I Was an Addict Who Needed Cat Food [EXCERPT]
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I Was an Addict Who Needed Cat Food [EXCERPT]


patrick oneil

This post was originally published on August 5, 2015.

The dope man won’t come to our house. Even the lure of selling a quarter ounce won’t get him here. Some nights he’s like that. Instead we make plans to meet in the Haight. I tell Jenny I’ll be back in a while. I take the .38 from my desk and slip it inside my coat pocket.

The wind from the Bay cuts through me as I wait for the bus. Across the street my neighbor comes home. The automatic door opens and he effortlessly drives his Range Rover into the garage. I can hear a television from one of the apartments in a nearby building. Someone laughs and I curse them under my breath for having a good time. I’ve only enough money for dope and a bus ride. Every couple of days I have to pull another robbery.

The bus takes forever. My stop comes and I wander to a pay phone to call the dealer.

Twenty minutes later I’m back at the bus stop. My leather jacket is useless against the cold, the lining is torn, and the zipper’s broken. I pull out my cigarettes and realize I’m almost out. I count the change in my pocket. I don’t have enough for another pack. I barely have the bus fare. The muscles in my chest tighten. I feel anxious and sweaty. The weight of the gun pulls at my jacket, and I’m conscious of it being there.

When I get on the bus I sit in the back by the window. In front of me are three kids, they look like gangbangers, but it’s hard to be sure. One of them pushes the other and he falls across the aisle onto an older woman who’s holding a bag of groceries. She screams and the driver stops the bus. “Gonna call the cops if y’all don’t stop messin’ ’round!”

“Man, fuck you,” says one of the kids.

Then he sees me staring. “What-a-ya lookin’ at fool?”
The driver turns the steering wheel, the bus shimmies as he weaves through traffic. The kid glares in my direction, then looks away. A few minutes later all three get up and stand by the back door. The woman with the groceries moves away from the center aisle. The driver pulls to the curb and they begin filing out.

“Fuck you, bitch,” the kid says as he flips me off.

My anxiety turns to anger. I close my eyes and dream of shooting the kid—his brains splattering across the interior of the bus. I replay the image over and over, nonstop, until it’s not the kid any more, it’s me, and a cop smiling as he pulls the trigger, the bullets ripping through my chest. I suck in my breath and open my eyes. I’ve been having vivid dreams of getting shot. In bed, when I close my eyes, I see cops, their guns pointing at me, the smell of cordite and blood in my nostrils.

A strong gust of wind blows dust in my face as I get off the bus. On the corner is a payphone. I dial the number to my house. After three rings Jenny picks up.

“I’m fuckin’ losing it,” I tell her.

“What happened?”

“Some punk kid on the bus.”

“Is that all? Thought dude didn’t show with the dope. Come on, baby. Don’t let some kid bother you.”

She’s right. I know she’s right. I lean my head against the side of the booth as I relax my grip on the phone.

“Where are you?” she asks.

“On the corner, almost home.”

“We need cigarettes and cat food.”

“The cat needs food?”

“Cats eat,” says Jenny.

“I ain’t got…”

“What?” she says.

I want to tell her I don’t have any more money. I want to tell her I’m cold and I just want to come home. I want to tell her I’m tired of pulling robberies. I’m scared shitless. I’m getting anxiety attacks. I’m dreaming of police shooting me.

I hang up the phone.

In the middle of the block there’s a small market where I buy cigarettes. I pull out the gun as I walk inside. The woman behind the counter stares and doesn’t move. A Chinese language program plays on a small black and white television beside her.

“Gimme a carton of Camels, cat food, and all the money,” I tell her.

“I know you,” she says.

“Camels, money, cat food,” I yell, my head feeling like it’s going to explode.

“You live neighborhood. You buy from me,” she says, holding her hands up in the air. “Why you do this?”

I point the gun at her face and say nothing. She opens the cash register, pulls out money, and grabs a carton of Camel Filters and puts it all in a bag and hands it to me. “Cat food over on shelf.”

This is an excerpt from Gun, Needle, Spoon, published by Dzanc Books. All rights reserved.

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About Author

Patrick O’Neil is the author of the memoir Gun, Needle, Spoon (Dzanc Books). For the past 17 years he has lived and worked in the recovery community as a recovering addict/alcoholic, a drug and alcohol counselor, a college instructor, group facilitator, and a narrative healer. In 2015 the State of California granted him a Certificate of Rehabilitation. In 2016 California Governor Edmund G. Brown awarded him a Governor’s Pardon. He has taught writing workshops in numerous correctional facilities and institutions and continues to be of service to his fellowship and community. O’Neil lives with his wife Jennifer, a rather large Maine Coon, and a squirrel, in Downtown Los Angeles. For more information, please visit: patrick-oneil.com.