Friday, April 9, 2010

Junky Johnny

Hurricane stories are flowing in and out of me these days. I am finally making an effort to get all of this down, and I have been going through a lot of old journals. Those days remain so clear in my memory, burned there so that I will never forget. Yet, my mind was so hazy the entire time that these stories seem to have this glossy sheen over them in my mind. When your mind was riddled with drugs and knows ultimately that their idea of reality may be somewhat skewed. Yet, looking back on those dark, dark days of Hurricane Katrina my heart still begins to quicken with fear and dread.

The water had begun to recede. I was not sure at the time how long we had been immersed in those waters, and it was not until after I left New Orleans that I even realized it had been two weeks. Sometimes in my mind, it seems like we were only in the flood waters for a couple of days. Other times it seems like we endured months of survival in the wild.
The water finally had begun to recede, and most of the Treme was dry. We are full of alcohol and pills most of the time. I swear, we had enough pills to start our own pharmacy once Liam and I teamed up with Johnny and Linda. And all got to be too much.
Liam and I had decided to evacuate. I was out wandering through the Treme twelve days after the storm. By this time, the streets were almost vacant. There were not many people left wandering around, save for the mighty few who refused to leave. Liam and I were among those mighty few for some time, with no intentions of leaving. As I wandered down by the I-10, near a hostel where Liam and I lived for a couple of months.
I had not seen any one around as I wandered around. The streets were now covered with mud and silt, and tree branches were everywhere. Leaves huddled around corners as if they were waiting for the man to pass by and bring them a package. The buildings of the Treme were spotted with dirt and water damage. And there was not a soul around as I aimlesslessly wandered about.
I remember rounding a corner, and I was suddenly face to face with a large military vehicle. The vehicle stops, and fear strikes my heart as several men rush out. I must have looked a mess because I had not showered in weeks, and my clothes were probably covered in filth from wading through the murky waters. I had been wasted on pills and liquor much of the time, and I was most certainly wasted as the vehicle came to a stop.
Several men rush up to me, checking to see if I am okay. The past few days we have spent avoiding the military for fear of being arrested. We did not want to leave the city, and we felt if we stayed under the radar...we could stay behind. And then, this military vehicle just appears out of no where.
As the men rush out, I am suddenly afraid. I know I should not just be wandering these deserted streets. The men have a harsh and accusing tone. They demand to know what am I doing. They want to know why I am still in the city. And then, I am told that I must get into the vehicle with them and be evacuated right now.
Panic sets in as I feel like I am being accosted by the police. What about Liam? I cannot just disappear. Liam would be in a panic if I were not to return, and who knows how long I would be away. I cannot go right now. I need to at least pack up some things. I cannot go right now, I keep telling these uniformed men. I am afraid they will simply arrest me and force me to go with them right now.
It may just be that I am afraid of authority. Or that I have been avoiding police for all these years that anyone in a uniform is scary to me. I do not know what kind of authority these military men has been obvious the past few days that they have some authority over this city. Maybe I was just too fucked up to think clearly, but I was definitely afraid of being drug away in handcuffs.
The military men tell me I have no option...I MUST LEAVE THE CITY. They agree to let me go for the night so that I can gather a few things. They ask where I am staying so that they can pick me up in the morning. I reluctantly tell them. I am still afraid of getting arrested. The men warn me that if I do not evacuate, I will go to jail. I am presented with two choices- evacuate or jail. I promise to be ready in the morning.
I head back to Johnny's tiny little apartment on the corner of Ursuline and Treme. I was only about ten or fifteen blocks away when the military stopped me. I still do not want to leave the city. As I walk home, I am pondering my choices. We could just hide out somewhere. I do not want to end up in jail...and all the fucking pills and liquor we have are sure to get us in more trouble. But, where will we go?
I am not even sure at this point what the whole evacuation thing entails. Would we end up going home? Would we have to go stay with either my parents or Liam's parents for a while? That does not seem like a good idea to me. Liam and I were strung out, and in need of a drug supply...going home is not a viable option to me. But, then could we stay and dodge the police, dodge a jail sentence? How would all this work? I would have to see what Liam says about all this. We have always made big decisions together, so I knew this would be no different.
At the time, we had no idea how much damage Katrina had caused. We could only see the flooded areas around us, and by this time all the water had practically receded. I honestly thought things in the Quarter would be up and running again before much longer. It was not until we were finally evacuated that we were able to see the extent of the damage on the news. At the time, I honestly did not understand why we were being forced to leave the comforts of the city I loved so dearly.
When I got back to Johnny's, Liam was there. I cannot remember if Johnny and Linda were there, but they probably were. I remember looking around the tiny apartment, realizing that it was chock full of looted items. Johnny had made it his mission to go out looting computer equipment and such for the past two weeks. There were CPUs, monitors, and television sets all over. And there was so much liquor, it seemed like hundreds of bottles. And let's not forget all the pills...we had enough pills to start our own pharmacy. There were hundreds and hundreds of syringes as well. I did not want these military men coming in here to find all this.
There was no discussion with Liam about leaving. He was over it all, and he was ready to go anywhere but here. So, it was an easy decision...we would leave in the morning. We packed up our stuff that night, adding all the huge pharmacy bottles full of pills to our luggage. I don't think we even thought that anyone would take them away.
Johnny and Linda were not leaving. They were dead set on just hiding out in the tiny apartment as long as they had to, and Liam and I were perfectly fine with that. We went right on drinking and getting high the rest of the night.
We were shooting the last of the fentanyl that night. Johnny had gotten a ton of fentanyl patches when he raided some pharmacy. He had the really good patches, I think they were 100mg and lasted three days. I had fentanyl patches all over my body, but they were the smaller ones that you cannot cut open. Johnny had the good kind that could be cut open and shot up. Liam and I had been doing his dirty work all week to trade for these patches.
After two weeks, these patches were getting more and more scarce. Shooting fentanyl is the best high I have ever known. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin, and it really packs a punch. This last night was somewhat of a blur, as we shot a lot of fentanyl. On top of all the pills and liquor we consumed, it is a wonder none of us overdosed.
Liam had fallen off the porch sometime that week, and he was in a lot of pain. Even all the drugs did not completely numb the pain. He was ready to get out of the city, and get somewhere that was more civilized. Our last night together in New Orleans was not different than so many nights before because we were completely wasted. We passed out on the porch, and awoke as the sun came up.
It was much cooler sleeping outside. The heat and humidity were stifling in the tiny little apartment with all four of us holed up in there. The smell of death and decay was everywhere. The breeze outside at least helped to keep the stale air circulating. But, when the sun came up before six in the morning, it got so hot that it was impossible to sleep anyway.
This final morning, we woke up early. Johnny and Linda were already awake. Linda was already on the nod, and she retreated inside for a while. Liam and I piddled around, packing last minute items and shoveling a handful of various pills down our throats. Linda, irritated because we were making so much noise went outside to join Johnny. Liam and I raided their pill stash, hiding some of it in our suitcases. Then, we went outside to wait.
We walked out onto the porch to a typical scene for Johnny and Linda. Johnny's head drooping forward, as he was on the nod. Linda could barely keep her eyes open. Liam and I just shook our heads at the insanity of it all. Not that we were any better off, but these two had always been extremists.
Then, Johnny slumps over and falls out of the chair. Johnny has been known to nod out often, but this was extreme even for him. Linda, who is always watching Johnny like a hawk when she is coherent enough, rushes over. She lifts up his head, and his fucking lips are blue. Linda starts screaming again for what seemed like the millionth time in a week.
She starts slapping his face to wake him up. Liam goes over to him, and helps to sit him back up in the chair. Linda jumps off the porch, searching for the water hose. ( Thank god the water was never turned off because of the storm.) Johnny lifts his head up as he starts to breathe again and opens his eyes ever so slightly. We had finished off the fentanyl last night, but a needle was sitting right next to Johnny. Liam starts shaking him, asking what he has shot.
Johnny slowly points off to the side. There, beside him is an open clonidine patch. You have to be fucking kidding me, I think. This motherfucker was shooting clonidine! Clonidine is a blood pressure medication that helps to alleviate symptoms of opiate withdrawal. But, everyone knows if you take too much clonidine, even orally, your heart will get so slow that you can die. And this stupid, desperate junky shoots the fucking stuff!
Linda starts spraying him with the hose, screaming the whole time. As the water hits Johnny in the face, he lifts his head slightly every time. Linda is screaming, "Don't die on me, asshole. Wake up, Johnny. Wake up!" He is coming in and out of consciousness.
After a lot of screaming and squirting, Johnny's lips stay a red color. Before they kept turning blue, as he would stop breathing. He still cannot really hold his head up, but it seems he is out of the woods. He is teetering on the edge of the chair, in constant danger of falling out again. Liam and I help Linda drag Johnny back inside to the nasty, dirty bed.
The cats are crawling all over the place. They are probably starving. We put Johnny in the bed, ans he seems to be peacefully sleeping. Linda swallows a handful of pills, and she curls up next to him. I am shaking. Saving a life can be a stressful event, especially when you do not know what you are doing. Liam and I grab our bags, and head out of the apartment.
We are in a hurry to get out of there. At this point, we have had it. We are ready to get the hell out of this insanity. Liam and I sit outside on the stoop, waiting for the military men to come pick us up. We have no idea where we will go or how we might get there. Anticipation fills our hearts as we watch the sun rise up above the city. The heat begins to rise as well and the smell of dying decay gets stronger and stronger. As an ambulance pulls up for us, we ponder the situation we just narrowly escaped.
The evacuation process was long and crazy. We sit in the hot sun on the black asphalt, and our conversations keep drifting back to Johnny. At the point when we left, we knew there was a possibility that he would not survive the day. We felt pretty sure that we had revived him for the moment. What we did not know is how clonidine taken intravenously will affect him in the coming hours. We also knew that Linda was probably in too deep of a sleep from the last handful of pills she swallowed to keep an eye on Johnny's shallow breathing. We prepared ourselves to one day hear that he had died that day.
Thankfully, that is not the fate that awaited Junky Johnny, although it would be months before Liam and I heard anything from either Johnny or Linda. We ended up in Rhode Island after a long and arduous evacuation process. We often wondered if Johnny had lived through that day. I could not tell you how many times that morning came up in conversation, but it was frequently.
I returned to New Orleans almost four months after the Hurricane. This time I was alone, as Liam had decided to stay in Virginia with his mother. i returned to New Orleans because it was the only place that anyone would have me, and I will always be grateful for Quentin and Barbie for taking me in when I needed it the most.
I ran into Linda after several weeks back in the city. She looked a mess, as usual. Her legs were still covered with bruises and open sores. She was still strung out, and now she was smoking a lot of crack. Johnny was in jail for some bullshit.
Johnny had survived that day. Linda told me that they were so fucked up that they did not even realize Liam and I had left. They were apparently still talking to the two of us for several days after we left.
At one point, Johnny ventured out in one of his Hawaiian shirts that he so often wore. He was so fucked up on pills that he thought Linda was with him. The cops and military were still looking to evacuate every single person who was left behind, so Johnny and Linda tried to stay off the radar...which is not easy when your mind is completely twisted on drugs and alcohol.
Johnny sees a couple of police as he is wandering around. Fearful of evacuation, he jumps into the bushes to hide. These cops must have automatically thought he was a nut job. The approach the bushes and order him out. Johnny reluctantly climbs out to face the music.
Only, he thinks Linda is with him. He thinks she has jumped in the bushes as well. Johnny starts yelling at her to get the hell out of the bushes. I am sure the cops were amused as they obviously did not see anyone else with him. Johnny threatens her, "Linda, if you do not get out of the fucking bushes right now, I swear I am gonna piss on you!"
No one comes out of the bushes. So Johnny whips his dick out and starts pissing all over the bushes. If I know Johnny, he is bitching the entire time. The cops must have been shaking their heads in disbelief. They did not arrest Johnny, but sent him to whatever make shift hospital they had set up. Obviously, this man who was pissing all over an invisible person was off his rocker.
Linda was at the apartment, worried when Johnny did not return. She said several days went by. Then, out of the blue, Johnny shows back up. He is no longer wearing his Hawaiian shirt and shorts, but he is in hospital scrubs. Relatively sober, Johnny relays this crazy story to her. He said the cops took him to a make shift hospital. He was not even sure where it was, although he had apparently walked home from there. They had sobered him up and sent him on his way.
To this day, I sometimes wonder what happened to Johnny and Linda. A large part of me doubts they ever got clean. These two are lifers. I often wonder if they are still alive, knowing there is a good possibility that they are not. Bless them both, wherever they may be.

1 comment:

  1. This story about Johnny in the bushes is so damn funny. I laughed my ass off when I read it in the book, and now here. Although, you paint such a perfect picture of him and Linda on the porch with him falling out of the chair, it saddens my heart when I see the picture of him slowly dying from shooting whatever he can shoot. I've been reading thru these entries since last night. I saw an article in my news feed you wrote for ' its all junk' and I clicked. At the bottom it lead me here. So, if you've been seeing a lot of traffic from Lake Charles, its just me...and I'm just starting. I love your writing.