My First Encounter with Heroin
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
When I was nineteen, I was a freshman at an all fine arts school in San Francisco. There were no back-up majors—not even reasonably possible artistic career majors like interior design or architecture. Instead, the only two degrees they offered were a BFA or an MFA. As you can imagine, only the very wild went there. And it was wild. On my first day of school, I went to the school’s café for some coffee. As I was writing in my journal, I heard a little bell very close to me. I looked over and there standing right over my table was a naked man completely painted white—head to toe—with a brass bell tied to his penis. His painted penis hovered just over the tabletop. I looked at him, and of course his penis, and then he rang the bell again with a little black wand. He then walked away. I remember thinking that I had picked the perfect school.
By late fall, I had acquired two precious things: a close-knit friend group and a very best girlfriend. We adored each other and spent nearly every moment together. I still love her pristinely in my heart though we ended badly. As it so often happens with young friend groups, I had a very big crush on one of the boys in our group. He was from Texas and had large beautiful brown eyes and a southern accent that drove me insane. However, I had zero game in the boy department, so the best I could ever do was pine and be the funny, smart gal pal.
On one stunning, late fall Saturday afternoon, I lost my mind and called him on the telephone and asked him what he was up to. He then invited me over to his place. I purchased a tiny barrel keg of Sapporo beer and a bottle of Cook’s American champagne. I was a true nerd and drank like one. He lived two blocks from me in the Nob Hill neighborhood in San Francisco. A world-renowned frame maker (he specialized in making ornate frames for medieval, renaissance, baroque, and rococo period paintings—collectors and museums sought his work from all over the world) had rented my Texan a room above his workshop. I was totally surprised that my Texan lived so close to me above the frame maker that I had chatted with often. I passed the frame maker's workshop nearly daily as I walked to and from school. The frame maker had called me over because I was often carrying one of my paintings in my hands, and my clothes were always splattered with paint. The frame maker quickly surmised where I was going to school, and he was very fond of my school, so we had developed a funny, little sidewalk friendship. To get to my friend's upstairs room, one had to walk through a horrific kitchen that smelled just awful. I remember feeling afraid to go upstairs, as I was not expecting such a grotesque scene. The world-renowned frame maker was a hoarder and never ever cleaned. The place was revolting.
Much to my relief, my Texan’s room was large, sunny and very clean. He apologized for the floor below. There was another young man who I did not know. Again, I was surprised but quickly as we tapped the tiny keg and sipped beer, the other boy was polite and gregarious, and I found myself at ease.
And then, and then, as we talked the young men told me their plan for the day. They were eager and eyed each other before my Texan clued me in. Today, they were going to buy heroin and try it. They had never tried it, and now they were going to go down to the Haight (of the famous hippie Haight and Ashbury) and purchase some heroin. I was shocked. It was as if they had said, “We have never killed anyone before, so today, we are going to go get someone and then kill them.” At first, I laughed and told them that surely, they were joking—surely, they were not really going to do it. They laughed in return only to say again that they were going to do it and were very excited by the prospect. My crush on the Texan boy instantly evaporated. However, my Texan still was a friend, and I felt desperate to stop them.
So desperate I rode the bus down with them to lower Haight Street, trying every way I could to talk them out of it.
The day was sunny, and the street was completely packed. As I pressed against the crowd and followed the two boys, we ran into my very best girlfriend. I felt total relief. Now, we would all have some fun and abandon this heroin business. Sadly, she was just as thrilled by the idea as she had never tried it either. I felt total panic. Now, because I had joined the boys, I had inadvertently sucked in another. Again, I pleaded. Again, they laughed me off, as they were happy and excited.
I am to this day not sure how my apartment was decided on as the go-to place after they had purchased their heroin, but it was. They then discussed how they should best take the heroin as nobody had any syringes. They asked me if I had aluminum foil. I did not answer. They then went into my kitchen, and I could hear them quietly talking and laughing, and the click click click of a lighter. I felt totally numb. They returned to the living room, and after a few words, they all began to nod off. I was terrified by the sight. I had never thought I would have ever been company to such a scene. I left them in my apartment and walked around my neighborhood. I even went out to eat at a neighborhood Greek restaurant. When I was exhausted with fleeing, I returned to my apartment. They were gone.
My Texan and I would never hang out after that day, as I never saw him at school after he smoked heroin in my apartment. My best girlfriend would drop out of school not long after her encounter with heroin, and our relationship would become increasingly strained. Our last straw was her taking me to a drug den that was billed as a party. She had abandoned me the moment we entered. Everybody was nodding off or having terrible sex. I was terrified.
Heroin is like killing someone.
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.” You can follow Jennifer on her Instagram here.
Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.