**Reader discretion advised because of strong language and explicit description.**
In my previous post I promised to share the long-form journalism piece I wrote about meth addiction, but before you start reading, I would like to point out that this portrait is strictly based on the interviews and research I did, and that I went into this process without any agenda other than attempting to tell the story from a meth addict’s perspective.
This is Callie’s story, and I simply had the privilege of telling it.
An Orchestra of Animals
The rolled-up dollar bill vacuums the stripe of white powder from the table. Anticipation is replaced by a blast of warmth, like a blanket covering every inch of the cranial cavity; it morphs into an orgasmic nuclear wave that tickles every cell of the body. Minutes melt into hours while eruptions of neurotransmitters raft through veins, forming avalanches of pleasure that stroke every nerve in just the right way. Breathing. Shivering. Soaking in lukewarm lava. Dissolving into the void of dilated pupils in sheer euphoria: it is the rush of methamphetamine
2001: The rapid drumming from Elvis’s Jailhouse Rock bounced off the walls in the overcrowded apartment that night, and a thin layer of musty marijuana haze gave the dim lights an even softer glow. As the crowd grew and Mr. Presley’s efforts became overshadowed by the thumping noise of revelers, Calvin and his newly acquainted lady friend escaped down to the quiet of the basement. A single bulb dangled in the ceiling above them, forming a strewn circle of light on the weary pool table. The cool air surrounding the two titillated bodies gleamed with expectation, sexual tension and the muffled hum of Elvis’ voice penetrating the boards that separated them from the party upstairs. Calvin had watched Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz snort buckets of white powder in the movie Blow earlier that day, so when his new friend suddenly pulled out a bag of crystal meth, curiosity took charge.
Before dawn, Calvin had bought his first ticket to the meth-train, and the ride was, as he put it, “ecstatic.”
“She offered, I took it, we got naked, and we were not just friends anymore … if you know what I mean.”
A few chuckles follow, and a smile runs all the way from the prominent chin up to the winged eyeliner before it stops to give room for the next sentence.
“I felt powerful. It gave me a tremendous sex drive, you know. Some people say meth makes it hard to get it up, as far as your penis, but it was never like that for me.”
A decade and a half has passed, and the only remaining trace of infatuation from that night is Cal’s romance with crystal meth – a relationship that has proven to be a resilient one, surviving a three-year prison sentence and several breakups.
15-year anniversaries are, ironically, known as crystal anniversaries.
After getting caught stealing 1,300 dollars from the safe at his job, then later in possession of four narcotic pills, Cal was sentenced to three years in prison.
The penitentiary, however, was nothing compared to the closet he lived in for 46 years.
“I started wearing girls’ panties at seven, so yes, I knew I was transsexual from a very early age.”
Yet, that remained a secret until four years ago. A marriage, four sons, a divorce and a felony had to be taken care of first, but once the decision was made, “it was amazingly simple.”
Calvin is now Callie Lynn Swick. She’s tall, lean, fashionable, and walks like a slightly hunched-over Kate Moss. With loose hips and hingy joints she glides, a little stiffly, across the pavement. The blonde bob-cut wig needs frequent adjustments and the smile is missing a few pearls, but seven red-polished fingernails, a carefully matched outfit and the fresh smell of perfume testify that Callie is a woman with a sense for details.
She lost three fingers in an accident while working as a landscaper, but rolls cigarettes with impressive speed and accuracy.
Underneath the denim jacket and navy-blue tank top rests layers of ink concealed in the shapes of a tiger, “Turbo 420,” “Aron” and an eagle that is yet to be finished. She earned the nickname Turbo because of her workaholism, and decided to accompany it with 420 because of its longstanding connotations with the marijuana culture. Aron is the name of her youngest son, and she got the tiger with the red tongue “sometime in the 90s.”
She talks in patterns, starting with diplomatic words like “I don’t care what people think about me,” continuing with a nonchalant “they can go to hell for all I care,” and ending with a high-pitched, almost humming “which they probably will, for judging me.” Always accompanied by an animated head-fling, sassy wrist-bend and a sting-relieving giggle.
She says “what the hell,” (with an emphasis on the “E”) whenever she talks about things she passionately detests, such as people who steal from family members, hit women or “let the drug rule them.”
A Phonecall with the Sheriff
She has worked as a landscaper most of her life, but got fired after her most recent employer discovered the felony in her records. When she could no longer pay the rent, she picked up the phone and shared the news with the Sheriff herself.
“Hello, I can’t live here anymore. You gotta come kick me out.” Just like that. She laughs while holding the imaginary phone in her left hand to demonstrate how the December-eviction transpired.
Callie moved into the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, a shelter for the homeless in Sioux Falls, right away. And after having picked up yet another box containing parts of the wardrobe she left at her son’s house, she realizes that the one-locker-per-person-policy may need to be stretched. She expresses her concern with having to ask for more room, but when one of the shelter’s volunteers glazes over the packed-to-the-brim locker, and the tub-sized box on the floor, she starts laughing and says:
“Well, you sort of need it.”
“These aren’t even all of my clothes,” Callie responds.
The volunteer nudges her head back a notch and widens her eyes like a cartoon, but doesn’t get to give a vocal response before Callie interprets the reaction and starts explaining.
“I have my men’s clothes too, you know, for when I visit my grandmother.”
Callie looks down and points to the glittery leggings sticking out of the black sneakers and mumbles, “She isn’t ready for this. She’s 95. She’s had enough.”
Callie’s mother, on the other hand, would have handled it, but she passed in ‘99. Her father, too, died that same year, “but only on the inside.” Losing his spouse and seeing his son come out as trans a few years later was hard on him. Callie is, however, extremely close to her sister – a result of them both getting dumped on prom night and ending up dancing together, refusing to let the night go to waste. It was a happy time, high school.
Back then, hormones and teenage rebellion was often mixed with marijuana and alcohol, but she never had any problems with the latter – “except in high school.” Callie says she has the ability to get addicted to anything; food, eating food, cooking food, watching people eat her food. Anything.
“I’m majorly addicted,” she says with a large grin, “but I’m a responsible addict. I’m not a ‘fiend.’”
“Fiend” refers to the individuals who are so deep into meth addiction that they’re willing to do anything to get their high; often characterized by a “skeletal body, no teeth and scratches all over.”
Depending on the dose and the method of ingestion, the meth high can last anywhere from three hours and up. Callie never exceeds three days, but even that’s pushing it.
The Porcelain Bugs
“I once saw bugs crawling on my bathroom floor — porcelain is the worst — but they weren’t real, you know. When I tried to touch them, they disappeared.” She thinks on it. “After four days people start heading into la la land.”
Callie spends close to 120 dollars on crystal meth every three months, but for some of the fiends she knows, 120 won’t even cover a day’s usage.
She says that less than ten, or even five percent, can do what she does: making each gram last, keeping it under control, despite the urge to use.
“My counselor struggles with understanding that.” Callie pauses, moves her brown irises to the upper corner of her eyes. “But then again, we used to get high together, and she didn’t know moderation back then either.”
It’s time. Time to get high. She walks into the woods, with the small Ziploc bag in her pocket. There. Same spot as usual. Adrenaline pumping. Her body knows what’s about to happen, and the brain’s natural happy hormones — dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin — are already firing the rush of anticipation. She sits down, takes out the bag with the tiny glass-like particles inside. Within seconds, the same particles are on their way up her nose. It’s an instant burst; her pupils widen so rapidly it looks like black holes are eating away the brown in her eyes.
A slow exhale, release of all tension, total and complete relaxation, pure euphoria, overwhelming satisfaction. It’s good – artificially good, too good for the brain to transmit the pleasure in its entirety via the body’s network of nerves. Sensory overload.
It continues. Time becomes fluid, sounds become crisper, colors become brighter and as she is drifting away into an ocean of bubbles, she is more aware of her surroundings than before. The sound of the forest circles around her in melodies as from a symphony.
“It all comes together, almost like an orchestra — an orchestra of animals,” she says, and looks down at the hands resting in her lap.
She takes a breath and bites her lower lip. Braces herself.
“And it … “
“For a moment, it … ”
She raises her eyes, blinks, and looks down at her hands again.
“For a moment, it erases everything that is wrong with me.”
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By Maria Lavelle 2017.