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No, I am not an addict.
I know drugs are a bad business—it has sent many people down the lonely, rough road.
In fact, I know that entire sermon back-to-front.
I am sure everyone knows that. After all, it’s human nature to advise others rather mind their own troubles. It’s easy, you see. You don’t take the responsibility but still get to act as the messiah. You still get to say “I told you so.”
Everyone likes to say “I told you so.”
And yes, I know I am rambling. But that does not mean I am an addict.
I am not an addict.
Mira tells me that every addict says that “I am not an addict.” I cannot help but feel skeptical about the whole logic of it. I mean, what else would anyone say when asked the question. Honesty’s the best policy, right? So that’s that. I am not, hence I am not. Even Mira says she is not an addict. Does that make her one?
I am not an addict. But I did…do take drugs. Sometimes. Not always. Not like in schedule or anything. I don’t steal money to buy. Nor do I dupe my parents into buying me some.
The first time. You always remember your first times of everything—your first day at school, first camping trip with friends, first date, first time you scored a hundred in math and all that. But the first time of me taking a drug is a bit of a hazy memory. I remember I was in my first year. Art history majors.
The “cool” gang of the campus had thrown a party and everyone wanted an invite. It was exclusive—and getting an invite was almost akin to an acceptance in the coolest clique of college. Mira had managed to get two, giving one to me.
The party was, in a word, mind-numbing. Music, gyrating bodies, flickering lights, smoke, drinks, food…almost like a scene from a movie. It was impossible to not get carried away by the sounds and the smell. It was hypnotic. It was dream-like.
I saw some seniors laying white powder in neat little strips and inhaling it quickly with a rolled pipe. I was offered some. Mira refused profusely…I remember her dragging me away. She wanted to go home.
She had a home. I didn’t. She had parents who would scold her. I had parents who acted more like ATMs.
I didn’t want to go back to my house, rather home. Mira hated it when I termed by accommodation as a mere “house”. According to her, the word “home” was more inclusive…more personal. House sounded cold. I decided to humor her–she didn’t need to know about my lousy family life.
I stood waving at her as she skipped upstairs. I felt a little jealous.
Part of my mind was engaged in an internal debate. My feet made the decision for me. Twenty minutes later, I was back. To the party.
The powder was still there. I hesitated. I thought about Mira.
I thought about the apartment.
I had no home.
I inhaled the white powder. It was cocaine. It was bliss.
The world became hazy, dreamy. I felt kind of invincible, like Superman on a double glucose shot. I felt I could do anything. That was what feeling high felt like. It was the best possible thing that had ever happened to me.
The rest of the night…I cannot recall. But it was a happy haze of a memory. I remember getting up with a crick in my neck—I had fallen asleep in a weird position. My head dangling from the sofa while my feet was propped up on the armrest.
I felt queasy, but not so much as to puke. My head was spinning, but I could feel myself grinning like an idiot.
I stumbled home, fell on my bed and passed out. It was a Sunday, so I didn’t miss my classes.
But the next day, I remember seeing Mira looking at me in a weird way.
“Did you go back after walking me home?” she had asked. I nodded affirmatively. She didn’t talk with me for the rest of the week.
A month or so later, I woke up in the morning to a cacophony of noises. My parents are turning the living room into a warzone, again. I tiptoed out of the house and made a mad dash for my college.
I began to crave for that bliss again. The bliss only cocaine could bring. I was lucky—the senior called me and gave me an invite. A single one.
“Don’t bring your friend. She’s a prick,” he whispered into my ear before disappearing.
I didn’t inform her.
The next morning, I didn’t puke. I wasn’t an addict, and I was enjoying the high. I was proud of myself.
I passed my first year decently. Mira cocked an eyebrow at me when she saw my report card.
“You are an A+ kind of guy, how can you settle for a mix of B’s and C’s?” she wondered out loud.
I gave an indifferent shrug.
“I passed. That’s all I care.”
All I cared about was the fact that there was a party that night. I kept on checking my watch. Mira tried to invite me for a movie but I turned down her offer. Told her that I was busy. Doing research for an independent project. She gave me a dubious look but didn’t push further.
I don’t know why I lied to her. It wasn’t a bad thing…I wasn’t planning any acts of terror on vandalizing public property. I was just having some fun. It wasn’t anything wrong…so why did it feel like I needed to lie to her?
Six months later, I was introduced to crystal meth. If cocaine was heaven, meth was elysium. My mind raced like an uncontrolled F1 race-car, and the surroundings muted to the background. I felt like the Avengers rolled into one, not just Superman. And it was then I had my first girlfriend.
She preferred coke to meth. But we both got high together. It was fun. Funny how I remember her drug preference and not her name. She was in the business department, I think. The parties became frequent. I always attended as I never ran out of money. My parents made sure of that.
Mira said my grades suffered. I was glad my nights were a bliss.
We had painting in second year. The prof said though my paintings were technically good, they lacked life. I was irked. Painting was the only thing I excelled in. It was the only thing I was praised for in school. How dare that baldie prof say something like that?
I was angry when on my way home. Mira tried to console me, comfort me. She said that everyone had a scope for improvement. She said I had the ability to make it to the Annual Exhibit.
I shrugged her off. I was pissed.
I locked myself in my room. I took out the meth I had bought in the party. Filled the crystals in the pipe and began to smoke.
The prof disappeared into the smoke.
As I lay on my back, staring at the ceiling, I felt a picture form in my mind. I got up and began to search for a canvas blindly in my cupboard. I felt my hands brush against a rough surface.
I pulled out my oil colours.
I don’t remember how long I painted. I don’t remember how I painted. I just knew I had to recreate that image on paper.
I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up, it was around three in the morning. My stomach rumbled. Of course, I had skipped lunch, tea and dinner.
I saw the painting.
And I gasped out loud.
It was a monochrome scene. A black-and-grey cityscape. And looking at it was a girl clad in a red coat and carrying a red umbrella. Her back was to the audience. She stood straight. Her confidence could be felt radiating from the canvas.
It was the best painting I had ever made. I looked at the pipe, startled. And then a slow smile began to form on my face.
I needed meth now. I was not addicted. I needed it for academics.
No, I am not making excuses.
The prof was shocked to see my painting. I could feel his eyes were almost on the verge of popping out.
Mira too was flabbergasted, but in a good way.
She gave me a thumbs up. I grinned back.
“Submit that painting to the office. We would like to consider it for the Annual Exhibit,” he said before moving over to another painting.
A week later, I received an e-mail stating that my painting was selected and the organizers wanted three more paintings of that level within two months.
I was elated.
But my grades were at an all time low. Mira offered to coach me on some of the subjects but I declined. I was busy painting and partying.
One day, we were walking back home when she asked suddenly.
“You know, you don’t have any friends in class apart from me. I know you have a girlfriend but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to talk to anyone else.”
I tried to laugh it off but she didn’t give up.
“I don’t need people in my life. People are messed up.”
She looked at me a little sadly before lapsing into silence.
Unlike me, Mira was more social. She was the centre of attention in class, had good grades and a very friendly disposition. It was difficult to not like her. And I was happy for her.
The prof rejected the other painting I made. He wanted some vibrancy like the one that emanated from “The Lady in Red” as I had named the painting. It was past midnight as I sat in my room in the midst of colours.
I filled my pipe with the crystals and began to smoke. That persistent nagging of my muscles, the craving of nerves began to get satisfied as the fumes floated almost lazily in the room.
I sighed, reveling in the lightness of the mind. Human beings and ants have a lot in common; they both kept scurrying about their whole lives. Sitting back and relaxing was never an option to these two species.
I began to see faces in the smoke, saying words that were incomprehensible to me. I felt my mother hug me—it was too good to be true. She never hugged me, as long as I can remember anyway.
I saw my Labrador—but he died four years back. What was he doing here now?
The images mesmerized me; I didn’t realize I was beginning to splash paint across the canvas.
The next day when I showed the painting, I earned a look that bordered on the extreme edges of astonishment.
“You just might win the biggest bids this exhibit,” he said, looking at the water colour painting. Clouds of dulled colour formed the background while indistinct faces dotted the canvas. I named it “Cacophony”.
My body began to need meth on a daily basis now. I tried to control it, but my arms began to jitters in response.
“Hey you okay?” Mira asked me in a concerned voice during lunch.
I nodded before dashing to the washroom.
For the first time in two years, I puked.
I scrambled through my phone contacts. I called my girlfriend.
“I need meth,” I said through clenched teeth.
“We have a party today. My house. Bring the usual money.”
I nodded. I slipped on to the floor next to the wash-basin, my head in my hands. I was shivering.
“Yo man. Are you sure you are fine?” asked a concerned voice. I lifted up my head.
I dimly registered the fact that he was in my class. I nodded slowly.
“You don’t look the part, though. You are coming to class?”
I nodded again, trusting myself not to speak. I might puke again.
I tried to get up. It felt like walking during a nine-point earthquake. I felt an arm supporting me. I tried to thank him but my tongue refused to obey my wish.
I couldn’t make out the people around me, though there weren’t many anyway. I could hear Mira yelling from far, far away before I slipped into oblivion.
When I woke up, it was early evening. The setting sun played with the white colour of the ceiling, as if dissatisfied with the choice of colour. I jumped up before groaning out loud. My head was spinning like an uncontrolled top.
I was in my room. And Mira was sitting on the chair next to my study-table with an incomprehensible look on her face.
“You have been taking it regularly now, right?” she asked simply, pointing on the floor.
It was my packet of meth and my pipe.
“Why, Aniket?” she asked softly.
I looked away from her, unable to answer. I couldn’t explain her. She wouldn’t understand. She would never understand. She was pure, untainted.
“Nothing is worth the level you are reducing yourself to,” she stated before walking out of my room.
I wanted her to stop. I wanted myself to stop.
My cellphone buzzed. It was my girlfriend. I gave up.
I felt pathetic as I entered her house. I didn’t want to be here.
The fumes felt enticing. My weak resolve broke.
It was around four when I exited her house. I stumbled down the road. I kept to the shadowy lanes to escape the night patrol. I leaned on the walls for support. The night sky alternated between black and bursts of colour. My stomach wanted food. My limbs wanted rest. My brain wanted sleep. My mind wanted oblivion.
Just a little bit further, I pressed myself.
I saw Mira walking towards me. She was clad in a red coat and carried a red umbrella. What was she doing here? She went home, right?
I wanted to ask her but the questions died in my throat. She smiled at me the same way she used to smile at me when we were in high school.
Come, let’s go home, she said brightly, holding out her hand.
I stretched out my hand, but my fingers never seemed to close around hers. I inched forward. But her fingers were always a hair’s breadth away. I screamed out in frustration. She just smiled.
When I woke up, I found myself sprawled in a dingy alley. My clothes looked ragged. A kid, probably homeless, gave a look over. I glared at him. He scurried off.
My limbs ached. My head ached. I felt pretty miserable.
I dragged my feet to my house and almost crawled upstairs to my room. As usual, my parents were never around. The housekeeping staff gave me pitying looks but scrambled away when I glared at them. A part of my mind chuckled at the perfection of my “death” glare.
The mirror in my room reflected back a haggard, unshaven face, sunken eyes, matted hair and unwashed clothes. That was me?
I doubted it.
But there wasn’t anyone else in my room.
I managed to shuffle into the bathroom, falling fully clothed into the tub. I turned on the taps, sighing as the warm water alleviated my ache a little.
After a bath, I set out for class. Mira refused to talk to me. I didn’t try to either.
A month and a half later, my prof was delighted to announce that my four paintings has passed scrutiny and were officially part of the Annual Exhibit. I was enthralled at the news. Mira looked sad.
Was she jealous of my success?
I had no need of meth now, I thought as I walked back home. Mira didn’t come with me these days.
I decided to flush my house of all meth. Mira would be happy.
Why did I care about her happiness?
But one look at the pipe and my sage-like countenance wavered. My fingers trembled.
One last smoke, I promised myself.
And that became a daily routine.
It went on for four months.
I began to miss classes. I failed in a couple of tests.
My stomach rebelled. But my mind was in compliance.
That bliss of oblivion became my new reality.
One day, I was coming back home. I felt the pavement rise up and hit my face.
Two days later, I woke up in a hospital.
Some good Samaritan had dropped me off and called my parents. I could see Mother outside the door. She looked pale, as if she hadn’t slept for days.
She came when she realized I was awake. She sat down next to me, combing my hair with her fingers. I closed my eyes, drinking in the feeling. I didn’t want to know whether I was hallucinating.
I opened my eyes half-way to see her shaking her head, a sad smile on her lips. Did she read my mind? Mothers can, I guess. At least that’s what Mira said.
I wondered when was the last time we sat like this. Mother and me. And no one else. I wanted to ask about Father but my throat ached at the very idea. I refrained from opening my mouth.
She placed a finger on her dry lips, the other hand rubbing my eyelids close.
I ended up staying at the hospital for a month. My body had weakened to a great degree due to erratic and deficient nutrition along with the crystals.
“Lay off the poison, you should be happy you are still sane,” the doctor said sternly before discharging me.
I found Mira waiting for me in the porch. So she knew I was to be discharged today. My mind felt a little light. She did worry about me.
Mother unlocked the door and three of us entered the house.
She told me to take Mira to my room. I agreed. Both of us had a lot to talk about.
I entered my room, unsure what to do. Mira seated herself on the chair. I sat on the bed. I couldn’t look at her. I felt guilty.
“Promise me,” she said softly. I looked at her finally.
I was shocked to see that she was crying.
“Promise me, you idiot!” she repeated, her voice rising with every word.
“Promise me you will never touch that stuff again. Promise me you will say no.”
I nodded fervently. Anything to stop her crying.
We talked about college for an hour before she exclaimed. She said she was getting late.
“For what?” I asked.
To my surprise, she blushed furiously.
The word stung me like a spear. I was stunned. And I didn’t know why.
Why should it bother me that Mira was going on a date? With someone else?
Was it the last part of the question that bothered me?
I waved her from the porch, a smile plastered on my face.
The next day, the prof literally descended upon me. The Exhibit was less than a month away and I was supposed to be a part of some press conference regarding the same. I had missed a few seminars as I was hospitalized.
I assured him I wouldn’t miss the press conference. He gave a hearty pat on the back, telling me to take care of myself.
The college thought I had jaundice.
I was grateful to Mira yet again.
The press conference was five days away.
I returned home to see Mother prepare cupcakes. The baking smell was heavenly, homely.
We had coffee and cupcakes for tea. We talked a lot on random topics. We laughed like kids.
Still Father was no where to be seen.
I didn’t ask Mother. She didn’t tell me.
Four days passed uneventfully.
The fifth day, I returned early as I had to prepare myself for the conference. I was proud of myself. My girlfriend texted me to come to her parties but I ignored them. I promised Mira. Besides, I didn’t feel that need to be high. My latest painting, Vibrancy, was drawn by me at my most sober. The prof loved it.
I had Mother. I had a life. I didn’t need that oblivion.
As I entered my house, I froze. I saw Father. And he was yelling at Mother.
The house was a pandemonium. That home was lost. It had become a crypt once more.
My security, my comfort, everything shattered like a castle of glass.
I raced back upstairs to my room, trying to block the profanities that were being yelled downstairs from my ears. I decided to head down to Mira’s house.
I wrenched open my cupboard to get out a jacket. Out fell the secret stash of meth.
My fingers shook as I picked up the packet. Suddenly my body began to yearn for that bliss. I tried to close my eyes, push the packet away. But it was of no use.
Four hours later, I was in my girlfriend’s house, high and sorry. I felt worthless.
I popped in another crystal.
I couldn’t keep a promise.
I popped another one.
It was night when I realized I missed the conference. I punched the wall in frustration. I couldn’t feel the pain in my fist. I punched again.
I wanted to feel the pain.
Why? Why? Why?
It was Father’s fault, I decided. Why did he come today?
It was Mother’s fault. Why didn’t she stop me from going out?
It was Mira’s fault. Why didn’t she take me back home?
I slid down the wall.
It was my fault. Why did I go back to the party after I dropped Mira home that day?
I saw Mother. She combing my hair with her fingers. I happily fell asleep.
A week later, I woke up to find Mother standing next to me.
Father? I mouthed.
“We had a divorce.”
It has been ten months now. After that incident, Mom had me checked into a rehab centre. She told me to drop the “Mother” tag. Mom. I loved the sound.
My paintings were auctioned at high prices at the Annual Exhibit, the cheques were lying at the bottom of the drawer, collecting dust. The price I had to pay was too much. The initial months were very difficult—especially the withdrawal symptoms. But I persisted through. Mom supported me at every step. Father didn’t even visit once but I don’t care. Mom is enough.
Mira refused to talk to me. Mom told me she was accepted into Harvard for her Master’s. Lucky girl. She deserved it.
The group therapy helped me a lot. Talking to people who had similar stories boosted my morale. Even I can fight back. I had to drop out of college—though they would have kicked me out anyway. I didn’t appear for my second year exams nor did I fulfil the attendance requirement. I was, in short, academically busted.
Painting was my salvation. That old prof got me in touch with some amazing artists and they were more than happy to help me iron out my knowledge in painting. I had a life now. Though sometimes I felt that old ugly head rise up in me, I clamped it down.
No, I did not need anything. My painting is enough of an addiction to live by.
I promised myself that I would go and meet Mira when I graduate.
Mom and I had a long talk about continuing my studies. She said after I finished rehab, I will re-join the college.
I was walking down the street when I passed by Mira’s apartment. I could see her walking about. I almost entered the lobby but I stopped myself.
This was one promise I will not break.
Would she accept me then? Would she trust me?
That is another story for another time.
For now, I continued to walk on, this time with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.