We pulled our silver Honda into a black, deserted alley in northern Santa Ana at 2 a.m. The four of us were uneasy, waiting for a figure to emerge from the shadows. This was my first time, and I was thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?"--an A student, the captain of my soccer team, a track star, a family-oriented girl and a churchgoer. And I was on a "cocaine run."
When a skinny, bearded black man in torn, ill-fitting clothes and a stocking cap emerged, my mind filled with "what ifs." "What if he's a cop?" "What if he has a gun?" "What if he doesn't trust us?"
He climbed into the back seat of our car, routinely gave directions to an automated teller machine, and there we made the exchange. Even after he had disappeared into the shadows, his lingering odor made my eyes sting, and I remember thinking I deserved the discomfort.
On our way back to Irvine, my three friends eagerly discussed the quality of the coke. Amad (name changed) sampled it by moistening a fingertip, touching the white powder and then running his finger across his upper gum. He smiled approvingly.
The two others, Alan and Liz (names changed), whom I knew better than Amad, also took "gummers," as I sat silently watching the city lights go by, gripping the armrest.
After we parked in front of the apartment I shared with Liz, Alan pulled me aside. "You know," he said, "you don't have to do this. It's up to you, and if you're having doubts, don't do it."
I knew, and I squeezed Alan's hand to say thank you. But I was determined and curious. I had heard so much about cocaine, I knew I had to try it to understand why it was such a big deal. Anyway, I had already paid $15 for my share of the $100 gram we bought. (Amad, 32, who used the drug regularly, paid $50 and would easily "snort" his entire share that night.)
Once inside the apartment, I closed the drapes, Liz took the mirror off the wall, Alan rolled a $1 bill into a small tube, and Amad unfolded the triangular magazine paper, which was advertising Calvin Klein underwear and holding the $100 worth of cocaine. The whole stash was about the size of a dime. I was trembling as Amad skillfully worked the cocaine on the mirror, using a razor blade to chop the crystals into a fine powder. Amad smiled and shook his head. "Jack is always so generous to me."
Generous? For $100 I would have expected something closer to a one-pound bag of flour.
But this was not flour. This was cocaine, and it was waiting for me. The others had already had their "lines" and were eagerly awaiting the effects.
I took the rolled $1 bill from Alan and copied the way the others had placed one tip into a nostril and the other at the base of the line. I plugged my other nostril with my finger and sucked in. The powder felt like fire within my nose. I dropped the bill and pulled back, leaving three-fourths of the line untouched, and a stream of tears upon my face. The others laughed hysterically, and it took me three tries to snort my first line.
The next two hours were filled with more coke and what I believed to be the most intriguing conversation of my life. Everything uttered sounded as if it were spoken by a prophet. When Liz said, "I want a peanut butter sandwich," we sat in awe, then burst into laughter. That night, if somebody had told me I was going to die within one week, I would have thought it was the best news of my life.
Suddenly, however, everything turned stale. I felt depressed and wanted more coke to make me feel good again. I felt shaky and weak. I was "coming down." But as the others returned to the mirror, I lay limp on the floor, looking at a framed picture of my family and waiting to become myself again.
I didn't wake up until 4 p.m. the next day. Amad and Alan were gone, and Liz was asleep in the bedroom. I was suppose to meet my dad at 6 p.m. to buy some new soccer boots; he always wanted the best for me. It was his way of saying, "I love you."
A few months ago, I was at another party with the same friends when Amad whispered in my ear, "Hey, wanna make a 'run'?"
Turning to face him, I said, "No, thanks."
And when I looked at my reflection in the mirror on the wall I smiled, because I liked who I saw: It was me.