In one of the summers of long ago, the one in which I was 19, a surreal thing happened that still visits me from time to time.
I was standing at the street corner catching up with my cousin, who I had run into on the way home. He lives just down the street, but even then we’d run into each other instead of making sure we met regularly.
As we stood there chatting, one of the neighborhood junkies approached us. He was maybe in his late 20s, and he always had red nostrils. I remember him as a menacing figure whose reputation in the area was one of trouble. And now here he was walking over.
“You two, come with me, I wanna show you something,” he ordered. My cousin and I walked behind him. I felt uneasy about it, but my cousin was with me and he’s a tough, street smart guy, so I wasn’t too worried.
We walked behind him down a nearby alley to his grandmother’s house, where he lived in a small room on the upper floor. His room had a wooden staircase from the outside of the house, so he could go in and out as he pleased.
Soon enough, we were in his bedroom. “Sit down,” he said, pointing to some chairs in his room. We did. He sat on his bed and opened the small drawer next to it.
He pulled out a ball of aluminum foil, put it in his lap and unrolled it. Inside was a black substance. He then pulled out of the drawer a hollow Bic pen, which he used as a straw, as well as a lighter.
At that moment I realized what was going on.
He put lighter under the foil and held the flame there until a thin white line of smoke danced out of it. He used the straw to inhale the smoke. He held it in, then exhaled it, and repeated the process twice more.
Meanwhile, my cousin and I sat in complete silence, watching. “Listen to me both of you,” the guy interrupted. “Drugs will kill you. Don’t you ever do drugs, you hear me?”
I don’t remember what my cousin did or said, but I remember just nodding speechlessly. What could I possibly have said there?
“Alright, now get out of here,” he commanded us. As we walked out of his room, he called us back. “If you tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you,” he added. I had no doubt it wasn’t a figure of speech.
To this day, I have no idea what happened there, or why. But I feel I was invited to be a witness to someone else’s silent inner struggle. As if he needed someone to verify his existence and understand his suffering.
I’ve not seen him since that summer, so I’m not sure where he is, or if he’s even still alive. But in many ways, in my mind, he definitely is.