Walk Down Misery Street

By contrast, Peter (salute to him!) was like a walking encyclopedia. He knew words and terms that were not found on examinations, but often slipped off the lips of both students and teachers: dope, boy, coke, blue, sour, booze, blow, and so on. In short, the unabridged dictionary of an American addict opened up to me, and there were so many priceless treasures!

“What’s dope?” I asked Peter, hearing a brand-new word.

He smiled broadly, spreading his thick reddish scruff to each side. He looked at me with the kind of love a father must feel when he watches the first steps of his one-year-old son.

“Dope—this is heroin, my friend. You know, the grayish powder in a little plastic bag.”

“Aha. And what’s coke?”

“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 schoolchildren 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.