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The Bottom of Sonoma

Sonoma will be the same for eternity. You can leave here for decades, come back and find it just the same.
Lauren O'Connor

Issue #34, October 1997

I am a drug addict. I have been one since the day I was born on Friday, July 2, 1976 in San Francisco. I was born to a single mother, and named after her favorite movie star: Lauren Bacall. My mother spent the weekend of the 200th anniversary of the United States of America in Kaiser Hospital. She said all she could hear was the never-ending parade, and the shouts of thousands.

Apparently my biological father was at the hospital the night I was born, but he left to go shoot dope while my mother was giving birth. I'm sure my mother wished she could go with him under her condition. She had done heroin for two years before she became pregnant with me and perhaps all throughout her pregnancy. She finally stopped when I was two. When I was much older (and was in the midst of my own battle with drugs) she told me the story about what made her finally get off junk:

It was 1978. She laid down on her bed. She was exhausted and wanted to die. I walked over to her, kissed her hand and said, "Don't worry Mommy, everything's going to be all right."

I got drunk and smoked my first cigarette when I was 12 years old. That habit continued through junior high school. I was then able to move on to bigger and better things. By high school I had tried my first serious drug, speed. I was 14. I did it off and on, but I didn't really get too into it until I started to get deeply depressed, and I started hanging out with the "wrong crowd." I am still hanging out with that same "wrong crowd." We've been through a lot together. We've had some shitty times together. We've had some REALLY shitty times together. People have always wondered why I hang out with a bunch of white-trash, punk-rock dirtbags.

They have their downfalls, but I wouldn't trade them for anything. They're my buddies, my bros, they're my support group, they're my family. They were there for me when nobody else was. Rejects have to group together to get through things. To share stories of rejection. To fuck up together. To get loaded together. To climb the mountain together and pull rocks out from underneath each other on the way up. As a group, we share some of the hardest times of any of our lives. Besides, they know how to party like nobody's business.

One time, when I was a senior in high school, my mother left me at home alone to go camping for a week in West Marin. At the same time, my friend Dana's mom left her alone, too. I had my best friend, Christine call me in sick to school, posing as my mother, and I was free for the entire week. That was one of the craziest weeks I've ever experienced in my life. I didn't sleep from Monday through Friday. Every night Dana had a huge bash. People were streaming in and out of her house the whole time. Only a select few spent the night. Of those, fewer actually slept because they were so wired on speed. Dana would have absolutely KILLED us if she'd known. All day and all night, speed, speed, speed, and alcohol, alcohol, alcohol. It seemed like it would never end.

The last night we all were together, there was an insane party. As the evening progressed, people got drunker and drunker. Eventually a game of "Asshole" was started. Then it got disgusting. This kid Dillon was wasted and losing the game. Dillon all of a sudden puked beer all over the table and floor. All he had eaten recently was a couple of hot dogs. The rest was beer. Coincidentally, Dillon's turn to drink was up, but we had run out of beer. He solved that quickly by slurping up the regurgitated beer up off of the table. Dillon's best friend Zak had him beat though. Zak walked up, picked up a piece of hot dog, and in the name of all that is punk rock, proceed to eat it. It was still warm, he said. To think those were still innocent days...

Sonoma is a posh, quaint, beautiful town in Northern California's wine country. It is so historic. After all, some of California's best grapes were first planted here. The last mission in California is here. The state's first capital was Sonoma. The wine country cuisine is excellent to boot. Money just flows in this town. Sonoma is a place for middle aged people with a lot of money to throw lavishly around. Sonoma is a Mecca for a Marin yuppie's wet dreams.

It's built in traditional Spanish style, with a plaza in the middle of the town. The well groomed plaza is the centerpiece of beauty in the historic "Valley of the Moon." The fun thing about the plaza is the fact that right smack dab in the middle of all this extravagant living are a bunch of punk rock, alcoholic, drug addict skate rats with not much else to do but sit downtown and have a beer.

After high school was when I really got caught up in the scene. I mean really bad. I started selling. I started hanging out in cook houses with people who haven't slept since 1962, and they had guns. But, then again, so did my friend Christine. We were partners in crime. We did everything together, including endangering ourselves.

There was this one night when Christine and I were just cruising around Sonoma trying to find something to do. We only found keggers with kids. We were too young for the bars. But we weren't looking for alcohol. We wanted to get high. There was this one hang out for the cranksters in town. It was the Grand Central Station for speed freaks. The Boyes Hot Springs Food Center was where the dregs came out of hiding and hung out. The Food Center is right in the middle of Boyes Hot Springs, which is uppity, high class Sonoma's all too real ghetto. At the Food Center you could get a money order, cash a check, get a pager, send a fax, get a cellular phone, buy a credit report, rent a movie, and pick up a bag of crank. All at one convenient location. If you ever wanted drugs, all you needed to do was drive by and pick someone up.

Noma Pride Christine and I pulled up one night to get a pack of cigarettes and I saw this black person. He looked very peculiar. I pointed him out to Christine. The odd thing was that this person was a gay, black male. First of all, there are about three black people in Sonoma. Second of all, there are even fewer openly gay people... and this guy was flaming. We picked him up.

Well he was actually a she. She was wearing the most hideous perfume in the world. The kind in those huge green bottles at Long's. She was very tall, with a very deep voice. When she got in the car, she was finishing off a plate of cherry pie. To this day we still don't know where she came from or where she went. All we know is what happened next.

She took us to a place in Boyes that I had driven by a million times growing up in Sonoma. We parked the car and she got out and started to go in. It looked very sketchy. Christine and I hesitated. Christine decided she would go in. We both were very nervous about the situation not knowing anybody we were about to deal with. So, Chris brought the gun that her abusive boyfriend had given her, got out of the car and went inside.

I was very worried about what was going to happen. It's not like if anything were to happen I could just barge in there and save her. What would I do? All of a sudden I heard men yelling, women screaming, and things banging around. Oh, shit, I thought, Oh, shit! Then Christine and the black woman we picked up ran out of the shack, jumped in the car, and we drove away.

Describing it later, Christine said that when they walked in the door the smell of ether just invaded them. She said she looked around only to see about 8 people, white trash and Mexicans. Their eyes were so sick, she said. It looked like they hadn't slept in years. Then what's her name grabbed Christine by the arm and said, "We have to pretend like we're lesbians so they don't rape us."

Grand, I thought.

Chris went on saying that what's her face had jacked the dealer on an eight-ball earlier, and he started to get rowdy over it. Leave it to a speed freak to flip out over less than $150 worth of cheap, shitty drugs.

We got a pinkish-colored rock of meth, drove away and went to go find a place to do the drugs.

Looking back at it, I think, "What the fuck were we thinking?" But back then I didn't even question it. It didn't matter to me. It wasn't just the drug, either. It was my entire mental state. Speed was my gasoline, the fuel to my fire. It's an upper. At the time I needed anything to make me feel like I wasn't being buried alive.

After that, Christine got more involved in her abusive relationship and I got way more involved in my habit. Christine's boyfriend would never allow her to do speed (about the ONLY good thing about that psycho-bastard). He knew that the two of us together meant trouble. So he kept Christine away. I think Christine allowed herself to be kept away too, because the minute the two of us got together we would immediately get drugs. So, she allowed her shithead boyfriend to throw her in the closet (literally) and I allowed myself to sink further into debt, drugs and depression.

My group of fun-loving fuck-ups (the "wrong crowd") split up as we got older. Our positions in life worsened. Hanging out together turned what was once getting plastered and getting rowdy at shows into groups of inebriation cliques. There were those who turned into full blown alcoholics, shaking from DT's in the morning before drinking the beer they stashed the night before. There were those whose occasional speed habits turned into sitting in a house for days with only the 4 same people you've been with for the last 100 hours straight. You could never find a light bulb, tin foil, or a pen with the ink cylinder still in it. There were those who were in and out of jail for anything from accumulated skateboarding tickets and MIP's (Minor in Possession of alcohol), to 5 counts of felony assault with a deadly weapon, breaking and entering and drug possession. You name it. And there were those who disappeared to different towns to explore selling the shirts off their backs, and getting beat up in ghettos for chiva (heroin).

Heroin is something I've never tried, nor do I think I ever will. I was born addicted to it. Every drug I've ever tried (with the exception of crack) I've become addicted to. A few of my friends really got into heroin. They've either stopped because they hit rock bottom, or they've hit rock bottom and they're just waiting to go to prison for a very long time or die.

One of my best friends O.D.'d and started convulsing in front of his very naive girlfriend (who was on dope, too). Luckily he was staying with his friend who was an EMT, and was revived. He learned his lesson after that (so far as heroin was concerned). As scary as that seems to me, other heroin addicts I know wouldn't be stopped by a mere overdose.

Dillon, the vomit king, is a perfect example. He's has been given everything in life from his wealthy parents (his parents own an inn about 15 minutes north of Sonoma -- it looks like a piece if Italy on the side of the road -- and a restaurant in San Francisco). And everything he's been given he has been squandering on dope for years now. Dillon's been beaten up several times, sold the shirt off his back, and has been in an out of more rehabs than I can count. What's the first thing he does when he gets out of rehab? Leaves the halfway house immediately to go get dope. This has been going on for years.

For Dillon it must be the lifestyle, though. I mean, he's been in this pattern for four to five years, now. He's lost contact, or screwed so many people over that he doesn't know anybody, anymore. And there's no helping him.

But, as we're all getting older, all the burly stuff is sort of petering out. We've either just gotten off drugs (which I commend any of my friends for doing), joined the military like Christine, or started working full-time and going to school like me. But even I haven't gone completely straight edge, though. I still do drugs. I still drink. I smoke pot religiously. I probably do speed about 3 times a year, now. That seems to be just enough to remind me each time why I quit in the first place.

Sonoma will be the same for eternity. You can leave here for decades, come back and find it just the same. The same "do nothing dirtbags" (as well as new recruits) will still be sitting in the rose garden right in the middle of four-star restaurants, drinking a beer and smoking a million cigarettes.

There's still those who haven't put themselves on any sort of a path. They're just tripping in a daze, trying to figure out what to do with themselves. They either refuse to tie themselves down to a job or they get jobs and build themselves up to a certain point, then go tumbling head-first all the way back down to the bottom of the Sonoma.

Lauren O'Connor is beginning the first of many years to come at Santa Rosa Community college. She began her life working hard, and going nowhere fast. She plans to be a social commentator. After her many years of travel in about thirty years you will find her memoirs on the best seller list. She is open for cross-examination and personal clarification at:

Copyright © 1997 by Lauren O'Connor. All rights reserved.