay it on thick, because this isn’t going anywhere) and…and…I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t score in the next hour!” Mug someone, rob a house, suicide - all are implied since they have been named before. She exhales, and in that resigned, desperate, and years of ground-down weariness, her pain reminds me of the utter shame I don’t feel because I just need the heroin so don’t have the energy, compassion, or brain chemistry to give a fuck. “Wait by the phone box.” And she hangs up. That’s some disease.
I start doing the maths: Five minutes to get dressed, five minutes to find a driver if she decides against risking the DUI, ten minutes faffing about finding a petrol station that’s open (she always puts petrol in the car before a journey) and fifteen minutes to drive on the empty late-night roads to this horrible place. My sixty-year-old mum’s Sunday evening is now about scoring heroin for her thirty-something son, and although I don’t care now, can’t care now, once it’s inside me and there’s no more urgency, and I reach that wonderful plateau of feeling normal, it will hit me in the face like a brick, or perhaps like a public telephone handset to the temple, and I’ll hang my head in shame like a seven-year-old child, which is about the emotional maturity of a heroin addict. And when we get back to her house and she pours a glass of wine and we sit on the sofa watching television, we’ll talk about nothing to avoid saying something we really need to.
About thirty excruciating minutes later I see a car coming down the road and slow down as it approaches me. Thank fuck. One of the real frustrations of withdrawing is the longer it goes on, the further you go downhill, and the less energy and where with all you have to make it happen. But just as the headlights dip my heart drops, it’s not my lover, I mean mother, it’s the Old Bill, who have opened the doors and stepped out before I’ve had a chance to do whatever I’d have done if I’d had the chance, which would have been nothing, but I’d have liked the opportunity. “What’s this?” says the copper, gesturing at the mainly naked and unconscious body of Lizard Jane laying on the pavement – the self-same mainly-naked and unconscious body I’d completely forgotten about. “Baked beans” I say. “Do you know anything about this?” says the other copper. “No, I just got here to call my mother, she’s picking me up from work. Another car approaches. Dear God, if you let this be my mum I will do the gardening for five old people this week, I promise. God was listening, I won’t be doing any gardening though, obvs. It is indeed my mother because she pulls around the police car and pulls up in front of me. I open the rear door and start climbing in. “Excuse me!” Says one of the coppers, “Drive mum, quick just drive” and bless her, she just drives.
We have to go to Brockley, about a fifteen-minute drive at my mum’s speed, about five minutes if I were driving, if I had a car and could drive. “Who was that girl on the floor?” says a voice that isn’t my mum’s as I realise Brenda is actually driving. And while this is good as it has made this lift to Brockley possible, it is bad as I have no covert incestuous relationship with Brenda, not even a relationship. In fact, her entire presence will just function like a magnifying glass to the entire me taking advantage and putting at risk of my mother that’s about to unfold – and of course me not waiting more than a second to cook up and get the stuff in my bloodstream in the back of the car. “Try not to get blood on the seat, please”, etc.
Mum and Brenda talk about something, anything I guess to avoid thinking about what’s actually happening. “Are those police following us?” says my mum, looking concerned in the rear-view mirror, and my heart actually feels something, so sad she’s now taken on the role of scoring and looking out for the police. The police turn into a side road so we’re OK. “That’s the last thing we need” she says. No mum, this is the last thing you need, saying ‘that’s the last thing WE need’ is the last thing you need. What has happened to me? Right, that’s about three seconds of guilt, back to business and I tell her to turn right up Wickham Road and to stop at the telephone box. I get out of the car, stupidly the wrong side, but rather than waste the last dregs of energy I have and walk all the way around the car to my mum’s side, I tap on Brenda’s window. She winds the window down. “Have you got the money?” I ask my mum, deliberately not specifying the amount on the off-chance she’ll give me a twenty. Alas it’s only a tenner, her twelve hours a week of care work struggles to fund a junk habit and buy food, electricity etc., and as she reaches over Brenda to pass me the money, Brenda leans back to distance herself from the filthy lucre, and the way she knows I’ll snatch it from the loving hand of the woman that grew me inside her womb.
After making the quick call, I shuffle off down the road to where I always meet ‘R’ and try to look on the bright side, but as I’m having trouble finding anything at all resembling it, his car pulls up. The central locking clicks and I let myself in. He pulls off again and starts driving up the road. ‘Not too far, mate. I’ve got my mu…mate in a motor back down the road.” He pulls over almost immediately. He’s not bad really for a dealer. There’s no real security to be had driving half a mile away like some dealers do just to exert a bit of power over some of the lowest people on the planet. I already told him I want one brown and after I put the tenner down behind his handbrake, his clenched fist comes back and drops the tiny bag into my hand. It’s taken about six hours but finally, at last, Hail Mary (whatever that means) I’ve got it in my hand. There’s a knock at the tinted passenger window. Lord no! Please no! Not the police, not a robbery. I want nothing to happen now except me getting out, walking down the road and getting into Brenda’s car to shoot this shit and avoid another night of life.
‘R’ presses a button and the passenger window slowly slides open “Street bitch! Mi already did tell yuh time neva cum tuh di cyar befwor mi tell yuh. Put di paper pan di seat an mi wi cum bac fi yuh food. Rassclart!” A screwed-up ten pounds lands on the seat and just as the punter was about to talk, ‘R’ drives off. He turns round at the end of the road and we start driving back towards mum and Brenda. His fist comes through the gap in the seats and he drops another bag into my hand “Gi dis tuh dat donkey. An tell har neva cum tuh fi mi cyar again ar mi wi hat har.” And with that incomprehensible gibberish (I did once tell ‘R’ I don’t understand a word he says and he repied: “Now pan mi will mek ah special tuh explain miself tuh yuh suh wi can duh it saps.” Great) I get out of the car and walk down the street. I get it that I have got to give the punter his bag, and no doubt he’ll be hanging around where he knocked on ‘R’s window. The first rule of any survival situation is stay where you are. So, I doubt he’ll have moved an inch in any direction. But as I walk down the dark road, only about thirty meters from Brenda’s car and the end of this one humiliating, dull, and desperate day among thousands more, I see the punter. Not on the pavement, but standing in between two cars, looking up and down the road for ‘R’s car that has long gone. Now if I don’t give this bag to him, I’ll never be able to use ‘R’ again. If I do give it to him, I will be giving away a bag of heroin, which is obviously ridiculous. I can always get someone else to score from ‘R’. But as I get closer, the situation changes somewhat, it’s not a he it’s a her, well, barely. It’s Lizard Jane, and she doesn’t even notice me, so desperate is she to see the headlights of hope come back to her. But if I don’t give it to her, I’m as bad as her. Well, not so disgusting and poisonous, and scabby, and dirty – but ethically – I will be as low as it gets; to steal from a junkie is to torture them, and I don’t want to be that man. I don’t want to be like her. “Hey, shit-head!” I say and it turns round. “There’s your bag”, and I throw her bag on the pavement, where she scrambles around a bit before finding it, putting it in her mouth and shuffling off up the road to find an abscess in which to shoot it.
I just keep walking past, her skeletal, shivering, and half-naked, scabrous frame not even noticing me as she continues to look up and down the road, fearing the worst as she realises ‘R’ almost certainly isn’t coming back.
In the back seat of Brenda’s car, I start putting the hit together, I consider saving one bag for the morning but even as I’m ‘considering it’ I’ve ripped the tiny knot from the tiny bag with my teeth, unwrapped it and poured it in the spoon with the other one. It’s a bit of yoga trying to get a groin-shot on the back seat of a Kia Rio moving at a middle-aged, divorcee, thirty mph, but of course I manage it, and as I come back to normal, I ask my mum what she had for dinner. “Lasagna and salad” she says. “I like salad, and I like Lasagna” says Brenda, “But I don’t like Lasagna and salad, because the Lasagna makes the salad warm.”, “You could put the salad on a separate plate” I say.
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