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Michael Stuart

It was the classic American love story. I was lying on the floor in a shooting gallery in Brooklyn, having collapsed onto my back when my dose of smack kicked in. Better than sex, so they say. The three dollars I'd paid to get in guaranteed me a place on the floor, as well as a bottle-cap, cup of water, and access to a candle, but I'd showed up too late to get a decent place. The best spots were against the wall where you could lean back without falling over. You have to show up early to get one of those, they were like box seats at a baseball game to a heroin junkie. There was also the VIP section, which was a very exclusive end of the shooting gallery floor that had a mattress wedged up against the corner by a window. But that spot was saved for celebrities, which in our neck of the woods were local musicians who'd wander over from the methadone clinic about 5 blocks away. Leo, a sixties hippie refugee who'd assumed the role of junkie elder statesman, swears he once saw the bass player for the 80's version of Steppenwolf on that mattress, but since also did 4 quarter doses of LSD by himself on a regular basis, nobody believed him.

I couldn't sit up, so I curled into a fetal position in hopes of shifting my center of gravity. That's when I looked up and saw her. She was tall, rail-thin with shoulder length straw-blond hair. But she had her back to me, so for about 10 minutes, I thought she was a broom. But she soon turned around to reveal that she was actually a beautiful girl with a slender face, pale skin and sunken eyes. This was the true heroin chic, the kind that people paid stylists good money to replicate. But she was the real thing. A natural, chemically induced visual splendor.

I couldn't get a good look in the position I was in, so I made a few unsuccessful attempts to move. But I caught her attention, and sensing my predicament, she walked over, took my hands and pulled me up off the floor until I was sitting upright. It seemed to take a lot out of her, so she crouched down and sat on the floor in front of me. We stayed there, staring at each other, for god knows how long. Probably a matter of hours, because I remember hearing the sidewalk outside getting noisy as if it were lunchtime, when we finally spoke. She told me her name was Angela. Angela. An angel from heaven, the golden heart of the shooting gallery. I didn't believe in love at first sight, but you simply cannot stare at someone for 2 or 3 hours without feeling something more than just the needle in your arm. And she knew it too. So we stood up and walked out of the shooting gallery together.

From that moment on, Angela and I were inseparable. Heroin kills your sex drive, so it wasn't a typical relationship in the adult sense. It was like being back in elementary school, we simply wanted to be near each other and have fun. On weekends, we'd go my place in East Harlem. Sometimes we'd spike up there, then walk hand in hand down Carl Schultz Park by the East River. Then we'd walk back up to Gracie Mansion, scream obscenities at the Mayor and run away. We couldn't run very far. We were on heroin after all, not cocaine. But part of being in a relationship is trying new things.

Sometimes we would wander around the Upper East Side. We'd find a deli where we could buy coffee for 59 cents. Then we'd go into a Starbucks and make fun of the patrons by showing them our receipts and laughing at them. Sometimes, Angela would regret it later and start crying. She didn't hate yuppies, she felt sorry for them. To her, they were unknowing victims, cogs of the capitalist system following an empty life beyond choice. Then we'd go straight home and shoot up, because that was the only thing that made her feel better when she got upset.

One day, we were killing time in Champagne video when we passed the adult section. I pointed at one particular porno, and made a joke about what a fun way to make a living that must be. But Angela wasn't laughing. Turned out, she considered porno to be a passive-aggressive form of prostitution. Because, as she put it, nothing could change the fact that they were sucking cock for money.

And the next thing I knew, she was gone. Not only had she stormed out on me, she never came back. And when I went round to her place looking for her, she wasn't there The condition of her room suggested she'd never come home. Angela was missing.

I was inconsolable. Angela had become such vital part of my life that I just couldn't imagine it without her. I looked everywhere for her. All through Brooklyn, Manhattan, every deli, and cafe I could find, no trace of her. I checked every corner and gallery and talked to all the dealers, but nobody'd seen her. They'd all try to get me to cop a bag, but I was too upset to think about anything but finding her. More time went by. I'd never felt so sad, I was so distraught I felt physically ill. Or was that withdrawal? Wait a minute, when did I have my last blast? I'd been a few days. But I clutched my stomach and continued to search, undaunted. But I also continued to degenerate, and eventually, I collapsed into a remote corner of the Central Park Sheep Meadow. Facing the possibility that Angela was really gone, I spent the rest of the night crying as I convulsed and threw up.

I finally left the park a day or two later. It felt good to move around again, plus I felt oddly refreshed after a rainstorm had washed me clean. It was time to go home.

When I got to my building, I saw someone sitting on the stoop with their head resting against stairway, asleep. It was Angela. Slowly, she opened her eyes. She leapt up surprisingly fast and threw her arms around me. Sobbing, she asked me where I'd been. After I said I'd been out looking for her, she told me that she'd been in the city jail. She told me that she'd been so upset we'd had a fight, that she went to snort a dose of smack on the sidewalk but got stopped by the police. And she told me how she tried to call me, but my phone was disconnected because I hadn't paid the bill for nearly a year.

But it was over now. She was released and we were together again. So I said, "Well, what do you want to do now"

Slowly, she looked down, then up, then said, "Well, I haven't done any heroin for a while now. So, what I really want to do, is have sex."

That wasn't quite the answer I was expecting. But then I paused, and though for a second. Then I looked at her. "Wait a minute! Me too! Wow!" And post-haste, we ran upstairs. So, is heroin actually better than sex? I can't speak for everyone else, but after that night, Angela and I never did heroin again.


Michael Stuart is a writer, performer, amateur satirist and pop culture addict. He is the author of the play Carry On, Faulkner and the one-man shows My Life As a Bounty Hunter and Dear Christa.

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