This is a guest post from my nephew Christopher Auteberry.
My sister saw the documentary before I did; she told me grisly stories about prostitution and heroin injections into throbbing neck veins. I watched Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street with my mother, cuddled up on her plush couch. The film never glorified drug use, in fact it did quite the opposite, but it sparked my curiosity. I was only 14 years old when I saw it for the first time but it left an impression, a desire if you will, to experience addiction. I never wanted to be a junkie; I just wanted to know one. My aunt was a junkie but she only existed in stories and letters. I wanted to truly KNOW a junkie.
I grew up in a college town and found my niche in the older crowds. I met Amy right after I graduated from high school, I was 4 years her junior and quite impressionable. I looked up to her because she was graduating from a University and came from a wealthy Chicago suburb, she was everything I wasn’t. We would innocently smoke hookahs and sit in a tent we pitched in her roommate’s bedroom. Amy introduced me to nitrous and gave me my first mushroom (of the psychedelic variety) and peanut butter sandwich. Amy also introduced me to her friend living in Chicago, Jeanine.
Jeanine was a character from a story, a breathing work of fiction. She was large and boisterous, outgoing yet introverted, compassionate yet amoral. She fascinated me immensely. I lived for her stories about her junkie experiences: stealing DVD’s at Borders and selling them to pawn shops, giving blowjobs to drug dealers to support her habit, having threesomes with her friends while out of her mind on various drugs. Jeanine was headed down a path of destruction, fueled by her friends in Chicago and her lack of desire to get sober. She’d been in and out of rehab with little success and she was showing no signs of letting up.
Something happened in Jeanine’s life that uprooted her and sent her to live with Amy for a summer. We spent every waking moment together. Jeanine used this time to get clean. For three months she was sober, I felt I’d taken her away from it all, I’d saved her. I didn’t take my aunt away from heroin, I couldn’t keep my mother or my grandfather from alcohol, but I was going to save Jeanine.
Jeanine returned to Chicago (which is synonymous with heroin at this point) and continued making money by stealing from Borders. Though I voiced my concern for her habit I didn’t judge because I knew I was moving to Chicago and I could keep her occupied and away from that scene. When I arrived in Chicago we celebrated by consuming gluttonous amounts of marijuana. We sat on my bed and smoked pot for hours, talking about our dreams and hypothetical situations about our futures. Jeanine promised to stop using. I knew she meant it. We had grand plans.
A few weeks later Amy invited me to do mushrooms at Jeanine’s. I’d done all the experimenting with drugs I’d planned to do and wanted no part in it. More importantly, I had my first real date in the big city! The date was lame and I went home early, exhausted from the effort. I woke in the early morning to a phone call, Amy explained that Jeanine was “going crazy” (she was naked and throwing herself into her refrigerator). I told her that they both had drug problems that I could no longer be a part of. I hung up my phone and went to bed. I’d had it. Mission failed. I couldn’t save Jeanine.
I woke up the next morning to another phone call from Amy. Jeanine had been taken to the hospital in an ambulance because she was unresponsive. I didn’t understand why Jeanine was having such a bad reaction to mushrooms. Amy said I was naïve; I hung up and took a shower. I let the warm water race down my back and cried; I sat on the floor and cried. I thought Jeanine was going to stop using. I thought I was going to save her. Something in me knew that Jeanine wasn’t going to come out of it.
I left my apartment with my phone in hand and no idea where I was going. My phone rang as I waited for the El to take me somewhere, anywhere. I knew as soon as I heard Amy’s voice, I froze and tears streamed down my face. Jeanine was gone. Jeanine was dead. It is the most profound loss I have ever felt in my life. Heroin had killed her and I was supposed to save her.
I knew an addict. I loved and I lost an addict. Jeanine taught me the most important lesson about addiction; there is no “saving” an addict if the addict isn’t first ready to save themselves. The Black Tar Heroin documentary sparked my interest in drugs yet my friendship with Jeanine extinguished the flames. Addiction is still a part of my life as I have friends and family members who struggle and yet strive to be more than their vice. I learned, through Jeanine, the true battles that an addict faces and the pain their loved ones suffer because of their choices. It’s been 8 years and there are still songs I can’t listen to, pictures I’ve locked away and letters I refuse to look at. Addiction is no longer a fascination, it’s a harsh reality that killed my friend and continues to eat away at my family. I am thankful that I had Jeanine to open my eyes and keep me from the dark end of the street.