Andy Bodle tries cocaine for the first time and feels like a winner.
“The author of the report, Professor Richard Scase, said that the single men of the 21st century in Britain will be ‘sad, isolated, lonely cases’. The report pictures these men of the future spending their leisure time sitting alone at home, eating a curry and drinking beer while watching a video.”—Sean French, ‘Men of the Future …’, New Statesman, 1999
I had a relatively sheltered childhood. I had loving, slightly overprotective parents, lived in a small, friendly village, went to a nice school, and couldn’t have fallen in with a bad crowd if I’d wanted to, because there wasn’t one.
My first experience of drugs was a plastic lemonade bottle full of marijuana fumes at Miles Tuffley’s house party in 1987. After spending the next four hours paralysed on the bathroom floor, I vowed never to touch the stuff again. So at university, I steered clear of the druggie crowd. I had the odd toke, to be social, but I never inhaled—and I never bought any of my own.
I was 27 when I first tried cocaine.
Some and I were getting ready to go to a party when one of them produced a folded paper packet. “Anyone for a snifter?”
The only cocaine I’d ever seen was accompanying pictures of dead prostitutes in the Daily Mail, or being shoved up the noses of Hollywood gangsters, who invariably ended up dead three minutes later. On the other hand, Guy’s friends were people I liked and trusted, and as far as I knew none of them had ever sold his body on Streatham High Street or had restorative surgery on his septum. And they really seemed to enjoy the stuff. What’s more, it seemed to grant them unprecedented access to the opposite sex.
I wasn’t sure quite how the mechanism worked. They weren’t much more attractive, confident or interesting than me. Did taking charlie lower their inhibitions? Did it make them more persistent, or just cooler? Or was it just the fact that some girls were inordinately grateful for drugs?
In any case, the evidence was incontrovertible. Every week, each of these guys would come home with another cute young thing draped round him; and every week I would come home alone. I felt as though I was missing out.
Eventually, I gave in to my curiosity. Surely just one line would be OK, just to see what all the fuss was about?
And it was OK. In fact, it was great. It wasn’t as powerful as I’d expected—it just put a smile on my face, enhanced my sensations, and put a positive spin on everything. It combined particularly well, I soon discovered, with wine. Nor was it as habit-forming as the scaremongers had led me to believe. At least, not to begin with.
Our routine was soon established. Every other Friday, we’d be getting ready to go to a bar or a party, and one of the boys would produce the little packet. And each time, we’d get through it a little bit quicker—especially if one of us met a cute girl with a soft spot for the white stuff.
After a few weeks, I started to feel bad about leeching off the others, so I started contributing. Things carried on in this fairly innocuous fashion for a few years, into my early 30s.
Then one week, the other guys were busy, so they asked me if I could collect the drugs. I was scared out of my wits. What if the police caught me? What if this guy was a terrifying huge Colombian with a scar and a sawn-off shotgun in the back seat? But I didn’t want to let the guys down, so I took the dealer’s number and arranged to meet him.
It’s hard to think of a man less scary than Colin. Forty-two years old, he was an agreeable, middle-class white man from Essex who still lived with his mum. (When she asked about all the phone calls he was getting, he told her he was a theatre box office manager. On one occasion, I called Colin’s phone and she answered. “I’ll pass the message on,” she said. “How many tickets do you want?”)
After that, it always fell to me to collect the goodies. Every Friday, I’d give Colin a call, and he’d drive round to the backstreet behind my office. I’d sneak out of the building on the pretext of going for a cigarette, and climb into one of his seven flash motors (he used several to avoid detection). Then we’d complete our nefarious transaction, while Colin poured his heart out about the latest woman who’d rejected him. I think he started looking forward to our little rendezvous as much as I did.
Yet I never really got to test out my cocaine-as-animal-magnetism theory. Because at round about this time, a transition occurred. One by one, the guys settled down and moved away. I, meanwhile, remained resolutely single; and then came the Lucy episode.
Before long, Saturday nights out had became Saturday nights in. I carried on buying the cocaine. Only instead of sharing it with pretty girls in nightclub toilets, I hoovered it all up by myself in my bedroom.
To begin with, it was a relic of the old times, a treat every other weekend: one gram, a couple of bottles of wine, a pack of Marlboro and the latest videogame. It filled the void created by the loss of my friends, it made me feel euphoric for a few hours, and it made me forget that I was losing my hair and hadn’t had sex in three years.
Then one weekend I had the Friday off too, so I thought I’d get two grams in instead of one. Only Colin, being Colin, was doing three for the price of two. So I got three grams, and three bottles of wine and two packs of fags, to go with the latest videogame.
Before long I was getting three grams in every weekend.
I don’t know precisely at what point I became addicted. Maybe it was the first time I had a sneaky couple of lines in the office toilet before I went home. Maybe it was the time I stayed up all Sunday night finishing the last dregs, and had to go to work on Monday on no sleep. Maybe it was the time I skipped a friend’s New Year’s Eve party because I decided I’d rather stay in, surf the internet for porn and stuff corrosive white powder up my nose.
Ever since my teens, I’d religiously kept a diary. Nothing too detailed—just a summary of important events, and a few immature reflections on existence. But my diary from this period is almost completely blank. The few entries I wrote were generally composed at about 4am on a Monday morning: “I swear to God I am never touching this stuff again.”
Every time, I meant it. But then the next Thursday would roll round, the prospect of another bleak, lonely weekend would present itself, and I would pick up the phone and call Colin.
And my life carried on like that, more or less, for two years.
Things weren’t spiralling out of control, exactly. During the whole time, I took maybe two days off sick, although I turned up looking pretty ropey once or twice. I didn’t lose any friends, although I did miss a couple of important birthday parties, and came within a whisker of missing a wedding where I was doing the reading. And I didn’t turn to a life of crime to fund my addiction.
But I was throwing away my money, my talent and my youth. And each week, the moments of euphoria became more fleeting; and the comedowns, and the bouts of self-hatred, grew deeper and longer.
That wasn’t enough to make me stop.
In 2003, I had a dentist’s appointment. A routine checkup and clean. Since I had the day off work, the night before, obviously, I’d done a gram of coke.
Now, one of the side-effects of prolonged cocaine use is that it softens your teeth. It dries your mouth out, increasing the chance of tooth decay, and sometimes makes you grind your jaws together at night. Colin had, understandably, neglected to inform me of this fact. So when the dentist started scraping and jabbing at my teeth, I felt pain more acute than I’d ever felt before. It was as if someone had stretched out all the nerve endings in my body and attached them to the National Grid. My hands were clawing at the armrests, and it was all I could do to stop myself screaming.
After he’d finished, the dentist said: “Do you grind your teeth? Because there’s some serious abrasion here. If you’re not careful, your teeth are going to crumble away.”
But that wasn’t enough to make me stop.
By this time I was living in a flatshare in Muswell Hill, with two strangers: a big, friendly Northern Irish guy called Liam, and a cute, shy German girl called Liesl. We got on well enough, but since we didn’t have much in common, we mostly kept ourselves to ourselves: Liesl in the living room watching Buffy, Liam in the pub, and me in my room, engrossed in the latest RPG.
Liesl had been going out with the same guy for years. But in early 2004, they broke up. She took it hard at first, but after re-watching all five seasons of Angel and listening to her Cure album a hundred or so times, she got over it.
About two months later, one Saturday night at about 3am, I was well into one of my sessions when there was a knock at the door. This was unheard of. We never knocked on one another’s doors.
“What is it?”
“Andy … will you have sex with me?”
I’m not sure what my response would have been under normal circumstances. I liked Liesl. She had an amazing body, and we were both single young people in dire need of physical intimacy. But at that precise moment, I had no choice in the matter. Because while the white powder greatly enhanced my desire for physical intimacy, it had the opposite effect on my performance.
Besides, if Liesl saw me in my present state—ashtray overflowing, two empty bottles of wine on the desk, deviant lesbian porn on the computer screen, flaccid penis lolling uselessly in my hand—I was fairly sure the offer would be retracted.
“Uh, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”
“Go on, please …”
My cute flatmate was begging me for sex, and here was I, barely able to click my mouse.
“Liesl … you’re drunk and you’re … not thinking straight. Go back to bed.” (“And besides,” I might have added, “I couldn’t get it up if you were Jennifer Connelly and her long-lost twin sister.”)
“You’re no fun,” she grumbled, and tramped off to bed.
But that wasn’t enough to make me stop.
The weekends dragged on for another year. Another year of growing self-hatred, shrinking teeth, and dwindling contact with the outside world.
In my line of work, you used to get things called sabbaticals; every four years, you got a paid month off work to use as you saw fit. You’re supposed to use this time off to achieve something—carry out some academic research, do some investigative journalism, write a book. Most people used it to redecorate their bathrooms, but nonetheless, it was a rare chance to undertake a project.
Personally, I’d always treasured the notion of writing a sitcom. I’d written sketches for the Comedy Cellar, the Edinburgh festival, Radio 4 and TBA, and a few hours’ worth of stand-up. But I’d never actually sat down and produced a full-length piece of comic writing. I could use my month to book a long holiday away somewhere tranquil—Ireland, maybe; I’d never been to Ireland—and finally find out what I was capable of.
So I had a choice. I could either go out, buy a couple of new computer games, and make Colin a very happy man by placing the biggest order I’d ever placed; or I could use the sabbatical for its intended purpose, and try to realise my dream.
I put off the decision for as long as possible. Then, with three days left until my month off, I booked myself into a B&B in County Clare.
A year or so later, just before Christmas, I got a text message. It was Colin. “Hi, Andy. Just wondering if you’re OK—haven’t heard from you in a while. Anyway, hope you have a nice Christmas. Cheers, Colin.”
My thumb hovered over the reply button for a good few seconds. Then it drifted a few centimetres to the left, and pressed delete.
Anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher persuaded a number of couples who were deeply in love to have their brains scanned in magnetic resonance imaging machines. The scans revealed that sexual attraction stimulates the production of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The effect, she noted, is similar to that caused by the consumption of cocaine.
A version of this appeared on The Fix.
Image credit: Bisbi/Flickr