I get it. I write about death and loss a lot. This one won’t be any different. If you are easily upset, or easily upset by stories of hard drug use, this one might not be for you.
I heard the news today that someone I knew when I was younger passed away after a brutal, and nearly decade long battle with heroin addiction.
I can’t remember now, if I met Mike for the first time in front of a party at the 509 house on Lincoln Street where he was playing “Rock paper punch you in the face” with an equally drunk hipster, or if it was when he stayed at my house during two weeks of chaos. He was funny and charming, but you could see the dark cloud of self-loathing on him. I always empathized with it. At the end of two weeks of chaos, he insisted he was going to move to Denver, and we would start a joke band full of the most angst ridden lyrics we could think of.
I would see him every few years, and watch his self-destructive tendencies descend into a full on death wish.
In the summer of 2005, right before I left Denver, Mike came through town with Hannah. Hannah, Molly, and I planned a night of reading our writing to friends at the SPAZ house. Hannah and I took turns reading stories and poetry that were mostly just about each other, and Molly did a three part play about sexual violence and consent. One of the pieces I wrote was also about my experience with sexual violence as a child.
Towards the end of the night when almost everyone but me was good and drunk, Mike complimented my writing. He was swaying in the kitchen, 40oz in his hand. He couldn’t make eye contact with me. The conversation ended with him mumbling something like “I loved what you wrote. I wish I could write like that. I just concentrate on being a bad person instead.”
At the time I thought he was mocking me for being vulnerable. Eleven years later I’m not so sure.
I have no clear memory of how that conversation ended. I know the party ended for me with an argument over someone heckling Molly’s performance. I rode my bike the eleven blocks back to Villa Kula in disgust and fell asleep alone in someone else’s bed while the rest of the punks partied into the night. I didn’t have a room of my own that summer.
My own self-destruction manifested in not getting my shit together enough to get a place of my own. Instead I would just stay on the couch at Villa Kula, or in someone else’s room if they were gone for the night and told me I could stay there. Sometimes I drank too cheap whiskey straight from the bottle to try and cope with life being fucked up, but I’d like to think I did okay.
I saw Mike again a few summers later. He was living in Denver full time by then. I don’t know if he was using heavily yet, or if that would start in earnest later. He was living in a punk house on Eleventh Avenue with a bunch of other fucked up kids. It was more of a punk apartment. It was one bedroom and common space with a bunch of mattresses and couches with at least 5-8 punks crashing there at any given time. The place looked like a nightmare, or like a bomb had gone off inside of it.
Mike looked worse than when I had last seen him. We went to a show in North Denver one night. Maybe it was on Larimer Street. It might have been Rhinoceropolis. I know it was a warehouse venue in North Denver. I don’t remember who played. I mostly hung out on the roof and watched fireworks across town. Mike was in a terrible mood, just being such an asshole. On the drive home he talked about feeling like he had little chance to do anything in his life, since he was already a convicted felon. If I remember correctly, the charges stemmed from graffiti even.
Molly would give me updates every once in a while. She’d see him fucked up at a party, or on his bike headed towards 18th and Champa to score a bag of dope. One time she had run into him, and he had told her how he had watched someone else overdose and die in an alley outside of a nightclub on 11th Avenue and Lincoln Street. He said he just couldn’t bring himself to feel anything. It was always a variation of the same story: Goddamn, if that dude just didn’t hate himself so intensely, and just want to die.
Molly even told me a story earlier today, about walking home from the bar with Mike one night, and trying to talk to him about his addiction. When she broached the topic all he said was: “Fuck you. It’s my life. If I want to end it slowly, that’s my business.”
And a slow suicide is just what Mike got. I did hear at the end, he was fighting to get his life back in order. I wish that would have been the case. I think about the light a sober Mike could have brought to the life of other addicts with the humor and charm I had seen in him when he was twenty.
Mike died in his mother’s house back in Ohio, where he had gone to attempt to get clean. As the story was related to me, years of shooting with dirty needles caused an infection in his heart that took him down, he survived a heart surgery to remove the infection. The infection returned shortly after the surgery. He collapsed on Easter Sunday in his mother’s kitchen. There was no reviving him. He was thirty-three.
I think about Mike, as the music world mourns the passing of Prince. It is looking more and more likely that Prince also passed away due to opiate addiction. A recent report spoke of a team of addiction specialists rushing to try and aid Prince in his recovery. I think about the difference between their lives. They both died alone, but Mike died in poverty and from complications stemming from his addiction that might have been more easily prevented if there were more access to resources and healthcare for those struggling with addiction.
I think about how when we as a culture deem someone “worthy” we look at their addiction as a sickness, and apply the medical model to their drug use. When someone is “unworthy” or lacking resources and we stigmatize them, and apply the criminal justice model to their addiction. I think about how literally millions of people suffer both quietly and loudly with addiction. What if we treated these folks like human beings, instead of burdens?
I meant to be in bed over two hours ago. The hour is now late, and I’m feeling less able to focus, so I’m gonna wrap this one up. Sleep well, Mike. I’ll do my best to remember you as the goofy twenty year old I met so many years ago. I’m glad your pain is over.