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An Ex-Junky’s First Time

The first time I got high on dope was in a dorm room at Harvard University in 1980. I was 19 years old and the world was my oyster, and I didn't know it. But I was about to fuck it up royally.

I had done pretty well to this point of my life on natural ability, but drugs had slowly become more important than everything else. By the time I got into college, I was going on momentum more than anything: Momentum, acid, pot and speed.

I was a haunted, lone-wolf teenager who'd had a few girlfriends, but my main passion had been my punk rock band. I had given up on the idea of having a real girlfriend by the time I was 19, so when Angie, a hot, witty brunette from my English class, came after me, I was pretty shocked. We fucked and from then on we were an inseparable team.

Her roommate, Helen, was a gorgeous, exotic woman. She dated the son of a billionaire shipping tycoon, Serge. They moved in circles I could barely imagine from my middle class Yonkers upbringing. She once came back from a vacation wearing a sweater with the monogrammed logo of one of his yachts.

One night Helen invited us to Serge’s dorm room promising a “surprise.” They were good hosts, giving us a quickie introduction to heroin. "You'll probably feel like puking, but you'll be fine afterwards," Helen assured us. Then, Serge took us into his bedroom separately and gave us a few lines of pure white dope to sniff. The tiny amount that he gave me didn't seem capable of doing much, but I was game. He left me alone in the room with a big glass vial of dope, which I later came to appreciate as the finest grade of China White I would ever do then or subsequently.

For years I wondered why he left me alone with all that dope. Did he know I wouldn't steal any? Was he just so rich that he could afford more? Was it just the way that things were done among the heroin jet set? Whatever the case, that first time was probably the last time that I wouldn't have stolen some.

I did a small line. I leaned forward, held a finger over my left nostril, put a short straw up my right nostril, and sucked the powder into my nose.

I savored the taste. It was grainy and left a bitter coating in my throat as it dripped down. Instantly I felt calm and serene. I went back out to the living room while Serge went to shoot up, or "boot," as he called it, in privacy. Then, the four of us lay on the floor in the dimly-lit room and listened to music.

As soon as I lay down, I began to drift off and felt like I was leaving the planet. It seemed as if I could go anywhere, do anything, feel whatever I wanted, just by thinking. My imagination was the limit. Psychedelic pictures ran through my head, like a scrapbook of my entire life cut up in pieces and spliced together randomly. It felt as though I was in a womb, and I was content to just lie there with my eyes closed.

Then came the nausea. I got up, went to the toilet, and puked, upon which I immediately felt better. I lay back down again next to Angie, closed my eyes, and got right back into the groove. None of us talked much, except a few "oohs" and "wows." I remember thick smoke of Turkish cigarettes; an acrid thread of powder trickling down the back of my throat; cold wooden dorm room floors; bile rising in my throat as the nausea began, and feeling like I had just been initiated into a very exclusive club.

I had done narcotics before that. I had stolen my share of cough syrup and painkiller pills from medicine cabinets. I had bought pure opium from merchant marines. I even had a little reputation as the campus coke dealer.

This stuff, though, was amazing. It packed the most bang for the buck of anything I had ever smoked, snorted, or eaten. It also had that cachet. I suddenly felt as cool as Keith Richards. The circumstances had been pretty glamorous, too. Wealth, beauty, power...and heroin. Never again, in fact, would getting high on dope ever be so fun, cool or romantic. It was a downhill ride from that point on.

Not immediately, though. I never had enough money to pick up a habit in school. That would have to wait till I graduated, moved to New York, and got a job. But a time-bomb had been planted, and I would spend years chasing that initial high, trying to feel the way I felt that first time.

Nine years later, after being ravaged, beaten and eaten alive by heroin; after being assaulted by street dealers and the New York City Police Department; after I had lost everything I ever had, including myself; after years of waking up blue or not wanting to lie down cause I didn't know if I'd wake up again; after every single person in my life except my junky wife had stopped speaking to me; after I had sold everything I owned and was being hounded by half the creditors and marshals in New York City. Nine years later, I finally gave the stuff up.

That first time, though, I had no idea.

Paul Vee

What do you know now, that you wish you knew then?




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