The first time I knew I had to out my brother’s heroin habit was a couple of months after he got married in my living room. He’d come up for the weekend and seemed to have a bad flu. Spent most of his time in bed. Soiled himself in the car. Admitted what was happening, which came as a surprise to me.
I told him he’d have to tell his wife before they headed for Mexico. You can’t spring cold turkey on her. That’s why he was at my place, he answered. He was getting clean so he wouldn’t have to tell her.
That didn’t turn out well. He stayed sick and told his wife and she threw him out, after which I had to go down to the Lower East Side and ask around at shooting galleries and snorting dens until I found him.
A few years later – after my brother tried a new life in San Francisco, at my mother’s and father’s homes, and back at my place in the Catskills – he seemed to find peace in a Harlem apartment and countless hours in NA and private therapy sessions. We made plans to go to St. John the Divine for caroling on Christmas Eve.
When I came by his spare apartment, which was starting to look homey the last time I visited just after Thanksgiving, I found David looking wild-eyed in a maelstrom of ripped-open upholstery, broken chairs and plates, his clothes everywhere. It was bugs, he said, showing me his scrapes, bleeding arms. They’re everywhere. He’d probably brought them back from Mexico the previous winter, he said.
He pulled his last remaining bowl from a cupboard and showed it to me. See, they’re everywhere. I saw nothing. He broke the bowl and broke down in tears.
That was several years before my brother got divorced and engaged again, seemed on the route to the clean and narrow. He died of a highball in a D.C. SRO hotel where the cops found lipstick traces on a second cigarette butt in a cup-turned-ashtray. I remember reacting to his death the way I’d react to the scares in a Hitchcock film. You’d know what was coming, but that knowledge would just make the actuality of the surprise worse.
I miss David. We gave our son his middle name. Too bad they never got to meet. I hope this story resonates enough to keep my boy safer than my brother ever was.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.