Even though Oren Elow had never tried heroin, he'd always heard that it was a gift from the goddess. So he didn't hesitate to try it when his buddies offered him his first hit of heroin-a hit that would make him a heroin slave and one that would define so many of his following years. In this memoir, Elow shares his life's narrative-from growing up in Louisiana with an alcoholic father and loving mother who later divorced, to his years on Boston's streets as a heroin addict, to his time spent behind bars for a variety of transgressions, and to the effect his addiction had on his wife and children.
Through anecdotes and stories, Heroin addresses the stark realities of life as a junkie and a convict and provides insight into the mindset of an addict. Elow narrates a broad view of his life-fighting addiction and triumphing over it.
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HeroinThe Rapids of My Life
By Oren Elow
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Oren Elow
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGROWING up in LOUISIANA
Mama, not only had an inner beauty, but a physical one as well. She was a Creole mulatto and her thick black hair hung just below her shoulders and under-curved at the tip. Her face was soft and round and her body classically shaped. If she had lived during the days of Michelangelo, she certainly would have been an ideal model for one of his great works of art.
Anyway, one morning after breakfast when I was it the fourth year of my birth, Mama and I were out in the backyard, and while she hung her clothes out in the sun to dry. I observed three men digging a hole in an unfenced empty lot near our home, which was juxtapose to my Aunt Daisy, and her husband Uncle Joe's home.
Being a child, I was full of curiosity. Thus, I asked Mama for what reason were they digging a hole in the ground. She always had an answer for me. While removing a few clothespins from a white canvas bag that hung from her shoulder, she pinned Daddy's blue work overalls to the clothesline and told me that they were digging for treasures.
"What's treasure?" I quizzed as I walked behind her in the cool, dew-damped grass—grass that Daddy had mowed last evening.
"Money," Mama answered, kicking off her house slippers to, also walk on the cool damp grass barefooted.
I guess that was the best answer she could give to a four-year-old, for even I knew what money was. However, my inquisitive young mind wanted to know more. So I asked her where they looking for pennies or nickels. Mama smiled down at me with her lovely round yellowish, white face, free of makeup and continued hanging her wash under the large pecan trees.
Moreover, just as Mama had predicted early on, the three-men who had dug the hole in the ground for weeks, had found nothing. However, when they departed they left it uncovered, and it filled with water. Months later, though, I found out that the hole was at least twelve feet deep and twelve feet in diameter. In addition, I must say that both Mama and Daddy had counseled me on numerous occasions not to ever play in the empty lot, nor go near that hole.
On one of those sizzling days, when Mama and Daddy were at work and my sisters in school and the blazing sun weaves dance before me, I crossed the two cars, oyster-shell covered driveway, which separated our home, from the home of Aunt Daisy and Uncle Joe, and reported to Aunt Daisy who babysat me five days a week. Aunt Daisy was in her kitchen trying to repair, again, her old overused, broken down washing machine that had stopped working in the middle of her wash, saw me entered the kitchen through the screen door.
"I got lots of work to do today," she said to me, "and I want you to be good, Okay."
"Okay," I said, not knowing whether I should turn around and go back outside or just ignore her and hang around the kitchen as her two sons were doing.
Her youngest sons, Henry and Little Joe, curiously stood nearby in the kitchen watching their mother work on her washing machine while Anna Mae, the youngest of the daughters, wobbled on the kitchen floor in a tantrum. Boy, when she got to screaming, yelling, and rolling, around on the floor for her mother's attention, it seemed as though she would go on forever.
With the mayhem going on in the kitchen, an idea rush upon me like a hot flash. Hence, I eased out of the kitchen door pounce from the small porch to the ground and off I ran to the lot with the forbidden treasure hole and began playing near it. Picking up rocks and throwing them into the yellowish water; then, watching as the ripples spread like magic across the surface. As my courage assembled, I moved closer and closer to the edge of the forbidding hole. I felt comfortable and alert. Therefore, I sat down on its edge and tried placing my bear-feet into the water; however, my legs were too short. I tried stretching them to make them longer; instead, with the ease of sliding down a schoolyard sliding board, I smoothly slid off the wet edge into the water.
For some God given reason I did not go under. I just knew for some underlying principle that I would get myself out of this situation, and no one would ever know that I'd been there. Thus, I kicked my tiny feet and slapped my hands against the water to stay afloat. However, since I was near the water edge, I tried climbing out, only to slip right back down the yellowish-clay embankment into the water. After a few minutes, which seemed like hours in a child mind, I paddled away from the area I'd been trying to free myself, to an area where patches of grass grew. On my first try, I dug my fingerers into the roots of a patch of grass and pulled my body to safety.
For years, I'd quivered every time I thought of that incident, and ask myself where did a four-year old child, who'd never swim before, except in his mother's womb, get the courage and energy to stay afloat and fight for life without panicking. Why hadn't I drowned, or gone under? It was a miracle, and that wouldn't be the last miracle in my life.
My shorts were soaked-and-wet, and glued to my body. How would I get them to dry before Laura and Betty returned home from school, for lunch? Not only did I have to worry about getting them dried before they got home. I also had to worry about getting out of them, putting on a different pair and hope that Aunt Daisy wouldn't notice the change. However, I had to first by-pass her house, in order to reach our house.
I ran from the lot with athletic speed, with my bare chest hitting the heat waves until I reached my aunt's back porch. There I lowered myself on all four, so neither she nor my cousins would see me from the opened kitchen door. On hands and knees I moved to the end of the porch, lifted my head once again to make sure no one saw me. Thing were quit except for the old washing machine, which was now working and jerk, jerking away. With no eyes on me, I flew across the oyster-shell-covered driveway. Pounced onto our small back porch into the kitchen, and slid on the waxed linoleum floor into my sisters and I bedroom. There I pulled from one of the bureau's drawers a clean pair of shorts. Definitely nothing like the khaki ones, I wore to the treasure hole.
Outside on the back porch I scouted for a place to lay out my wet shorts to dry. The only thing on the porch was a tin washtub, which the family used for both bathing and clothes washing. Daddy never did get around to buying Mama a washing machine, nor did we have a built-in bathroom or electric refrigerator in the house, like Aunt Daisy and Uncle Joe had. Mama washed clothes on a scrubbing board, and we used the outhouse, in the back yard to alleviate ourselves. I laid the shorts on top of the over turned tub, not bothering to wring the water from them.
When I entered Aunt Daisy's kitchen she was standing over the stove cooking dinner and the boys were playing on the high waxed living room floor with their colorful race cars, while Anna Mae napped on the family room sofa, sucking her thumb. No one seemed to have missed me, nor noticed my change of shorts.
However, I wasn't so lucky when my sisters, Laura and Betty, returned home from school for noon's lunch. They could tell right off that something just wasn't right when they saw me waiting for them on the porch.
"Boy! Why your skin so chalky?" Betty bellowed, as I jumped from the porch to the ground in play.
"Oren!" Laura exclaimed, noticing my wet shorts sitting on top the tub. "Oren, you better not lie to us we can see you been in the waterhole!" She continued, pointing a finger toward the treasure hole. "I just know that's what you done!"
"Look at you!" Betty bawled. "Yeah, you been over there that's why you so chalky looking."
"Oh, shut up, y'all don't know nothing."
"We know you been in that hole! Who save you?" Laura said.
"Must be Aunt Daisy save him," Betty said.
"Nobody save me, I done it myself," I proudly said feeling like Superman.
"How come you didn't drown?" Betty uttered. "You don't know how to swim. So how you save yourself?"
"Will, I did! I know how to swim," I uttered and stormed into the house.
"Did you tell Aunt Daisy you fell in the hole?" Laura asked through the screen door.
"How about Henry and Little Joe, do they know?" Laura asked.
"No! Nobody saw me!" I said and began to cry. I had, had enough of their questioning. While Betty came into the house to make lunch, Laura rinsed out my shorts underneath the faucet, which set, juxtapose to the porch and placed them back on top of the tub to dry. She then called me back outside, washed me and made me promise that I'd never play near the hole again. I promised and stuck to it. No one ever said anything about that to Mama or Daddy. Afterward, we went into the house where Laura helped Betty prepare lunch.
Betty who had already gotten the lunchmeat out of the icebox told me to go into it and get the mayonnaise and soda water. The icebox sat in our bedroom. It was one of those huge solid oak iceboxes, in which every morning the iceman placed two large blocks of ice at its bottom to keep the food cold, and fresh.
I placed the items on the table and jumped onto one of the country chair. However, because I was still too small to eat sitting, I knelt on the chair to reach the tabletop. After lunch, Laura and Betty hurriedly tidied up the kitchen, escorted me to Aunt Daisy's and returned to school, along with Aunt Daisy's children whom had also returned home for dinner.
At noon Uncle Joe, who operated a giant crane for Conrad Brick Yard in New Iberia, the same yard my father drove tractor-trailer for, also came home for dinner. At that time of day, Daddy was on the road delivering bricks. For this reason, Mama cooked dinner in the evening after her domestic work hours.
Daddy had one sister and three brothers, and he and two of the brothers purchased a piece of land in New Iberia, Louisiana in the 1930s. In addition, on that land they each built their home side-by-side, to each other. Now, Nan, Daddy's sister built her home in Lafayette, which was a promising and growing oil town, some twenty miles west of New Iberia. Nan built the largest house of her siblings. Nonetheless, Daddy was the first to have a telephone installed. It was rare for African Americans in the mid 1940s to have such luxuries. Besides, I can still remember Mama teaching me how to use it so that I could reach her at work. I'd pick up the receiver; then, wait for the switchboard operator to answer. I'd give her the three digests, Mama taught me, and the operator, in return connected me to Mama's job; that's if the party line wasn't busy.
The Elow family worked hard for the things they owned. They were decedents of slave Grandparents, mill workers, and sharecroppers; yet they had managed to pull themselves out of the fields and mills and built their own homes in the growing cities.
Daddy was a handsome man about five feet ten, medium built, with a hard body, shaped and kept toned by hard work. In addition, he forever had a happy-go-lucky attitude across his brown face. He was also a great storyteller, who would take me upon his lap and tell me all kind of stories. My favorite was how he and Uncle Joe, who was a little taller than Daddy and looked Native American, were friends of Santa Claus. Just before midnight, on Christmas Eve, Daddy said that Santa Claus would pick him and Uncle Joe up on the railroad tracks, which was pitch-black and fogged in.
He said that if it wasn't for the bright red light, radiating from the nose of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, it wouldn't have been possible to land the jingle-bell sleigh on the dark and foggy tracks. The two brothers would then climb on board, and off they flew, high into the moon lighted, star bright sky, with Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer leading the way. Daddy and Uncle Joe's only job was to push Santa's down chimneys that were too narrow for his jolly, holly plump figure. With the gifts all delivered Santa would find a great white fluffy cloud, lighted by a full silvery moon to park his jingle-bell sleighs. There the three of them feasted on milk and cookies left for Santa by the children. After they had eaten their snacks, Santa drop the brothers off, again, on the dark railroad tracks, with a, "Ho, ho, ho; and a Merry Christmas to all." I would ask Daddy how long it took them to pass out all the presents.
"Oh, about one hour," he'd smiled and began another story to avoid my questions.
My father and Uncle Joe were more than just brothers they were best friends. On weekends, the two spent their time along the railroad tracks drinking in saloons with sawdust floors. In addition, on occasions, they'd frequently created scenes, by either starting fights with their contemporaries inside the saloons or picking on people on their way home.
They say the only reason Daddy and Uncle Joe got away with fighting and agitating White people in the neighborhood, when they were drinking was, because the Elow family was under the protection of Mr. Conrad, the man whom employed both Daddy and Uncle Joe.
Thus, because of his status and a lifelong resident of New Iberia and a prominent businessperson people, black and white, listened when Mr. Conrad spoke. Even the law listened to him, though he was no taller than Napoleon. It was also said by the dead and gone and the still living that the Elow family and the Conrad Cajun clan are part of the same bloodline. All I knew at age four was that I liked Mr. Conrad, and that he always treated our extended family with great civility.
Daddy went from drinking on weekends, to drinking almost daily. Therefore, there came a time when he wouldn't get up out of bed in the morning for work, unless Mr. Conrad came by the house in early morning, just before dawn and awakened him. Most mornings I'd hear Mr. Conrad when he came tapping on Mama and Daddy's bedroom window.
"Wesley, Wesley, get up. We got to work today."
Daddy would crawl out of bed, wash his face in cold water, whether winter or summer, rejuvenate himself with a cup of freshly made coffee, spooned with sugar. So much sugar that portions of it remained at the cup's bottom. We kids loved to finger lick the sweet from the coffee cups, after the grown-ups had finished. However, finger licking the cake bowls were even better.
The more my father got involved in alcoholism, the more he lacked consideration for himself, and respect for his family. The first fight I experienced between my parents happened one evening while we were at the kitchen table preparing for dinner. Daddy had come home tipsy, and he and Mama began arguing over who knows what. Moreover, and like out nowhere Mama got hold of a jar of Noxzema, and throws it at Daddy who stood near the kitchen's back door talking trash. The jar missed him, and smashed against the door, sending Noxzema flying all over the walls and floor; thus robbing the kitchen from the aroma of Creole cooking, and replacing it with the scent of face cream.
My sisters and I were fortunate that our dinner was still on the stove in their covered pots. Daddy, not knowing what Mama might throw next; swiftly exit the kitchen through the back door, as if he was Speedy Gonzales. Mama fixed our plates and sent us into her bedroom to eat while she washed down the kitchen.
Daddy had probably gone next door to his brother, Uncle Morris's home; and when he returned, Mama and I were sitting on the sofa in the front room listing to the radio. Laura and Betty were in our bedroom giggling and jumping on the bed as if it were a trampoline.
My father entered the house through the front door and as he passed us on his way to their bedroom, the two not so much as glanced at one another or said a word. I had great love for both my mother and father; hence, I never picked sides, for they were equal in my mind.
Before Mama put me to bed, I asked her for a nickel so that in the morning, I'd go just around the corner from our house, to Mr. and Mrs. Roy's miniature grocery store and buy a bag of penny candy or cookies. Sweets were my first addiction. Mama told me to go into their bedroom and take a nickel from Daddy's pants pocket. In my petite mind, I felt that this was wrong and hesitated.
"Go on," she insisted, assuring me with a grin written across her lovely face, that it was all right. I got down from the sofa and went into their room where only a silhouette of light coming in from the front room guided me to the wooden chair that daddy had thrown his overalls across. I then reached into the pocket with the coins, feeling like a thief in the night. As I stuck my hand into the pocket, I heard Daddy's voice, which startled me and almost made me wet my underwear.
Excerpted from Heroin by Oren Elow Copyright © 2010 by Oren Elow. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. GROWING up in LOUISIANA....................1
2. Mama, Breakfast and my Nickel....................9
3. MOVING in with DADDY'S SISTER....................18
4. LIVING in BOSTON with my NEW FAMILY....................25
5. HOW I BECAME a JUNKY....................33
6. THE BLIND LEADING the BLIND....................46
7. CRIME and PUNISHMENT....................56
8. MADNESS at WALPOLE STATE PRISON....................69
9. THE NORFOLK TWENTY-SEVEN....................77
10. DEPARTMENT of SEGREGATION UNIT BLOCK 10....................86
11. CHICKEN and the High NOON WARRIORS....................94
12. CAMP WARRICK....................102
13. THE DEALERS and the USERS....................108
14. LIVING it up in BROOKLINE....................115
15. A TRIP to LAFAYETTE....................124
16. MOVING in with MIMI....................129
17. IN NEW YORK CITY WITH MIMI....................135
18. I SHOULD HAVE BEEN DEEPLY TOUCH....................142
19. LENOX STREET APARTMENT....................149
20. BOSTON UNIVERSITY and MY MENTOR....................162
21. WALKING TALL....................171
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