the true stories
I used to have a neighborhood. In fact I was born in one. It was a little place called Oak Forest in Houston, Texas. My family lived there for about three years and then we began moving. We moved West, East and North. When I was about fourteen, I found myself back on the same street in the same neighborhood that I began in. This time we lived just across the street from the first house I ever knew.
All the same families still lived there and the only changes I could discern were that the parents were older and many of the boys were gone to Basic Training or were already in Vietnam. I was a mere four years away from my own draft notice. I was younger than any of the other boys in that neighborhood and although they all treated me as a little brother, I was too young to hang around with them.
I spent much time alone and walking the rails that ran nearby. I had a few friends from other parts of town that I had met in school and did most of my socializing there. The Sixties had come and gone while I watched all the people around me adopt strange new behaviors almost overnight. I was too young to join the hippie movement but I watched it all closely.
People were emulating characters they saw on popular TV shows and movies just like they do today. What had been taboo was made normal and then discarded for the next update, all without any conscious thought on the part of the general public, as far as I could see. Some of the changes were for the better and some were very deleterious.
It was a time of pharmaceuticals, relaxed sexual attitudes and drugs of all kinds. It also was a time of the best guitar solos in popular music composition I had ever heard. It didn't matter to anyone what you did because they were doing it too. Most of thirty-somethings were high on doctor prescribed relaxants and those over forty were drinking off their own war experiences.
Their children had been encouraged by the culture creators to try LSD and all types of psychoactive substances and derivatives. There was something for every type of individual. Cocaine for the players, hashish for the philosophical, speed for the poor, Robitussin for the shy, mescaline and peyote for the outdoorsy and psilocybin for the intellectuals. Everyone smoked weed.
As a backdrop to this was the zero-tolerance policy of the Texas law system and the educational component of this law. Young men were brought to the schools literally in shackles and orange coveralls with shaved heads to give serious sermons in auditoriums of how they had been arrested with three seeds or a roach in their pockets and had thus forfeited their futures.
I had been with a neighbor on a visit up to Huntsville Prison's Darrington Unit to see her son and though I had to wait outside the main gate and pass my time with an old guard, it left a lasting impression in my adolescent brain. The old fellow had showed me where Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker had blasted some friends out jail and had killed a guard.
Though it had been around certain parts since the early days, heroin invaded the suburban streets at this time. It was a two-pronged attack. Not a few of the soldiers who returned after their tours of duties brought their overseas acquired habits with them. Added to this were the usual business channels of organized gangs. The proximity to a porous international border meant that supplies were high.
Children used to see a salesman from the Duncan Yo-Yo Company hanging about the playground demonstrating Around The World and Walk The Dog and promising to return next day to fill all the orders. Now they saw new faces from other streets who showed them how to skin-pop Horse. It was free and the bold said it made you feel real good. Soon, the recruiters were the school-children themselves. That first crop became zombie purveyors very quickly to support their own unquenchable yens.
For me it was a very troubled time on the home-front and everywhere I looked, I saw blindness, denial and accidents waiting to happen. I felt that no one had any expectation of me except to not get caught doing anything wrong until I got my own Draft Notice. I did a lot of thinking and did not trust many of those around me. I did not seek council where I could see no wisdom. One day, quite unexpectedly, wisdom came to me.
I had chanced to pass a young man who lived across the street. He was years older than me and insisted that I spend the night at his house. I was perplexed, proud and shocked. It made no sense for him to want to spend time with someone so much younger. I hesitated and he became adamant. I accepted the invitation.
It was that evening I received a thorough education on heroin. My friend and neighbor had been tricked into the habit while still in high school and had managed to hide his addiction from all. He was a swimming athlete and one of the nicest most clean-cut soft-spoken individuals on our block. He told me that he did not want me to have to experience the hell that his life had become and that in his reckoning I was in great danger due to my naivety.
While he played Willie Nelson and Michael Murphy records on one of those suitcase style record players, he told me everything he knew. He showed me how it burned different colors on tin-foil according to what it was cut with. Comet, rat-poison and baking soda were prevalent at that time. He warned me of who would approach me, what they would say and where it was likely to occur.
He made it clear that there are some things under the sun that may not be tried and simply abandoned. Once you choose to ride on certain horses, you cannot ever get off. With a righteous anger, I have never heard since, he described his lifestyle of deceit, petty theft, permanent sniffles, shakes and sudden visits by pistol packing dealers. He knew deep-inside that it wasn't going to be alright someday.
As Willie sang Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain, my friend cooked his dose in a spoon with some water and a lighter. To my horror, he vacuumed up the liquid while it was still hot. He tied off his leg with a rubber hose, told me to call 911 if he didn't wake up and that if he did wake up to ignore him if he cussed me out for the first few hours.
He found a vein and plunged in the point with a deft hand. After injecting about half of the dose, he siphoned out his blood to mix with the remainder in the syringe and then hammered that all home. He collapsed instantly backwards onto his bunk and exhaled all the tension and worry that has existed since the beginning.
I pulled the needle out of his leg and undid the ligature. I watched his chest for breath and moved the phone over to the bedside. The record finished and I closed the lid. I smoked for a few hours listening to him breath deeply and evenly just like when a person does when they are having a good sleep. Eventually I curled up on the living room couch.
The phone jangled me awake and it was a call for my host. The caller was emotional and insisted I wake my friend. I woke him up to hail of curses just as he had forewarned me. He grunted a few questions in the phone and slammed down the receiver.
“Get dressed, Michael my boy. We gotta go to the funeral chapel. Friend of mine just OD'd last night. He ain't the first. Understand what I'm tellin' you?”
I rode along and saw the teenage body, then I was dropped off at home. My teacher left next day to move to another town. I visited him there a couple of times over the next few years and one of the times, I saw new goons come to collect. He had no cash and had to give them merchandise instead.
He drove an old black Ford F 150 pick-up and was always talking about getting around to changing the oil someday. I believe it had belonged to his father before and he loved it. I moved to Canada and passed through his town whenever I was in Texas. He was always dodging fists, knives, bats and bullets and trying to get clean.
Once I passed through his town on purpose on my way to Beaumont from Vancouver. I stopped at a gas-station and bought four quarts of 10 W-30. I had a crescent wrench in my backpack already. There in the parking lot of his apartment was the little black truck. I crawled underneath and began the job. I was just tightening up the drain-plug when he burst onto his balcony.
“Hey you, what in hell do you think you're doing to my truck?”
I slid out from under the vehicle and looked up at him, wrench in hand.
“I figured you probably hadn't gotten around to changing that oil yet, so I thought I'd do it.”
He grinned and just shook his head just like a big brother would have done. He found his peace above a couple of years later and every time I look around at the life I have made for myself, I can still hear his selfless tuition. God, I have been trying to honor the gift of your Angel in cowboy boots ever since.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.