Maida Vale, London, Five Days Later
‘I’m going to work. If you go out and use, don’t bother coming back. If you steal anything, I’ll call the police. If you’re still here when I get home tonight, I might cook you some food. You’ve got 12 days to get clean before you take your nephew ice skating. I suggest you call that number for Narcotics Anonymous on the kitchen table. Good luck.’
I am lying, wrapped in a sweat-soaked duvet on the floor of my wife’s flat in west London. My ‘final hit’ in Hackney had been as successful as every previous attempt I’d made to either die or stay clean and now, having decided I couldn’t even kill myself properly, I began considering the notion that I might try to stay alive.
Dave had dragged me out of the stairwell shortly after it had become obvious, despite my best efforts that day, that the world and I still had some unfinished business. He propped me up outside an off-licence while he went in to get another can of Skol Super, before depositing me on the sofa at his mate’s place a short walk/stumble away and throwing six Dexedrine tablets down my throat.
The pharmaceutical speed had kick-started my respiratory system and saved my life, much to my apparent exasperation and very shortly to the obvious annoyance of the sofa’s owner, who now had to listen to my amphetamine-induced babble while I castigated Dave for forgetting to get me a can of Brew en route to our current location.
‘Selfish ginger prick, I’m spitting feathers here. Hey, does your mate wanna buy any Valium?’
Four days and four Valium, heroin and Special brew-induced overdoses later, not surprisingly I was asked to vacate the latest sofa I had taken to calling my home.
‘Simon, I’m going to ask you politely, please fuck off and try to kill yourself somewhere else, eh?’
Ungrateful bastard. I’d been sharing my Valium with him all fucking week and this was how he repays me?
So now there really was nowhere left to go. Getting thrown off the last sofa in town seemed to finally convince me it was finally time for me to give up trying to die and so I made the call to my wife and told her I want to try, one more time, to get clean, stay alive and go ice skating.
The door slams shut behind her as, choking back tears, she walks out into the street below and off to the job she hates, leaving me lying on the floor with the thing I hate the most: me.
It’s come down to a bottle that contains a few drops of methadone and a silence that grows, echoing with 20 years of memories, some good, most not so as I exhale the smoke from another cigarette I don’t want and watch as it flows in front of the early-morning light invading the room in which I am being strangled by the present moment and the memories of what seems like every fucking day that has led up to this point.
The silence is in stark contrast to the cacophony made by the stream of eager reporters from self-pity TV that are currently broadcasting inside my head.
The news they fervently deliver in the toxic soundbites currently battering my mind is turned up to full volume and not exactly the sort of story saved for the ‘and finally section’ of news broadcasts worldwide.
I stare up at the ceiling. I know every inch of its surface by now, having been staring at it for the past few hours. It’s just another unremarkable interior to have come under my scrutiny during the insomnia that has accompanied the departure of heroin from my system every time I’ve lain down to try to wave that shit goodbye over the years.
I can’t do this. There’s no fucking way I can do this. I’m a junkie, always have been, always will be. I don’t know why, but I am.
I crawl over to the window and, three floors up, I sit on the ledge and try to convince myself I actually have the courage to jump off. Who am I fucking kidding? What the fantasist inside me would really like is for someone to come bursting through the flat door and beg me to reconsider and climb back inside, but even I apparently know the difference between fantasy and reality now, because this time it seems the truth is all that remains as the heroin departs.
As for the difference between good drugs and bad drugs?
None of them seem to have ultimately done me any favours. Yeah, there were good times, but all that seems like such a long time ago.
The CD player in the corner of the room blinks, its display lights indicating there is a disc on pause contained within its chrome exterior. Music? I remember music, I remember when the purchase of the latest offering by The Jam, The Smiths or The Stone Roses had filled me with a sense of excitement beyond anything a trip to Pedro’s, or indeed anywhere else like that, had done for a very long time. I cry. I cry more tears than I knew I had within me as my gaze darts from the CD player to the methadone beside me. There are soon more tears running down my face than there is liquid contained in the bottle of green futility I’d brought with me to aid me in my attempt to get off heroin.
Crawling back across the floor, I turn the volume up and press play. The CD inside spins into life and as the opening bars of ‘The Whole of the Moon’ beautifully shatter the silence in that flat in west London, I remember Glastonbury 1986.
I had been 17 years young and full of the drugs I clearly required because without them I could not seem to generate any hope, acceptance or self-belief. I was convinced that without some sort of substance inside me, I would disappear and fall apart, when all I really wanted to do was exist and be part of . . . Part of what? Part of that crowd who’d stood listening to the band on stage that day in 1986, part of the city I’d fled to from my hometown, part of the friendships I’d witnessed over the years but had never been able to truly participate in.
I had no idea. The overwhelming sense of emptiness I felt in that moment provided no answers, just questions.
Too High, too far, too soon?
I looked up out of the window and spoke out loud to my long-departed dad provoking a torrent of tears and an involuntary shudder as I cried out to him for help.
‘Daddy, I love you. I miss you so much. Please help me. I need you, please make this stop.’
The song on the CD player ended and there was silence.
I had a moment of clarity, a peculiar notion emerging from the barren mental wasteland of my desperation, stunning in its simplicity but smart enough to outwit the deviousness of my self-piteous, truculent, smackhead methodology.
I never have to use again, no matter what.
In that completely unexpected but deeply profound moment of truth, I felt a sense of relief far greater than anything previously provided by something I’d injected, snorted, swallowed or drunk for longer than I could remember.
Fuck it, it’s time to stand up and be counted. It’s time to empty the void rather than continue to try to fill it.
My daddy was right there with me. He’d never been away – just as he’d promised in the letter he’d sent me a few weeks before he’d died.
My face is a mess of tears and snot. I shake uncontrollably like a terrified child, then smile, stagger to my feet and try to dance, stumbling into the kitchen to get the phone number my wife had mentioned earlier.
The next song continues, as does my deranged jigging about while I sing the words I’d listened to but never really heard as I’d wandered out in the world for so many years.
Despite there being no witnesses to my tearful, spasmodic frugging, I suddenly, incredibly, feel like I’m not on my own any more and maybe never really had been, despite so many years trying to escape myself and evade anyone who tried to get close.
Replacing The Waterboys with Exile on Main Street and turning up the volume even more, I went into the toilet and flushed the methadone away, as, ironically, those beautifully drug-soaked songs from many years ago drowned out the voice in my head saying I’d just made a big fucking mistake.
Then it was time to ask for some help about how I could help myself, I picked up the ‘phone and dialled.
‘Hello, is that Narcotics Anonymous?’
‘Yes, it is, how can we help?’
‘I’m fucked. I need help or I’m going to die.’
‘OK. Well, I’m really glad you called. Have you been to a meeting before?’
‘Yeah, a few. Never really listened to much of what was being said, though.’
‘Ha, ha, I was the same, always too busy thinking about myself to hear anything much for ages!’
If I’d had any doubts about going to another NA meeting, that fucking sealed it. How the hell did he know that about me?
Three hours later I fell down the stairs of a meeting in Ladbroke Grove. Someone offered me a cup of tea and asked me if I was OK.
‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ I lied, and then tried again.
‘Thanks for the tea. No, I’m not fine; I’m absolutely fucked, if i don’t stop using, I’m going to die, I have no idea what to do to stop, but I’m desperate to stay clean. I’ve got to go ice-skating in a couple of weeks.’