Walk Down Misery Street

Sometimes the three men would gather with Liza and me in the office, have a little get-together, and recall yesteryear. We were not their primary counselors, but they liked our office where, instead of the typical posters about the benefits of sobriety, there hung still life and landscape prints along with religious-themed pictures of a souvenir style that Liza had brought from home. This type of art lifted her spirits.

These three did not come, of course, to admire the pictures, but Liza. Their age united them, or it was a common destiny. They were all veterans from the addiction battlefield, fighters from a drug war which struck down thousands of their peers. The majority of their comrades already lay in their graves, while these three were survivors. For the young twenty-something drug users in the clinic who bought psychotropic pills online, these three were relics of an ancient era.

By then, Liza and I had made a new sign: “Session in progress. Don’t disturb!” The cardboard covered the glass window in the door without leaving even a tiny crack to see through.

When our “dear guests” arrived, I hung the sign on the door, and Liza, as the friendly hostess, put a tin of cookies on the table. They sat in a circle and started to talk. One would usually begin by complaining about his health. The others would sympathize. Gradually the conversation turned to different topics.

Liza sometimes forgot that she was a counselor, not their “comrade.” The guests plunged into memories. My God, what memories these were! And recalled with the minutest details.

Wanting to enlighten me, the young clinician, they recommended I read “the greatest book of all time”—Junkie, by William S. Burroughs.

In the 1950s, this short paperback made a big splash, triggering a strong reaction from American readers and even from the U.S. government. Nowadays, such a book would likely go unnoticed, having no particular artistic merit. However, at that time, it bravely charted new territory.