Walk Down Misery Street

Seeing as this is the second time I’ve mentioned a discrepancy between age and appearance, I’ll tell you that the majority of drug users look older than their years. Some in the drug world believe that heroin users look younger than their age, allegedly because heroin has a “freezing” effect on the aging process. This is a myth: A fifty-year-old male heroin user, if he lives to such an age, looks like a very old man. It was difficult for me to believe that the majority of the students were my peers, ages thirty-five to forty, but looked at least a decade older. In their complexion and facial expressions, one saw old age, weathering, and sickness. Sickness was particularly true because many students suffered from serious chronic illnesses: hypertension, diabetes, asthma. A few of them had AIDS. Moreover, because most of them had been clean for only several months, the alcohol and drugs have not yet fully evaporated from their pores—not to mention their brains.

So then there was Peter. He had a good build, straightforward and angular facial features, and short light brown hair, neatly combed to one side. The reddish bristle around his mouth and on his chin gave Peter a somewhat aristocratic look. He smiled broadly, showing his uneven yellowed teeth. Or to put it more accurately, he didn’t smile—he snarled.

At that time, he told me he and his wife were in the process of divorcing. He worked the night shift as an assistant to a substance abuse counselor at a rehab clinic. He took me under his wing. As a “psychologist” (his degree earned at the University of Real Life), he immediately had me pegged as a guy who knew nothing about the drug world but was academically strong.

Soon Peter admitted to me that, once upon a time, he had smoked a lot of weed and now had memory problems as a consequence. I didn’t know if it was from the grass or not, but Peter really couldn’t remember many of the technical names and clinical terms that we students needed to know.

Peter and I had a mutual regard since the day we met. He started calling me his “Russian brother,” and I assumed the role of his “helper.” I helped him on the quizzes and exams as well as I could.