We all make wrong turns in life but sometimes they lead to interesting places.
I remember it like one of those scenes from the movies where someone who has either died or gone into a coma suddenly rushes back to the light of consciousness. Only instead of waking up in a room full of doctors pumping me with electricity or next to a swimming pool with a beautiful lifeguard giving me mouth to mouth, I found myself coming to on the early morning streets of downtown Vancouver, while what appeared to be a starving drug-addict waived his crack pipe around and cursed me.
After the initial shock and confusion, I realized that his pipe had blood all over it and that he was blaming me for this. I immediately denied these crazy accusations but it didn’t take me long to realize that I was, in fact, bleeding from the mouth and that this angry skeleton of a man was telling the truth. I dug through my backpack and found some change to offer him along with numerous apologies which he accepted with some reluctance.
I noticed my old friend Frenchy – I’d met him at the backpackers hostel only a couple blocks away – standing next to me. I was going to ask him just what the hell had happened to me last night but the expression on his face ruled out any possibility of conversation. Instead, I simply followed him in silence as he walked away from the group of misfits with whom we had been socializing.
After only a couple blocks we arrived at an ATM and as Frenchy stuck his card in, I leaned back on a brick wall and reflected on the direction my life was taking. It had probably been over 2 years since the last time I had stuck a crack pipe between my lips. I wouldn’t call it a relapse since I’d never exactly addicted. The handful of times I had tried it were more or less just curious experiments. What had happened this time? The last thing I could remember from the night before was getting my drink on with a few friends in Victory Square. Just an innocent drink in the park…
Frenchy tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for me to follow him back in the direction we had come from, and although I began to regard him with a definite air of suspicion, the spell of the drug overpowered me and I followed him as obediently as a disciple might have followed Jesus back in the old days.
After a few discreet inquiries here and there, Frenchy found what he was looking for. It didn’t take long in this part of town. The rest of the morning consisted of ducking in and out of various alleyways and mingling with the riffraff. Meanwhile the sky was getting brighter and the regular folk of Vancouver began their daily hustle.
At one point during all this I fell behind the crowd as an incredible wave of nausea came over me. Within seconds I was hunched over, a stream of red escaping my belly and splattering onto the sidewalk. As I stared zombie-like into the puddle of blood at my feet, not only was I reminded of the fact that I was recently injured, I also felt a deep sense of desperation taking hold of me. Beyond the side effects of the drugs, I felt a soul-crushing misery of utter hopelessness.
Eventually Frenchy, myself, and some nameless straggler we’d picked up made our final stop at the skate park under the bridge. We smoked the last of the rock as the cars zoomed by overhead.
I eventually made it back to the apartment I was staying at. After a couple hours of laying on the couch in some sort of thoughtless coma, I began to notice my normal waking self creeping back like a child stupidly returning home after having told everyone that he was running away and never coming back. My jaw ached and my tongue found it’s way to a chipped tooth. By this time I realized that I must have been punched in the face at one point during the previous night.
Exhausted, I laid on my back, stared at the ceiling and continued my internal reflection that I’d begun earlier that morning. I thought about my love/hate relationship with Vancouver. I’d first arrived here about a year and a half ago and had spent a total of 6 months living at the American Backpacker’s hostel on Pender Street. At 10 dollars a night, 60 a week, and 200 a month, it was the only place I could afford. Plus they permitted smoking inside the building and at the time I was up to a half pack a day.
My first night there a big crowd of us – a mix of international travelers and broke Vancouverites – went out to a psy-trance club which was right in the middle of the downtown east side, a.k.a. Crack Central, and I took MDMA for the first time. The following weeks were spent repeating that experience a couple times a week and exploring the wasteland where I would eventually take part in the local mass ritual of self-destruction. A certain guitar playing Jamaican on roller blades would get me to tune his guitar for him now and then. Young people would offer to shoplift various clothing items and sell them to me for a fraction of the original cost. I came to know and love this atmosphere, an exhilarating alternative to the dead, fake world in which I had been raised.
The thought of these memories brought a faint smile to my bruised face and a little hope to my weakened conscience. There was a positive aspect to this experience. There had to be. I would now be able to actually relate better with the street culture. I could now tell people without lying (sort of) that I had fighting experience and a chipped tooth to prove it. My life was now richer. My spirit was growing.
Moments later I fell into a very badly needed sleep.