For Daniel and Others
‘Is Heroin still a thing in Dublin?’ The academic, and Professor of the field asked me somewhat perplexed. This is 2019, don’t you know, boy. Heroin is pastiche here in my wood-panelled mind of tenure and privilege. The arrogance and elitism illustrated the issue: there is a disconnect from warm offices, fragrant welcoming baths, internet browsing and the addict out there, anonymous. In pain. In want. Shivering. In desperation. Rattling.
Heroin has always been a thing in Dublin since members of the Dunne family brought it into the inner-city flats, in the eighties, and now, forty years on, there are many struggling people firmly atop its precarious cliff-face.
Heroin addicts tend to mate for life. Like dilapidated swans – twisted in a deadly alliance they dance and embrace towards a finality of breath. Like a sculpture in a Giorgio de Chirico painting. It is an ersatz marriage of sorts, sharing needles – inveigling that sharp, finite pain. Into the vein. The arm. The thigh. Leaving rack-marks like horse gallops that tear up the grass on a racecourse. Puckered, indeed, punctured skin. Delving into the life’s blood. The blood’s life which is cherished. Next to Godliness. Spike island. Feel like Jesus’ son was The Velvet Underground’s lyric. Warm blanket to insulate against the world’s harshness. Being judged. Much of it in the head and coveted paranoia.
This is a process of annihilation. A nuclear war on the self. Total destruction of the physical form. Heroin strips the body and brain of all nutrients. That’s why the addict cannot respond well to reason because there is no reason to grasp onto. The only clench is the death-watch grip of the next score. To score goes beyond food. Love. Understanding. Addiction is a monster. A hairy, unrelenting, unfulfilled beast. The might just of garnering the score. A little cellophane baggie of fine brown dust which brings so much for relief for the addict.
Hepatis C is big. Blood-borne virus. Hep C is a worry. For many.
There is the messy out-of-control user who will leave used needles everywhere. These addicts are very chaotic. They, usually, have had a big negative event which has impacted their life to such an extent that the mantra of ‘Fuck it!’ colours their small outlook. Hence a headstrong dive into heroin.
The addict through heavy usage draws themselves into a bare corner. The retreat into that inner-world. Not harmonious if you have no Art to draw upon to help alleviate you. Some become that solitary user. They alone are ensconced in a safe place to cook and shoot up. A singing yellow-blub overhead. They ride the snake, to the acid-filled lake. It is easy to romanticise The Doors’ version of Heroin use. There is an outlier aspect to the lone user.
That fine line between life and death – you crawl down along that line. Sluiced and carried along on that geometrical plane. Like crayfish in need on the wide open, busy streets. Needing that score half-an-hour ago to take the sickness away.
Sheets of tinfoil. The black scorched shadow of the chased dragon high.
The skin is cold. Sometimes it takes on a deadened, marbled-hue. Pallid. Eyes are shrunken back into hollow sockets. Fear lies therein. A desperation cranks the features.
Bent over the cookpot. The wagging flame of the lighter, Sapping the golden-brown, liquid-funk through the swab. The beating eyes upon the arm or leg. The measure up. The careful dart – the hospital-like plunge. Needle bleeding in. The foetal position. The meridian of death. Which belts around the cold.
I recall one Saturday listening to the silence, in a project, and knowing that one of the residents was up there and there was this deathly silence. I went up to his room. There he was. Behind the door. Lying there. Upon his back. Eyes wide open. Lifting him like a corpse, lightweight, he came to, and immediately grabbed a brush and began sweeping around his bed. He said ‘Thanks’ and continued in a manic way. His debilitating high was over, for now.
Every recovering addict, and it does not, necessarily, have to mean ‘Heroin’, learns that the strength to be able to not partake in whatever vice it is, grows and that turns into confidence. Yet, a silent confidence, and welcome abstention.
Yes, it’s your gear. Your decision. But now you tear a fabric in the shell of your being and you let blood’s life-flow ebb out. The branch is torn.
I am very sorry for your loss.
A workman stopped me outside the project one day and told me the year before, he watched a seagull with a needle in its mouth looped up onto the roof and dared it to be remonstrated. A needle. For a nest. The junky’s nest. Stark symbolism against a soft blue sky.
Neil Burns worked in a Dublin city centre emergency accommodation for just under two years, experiencing the visceral nature of heroin up close and personal.
Neil Burns Twitter: @Foreverantrim