I am sitting in my comfortable office chair with a Suboxone dissolving under my tongue as I write about the fellow addicts who have been sent into the dark night. It is all because of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ despicable planning and the sudden closing of the bridge that was leading so many addicts and other homeless people to safety every night.
Detoxes, shelters and various recovery programs that existed on Long Island shut down with the speed of darkness. In a column by the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen, who never knew the desperation of a drug addict with nowhere to love, he shows his compassion for people like me by quoting Merri Cuniff. Cuniff worked in a detox on the Island for $23 an hour, less than she made in a previous job, just so she could work with the people she cared about.
Cuniff said, “There was an older gentleman who thanked me for getting him a bed. He said it was the longest he was ever in detox. He was really trying. And then, after the evacuation, he just walked away. He is on the street somewhere, in the rain …”
I was that gentleman in 1998: waiting in the rain for the man to bring me some powdered relief, waiting under the overhang of a store on Beacon Street in Cambridge, soaked to the skin but close to death and not caring a s— about it.
I am in recovery now, and I write Tales of the Troll: Angels, Junkies, & Demons, a thirty-eight chapter novella about heroin addicts. In this book the heroin addicts are the heroes, drifting from one bizarre situation to the next. I could do better than that.
I am one of the lucky ones. I just celebrated nine years off the junk and I am an active member of the Board of Directors of SPARE CHANGE NEWS. I have a regular column in the paper right below the column by James Shearer, one of the founders of the paper.
But for the Grace of God of my misunderstanding and sheer good luck, I could be one of those folks losing my place on the Long Island detox facility and drifting off into the night. I am closing in on 69 years of life, and I spent over three and one-half decades sticking a needle in my arm in various bathrooms. That was my life until just one decade ago.
I remember that I almost died in the bathroom of the Harvard Epworth church one evening at a poetry reading. I was supposed to be the poetry feature that night and if it were not for the help of a person in recovery, I would be dead.
Why do I write the stories of junk like one of my mentors, William S. Burroughs, and take glory in it? I cannot answer that question. I know a few things as facts. I owe my life to my psycho-pharmacologist, my LISW therapist, and the recovery groups that I attend on a regular basis. I also owe my life to Spare Change News, the first honest work I did in years, and to my wife, Mary Esther, who loved me through some of the hardest periods of my life. If it was not for all of them, I might be one of the tortured souls being cast off of the Island of Light because of the Bridge to Nowhere.
The politicos are talking about the price of $90 million to rebuild the bridge and whether it is worth it. How much are the lives of our homeless and addicted citizens worth? That is the question.
The whole situation is an outrage: the way it was done and the acts of those who brought it about. Where were the planning and the compassion for our most vulnerable citizens? Could you imagine the police knocking on your door, and when you answered the door they told you to get out of your house but had no plans for where you should go?
Even many of the staff that worked on the Island has been laid off with one week’s pay to send them on their way. That was because they cared to work with people that many of us do not want in the neighborhood.
Folks, I am one of those people. I live in Belmont on a quiet residential street with people who have no idea what I was like before. Of course, maybe they are reading this article and now they know. God bless the people who work at Andrew House and help those people who need help most.
I was once helped by a different group of people and now I sit in my comfortable chair outraged by the actions that have sent people like myself over the Bridge to Nowhere. The only difference between me and the folks who were on Long Island is that I am under treatment today for addiction and my heroin use is in remission.
What we need now are people who become engaged and ensure that there are beds on demand for every addict and a safe place for every homeless person every night. That way people can enjoy the fruits of being housed and have a chance for recovery. It is not about the Bridge; rather it is about the way we treat our most vulnerable citizens.