The withdrawal symptoms were becoming more intense. Her muscles ached, she felt as if the inside of her stomach was disintegrating. Her hand shook as she entered the 4 digit code to gain access to the building. The hotel elevator was out of service, which wasn’t uncommon. The elevator served more of an aesthetic purpose than anything else. Elevators were something SRO landlords often listed as an amenity at their hotels. They never specify whether or not the elevators work. The common rationale among landlords was if the listing of an amenity equated to functionality in the minds of tenants, that was their fuckin’ problem. The unique housing situation in San Francisco empowered slumlords. If you were staying at an SRO it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that you weren’t in the position to complain about elevators. If a tenant didn’t like it, there was always the streets; that was the mentality. The faulty elevator never bothered her, until now. Her legs felt weak. What would be a casual walk upstairs had transformed into an obstacle course. She clenched the railing, taking one step at a time until she made it back to the 4th floor. The hallway was empty, the fluorescent lighting was oppressively bright. Destiny’s hands shook more violently as she gripped the roomkey. The sound of a door creaking open made her anxious. Her fists tightened, she had been a victim before. No matter how sick she felt she would try to defend herself.
“Everything okay, sweetie?” Asked a soft voice with an audible southern drawl.
Destiny’s fists loosened. She recognized the man’s voice.
“Yeah, everything is okay. I’m just kinda… sick right now. I’m uhh… need to open the door, but a bit dizzy, ya know?” Destiny replied in an exhausted tone.
“Do you have your key?”
“Well good, at least I won’t have to kick the damn door down.” He said warmly as he approached.
He opened the door to her room and asked, “Do you need some help in? You look a little wobbly on your feet, hun.”
“Yes, thanks, Terrence.”
He put his arm around Destiny and helped her into the room. As he set her down on the bed he asked, “Anything else I can do for ya?”
“Actually, there is…”
“You need somethin’ from the corner store?”
“No, I… need you to help me with… something else. And if it makes you feel uncomfortable you don’t have to do it, but it would mean the world to me.”
“Listen, sweetie, you’re an attractive girl and all, but I like boys; ya know, with penises… ”
“What? No, I know, I… I need help getting high.”
“We’re on the 4th story… How much higher do you really need to be? Wait, do you mean like drugs?”
“I don’t think that’s the moral thing to d-”
“Listen, I need this.” Destiny interjected aggressively.
“Just because I live in Satan’s asshole doesn’t mean I should start breathing in his farts.”
“I’ll pay you.”
“Well, how much?”
“Whatever you want!”
“My life leaves a lot to be desired, so how bout you say a number.”
“One hundred dollars?”
“Aaaaand sold to the pretty dopehead desperately pleading on the bed! I’ll only do it this once though, okay?”
Destiny pointed to the dresser by the window and said, “In the bottom drawer you’ll find my kit. There’s a belt in one of the drawers, and there should be a few lighters too. I just need you to prep for me. That’s it.”
As Terrence walked over to retrieve the necessary items. Destiny couldn’t help but stare at the numerous deep scars that marked both of his arms. She had always known they were there, but never bothered to wonder how they got there. Some of them were skin-colored, others had a reddish hue to them; as if they were infected long after the natural healing process ended.
“Okay, so what now?”
“I have some dixie cups under my sink, grab one and put some water in it.”
“Why? Does heroin make you thirsty?”
“I’ll explain after you do it.”
“Okay, but it just sounds weird.”
“It’s how you do it… Just, please,” Destiny replied in a soft, desperate voice.
Terrence fiddled with the bathroom faucet for a few moments before water started to flow out of it. “Sweetie, I think your sink is bro… Oh, false alarm. It works.” He filled the dixie cup to the brim, and placed it on the nightstand beside Destiny’s bed. With all the strength she could muster, Destiny forced herself to sit up. She wrapped the belt around her left bicep, her right arm shook more intensely as she pulled to make the belt as tight as possible.
“Terrence, I need you. Sit next to me, okay?”
Without reply, Terrence sat beside her on the bed.
Destiny laid her left arm across Terrence’s lap.
“Okay, just follow my instructions. Let’s not make this weirder than it has to be.”
“Well, I’m helping you shoot up street heroin, and your arm is less than an inch from my penis, and I’m gay, you’re a professional prostitute of the opposite sex, AND you’ve agreed to pay me for somethin’. I’m pretty sure we’ve reached the peak of weird mountain, sweetheart.” Terrence replied in a playful tone.
Destiny seemed unamused by Terrence’s attempt at levity as she handed him a small baggie of black tar heroin.
“I need you to take this serious. Don’t fuck this up, okay? I’m really sick.”
Terrence muttered, “Okay.”
“Take everything out of the baggie and put it on the spoon.”
“Now, open up my kit, and take out a fresh syringe.”
“How do you get fresh syringes when you run out?” Terrence asked in a moment of sincere curiosity.
“There’s a bunch of places around the city that give them out. How have you not heard of them? They’re kinda all over the place.”
“I guess syringes just haven’t been on my agenda.”
“You know the place where they give free AIDS tests on Market?”
“They give them out there. Anyways, put the needle in the dixie cup and pull the plunger back until it’s full of water. Then push the water out slowly into the spoon until the spoon is about halfway filled with water,” Destiny explained.
“After that you put the fire at the bottom of the spoon, right?”
“Yeah, but don’t just hold it in one spot. You have to move it around the bottom.”
“How long do I hold the fire?” Terrence said, as he flicked the lighter under the spoon.
“30 second, then stir it to make sure there’s no solid bits floatin’ around. After that heat it up for another 15 seconds or so”
“Wait, stir it with what? Is there some sort of miniature spoon I use?”
“No, just the plunger.”
Terrence followed the instructions diligently.
“Make sure there’s no air bubbles!”
“I’m not an idiot, I know that! I take an insulin shot before bed,” Terrence snapped.
“Yeah, I don’t like to tell anyone, though. But I feel like you can keep a secret.”
“If you take insulin then why did you ask me all those questions about how to shoot up?”
“ Because insulin isn’t heroin.”
“It’s not that scandalous,” Destiny said passively.
“Heroin or insulin?”
Terrence paused for a moment, seemingly calculating the social stigmas associated with diabetes compared with those related to heroin use. After this strange deliberation, he shook his head, seemingly in agreement. Destiny wasn’t sure if he did so relative to her point, or if he stumbled upon a long sought after conclusion about the meaning of life. To her, it didn’t matter. She needed to get a fix. Badly.
“It’s ready,” Terrence said with audible hesitation in his voice.
Destiny began to repeatedly clench her fist, and slowly, a dark green vein appeared.
She felt the pins and needles envelop her arm as the blood rushed through, partially obstructed by the tight belt. Her vein swelled, increasing in visibility.
“Now I’m ready,” Destiny vocalized with the kind of exhausted enthusiasm one would expect from a soldier on their first day home from combat.
Terrence firmly placed his hand on Destiny’s wrist.
“I need you to try your best not to shake. I already feel bad enough doin’ this for you. I don’t want to have to poke you more than once.”
He slowly inserted the needle into her vein.
“Nice and steady,” he whispered to himself as he pushed the plunger down.
Destiny’s breaths become audible as the poison rushed through her veins; contaminating everything in its path until the eventual expulsion by the liver. The sickness was being replaced with a familiar, drowsy euphoria.
Destiny ran her hand over the patches of disfigured skin that covered Terrence’s arms, He pulled back with enough aggression to signify to Destiny, even in her altered state, he didn’t appreciate her treating his scars as if they were some sort of braille passage. He hated even when his lovers became too infatuated with the scars. They were painful memories manifest in physical form. They were not something you could run your hands over and interpret as a means to satisfy a fleeting curiosity.
Terrence unbuckled the belt strangling Destiny’s bicep. He placed her kit in the top shelf of her dresser and began to walk towards the door.
“Hey, Terrence,” Destiny said in a soft voice.
“Yes, hun,” Terrence replied.
“Thanks… Can I ask you a question?”
“How did you get your scars?”
Terrence was devastated by the question. His heart began to race. He had faced the question before, but he was never able to get used to it. As he opened the door to the hallway, Terrence looked back at Destiny, with a feigned smirk, he replied, “Maybe another time… “