David Neff shares another excerpt from his memoir about his experiences with drugs. This excerpt examines drug culture and overdosing.
As I watched him overdose on the couch, I realized he was an acquaintance of convenience and I was terrified of the consequences. His name was Cory and he was my friend Ben’s older brother. Ex-army, depressed, and tired of life. He served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, but never talked about his experience. He just told us that drugs helped him take control of his life.
When the VA hospital wouldn’t or couldn’t provide enough therapy, he, and many of his comrades, turned to self-medication. Popping a few oxycodone felt good for a while, but as with most drugs, he began to look for other, more effective methods. Snorting crushed-up oxy was great for a few months. Cory would hang out in the dingy basement with kids who were only 3-5 years younger than he was, but who couldn’t fathom his experiences.
I was a bit nervous the first time he snorted, because I didn’t want some messed-up flashback or PTSD to turn us into insurgents he needed to deal with. Cory assured us that he rarely had hallucinations and mostly dealt with night terrors.
“So, don’t let me pass out, I guess,” he said, with a laugh.
Whenever he was high, Cory wanted to listen to the same song on repeat. I can’t stand hearing The Offspring’s “The Kids Aren’t Alright” anymore. Cory said that Americanized CDs were hard to come by in Kabul. The guys who were in possession of these treasures wrote the soundtracks to their squad’s personal wars. Maybe not as epic as “Ride of the Valkyries” flying over Vietnam, but it was about the only thing they could dictate about their lives.
Once, after snorting 30 mg of oxycodone, Cory asked for the song and I started berating him for being so unoriginal. I have rarely seen someone look so shocked and hurt by my words. In a despondent voice, with a kicked-dog look, he told me he had watched a close friend get killed by an IED. This was his buddy’s favorite song and it brought back memories Cory didn’t want to lose.
The irony was that we took drugs to feel a rush of euphoria, then listened to music that helped usher a sense of finality to those same feelings.
Our basement-dwelling group was comprised of myself, Jennifer, Ben, Katie (an honor student who self-harmed), Cory, and a few random people who would stop by on occasion. For the most part, we were all smart, with good grades, and decent prospects for our futures. We were just bored, or depressed, or dealing with mental health issues that made some of us into high-school pariahs.
We were lounging in the basement, high, probably trying to blow smoke rings, when someone asked Cory a question. Rather than his normally biting wit, we were met with shallow breathing, his head slumped on his chest. Nodding off is normal behavior in the life of a junkie, but it didn’t occur to us that he may have taken too much.
An undetermined amount of time later, we had begun to sober up and realized that Cory was still nearly comatose. We shook him and his eyes fluttered open, barely comprehending his surroundings or the jumble of words directed toward him.
I stumbled to the restroom and returned with a lukewarm glass of tap water.
Don’t hand actual glass to someone that can barely function. It’s going to drop and it’s guaranteed to shatter on a hard concrete floor. Trying to clean up shards of glass while high on opiates is a miserable undertaking. But at least you won’t feel it if you slice open your hands or feet.
Jennifer reached over and handed Cory a bottle of soda and told him to take a sip. He did and promptly felt nauseous. A quivering, sweating mass of human made his way to the restroom and slammed the door. We heard him vomit and assumed he would emerge, a bit more sober and perhaps a bit sheepish.
He didn’t come out.
After what seemed like hours, but was probably ten minutes, we ventured in to check on Cory. We found him curled around the toilet, prostrate. Lips blue, eyes rolled to the back of his skull, as if he were having a vision. This is the personification of an overdose. A drowsy bliss, leading to unconsciousness and death. While your friends try to compose themselves and get help, you could not care less about waking up.
I have never seen anyone with a frothy mouth after they overdose, like in the movies. Maybe it happens, but maybe it’s to help scare people with a visceral scenario. What is absolutely true is the terror that onlookers experience. Not only are you at risk of having a friend die, but there will never be a good way to explain a body pumped full of drugs. There is a strange duality of concern that races through your head. It is incredibly primal with fight or flight or call the paramedics all running through your mind.
As Cory began sweating through his clothes, his breath sounding more like gurgles, we knew it was more serious than anything we could fix with coffee and conversation. Jennifer knew there was a vial of Narcan upstairs in her mom’s stash. Ben dragged his brother to the couch and tried to keep him sitting up, alternating talking to Cory and shaking him.
“Hey man, I need you to talk to me. What’s your name? How old are you?”
Ben’s inquisition of his brother became more frantic as it dawned on him that Cory could actually die. After surviving combat in the Middle East, a pill would be the proverbial bullet with Cory’s name on it.
Jennifer rushed back down the stairs with the spray in hand. She skimmed the directions, popped open the nebulizer, and shoved it up Cory’s nostrils, slamming on the button. Thankfully, she didn’t break his nose.
Cory began a sequence of violent retching and moaning. Frothy bile, soda, and the day’s contents of his stomach quickly made an escape onto the floor. The vile scene meant that he would not be dying this evening.
Never have I been around people who were so happy to be cleaning vomit off of clothing, concrete, and upholstery.
Once we had calmed down, the adrenaline rush quickly receding, we all sat quietly, chain-smoking. There is very little to be said after such an experience.
Eventually, Cory mentioned that he might be done using drugs. We all kind of chuckled, mirroring his sentiment. He said he would try therapy to address the night terrors and paranoia.
I only saw him a few more times after his traumatic evening. He moved to a different state with his girlfriend and they had plans for marriage. A fresh start. Trying to avoid becoming another character in that terrible Offspring song.
The last I heard of Cory, he had put a shotgun, loaded with buckshot, in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.