Jason Arment writes about an old friend he published at the Iowa State Daily who struggled with addiction and ended up overdosing on heroin.
Back when I was the Opinion Editor for the Iowa State Daily, I’d run this feature about once a week called “Column Battles,” where two people would take sides in an argument and have their columns printed side-by-side on the section’s front page. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was a particularly well-thought-out or well-executed idea, but it did engage readers and made my job easier by taking up nearly a whole page of my section. It turned out that being a full-time student and full-time staff member at the state-sponsored, student-run daily print publication touting itself as a newspaper pretty much left me with zero time to deal with things like returning from Iraq, and to be honest I think I liked it that way.
But my lack of time often made me hasty. I had pages to lay out, sources to call, leads to follow, and a bunch of opinion columns to edit and get through the copy desk to the page and then to the printer. So I didn’t appreciate the deliberate back-pedaling throughout Steven Crain’s carefully measured defense of technology—Crain wasn’t even a student at ISU, and we were arguing about technology because I arbitrarily decided that my forced audience of circa 36,000 students would love it.
Looking back on it now I see simple language that Crain pecked out on his first-generation smartphone years ago. He was a smart kid, and that was why I wanted his words in my section by mine, but we didn’t know each other through a literary or journalistic bond. Crain bought and sold things that prohibition—a cruel tyranny which no longer oppresses me in Colorado—made valuable. I wasn’t interested in everything he had, and he knew that, but he also knew that I wasn’t a cop. Crain and I had gone to high school together, and although we didn’t hang out and weren’t in the same grade, we saw each other around. When I got back from Iraq, he never asked me about it. I could tell that he wanted to, though, that there was a big part of him that realized I wasn’t the same person I had been. So instead of talking about big things, we’d kept it small. Crain knew how to make DMT and had tried it.
But that’s not what the Daily’s readership read about. And they didn’t read how, unbeknownst to me, Crain cultivated a serious heroin addiction. I wasn’t aware of this until shit hit the fan and suddenly Crain was AWOL and there were strange stories floating around. I heard that Crain and his then fiancée split because of a series of robberies of their house. I guess some scary customers were involved, and suddenly my relationship with Crain was suspect. Until that moment, I didn’t know a casual relationship with Crain had the slightest ability to become suspect, and I decided that I didn’t like being questioned about Crain, his habits, his whereabouts, and wished him the best in rehab. Because the bride-to-be took off, and Crain’s parents weren’t happy, and his habit wasn’t kicking itself.
That was the last I’d heard of him for awhile. Then Crain came out of rehab and relapsed in secret. Not wanting to lose his fragile friends network he’d fought so hard to rebuild, all of his hard drug use was on the down low. He only used with people—some of whom I called friends at the time—who would keep it between them. So when they found Crain stiff in bed one day, long dead from a hot shot he plungered at home, I was taken aback. And when his mother told people he wanted Crain’s friends, and people who had known him, to come to the funeral and speak with her so, “She could know her son,” (loosely paraphrasing there), I was appalled.
How could it have gotten this far?
And how had it turned out that someone like me had known Crain better than most in those lost months; that I probably knew the best of him, the part before the fall he never got back?
I wish it wasn’t so for addicts in this country—it doesn’t have to be. And I wish that I could bring Crain back somehow. But I’ve left whoever he was in the sands of time, and I am ashamed of that. His story, like so many, is left in the scrap heap of his life and only remembered by me and a few others that knew him.
I am glad I published him. Now I can look back, read his column, and hear him say, “Technology has given us the means to make anything we love live on much longer,” even though it’s a lie. And when I hear him say, “I wouldn’t want to have it any other way,” that’s a lie too. He had to lie so much it was effortless; although it’s strange for me to think of him lying in that column because it hadn’t gotten “bad” for him then, not yet.
The graveyard spiral to which so many addicts succumb wouldn’t be even half the vortex if taboo and stigma didn’t add shame and guilt to the maelstrom of a junkie’s life. I’ve had more than one good friend call me at the end of their rope, in the middle of their bender, locked up in some motel room in the middle of nowhere while they tap into oblivion. I always talk with them as equals, because I’ve been there, and further. Some of them have turned their lives around and are now super successful in their art and careers. Others I’ve lost to crack smoke and pill haze. But there isn’t one I wouldn’t fight for, if I could.
Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do now.