Three guys died when I was at the halfway house: Chris, Arturo, and Luke. They all died right after I left in pretty quick succession. Each one hurt like a motherfucker.
I haven’t been to war, so I can’t comment on what that experience is like, but people who go through rehab or a halfway house walk a tough road together and not all of them make it. We knew we faced a powerful adversary that demanded respect. Unlike combat, the adversary was inside of us.
Chris was the ﬁrst of my friends to die. He was a “rock star” and had been in a band whose videos I’d watched on MTV in the ’80s. He was the prototypical rock dude; tall, incredibly skinny, with long dark hair and puffy bangs. When he checked into the halfway house, he had a big abscess on his arm from where he’d gotten infected shooting up speedballs. Speedballs! Coke and heroin shot into your arm—the shit that killed John Belushi. I am laughing thinking about it; who in the fuck does that unless they are fully 100 percent at peace with dying at ANY moment?
What’s funny to me is that I never really did drugs. I smoked a lot of pot, but I’m among those who think that doesn’t really count. Not that it can’t make your life shitty and boring and a little shorter due to pizza overindulgence and general malaise, but there are certainly plenty of perfectly well-adjusted people who smoke a doob now and then and suffer, roughly, no negative consequences. I’d take “pills” if they were handed out, and I took acid once and did mushrooms and smoked opium a few times. But that’s it. I never did coke or heroin. I believed, as I was told growing up, that crack was indeed whack, so that never called out to me. I have an explanation for that. In 1986, the Boston Celtics drafted 22-year-old Len Bias, a preternaturally gifted forward from the University of Maryland. I was nine. Right before he was supposed to join the team for training, he did some coke at a party, immediately had a heart attack, and fucking died. It was the ﬁrst time I’d heard of cocaine and it was introduced to me as something that killed beautiful athletes. So COCAINE WILL KILL YOU IF YOU TRY IT EVEN ONCE was permanently imprinted on me.