I tied the belt tighter around my upper arm to stop the blood flow.
Squeezing my fist every few seconds to pump up my vein, it didn’t take me long to find old faithful. It never did. I leaned back against the old, dirty, mold-infested couch, faintly hearing ‘Mad World’ by Andrew Michaels somewhere in the dark, ominous background. The lyrics immediately brought back old memories—good times, happy vibes, when in reality there was anything but fucking happiness.
This wasn't who I’ve always been.
Once upon a time, I tried to find my independence, and somewhere along the way, I found solace in the haze of dependency, which was what led me to this place in time.
I didn’t bother to take in my surroundings.
It was always the same.
Familiar faces that blended together and never changed, always jonesing, always wanting, always needing, always craving.
More. More. More.
And never enough.
It wasn’t about being high anymore. The euphoric, free feeling was long gone. All that was left was the pursuit. Day after day I was pulled down the proverbial rabbit hole with nowhere to turn, always chasing the non-existent dragon that only led to darkness.
It was too late.
It had me.
A tight grasp on my soul, pushing me further and further into the black abyss. What goes up, must come down. It’s the law of physics, the code of life. I rode the high for as long as I could remember. I had been so far up that there was nowhere left for me to go but straight to the bottom. All I wanted was to drown out the feelings of my entire body caving in on me. Soothe the ache, throw fire on the chill, and ease the nausea.
The only thing I could do to feel as if I wasn’t dying was…
To kill myself a little more.
I inserted the needle, welcoming the sting. My blood rushed in, and I slowly pushed down the plunger.
I wanted it to last.
I always do.
It was the best fucking part.
I pulled the plunger back out and watched with hooded, dilated eyes as my blood swirled in once again.
Heaven and Hell. God and Satan. Love and Hate. It all blended together. Forming a clusterfuck of hope and despair.
Now, I squeezed my fist.
Tingles from my fingers up my arm and then, and then…
Simultaneously my eyes closed and my head fell back against the couch.
I don’t care that it’s dirty.
I don’t care that it smells.
I don’t care about one fucking thing.
All the misery was gone in the blink of an eye. As if it wasn’t even there to begin with. All that was left was the free, euphoric, and blissful feeling of pleasure that only this could ever bring me. My heart was full, filling in the hollow existence that was my life. The pain numbed.
Even if it was only temporary.
A few moments in time where the world faded into nothingness, and I was swimming in an endless pool of possibilities. Not drowning in disappointment, judgment, and regret. Not feeling like I was dead inside, when in reality I just killed myself a little more. I heard echoes everywhere. Colors blended together making it hard to focus on any one thing. I blinked a few times and just like that…
I saw her face.
As if she was standing right in front of me.
My whole world…
I felt my lips curl up slightly at the vision as I reached out for her. Wanting to touch her, needing to hold her, yearning to kiss her. Craving, God, craving to fucking love her.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured out loud to no one but the illusion of my drug-infested mind. “I’m so fucking sorry,” I repentantly repeated, longing for her to believe me.
Aching for her to love me again like she used to.
I don’t know how long I sat there with her beautiful face before my eyes, subconsciously rubbing the tattooed key that was placed over my heart. I couldn’t take it anymore, and the desire won over the haze.
It was too powerful.
It was too vivid.
I grabbed my phone. “Baby,” I said into the speaker. The ringing quickly followed, going straight to voicemail. I hung up and tried again. “Baby,” I urged with desperation in my tone.
I tried again and again and again.
I would try until the end of time if that’s what it took for her to answer.
To talk to me.
To save me.
To crave me.
Time just seemed to stand still as my life slowly played out in front of me. Trying to balance in between the light and the darkness when all I could see was gray.
“What?!” she screamed into the phone, finally answering after I don’t know how many failed attempts. “What the hell do you want now?”
“Baby,” I breathed a sigh of relief.
“What do you want, Austin? Why are you calling me? We’re over! I can’t do this anymore!”
I shut my eyes and let my mind wonder, allowing it to go to another place in time where she didn’t hate me.
“I remember the first time I made you smile,” I chuckled, as if it had just happened.
My nerves were on fire. The mere sound of her breathing through the phone was too intense for me. I licked my lips, my mouth suddenly becoming dry.
“I remember when you used to smile just for me. Do you remember, baby? Do you remember what my love feels like?”
I heard her faintly breathing.
“Do you remember my hands on you? My lips? My tongue? The first time I made you come with my mouth? Do you remember all the times since? Tell me I’m not forgotten. Tell me you remember, baby.”
“I love you, Briggs. I love you so fucking much. You’re killing me, don’t you see that? I’m dying without you.”
“No, Austin. You were dying with me,” she rasped, knowing that it killed her to say that.
“The first time I saw your face, I thought to myself, damn, this beautiful girl is goin’ to be the death of me. You were perfect in every way. I was a cocky, son of a bitch who needed you then, as much as I need you now.”
“I had a dream about you, baby. I always fucking dream about you. In my dream you had a ring on your finger. A ring I put there. You belonged to me. Only mine. Forever fucking mine. You were pregnant, Briggs. You looked so goddamn happy. I saw light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in years.”
She sniffled into the phone.
“I made love to you. Slow, just the way you love. Taking my time to touch every last inch of your body. Memorizing every last bit of you. Making you come until you begged me to stop. I didn’t.”
“I can’t—” she tried to interject, but I didn’t let up.
“I kissed your stomach. Our baby. Letting my lips linger there, whispering, just so it would know who its daddy was. Baby, it was so real. For a second I gave you the one thing you so desperately wanted, the one thing I can’t give you.”
“After we were done. I just lay there with you and our baby wrapped in my arms where you both belonged. Unforgiving thoughts plagued my mind as I carefully moved you away from me, making sure not to wake you. I went into the bathroom and I got high. You found me. You always find me. Except this time… I died in your arms. You couldn’t save me, but it didn’t matter because the best part of me was already growing inside you. When I woke up, I was alone. I’m always alone, Briggs, even when you’re near me. I can promise you the world. I can promise you a life. But even in my dreams, baby, I’m haunted.”
“Jesus Christ, Austin,” she wept. “Where are you?”
I opened my eyes, finally taking in my surroundings. As if I was being woken up from a dream within a dream. I couldn’t tell what was real or lucid. Confused by my own reality. It was then that I looked down, the needle still firmly placed in my arm.
“Where are you?” she repeated with a shaky tone.
I shook my head, trying to find some clarity. “I’m so fuckin’ sorry, baby. I love you, Briggs. I love you with everything that’s left of me.”
“Austin, where are you? Please, tell me where you are?” she whimpered, panic taking over.
I took a deep breath and murmured, “The place I hate.”
Pushing in the syringe.
I drove with my heart in my throat like every other goddamn time before this.
I hated him.
I loved him.
I love him.
I slammed on my brakes, shoving my door open before my car was even fully shifted into park. The stench of the drug den immediately assaulted my senses, making me sick to my stomach that he was here.
I ran through the abandoned warehouse, ignoring the random junkies that were hollering at me, pleading for more drugs, begging for another hit. I tried my best to sideswipe the filth, piss, shit, and garbage all around me. I sprinted pass the graffiti walls, covering my nose and mouth, trying like hell not to inhale the mold-contaminated air and decay that had taken over this shithole. Piles of trash surrounded the dirty mattresses and chairs, infested with rats and ghostlike junkies that appeared dead but could have been alive. I knew where I would find him. He was always in the same spot, the back of the warehouse that looked over the harbor.
I turned the corner, and I saw him. My once favorite maroon beanie placed securely on his head. I couldn’t control my emotions.
I hated him in that second.
I despised the love I had for him in my broken, fucked-up heart in that moment.
I slowed down as I got closer, my calculated steps slow and precise. I wanted to face him. I wanted to look into his eyes like I had done so many damn times before, even though I knew there wouldn’t be anything but a hollow existence. A shell of the man I once knew gazing back at me.
The truth was eating me alive as if I was dying right along with him.
I couldn’t do it.
I stood behind the mold-infested couch, staring at the back of his head. He nodded off. The craving completely took over me, rotting its way into the empty space that now held his soul.
I shook my head in disgust and bewilderment with tears streaming down my face. This was all that was left of him.
No more I love yous.
No more I promises.
No more tomorrows.
No. More. Austin.
“Why?!” I shouted, my chest heaving and my heart breaking bit by bit. “Why do you do this to me? Why do you keep doing this to me?” I sobbed uncontrollably. “I can’t fucking do this anymore! I can’t watch you die! I can’t watch you kill yourself more than I already have!” I bawled, my body shaking.
“I hate you! Do you hear me, Austin?! I fucking hate you!” I screamed loud enough to break glass.
Heaving, I leaned over and placed my hands on my knees for support, needing to breathe in and out.
“Why do you do this to me? Please, Austin, please fucking enlighten me! I’m sorry! I’m so fucking sorry!” I whimpered hysterically.
He didn’t try to comfort me like he always did. He didn’t try to hold me, touch me, kiss me, or reassure me.
Lie to me.
I wiped my face, standing to look at him again. He hadn’t moved from the place he sat. His body was lifeless.
“Austin,” I murmured so low I could hardly hear myself. “Austin,” I said a little louder.
My feet moved on their own accord. Inch by inch, I made my way around the couch, old needles, bags, and God knows what crunching under my feet. I felt as though I was having an out of body experience, I was there, but I wasn’t. Closing my eyes, I swallowed hard before I was fully in front of him.
“Please, God,” I found myself saying as I slowly opened my eyes.
My body shuddered as I took in the needle that was still lodged into his vein, his eyes were closed, and his head leaned over to the side.
“No!” I lunged into action, tearing the needle out of his arm and throwing it as hard as I could across the place I called Hell on Earth.
“No! No! No! No!” I repeated, grabbing his face, making him look at me. All the color had drained from his body, his lips turned blue.
“Austin!” I shook him. “Austin!” I shook him harder. “AUSTIN!” I slapped him across the face.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
He wasn’t breathing.
“Don’t do this to me! Don’t you do this to me again! Do you fucking hear me! Please! Don’t leave me!”
I reached for my phone.
“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
“He’s not breathing. I don’t know what to do! Please, please, help him!” I explained as much as I could.
“Ma’am, help is on the way. I need you to calm down. Can you do that for me?”
“I don’t know! He’s not breathing. Please don’t let him die!”
“I need you to calm down. You can’t help him if you don’t calm down.”
I nodded even though she couldn’t see me.
“Ma’am, are you there?”
“I need you to lay him on his side with his knees bent for support. Make sure his face is turned to the side. Can you do that?”
“I think so.”
I gently laid him down on the couch and did as I was told. My hands shaking the entire time.
“The paramedics are almost there. Where is your exact location?”
“We’re in the back of the warehouse overlooking the harbor by Wallace St and Grant Ave.”
The rest proceeded in slow motion.
Paramedics filled the vacant space, pushing me to the side. Narcan being injected up his nose. Paddles shocking him back to life.
“One, two, three, clear.”
His body jolted.
“One, two, three, clear.”
His body jerked again.
Laying him on a stretcher.
Rushing him into the ambulance.
Holding his hand the entire ride.
“Briggs,” a familiar voice called out, pulling me out of my fog.
I cocked my head to the side.
“Briggs, do you remember me? I’m Aubrey’s mom.”
I nodded unable to form words.
“They’re not going to let you go back there, honey. You’re not immediate family. It’s hospital policy. He’s in good hands. I promise I will try everything I can to make sure he comes out of this alive. That being said, there’s a chance he’s not… he was dead for too…” She placed her hand on my shoulder in a comforting gesture with hesitation, unsure how to proceed. “Honey, you need to call his family as soon as possible, time may not be on our side today. They need to be here now.”
I nodded again as she reassuringly squeezed my shoulder. I walked out the double doors of the emergency room, wanting some privacy. The cool breeze was a welcome feeling against my feverish face. The chaos all around me was too hard to ignore. I reached into my pocket for my phone and it was then that I noticed I was shaking. I couldn’t form one coherent thought as I dialed his number. Shame and remorse submerged me, pulling me under, making it hard to breathe.
“Hello,” he answered. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but nothing came out.
“Darlin’, are you there?”
“Dylan,” I softly whispered his name into the phone. He was Austin’s best friend, and the only one that knew the truth.
“Briggs? Are you alright?”
“I-it’s Austin,” I blurted out, my voice breaking, the words causing my stomach to turn.
“It’s Austin, Dylan.”
“He OD’ed. He’s in ICU. They don’t know if he’s going to make it,” I informed him, my tone sounding distant and detached.
“Jesus Christ,” he rasped. “What the fuck, Briggs? You promised me. You fucking promised me if I—”
“I’m sorry,” I wept, tears streaming down my face. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
“How did it get this bad? How has it come to this? How could you let this happen?” he roared question after question, looking for answers I didn’t have.
I violently shook my head. “I tried. I swear to God I fucking tried! You have to believe me, Dylan!”
“No, Briggs. You didn’t. You’re the reason he’s there. If he dies, it’s on you, do you fucking hear me? You!”
I shut my eyes, my phone falling from my trembling hand, crashing to the ground. My body shuddering, knowing in my heart, he was right.
It wasn’t always like this.
Not in the beginning.