There and back
Of all the people to hear about God and life after death Samuel Brooks was not the most likely conveyor of truth. Sam wasn’t an especially religious man, went to church on Easter and Christmas, did good deeds, but never really prayed or sang hymns or anything like that. What made Sam’s story worth hearing was the fact, or at least the fact as he tells it, that he literally died and came back to life. Then again, he does claim his death and return was the result of a heroin overdose so it should be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps some tequila and lime as well since his story was being told to me at Driftwood Pub in Cow Harbor New York. But to the best of my questionable recollection here’s what transpired.
It should be said first an foremost that Cow Harbor was the Mayberry of the Northeast, a tiny little beach town full of clammers, fisherman, and escapees from the metro Manhattan madness. Anytown USA, it was a beach oriented community on Long Islands northern coastline. From the boredom of the chowder many of us suburban misfits turned to drugs to take us away from a mundane life in a small community. In our day marijuana was a must have while the slightly more hardcore of us experimented with hallucinogens, diet pills, and Quaaludes. The really hardcore bored rural drones dabbled in snorting cocaine and heroin. It freed us of the mediocre and transported us to a level of suburban legend the likes of James Dean in Hollywood. Of course once one dabbles in something as powerful as coke and dope you become a mere half step away from the stereotype portrayed in public service anti-drug movies the schools force feed the huddled masses of suburban youth. The true legends emerged as the rebellious main-liners who inject the poisonous powders directly into their veins. Sam was one of those rebel legends.
I was back in town after leaving some eight years ago to visit the grave of my beloved deceased Mom. While in my old hometown I always stop off at The Driftwood as it’s one of the more comforting hang outs from my metaphoric stomping grounds. A place where the jukebox now played fond memories and the pool table stored folklore of all nigh revelry. Just walking through the door of Driftwoods imparted the warmth of a treasured and magical time. The comfort of a mug of beer transported me even further to an easier if not so innocent time. To make the trip even more appreciable who is sitting at a table in the corner but my old schoolmate Sammy Brooks, one of the once revered icons of a town as defined by drug use. Sammy was known for his numerous battles with addictions and stories of suburban legend most of us were glad we avoided retrospectively, but misguidedly glamorized in the days of our asinine self absorbed down with the system youth. Sam was a heroin addict turned methadone reliant ex user who if had no major contributions to society at least held down a job. Truth be told the stigma of addiction aside he was a really nice guy who just got caught up in his attempt to be the coolest of the cool but instead ended up selling his soul for some temporary recognition. I knew him since kindergarten, and while not best friends we were never enemies, not even for a petty moment.
“Yo Sammy my man, how the fuck ya dewin? Must be like seven years at least brother.” Sam looked up from his drink staring at me puzzled, “JT? That you JT? Hey you look good Bro, still got your pony tail, eh? Glad to see that, too many short hairs around these days. Jeeze shit man what brings you back to this hellhole of a town?” I was honestly surprised he remembered me let alone that I had left town some time ago. I grabbed a beer, sat down and we began to catch up. We had a great time reminiscing the old days but once we got around to the reason for my visit Sam got weirded out. “JT, I know death is hard when its your Mom and shit, but I’ve been there, and there are things about dying you don’t want to know.” He couldn’t have been more wrong, I’m a sponge for information as it relates to the mysterious unknown. There was no way I wasn’t going to ask him what he meant. “Whadda ya mean Sammy? What do you know about death man?” After some prodding Sam relented. “I died from an overdose in the city but for some reason I came back.” Afraid he was gonna go off on some God reached his hand out and took me back story I attempted to change the subject until he asked me if I wanted to hear about what its like to be dead. Of course I did.
“Buy me a club soda Bro, I’ll tell you the whole deal but don’t get mad when I tell you there ain’t no god just a big nothing after you die. I know everyone wants to believe in bright lights, hugs, getting back together with gone family members and shit that’s pure bullshit man, its nothing like that.” I walked up to the bar to get us each a drink. Always one to play the devils advocate this particular time I was in unfamiliar territory lobbying on the side of religion but just to stir it up I asked, “How do you know it wasn’t like God or some angel or something that came an brought you back?” Sam got this real serious look on his face, “Look man, you can believe whatever you want, but if god or the angels or whatever wanted me to live why would they have let me get so strung out on drugs in the first place. Listen to how it went down and judge for yourself man but for me I’m sure there ain’t no super power saving people and shit. Don’t be counting on no help from above because there just ain’t nothing there. You’re on your own Bro.” It wasn’t anger registered on his face but contemplative reality as he launched into his tale.
“I was on the lower east side looking to cop some dope and coke. I was into speed balls back then dude, you know mixing dope with coke in the same shot. The best dope on the streets was Mr. T. which I’d been doing all week. Really good shit man, one bag was enough but two bags sent you out of fucking town. There was some killer coke a few blocks away called double D and I heard it was perfect for balling. I had me some extra cash so I got a bundle (ten bags) of Mr. T then went over to cop some double D. I got four bags and headed out to my little studio apartment to do a few speedballs. I near about ran home with the shit so I could get off good an quick like. It was a really bad time for me Bro, Stella left me, I was gonna get fired soon because I was fucking up a lot, life just totally sucked, ya know? I needed to escape so I take out my spoon, empty three bags of Mr. T into it and add a few drops of water. I cooked that mother fucker up then added a bag and a half of double D, sucked that shit through the cotton ball up into my syringe. I tapped the fucker making sure it was ready to take me away. No prob finding a vein man, I’m a pro at hitting veins.” He rolled up his sleeve to show me the red track marks on his arm as if it were some kind of red badge of courage and not the scratched silhouette of a life once struggling in turmoil. We both took big sips of our drinks as he continued, “I stuck that spike right into my arm and drew back. I see a small patch of blood so I know I got a good hit on the vein so I start booting ya know, hitting slow back an forth a few times then BAM! The whole shot right in to my blood system. I could feel the “C” running up my arm right towards my head when hit me in like two seconds Bro. Like the shit flew right up into my brain and started filling it up with fizzy blood or something then a nice even buzzing settled in between my ears. I was flying bro, like on top of the world flying. It was so awesome it forced a huge smile to creep across my face. I was thinking man this is the fucking best thing in the world for like fifteen seconds, every part of my body buzzing easy before the god damn “H” kicks in. First this warm feeling creeps up my backbone, across my shoulders then into my head, like a warm puddle of happiness soothing as all hell man. My entire being was vibrating nice and smooth and then wham! I sprung up of the bed flying backward and passed out with the needle still in my arm. Next I feel nothing. I mean like fucking nothing bro, like sleeping sound like without any dreaming. I musta hit my head on the wall of something because like I said I was feeling nothing ya know, like I didn’t exist no more. No bright light calling me, no fucking angel singing to me, not even a dream or anything. I wake up like four hours later with this like dried out puke all over my mouth, down my cheek and some big puddle of puke on the bed. I got this slamming mother fucking headache man, like none I never had before. I mean I hear people say they had a splitting headache before man but I swear to god this really felt like it was splitting my brain into pieces. So my head is like throbbing hard, painful as hell but I’m still like groggy, ya know disoriented and shit. Took me five minutes to remember where I was and what I was doing. Something happened to my neck and I can’t hardly move like my shoulders are sprained or something. I look down on the floor see the needle laying there all innocent like. Musta flown outta my arm or whatever cause the rest of the baggies of dope and coke are on the floor too. That’s when it really hit me man, I died and come back for whatever reason. The hit on my head musta made me puke and if I didn’t toss my cookies I woulda been done for bro, I wouldn’t be here telling ya this, Ida been another New York City police blotter statistic. Couldn’t move, just laid in bed for hours thinking about how I just died and come back. Being dead just feels like nothing at all. No lights, no meeting the maker, no life flashing before my eyes, just empty. That’s when I realize there ain’t nothing at all after death man, its just the end, total dark and void. Knowing I lucked out I swore I would stop using, maybe go to NA, ya know, Narcotics Anonymous to help get straight. No more poison in my blood ,man.”
I took in the story and considered how easily this could have been my story. I looked him in the face, “You clean now Buddy, you completely straight?” Sammy peered up from his dark memory, “Oh I’m dosing legally on methadone but as far as street drugs I’m clean. I had to do it on my own cause like NA relies on praising god and shit, and now I know there ain’t no god. Counselor sent me over to another group of former addicts that don’t believe either. We lean on each other and do just like the other Anonymous groups but no meetings with all the thanking and praising shit. Been straight for almost two years now.”
We finished chatting and reminiscing not brining up the addiction again. We had a great judgment free reunion complete with one more beer for me and a game of pool for old times. Neither of us were anywhere near as good as we were in years gone by or maybe we weren’t ever as good as we thought back in the day but either way we had a great time.
One thing Sam said really resonated and if anything that’s what I’d want you to take away from this tale of addiction. There are many reasons people end up addicted to substances and judging them isn’t productive. It doesn’t matter how or why someone goes down that road, that road becomes very dark very fast and its nearly impossible to find your way back without some really good people to shine the flashlight ahead of you instead of in your eyes to make you confess. Sam’s parents gave up on him because they didn’t know what to do but his brother never gave up and neither did his good friends. So between them and the other warriors of addiction he has a good support system which enables him to stay clean. As far as god existing I reckon that’s a personal decision and frankly I really don’t care what your belief is because your believing or not believing has nothing to do with how I perceive you as a person. Like Dr. King once said judge a person by the content of his character, and let me tell you Sam is one helluva character. A real good character……Peace