Friday, July 12, 2013
Guest Post From Norway
By Kaja Andrine Hultgren
My uncle was a very gentle, kind man. I have heard stories from when he was a child. He didn’t make much out of himself. They say he was lazy and didn’t walk until he was 2. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother (my grandmother) was not able to understand what was happening when my uncle started to hang out at night with the wrong people. I’m told that he started injecting heroin when he was 15. He told me he smoked pot for the first time at a club for teenagers in the neighborhood where he grew up. The club was started by the local church ward so that young people should have a place to hang out, it was supposed to keep them off the streets. This was back in the 60-70’s, and in Norway, Oslo, at that time, no-one had any real experience or knowledge about the consequences of doing drugs. Many teens of my uncle’s generation had their drug debut at this club, and many stories have been written and told about how a generation growing up in the same place in the suburbs of Oslo in the 60’s and 70’s became heavy drug users. Some managed to get out of it, much because some families had resources to pull their children out of the situation, unfortunately my uncle was not born into a family of that kind. His drug use became a lifelong addiction.
In his early twenties he was in prison for the first time. I was a young child, and the whole family kept the truth from me. I didn’t learn about his addiction until 1985, when I was 15. His father, now divorced from my grandmother, called my parents’ house while drunk and I picked up the phone, he told me. I remember it being a total shock. I was angry with my family for keeping this from me. I always had a special relationship with my uncle. I loved him, and I felt that he was a very special person in my life. When I was in my mid-twenties, my uncle moved to the city where I grew up. He had spent some years in prison, and some years in the north of Norway because he met a nurse (while hospitalized for hepatitis), and she wanted to live close to her family in northern Norway. When they ended their relationship my uncle met another woman, not a user, who lived in my city. At this point my uncle had managed to get prescription drugs, which he heated, mixed up and injected. He fooled the doctors, saying he needed painkillers because of an arm injury. I really don’t understand how these docs could avoid seeing his track marks.
Then, his supplier, a doctor who already was in trouble for writing prescriptions to addicts, got scared. He was about to lose his license and he stopped the supply. I went to see him, tried to explain that without prescription drugs my uncle would surely go back to heroin. And of course he did. This was the beginning of another period in hell for all of us. I hated him asking me for money, I hated myself for giving it to him, I hated being there when he went to the next room to inject, I hated to see how he sat there with his head hanging down, mumbling incoherently. I understand now that I was co-dependent in this period. He started to smuggle and sell heroin to support his habit. I remember being in the city with friends, seeing him getting off the bus from Oslo, three policemen waiting for him putting him to the ground, handcuffing him. My friends asking, isn’t that your uncle? Yes, this was my beloved uncle. The man I had admired so much in my childhood, who had played with me, taught me to play cards, sung to me and always listened to me.
After many years of loving and living with an addict, when he had sold almost all their belongings, including their engagement rings, his girlfriend left him. She had children and grandchildren, she had never used and was a stabilizing factor in my uncle’s life. Now it really went downhill. Me and my father spent nights looking for him, in parks, in public toilets. What if he had taken an overdose? I was scared all the time. Then we got a phone call, he was in the hospital, overdose, but he survived. It didn’t help tough, when we got there he had left. I know my parents gave up that point, but I couldn’t. I made him call me once in a while, just to know he was alive. If he didn’t call I drove around the streets of Oslo, searching, asking. Then he was hospitalized again, and diagnosed with Hep C. He was also tested for HIV, negative. Probably, he had saved himself living up north when the “plague” hit Oslo in the beginning of the 90’s. He decided to get clean, he said he was tired of this life, tired of being ill. The heroin didn’t get him high anymore. Still he told me that he loved that drug. He loved everything about it, even the hitch of the needle was a part of his love affair with heroin.
He got into rehab and stayed clean for 2 years. I felt I had my uncle back. We went out for dinner together, watched movies, talked and took walks. Sometimes I spent whole evenings at the recovery home or he came to my apartment when he was considered stable enough to leave the institution on in own. With my help he managed to take the exams he needed to finish school. This was the best period I had with my uncle since my childhood, the future was full of hope. Then one night he called me. I was supposed to meet him for dinner, but he had been using again. He said: “ I had a hit, I’m sorry, I know you don’t want to meet me for dinner now.” He was right, I didn’t want to see this again. Soon he was back as a fulltime user, but his body was tired, he didn’t have any good veins left. He used hours just to get one hit.
He got the idea to move to Thailand. He had friends there, old user friends, they didn’t shoot heroin down there. Some years I think he was happy there. He didn’t inject anymore (his veins were not able to take it), but he smoked pot and experienced with other types of drugs. He got a girlfriend, also a drug user. Then one night he went on a short trip, staying in a hotel. He used meth-amphetamine that night, and got the idea that he had to lit fire to the hotel room. He was arrested. 10 years in Thai-prison. I cried my eyes out. He got out after 6 years, because of health problems. A contact at the Norwegian consulate helped us. He was put on a plane to Norway in his slippers, shorts and t-shirt, that was all he had on when he landed in the cold Norwegian spring air. I was happy to see him, but he was very ill. He couldn’t breathe properly, he looked like a corpse, he was so thin and he coughed so heavily he almost couldn’t stand on his feet. He was unhappy, he didn’t want to be in Norway, he couldn’t live here. We let him smoke pot on our balcony for his pains, his body had been through too much. He decided to go to the Philippines, he had heard good things about that place. He also had an old drug contact who had gotten out and who had a hotel there.
The same summer we lost our old aunt. She died peacefully in a retirement home at the age of 102. My uncle was leaving for the Philippines straight after her funeral. As I hugged him goodbye on the stairs of the funeral home, I knew. This is the last time. Take care! Safe flight! I cried for both my old aunt and for my beloved uncle that day.
My uncle was found dead in his hotel room in the Philippines 26th of July 2010, 55 years old. His heart just couldn’t take anymore, it had stopped.
In loving memory of Petter Ullsgård (1955-2010)