Illegal drugs such as heroin are as easy to come by as simply knocking on a door
■ D.N. Stuefloten / Contributed
Editor’s Note: This is part two of a true story about Yasmeen — a San Jacinto heroin addict who finally got clean after repeated attempts. She was brave enough to tell her story so that others can learn.
She shrugs. She’d drive up in the morning, she says, and see others already there. They’d stand next to their cars, waiting for each deal to go down—housewives shivering in thin dresses, guys in construction needing a fix to go to their drywalling and framing jobs, a woman Yasmeen knew who worked in a health-care clinic, sometimes couples with kids bouncing around in the back seat. That got to her, sometimes. The kids would go in with the parents, and even if the adults tried to hide what was going on, the kids would know.
Parents with snotty noses, trembling hands, peeling off $20 bills, grocery money maybe, rent money, to get their fix, their sticky brown heroin. She’d go in too, lined up and waiting, just like a doctor’s office, just like her mom would do—Yasmeen remembers this—her mom waiting for her Valium or her diet pills, her pain pills for her aching back, Yasmeen just a kid, awed by the sterile white walls, the sullen, waiting people, the cool, remote receptionist, the doctor — like God — raising an eyebrow. Yasmeen’s mother whining about her back, her kidneys, her sore throat, her restless, sleepless nights, Doctor, you got to give me something, I hurt so bad—little Yasmeen, frightened Yasmeen, now an adult, going to her own doctor, looking for her own magic pill, mysterious potion, something to assuage her own mysterious, deep, insistent pain.
Yasmeen turns up a short street—a cul-de-sac. Immediately her face goes rigid.
“Oh, God,” she says.
“What is it?”
“Oh no—they’re out there—in the yard.”
“They’ll see us—they know my car.”
Two men stand in a yard, behind a short fence. They wear tank tops and shorts. They are silent, unmoving. They stare at Yasmeen’s car, they stare at us, our faces behind glass. Don’t look, Yasmeen whispers, don’t look at them, they’ll think I’m turning them, I’ll never be able to go back—and she drives to the end of the block, turns around, drives back, her eyes straight ahead, her face drained of blood.
And what, I ask, if you have no money? You’re strung out, hurting, but you don’t have even enough for a single fix. What happens then?
We have driven to the Hemet Denny’s, the quintessential American restaurant, full of plastic wood, faux-leather, pre-measured portions of processed food laced with preservatives, gingham-clad waitresses with tired smiles—and the endlessly refilled cups of coffee, which Yasmeen gulps down, equally endlessly.
At a table next to us a man complains bitterly about the high price of cigarettes. A woman leans on flabby arms, jowls quivering, and describes her latest miracle diet. At the counter a young man in a ragged T-shirt—he looks defeated—stares at the bowl of soup steaming into his face.
“You get it,” Yasmeen says. “If you’re an addict, you get it.”
“Any way you can.”
You borrow money, get an advance on your pay—make up a story about your car needing work—or go sell something, hock something. Sometimes a dealer will front you some stuff, though that’s losing proposition for them: junkies don’t pay back loans, they need the cash for their next fix.
Sometimes, if you’re a pretty girl like Yasmeen, a dealer suggests a trade—a quick trip to the bedroom in exchange for a syringe full of dope. Yasmeen knew a couple of young girls, both nice Waspish, middle-class girls from good homes, who were so strung out, so needy, they let their dealer take them to the barrio, the Mexican workers’ housing at the edge of town, and rent them out, both of them, at a few bucks a go, until they amassed enough money for a couple of bags.
Others, especially when their habit gets too big—a $50 a day habit isn’t exceptional—will steal, burgle, embezzle. Yasmeen knew a girl who once snatched an old lady’s purse in the parking lot in front of the Ross store in Hemet. The girl felt so embarrassed by this she threw it back into the woman’s yard—a mobile home in Sierra Dawn—though she kept what little cash she’d found. If it’s a choice between rent and drug, you shine on the landlord. The car payment, the alimony, the child support, the bills—they can wait. When you’re ahead of the game, you can buy a gram and sell individual hits to the poorer junkies, at a big markup. Most dealers are addicts, and support themselves this way. And of course there’s always the regional methadone clinic, and even quitting—junkies often quit, sometimes vowing to go straight, like Yasmeen, or else switching to alcohol. Drink enough alcohol and you go numb, man. You forget. Pain turns into stupor.
Because if you scratch a junkie, that’s what you find—pain. There’s a lot of loose, angry talk about how drug addicts ought to be shot, or locked up, as though hard-core addicts were just using drugs for the hell of it.
Heroin addicts, at least, don’t get “high” on their drug. Heroin is a form of morphine, which is a pain killer. Heroin kills pain too. If you’ve ever had severe pain—a broken arm, toothache, kidney stones—and then been given a shot of morphine, and felt that blessed relief, the pain just sliding away, then you’ve experienced what the heroin addict feels as his drug flows into his vein. It’s relief from a pain that infuses the addict’s whole being. It’s not a broken arm, it’s a broken life. It’s soul pain. And it’s not just for the heroin addict, not just the coke head, the speed freak.
America is full of food junkies, little old ladies with Valium habits, “social” drinkers smashing up cars and lives, athletes burning steroids — whole families who can’t go to bed without a sleeping pill. Legal habits, illegal ones. Broken homes, dysfunctional families, abused children, latch-key kids, homeless people, an entire culture wobbling and fracturing.
The junkie is just another sign of the times, along with gridlocked freeways, Wall Street greed, poisonous air, pollutants creeping into our lives via our air, our food, our water, dreams of a better life lying shattered on our acres of asphalt like broken light bulbs. Gone, all gone.
In the evening I go with Yasmeen to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I see people of all ages, some still shaky, on their second or third day without their coke, their speed, their Quaalude, others on their fifth year, their tenth year of a drug-free life. As they get up to speak—of their frustrations, their pains, their minor, daily triumphs—I feel for the first time a sense of hope.
Like Yasmeen, I have no faith in drug task forces, in the noisy outrage of politicians, or militias guarding borders. But there is something revealed this evening, as I listen to the addicts talk of their survival in a world that seems determined to crush them. Somehow these individuals, at least, have lived through their black nights of despair, and they’ve survived to tell their tales—shakily, perhaps, uncertainly, but courageously. I feel respect for them.
And for Yasmeen. She stands up too, and looks around at her brethren.
“Hi,” she said, “I’m Yasmeen, and I’m an addict-alcoholic.”
It’s not an admission of guilt. It’s a declaration of independence, and hope.
Author’s note: Yasmeen died last January in Las Vegas. She contracted pneumonia while in hospital after a serious car accident left her with several broken bones and other injuries. Yasmeen survived a great deal of hardship in her life. Once free from the grip of heroin, she moved to Las Vegas, where she became a successful dancer, and often toured California with her interpretation of Persian dance. As she grew older she turned to art. A tiny woman, she could often be seen perched atop tall ladders with her paint buckets and brushes, covering walls with her brilliant designs. Her murals and other work now decorate many buildings in that city.