I’ve been reading a lot about the death of comedian Harris Wittels. I’d not heard of him before, but reading about him, discovered I’m a fan of many things he’s created and that a lot of people I know really loved his work and are really sad today.
People who knew him are devastated and angry and confused and almost preemptively nostalgic for something so soon gone.
All those reactions make sense to me. Certainly drugs, if that is what killed Harris, can take lives suddenly, but sometimes they creep in, slowly snatch away parts of people we love, replace those parts with things we don’t understand, or sometimes downright hate.
It can be almost like seeing them slowly erased: you begin to lose them far before the final moments.
One night in the tale-end of winter in 2009, I was sitting on the fence outside the tragic redbrick apartment building I lived in at the time. The courtyard was continuously scattered with garbage, the police a fairly regular presence. The rent was cheap and I didn’t know any better.
I was waiting for a friend to show up. It had been three months since his brother’s suicide and I’d promised him homemade lasagne if he promised to spend the night with us.
I’d spent all day cooking it from scratch, wanting to let the mince simmer properly so it would be perfect.
He was running incredibly late. He’d called for directions several times.
Finally his car slid past, I waved and watched him struggle to park further up the street.
When we hugged, he didn’t let go and I thought nothing of it. It was a strange time, his brother’s death kept ricocheting, like an echo that wasn’t growing faint.
It wasn’t until we were almost at my front door that I realised he was high. More than high, I realised he was high on heroin.
I followed him in, frantically miming injecting myself to my partner at the time and another friend.
He sat on the couch as we all stood silent. He started to tell some stories, there was a lot of forced laughter and sideways glances.
I felt stupid. There was my stupid lasagne in the kitchen, like some kind of kitsch Florence Nightingale band-aid for a problem that was far bigger than I’d realised.
I served it anyway. He praised it, swallowed several mouthfuls and then fell asleep mid-sentence.
While he snored, we stared. I looked for track marks on his arms, something I’d seen on television. I can’t remember now if I found any because the rest of the night was so devastating.
He woke up, grinned at us and said, ‘Well. I guess that’s why they call it going on the nod.’.
This was some sort of punishment for something.
Maybe for not hurting as much as he was.
Maybe for not being a salve for his pain.
This was definitely something he intended for us to see.
He went outside for a cigarette and I took his phone. Maybe I had a vague idea I would call his mother.
Suddenly everything got very serious, very fast.
He was throwing up everywhere and I was locked in the laundry with my cat.
I was terrified, and it’s only recently that I’ve realised I wasn’t scared of him dying, I was scared of the strength of the drug, I was scared that anyone, anyone’s body, could live through that.
It was violent and chaotic, a reaction to the distress his organs were in, frantically trying to process the drug.
He threw up for the next nine hours, on and off.
When he wasn’t throwing up, he was joking around, listening to music, smoking cigarettes, pretending it wasn’t horrible and confronting that he needed to excuse himself to vomit in my bathtub over and over.
At one point I hissed at him, ‘You brought this into my house? This was supposed to be somewhere safe for you.’.
It was the only thing anyone said to him about it that night, though mutual friends later told me it’d shocked him and was the precursor to getting clean.
I don’t know if that’s true. Those are two very small sentences against the weight of that night.
He made it through.
Heroin was the length he was prepared to go to, to numb the pain he was in and I couldn’t hate him for that.
I still don’t know how you save people from it.
I’m unwilling to say how he later explained the appeal.
I will say that he was the first people who made me realise addiction is an illness and not necessarily a choice and sometimes it’s an escape from things no better or less harmful.