When I was 19, I dated a drug addict. A crack addict to be precise.
Clearly, I didn’t know he was an addict when I met him. Because I didn’t drink or do any drugs (and I’m thankfully the same way to this day), I was somewhat clueless about addiction issues. We met at a film festival in west London. He was a community youth worker (yes, that irony is not lost on me), who was employed as security to keep all the neighbourhood kids from stealing the film equipment. We talked and hit it off. He told me he was 26. (He was actually 30.) He had a great laugh and his voice, a very thick London accent, made me hang on every word he said. He took me to pockets of London I didn’t even know existed. We quickly became inseparable.
Before long, I noticed that he smoked an abnormal amount of weed, like it was cigarettes. I didn’t think anything of it, though I asked him to not do it around me. He would sometimes go missing. His phone would be off, the voicemail box would be full. I wouldn’t hear from him for a few days, then he’d reemerge out of nowhere like nothing had happened. I never got an explanation and I very rarely asked for one. Perhaps, deep down, I knew I wouldn’t like the answer.
One night, about 3am, he showed up at my dorm. I opened the door, half asleep and he came in. He took his sweat drenched shirt off and would not stop moving. He wouldn’t talk to me. He was hurrying around the room collecting random objects. He was hallucinating – he got on his hands and knees, thinking there was something moving on my floor. He got a pen and built, what I now know was a crack pipe. At the time, I had no idea what he was doing, I just knew he was scaring the hell out of me. I was trying to get him to sit down, calm down. His heart was beating so fast, I thought he was going to have a heart attack and drop dead right there on my floor. Next thing I knew, he was smoking. I just remember this as a blur. There were no words. I just watched. I was shaking. I was scared. I was begging him to stop, but it was like I wasn’t even there. And somewhere, deep down, was this sick rationalisation that at least he was here with me, rather than out doing it on the streets.
When he’d finished, he put his shirt on and left. I chased after him down the stairs, begging him to spend the night with me, but before I knew it, he was out the door, disappearing into the dark. I was a frantic mess. I didn’t sleep that night. I stayed up, calling his phone every fifteen minutes. Needless to say, it was off. The next day, when he eventually contacted me, he told me he used to have a problem with crack, but he didn’t anymore. The previous night had just been a relapse, he said, and it wouldn’t happen again. And I believed him. My 19 year old self did not know the limits to which crack can take a person. It seemed perfectly logical to me, at the time, that he could ‘relapse’ and just stop.
Because of my tee-totalism, he viewed me as angelic and innocent. I think he was hoping some of that would rub off on him. Our relationship continued on as ‘normal’. My friends all had boyfriends who they saw all the time. Meanwhile, my man would disappear, sometimes for a couple of weeks at a time. That was our normal. I just got used to it. The truth is, at that point, we had become each others drug. We’d had a couple of bust ups, but we just didn’t seem to be able to leave each other alone. As far as I knew, he wasn’t smoking crack, but part of me knew that he was just respecting my wishes and not doing it in front of me. Sometimes when he came over, he’d spend extended periods of time in the bathroom. Eventually, the penny dropped that either he had some terrible bowel condition, or he was in there snorting coke.
But I was stuck in it. It’s not like I could tell anyone. No one around me could relate to what I was going through. So it became my dirty little secret. When people asked how my boyfriend was, I’d say ‘he’s good, he’s just busy with work’, which seemed like a better answer than ‘I don’t know, I haven’t seen him in a while’. How can you just walk out on someone you care about, who you know has a serious problem (however much the both of you may be in denial about it)? I just didn’t have the heart to leave him. All that stuff about addicts having to reach their ‘rock bottom’ before they get help – well that’s true of the people who love them too. And I just hadn’t hit my rock bottom yet.
That came about a year into our relationship. I had invited him over for dinner. He was meant to be at my house at 6.30pm. I called him, his phone was off. I called again half an hour later, still off. I just couldn’t stand one more let down, one more broken promise. I decided to pay him a visit. He had recently moved about a fifteen minute walk from me. I stormed up there, so pissed off, more than ready to give him a piece of my mind. I got there and buzzed his apartment. He answered, asked who it was and buzzed me in. I went upstairs and knocked on his apartment door. Again, he asked who it was. This was a warning sign. Looking back now, I wish I had turned around, gone back down the stairs and just never talked to him again.
He answered the door looking a complete mess and dashed back to the sofa. Who knew how long he had been holed up in here? The curtains were drawn and he was sitting in nothing but his boxers and a pool of his own sweat. The TV was on mute and any time I tried to say something he would tell me to be quiet because ‘they’ might hear us. He was convinced that someone was after him and doubtless, the copious amounts of crack he’d smoked had only served to heighten his paranoia. I didn’t know what to do, but sitting there, every lie, disappearing act, broken promise, unreturned phone call, deceitful, deceptive, annoying thing he’d ever done to me ran through my head. I gathered myself, got up and walked out.
As I marched back to my house, choking back tears, I hit my bottom. It wasn’t until that moment, seeing him in that state, that everything finally fell into place for me. I think every ounce of love and respect I had for that man had completely drained out of me by the time I got home. I cried for ten minutes and then I was done. I couldn’t cry any more. I’d been crying for a year. It was pointless.
He came around a week later, with the usual apologies, but he knew I meant business this time. I was a 19 year old fashion student – there was nothing I could do for him. We were done.
Sometimes, I would run into his friends in London and they would say things like ‘he’s kinda lost without you’ and though it was never explicitly said, there was heavy implication that his drug use was spiraling out of control. I had to try and block this out, because to think of what he might be doing to himself was just too painful.
Eight years have passed since we broke up. I moved to New York, then Tokyo, then Toronto, but every now and then, he has crossed my mind. I always figured one of his friends would track me down somehow to tell me he’d died.
A few weeks ago, I got a message on Facebook from someone I don’t know. It just had my ex’s name, a phone number and the words ‘please call’. This was it, I thought, he’s dead, for sure. I took a deep breath and called the number straight away. It rang a few times and someone answered. That voice. His voice. Unmistakable. He recognised me straight away and called me the pet name he had always called me. I was relieved. At least he’s still alive, I thought. He’s been clean a year and a half, he says. This could all be lies and I know this. I’m going home at Christmas and have agreed to see him when I do. It may be crazy, but even after everything, I still have an intense need to know that he’s OK.