The hallway was too narrow for so many people. I had seen most of their faces before, on the streets, under the overpasses, in abandoned houses, or here. I knew none of their names, but I talked to the guy standing next to me as if we were old friends.

“I applied for a mechanic’s job with the city,” I said.

“Oh yeah? What happened?” he asked.

“You know how it is.”

“Yeah, I do.”

It took almost forty minutes before I stepped up to the counselor sitting behind a metal table outside of the men’s room. He checked off my name on a sheet of paper attached to a clipboard.

He then handed me a plastic cup wrapped in cellophane and looked at the sheet of paper again. “You’re going to be seeing a different counselor today,” he said. “Rick no longer works here.”

“Fine by me,” I said. I had been seeing Rick for about six months and he never seemed to remember anything about me.

Before I opened the door to go into the restroom, the counselor at the table, said. “After you’ve peed in the cup, toss the cellophane in the trash, and bring . . .”

I cut him off. “Yeah, I know the drill.”

There was a counselor in the restroom, sitting in a chair and looking up at a large round mirror that gave a view of inside the stalls. Addicts tried all sorts of things to make sure they wouldn’t be handing in a urine they knew was going to be dirty and had to be watched. I wasn’t crazy about having a guy watch me take a piss, but if I wanted the methadone, I had to pee in a cup.

I left the restroom carrying the cup of warm urine. The counselor at the table handed me a label   that I filled out with my name and last four of my social security number. I stuck it on the cup and then put the cup in a box with a bunch of other filled cups.

I then went to the window where the methadone was given out and verified my identity to an elderly nurse. She was wearing an old fashioned white nurses uniform, complete with a starched cap. She poured my dosage into a small cup and pushed it across the counter with her fingertips. Even before I poured the green liquid into my mouth the vague smell of cough syrup entered my nostrils. I had been on methadone for six months, and although I had gotten used to the taste somewhat, my stomach lurched. For a moment I thought I was going to puke it back up.

“Are you okay?” the nurse asked. “Your face is as green as the methadone.”

I didn’t doubt it. “I’m fine,” I said.

The waiting area to see individual counselors was in the back of the clinic. Most of them were recovered addicts whose only job was to keep the methadone clients from going back to using heroin. The folding chairs were metal and the color of milk chocolate. Bleach was used to clean the floors. Its smell hung in the air and made my eyes sting. I sat in the back row next to a guy who looked to be about forty. He had shaggy brown hair that hung down over his eyes. His pale face was deeply lined. The tracks in his arms looked as if he had been using for some time and up until recently. Some of the injection sites had scabs on them.

“How long have you been using?” I asked him.

“I was introduced to it when I was eighteen,” he said. “That was two years ago and I’ve tried to quit the stuff ever since.” Not knowing I had already glanced at his arm, he held it out for me to see. “Who would guess that I almost faint when a doctor gives me a shot?”

The pockmarks on my arms were still visible, but barely. I always wore long sleeve shirts. “I  overdosed and ended up in the emergency room the last time I used,” I said. “That was my third time in three years.” I smiled and tried to make a joke of it. “Overdosing was getting to be like some kind of strange annual celebration.”

He studied my face as if trying to see something he hadn’t seen in every other heroin addict he had met. “Death is a really hard way to kick the habit,” he said.

When his name was called he got up from the chair. I said, “Good luck,” but he walked forward without saying anything in return.

For the next few minutes I read the posters on the walls that I had read dozens of times before. Most were about HIV. Even though I had sometimes shared needles, I had been spared that.

The moment the counselor I was to see opened the door to his office and stepped out and called my name, I recognized his face, but I didn’t know why. I walked to his office and tried to put out of my mind that I knew him from somewhere. I sat down in front of his desk before he sat down in his chair.

He put his crossed arms on the desk. “I’m Jerry Kirkwood,” he said. “I’ve read your file. You’ve been clean from the time you started coming to the clinic. Good for you.”

His name meant nothing to me. Unable to hold back, I asked, “Excuse me, Jerry, but do we know each other from somewhere?”

He quickly flipped through my file and then looked at me again. “I don’t think so.”

I had been watching his hands on my file, the way his fingers moved. Then it dawned on me. This was the guy who gave me my first shot of heroin, my first fix.

                                                            

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