Smack use, like everything in Tynda, is dangerous and futile, even compared to junkie life elsewhere. The risks (harsh punishments, ODing, HIV) are higher and the 500 rubles required to buy a chek, or dose, is harder to scrounge up. And yet, where else do you hear about people who, having exhausted all other veins, shoot smack straight into their foreheads and dicks? Just imagine how many 500-ruble cheks it would take to use up all the veins in your body, and compare the cost of all those cheks to the net worth of an average Tynda resident. Manokha doesn't keep statistics on the number of deaths from overdoses, but she said she knows of five last year. From my interviews alone, I have heard of eleven overdose deaths last year, including a two-day period in which seven people died from injecting bad heroin.
There are, of course, different levels of heroin abuse. Not everybody is like Sasha, who was sentenced to five and a half years last Tuesday after his own mother turned him in for trying to steal the family fridge. For example, Misha - who is still sleeping next to me - hasn't hawked his mother's TV yet. Before getting high he told me, "I'm not a junkie. I just shoot up for myself."
That was a total lie - I could tell he was jonesing hard long before he shot up, even through the armor of alcohol that he had been drinking for days to ward off withdrawal. He displayed all the unloveable traits that make junkies so hard to pity. They really are dirt, as anyone who has ever known one will attest to. Whiny, sponging pains in the ass.
Misha's only been on smack since last summer, but his decline has been rapid. For some people it just works that way with smack. His cheeks are caved in and he hasn't shaved in a week. But it's how he acts, not how he looks, that marks Misha as a classic junkie. He has the attention span of a 5-year-old deprived of Ritalin; he must have started telling me about the meaningless hell his life was at least 10 times, but he always got distracted before he actually got beyond the introduction.
Still, the fact that he spent a good two hours making sure that I wasn't an undercover cop setting him up for a sting before he agreed to shoot up in front of me says mountains about his self-control. He could have agreed instantly. Then again, maybe it was just paranoia, which in Misha was so highly developed he even refused the pseudonym I offered him (Vanya) and came up with his own.
Everybody in Misha's neighborhood, from people walking their dogs to his own mother, tries to avoid him. The clerk at the local kiosk is lucky; Misha is afraid to go near it because of an outstanding 200-ruble debt. According to his acquaintances, Misha doesn't steal so much as grovel for money with no shame, as only a junkie can. He was constantly begging, pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top style, for me to throw him a bone. It didn't even matter what, just anything free. When I bought him a pack of smokes, he said he gave it to his wife, even though we never saw her. Then he kept bumming my smokes, and complaining they were too light! Eventually, when he was grubbing for 7 rubles to buy his needles, I scolded him like a child. He affected sad puppy-dog eyes, then started the whining and groveling all over again.
I didn't meet Misha's wife or little daughter, since they moved out of the apartment long ago. The apartment where he now lives alone with his 70-year-old mother is shoddy even by Tynda's standards, but many alcoholics live in worse. When he took me to his apartment, his mother didn't even raise her head from the TV to greet him; only when she noticed me did she slip into babushka mode, offering me soup and telling me the family history. She seemed to take a liking to me, hovering around the table long past her welcome, and I can't help wondering if she hoped maybe I could help Misha recover.
Later, when I was trying to revive the dying Misha, I started anguishing over who would tell her the bad news and how the grief would affect her enormous breasts and cancerous looking moles.