Back at the apartment, I recall sitting at our kitchen table in my boxer shorts and laying out the necessary tools like a field surgeon. We had stopped at a CVS on the way home for supplies—cotton balls, alcohol, alcohol swabs, band-aids, and a nail file. On returning I set to work immediately trying to open the little containers—and was just as quickly stopped by the stubborn little ampule. It stood on the table like a solitary chemical treasure chest whose contents were just beyond my reach…
“Maybe you need, like, a rasp or somethin’…” said Pete.
“A rasp? What is this, wood shop?”
“Man, I don’ know. I’m just thinkin’ out loud. Wanna see me take my shit?” He smiled and plucked a couple of tablets of Dianabol from his plastic baggie and tossed them back with a glass of water. “Ah! That was easy. Jealous?”
“I’ll figure this out. I’m gonna check the internet…”
An hour later, after poring over whatever I could find on questionable online forums, I was back with the ampule.
“They say it just pops off,” I said. “I don’t get it…”
“So pop it off!” Pete called from the living room. “Here I am with these drugs workin’ on me and yer still wastin’ time!”
“Christ…” I grabbed a paper towel and carefully wrapped the little vial. Through this swaddling I could still make out the form of it: base, neck, top half.
“I’m going for it!” I yelled to Pete, in an effort to secure my conviction by giving voice to the planned action. “I’m just gonna try snapping it!”
“Waitin’ on you!”
I pressed against the ampule’s top half, gently at first—far too gently—then with greater pressure, fearing that at any moment the precious cargo would shatter and explode into the paper towel, letting all its chemical magic go to waste. A little more pressure… a little more…
The entire top half gave way in one quick instant, and through the paper towel I could feel—with near certainty—that the ampule was now in two pieces—and only two pieces. On unwrapping it I found this to be the case: around the narrow part of the neck was a clean break, and in the vial’s bottom half the oil was now exposed, waiting only to be drawn out and injected.
“I did it!” I cried. “It’s open!”
From then on the entire ordeal seemed so clinical, so precise. As I went through the steps of prepping the tools and then the victim the process took on the aspect of a ritual—although in this rite I was both priest and sacrifice. In retrospect I see links to so many other daily rituals, however scandalous or mundane: the grinding of coffee beans, the precise measuring of supplements, the elaborate preparation of a line of cocaine with credit card and dollar, the rolling of a joint. These small tasks, done over and over, seem to give us a little space in our days, a little time outside the normal run of events. In becoming automatic—which, eventually, that prepping of the syringe would become—they give us time to think and reflect, or at least to lose ourselves to dreaming during otherwise busy days.
I was reminded of how much I’d once enjoyed drug rituals of another type, from what seemed another lifetime entire. For in those lost years I’d grown to love the cutting of lines of coke almost as much as I’d loved the drug itself. There, in the arranging and dividing and lining up of little piles of white powder, I felt I had a clear purpose, as though the ordering of the drug might order the very fabric of my universe. I had goals that were within my reach and easily attainable: split this gram into five lines, divide this eight ball into three baggies, cut a bump that would pick me up but not turn me into a chattering idiot. With these small tasks to occupy myself I could ignore whatever bigger dreams I was letting slip away. So long as these lines are straight and even, I thought, everything will be okay…
But those were thoughts from another time, one that I wasn’t keen to revisit…
I carefully set the ampule back down on the kitchen table and lay its top next to it. I opened the plastic package of the syringe, tightened the needle, and then pulled off the plastic cap. With the ampule in my left hand and the syringe in my right I slowly dipped the point of the needle into the precious oil and drew back on the plunger with thumb and forefinger. There was a slight resistance from the viscous fluid as it traveled up the needle and then began to fill the plastic barrel. Slowly, slowly, more and more of the yellowish liquid—lovely in color, in its subtle thickness, its extraordinary chemical potential—disappeared from the ampule and filled the syringe. It looked almost magical, the way it seemed to defy gravity and transfer from one container to another. I drew the last of it in, set the ampule back down, and then inverted the syringe. With flicks of my forefinger against the plastic barrel I knocked loose potential air bubbles and then pushed up on the plunger to expel the air. As the last of the air was pushed out I eased up on the pressure, until a single, small, nearly perfect sphere of oil appeared at the tip of the needle. I let it sit there, a little ball of glass balanced on a razor’s edge, and then—with only the slightest push on the syringe—watched as the tiny drop succumbed to its own weight and slid down the steel needle. It was beautiful, all that precision and preparation.
I tore open an alcohol swab. The aroma of cleanliness—the sacrificial washing—filled my nose with that slight antiseptic sting. I rubbed down the side of my upper thigh, then tore open another swab and rubbed the area again for good measure. With the syringe prepped I took a moment and steadied my hand, looking for the right spot. I’d thought there might be some moral hesitation but there was none; all that gave me pause were concerns over where to insert the needle and how much force was needed. I had never injected myself with anything so it was going to be a bit of a trial by fire…
But at a certain point my hand stopped. There was a moment’s fear—What is this? How do I know it’s real? What if I get an infection? Are my balls going to disappear?!—but it was swept aside by action: I jabbed the needle down and it pierced through the epidermis easily, almost too easily. I felt the prick of entry and then the minute sliding of steel past the skin and into muscle. When about one inch of the needle was inserted, I stopped. It was strange, seeing it there, the needle poking out of the skin and the plastic syringe attached. There was a momentary thrill of expectation, like the split second before kissing someone for the first time, when you stand on the precipice of before and after. I drew back on the plunger, saw a couple bubbles form at the base of the syringe indicating I wasn’t accidentally in a vein, and then pressed firmly but slowly to inject myself for the first of many times.
Aside from a slight sense of pressure, I felt nothing. When the syringe was emptied I drew the needle out. A tiny dot of red blood appeared, and I looked at it for a brief moment. Like any true ritual, this too involved the letting of blood, however little.
I applied pressure to the injection site with a cotton ball. A thrill surged through me and I thought, ridiculously, Ah, I can feel it working already! I felt, in some way, redeemed, even before I’d touched a barbell.
The whole experience—from the prep to the ablutions to the injection—had been thrilling. My only regret was that I would have to wait another week before I could administer another shot.
When I walked into the living room Pete looked up from the couch.
“You finally done playin’ doctor?” he asked.
I nodded. “Do I look bigger?”
“’Bout time! You look like a girl who might grow a penis any day now.”
“Good enough. C’mon, let’s head to the gym.”
“Now hold up a minute—food first, then gym.”