A Walk Down Misery Street


I was about to write a cliché—“time flies”—and my hand held still for a moment. A year gone by. That is true, but did it really fly by, without me noticing?

How could I forget the bumpy subway cars I had to travel on from one end of the city in Brooklyn to another (to the school in Queens), then to the Time Warner building in Manhattan, and at midnight back home to Brooklyn? Some days I spent around five hours per day commuting on the subway.

In between classes and work, I had to carve out time to read textbooks and lecture notes, complete homework, and prep for exams.

Where to find the time to think, to ponder all that was new and never-before-encountered? To find answers to the billions of questions, beginning from the simplest: how do you smoke this goddamn crack? What does it look like? Like a powder? No, they say it looks like little rocks. The later questions are more complex and difficult: Who are these people, these drug users? They have the same arms, legs, and heads as others do. But there’s something unusual, something about them.

Of course, more than once I asked myself: Did I make the right choice? Was it a mistake to believe my “dear aunt” when she said, “What could be easier than becoming a substance abuse counselor?” Wouldn’t it have been better to choose something more peaceful, more intellectual? Maybe work as a teacher or librarian? The doubts began to grow, in hundreds of voices—some gentle, some demanding—repeating, “Leave, drop out!” Then I would remember the pledge I made to myself: that I was going to see at least one endeavor to the end.

Yes, I worked hard for this diploma. Over the course of a year, I didn’t read one leisurely novel, only textbooks. Goodbye, great literature and philosophy, Shakespeare and Tolstoy, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Goodbye! Hello, heroin, cocaine, and methadone! Hello, rehabs and detoxes! Good day, parole and probation officers! “You shoot dope and snort coke.” I knew this by heart now. I got an “A” on the test. Thanks, Peter, my American brother! Thank you!

Whatever effort it took for me to receive the prized diploma, it paled in comparison with—and I am not afraid to use the term—the Herculean labor my fellow students spent for the same purpose. My classmates, who killed their mind, body, and soul with alcohol and junk for ten, fifteen years in a row.