The Chains Broke ( 13 years old)
I began to hang on the corner with my “new crew”. When my old pals came to speak to me, I would emulate my “NEW FRIENDS” in their taunting of these “pieces of garbage”. Over the next several weeks I even broke all of Bernies windows on his car because they said we had to show him who was boss—and I was proud of it. I began shooting heroin and taking a combination of downs and uppers. I can recall with clarity my first experience with a needle…
The guys invited me to go along for a ride to a dope house in Spanish Harlem. We jour-neyed over the Triboro Bridge in a beat up ’57 Chevy, belching huge, blue white, clouds of smoke as it ticked and burped along the road. We entered Manhattan with a bang, made a right hand turn, and proceeded along the east river.
The dope house was located in an area that was close to the neighborhood that my an-cestors had originally settled in 1898. New York City had engraved proud titles upon its turf: Little
Italy; China Town; Spanish Harlem… The only remaining emblem of their American birth was the architecture. As one came upon the invisible borders of each territory they would enter into another country simply by taking that one additional step.
We proceeded through Little Italy and soon passed the neighborhood that I had remem-bered with pain in the dark hours of change in our lives. As we passed Bianco’s Deli and Meats I gave a startled shout for the driver to stop! There it was! And Old Man Bianco was open!
Proudly exiting the car, I proceeded up to the door and announced my presence with a loud and happy shout: “Mr. BIANCO!
The old tired man turned, and a grin of delightful recognition appeared upon his face.
“ROCCO! Howa you! Boy, youa growa! Youa looka lika youa father.”
“Oh, Mr. Bianco, I have missed you and I am sorry I have not come before.”
“Eva since youa father wasa shot..I meana in the acciden…”
“What did you say? Did you say shot? Who shot father? I thought he was killed in an automobile accident.” I said, as a feeling of betrayal course through my veins.
“I noa mean he wasa shot…I mea..”
I turned in my rage and leapt through the door and into the car. “Lets go… Now!!” I screamed as Mr. Bianco appeared limping in fast gait towards the car. A look of sadness written upon the lines creasing his leathered face only further added to my misery. I was devastated. I had long ago put my fathers memory into a secret compartment, labeled accident, and I had been at peace with his memory. Now the doors had been flung open, re-vealing more torment and sorrow. As we drove off, Mr. Bianco’s small, bent shape, changed rapidly into a smaller and smaller figure that continued to beckon my return. I desperately wanted to drown the pain. Soon I would… drown…
We reached 117th street and rounded the corner. The neighborhood changed as sud-denly as the turn. Filthy, red and brown, three story buildings lined a debris cluttered street. Hulking remnants of abandoned and stolen cars littered the street sides — cannibalize skeletons of rusted steel separating the worn and used family heaps. Grubby, half naked, children played in the street. A open fire hydrant spewed water as they gleefully jumped in and out of the cool, wet gusher.
The stoops of the buildings, plain stone steps and rusted iron railings, jutted out onto cracked concrete sidewalks like tombstones lying stacked one on top of the other. A slice of concrete desert, it’s face creased by age and sorrow, with towering wind scathe monuments of suffering looming in a surreal landscape of crime and death. Residents of this sweltering enclave crowded upon the cool, weathered smooth surfaces like the deceased of the apocalypse, dead, yet alive– longing for hope, but receiving pain.
All along the block, dealers and users mixed and mingled in a never ending cycle of master and slave. Addiction crawled along the thoroughfare in the deep set, black ringed, eyes of the damned. It seemed that all of the occupants of this slum were evil, mean spirited, dangerous hoodlums. But behind the filthy brick and rusting iron, above the mass of death and deception, through the hallways of inequity, families huddled in fear, alone, not daring to leave the semi-protection that the flimsy, old and tired, wood doors of their musty, rat and roach infested, apartments afforded them.
We stopped in front of one of the buildings. Exiting the car, we approached the stoop with care. The dealers and users sitting across it moved to the side with scowling faces at these Anglos from Queens who dared interrupt their “peaceful ambiance”. We tromped through a peeling door and climbed creaking steps through piles of subjects draping them like muticolored shag carpet in drug induced stupor. After the fourth landing, we turned into the narrow corridor, and knocked upon one of the doors. Several locks, clicking loudly, were turned and the door slowly opened…
“What’s happening, how you doing?” A squat, bald headed, man asked as we tromped through the door.
“All right man, just need some ‘horse’.” The leader of our group answered.
I looked around the place. It was a three room apartment with peeling, century old, wall papered walls. The main room was furnished with three worn sofas. A kitchen, it’s filthy, rust stained porcelain sink, with mounds of garbage heaped in every corner, was starkly visible. People of all ages, dressed in decrepit clothing, in various stages of drugged condition, were crowded into three rooms. A foul stench pervad my nostrils and I fought the urge to vomit.
Through a door-less bathroom, above the chipped, black and white tile floor, one guy sat on the toilet, rubber hose wrapped around his arm, a needle piercing a main vain in his arm, while a second guy “booted” the plunger. As he pulled and pushed the plunger in order to boost the drugs over and over, a morbid pallor flushed the face of the first, and he teetered back and forth in rhythm with this exercise.
In the bedroom — a hot, filthy cubicle, that contained a single sweat stained bed — a young girl about thirteen years old lay nude. She was stoned and seemed unaware of the per-verse acts that were being committed to her person by several semi-clothed, drugged men of various ages.
As we sat upon a smelly sofa, our leader negotiated for the dope. I viewed this place of horror with eyes that misted with pain from my recent revelation. Frightened and alone in my thoughts and sights I wanted to bolt through the door. I realized that this was impossible and I vowed that I would not ‘do any drugs’.”
When the deal was consummate one of the guys came over and began to wrap a belt around my arm. I protested. I said I did not want to ‘shoot any dope’, but peer pressure, combined with feelings that I wanted to belong, overshadowed my thoughts and commitments.
“Come on, its great! You’ll love it. Be a man. It won’t hurt you! Just try it. Come on, do you think that you will become an addict? Give me your arm!”
I sat there in semi-conscious state as the needle entered my arm with a slight pinch. The plunger was pulled and I could see my deep, red blood enter the vial. I can remember staring, lost in a trance, as the blood slowly mixed and then gathered speed. The drug seemed to boil with impatience as it realized it had another slave. Alive, a parasitic embolism, it swirled with excitement, screaming in silent motion to be released into the healthy body of this young man. It wanted to tear through the rich, life giving blood, and attach itself forever, sending it’s message of physical and mental pain for succor.
The belt was loosened, the plunger sank half way, and a warm feeling traverse rapidly up my arm. It coursed through my vessels until it entered my heart and brain. In an instant I was lost in a world of slow moving peace. All thoughts and worries were cast aside. The plunger was withdrawn and plunged again and again. Soon I was vomiting.
In a split second I was transferred into a world that seemed to answer to all my questions by eliminating them.
“What was that thought I had about father? What were my worries?” All questions and thoughts were swallowed by the alien substance that was gleefully transforming me into a creature of habit. The thing allowed only moments of pleasure when compared to the long, desperate, craving for the next shot. As it sent just the right amount of pleasurable feelings pounding with in my brain, it tore out all other feelings. I fell into a dreamy sleep.
The demon was within me. It controlled and demanded sacrifice. Friends, acquaintances, and even family, were suddenly prey to it’s sinister and evil intent to subjugate. The only demon to rear it’s head was me! Lost within the hazy warmth of the drug I would have no cares — except how to regain the feeling…
I awoke filthy, vomit dried upon my clothing, my teeth retched with slime. I was thirsty and with urge to shoot again… Soon I was lost again.
We spent four days “shooting up”. I did not eat. I did not wash or brush my teeth— I just plunged that filthy, bloody, needle, into my arm, over and over, until finally, I missed the sore and worn out vein, and shot the drug into the muscle of my arm. My arm began to swell, an abscess formed, and I shot some more into my other arm on the pretext of “killing the pain”.
My life revolved up and down in tune to the plunger. The urge to shoot heroin became the only reason to live. We hung out on the corner scheming and devising
ways to steal, rob, and connive, in order to race over to Spanish-Harlem and journey to the land of the living dead!
This went on the entire summer. I became one of those filthy, skinny, drug users. My eyes were black ringed, my hair filthy and knotted — yet I continued to hang out with the crew. I was using more drugs than any two of the others.
One hot, humid night, I was hanging out behind Bernies. I had just shot up a “nickel” bag of dope, taken two “reds” (sleeping pills) and was sipping on a bottle of wine, when I realized that someone was pulling at my arm.
Looking up, I recognized Aggie (My girl friend.). She was pleading with me, “Rocky, Rocky! Come on wake up!”
“Leave me the —– alone,” I screamed at her as I fought her like the demon I was.
She grabbed my arm as tears dropped in storm upon my face. I swung my arm and hit her so violently, she staggered and fell upon the ground. As she arose, I realized what I had done! I attempted to stand in effort to apologize but fell upon the ground as her figure disappeared into the darkness. It was like a dream, yet I knew that I had not been asleep. I yelled at GOD. I blamed HIM. I screamed so loud that all of my “friends” rounded the corner and just stared at me.
As I was yelling at HIM, an old woman dressed in black, pulling a hand cart filled with packages, passed the alleyway. She was a wrinkled women of approximately seventy. When the guys saw her they vied her bag. In a second they were upon her, wrenching her pocketbook as she tumbled to the ground, and scurrying away before she realized what had occurred.
I was brought back to the world of reality in that short period. Though still drugged, I was suddenly rational. I could distinctly hear the old woman thanking GOD that she was not hurt as she got up off of the ground. She then saw me on the ground and rushed over to me.
“Sonny, are you all right? Did those hoodlums harm you?”
Here was a seventy year old frail woman. She had just been violently assaulted and her bag stolen, yet she was assisting me — the devil reincarnate — with care and concern! I was both embarrassed and sorrowful. I arose and helped her put her packages back into the hand cart. Informing her that I was all right, and stating that I was concerned for her. She replied that JESUS watched over us! “It was only a few dollars, don’t you worry, we are just fine. Jesus always takes care of HIS own.”
That very night I went to the church and slept upon a pew like I had done the night of my fathers funeral. When I awoke I felt as if I had slept for several weeks. I was truly refreshed and at peace. The craving of the monster with in me were cast adrift in a sea acidic reality. I was wearing blue jeans that had not been washed in a month. My finger nails were black with filth. The taste in my mouth was revolting. I swirled my tongue around in contact with the slime that coated the enamel like a fungus and shuddered at the thought of what I looked like.
I stood up and slowly walked to a metal bowl that hung upon the wall by the entrance — it was brimming with Holy Water. I did not think of this fact at the time, I just had the urge to clean my face! With both hands cupped together, I reached deep into the curved interior, and washed my face. Well let me tell you, it was the most refreshing water that I have ever splashed upon my being. I was renewed from the thoughts and angers that had essentially driven me to dive so deep into this living world of nightmares. I was once more in control of my feelings and emotions.
I was suddenly beset with the consequences of my actions. I knew I would have to leave this place (Queens, New York.) in order to remove myself from the demons grasp. I was not in tune to the facts of this sudden miracle– for it truly was! Though craving still tugged at the core of my being, I had to find the answers to the truth I was seeking and face the facts. This sudden feeling was my armor and shield that HE blessed me with once more the terrible night before.
I returned that night to the corner and my buddies…
I was soon arguing with the guys. “I do not want to do any drugs, I want to take a break.” I informed them.
“Hey, whose your buddies? Huh? Who watch’s your back? Just come for the ride in case we need you, OK?”
“Listen, I’m going to stay at Aggies house for a few days. Clean up and get some rest.”
I told them with sincere determination.
“Just come for the ride! Come on. Then we’ll drop you off!”
I was struggling with the power of Lucifer. I was dead set against staying with the guys. The craving for dope began to overtake my body and mind. They were getting the best of me when a picture of the old women and her final blessing appeared with in my thoughts as if it were happening all over again. I remember thinking that if GOD would give me a vision then I would swear allegiance and not journey with the guys. I was desperately in the turmoil of battle between a war of visions as real as life itself. My feelings raged upon the core of my thoughts. As visions of Aggie and the Old Woman tore at my heart, the memory of the warm, peaceful feeling that the needle brought me whispered in hypnotic gesture. ‘What should I do’, I plead in silent thought as I pressed within the crowd into the brick wall behind me. I was surrounded by the sinister power of evil. I was being consumed by it’s prevailing total authority! I was ready to relinquish the last vestige of my newly re-discovered independent reason and thought. I was about to be consumed, and I mean to-tally; for I knew that if I took that trip, I would never return…
All of a sudden, with the speed of light and revelation itself, a white van with Rotor Rooter emblazoned on its side appeared, suddenly, as if zapped onto the corner. A huge, mean looking guy, dressed in green over-alls exited the vehicle. He strolled over to the wolf pack with a cigar stub clenched between his teeth.
“Who’s Rocco”, he spat out.
I looked at him with the attitude that I didn’t care who he was or why he asked for me. I just stood in the middle of the group with my back towards the wall waiting for my “pals” to tell him to fly a kite.
When he bellowed the question again, adding what he was gonna do to the two guys he had snatched by the throat, the entire gang parted and there I stood all alone and in the spotlight.
He looked at me, spat on the ground, turned and left.
It turned out that he was Mr. Esposito. He had come to take care of the guy that had the fight with his 6 foot son several months before. When he saw this five foot kid standing there he went home and the story goes–beat his son again…
The experience was my final awakening. It taught me that the guys that I thought were my friends were the true garbage. I left and went to Aggies house.
During the next several weeks I enjoyed one of the most fantastic times of my life. I revisited my family. Angela, Carmine and Eddie became my siblings once more. Aggie took care of me and I was once more the person that I wanted to be. We journeyed to Central Park to explore natures nooks and crannies. Hand in hand, we climbed the large black boulders that jutted from the landscape, their jagged edges worn smooth by the harshness of time to become the warm, gentle shapes that were pleasing to the eye and touch, soft and friendly, yet tough and unmoving-movable. As I look back, I realize that GOD was showing me a fact of HIS M.A.G.I.C.. For man could, with HIS grace, become like those aged pieces of a once large, uncontrollable mountain — re-shaped, settled and inviting; providing strength, peace and serenity to many lost and hungry souls.
Only several times in my life have I had the pleasure of family. Like a wildflower that blooms among the weeds, my family would sprout for just a few precious days and then disappear until that special moment again. This was a special moment. I ate dinner at my mothers. We, the entire family, celebrated just being together. A truly rare occurrence of blessed love descended upon us. It was a M.A.G.I.C. moment that I hold very dear to my heart. And then the greatest moment occurred. Aggie brought Carmine and I together in a rare moment of brotherhood. She said to me–“Why don’t you invite him to come with us to the park tomorrow?”
“He won’t want to go.” I replied.
“Don’t you think that he wants to be with you as much as you with him!?”
WE HAD FUN!!! WE WERE LAUGHING AND CARRYING ON LIKE THE CHILDREN WE TRULY WERE!!!
Our time together was hilarious. We had spent several days riding the train and hanging out at both the park and the Museum of Natural History. One night we decided to stay late. As darkness approached, we were sitting upon one of the boulders in conversation. As I looked over at my brother who was talking to a girl he had met, I noticed strange shapes that seemed to slide down the face of the boulders. In the darkness that blanketed the area of trees and rocks, it looked strange. I grabbed Aggies hand and yelled to Carmine—“Hey, Carm! They’re coming. They’re coming!”
The shapes could have been anything. Some people climbing the boulders or some-thing, but it was eerie and I was concerned. When Carmine appeared with the girl, we, Aggie, Carmine, the girl, several strangers and I began to run.
Now, let me tell you. This event happened very quickly. When I saw the figures, I yelled and grabbed Aggies hand. As I did, Carmine came tearing through the woods dragging the girl. As he reached us running, several others heard us and saw us running. Soon twenty people were running. Which caused others to run and finally the whole park was running!
The combined sounds of over one hundred people running and screaming “They’re Coming, They’re Coming!!!” reverberate through the park! We were at the head of the group that pounded the pavement to elude what ever was coming. As we broke through the bushes onto the street in front of the PLAZA HOTEL and turned in hysterical glee, the people broke through in total confusion. They streamed onto the road still yelling “They’re Coming, They’re Coming!!!”
All the way to Queens, with the train moaning and bumping along, in front of all those silent, depressed faces of strangers, we, Carmine and I, hugged and rolled on the floor of the rail car, laughing so hard our stomachs hurt and our faces were red and wet. In this M.A.G.I.C. moment, we had become the happiest kids in the world…
As a child, I was looking for what all children need: Love; understanding; compassion. I desperately needed a Father Figure. I was barking up the wrong trees.