I sat under the overpass wondering about the destination of the cars that passed below. I was completely without responsibility and also completely without possessions. I did not arrive at this point overnight -- no, it was definitely a process. The state I found myself in was the culmination of many years of bad decisions.
My day began this morning with me standing at an exit ramp with a cardboard sign in my hand. The sign had the words "HOMELESS AND HUNGRY PLEASE HELP" scrawled on it with black magic marker. I had accumulated over $35 within a half-hour period and had managed to judiciously remove myself from the corner before the local police happened by. It was always in one's best interest to avoid the heat whenever possible. The $35 that I had collected was used to purchase $20 worth of crack cocaine, a pack of cigarettes, some beer, and a sandwich.
Yes, it was with a brain totally free of the effects of drugs that I chose to use drugs once again.
After eating the sandwich, I smoked the crack, and now I was sitting under the overpass drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and getting lost in thoughts; "What if..." and "If only..." I had been starting my days like this for over seven months now. I would finish my beer and go back to the exit ramp and the process would be repeated in an endless, mind-numbing cycle of madness.
This particular morning I had a lot on my mind; the previous night, Patch, another panhandler on Eight Mile road, had been killed by an automobile while trying to elude the police. He had run down the embankment from the service drive to the freeway and had slid on the ice and snow, landing on the freeway in front of an oncoming vehicle.
Such was the fragility of life for a drug addict on the harsh streets of Detroit. We live our lives in a constant and repetitive cycle of getting money, getting drugs, then getting more money. During my morning reverie, I had a sudden moment of clarity. The harsh reality of my situation became all too clear to me. This was the reason that I strove to maintain a constant high. Being high became reality in itself, therefore eclipsing the reality of my wasted life.
Like I said earlier, I had been on a run now for seven months. This was not the first time that I had blended into the streets like this. No, this was yet another in a series of devastating events that had contributed to a failed life; a life devoid of love, affection, kindness, and most of all, devoid of sanity. I knew that I was living far below my capabilities, yet I could see no way out. The road out of here seemed so steep that it could not be negotiated. Enough of these morbid thoughts, I rose and headed back to the exit ramp.
It's midnight and 10 degrees below zero. I am so fixated with getting one more hit of crack that I am still at the exit ramp. The motorists can't even read my cardboard sign in the dark. The money is coming real slow this evening. After all, it's midnight, I am rough looking, and this is Detroit. After one hour, I have only collected seven dollars. I give up and head back to the overpass that I am camped under. Danny, my road dog, is already sleeping, so I climb into our makeshift wind-break and prepare myself against the cold. I am already wearing three pair of pants, a half-dozen shirts, four pairs of socks, and an overcoat. I pull my hat down to my eyebrows and pull a hood over the hat. I climb beneath four blankets and cover my head so that the warmth of my breath will not be wasted. I drift off and sleep the dreamless slumber of the crack addict.
Morning comes and I wake up shivering in the cold winter air. It is time to crawl out of my cocoon and face another day of hustling up money and getting high. The only bright spot on my horizon is the fact that I still have the seven dollars that I panhandled before I called it a day last night. I head out to purchase some crack with the seven dollars. This will be my "eye opener," something to get my day started. This is actually a rare occurrence as I seldom go to sleep with money in my pocket.
I make my way over to the spot and make my seven dollar purchase. The dope man gives me a pretty decent size piece of crack for my seven dollars. After all, he is a businessman and is aware that this starts me on yet another day of endless trips to and from the corner to the crack spot. I smoke the crack in one hit. As I exhale, I feel that rush, that euphoric surge. I sit for a moment and enjoy that momentary respite from reality.
It is only a few minutes before the euphoria turns to panic, the panic of coming down. The only thing that will help to delay the panic is movement. I move into action. I head to the corner, the exit ramp where I spend the better part of each day plying my trade. When I arrive at the corner; I spot Danny on his corner. Danny is using a wheelchair today. Sitting in a wheelchair elicits sympathy from the motorists. Myself, I have never used props such as this, preferring to stand and be mobile. I do make sure that I present a clean-cut appearance. I feel that a clean-cut appearance shows that I am at least trying to maintain some degree of dignity.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.