Walk Down Misery Street

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”?

By this time, I knew that drug users don’t display their shame in the same way as “regular” people. It’s hard for many of us to imagine the kind of senseless and desperate acts drug users sometimes commit because they are ashamed.

Peter and I embraced, slapping one another on the shoulders.

“Bro, look how we ran into each other just like that!”

We briefly recalled our days of student life and studies.