A Walk Down Misery Street

Having seen Sylvia with her dope-sick cloudy eyes not too long ago, I now looked at shivering pale Peter, and I saw a striking similarity. In that moment, I also recalled what we were learning in school.  I sensed what was causing his condition. Drug withdrawal! This is what drug withdrawal looks like.

Peter was able to graduate from the Institute and receive his diploma. For all his openness, he never let me into his personal life. He would offer half-hints about difficult and painful divorce proceedings and often talked about his problems in general.

After the Institute we kept in touch, but less and less over time. It turned out we had little to talk about. Our studies had ended, our mutual assistance was no longer required, and sympathy wasn’t sufficient to evolve our relationship into a friendship. Soon Peter stopped taking my calls.

We met again a few years after graduation. I was working in an outpatient substance abuse clinic, and here comes Peter—as a patient. I saw from the documentation he gave me that he had been in prison for six months for beating his ex-wife. The beating happened two years before, but for various reasons, the verdict was postponed and only this year the judicial red tape was resolved. Peter was sentenced to a half-year in prison, served his time, and was released that day.

The next paper he handed me revealed the cause of the deep sadness I had often seen in his eyes. Pete was living with AIDS.

He told me the rest of his story. He was referred to the drug clinic on his way out of prison. He had no place to live and no money.

He looked the same as before: thick red hair and bristles around his mouth. His beard was thicker, but he no longer had the look of aristocracy. He did smile in the way he always had, with open yet slightly mischievous eyes.

Peter sensed right away that I was no longer a rookie who needed to be told that you shoot dope and you snort coke. He could see that his “Russian brother” was already immersed in this world of misery and desperation.

“Pete, my Russian brother! How have ya been?!” he exclaimed, not showing any sign of surprise at our unexpected meeting.

I saw no hint of envy or shame in Peter’s expression. Who was he now, a “homeless, ex-convict, AIDS-infected junkie”?