Needle. Damage. Done?
“That’s why I started doing heroin. Because I felt like I was working so hard to change the world and nothing was happening,” he says.
Meet John, 19. He’s covered in dirt, grime and grease, not-so-fresh-off-the-train after freight-hopping from Oregon. His dark-olive overalls look like MC Hammer pants on his toothpick frame; he can’t weigh more than 125 pounds.
“We left town because we were doing too much heroin. It was stupid up in Portland,” she says.
Meet Audrey, 20. She’s got a cutting smile, sweet freckles, dreadlocks, a pierced nostril and thin-rimmed glasses that her face has outgrown. She pats her 2-year-old dog, Maxwell, who sports a hood ornament around his neck.
The couple has been in Sacramento for a few days, resting this early Thursday evening in front of a Subway on J Street downtown, about a block from where a panhandler shot a man last month. Cloudy skies threaten: There will be rain. But no worries: A guy kicked down some methadone, so John and Audrey are happy. And talkative.
But still depressed.
John tells a story about his dog, who died on the journey to Sac. He bought the mutt two weeks ago off a crack dealer in Klamath Falls, Ore., for $1.75. But he didn’t purchase a collar and leash, so when the train they’d hopped onto entered a tunnel, his nervous new best friend shook free of John’s grip.
When the train emerged from the tunnel, the mutt was nowhere to be found.
Audrey also had a rough time in Oregon: Her parents, millionaires, flew in from the East Coast to rescue her. “They tried to do an intervention,” she explains. “But they don’t realize I’ve been doing drugs and have been stealing from them since I was 15.” Her family came with a doctor, her FBI brother and an old friend from high school. They read letters and begged her to return. It failed.
“They told me I’m dead to them. So this is my family, right here,” Audrey says, bopping John’s cap bill and rubbing Maxwell’s head. The three have been together four months. “But it’s a different kind of relationship than most people’s relationship, because we never leave each other’s side.”
“I’m about to kill her sometimes,” John laughs. Sort of.
So is it a good life?
“It’s fun,” John says, halfheartedly. “But we both got hep C and Lyme disease.” Audrey and Maxwell were hiking the Appalachian Trail, where their dog was bitten by hundreds of ticks and Audrey got a tick in her neck, but didn’t realize till it was too late.
“And I probably got it from fucking the shit out of her,” John announces. “But I gave her hep C, because I’ve been a heroin addict since I was 13.” Most of his teeth are broken. He says he’s never felt sicker in his life.
A city official told John about Sacramento’s free-ride program: If he can get an ID, he can see his mom in New Jersey and rest. But he doesn’t think that’ll work. “All I have is about 10 jail papers in my back pocket,” he says.
So they’re frustrated. John says work makes him want to die—and do more drugs. Audrey bemoans “industrial society.” They say they made $15 panhandling on Seventh Street, but they spent it on booze and dog food. I give them $5, knowing very well I probably shouldn’t.
This perks up John, who now wants to play a song on his mandolin. He strums with his hands, rasgueado-style, fingernails full of grunge. Audrey sings along during the chorus and bangs spoons. It’s really great. They finish and everyone’s quiet.
“Hey, what is 401K, because I heard that shit on the radio?” John asks.
“It’s what you get when you get a job,” Audrey says. This gets John heated.
“Now, with people talking about sustainable energy and all this bullshit, as long as we grab on to technology and expect it to take us somewhere, and expect it to take us somewhere progressive—pushing us further to something purportedly better—we’re pulling ourselves closer and closer to our extinction,” he goes off. “And not only our extinction, but the extinction of most other creatures on the Earth.
“I’m for the death of the human race,” he proclaims.
“Yeah. I am, too,” Audrey agrees.
I get up to leave and they smile, shaking my hand with their twiglike arms. Maxwell’s lying against the wall, and his eyes are big and cheerless, yearning, possibly saying “Take me with you.”