I was cold; you might think you know what that’s like, but you never felt cold until you’ve laid down on an Oregon sidewalk in January. It’s a cold that’s under your skin, that gets in your bones and travels into your guts. You get so cold you’re too numb to shiver. And the wind was gusting, and the storefront we were perched in wasn’t shelter enough to stop it.
Still, it wasn’t raining, so I guess it could have been worse. Max wasn’t a friend of mine. He beat his wife half to death when she refused to buy him any more drugs; he said she loved him enough not to press charges, but not enough to let him stay. He’s an animal, now. He does things for money, to people, for money; he’s lost the right to be considered a person anymore.
All last week had been rain. Then snow. Then slush. Then snow that became slush the moment it touched you. Then more rain. But always freezing, tiny, cold fingers that crept down your skin- you could feel it infecting you with the cold. This winter was worse, or I was weaker than last year, but I knew I wouldn’t make it.
I’m not proud, but I did what I had to. I took all the money I’d saved up. I could have spent a night in a hotel, maybe even a nice hotel, taken a bath, rented a porno, eaten in. But instead I bought drugs. For Max. He hesitated, but I told him it was for a happy Christmas. He told me it was over, and I smiled, and told him Santa had trouble finding him. Like the junkie he was, he put it all in his vein without thinking, and fell back against the sidewalk with a thud he didn’t feel.
I gave him enough heroin to OD twice, but I got paranoid, you know. The cops wouldn’t think I killed him, they’d just nod and drag him away, leave me out in this biting Portland winter. I jabbed the can opener into his throat, and I tried to open him like he was tin, but his skin tore easy and the can opener slid in. My hands came back a deep red, but they were warm.
The thing of it, the streets weren’t empty. There were people hopping bars. I put out my bloody hands to show I meant no harm, and I begged them, “Call someone. Call someone. Help. Please.” They walked by without looking, like I was asking them for change. I rifled through Max’s pockets, and found change enough for the payphone, only when I got there I remembered that police calls were free.
My lefty lawyer tried to tell the court I wasn’t responsible for my actions; he put the system on trial for discharging me in ’63, he blamed Reagan for slashing social programs. I stood up in court and explained that I wasn’t insane, and didn’t want to plead insanity, and that my lawyer was a homo who’d blown the judge for a reduced sentence. The judge threatened to fine me for contempt, so I sat back down.
I fixed the jury, each one of them, and stared so they thought I’d knife them if I wasn’t handcuffed. They deliberated for a half an hour. I didn’t get life, but at my age, 28 years was close enough.
People think I’m crazy because I mumble to myself. They think I’m crazy for wanting to come here. They say maybe I’ll get stabbed. Maybe I’ll get raped. Maybe I’ll end up dead. But that’s no different than where I come from. The change is here, I always get three hots and a cot.