Friends with an Addict

I walked into Changing Spirits Rehabilitation Center carrying two Trader Joe’s brown paper bags full of my used clothes, a pack of American Spirits, a buzzer set and a copy of Grace and Addiction by Paul Zahl. The front office had to inspect everything first. Meth was Eddie’s drug of choice and for all they knew, I was making a drop. I wasn’t. The reason for my presence had its roots in something way before me, in the womb where Eddie’s mother used and began his path on addiction’s road. But first let’s begin with a friendship. There’s those stories friends have about how they met and they can recite to you the exact moment and words said. This is not one of those friendships. This is the type where neither of us exactly remember how we met. I couldn’t tell you how we became friends. I could maybe put together a murky story about sixth grade physical education and how we didn’t like to run miles so we walked them, but I still can’t tell you exactly how we became friends. Our friendship has been shaped and challenged through Eddie’s addiction, but before it all began things were simpler.

Eddie and myself frequently find ourselves reminiscing on the times in middle school and high school. We were always goofing around and getting into shenanigans, often being seen as immature and annoying. It was an apt assessment. Looking back, we were. But we didn’t care. For instance, there was a time when it was popular for two people to link back and to back and intertwine their arms tightly. Then one would bend over while the other one flipped over the top and landed on the other side. We thought this would be a great idea to attempt at lunch, neither of us having any gymnastic or “flipping” practice before. I set myself up as the one to be flipped over and Eddie prepped himself for the leap. Back to back we linked up, giggling as our friends egged us on.

Three.

Two.

One.

I only really remember a force that rattled my head and a quick flash of blackness. I felt the pain in my back as I lifted my head up and realized I had just folded like a Cheesy Gordita Crunch. I was dizzy when I got up but still heard the laughs and we declared it a victory. However, I did not feel up for fifth period. Everything was spinning and next thing I knew my mom was picking me up and I was headed to the doctor’s. We told the nurse I fell off a bench at lunch, she didn’t believe us. And neither did the doctor. Yet he did believe I had a concussion and the vomit I was feeling coming up my throat influenced my conversion to the same belief system. Still to this day I swear Eddie messed the jump up and he swears I didn’t launch him enough. Either way my back still gets sore quickly, it seems to remember as well.

Whenever there was an assembly we would ditch school. One would think we would use the time to do something crazy or live life on the edge. One would be wrong. We walked down the riverbed to Taco Bell for Frutista Freezes and to smoke cigarettes like the cool kids in the movies. But one time still specifically sticks out in my memory. It had been raining, the kind of rain that scares a Southern California resident, and we hopped the fence to head for Taco Bell. Everything was left muddy and slippery but we still managed. But then we reached the fence to hop back over onto the school property, Eddie decided to go first. He climbed easily and then hopped down into the mud, slipping when his shoe made contact. He fell backwards and was consumed by a giant tumbleweed in the bushes. I felt justified in my laughter; my back still hurt as I climbed over the fence.

Another, more eventful, time we ditched involved a woman’s bra and thong, a dog leash, duct tape, the trunk of a ‘96 Toyota Camry and a Target parking lot. There was another friend who hung out with us, Garrett. In high school we could get him to do anything to make us laugh. We asked, he did it. So, we thought it would be hilarious to have him wear a bra, a thong, a dog leash around his neck and duct tape over his mouth while he hopped out of my trunk and I chased him yelling “Get back here!” Eddie videotaped it on his phone and we uploaded it to YouTube. Over the years this video has been passed around and shown to all our other friends, just to show them the memories we were proud of. Just the other day Eddie called me and asked me to send it to him so he could show his new friends in rehab. Another reminder.

Unfortunately, these memories came to an end. They would soon become reminders of what things were like before addiction sank its teeth in and promises of what could be if sobriety yanked the teeth right out. One day during our senior year we went off campus for lunch, which meant we went to go smoke weed around the corner. Only problem was halfway through lighting the bowl the police showed up with no invite. Possession tickets went around and Eddie was yelled at for having fake urine in his folder. He had it in case of a random school drug test, which they did every so often. While this didn’t change our friendship, it did change my circumstances. Grounded. Senior year went on and finished, we both were ready to move on towards community college and we chose the same one. It was around this time, unbeknown to me, Eddie was dabbling in new drugs.

I can still hear the words today. He told me he didn’t want to become like his family. Throughout his family there was a history of drug abuse and jail time, things he wished to avoid. I share this memory with him, but he doesn’t need the reminder. I wish I knew how serious to take his trauma then. I didn’t realize the impact your mother being shot to her death by drug dealers when you are one year old could have on you. I couldn’t account for the brother of his who thought it was his fault and committed suicide by overdose, leaving a suicide note for Eddie explaining how life would be better without his bad influence. As a high schooler, I didn’t know what to do with the fact his dad was in and out of jail, unavailable to be a parent to Eddie. It left him to live with his aunt and uncle who viewed him as tarnished goods. They used rules and restrictions to try and manage Eddie’s behavior but it only led to worse things, increasing the trespass. I wish I knew how to be a better friend then.

We stopped talking so much in college because he was beginning to use and wanted to copy all my homework in the classes we took together. I was starting to get irritated. Especially when he passed over his scantron for our Psychology final, expecting me to fill it out for him. Of course, I did. But it didn’t stop there. He continued with each class until I told him I wasn’t going to do it anymore. He stopped coming to class but would cash out his Financial Aid and buy whatever drug he was feeling that day. Suddenly the memories weren’t weighing the same as they were before. It felt as if they were fading and maybe this friendship was only temporary. The type of friendship you later on in life speak of as my “high school best friend.” I continued on with my school and looked down on him. Whether it was out of anger, sadness or compassion I don’t know.

Eventually he moved up north to Humboldt County and we continued talking on the phone. I could always tell when he was on something, it would either be sporadic thoughts, mumbled speech or his phone was off for weeks. The more he admitted his drug problem with me, the more my heart was softened to care about him. Of course, there were times it was difficult. Like the time when I came to visit him and landed in San Francisco, waiting for him to pick me up and drive me five hours up to his town. He showed up with a friend and about an hour outside of San Francisco we were pulled over for speeding. Eddie was arrested for a warrant he had and his friend had one too, except they let him stay in the car. I was just harassed a little and then left to drive Eddie’s girlfriends’ truck which was manual. I had never driven stick. Eddie’s friend knew how but the police said he wasn’t allowed to because he didn’t have a license. So, we sat on the side of the highway while the police gave me a quick three-minute lesson on how to shift gears and then drove away with my friend who I was supposed to be staying with for the weekend. I stalled in every city the highway went through. No exaggeration. Eddie’s girlfriend drove us back down to bail Eddie out and then we drove anotherfive hours back up to Humboldt. My visit comprised of about twenty hours in the car and a limited amount of time spent with Eddie.

The next time I visited I came with our friend Garrett. This was another disaster. Eddie was having withdrawals from heroin and was taking Suboxone for it, except he was mixing alcohol with them. This was not recommended. We were at a casino when he told us he didn’t feel good and his girlfriend called repeatedly telling us he wasn’t allowed to drink. Now I wasn’t completely innocent in this, I partook in my share of Xanax and Vicodin that weekend. As much as I wanted to be angry about how Eddie lived, I couldn’t deny I myself like to dance around addiction. As life went on I found myself drinking a lot, popping Xanax and clinging to my weed claiming it’s only a plant.

This was shown to me the most when later on Eddie came back to Orange County to get clean. I decided to let him live with me, it ended up being a bad decision. He was supposed to be sober but he continued to use and didn’t look for a job. This resulted in me having to kick him out. But during the time together, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic. I knew we all had addiction tendencies in us and I could no longer act like I was something more or better than him. We were the same, unfortunately with different drugs of choice which resulted in different repercussions. Living together was eye opening for me. For him too. He went back up north and then eventually realized he messed up the opportunity he had living with me. He came back down again and checked into a rehab.

This wasn’t his first time in rehab, he had tried it before. The farthest he ever got was to a thirty-day chip. Our conversations seem to go around and round about how he is going to do better and try harder this time. Each time I believe it. I hope it is true. I want it to be true. But no matter what, I know we will always be friends. Those memories will continue to remind us of the good old days and the ones that are to come. I like to believe he will be sober one day and we will make some new memories. I look forward to the day where we have families and our children become close friends like us.

However, I know no matter what happens we will always be close. I couldn’t tell you how we became friends, and I couldn’t tell you how we’ve stayed them either. But what I can tell you is I am proud to stand with him today, where many have given up on him. I am glad to call him my friend and that’s something even addiction can’t get in the way of.

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