So I met up with my “doctor” at Motor City’s happy hour. She’d just come from her doctor’s office and pushed a brown prescription bottle full of medium- size pink pills into my hand. I remember glancing down at them—they looked like absolutely nothing at all; they could have easily been generic ibuprofen or even cherry-flavored antacids. I ordered her a drink, chewed a couple and then tucked the bottle into my pocket.
I hadn’t eaten, so after another round we headed to Piano’s for a steak. The pills were Opana, some new boutique painkiller her doctor had prescribed for her back: kinda like OxyContin for grownups. They were already soaking into me, and I felt oddly buoyant. I was expecting a more manic version of the energetic buzz I got from Vicodin; but instead, I felt a loving optimism for myself, my companion, that crazy asshole pacing up and down Ludlow screaming along with his headphones and everyone we passed. The world was shot full of purple end-of-summer twilight and this whole twisted, lurching mass—every sick, demented one of us—we were all going to be OK.
Twenty minutes later, my doctor was face down in her steak dinner, and I was biting my tongue as hard as I could to try and keep my eyes from crossing. I paid the check, shoveled her into a cab and stumbled down to Delancey. I recall stopping under a light on the bridge and looking down at the bottle of pills incredulously. I could not fucking wait to get home and get that shit up my nose. Life is too short to swallow anything you can snort.
The Opana cut up beautifully, nothing like that chunky aspirin-and-Clorox white gravel you strain to get up your nose, no coating to scrape off like the stuff found on OxyContins. The drip even tasted good: chemical-like (which I don’t mind) but also slightly sweet. Like Sugar Twin.
I woke up in some impossible position and swatted off my alarm, bracing for a shattering headache or nausea. But nothing came. I jumped down from my loft bed and nearly took a dive into my closet but recovered, wobbled to the bathroom and got in the shower. Ten minutes later I was standing upright and felt fucking great.
I Googled Opana at work that day and glossed over the “Safety Information”: “Do not take Opana unless it is prescribed to you. Do not take Opana if you have a history of drug abuse or addiction. Do not mix Opana with alcohol. Do not crush or break up pills. Do not snort.” A grand slam my first time at bat.
Days later, I left on a six-week tour (three weeks solo out to Seattle and then three weeks back with Beat the Devil) and forced myself to bring only the smallest amount of Percoset and Xanax I thought I would need to get by, as I’ve had too many close encounters with curious cops on the road. Also, I get squirrelly enough driving cross country alone without potentially lethal doses of opiates. Of course, I blew through my supplies in about four fuzzy days and spent the rest of the trip bored, irritable and dreaming about the treasure trove that awaited me at home.
Limping back home in the middle of October, I texted a fellow substance aficionado before we even hit Jersey. She got to my house five minutes after I did, and I already had the pill cut up. We each railed half, and almost immediately I was clobbered with a wave of good feeling so powerful that I had to sit down. Later, committing unspeakable acts with my very attractive sidekick, she began mumbling something about a pony. I understood her immediately and deeply, in vast, rapidly unfurling detail: She was an equestrian, we both were. We owned many horses, and we had long, haughty histories of breeding champion Thoroughbreds in our vaunted Tennessee stable, we both competed in the horse version of NASCAR and at one point I, in fact, was a horse, charging through a dark glade into a meadow blazing with sunshine. When I opened my eyes, we had stopped fucking and were just frozen in place like insects trapped in amber. Opana even made sins against God seem boring.
I talked my “doctor” into filling another ‘scrip for me, and Opana quickly became my greatest project. I’ve always been envious of the enthusiasts: people who randomly pick up arcane activities like kickboxing or knitting or hula-hooping and really go nuts with it, disappearing into it like fucking underwater basket weaving is what God put them here to do. But man, I threw myself into that drug, and it threw itself into me.
It was like falling in love. I woke up each morning with that sated, slightly guilty feeling of gluttony that perhaps I was feeling too good. I would struggle to recall the minutiae of the wonderful experiences we’d had together the night before, think about Opana all day long and then burst through the door after work: Baby! How are you? I’ve missed you so! It was like that brief period of grace in a relationship when your mutual love and desire is so powerful that the two of you rack your brains for the most deviant sexual maneuvers to try because suddenly everything and anything is safe. I was not a drug addict; I was a drug’s true love.
I even turned on a few friends: One, a recovering substance abuse counselor, remarked that though it wasn’t the first time he’d been on a drug and wished he’d put on a longer CD, it was the first time he hadn’t gotten up to put on more music and instead just lay there in blissful, wasted silence. It made some folks puke, like the guitar player for a Brooklyn sex metal band who reported from the bathroom: “Yo, fuck, man, this shit is great! Yargle… ack.”
It was an arduous journey with many perils, but also a rewarding one, not completely unlike doing a Walk-a-thon for breast cancer, I told myself. I spoke the beginnings of many brilliant thoughts only to finish them silently, in my head. Taking off my clothes and getting into bed became mutually exclusive: I either slept in my bed with my coat and cowboy boots on or naked in the hallway. There were naysayers. I got the inevitable “you’re not indestructible.” Listen: not to be a dick, Mom, because I’d be relieved to agree with you. But by this point, there’s much more evidence against your thesis than for it. Still, slowly, the shine crept off the high.
I started to wake up feeling itchy and dried out. I wasn’t just dehydrated like when you wake up after drinking too much whiskey and you fell asleep with your mouth open and your throat feels chapped and your sinuses feel like a vast desert wasteland. I was completely desiccated, like I had been buried in fine, dry sand overnight. My eyes hurt. My lungs felt like they were packed with hot clay. I blew pink snot in the shower every morning and marveled that I had awoken at all. I began to have the fucking weirdest dreams.
I mean, dreams are weird in general, that’s their nature: You don’t dream about going to the store, buying a loaf of bread and a bottle of Diet Coke and then going home—though, man, if you have, please write and let me know because that would be one weird fucking dream. But Opana’s tendency to make me feel like I was asleep when awake and awake when asleep was starting to cause some confusion.
I found myself standing on a dock after a boating trip (possibly some kind of piracy) with my dog Katie, who has been dead for about five years. We stood there together in intimate silence for a moment, and then I noticed a huge dead fish floating, barely submerged, next to one of the pilings. At the same time that my dog noticed, another big fish swam up to the dead fish. As my Katie plunged into the water, I realized that this second fish was probably the mate of the dead one, mourning its passing. As my dog neared the living fish, I realized she was going to bite it, and I called out to her not to, as the fish had spines on its back; but I was too late. Katie looked back at me sadly with spines sticking out of her snout and said “how should I bite it, then?”
“Bite it underneath the gills,” I said and she did, with such force that the fish’s head came off and she swallowed it whole, then bit the decapitated fish’s body and brought it up onto the dock. We spitted it, put it on a fire and then Katie came over to me and said “please help me, I have spines all stuck in my paws and nose and I am in great pain.” I pulled them out one by one, and she curled up at my feet and said “thank you.” It was only then, staring into my lost dog’s eyes, that I realized that these fish, Katie—everything around me was dead.
Another night, I woke up to find a wizened old woman with long toenails and huge eyes perched on my chest. She pursed her lips into a tiny “o” of surprise or delight, and then her lips began to stretch impossibly down to mine. Unable to look away, I felt her lips cover up my nose and mouth and draw the breath out of me.
Less than a week later, I ran out of my second ‘scrip, and I haven’t sought out any more. How could I sustain it? Lonely, hideous single white male seeks woman suffering from chronic pain with health insurance? No.
The aftermath? A couple of lost months, but I’ve lost months (and months and months) before. It wasn’t even hard coming down. But if there was some 16-year-old with a hoodie and a crooked smile hawking it on the corner, would I be fucked? Oh, yes.
I suspect the drug has left me a little wet-brained. While out drinking absinthe with a friend and talking yearningly of those heady days, I felt the need for some blow. I knew I was fucked up, so I carefully folded up two twenties and a ten and put the bills in my coat pocket. Then, when the dude arrived, I got into his car, eagerly dug into my jeans and handed him my remaining stash of about $200 in exchange for a 50-bag of mostly baby laxatives.
And I’m still trying to remedy the disaster my apartment became in the months my affair with Opana absented me from my life. Just the other day, I was cleaning and found a rolled-up yellow Post-It that had fallen behind an amp. I unrolled it and pressed my tongue down on the traces of pink powder: slightly sweet. Baby, you were so fine.