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One crackhead’s 14-year survival test between highs

Yesterday wasn’t a good day for me. Somebody broke into my house, stole my television, stole my receiver, stole my speakers. The depression of that was a trigger for me. It depressed me, made me want to get high. It should have angered me, made me more determined to refrain from using. But it was the reverse. Depression is my usual trigger; sometimes, money is a trigger. There are some days you just don’t give a damn.

You just get high. Each day is not the same. Some days you have your high days; some days you have your low days.

There are some times I may go a week without smoking. Then there are some times when I have a little money and I might go two or three days nonstop until the money is gone. Once the money is gone, depression sets in because of the money that you don’t have, that’s been wasted. You think about the things you could have done with the money proper: You know, like if you had a bill, pay a bill.

After the crack is gone, then all kinds of voices speak to you: what you could have done with the money that you had. Sometimes it makes you want to get high. But then there are periods when you get mad at yourself, mad at the thought of getting high, and you make an honest attempt to try and start on a path of being clean and sober.

It has been an off-and-on struggle. I’ve been clean for two years, and then I relapse. A year, and then I relapse. Six months, and then I relapse.

If I’m not getting high, I get up every morning at 4:30 to 5:30. I take a bath, lay in bed, look at TV, try to take my mind off the desire. Especially when there’s no money.

Now my high feels like a chase. A chasing sensation. For instance, you have your favorite food that you like. You just want that particular dish. You think of the thing that you want to eat, fix it, and eat it. That’s your dinner until you come down.

I grew up here, been here since I was 4 years old. I grew up with a twin sister and three brothers in the Columbia Heights area, just off Cardozo High School. My life was no different than most. I didn’t want for anything. My parents were not rich, but we had a roof over our heads, and I wasn’t hungry. My father was a master welder and pastor, and my mother was a librarian. I graduated from Dunbar High School and left my moms when I was 18. My family knows I can do better, that I wasn’t raised in the way in which I choose to live.

I went to two cooking schools in Baltimore and Washington back in ’84 through ’86. But I dropped out. That’s why I’m still just a general chef.

I’ve sold insurance. I’ve worked in the Georgetown Law Center library. And I’ve cooked for a living for the last 17 years. I’ve experienced every gamut of the cooking profession—banquet-style, line, sauté. I’ve worked at the French Market, the Crystal Ball, Marriott, Ridgewell’s, the convention center. Cooking is the one thing I’ve done that I can do naturally. It’s my gift. Something I can do and not complain about it.

Cooking for me is like a canvas for an artist. I know how it’s going to taste once I form it in my mind.

You got to know what spices and herbs clash. You have certain herbs that you can mix together that would destroy a meal. Say, if you are marinating a salmon, you want to keep the tenderness and the sweet taste of the salmon. You can’t use a vinaigrette. You have to use a cilantro, a thyme.

I still cook all the time. The last dish I made was where I took turkey wingettes and I created a cream-milk sauce. In American soul food, that has never been done. Just experimenting. You roast your turkey, you strain off your pan drippings, add the roux and the cream, and sauté that off. You might add a little white pepper and some sea salt.

You can dress it up or keep it basic. I’ve done it with vegetables and used half-and-half whipping cream.

As long as I’m alive, there’s always a chance I might change. Hopefully, in time, I could become a CMC, which is a certified master chef. I could be that right now.

One day I was with a friend, Lisa. She said, “I want to show you something.”

Lisa put some cocaine in a vial with baking soda and some water and put a flame to it. I didn’t know what she was doing. I thought she was messin’ it up. She put a flame to it, twirled the vial around, and a gel-like substance formed into a ball. She poured some cool water on it, took a piece of wire, and swished it around until it formed a rock. She broke off a piece, put it in the pipe, put the lighter to it, and said, “Pull.” And I pulled.

I’ve been shot eight times at once with a Tec-9. This was back in 1989. I was shot all over—legs, stomach, sides, back, hand, shoulder. I was standing up when the ambulance came and got me. I was awake when they took six bullets out of me. I woke up two days later in recovery. It was a result of a lie—someone who I thought was a friend wasn’t a friend.

The atmosphere out here is not kosher. It’s what you make of it. You can put yourself in it so deep—it can cause you heartache, headaches, pain, depression, whatever. I’ve been arrested six times. Twelve-and-a-half years in all I’ve done in and out of jail. The arrests were for possession and drug solicitation, to try and sell it.

But this is part of the jungle that you live in. I stopped getting high for a while but eventually started again. It was by choice. It was something that I wanted to do, and I did it, dumb as it may sound.

Later, I got osteomyelitis, a virus that eats at your marrow. With me, I got mine from lack of circulation. My doctor really don’t know how I got it. I was doing fine one day. Then my leg was hurting. It was either take the leg or die. I got a prosthetic below the knee.

I get a little from Supplemental Security Income, and I do odd jobs for friends, borrow money from friends. You do what you got to do within reason. I go out and try to hustle up—you know, bring customers [to crack dealers] and make money like that. In light of what I’m doing, I was still raised with morals and principles. I can’t see myself breaking into somebody’s house or hitting somebody over the head.

You give respect, you get respect. You get your stuff, and you go on about your business. That’s it. That’s the key to surviving out here. You are going to have people that try you, but you are going to have to learn how to humble yourself in the midst of the fire. A dealer may say, “Slim, step off.” Fine. You go on about your way. It’s really that simple.

Dealers are not your friends. If you keep that in mind, you don’t get caught up in your feelings. He’s selling you something you want, that you don’t need—but you need it anyhow. They can’t be my friends. If I don’t get it from that person, I’ll get it from somebody else.

My high starts at night. Sometimes it can go all day, two days straight until there’s no more money. When I’m flowing, I’m flowing. One part of you says, “Stop, stop, stop.” Another part of you says, “Go, go, go.” It’s which part do you lean to tonight?

I just got high. About two hours ago. Five a.m., maybe. Six a.m. I got a rock one block away for $25. Not really enough.

Three-tenths of a gram. The potency level is not as strong as it was 10 or 15 years ago. The quality level has decreased. It takes twice as much to get high, sometimes three times.

It lasted maybe for 20 minutes. Time to chase again.CP

Pee-Wee, who asked that his real name not be used, is 41 years old. He says he has been using crack for 14 years. He told this story, while leaning up against a car in the 4100 block of First Street NE, to Washington City Paper Staff Writer Jason Cherkis.