My High Flying Bird


My best friend is a junkie. Crystal meth has tossed his brain into unrelenting chaos. It has jumbled his lobes and pathways into amorphous masses in need of a fix. It has made him think that a young mother and her child recently sitting next to him on a plane were secret agents and that a pig stuffed animal was a recording device. He sees people in his bushes and leads the four or so people he insists are following him on high-speed chases through suburban neighborhoods. He gets angry with all of us for not believing him.

My best friend is a junkie. I winced the first time he referred to himself as such, but once he actually started shooting crystal meth instead of just smoking it, he said the label was the honest one. He got some strange thrill out of using the term, adding this to his other descriptors: “homo,” “alcoholic,” “unlovable.” His endless number of friends knows his flair for the dramatic, the relish he takes in all of these terms, so adding “junkie” to the list just feeds into the self-loathing that he thinks is being deflected by such sweeping terms. Trust me, he knows how transparent this is.

After two rather glamorous rehab stints for alcoholism many years ago and about 10 or so years of sobriety, he doesn’t think he has anything left to learn from rehab. In reality, he doesn’t think he has anything to learn from anybody. He plays us all by pretending to listen to us, agreeing and commenting in all the right places, manipulates us into thinking that he really HAS done that last hit. Several of his best friends have dropped out along the way, exhausted by him and his energy suck, and others, like me, have been deluded into thinking that this time will be different. Have. Past tense.

The handful of friends and family still willing to listen and spin their wheels have just come off yet another week of the madness that ensues when he’s gone missing. The cast of characters is different this time, the friend pool having shrunk and different core members of his family getting involved. It’s new phone numbers to put into my phone, new e-mails, and new phone lists jotted down on a random piece of paper. It’s hours of recap, bringing each other up-to-speed, venting. It’s putting spouses and partners on hold for days at a time putting them through the same scene they’ve witnessed many times before. When my amazing husband and I had a bit of an argument, I realized that this was now seeping into my marriage.

The last conversation I had with him he was on his way to a sober living program, all bright and sunny and optimistic. He was meeting a friend who would take him there for his 2:00 check-in time. Unlike the last program he blew out of, I wouldn’t have to wait a week to speak to him. He could come and go as he pleased (I learned that this place was in the middle of the worst drug-using part of town so I had my doubts about why he should even bother) so he could talk to me that night to find out what it was like. When I learned the next day that he called his friend saying first that he had a flat tire, and then that the axle fell off his car, that he later called her back and said he was an asshole and a liar, and that he never actually made it to rehab, I knew, that yet again, we had all been played.

None of us heard from him for three days. I said to everyone that he wasn’t such an asshole as to not call at least ONE of us to let us know he was alive. His brother started calling the coroner, morgue, prisons and filed a missing persons report. He provided his license plate number and the necessary information to ping his cell phone and see where and when he last used his debit card. A friend of his went over to his apartment to check to make sure that he wasn’t lying dead on the floor. For the second time, I started thinking about the eulogy I would give, how I would edit “A Day in the Life” to make sure that that last iconic chord was loud enough to have the impact that he hopes it will. I thought of the call distribution list that I would dole out to the many strands of friends he has.

When he finally surfaced, he told his cousin that he couldn’t believe that we were all so worried and that he thought we would all just assume that he had made it to rehab. He somehow had “lost” his car in one of the worst neighborhoods in LA with everything in it including his cell phone and wallet, slept on the street for a night and walked 15 miles to get home. He said he just wanted one last high and he would go to rehab the next morning. This set me off into my first rage. This made me resolute in my statement that “I’m done. I’m out.” And I meant it. I swore I wouldn’t call even though I feel like there are so many things he needs to hear, my anger being one. So, I didn’t. I didn’t until his cousin asked me, as a favor, to call him with some phone numbers that were in his lost phone.

I had to think about it for a while. I didn’t have any numbers that would do him any good. His closest friends had already refused him rides to find his car and later refused to drive him to rehab. He could get on a bus if he needed to. I finally steeled myself, armed with the vitriol I planned on unleashing the second he picked up the phone. His machine picked up on the first ring so I sort of stammered my way through my discomfort and anger. The last thing I said was “I have absolutely nothing to say to you.” I hung up and instantly felt guilty.

I pride myself on being that ONE person who would never turn my back on him, the one who wouldn’t judge, the one who would always forgive. After he wasn’t heard from for almost 24 hours, I thought that for sure I had sent him over the edge, that all hope was gone for him and that he had killed himself in the most dramatic way possible. I know better than to think I hold that much power over anyone, so dropped that thought pretty quickly. Despite that, I called him the next morning and said that he knew I wasn’t the kind of person who could abandon him, and that I would try him again later. (His long distance service was shut off so he couldn’t call me.)

It was another full day of people trying to make contact, but a bit less frantically. When his brother called me last night and told me that my best friend, the junkie, had started selling whatever he has of value, I knew there was nothing anyone could do.

My best friend is a junkie. The lyrics below are from an Elton John song that he wants played at his funeral (I think a long time ago he wanted “Levon” but that seems to have changed along the way.):

My high-flying bird has flown from out my arms
I thought myself her keeper
She thought I meant her harm
She thought I was the archer
A weather man of words
But I could never shoot down
My high-flying bird

The white walls of your dressing room are stained in scarlet red
You bled upon the cold stone like a young man
In the foreign field of death
Wouldn’t it be wonderful is all I heard you say
You never closed your eyes at night and learned to love daylight
Instead you moved away

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5 Comments

  1. Oh my God. I didn't know. It makes me so sad to read this.

  2. Terrible to witness a friend self-destruct. I had a friend who did meth, but thankfully, he has enough self-esteem and positive things in his life that he quickly got off it and straightened up. NOT EASY to do!

  3. Oh, Gayle. This just seems like it couldn't be happening.

  4. Sadness, a sense of helplessness washes and cascades over me as I read. Desperate, desire to reach out and grasp hold of the mist to yank it away from the abyss. Nothing of substance remains in my grip. Dissipating, the mist drifts out over the edge and, in a final swirl, vanishes.

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