The first time I smoked crack was an accident.
I was 20 years old, living with my mom in an unremarkable eight-story building in the suburbs.
We lived on the seventh floor, and Carmen lived on five. She had just turned 40, and she was short, energetic and sexy. At least, she was sexy to 20-year-old me. Today, I’d see her low-cut tops and long fingernails as tacky, but at the time, I couldn’t see past her big boobs.
When I met Carmen, I was pushing an office chair that I had just bought onto the elevator. She asked if I was good with computers, as if my office chair meant that I was a professor at MIT. I said I knew computers. She smiled and suggested that I should stop by her apartment sometime, because she could use help with hers.
After she got off the elevator, I thought about her boobs again, and then about her smile. Was she flirting with me? That would be incredible! A 40-year-old lady could teach me so much about sex.
But that type of thing never happened in real life — at least, not in my real life. I set the fantasy aside.
A couple days later, I came home and Ma announced that a “Carmen” had called for me. And Carmen had been rude to Ma. Now she was asking questions. Who is this woman? Why was she calling our house and not my cell? And why was she such a bitch?
I freaked out. I didn’t want my mom to know anything about Carmen and my impossible fantasy. Ma never asked about my sexual adventures, but I was sure she wouldn’t approve of me sleeping with a woman who could have gone to high school with her.
I hadn’t even given Carmen our phone number. She found my last name on the building’s directory, then looked me up in the phone book.
I had to put a stop to this. I didn’t need Carmen showing up at our door with her neon eyeliner and bad attitude. But in my paranoia, I saw possibility. She’d made the effort to track me down. Maybe she did want to sex me up.
I called Carmen from my cell phone, and she invited me over for drinks that Sunday night. There was no mention of her computer.
Carmen handed me a beer as soon as I arrived. After a few minutes of small talk, she asked if I did any drugs.
How delightfully adult of her! I liked that she didn’t beat around the bush and ask if I “partied.” She was far too mature for euphemisms.
I said I smoked weed. She laughed. How silly of me. Weed isn’t a drug.
She asked if I did coke. I felt an odd sense of pride when I said yes. It gave me credibility. Truth be told, my first experience with cocaine had only been a few weeks earlier.
I passed the first test. I was cool. Her next question: did I smoke coke?
Sure, I smoked coke! We called it “primo,” where you’d sprinkle some coke over weed in a joint or a bowl.
Carmen corrected me. That was the shitty way that teenagers did it. When you smoked coke that way, you smoked all the awful impurities. Had I ever smoked coke on its own?
I couldn’t fathom how someone would even smoke coke. I imagined waving my lighter at a cloud of white dust, trying to suck in the fumes. I told her I hadn’t, but I was interested in trying it.
Her eyes lit up. She said that before you could smoke it, you had to cook it. She pulled out a small box containing her utensils.
She had a small glass tube and a copper scouring pad. Carmen explained that the “Chore Boy” brand of scouring pads was the best. She had a tiny spoon, and an even tinier bag of coke.
Carmen grabbed a box of baking soda and went to work. She knew the recipe for coke by heart. It was impressive. She was the Martha Stewart of narcotics.
She put a little coke into the spoon, added a few drops of water and a dash of baking soda. She swirled it around with the tip of her finger, then licked her finger and made a satisfied smacking sound. She heated the spoon with a lighter.
Magic happened. The mixture bubbled up and in a few moments, all that was left behind were light yellow rocks.
Except they didn’t look like rocks to me. I don’t know if beer or sex was clouding my judgement, but I didn’t see rocks. I saw little clumps of cocaine. There’d be no harm in smoking them. I loved smoking cigarettes, so this would be more inside my comfort zone than snorting it.
Carmen assembled the pieces of her kit. The Chore Boy went into the end of the glass tube. A chunk of coke went on top of it. She put the tube to her lips, tilting it up slightly so the contents wouldn’t spill out. She lit the end. The clear tube filled with grey smoke and turned opaque. She delicately twirled it in her fingers. Carmen held in the hit and then blew out a cloud. It seemed so easy.
It was my turn. Carmen fixed me a fresh chunk of coke. I took a hit. My lungs got cold. I exhaled. The taste was chemical and metallic. It didn’t come from the earth like weed or tobacco. It seemed synthetic.
It hit me. I thought that coke was awesome, but this was even better. It was more immediate and intense.
It was like that surge of energy when you swerve to avoid a car accident. It was like the burst of delight after an orgasm, when all of your senses are intensified and everything is prettier. It was like the floating feeling in your head the first time you smoked a cigarette. It was like the fluttering in your chest when you lean in to kiss someone for the first time, the fear of rejection and the hope for acceptance colliding.
It was all those feelings — the surge and the burst, the floating and the fluttering — all at once. But it wasn’t fleeting. It lasted for several minutes, and in those minutes, everything felt incredible.
This went beyond happiness. It was elation. I felt like I could conquer anything. It was better than sex.
I did end up having sex that night, though I barely remember it. But at the time, I was proud. A lady twice my age had just fucked me! I couldn’t wait to brag about it.
I left Carmen’s apartment and called my friend Mark. I walked to the elevators, as far from her door as possible and whispered into the phone. I didn’t want her to hear me, but I was even more terrified of my mom hearing me from two floors up.
I told Mark the story. The words raced out of my mouth because I was still high.
Mark stopped me halfway through. “What do you mean by smoking coke?”
I explained the whole process, Carmen’s utensils and the Chore Boy and her recipe and how it made my lungs cold.
“Dude, I think you just smoked crack.” Mark was laughing.
“Oh shit. You’re right.”
I had just smoked crack, the hardest of the hard drugs. Remember, this is before anyone knew about meth. And heroin was just as bad, but at least there was some romance to it. Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain did heroin. But other than Richard Pryor, none of the greats ever smoked crack. Crack was for the grimy guy in the Walmart parking lot who would steal the CDs out of your car if you left the window open just an inch. I had just freebased cocaine. I had just smoked crack. This was some serious shit.
I learned an important lesson that night. Crack is awesome. Being high on crack is the greatest feeling in the world. If crack were on Yelp, I’d give it a five star review.
I also learned about drug users. I wasn’t in the target demographic for crack. I was a college student with a full-time job. I had credit cards and a car payment, and dumb spiky hair with blonde streaks in it. I didn’t come from poverty, or any place you’d consider fertile grounds for the growth of crackheads.
Now, when I hear about someone who got hooked on drugs and fucked up their life, I don’t scoff anymore. I don’t consider them stupid or weak. I get it.
bokeen grew up in the shadow of O’Hare airport. He was once an art student. Today he occupies his time cooking, riding his bike, combing his beard, and pushing pencils for a software company. He’s new to all of this. In time, he hopes to have some projects to boast about.