Fire, in my opinion, has always been an enchanting element. Fire is such a lovely mistress, always able to seize my attention, flickering freely in any direction it so chooses, grasping onto whatever it can attach its sticky flames to, adding a spark of beauty to any object it consumes before devouring that very same object whole, leaving behind ashes of despair.

The flame that held my gaze shot vertically out of a Bunsen burner. The Bunsen-Burner was brand new, and my pretty much only real friend, Jackson, was fiddling with it. It was a purchase that he insisted I make; “It will make our lives easier” was his reasoning. Currently the apparatus which honestly should be inside a lab, made me anxious because Jackson had it burning so hot the flame was blue, almost transparent. I imagined the fire catching onto the hose it was hooked to causing the source of the flame’s energy, a natural-gas tank, to explode, leading to the destruction of our top floor loft, which would then lead to the collapse of the building we lived in. It would be too powerful to stop and would tear through the entire town of Royal Oak, Michigan. What would our reputation be at that point? Would we be considered legendary terrorists, or miscreants that couldn’t control their actions? Suddenly, a playing card was dropped into the flame of the burner and quickly surrendered itself into grey and black ribbons, withering and dropping onto our glass coffee table.

“JESUS FUCKIN’ CHRIST MAN!” I reeled back in fear, hitting my head on the wall behind the couch I was positioned on. The two girls sitting on either side of me squealed playfully.

“Chill man, I got this shit under control.” Jackson said laughing, twisting the nozzle on the side of the burner and reducing the flame to an orange-red color.

“Hurry up and get started then.” I nursed the back of my head. It didn’t actually hurt, but it was swelling up into a decent sized goose-egg. I was on edge. My body had that prickling sensation akin to when your foot falls asleep. My blood was at a boil and I could feel the sweat in my hairline. My stomach was in ropes, and there was a hurricane taking place inside of me. I wanted to feel good again. The worst feeling of all was the guilt, why did I have to feel so guilty…

“What does it feel like?” The girl to my left asked, Hannah or Savannah? I couldn’t recall. A blonde and one of the most beautiful people I have ever met, she’d also made it all but clear that she wanted me.

“Take the best orgasm you ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you’re still nowhere near it,” Jackson said confidently, as if he hadn’t blatantly stolen the quote from the movie Trainspotting, reusing the same line on every couple of girls that we brought over. I was going to object and mock his plagiarism jokingly, but suddenly my mouth felt far too dry and speechless as he finally poured the stuff out onto a paper plate.

The stuff? It was smack, dope, skag, junk, whatever slang you wanted to call it. Jackson and I simply liked to call it “H” short for heroin. Jackson was filling four syringes with water to correctly measure out “safe” portions of dope; we had built up quite the tolerance so our doses would be roughly twice the amount that the girls would get. Also we didn’t want to waste our finite goods on first timers. Jackson beat the H until it was a fine powder, and then lined it up onto four spoons. He released the water out of the syringe four separate times, onto the spoons with separate portions of dope. He must have felt the Bunsen burner was too hot; he turned it down until the flame was equivalent to what would come out of a gas-station lighter. Nobody was breathing as Jackson heated the first spoon to just the lightest boil, dropping a cotton ball onto the liquid to absorb it, and act as filler. I couldn’t watch anymore… he was taking too long; sweat was rolling off of my brow and into my eyes. I got up off of the couch and walked into the kitchen to get bottled water. I opened the fridge; my mind reminded me how my dad, long after being diagnosed with cancer, was in the hospital, and I, the worst son in the world, had yet to visit him. I shook the thought, closed the fridge, and turned around. I wasn’t alone in the kitchen. Hannah or Savannah (neither seemed correct) was with me. I looked at her from the feet up; the shorts she had on allowed me to see her long, tan, and athletic legs.

“I’m nerv… I’m scared,” she said, pitiful and innocent as an individual can sound. I turned to look at her. Jesus, she was stunning. Her eyes were a large and a glistening jade, and I say jade because green isn’t a pretty enough word to describe them. Her lips, perfect lips were complemented by the fact that she was chewing on the bottom one nervously with her fluorescent white teeth.

“You have nothing to worry about. It’s going to be amazing.” I smiled at her, locked my eyes onto hers before gently putting my hands on her hips, and pulling her towards me. Another word formed in her mouth but I replaced it with my tongue. She let out a sigh of relief, her tongue tangled itself around mine.

“Julian, this shit is all ready!” Jackson yelled from the living room.

I pecked Hannah/Savannah one time as I released her, grabbed four waters out of the fridge, handing one to her. She took it along with my hand and we walked back into the living room holding hands.

“Hurry up ya lovebirds,” Jackson handed me a prepared syringe, and I snatched it out of his hands.

Letting go of the blonde girl’s hand I plopped on the couch. The girls didn’t know what they were in for, and how could they? Heroin is cruel: it treats you so gently at first making you feel so divine, and little do you know it’s a parasite just waiting to hook its talons onto your innermost desires and overtake each and every one of your other interests. Sure I still loved to watch movies, play games, read books. I still loved to sin, smoke pot, have sex, party, and drink, but these are all buffers that allow you to get through the sleepless nights until you obtained your next fix. My conscience was no longer bothered. Jackson and I had become vampires and dope was our blood. Indirectly our intentions were to turn these girls into vampires as well because shooting up with just another guy becomes tiresome.

“Here, I’ll help you,” I said to Hannah/Savannah. She smiled at me but said nothing. The nerves were getting to her; Jackson was already helping the other girl. I picked up the last needle on the table meant for Hannah/Savannah and pulled off my leather belt so I could make a tourniquet for her. I then laid her arm across my thighs. “Relax.”

“Is it going to hurt?”

“No more than a shot.” I tied my belt around her upper arm, right below her shoulder muscle. I could overhear Jackson sweet talking his girl; he had the tongue of a poet in comparison to me.

“Are you ready?” I gazed into her eyes.

“Mmmhmm,” she nodded, her eyes filling with liquid. I was starting to feel like I was committing a crime, oh wait…

“Relax,” I reminded her. I quickly grabbed rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball off the table and sanitized her arm, before flicking the needle, insuring that the dope would come out properly. I began pushing the needle into the vein inside of her elbow. She let out a small squeak, didn’t move. I drew back the plunger, the syringe filled with her blood, success! Picture the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen, take that sunset and insert it inside of a syringe, and now imagine that you’re about to inject that sunset into yourself. I don’t mean to romanticize heroin, but that is exactly the experience that you get when you are shooting up with an open mind for the very first time, putting the powerful, ambient, bright pink beauty of the sun’s final moments during the day into your arm and absorbing its very calmness. I shot the sunset into her arm.

“What’s your name?”

“Amy.” She whispered as her body relaxed and accepted the heroin. Wow. I was way off.

Next was my turn, and it was a no brainer. I shot up without acknowledging the motions. I was high. An earthy flavor filled my mouth. Euphoria rose from my torso and pulsated out into my fingertips, and then returned to my body. I felt so fucking satisfied; a man who walked through the desert for days and finally found his oasis. I wish I could explain the feeling. It’s like explaining a rainbow to a blind man.

“Oh my god I feel so… so… good,” Amy said right outside my realm of focus.

Warmth and comfort pulsated through my body; it was like the touch from a mother, a heroin rush. A return to where I wanted to be. No wonder so many people let heroin tear through their life. If you have to choose between feeling this good and being a sober drone, is it even a choice? I began to stand up, and that was when I noticed that Amy had her head rested on my lap. I ran my hands through her hair and then kissed her on her forehead; it felt good to have the company of a female, specifically one this gorgeous.

“Come with me, Amy,” I said out loud. I felt so quiet. Could she even hear me?

“Whatever you want.” She spoke as if she was hypnotized and sat up.

“Bro…” Jackson’s confirmation that he was indeed high.

I panned my eye cameras at Jackson, and smiled, he smiled back. Fuck. Jackson’s girl was bobbing back and forth like a buoy on the couch. I was already dizzy; she made me nauseous. I grabbed Amy by the hand, and we walked to the bathroom. As soon as we got in there I shut the door behind us. Amy was on the toilet peeing before I could flick on the light. I didn’t expect that. I pulled out my phone, 11:45. I sat my phone on the sink. My reflection disappointed me. All the sweating I did from being excited had messed up my hair, and instead of being held up by my styling cream, it had fallen down partially to lie on my forehead.

“I feel itchy… am I supposed to be this itchy?” Amy.

“Yeah,” I combined my word with an exhale.

Besides the bags below them, my eyes were looking gaunt. How much weight had I lost since I started heroin? Ten or maybe fifteen pounds, the occasional entire day without a scrap of appetite added up.

“I should start reading Kafka.” I said out loud.

“What?” Even her voice was beautiful, gentle, but not so high-pitched that it hurt your ears.

My phone began vibrating. It was my mom. I should hit decline.

It vibrated again. My face was numb; I probably couldn’t even speak with her.

A third vibration, this would all be easier if I weren’t alive…wait, what was I thinking? I answered the phone, and I put it on speaker. “Mom…” Why did I even answer it? I didn’t feel ready to hear what she had to say.

“Julian, thank god you finally answered. Listen, your father is on his last legs and you haven’t been to see him. You need to come see him immediately, tomorrow morning. Julian, if you don’t come see your father, your trust fund is getting cut off, I’m not going to spend your father’s money on a son that didn’t come see him in his last moments.” Her Jersey accent was out of control. She was usually great at hiding it, but not now. This was really hard to comprehend right now.

“Mom… I’m sorry.” I was beginning to lose control of my emotions. The rush had peaked and I felt exhausted, physically annihilated.

“You better be fuckin’ sorry Julian, your father wants to see his only fuckin’ son and you’re being a fuckin’ piece of shit. You need to be here at Beaumont Hospital. Fuckin’ nine o’clock in the morning sharp. Room 334, or I swear to god you’re getting cut off. You hear me!” She hung up the phone.

“Fuck, god damn it.” My voice was raspy. It surprised me, but what alerted me even more were the salty tears that were suddenly going into my mouth. I touched my face. I was crying. I glanced at Amy; she looked absolutely baffled. Amy hadn’t left the toilet. She was handling the heroin well, and I was surprised she was even looking at me. She should have been floating away by now. I grabbed her by the hand and led her to my room.

When we made it to my room I shut the door behind us and we crawled into my bed. We did not even bother removing our clothes. I wish I could say that I was going to have sex with her, but the reality of it was more disappointing. You see I could barely have sex on heroin, anyway. With all the shit that was suddenly bursting into my perspective it was impossible. The truth of the matter, I realized it now; I had an addiction. The epiphany bludgeoned me in the head with merciless certainty. I was an addict; getting high had become more important to me than anything else. I had to show some responsibility. I set my alarm to wake me up at eight.

“You’ll be okay,” whispered Amy. She cuddled herself up against me and seemed to lose consciousness. With most girls this would be cloying, but for some reason she brought me back to the world of drug-induced comfort. I fell asleep.

When my alarm awoke me, Amy was still asleep and cuddled tightly to me. Her hot breathe left condensation on my neck. She was an accolade of my angst, an antidote to my acrimony. Although we met under circumstances meant to induce a high, perhaps the beginning our relationship was a harbinger marking the end of my hedonism. I didn’t want to wake her, so I grabbed a permanent marker off of my desk and wrote on her arm. “Meet me here tonight –Julian.”

Standing up off the bed both dehydrated and hungry proved to be a trial; at least my head didn’t hurt. I needed a moment to regain my land legs. After my composure returned, it was a mad dash to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. I had no idea how bad my father’s condition really was until I arrived.

“Wow! You made it and earlier than I asked you, what a surprise,” my mother said to me aggressively as soon as I arrived. She was sitting in a chair outside of my father’s room smoking an e-cigarette. My dad’s sister Tammy was sitting by her side.

“Yeah… sorry,” I was unable to make eye contact with either of them.

“Julian, you don’t look so good, have you been eating right?” My Aunt Tammy asked, sounding concerned.

“Yeah, I just haven’t been myself lately.”

“Well go in and see your father, Julian. He wants to see you.” My mother’s Jersey accent was hidden today.

When I finally got into see my father, looking at him in his weak state was one of the most difficult things that I have ever done; his eyes were closed and his breathing was weak. I wasn’t sure if he was sleeping or not.

“Dad,” I said, just quiet enough that if he were sleeping, it would not wake him. For a moment he didn’t respond.

“Oh hey there son, you finally made it.” The rasp of his voice sounded eerily similar to mine when I got off the phone last night with my mother.

“Yeah dad, I’m sorry that it took so long… it was.” My father was pulling himself up into a sitting posture, and I wasn’t sure if I should help him or not. The way he wobbled awkwardly as he sat up was reminiscent of a shaky-handed puppeteer controlling his puppet.

“I know, it must be hard to see me this way. Cancer is a hell of a disease. Listen, you’re the man now and you’re gonna have to take care of your mother, make sure she don’t forget about me.” My dad knew that his strings were about to be cut.

I spent most of the day with my father returning to my childhood, discussing my glory days playing football and then matching them with his own. We talked about old friends that neither of us spoke with anymore; we talked about the law firm that he could no longer be on the board of because of his health, and how futile all the years he spent in law school felt because he couldn’t even live a full life. When I walked away from my dad that day, I remembered how important he was to me and promised him that I would come back tomorrow.

On my way home night was starting to fall. I was craving a high; tonight would be the last night I told myself. I texted Jackson to “Get two needles ready.” He didn’t text me back. I stopped briefly by my dealer’s house and picked up an 8-ball of coke. Before I left, he did some lines with me as a motion of goodwill.

With the coke in my system and more heroin on my mind I drove home. I couldn’t wait to see Amy again. I wasn’t sure what I craved more, her or the H. I was feeling fucking invincible; if a cop tried to pull me over, I would probably run.

When I finally arrived home I was disappointed to see that Amy hadn’t come. Jackson was sitting on the couch with the Bunsen burner; he’d just finished the second needle and sat it on the table beside the first.

“Did Amy stop by?”

“The girl from last night?”

“Yeah man, I told her to stop by.” I really wanted to see her; she made me feel great.

“Shit man… I hope you’re not mad… she did stop by.”

“Oh, you didn’t tell her to stay?” I felt relieved she actually came by to see me again; the coke had me pacing the living room.

“Actually man, don’t get mad, but when she came by she said you guys didn’t end up fucking. So we ended up doing it.” Was he joking?

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, FUCK YOU MAN WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT!” I yelled at him. I couldn’t control myself.

“Dude, calm down. I didn’t think you would get this mad.”

Jackson reached forward to turn off the Bunsen burner. Before he could turn it off, my left had clenched into a fist connected with his face. I wasn’t sure what I was doing when my right hand followed behind it. I wasn’t sure what I was doing when my fists continued to strike Jackson until I felt my left hand crack and fall limp. He was sobbing on the couch, his face was a visage of what it once was, his teeth on his upper jaw were half gone, and I wasn’t even sure where they went. Blood bubbled out of Jackson’s mouth. I felt despair. Fuck. I reached forward and grabbed the first needle off the table, flicked it, and jammed it into my elbow. I missed the vein on the first try, but got it on the second and emptied the needle into my vein. A familiar earthy flavor filled my mouth as my heartbeat slowed to a thump. I felt good, but it wasn’t enough. I reached for the second needle and almost burned my hand on the Bunsen burner; it wobbled when I hit, but I didn’t even know how to turn it off. Carelessly, I grabbed the second needle and put it into the vein on my right elbow, a vein that I never used. As I felt the needle puncture my skin, I realized that I was in a meadow. The sun shined brightly over me, a breeze rolled in and ruffled my hair. Lying in the grass brought me nothing but joy; I was one with the earth. In a catatonic state I enjoyed the warmth of the sun as it consumed the earth.


Joshua Tithof