It’s about 74 hours into a brand new year. I’m framed by a cheap brass-edged mirror in a shitty hotel, mascara and glitter running down my face. Despite the fact that I’m way too old for this, I can feel myself crumpling into the too-familiar, utterly cliché post-bar comedown/existential crisis.
I spend most of the night in the bathroom stall of The Capitol, a downtown Fredericton establishment where so many of my early-twenties nights were passed. The goal for the night, obviously, is to snort as much of the decidedly speedy blow my colleague has just procured as humanly possible. A few bumps in and I know people must be staring at me for being a visible tooth-gnasher, but by this point I don’t care. I hound an ex for a dart. “I can’t find them. Go out to the tannery, you’ll have one in two seconds.” He’s right. I get one in two seconds. But the guy who gives it to me chews me out when he finds out mine is the same old story that’s always haunted the region: I left the Maritimes for Toronto years ago. You’re the problem! he hollers, spit flying out of his mouth and freezing in the air. It’s been about a half hour since my last bump: not at all good timing for this conversation.
I run inside, excavate my behemoth of a coat from the pile by the door, and trip through the thick snow and ice coating the sidewalks of the city that used to be home. I head back to the hotel alone, despite being single and having a hotel room all to myself, to mourn this and my laundry list of other egregious judgment lapses. They start with the decision to head into the bathroom stall in the first place.
I have tried to quit. Granted, I’ve been saying that, by this point, for about seven years. Parties and blow were synonymous for me since I first discovered it. I often had a bump at any event where I knew I’d be bored, any event where there was alcohol or live music or someone I loved or someone I hated. Without it, as so many before me have said, the party could not truly start. I’d arrive, cast around for someone else who felt this way. We’d put in an order. I’d find people interesting again. I could be counted on for doing blow, and usually for staying up til it was gone.
By the time I found myself in Fredericton having a crisis, I’d dialed back my use for a few reasons. First of all, the people I know have stopped prioritizing the snorting of questionable powders. Many of my friends are now sober, or parents. Or actually give a damn about their careers (???). Also, because of my depression, I don’t do well falling into bed with the dawn. I stay in bed ruminating, feeling immense guilt about the money I’ve spent, the horrible shit I’ve said, fucking people I didn’t mean to fuck, the packs of cigarettes I wish I didn’t smoke, and for continuing to live, in general, like a bloodsucking ghoul.
Mostly, though, it’s because blow isn’t what it used to be. A real Sal Paradise brand of buzzkill, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that blow “these days” is too speedy since at least 2010. It’s common knowledge that cocaine has always been cut, and cut again. And often again. But increasingly, it’s being cut with fentanyl and other opiates. The real reason I need to stop is that, surprisingly, I’m afraid of dying.
Drugs containing fentanyl, or carfentanil, killed seven people in Toronto last month. In Ontario, fentanyl is killing more people than any other opiate, and people aren’t always taking it deliberately: Health Canada’s Drug Analysis Service reports that the compound is found in substances sold as coke, Molly, methamphetamine, heroin, codeine, alprazolam (or Xanax) and even strips sold as acid.
According to minister of health Jane Philpott, the opioid death toll is “worse than any other infectious epidemic in Canada, including the peak of AIDS deaths, since the Spanish flu that took the lives of 50,000 people a century ago."
It only takes a grain of fentanyl snorted from the bottom of a baggie to kill someone. But there is a way to save people when overdose happens. Naloxone is a medication that blocks an opioid’s effects. In most provinces and territories, Naloxone kits are available free of charge (albeit with limitations) at pharmacies and walk-in clinics, as the Canadian Pharmacists Association recommends. In others, like New Brunswick, the kits can only be found at pharmacies. The cost is not cheap—according to one New Brunswick pharmacist I spoke to, it’s $59.98 per kit — and the stock is low.
Fast-forward to the hotel crisis. I don’t have a kit on hand. It seems like no one ever does. I cried because I was guilty. The guilt and fear came not from the drug use itself: I have no shame in self-medicating, or in fun for that matter. It was the fact that I couldn’t stop picturing my closest loved ones dead on the floor after doing a bump. Y in her carefully assembled costumes with her skinny cigarettes, always putting on a show. C in his still-childish ways, chirping everyone, wearing a holey cat sweater. V with her hard-to-win smile. Some of my best friends have been found over a rolled twenty and spade-printed, loonie-sized baggies of questionable dust. There was safety in the closed off bathroom stall, safety in the ritual, in the cadence switch that happens to the conversation after doing a bump and a drip. Safety in the knowledge that you’ll keep each other’s secrets, if only because you’ll forget everything the other person told you.
In the hotel room, though, I realized, for the first time in years, that I wasn’t safe. That despite my depression and its daily insistence that life would be easier if I were dead, I wanted to...live.
A few months ago, I went to a show a few cities over with a friend I’ve had for half my life. I packed pajamas, a pair of underpants, sunglasses and a flask. In a small glass box on my dresser, I keep some treasures and trinkets. I kept coming back to it as I stocked my small backpack. It contains two small copper pots where I keep my rings, some spare bobby pins, a piece of red jasper. Some shells collected over the summer. A bit of charcoal from the Mojave desert. A little ceramic box with a cat on it, and in the box, a gram of blow. It’s been sitting there since October. I went to the box repeatedly, debating whether I should pack it. I didn’t.
I got in his car and as we talked shit about the people we know on the way there, he told me he’d ordered some. I asked if he knew it was any good and he said Oh yeah, it’s my friend Matt’s friend’s old roommate’s. He’s good. Right. Sure enough, around 1:30 AM, just as we started to get bored, it arrived. We cut it on his phone. I did a bump. Felt nagging anxiety. Ghosted the bar and was home by 2:30 with a slice of cheese pizza and a bedside episode of “Please Like Me.”
My friend got back to the Airbnb at 7:30. I heard him come in, stayed awake listening for his breathing. In the morning, I made him an espresso and told him that if he had died, it would have gravely inconvenienced me.
I spent another weekend with friends in Montreal a little while ago. Out came the rosé. We floated the idea, but no one put in the call. For the first time, I didn’t push it. We got up at 7 in the morning and went to yoga.
I’m equal parts serene and utterly wrecked to report that I’m now becoming the person I was hoping to be. I knew I needed to quit, and I finally did. It feels surprisingly good.
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