Needle-Junkie Debt

Needle-Junkie Debt

I’m a needle-junkie. An addict. My friends and family don’t know this about me. I hide it at church. I can’t quit. I’ve been doing it for most of my life. I only took a short break once. I lived in Brazil for two years, and I couldn’t find it. I was up north near the Amazon. That’s what kept me from putting the needle in my arm; I simply couldn’t find it up there. I found other ways to get the feeling back. But it wasn’t with the needle. I coped.

When I got back to the States, my handler said I had to wait, had to come back slowly, not too fast. She said living in the tropics does something to a person. She wanted to make sure I was stable before I got started again.

Six months later I started using the needle in earnest. Consistent. To the day. To the hour. My handler watched out for me. Cared for me. Measured it out with precise timing, so as to keep me coming back. And I came back.

I always come back. But she still reminds me, calls me on my cell phone, sends me a text. Sometimes I get an email in the middle of the night. She wants me back. She says I have a rare quality, that I’m desirable. She probably says that to everyone.

I don’t need the reminders, the calls, the texts, the emails. She should know I’ll be back without all that. But I think she gets nervous, wonders if I’m still in town.

I do it for the rush. It’s euphoric. Surreal. I’m not sure how to describe it to someone who has never been a junkie. There’s always music playing, or the same old video that I’ve seen a dozen times at her place. I have to look away. I can’t put the needle in myself. But she takes good care of me. She ties a belt around my biceps to make the vein pop up. She slips the needle in quickly, asks me if I’m feeling alright. Yah. I’m feeling alright.

I trust her. But some days I stare at the scars in the crook of my elbow. There are so many. Both arms. Three decades of needle wounds. I know I’ve given up a piece of myself each time the needle goes in. I lose something. But I come back.

I asked her once if I could see her more often. She said no. She said I’m steady and it needs to stay that way. She said I’d have problems if I overdid it. She said it would be dangerous.

I’m back today. Back for another go-around. And it’s the same as before. The same video plays on her little screen on the wall. I sit back. She fixes the belt around my biceps. I take a deep breath and close my eyes. The needle goes in. I can feel it moving through my vein. My arm throbs for a moment. I exhale and wait.

I can’t stop. Ever. I’ll always be a needle-junkie. The addiction started when I was born. Though I don’t blame my mom.

I needed something then. I needed it badly. And after an accident when I was eleven, I needed more.

Blood. I needed blood. And people gave it to me. A lot.

I’m here to give it back. I owe it to them. To someone. And I like the rush, the euphoria of the needle going in and my own blood going out, going to someone else. My handler says I can come back in fifty-six days. She gives me something to eat. She tells me to take care of myself.

I have a debt to pay.

Paul Burnham lives in Montana. His essays and short stories have appeared in The Coil, Catalyst, daCunha Global, Dash Literary Journal, Flathead Living, through the Entrada Institute, and elsewhere.

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