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The White Noise


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Shelley: Threats, Crack Paranoia, My Door at 2 a.m.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade’s photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.

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Cocaine-induced paranoia (CIP) has recently shown a relationship to genetic factors that may moderate disulfiram treatment response in cocaine-dependent individuals. However, little research has examined CIP under controlled laboratory conditions. This study examined subjective and physiological responses to a 0.4 mg/kg dose of smoked cocaine in a human laboratory setting with 23 male and 21 female cocaine users. Twenty-nine of 44 participants (67%) reported feeling Paranoid/Suspicious in response to cocaine. Those who reported feeling Paranoid/Suspicious were more likely to be older and male. Further studies are warranted to investigate the mechanisms of gender influence on CIP, and CIP in pharmacotherapy development for cocaine-dependent individuals.¹

It was in a frenzy of doorbell presses and knuckle raps on a first-story window that Shelley arrived, hoping for a place to stay. Astoria, Queens, two o’clock in the morning. The month of April and, still, trees had no leaves.

The street she found held only sounds of an occasional horn, residential, one without the shadows of drug buildings or corner dealers.

She had called the Astoria woman hours before in panic, around 10 p.m. — someone was trying to kill her.

Someone thought she had stolen 10 bags of heroin. (A bundle wrapped in a rubber band had fallen off the top of a van.) She didn’t do it — she didn’t take it — she didn’t shoot any of it. But they, unnameable ghosts, were after her.

Everyone wants me dead. No one cares about me.

The voice on the Obama phone said she would be in Queens by midnight. One train plus the transfer to another.

Arrival digressed to four hours later. Lost. Asleep. She didn’t fucking know. Was it so late?

With the drop of a backpack she settled, tucked into sheets on a couch in I <3 bed pajamas. She picked a book off the shelf: Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City.

The table-scape showed that, in the night, she ate Rancheros and a bowl of cereal.

She slept there the next morning, unwilling to move, as the woman left for work. Alone in the space for the day.

Ten hours of silence and solitude later, Shelley’s body occupied the same position, sheets under chin.

The house carried the beginning smell of withdrawal, of rotting air.

Through the next night she slept, perhaps rising for food, perhaps not. Perhaps Cup Noodles, the see-through remains of box-less Apple Jacks, Old Fashioned Italian Sliced bread and Rancheros. Things she had left spread across the kitchen counter.

No drugs though. The house didn’t have anything harder than Tylenol. (Not that she didn’t try — she rummaged, found an and drank an emergency bottle of methadone, 25 milligrams of year-old pink liquid.)

The place she visited beyond the couch was the back porch, to smoke. Or, rather, she would visit the far end of the dining room to exhale through the screen door. While smoking, she drank coffee from a French Press with milk and whatever she could compile to act as sweetener –honey, agave. (If coffee was made for her.)

She drank all of the milk but an inch at the bottom.

The house smelled of stale smoke and withdrawal, now deeper rot.

When Shelley was asked about the future, she didn’t know. Maybe detox and rehab in the Bronx, if her Medicaid was active. The woman wrote down the address and phone number for detox, called for hours of admission.

With each passing day, Shelley’s story lightened. The people that were trying to kill her were kids, and look, they barely scratched her ear. She showed the scratch.

By the way, she needed money if she were to go to detox. $10 would probably be fine.

A few hours later: maybe the kids who threatened were just kidding. They probably got over it.

Three days after her arrival, she and the woman boarded the subway before 7 a.m. Shelly, to detox in the Bronx; the woman, to work in the Bronx.

While quiet on the walk there, on the subway, volume became a performance piece. Though flush with early morning commuters, people left an open circle around the pair.

“The other night, I was fucked up and paranoid. But come on, you put your shit on top of a van and the wind blows and you expect it to still be there in front of a bunch of dope fiends?”

“Ok, I found two bags in one rubber bands but not no bundle. Next thing I know the guy’s telling me I owe him $100. I smoked crack before, and I guess I was so high I thought he was going to get those kids to jump me. Crazy, right?”

Shelley held onto a pole in the N train, exposing veins that were blown black, charcoaled cobwebs that seemed incapable of carrying anything of value.

“When I came to see you I didn’t know where the fuck I was. I rode all the trains and woke up in the middle of nowhere. I rode for hours.” The night in question a cause for anger, now a hilarious joke.

Her hand veered near the face of a stranger who pushed away, choosing the crush of people instead of the dirty hands and person saying, “dope.” There was always space around Shelley. Those across the car averted their eyes.

Once the train entered the Bronx, Shelley was no longer surprising. Performance ended.

“I’ll probably be okay if I stop by Hunts Point, right? I’ll go to detox later this week. You saw, I’m too tired for this.”

Good spirits, a hug.

She exited at Hunts Point Avenue station. The woman, one stop later. Detox, a 15-minute bus ride away.

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More Hunts Point Addiction Writing
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Cassie Rodenberg About the Author: I write on culture, poverty, addiction, and mental illness: I explore things we like to ignore. I also teach public school in New York City's South Bronx. Follow on Twitter @cassierodenberg.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. dingydust 8:15 pm 05/31/2014

    ah–compassion fatigue is beginning to set in.

    do not worry, you have earned it & most likely to go away [at least to a decent degree]. the best way to get rid of it is if [BIG IF] rehab took or some other inexplicable thing caused a joyous upgrade in the life of its cause. since that is unlikely to happen [as you must by now know], the next best thing is recontextualization. start w/ understanding that NONE of this business would be going on had we no drug war, nor the moral panic which created it, & you will be on yr way.

    Link to this
  2. 2. AddictionBlogLEE 4:57 am 06/17/2014

    Detox – 15 minutes and a world away.

    Link to this

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