BY JEFF DEENEY My first taste of narcotics was a sour one; it never made sense to me that I fell so in love with them later in life after such a traumatic introduction. I didn’t take the drugs on my own the first time. I was too young for that. They were administered to me in a hospital after I broke my arm. I was in a lot of pain and they had to keep me doped up to my eyeballs for hours while waiting through the night for the on-call doc to show up. If I was older I probably would have relaxed and tried to enjoy the ride as much as possible but I was only just old enough to understand that after the nurse slipped the needle in my arm and hooked me up to an IV I didn’t feel like I normally felt and I found the difference disconcerting. I figured there must be something bad or wrong about this strange, different feeling. It made me feel guilty and distressed. It also made me feel loopy like I got punched in the head real hard, woozy like I just got off a rollercoaster, and bleary like someone packed my eyeballs full of gauze. I later learned to love these sensations.
I was ten years old in 1984 and professional wrestling was at the peak of its popularity. Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter, the Iron Sheik. I loved that shit; I had an uncle who took me to the biggest matches at the Spectrum and it was a blast. It was all bright lights, loud noises and gigantic men in crazy costumes like Saturday morning cartoon characters come to life. It was everything a ten year old boy wanted life to be. I even had the action figures; I would smash them into each other on the living room floor, calling the action as it unfolded in miniature like I was Mean Gene Okerlund ringside at a championship bout. When my parents weren’t around I pulled cushions off the couch, laid them out on the floor and practiced dropping elbows on imaginary opponents. My favorite wrestler was George the Animal Steele, that grotesquely obese and hairy lunatic who looked like something someone dragged out of the wilderness and kept in a cage in their basement for fear that it might get out. When he won a bout he ate the turnbuckle, ripping open its leather cover and jamming his mouth full of the foam stuffing that cushioned the impact of getting thrown into one of the four corners’ steel poles. He chewed on it with all the satisfaction of a hungry hyena come across a carcass in the desert, his eyes rolling in their sockets while he chomped turnbuckle. Then he let the foam fall from his mouth like froth from the jaws of a rabid dog while the crowd booed at him for being such a freak, but loving him for it at the same time.
Every kid I knew at that age was equally fascinated and enthralled by professional wrestling. On the playground during lunch time recess we practiced moves on each other, pretending to apply pressure on submission holds while the eager recipient of the hold pretended to gasp for air and faked a struggled to break free. For the most part, it was good natured and harmless. However, there was also a curiosity for physical cruelty that flourished around that age. We wanted to know if a Figure Four leg lock really hurt as bad as it looked like it did on TV. We wanted to know if a sleeper hold really put you to sleep. At the same time, we didn’t understand the kind of maiming that could result from actually executing the maneuvers we saw professionals – who were really only acting anyway — executing onscreen. This resulted in a lot of kids getting seriously fucked up.
I remember on the playground this big Italian bully named Nicky gave this geek a piledriver just to see what would happen. A piledriver is when a wrestler sticks another guy’s head between his knees, reaches across the other guy’s folded over body, grabs him around the waist, lifts his body into the air fully inverting him and then with a jumping motion sits down, slamming the guy into the ground and driving all his weight into the top of his skull. This was like the mother of all moves, the ender of all bouts; if someone put a piledriver on you, you were done. I still can’t figure out how professional wrestlers manage to fake those without breaking the other guy’s neck. Needless to say, Nicky wasn’t faking when he drove poor Larry’s skull into the playground’s paved concrete.
“Hey Larry,” Nicky said, “come ere. I want to show you somethin’.”
Skinny little Larry reluctantly approached Nicky and when he was within reach Nicky reached out real fast and grabbed the back of his head and forced it down while Larry struggled to keep him from cinching it between his knees. I remember everyone gasping when they realized that Nicky was really going to do it, like an obvious line of no return was about to be crossed as Nicky flipped Larry upside down and then shuffled his feet a little bit to get into position, making sure Larry’s weight was distributed just right to get the maximum amount of downward force. I also remember how big a smile Nicky had on his face when he jumped and his ass flew towards the pavement, Larry’s head still jammed between his thighs and how Nicky’s eyes went wide with excitement at the sickening thud that followed, like he had done something as harmless as dropping a cantaloupe from the roof of a tall building and watched it fall and then splat all over the sidewalk. It was all over his face; he thought this was the most awesome thing ever.
After his head hit the pavement Larry’s body went rigid. It was like the impact drove him straight as an arrow and stiff as a board, like he was a string and someone pulled real hard on both ends of it. He toppled over like a felled tree and immediately jumped up, his body still taut like he received a high voltage jolt, and he walked around in circles like that for a full fifteen seconds. He wouldn’t say anything and his eyes were real wide and his face looked real drawn and tight. We all got out of his way as he stormed in a figure eight, just walking around real fast and all stiff. I think his brain overloaded or something. I think maybe the pain short circuited him for a bit. He was alright, though, in a couple minutes he was nodding his head and telling Nicky everything was okay while Nicky gave him a phony apology and a line about how he didn’t really mean to slam his head into the concrete like that.
Not too long after this I had a big sleepover and all my wrestling buddies were invited. I remember it was a big deal to me at the time; my parents were willing to give up the basement for a night and let me and ten of my best friends turn it into an adhoc squared circle while they ignored the ominous thumps and thuds that shook the floor while they watched TV upstairs. This was our middle school Wrestlemania; we were taking out all the stops in order to determine our own group title holder. We were picking each other up and throwing each other across the room, piling on kids until they gasped for air, driving elbows and knees, giving each other leg locks and arm bars and choke holds.
This went on deep into the night, long after my parents delivered the last round of juice and snacks and went to bed. It was probably three in the morning by the time things got out of control. The later it got, the longer we went without sleep, the more reckless and cruel our actions became. By this point we were really pounding each other, landing hard punches, swinging hooked arms and catching each other by the neck with real clotheslines. At one point I got knocked down onto my hands and knees and a pile-on ensued. I was a big kid, so even with a couple other kids on top of me I was still able to struggle my way out from under them. But what I didn’t know was that while I was shaking off the three or four guys who clung to me, Nicky (fucking Nicky) had climbed up onto the arm of the sofa like it was the top rope surrounding a real wrestling ring. He lined me up like a bomber getting ready to drop his payload and just as the last of the kids peeled off me he leapt into the air and drove a hard elbow into my left shoulder blade.
Everyone heard the snap and stopped dead. The room went from loud and rowdy to pin–drop silent, except for the sounds of my sneakers slapping against the basement floor as I went into convulsions. My friends looked on in terror as I violently shook and cried. I remember trying to move my fingers and not being able to and being somewhat fascinated by that despite the surging pain. I tried as hard as I could to move my thumb, really straining the muscles in my upper arm but it was like someone hit a switch connected to my lower arm that shut off communication to it. One of my friends ran up the stairs, volunteering for the unfortunate duty of waking my parents up in the middle of the night and telling them that their kid was laid out.
My mom flipped out, standing over me in her nightgown with her hands on her hips, scolding us for having done something so stupid. My dad thought it was kind of funny. He rolled his eyes and scooped me up off the floor and threw me over his shoulder and said to my mom, I’ll be back later. He carried me out to his work truck and hoisted me up into the passenger’s seat, dumping me into it like a grain sack. He started the truck without complaint or a hint of aggravation and started driving to the nearest hospital. On his way out the door he had grabbed a bunch of ice packs from the freezer that he usually stuck in his Igloo lunch box before going to work so that his sandwich and soda were still cold when he ate on the job site later in the day. He took one ice pack and wrapped it in a greasy rag from the floor of the truck and then used another greasy rag to wrap that around my wrist, which by this point was inflating like a balloon. He made jokes while he drove, making fun of me for being a bonehead, trying to keep me laughing. I remember he turned the radio up at one point, saying, hey they’re playing your song.
“You like this song don’t you,” he asked, reaching across the space between our seats and grabbing my head, giving it a little shake. It was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts singing, I Love Rock and Roll. It was one of my favorite songs at the time. When we got to the hospital he scooped me out of the passenger’s seat and threw me over his shoulder again, carrying me towards the emergency room.
It was after four in the morning by the time a nurse finally led me to a blank room with cream colored walls and a single gurney pushed up against the far wall. With her assistance I climbed up into it and once I was settled she gave me the bad news. Since it was so late, there wasn’t a doctor on staff to set and cast my arm. She called the doctor who was supposed to be on call but he hadn’t checked in with his answering service all night. What she was telling me, in a nutshell, was that it might be a while. It might be hours. She couldn’t personally go to the doctor’s house and drag him out of bed, so we were going to have to wait until he decided to show up and there was no indication as to when that might be.
That’s when she gave me the dope.
“I’m going to stick you with a needle,” she said, rubbing my bare arm with an alcohol swab. “It’s going to pinch.”
The pain from my wrist was a deep throb, not like a headache throb, like an almost sonorous pulsation that radiated on its own wavelength that twisted my gut and made me want to wretch. The nurse hooked me up to a bag of clear liquid that hung from what looked like a spindly metal cactus.
“This is Demerol,” she said,” its going to take the pain away.”
She took my temperature and my pulse. I started to fade out almost immediately as the pain receded like tidewaters slowly creeping away from the beach. I don’t remember it feeling good. I don’t remember any rush of pleasure or elevation in mood. I remember still be miserable and scared. I didn’t know where my parents were. I was confused and the Demerol made it worse, like I was being dipped under water, the heads that gathered over me floating disembodied and the voices that came from them sounding muffled and distant. I couldn’t make sense of anything. It was very distressing and I remember crying a lot and not knowing exactly why I was crying.
I went in and out of consciousness for a long time after that. Once during the drift the room came into clear focus and I was able to understand what the nurse said after she shook me awake and spoke quietly into my ear. They had finally gotten in contact with the doctor who would set my arm, but he was playing golf right now. He didn’t like to be disturbed when he was playing golf. He said that he would come to the hospital when his round was over and he was on the back nine so it shouldn’t be so long. Maybe a couple more hours. How long had it been? I wanted to ask but my mouth felt like someone stuffed it full of cotton balls while I was unconscious.
I managed to croak out a question about my father. The nurse told me that he was here and waiting for me but he couldn’t come talk to me right now. I found out later that he couldn’t talk to me because he was talking to hospital social workers. Apparently horseplay with friends was a common excuse given by abusive dads when they dragged their busted up children to emergency room in the middle of the night. The hospital staff didn’t believe my father when he told them what happened to me. He was being questioned, made to pony up alibis, giving over the phone numbers of my friends parents so that the hospital could contact them and verify that their sons were, in fact, the ones who beat up on me.
Eventually the doctor materialized. I opened my eyes and he was there, moving in and out of focus, his bushy mustache and curly hair that ringed his bald head making him look like a talking walrus. The talking walrus was mean. He told me I was stupid and scolded me for wasting his time on a Sunday afternoon. He wheeled my gurney into a room with robotic looking machines and draped a heavy rubber coated sheet of lead over my chest. I faded out. When I faded back in I was back in the other room and there was an x-ray hanging on the wall. The walrus doctor told me that my arm wasn’t quite broken enough, it was broken enough to be technically broken but for it to set right it would have to be broken all the way. Did I understand? He asked and raised his walrus eyebrows, waiting. When I didn’t respond he grabbed my arm and told me to take a deep breath. I breathed in. He twisted my arm hard, like he was breaking bread for a meal. I heard a snap like a tree branch breaking. It echoed in my head like a gun had gone off in the room. My eyes rolled back in my head and I mewled.
Eventually my father was by my side, holding onto my good hand while a couple orderlies poured me into a wheelchair and rolled me towards the exit. By the time we got outside the sun was setting but the natural light still hurt. I winced and my eyes watered and my head rolled around on my neck like I was a baby. My hugely plastered left arm was strapped close to my chest, making me feel palsied and disfigured. I felt slow witted and my face felt bloated and fat. The orderlies handed the wheelchair over to my dad and while he pushed me towards his work truck a thick wad of slobber seeped over my bottom lip, pulling more slobber over as it did, releasing a cascade of spit that dropped into my lap. My dad laughed and handed me a handkerchief from his back pocket that smelled like engine oil. I smashed it against my face a couple times and handed it back. My dad lifted me back into the truck and we drove home.
I guess that was technically the first time I ever got high.