Suburban Slum Lord

It’s June 22, a little after midnight as I write this. I’m going to schedule this post to appear on Monday the 26th.

My name is Sarah Kovac. For the last 7 months, I’ve been renting an apartment in Kenmore New York, from Evelyn Simon. She is the worst landlord in Buffalo.

When I got this apartment, around the end of November, beginning of December, 2016, I was thrilled. I had only been in Buffalo since the beginning of October, crashing on the couch with an old friend, Dave. Eventually Dave and I got together, but I wanted my own space. Previously, I had spent March – September of 2016 homeless, living in a series of vehicles and with friends. I wanted my own space.

Evelyn Simon offered an apartment I could live in without having to provide paystubs or references, since I had neither of those things. A modest little one bedroom apartment, a place I could go when Dave’s house felt a little too chaotic, a place I could call my own.

Very quickly problems started.

Twice in December, Evelyn or her boyfriend came out to replace my thermostat, in response to my complaints about the lack of heat. They both told me repeatedly that the heat worked fine for the previous tenant, and that I probably just didn’t understand how to work the thermostat. I watched tutorial videos on youtube and I asked several of my tech savvy friends to teach me how to use the thermostat. It’s not hard. But, the heat just wouldn’t come on. I put a space heater in my bedroom, but mostly, I slept at Dave’s house at night, so I told myself it was fine.

In March, during the coldest week of the winter, I finally got fed up. It was 15 degrees outside, and 40 inside my apartment, according to the thermostat. I called a professional from Adema Heating and Cooling. The Adema guy re-lit the pilot light. He waited to see how it would work. Within a few minutes, the pilot light had gone out again. He told me due to the age of the furnace, there were hundreds of dollars worth of repairs that would need to be made, or else the entire 50 year old furnace might need to be replaced.

I shared this information with Evelyn, but at that point, I was exhausted. My relationship with Dave had gotten more serious. We decided to renovate the first floor of his house so I could move in full time, and have my own space at the same time. I invested in that house. We picked out paint colors and baseboards. We worked together to tear down old wall paper. He snapchatted me from Home Depot. I was thrilled.

And then Dave died, and I lost my space in his house, and I told Evelyn to forget about the furnace problems. It was now April, and the weather was getting warmer, and I would probably be OK. I needed a place to keep living. I asked her if I could finally sign a lease so I could make some plans around the apartment. She never gave me a lease.

The first week of May, it rained for several days. A leak started in my bathroom, which turned into a big leaky paint bulge. I alerted Evelyn on May 7th. Later that day, her boyfriend came to rip out the ceiling fan and light fixture. Evelyn said someone would come fix it “not sure when exactly.” On May 9th, someone came to my apartment and covered the hole with a black plastic trash bag, hammering it into place with screws.

On May 25th, during more rain, the black trash bag-screw “solution” leaked some more.

On June 3rd, Evelyn said she would “hopefully no by sun nite” when repair people were coming. Nearly a month after the initial leak started.

On June 6th, I opened an escrow account at Key Bank and deposited the rent.

On June 9th, I sent a letter via certified mail, informing Evelyn that I had opened an escrow account at Key Bank, where the rent would remain until repairs were made.

On June 10th, Evelyn asked for the rent. There was still a trash bag covered leaky hole in my apartment.

On Monday June 12th,  Evelyn responded with shock (probably having received the certified letter) and then “contractor be over between 10 and 2.”

On Tuesday June 13th, I stayed in my apartment all day, taking pictures of the trash hole every half hour, with increasingly frustrated/hilarious snap chat filters, as no one showed up to fix the hole.

On Thursday June 15th, I had a contractor from 3G come to give me his own estimate. The repairs were not that extensive – $30 per hour labor, maybe 4 to 5 hours of work, plus an $80 fixture available at Home Depot or Lowes. But he told me there was no point in fixing the ceiling if there was still a hole in the roof. I don’t have roof access. I have no way to know.

On June 19, Evelyn sent texts saying “contractors working all week when can I get in to fix tiny whole and get my 2 months rent upon completion…tu” and “need to know if I can let them in or if u need to be at aot.” I have transcribed her spelling.

I responded “I am available to let repair crew in.”

She responded “and when done I expect may and June’s rent in full.”

June 19, 20, and 21 pass with no repair crews. I sit in my apartment for most of those days, posting pictures of the trash hole to snapchat and instagram.

June 21st, Amber from Erie County Health Department came to inspect the apartment. I had been calling every health board and legal aid department and housing authority since the leak began. She said she would file her report and be back in a week to see if repairs were made.

Also June 21st, I deposited the second month of rent into the escrow account at Key Bank.

Also June 21, Evelyn texts “will be over at 10 am tomorrow.” I respond “I will be available to let repair crew in.” She says “ok…tu.”

Will anyone actually show up tomorrow? I don’t know.

I do know that I am packing all my stuff and preparing to get out of here at the end of June.

If you’d like to see a timeline of these events unfolding, you can check my instagram https://www.instagram.com/sarah.a.moose/ Go back to early March for the furnace saga. Here’s March 12 https://www.instagram.com/p/BRiwq3_g72ocni1FPAmVf_GeCgFNiCGcpTzg-00/?taken-by=sarah.a.moose_

I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I went through. For the first 4 months I had this apartment, when Dave was alive and I was spending most of my time at his house, I let things slide. Remember, I had been homeless for half of 2016. I was just grateful for a roof over my head. After sleeping curled up in my old Taurus, I was thrilled beyond belief to have a WHOLE apartment to myself. With a bathroom! A toilet and a shower! I didn’t have to wipe off in gas station bathrooms or sneak into motel rooms when the house keeping carts went by.

But just because I’ve lived in worse conditions, doesn’t mean these conditions are actually OK. They’re not. I should have had a working furnace all winter. And I should have had my bathroom ceiling patched up the week it happened … not going on 2 months later.

I don’t know if the repairs are going to happen. I spoke to Legal Aid today. They said at this point, I’m well within my rights to move out and take my 2 months back rent with me. I never signed a lease, even after asking for one, because Evelyn never produced one for me to sign. If I were to leave and take my back rent with me, she could try to take me to small claims court, but Legal Aid told me if I showed a judge the pictures of the bathroom ceiling hole and the thermostat pics from March, she would lose. And she might even have to pay for my court fees on top of it. So it would be an unwise case for her to pursue.

I’m just ready for this whole ordeal to be over. I’m done with this apartment and I’m done with Evelyn Simon.

All I Want For Giftmas

finest

The Finest was a record shop in Greeley Colorado that closed in 2009. (http://archives.collegian.com/2009/10/18/done_with_records_the_finest_deals_in_rumination/)

I spent 2 weeks every July from 1995 to 2000 in Greeley Colorado, attending a summer camp called Summer Enrichment Program hosted at University of Northern Colorado. It was a great place where I made friends with other weird and gifted kids from all over the US and took classes in improv theater, journalism, and debate. Others did photography and ceramics and robotics and music. It was truly a privilege to have parents with the trust and the money to send me out there, year after year.

However, my favorite souvenir from those summers isn’t something I got from the camp or the college that hosted it. It was a hoodie from The Finest, bought by my dad, before he dropped me off at camp. My dad loved hard to find music and independent record stores, and every summer that he took me to camp absolutely had to include at least one visit to The Finest. The logo from the top of this post was printed across the middle, in thick, waxy, white.

I can’t remember which CDs of mine, long since lost or stolen anyway, came from that place. But I remember my hoodie. I had it for 15 years. I cut holes in the sleeves when I was a cart-fetcher at a grocery store and I forgot my gloves in the middle of winter. My Finest hoodie was a staple of every flight I took, and made me more than one friend along the way, usually a Colorado resident who would spot the big blocky text from 50 feet away and shout out “Hey I love that shop!” That hoodie survived the dorms at Northern Michigan University and Cornell College, moves across Michigan, New York, and Iowa, homelessness in 2008 as I hitched my way across the mid west and eastern seaboard, countless road trips and strip club locker rooms, the death of my father in 2009, the beginning and end of my first marriage in 2010. 15 years of my life.

Barn Cat lost it. Or destroyed it. When I tried to leave him the first time, at the end of April, I had to wait until he was asleep to sneak out of the disgusting motel room we shared. I only had time to grab the absolute essentials – my laptop, my fleece quilt, a little pouch filled with my ID and passport, etc. He was either wearing my Finest hoodie, or else it was buried in his rat’s nest of blood stained clothes and ripped towels.

I lasted about 10 days after I fled before he charmed me back, and he told me he had no idea where my hoodie went. It didn’t matter. He lost or destroyed lots of other things I loved, too. A pendant given to me by one of my oldest friends from Renaissance Festival, hundreds of dollars worth of camping equipment, AN ENTIRE FUCKING CAR. I could go on. I will not.

I just want that hoodie back, or a reasonable facsimile. Size, extra large. Color, black. Heavy weight 100% cotton. You know, a hoodie. The kind of hoodie you can pull your hands inside the sleeves and clap like a seal. With a big kangaroo pocket for stashing a 20 oz soda or holding a kitten. The kind of hoodie you live in.

That’s all I want for Giftmas this year. Please, internet, work me a miracle. Thank you.

Broken Holding Broken

5927140200_54d0e7babb_z

 

This post is about suicide

I just woke up and checked facebook to find the news that a friend of mine had committed suicide overnight. At this time yesterday, she was alive and now she is not.

My friend was trans and queer and mentally ill and isolated. We never actually met in person, we met through a facebook group and I had every intention of visiting her on my next big cross country road trip. She took beautiful nature pictures. She was outspoken on facebook, boosting the voices of Native American water protectors and anti fascist activists everywhere.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent her a pizza through the magic of online pizza ordering. A few buttons pressed, and it didn’t matter that I was 1000 miles away from her. She was hungry and I had some extra cash and pizza happened.

But likes on facebook and delivery pizzas are not enough to stave off suicide.

I’m trying not to make the death of my friend about me, but this is about me. And this is about all of us, from multiple marginalized identities with broken brains that keep luring us to the edge and telling us “jump.” And how, time after time, I see the broken holding up the broken.

It’s always people with the least to give who give the most. It’s my friends with active suicidal urges I always see cheering others on, spilling their hearts and exposing their wounds, to tell others, “It’s OK if you’re broken like this, or broken in a different way, and please don’t go.” We’ve developed, through necessity, a micro culture where we can say “Hey I can’t get out of bed but you’re welcome to come over and lay on the floor and be broken next to me.”

And it’s better than nothing but it’s not nearly enough. And with the death of my friend, I’m sad for her and I’m angry at the world for being so hostile to her that death was the preferable option.

A few years ago, when I was getting divorced from my first husband, the one who isolated me, abused me, and eventually tried to murder me, I spent several frantic weeks looking for counseling. I went to one “audition” after another with different counselors only to be told “Sorry, I don’t think you’re right for our services” before I lucked into a therapist who was willing to take me on. At the same time, I was curious about gun ownership, specifically a small rifle for target practice. I never bought a gun, but I called the local police department and the sporting goods store to check the rules. Just show up, and buy it. Like a pair of shoes, or a pack of gum.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I have friends around me. One of them just made me a sandwich because if I’m going to be ranting on the internet about suicide and mental health care access, I need to have something in my belly besides a granola bar and half a bottle of red wine. When my brain starts getting hostile with me, I can poke my head out of my room and say “Who wants to walk down to 7-11 with me? I need company.” Someone will hold my hand or hug me when I ask.

My isolated, nature photographing friend didn’t have that.

There’s no good conclusion here. I’m not going to exhort you to call your senators or smile at a stranger or call a friend you haven’t spoken to lately. Because I know, if you’re one of the broken, you’re already doing all you can to keep yourself alive and try to drag one or two friends back from the edge while you’re at it.

And if you’re not broken? If you’re healthy, normal, sane, if you can’t imagine depression as anything more than “so you’re just *really* sad?” This post isn’t really for you anyway.

RIP Plant Girl

On This Momentous Occasion

thankyou

 

(cw rape, homelessness, sex work, drug use, trans erasure/transphobia)

Today is the one year anniversary of my rape, and so, on this momentous occasion, I would like to thank my rapist.

Thank you, rapist, for kicking off 12 months of unabated horror. You set in motion events that would continue to unfold and dismantle my life, brick by brick, as the days and weeks strung together into months. But you also prepared me for a world in which my life doesn’t matter. You prepared me to meet my death.

After you raped me, I asked my doctor for a short term prescription of Xanax. Instead he doubled my Effexor, a drug which is known to cause episodes of mania in bipolar patients. I am bipolar. I did, indeed, have a manic episode. The worst of my life.

Hypersexual, too high on my own brain chemicals for sleep, completely out of my mind for over a month. I got fired from a social work job and abandoned my spouse, family and friends, to be homeless with a charming con man I refer to as Barn Cat. Within 2 weeks I was selling access to my body to raise the funds for Barn Cat’s heroin addiction – anywhere from $100 to $300 a day.

But you, rapist, you prepared me for that too. I didn’t enjoy the work but I gritted my teeth and got through it. At least I was getting paid. At least these penises didn’t catch me by surprise, like yours did, when you grabbed me by the back of the neck and forced yourself into my mouth.

You prepared me for living with a violent misogynist, Barn Cat. Something I knew from previous sexual assaults was that I respond to a violation by becoming extremely feminine and seeking the comfort of extremely masculine men. To put it bluntly, I want to fuck the rape out. Before you raped me, I was outspoken about my identity as a transgender person, a non binary person. I wore a binder sometimes. I deliberately blurred the lines between “man” and “woman.” But Barn Cat wasn’t having any of that, and luckily for him, luckily for me, you came along and raped me. Between that and the manic episode, I was in full-blown sparkle princess turbo girl mode 24/7. My gender locked itself back into the assignation I was given at birth.

And when my case against you was dropped, because I hadn’t been able to identify a picture of you BECAUSE YOU RAPED ME IN A DIMLY LIT BAR BEHIND BLACK CURTAINS, I got used to the idea that justice will always be out of reach. I drank heavily that night, and got up the next day, ready to get back to the work of daily survival.

And now? 5 days post election, the lessons you taught me are more relevant than ever.

I will be violated again, and you prepared me to accept violence with stillness, focusing on living to fight another day.

I am prepared to live full time as a cisgender woman, which will come in handy in a country where conversion therapy by electroshock treatment is one heart attack away from becoming a national policy.

And I know there is no justice. There will be no jury of your peers, no one will condemn you or punish you, nor will the legions of rapists who will be emboldened by our Rapist In Chief.

So thank you, rapist. While many of my friends have been caught off guard by the assorted horrors of 2016, you gave me a 6 week head start, when you raped me one year ago today.

 

(PS you can read the original blog post from last year at this link https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YO1qwGVxZx6o0YYbm6AvMWTg5rVhFj_vxmD5cFidRa8/edit?usp=sharing )

Me and Anne Frank

anne-frank-annexe

If we’re good enough friends that I’ve slept over at your house, odds are, I probably already have a hiding spot picked out. It’s a thing I do, almost reflexively, when I start spending a lot of time in any house. I look for unused rooms, big closets, attics, false walls, spooky basements, crawl spaces.

I’m white, but I’m also Jewish. Some white people would be happy to revoke the white privileges I’ve accumulated through generations of my family assimilating into American culture, ever since great-great whoever washed up on the shores of Ellis Island around 1880. To grow up Jewish in the US is to always be aware that your homeland could turn on you.

In middle school and high school, public schools where I was Lone Jew, I read the part of Anne Frank at least 3 times, as the entire class sat with 30 copies of the stage play version of her diary. The part was always offered to me, and I never refused, while the rest of the class took turns being Miep or Fritz. I read Anne’s parts when I was younger, same age, and older than she was when the annex was discovered.

She’s been a constant presence in my life for longer than I can remember. A role model, an imaginary companion, a tragic sister. I discovered a book of her own short stories and poems when I was 18, and it strengthened my belief that if we had existed in the same place at the same time, we would have been friends.

And one of Anne’s lessons to me, something I’ve known for so long that I often forget I know it, is to know where the hiding places are, and know what I would bring with me.

Books, always books. I prefer reference books and non fiction now, to the swords-and-magic fantasies I read when I was younger. Blank journals and pens, to document my own life. 3 index cards in my estranged/ex husband’s handwriting, containing his vows to me on our wedding day. A wallet sized photo of my dad, dead since 2009. A few changes of clothes, my memory quilt, a stuffed animal if there’s time.

***

Last Wednesday I drove across the state of Michigan, to have surgery in Muskegon. Last week, the drive was long and boring, and I got some funny looks at a small town gas station in my leather jacket and pink hair, but nothing I wasn’t used to from road trips and small towns and dyed hair all over the country. (If you didn’t see updates elsewhere, the surgery was a success and I don’t have cancer.)

Today, I drove across Michigan again, to pick up the medical grade shoe inserts that allow me to walk without pain. And it was different. I filled up on gas around Lansing and didn’t stop again until I had reached Muskegon. And before my appointment with the orthotics and prosthetic specialist, I went to the local beauty college. I had them chop off my lop sided Tank Girl hair into a semi-respectable pixie cut, and dye it back to a natural-ish brown-black.

Driving back with my new hair and my new insoles was a white knuckle experience. Stopping for gas, I saw cars that had added to their “Trump/Pence” bumper stickers with hand-lettered signs reading “DONE” or “VICTORY.” NRA stickers stood out to me more than they usually do. Blue state trooper SUVs appeared more ominous. I walked quickly, spoke softly and politely, and got back into my van as quickly as possible.

I’m going to die. Probably not due to any of Trump’s more overt campaign promises or future policies, but at the hands of his emboldened legions of true believers. The KKK was on the march today, in North Carolina and who knows where else, celebrating. I am going to die.

Anne Frank didn’t even make it to 16. I’m nearly twice her age. And I have so many tools at my disposal – my own vehicle, the vastness of the internet, friends all over the US and all over the world. But right now, I feel like a very small child, tiny and weak in the face of a towering, tumbling onslaught of hatred.

There’s no point in me trying to scrub my existence off the internet. There’s no such thing as “delete,” really, and a cursory google search of my legal name brings up articles about my failed pie activism and my clearly socialist values. But I’m certainly going to be a lot less vocal going forward.

Expect this blog to stick around, but it will be limited to travel updates and cheerful pictures, little signals that I’m still alive. Same with social media. Conversations will be shorter and shallower. I need to focus my attention on local action, and friends I share physical spaces with. I’m traveling back and forth between Buffalo and Ann Arbor, so if you want to see me in person and really talk, that’s where I’ll be.

I haven’t finished my book. Between panicking about possibly having cancer for 2 months and moving across states and the election, I haven’t had the energy. I have a lot of material I’m planning to copy/paste in roughly chronological order, but that’s about it. And the conclusion of the book will be “And then 2016 happened. The end.”

I leave you with a poem, courtesy of my friend Jennifer, who helped find it for me.

A Brief for the Defense, by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Medical Sullie Update 2

I was back in Muskegon yesterday for my 2nd round of probulating. If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, you can see the progression of pictures: Freaked Out and Crying, Drugs Kicking In, Just Waking Up, and Almost Functional.

The surgeon called me today to tell me my full results won’t be back in until Monday or Tuesday.

Meanwhile, I’m back in Ann Arbor. I want to see my pupper, and talk to Estranged/Ex Spouse about health insurance stuff, and see about getting rid of the Taurus that I wrecked in May. It’s been sitting in an impound lot for about 6 months now.

Speaking of 6 months.

I turned 31 on May 3rd. That was 6 months ago. And I’ve decided that I’m going to make every November 3rd its own sort of observance. I’m calling it Mortality Day. Instead of celebrating my birth, this is the day I set aside to contemplate my death.

What would happen if my CIN2 situation upgraded to cervical cancer, for example? Or what if I’m not even lucky enough to see it coming, what if I die in a traffic accident? What do I need to do to get ready for death? Legal documents, sure, but what about the human element? Who do I owe apologies to? Do my loved ones know they’re my loved ones?

What projects have I left unfinished? What destinations have I left un-visited?

It’s a little morbid, maybe. But this year, I feel like I’ve had so many brushes with death, it’s time I stop letting it catch me by surprise.

Cupcakes and Heroin

(drugs, sex work, homelessness)

apple-swan

 

I’ve done heroin.

We’re just going to get that out of the way up front. I’ve done heroin. There. Now you can’t say you don’t know anyone who does hard drugs. You can’t say that every drug user you’ve ever met fits a certain stereotype. And you can’t say that every drug user inevitably meets the same tragic (yet totally deserved) fate, face down and forgotten behind a dumpster at a corner store.

Here’s how it went for me. In February, I met a charming guitar playing con man who spun me an extremely compelling story of redemption. The cost of that story was around $2000 – money I gave, thinking it was going for old traffic tickets and back child support, that was really going to feed his addiction to heroin and cocaine and/or crack. His drug of choice was speedballs, a 50/50 mix of heroin and cocaine or crack, mixed up in a soda cap with lemon juice, and injected into a vein in his arm, or later his hand, or later, his leg. That’s why he never nodded out, that’s why I never suspected.

I left my spouse and my home to join the con man in homelessness. I thought we were going to drive to Venice Beach. I thought he was going to teach me to play the guitar. I thought we were going to have an adventure.

Instead, I ended up supporting his addiction, but this time, without the safety net of my spouse, my mother’s house, or my own bed. I took to full service sex work when I got tired of standing on the side of the high way with a cardboard sign begging for change.

AND YET.

AND FUCKING YET.

I didn’t partake. He offered. After all, I was buying the stuff, and after a couple weeks of sex work, I had better connections than he did. People are always eager to give attractive women things – when I was a stripper, I occasionally got tipped in weed brownies. Full service sex work is similar.

But I said no. No thanks. I’m good. I just wanted to see him well and whole, which took twice daily trips to one dealer or another, $50 or $100 each time, and he would turn into a human being for a few hours. I tried to hang onto those hours. I always hoped it would last longer than it did. When work was slow, when the dealers kept us waiting, he was throwing up blood out the window of my old Taurus and I was positive I was watching the love of my life die right in front of me. When he was like that, nothing I could do would comfort him. Except make money faster, and get his fix.

It was his birthday, about 6 weeks into my homelessness experience with him.

He hates his birthday. Bad memories. Family problems. And here we were, squatting in an apartment, with no real friends to celebrate with. One of my sex work clients had taken me grocery shopping, and I brought home a tray of lemon bars in lieu of a cake, but he wasn’t much interested. He was just so lonely, he kept telling me.

OK well … what if I do it with you?

His eyes lit up. I was shocked. Would it really mean that much to him? But it did, it really did. He wanted me to see what he saw, feel what he felt.

My two conditions – just heroin, no cocaine or crack for me, thanks. And I wanted to snort it. I knew his needles were fresh and clean – I was the one buying them at the pharmacy with a bogus story about diabetes – but the very idea of a needle going into me, in the hands of anyone other than a doctor or a tattoo artist, made me feel ill.

Deal.

From the product I had purchased earlier in the day, he broke me off two neat little rails. Barely longer than the first knuckle of my pinkie finger. Thin enough that they could have been traced with a pencil. A light gray powder, which, if I had it in an eye shadow, would be a great highlight color for just under my eyebrows.

Heroin.

He cut a McDonalds’ straw into a two inch length and proceeded to advise me. Put the straw as far back in your nose as you can. Do one nostril, then the other. Lean back. The drip down the back of your throat is going to taste awful. No, don’t eat anything right now, you’ll just throw it up.

I dove in. One nostril, then the other. I expected it to burn, but it didn’t.

Now lean back, he told me. In a minute, you’re going to feel a warm buzz in the back of your head.

And I did. If I had been standing, I would have been brought to my knees. As it was, I felt glued to the couch. There was a warm, creeping blackness right behind me, and it was slithering around me, holding me warmer, tighter, cradling me. It felt like love.

My con man was in fine form as my tour guide. To soothe me when I was hit by a wave of dizziness, he wrapped one of his t shirts around a pillow and laid me down against it. He was still fixing up his dose, easily 5 times the strength of mine, and that was just his maintenance.

But maybe he was living vicariously through me. He was loopier than I’d ever seen him, and soon, we were both lying on the ground, wrapped around each other, spilling out the worst abuses we had each suffered, our darkest misdeeds, our biggest mistakes. We each gave and received comfort, by turns. We cried and shushed and smoothed each others’ hair and started all over again. It went on for hours, and yet, I was barely aware of the passage of time.

12 hours had passed, and I was just starting to come down when he presented two more little rails on a DVD case. Did I want to keep it going? Of course I did. For 6 weeks, I’d been funding him, working hard on his behalf, taking jobs I didn’t want to go on because it was better than watching him vomit blood. And for 6 weeks, almost to the day since I had left my spouse and my home, he had been distant and cold. The past 12 hours was the most affection I’d gotten from him in weeks. I never wanted it to stop.

Eventually, I came down and slept. Not badly, with beginner’s luck. Or maybe my years of college binge drinking experience came in handy. I drank lots of water. And there was a trick he told me. Sugar to make it last longer, salt to burn it up quicker? I think that was it.

I woke up and took a shower and posted a fresh ad. I needed to get back to work.

I got a job and I slid the cash under the door. My con man was waiting on the other side, to take the cash right away to one of his connections. I’d find him there after I was done with my job, all fixed up and good as new. He had saved me some, did I want any?

No, I told him. I’m good. I was going to go back and take another job, and try to get us a little bit ahead.

And so it went, for the next 6 weeks. We lost the squat-apartment, so then we were back to whatever cheap motel rooms I could get my clients to pay for. We usually only lasted a few days in each, before he would get paranoid about cameras in the smoke detectors. And sometimes I would ask him to share. Only a little bit, I figured the doses he was used to would probably kill me. And only the heroin, and I only wanted to snort it.

That picture at the top of this post? It’s from the one night I decided to let him inject me. I had saved up some money for a nice picnic dinner before work, and he carved an apple into the shape of a swan.

The job had gone bad. And my con man was having a bad day too. He hurt me, as soon as my client was gone. But I didn’t have the option to lay there and feel sorry for myself, I had to drive to my connection and get the next dose.

When we got back to the motel, I thought that letting him inject me would probably be the only way to get him to show me some tenderness. And I was right. He caressed my arm as he tied the tourniquet. He iced the inside of my elbow. And he whispered little encouragements to me. Called me his brave girl when he pushed the plunger in.

He could have injected me with dish soap for all I cared. All I really wanted at that point was to feel his hands on me, with love instead of hate.

And I laid there, in that bathtub, a baggie of ice wrapped in a towel underneath me, soothing injuries I had sustained earlier. And I felt the warm blackness creep up. But it wasn’t like the first time. It wasn’t as strong or as fast or as thick. Eventually I crawled out of the bathtub, put on some yoga pants, and went to sleep.

***

Ever since I left my con man, I’ve joked that capitalism saved me from becoming a drug addict. Because if I’m going to spend $100 with you, daily, multiple times a week, you need to show me some gddamn respect, and you need to deliver your product on time. I expect service and competency. If you can’t run your business like an actual business, I’m going to take my money elsewhere. And for all the enjoyment I got out of it, I would have rather had a cupcake most of the time.

BECAUSE WHEN I GO TO A BAKERY WITH $100 THEY FUCKING GET THEIR SHIT TOGETHER AND SELL ME SOME FUCKING CUPCAKES

I was 30 years old before I decided to try heroin for the first time. I was well aware of the dangers. People I went to high school with have died of overdoses. I had worked in a fucking homeless shelter where I had to drug test people before I could let them on the elevator to their temporary beds, and I had to throw them back out if they tested “dirty.” I knew damn good and well that drugs are bad.

But when I was with my con man? None of that mattered. I wanted to see him feel better. And I wanted to share his world with him. The first time I tried heroin, it was amazing. All the next times were drastically less amazing. I lost interest. Like I said, I’d rather have a cupcake.

Some research says that the best predictor of addiction is social ties.(http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/07/07/485087604/unbroken-brain-explains-why-tough-treatment-doesnt-help-drug-addicts) The stronger your social ties are, basically the more healthy friendships you have, the less likely you are to become an addict. So maybe what really saved me was the fact that I was tweeting, tumbling, and instagramming my way through homelessness, and I knew that at any given moment, I could cry out to friends around the world to say “I’m scared and hurt and alone,” and they could call back “We see you and we love you.”

My con man didn’t have those kinds of friends. He had a chorus of shame following him around, voices in his head, echoes of family members and old friends he had taken advantage of, telling him he was worthless and disgusting. I think when he did his twice daily speedballs, he was able to quiet those voices for a while. But the voices always came back, so he needed more speedballs to quiet them down, which lead him to continue taking advantage of people, which lead people to continue shaming him.

I’m not saying that everyone with an addict friend or relative should open their arms and their homes, throw caution to the wind, try to love the junk out of them. I tried that, and it nearly killed me.

But consider that if shame and fear were actually effective behavior modification tools, there wouldn’t be any drug addicts. If the fear tactics of DARE programs actually worked, no one would try drugs in the first place, since the side effect of every single drug is sudden exploding eyeballs and catastrophic hair loss. And if shame worked, my con man wouldn’t have been running from one mark to the next for 10 years, wringing all the money and love out of people, just to keep himself alive and fixed up for another day.

Shame is a push. Maybe, a few people get pushed and stumble into a shelter or a religious system that helps them. Or at least, re-directs their shame into a slightly less harmful activity.

But I believe that shame just pushes most people further along the path they’re already on.