A Walk Down Misery Street

“That’s cocaine. It’s also a powder, but it’s white. You must remember, my Russian brother, dope is usually injected and coke is usually snorted.” Peter enigmatically held a thick index finger under his nose and pressed his large nostril on one side. His whole face grimaced. “Will you remember? Don’t get them confused.”

In his voice, I heard the emphatic irony of a parent: he had to tell me about things—the pipes for smoking crack, the syringes, the pills—things that even today’s school children know. Just like a good teacher, Peter was patient. Several times he showed me how to snort imaginary coke, roll a joint, or cook and shoot dope.

That’s how we helped each other at school.

Peter loved to joke around and laughed a lot. He was down-to-earth and happy-go-lucky. As they say, he was an open book. But sometimes I noticed a deep sadness flicker in his eyes, an incomprehensible longing, and a melancholy so poignant it was painful to look at him, for he concealed something deep in his heart.

Our classmates called us the Peter Brothers. We had lunch together in the diner. Sometimes I complained to him that I understood little, if nothing, of this subject of drug addiction, and that it was probably in vain that I came to this field of study. Maybe it wasn’t my cup of tea. Homesickness began to gnaw at me. More and more, I recalled my home in Russia, my parents, our garden, and the river where as a kid I had gone swimming and fishing with my friends. I was feeling like a stranger among these coarse, noisy students who were always chuckling at something I never could comprehend. They looked at me as if I was a weird overseas creature carried by some random wind to their land.

Once during a conversation, I noticed something off with Peter. He was walking next to me, responding “yes-yes” to my comments, but he clearly wasn’t hearing me. We walked to the diner and Peter was behind me the whole time for some reason. I turned around. Was this the same Peter? The jolly fellow, the jokester? No, I saw a haggard, pale, old man. He could barely keep up with me. He was trembling all over, his shoulders shaking and his head quivering on his tense neck.

“Peter, what’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed.

“I’m fine, bro. I didn’t get any sleep last night. I had a lot of work,” he answered, looking off to the side.