The Lion Boy

Chris Stites

It’s not easy balancing school with drinking binges that last for days. I struggle to remember things and often feel sick. My black cat, Daisy, sits and stares out the window. I try to drink myself into breaking it. But there is no breaking it. So, all day I sleep and stay lazy as the housecat. And it would all be a lot easier without the booze. I just use the stuff like maintaining an open wound for the pain to make me feel alive.

There is a large tapestry on my bedroom wall of a lion roaring. When I wake early in the morning, hung-over, after little sleep, I look at the lion. It’s funny: He’s no longer roaring but yawning. The sun is not yet up. I put my clothes back on from the night before, thrown carelessly over my orange, upholstered chair and walk out into the Boston early morning.

• • •

I like walking around the housing projects near my place. I think Warsaw Ghetto, and when I think ghetto, I think of photographs taken of parentless children, starving and dying in the streets. Who took those photos? I am underweight too, and sometimes feel like I am dying. But where are the Germans? Where are my oppressors?

I walk through the projects with a folded twenty-dollar bill in my back right pocket. I am very attentive; looking around; eyes opened.

The inner streets of the projects are usually quite empty. They are all named after dead American presidents: Jefferson, Washington, Madison—all slave owners; but you know the names are just customary—aren’t truly recognized by the city; they’re just alleys. A few groups of people usually stand around looking stupid and sad, a careless look on their eyes, scanning my white skin. They probably wonder if I’m a cop. But this early in the morning the streets are empty. Many people that live here don’t work. I still keep the twenty-dollar bill in my back right pocket and think about what I will say. After a couple hours with no luck I return home, try to sleep and wait for the liquor store to open at 9 a.m.

• • •
In between classes one day, I walk down to the Common, Boston’s central park. I know where the needle exchange van meets; I know where the drunks sit by the new state house (I’ve asked them where I can take a piss before when I was down there drinking like them). The restaurants closely guard their toilets from the vagrants. There is a McDonald’s that accommodates anyone needing a bathroom (one truly benevolent service they offer). The vagrants know all the good parking lots and alleys where one can piss with relative privacy and safety from cops, property owners or mothers with young children trying to enjoy the park.

I walk the streets alone. One man feeds a flock of pigeons, and they circle around and around to pick up the crumbs of bread. It’s remarkable. I look at the man feeding the birds as the birds are looping around, feeding.

“They follow the leader,” he says. “There is one top pigeon. He’s the boss. You see him?”

I continue walking through the park but again have no luck. I don’t approach anybody. I don’t even ask the drunks.

I check my back right pocket regularly for the cash I keep there, neatly folded and accessible. I do one more round of the park. It’s a nice end of summer. Kids are playing in the Frog Pond that in only a few short months will be frozen into an outdoor ice skating rink. Winos lounge around, relaxed, enjoying the warmth. I feel for the money again going into the subway station, back home. No luck. I’ll drink rye whiskey until the sun comes up. They do have that here. I’ll still have some money leftover after the whiskey. Hopefully when the sun comes up I will be lucky.

• • •
I buy a bag of syringes. I need to stop drinking. My friends are growing afraid of me; I think I make them sad, or angry. The liquor is making me delusional.

I sit in my room and there is no motivation to do my schoolwork. The drinking isn’t working. It lights a fire in me; helps me transcend dullness, boredom, fear. Crippling boredom. But still, I sit here in my room. I cannot watch anything or otherwise entertain myself, or distract myself. I am drinking, trying to kindle some sort of interest. I pace in my room; trying to forget my work; enter sublime viciousness. Maybe I will go out to the streets and walk.

But the drinking, the drinking is not working. It just strokes my ego. Delusions of grandeur. I need not think I am some great, special, brilliant someone. For the history books. These thoughts are making me weak, careless, stupid.

What thoughts can quell this discontent? Programs or religion have not worked and are too easily spited. I look up at the lion on my wall. He’s yawning.

• • •
I am still going on frequent walks, trying new neighborhoods. It is hard to get your foot in the door, but once you get in, it’s hard to get out. But for now I just want to get in. I am bored. I feel empty. There is a methadone clinic nearby my house. I read that this is a good place to look. I think I will walk there early in the morning and see if I can score.

As the night goes, I open the bag of syringes I bought a few days earlier. I draw tap water up into the syringe; squirt it back into a white coffee cup. There is a grey, striped, thermal long-sleeve in my closet I wrap and tie tightly around my right arm, and already prominent veins pop out like ropes on the surface of my skin. What a beautiful feature. I heat some more water in a spoon with a yellow Bic until it boils, and black carbon collects on the back. I draw the hot water up; coat my arm with rubbing alcohol. Easily, I push the needle into one of the available veins. I draw the plunger back and register a thick stream of dark red blood. I push some of the bloodied water into the vein, then register more blood, inject more water, and so on, until the syringe is empty. When I pull the needle out, blood runs out of the injection site. It feels amazing, putting something directly in you. I untie my shirt-tourniquet, tie it on my other arm and prod for other veins. Then I go down to my foot. I go through several needles. I try shooting some sleeping pills but I don’t think they are water-soluble. The crushed pill just floats in solid chucks on the hot tap water. I try injecting some anyway.

I go to sleep and set my alarm for 6:55 a.m.

• • •
I wake before my alarm goes off with a bit of a hangover. My arms are spotted with tiny red dots back-dropped with faint, greenish bruising. I think I will stop drinking.

I head out towards the clinic. Standing outside a nearby McDonald’s is a black man, about fifty, tall, in good shape, strong-looking. He is dressed in nice clothes, clothes that appear more expensive than they are. They have a generic look to them, but they are clean and intact, put together in an ensemble arranged with an aesthetical eye. He is smoking a cigarette. The weather is nice and hospitable, even at this early hour, in mid-September.

I approach him.

“What’s good brother? Can you help me out?”

“Yes,” he answers with a friendly smile. He knows immediately what I mean. My instincts for this are good. “What do you need?” he asks.


“Come back in thirty minutes,” he says. “You’re not police are you?”

“Hell no,” I answer, boisterously. I am still drunk from the night before.

“Okay,” he says. “Thirty minutes.”

I go back to my room. I lay clothed on my unmade bed with the lights on in silence staring at the ceiling, waiting for the time to change. I’ll go back at 7:30.

I’m afraid of something going wrong. If I were to get arrested school would be ruined, friendships ended, my father’s heart broken and his trust abolished. If only this secret in its true nature were to be known, how devastating it would be. It is worth it.

• • •
I wake up at 9:30, disoriented, a strong headache, the hot sensation of alcohol in my blood and on my breath, to my black kitty, Daisy, playfully attacking my feet. I am going to stop drinking. I have passed out, so I shoo her away, and she skittishly leaps from my bed to the radiator where she perches and stares out the window at the outside world. I jump out of bed and run to the corner by the McDonald’s. He’s gone. It’s all laughable and totally acceptable. This is my story, and so it goes…

• • •
I spend the rest of the day in exile from myself, my duties, both academically, hygienically. I listen to my phone vibrate from my bed across the room. Don’t check it. Daisy is especially lazy and I listen to her sleep all day and try to do the same, punishing myself.

• • •
I come back the next morning, and the dealer’s there in the same spot, smoking a cigarette. Still, it’s laughable.

He asks where I went yesterday morning. I think my absence has made him more suspicious. Nonetheless, I explain the situation, give him forty dollars, and he goes inside the McDonald’s to get the dope.

Another similarly aged black male sits inconspicuously on a bar stool inside behind dark glasses. A mean-looking creature.

Dave (as I learn is his name), the affable one, is a suspiciously affable guy. He insists he is “a cut above the rest.” He assures me he won’t rob me. He has morals, principles, ethics. But this other dude looks rough. I wonder how much I am paying just so I don’t have to deal directly with him, and he directly with me. I’m sure I am getting hustled pretty good. I don’t care.

Dave comes back out and slips me a small, folded-up lottery ticket assumingly containing heroin. He tells me that he’ll be out there every morning, early, and to come back and see him anytime.

“You’ll really like that,” he assures me with a warm smile, then adds, “Be careful,” before I look around and walk quickly back home to get high.

Just as I walk in the door I can’t even make it to my room before having to run to the toilet. It is nerves I think. I’ve heard of mafia-type safe crackers leaving shits behind at the scene of the crime. Heroin is a natural constipate. Users sometimes will go weeks without a bowel movement. Perhaps this is a fortunate response in anticipation of using such a drug. I won’t get backed up.

I repeat the process from last night, this time no placebo ritual. I have the real stuff. I pour half the contents in the spoon with water and mix together an almost soapy, brown concoction. I administer it with no trouble.

It starts in my lungs a few moments after I pull the grey striped shirt from around my arm. It feels and tastes a bit like a huge huff of rubbing alcohol, except deeply pleasurable. It tingles. Then it moves up into my head, traverses down to my feet and swells throughout my whole body. My vision blurs. It is two minutes of void-bliss. The rest of the morning I am fully content. This is wonderful.

• • •
I don’t see Dave again for a week. I am satisfied. When I go back to the corner he is there again the same. I talk with him a bit. The victim of his environment, he seems genetically sound, with the awareness or consciousness of any fully evolved hominid. In another life I think he could be an Ethiopian prince or professor at an Ivy League school. But he is dumb, or ignorant rather, and poor. He doesn’t work, has two kids who live with his aunt (their mother, I think, smokes crack). He is street-smart and his intentions seem in the right place, only they are strained by poverty. He behaves toward me like a mentor, a kind of father figure. Only he attempts to get me addicted to a drug he can provide me that I cannot provide myself, for a few bucks. And for this I am very grateful. I can’t think of a better, safer way of obtaining such a thing. But he is very poor. He talks to me about going to school. He is smiling and optimistic. He says a silent prayer before eating an Egg McMuffin I buy him that he drenches with a side of syrup. This reminds me of a scene in To Kill a Mockingbird when poor Walter Cunningham Jr. drenches his breakfast in syrup, and Scout is reprimanded when she embarrasses the poor farmer’s son with her shock and disapproval of his hunger-driven decision to richen his meal as much as he can.

And Dave is ignorant. He speaks about politics and can’t understand why the U.S. doesn’t simply print billions of dollars and distribute it to all its poor citizens like himself: “We have printing presses!” I try and explain this to him. He doesn’t understand why we can’t just print the shit, becomes embarrassed and insecure, so I change the subject.

“I don’t drink,” I tell him, and I have not drunk since that morning a week ago when I scored. “And I am the casual heroin user, the exception that proves the rule!” I brag on the corner as we exchange money for drugs again.

I go home to get high, and as soon as I near my front door I have the violent urge to shit. Then, as I prod my outstretched right arm, Daisy playfully starts swatting at my hand. I ignore her as to not jostle the needle out of the vein.

• • •
I get up early in the morning regularly now and shoot dope to very sad music. Not explicitly sad. It is also, I think, incredibly beautiful, subtle, sweet and accepting, as I hope death will be. I played this same music in the hospital room when my mother was dying, and also over and over again back at the house, in between hospital visits. I want this music to be played at my funeral, as well as, if possible, the very moment of my death. It’s not that I think: “I may overdose and die right now, doing what I’m doing, so I should have this music playing.” No. I just think it is beautiful music to shoot to, the most beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, as I said, I want to die to it.

• • •
As I take the bus to school I look at the people filling the seats. I look at the buildings composing the city. And I think about the pyramids. Human advancement. I am a fully evolved member of this mighty species. And I want none of this human advancement for myself. I have desire deep down in me like the unusable memories from distant ancestors. And I am capable. Capable of being happy. Capable of living life.

It has been three days since I last used, and I can feel something stirring in me, something virile and living. But there is also a deep fear.

I have stopped because it has begun boring me. I think I will stop for good now, be sober just to make things interesting. I want one really good hit though. One last hit. I will save up a little extra money and take one really good hit, for the experience. I have developed a bit of a habit. I am withdrawn from the drug now, achy and tired. But this feeling of being sober is more exciting now than that numbness I welcomed. Once the achiness and exhaustion is over, I will take one more big hit, to feel like the first time. It will cut right through, and just one hit… I’ll wait a couple more days.

• • •
I wake up on the floor, shirtless, and my right arm is asleep, dead asleep. I guess I “fell out,” as they call it—overdosed. I passed out from the hit, fell out of my desk chair onto my arm and cut off circulation for a few minutes. And I didn’t even feel it, the hit. I don’t even remember doing it. I get up and pace around my room and calm down as blood returns feeling to my arm. Who can I tell? I need to tell somebody. But nobody knows about any of this.

I call Dave. I need someone to check me. Someone who cares. When I tell him he seems confused, doesn’t know what to say or do. Maybe. Or does he even understand?

I hang up and hear that beautiful music playing in the background. It envelops me. The music is coming from inside. I am naked and all the track marks I have developed on my arms are so faint. Are they gone? My skin is smooth, white and unweathered. I am not afraid. Not like before. I try and call my father but I have forgotten his number. I cannot remember anything. It must be shock from the overdose. I want to go to somebody. I want to tell them everything. I need someone. But no one is home.

I start to cry the high-pitched sob of a newborn baby. And through my tears, my bleary vision, I see my dead mother over me, cradling me, hushing me. It is the sweetest sound. And as the want and need to cry subsides, forever a warmth comes over me.