I’ve got one hour until my parents are back from the theater.
I’m at my typically cluttered desk. Textbooks and notes bathed in the glow from a budget mass produced lamp, designed especially to fit the Swedish specifications of a stylish and productive student workspace.
There are only two things on my desk which are important right now. On the table is a photograph of me and my best friend, Hugh. It was taken a couple of years back. A school excursion, the typical outdoors experience that’s supposed to build character. It was a weekend of early mornings and shitty experiences, but we made the most of it. Hell, we made it fun.
To my left is a small plastic bag, containing a coarse white powder. Give it to a pharmacist or a chemist and they’ll identify it as ‘Desomorphine’. Show it to a kid my age, or a junkie down on their luck and they’ll tell you you’ve got a cheap shipment of Husk. It’s a drug that appealed to the latter for a few years. It was an alternative to heroin, but a tenth of the cost. There was a reason for this. You had your typical long term side effects; heart palpitations, stunted brain cell development, rabid gum disease, but that’s to be expected.
Husk had a much more obvious and worrying long term effect. Necrosis of the skin.
You can probably begin to imagine it, but I can tell you, it’s worse than that. It’s like a section of your body doesn’t get the memo that your heart is still beating and it just – gives up. It rots. The skin falls away and reveals the blighted muscle tissue and discolored bone that the drug has got to and ruined. Deploy. Discover. Destroy. The drug follows every teaching of our founding fathers. So, you’re left with these stinking, rotting masses of flesh hanging off your body.
but I have no intention of getting to that point.
Another way the drug differs from typical opiates is the overdose. Take too much heroin for your little heart to handle and it’ll just give up on you. Boom. Time’s up. Husk won’t kill you however. It’ll just – change you. Reduce you to a blabbering fool for the rest of your life. Motor skills, language ability, sense of reasoning – out the window. You’ll be lucky if you can even pronounce your own name at the end of it. You’ll be reduced to the equivalent of an adult new born. A shell of your former self. Hence the name – Husk.
All this didn’t deter the most desperate people looking for a fix. It got big in the darker corners of Europe, and then made its way over to America. The authorities and the DEA didn’t pay it much attention until it started making its way into high schools. As soon as it threatened the suburban middle class, they mustered up a crusade to stop the blight, because someone just has to think of the children. Well, the privileged ones. I’m saying this as someone from that world. My father’s a doctor, my mother a lawyer. They own their own house. I am the very embodiment of my own cynicisms.
So why do I have the drug? Well, I’m not looking for a fix, and I’ve never had an interest in getting high. I tease the picture of me and Hugh in my fingers.
He overdosed on Husk six weeks ago.
When I found out, well there’s little that can prepare you for that. I knew him better than anyone, and I knew it wasn’t an accident. He was a smart guy. One of the smartest people I’d ever met. He had been accepted into his first three colleges of choice. He was going to be a doctor, and a good one at that.
He wasn’t the first to overdose at my school, and he wasn’t the last. These weren’t copycat actions, and these weren’t the actions of followers.
Daisy Thompson – she was published in several student literary collectives – she overdosed eight weeks ago, the night before receiving the school’s English prize.
Paul Erikkson – he could have got a sporting scholarship to any college of his choosing – he overdosed five weeks ago, nine days before he was set to go to an invite only football training camp.
Holly Davies – I sat behind her in my further mathematics class and she overdosed just six days ago. She wasn’t that special. She was just always nearby.
The brightest minds, the most charismatic and prosperous individuals were dropping like flies. This wasn’t suicide, but it was their escape. I didn’t want to believe it, but you can’t just ignore a correlation like that. They all had a lot ahead of them, but sometimes you got to think, is that what they really wanted? We’re barely learning to think for ourselves, and we’re already sizing up the mountain we are going to have to climb for the rest of our life.
I understand why they did it. I wouldn’t have bought the drug if I didn’t.
Being constantly told what you’re going to amount to, being reminded about your bright future, it’s merely a constant reminder that you have expectations to fulfil. It’s hard to be happy when you’re constantly measuring your next step, as well as the distance of the fall if you miss it.
Human nature is simple; we just want to be happy.
I mean real happiness. Not the fleeting kind we get day to day – going shopping, watching a film you like, watching people you’ve never met win at a sport you’ve never played – this isn’t that. These little anomalies of content will always be tarnished by the next little dilemma to come along.
I mean pure, unadulterated, unconditional happiness.
The kind I saw last week, in Hugh’s face.
He was sat in the cafeteria, spooning yoghurt out a bowl with one hand and throwing it onto the floor, his other hand playing with his genitals. People don’t die when they take husk – this was the equivalent of an adult new born.
Never in my ten years of knowing him had I ever seen him laugh so hard, or seen him as care free as he was that lunchtime, painting his strawberry flavored masterpiece with his dick in his hand.
He was painting his Sistine chapel. I doubt Michelangelo ever looked that happy.
He doesn’t even recognize me anymore, but that doesn’t change a thing for him.
Maybe the first was an accident. Allen Jones – he always had troubles with what he was going to do after high school. He didn’t have the grades to go where he wanted, and I guess he just wanted a release. When he came back to school – well it was strange to see. Always smiling, always content, always at peace. He used to have panic attacks like clockwork. Now he just sits around sticking the pages of books together with glue. Every single kid in that school, from the honor students to the kids who’d huff solvents in the toilets after school, every single one is the middle child of history. There’s no more American dream to strive for, and the concept of correcting the instabilities left by it is too far off.
We are just filler. We are the commercials for European sports-cars and male impotency medication that crawls through the early morning television schedule.
When you think of it like that, I’m not surprised all the kids did it, and I’m not surprised Hugh did it. He was setting out to spend half of his life in med school, and then the other half to follow would be there to pay it off. You don’t get a break in this world. The only time when you aren’t plagued by responsibility is as an infant, or when you finally cash in your twilight years, slowly dying but out of your mind on medication.
The years of med school cramming and bills was just one aspect for Hugh though. There are other reasons people take Husk. Not just to escape, but also to forget. Not just to forget, but to purge something from ever happening.
Take Marla Parker – sure she wasn’t the brightest kid at school, but then she had a gift more important in high school – she was hot, and her tits came in early. She was attractive, and this made her noticeable. Popular. This is what made her instance so tragic.
It’s always worse hearing a tragedy about someone who’s attractive.
Do you think people would have given a shit about Jesus if he was ugly?
Marla was on a lot of the guy’s radars at high school, and she knew it. She liked it. Like Icarus in a C cup, she got pregnant a month or so into this whole ‘Husk’ pandemic. Not many knew at first, just those involved. Marla was someone I would never go near. Hugh, on the other hand, was crazy about her. Things worked out for them at Diiasio’s birthday party. Hugh was beaming for two weeks afterwards.
Until Hugh found out that Marla was pregnant.
I don’t think that’s why Hugh took the husk though. I explained to him the slim chance that the kid was his. He seemed uneasy when I worked out how many people he was competing with for that ‘World’s #1 Dad’ mug. It did slim down the prospects though. As I said, Icarus in a C cup.
I don’t think it was Marla’s pregnancy that made Hugh decide to overdose.
I don’t think it was Marla telling him that her ‘super Catholic’ parents nearly kicked her out the house and forbid her from getting the abortion that made him do it.
I don’t think it was hearing about how they found Marla in her parents’ home, foaming at the mouth from a near lethal dose of Husk that made him do it.
I don’t think it was about them rushing her to the hospital. Her blood-soaked thighs that made him do it.
I don’t think it was the visits, seeing her a few weeks after that with the mentality of an infant and no recollection of the life she traded in, nor the child she lost.
I don’t think there’s any one reason why Hugh, why these kids, why we are doing this. It’s the weight of it all combined that breaks our back.
I’m not trying to say what these kids did, what I intend to do, is right. I don’t need to justify my actions.
It’s just easier –
And things seldom come easily.
I’m pinching the bag in between my forearm and thumb, and looking at the picture of Hugh. He’s never coming back, so I may as well join him.
The substance should be dissolved in water. I’d seen it a million times in films. I never thought I’d be at this point, but hell, life’s full of surprises like this.
I’m holding a lighter under a spoon with water and the husk. Too much for a first-time user. Enough to overdose on. What I didn’t understand from when I saw this in films is that when you’re doing it for real, it’s a much slower process. I flick on the television I have next to my desk. The news flashes on the screen and they’re showing a report on Husk. It’s strange to watch it whilst I’m dissolving a fix in one of my parent’s silver spoons. These anti-husk reports are on every couple of days.
But, this isn’t that.
It’s live footage, from an airport. I let go of the gas compression on the lighter and move closer.
The whole airport is in lockdown. Apparently, there’s a kid – he’s locked himself in one of the bathrooms, and he’s threatening to overdose.
His uncle is there outside the bathroom, distraught, begging the kid to come out. There are passengers, pilots, baggage staff, air hosts and hostess’, all watching. All waiting. Every single close-up shot of the crowd reveals a face heavy with empathy. The reporter is talking to a woman slumped on a chair, crying. I assume it’s the kid’s mother, but it isn’t. The woman chokes out that her daughter overdosed a couple of months ago, and then she creases in on herself, crying frantically.
There isn’t a single shot of the crowd where there isn’t someone as distraught as this.
There isn’t a single shot which doesn’t have someone who’s whole life was torn apart by this drug.
The reporter is rushing over to the airport bathroom. The kid came out. He didn’t do it. He’s crying. He’s shaking. His uncle rushes over and hugs him.
And everyone’s clapping for this kid. They’re smiling through tears.
How must this feel for those whose kids went through it?
I can’t even begin to imagine, and the logical step would be to think about my parents. For them to come home and I’ve –
I can’t even think about it.
I throw the spoon in the bin, the lighter, the bag, the syringe. Everything.
I pick up the picture of Hugh again. I look at his goofy smile.
After the overdose, he can’t use a mobile phone. I doubt he’ll ever wrap his head around it again.
I reach over to my phone and address a text to him. I tell him he’s an idiot, and then I tell him I miss him.
An uplifting story for Friday!
[Howl Davies is the spectral puppet master crawling in The Sounds inside.]