By Karen Collazo     

Each one of my addictions provides its own unique high. Shoplifting gives me a real sense of accomplishment. For days afterwards, I marvel at my collection of stolen goods and I’m filled with pride. I feel smart and slick and vindicated for having taken something that this world owes me. Binge-eating suppresses my anxiety. When I sit down and stuff an entire bag of Cheese Doodles down my throat, I’m focused on a specific task, with a straightforward end in sight, blocking out all the other noise. There is but one thing on my mind and that is to pick up the next doodle, and then the next, and then the next—until I’m staring at the bottom of an empty bag that is covered in orange cheese flakes. This act refocuses my attention away from the thing that is causing me to panic. Cocaine makes me confident. One bump and I’m the smartest, hottest and funniest person in that room. Another bump and my ideas are the fucking best. Sex is about control. I hold the dial between my legs and I get to choose how much pleasure you’ll enjoy. And when they beg for it, my ego floats high above our heads. I can only cum when I’m looking down at a puny man that moans for more.

From an intellectual standpoint, I understand that these are unhealthy coping mechanisms that I need to quit. These are dangerous and harmful ways to avoid life on life’s terms. But there is one addiction I have yet to share with you that I refuse to stop giving into. It is an obsession that infinitely outweighs the overwhelming need to binge-drink, shoplift, snort an eight ball of coke or eat a whole box of Swiss Cake Rolls in one sitting. It was eighteen years ago when I had my first taste. And since then, I’ve found myself time and time again leaping beyond my perverse limits for just a second of the most irresistible indulgence I’ve ever experienced. For a long time, I was confused about my desire and what it achieved for me. But now that I’ve begun my journey of recovery, I have a better sense of what it is and why I seek it out with such fervor. The one drug I won’t give up is Him.

We met late in high school. It wasn’t until the 11th grade that our paths crossed. I had gone to another school nearby, but due to a falling out with friends—after an unfortunate event at a party, I decided to transfer. I had gone from the popular preppy girl to an emotionally disturbed punk rock teen in the span of one summer, and was now looking forward to reintroducing this new poetic and misunderstood version of myself to the world. It was my first day at my new school, when a practice fire drill during fourth period Journalism thrust all the students out into the sweltering August heat. I was wearing the required uniform of the time: wide-legged Jnco jeans, a washed-out thrift store baseball tee, black combat boots, a Claire’s beaded choker and Manic Panic cotton candy pink streaks in my jet-black curly hair. A tall brunette approached me excitedly.

“Hey, aren’t you that girl from the Montel Williams show?” she asked.

“Uhh, no… I think you have the wrong person,” I said.

She laughed it off and suddenly I found myself being pulled through the crowd towards The Tree, a shaded corner across the street from the school where all the rocker kids lounged under an old pepper tree—before, during and after school. She quickly introduced me to her misfit friends as the girl she just confused for the one on the Montel Williams show and I thought: well, it could be worse. The group that had gathered was debating what to do for the weekend when someone mentioned there was going to be a show.

At the time, the music scene in our town was tiny. Indie rock bands played to small overexcited crowds, in whatever space they could find. Most weekends, kids stood around listening to live music in old-timey wood-paneled and carpeted pool halls, makeshift indoor skate parks and warehouses that housed ice cream trucks by night and future rock stars by day. You knew there was a show coming up only by the cheap black-and-white flyers that were passed out at the event you were currently attending. They were simple ads—usually listed band names like, a time, a place and a rough hand-drawn sketch of a nun bent over while a priest takes her from behind.

The first time I interacted with Him was at a hole-in-the-wall bar that was command central for the local rockers. At the time, the neighborhood was very sketchy. You had to tip the homeless guy on the corner to “keep an eye” on your car, which was parked on the side of the street. If you didn’t throw the guy a couple of bucks, he would look the other way if someone tried to break into it. The place was grungy, but the bartenders never carded and they called you “sweetheart” and “darling” when asking: “What’ll you be havin’?”

The boy was tall, skinny, pale and shy. He stood around cracking stupid jokes with his friends, but didn’t really say much else. He called me “rosy cheeks,” handed me a demo of his band and asked if I wanted a beer. He was cute and his smile was genuine. It might have been the way he threw a glance in my direction every so often, as though he was trying to make a decision, which caught my initial attention. But it was his emotional intelligence that ultimately did me in. I crushed hard for years and then he became just another addiction.

It wasn’t long after the 11th grade started that a close-knit group of us all became very good friends. We shared a common love of music and an open optimism for life beyond what we knew. We felt bigger than our town. We lived for each other and the weekends, when we would steal away and enjoy the life of a rebellious teenager's dream. We skipped school to watch scary movies that I borrowed from my part-time job at Blockbuster. We hung out on the beach. We drank beers in empty parking lots, while listening to Sunny Day Real Estate. On Sundays, we snuck into clubs, where we danced to Depeche Mode and made fun of the Goth kids. When the weather was nice, we’d pack into my two-door Toyota Tercel and drive out to my parent's beach place to get high on weed and roll on ecstasy. When any one of our parents went away on vacation, we’d take over that friend’s empty house and throw bacchanalia-style get-togethers. We were friends, lovers and family.  Young and free, surrounded by my new friends, I felt safe, understood and loved. Life had yet to burden me with the death of my parents, debt and true heartache. I was so lucky then and didn’t know it.

When I look back at the happiest point in my life, I’m transported to the summer of 1998. I’m seventeen and six of us have all drifted off to sleep, laid out across the couches and beds in my 3-bedroom house. My parents are in Cuba for the next two weeks and I have the whole place to myself. Earlier that night we had killed two bottles of tequila, a 24-pack of beer and smoked tons of pot. We danced like idiots, took silly pictures and cracked jokes at each other’s expense. The sun was beginning to rise and there was Nagchampa incense from the local Hare Krishna temple wafting through the air. Somewhere in the background, The Cure’s “Lovesong” is playing.

It’s just us two. We’re lying on my parents’ king-sized bed, which is covered in a bright sunflower-patterned duvet. The blinds are halfway open. The cool morning sun is creeping in. We’re spooning and fully clothed when he asks me to give him cosquillita to help him fall asleep. This is the first time that we are alone together. My fingers tremble as they make small circles on his back, under his shirt. I tune into his breathing and wonder if he could tell how nervous and excited I am to be lying next to him. Then, I slowly slide my arm around to his front—to lightly caress his flat stomach. His breathing remains steady, while mine becomes labored, as my fingers trace the trail between his belly button and the elastic band of his boxers. Then my pinky grazes the head of his cock...

When a junkie indulges in addictive behavior, they are always chasing that first high. There is nothing like your first. Over time, it just doesn’t feel the same and you eventually require inordinate amounts of the substance to barely gratify the intense urges that beg for relief. But every hit after your first, no matter how big, will never compare. Chasing that dream is how you find yourself hitting rock bottom. And from that place is where you can begin to recover. The problem with my addiction to Him, is that it's bottomless.

When I lived in New York, he came into town a handful of times. Beforehand, we’d make plans to see each other—texting feverishly about all the dirty things we were going to do to one another when we were finally face-to-face and alone, in my apartment. But, I never did keep my promise and left my phone unanswered for days. His presence was too much for me to handle. The two worlds did not fit on one island. I had left Miami to escape my ghosts and he was a haunting reminder of life before cancer. But on my yearly trips back to Miami for the holidays, I sought Him out anxiously. Having Him took away the stress of being back home and made visits with my extended family bearable.  

Over the years, our physical connection evolved. The sex got better, hotter, more intense and extremely depraved. While the ability to reach orgasm has always been exciting in and of itself, for me it has always been more than just sex. Fucking Him is a journey back in time—to a moment in history when I was inexperienced, full of dreams and could never imagine the battle that would wage inside and torment me for years to come. When his lips touch mine and I’m full of him, I’m transported to the summer of 1998.

Over the years, we’ve tested the limits of degeneracy by outdoing our last encounter. We’ve stayed in dirty cheap motel rooms on, driven to dangerous neighborhoods for drugs and have been careless in many other ways. When we saw each other last year, I did $200 worth of coke and Molly in one night and then we fucked for 12 hours. It was exhilarating, filled my deviant soul and took me where I wanted to go: away. At the time, I needed to be transported to that moment and place. I had just moved back to Miami and the demons I thought I had left behind were patiently waiting for my return. I wanted to run so badly, but I got high off Him instead. Then, like when I’m coming off a coke high, when I couldn’t have more of Him I lost my shit. I spiraled out of control and found myself trapped in that place all addicts succumb to when the drugs have run out and you have no more money. 

Some days, I wish that my desire would have remained as innocent as it once was; a simple high school crush. Unfortunately, it became another one of my sick afflictions and probably the most dangerous, because I've never had a bad trip. Each time I’m with Him, I reach new levels of high. Quitting Him is just not an option. Living clean would mean erasing a memory that I never want to let go. It means losing that place that once existed, where my parents will be back from Cuba in two weeks and I am safe and loved.

Dear Dad

By Karen Collazo   

It must have been no later than 8am on a Saturday, because the light was breaking behind the warehouses on the east side of the Palmetto. The air was cool and crisp; it was winter in Miami. That morning, Mami woke me and Annette up early, made us café con leche and told us we were going to see you. I don’t recall how she explained why this meeting was taking place in the Mall of The America’s parking lot, but there we were waiting for your white 1989 Bronco to pull in. It had been a few months since we had last seen you, since you had left on your business trip. The visit lasted just a few minutes. You hugged Mami and told us that you missed us and would be home soon. And just like that, we were on the highway on our way back to Hialeah without you. Mami cried all the way home.

This wasn’t unusual growing up. Throughout the years, you popped in-and-out—always living between two places.  But you always made sure your time with us was the most memorable. The three of us, Mami, Annette and me, had grown accustomed to being a family of our own, with you as recurring guest. And while you may have missed unimportant events, like: science projects, trips to the doctor, Saturday morning pancakes and volleyball games, you always tried to make it up to us on our birthdays, during the holidays and on family day. Sundays were our day to pile into Mami’s blue Cadillac and eat lunch at a fancy restaurant as a family. Then you’d spend the rest of the afternoon showering us with gifts as we went shopping around town.

Do you remember that one Sunday when I was eight years old when we went to an upscale seafood restaurant downtown? As we walked up the steps toward the entrance, Annette and Mami leading the way with you and me trailing behind, a man jumped out from the bushes. He snatched Mami’s brown handbag and pushed her down the steps. It was an expensive purse that you had bought her on a recent business trip, which she wore with so much pride. As both she and Annette tumbled down the front steps, you ran after the thief. He dove in head first through the back seat window of a getaway car and sped away, as you ran to our car to get your 9mm Berretta from the glove compartment. I followed you, scared.

You saw me trailing you and yelled at me to go back and help Mami. You stopped in the middle of the street and pointed your gun in the direction of the car that was quickly speeding away. It was too late. They had made a left at the light and were no longer within range. The restaurant hostess had seen everything and called the police. We were escorted inside and statements were taken. After we had all regrouped and credit cards were cancelled, you proudly recounted how fearlessly I had run after the bad guys. But, I wasn’t running after the bad guys, I was running after you.

I was your quintessential daddy’s girl – a Jewish-Cuban princess who got everything and anything she ever wanted. My closet and dressers were filled with the clothes and accessories of a teenage girl’s dream. On my seventh birthday, you came home with Minnie, a Shih-Tzu puppy who would later round out our family and always stand guard when you weren’t around. On my ninth birthday, you lied and told me that you hadn’t bought me anything. I was so hurt. I thought you didn’t love me. I ran crying to my bedroom and crawled into the bottom bunk of the bed I shared with my sister. You followed me into the room and told me that if I was going to be a spoiled brat that the least I could do was cry from the top bunk, which is where I slept. I yelled at you to go away, but you insisted that I move. When finally I climbed the stairs to my bunk, I found a bright pink boom box with a bow on it. You laughed and hugged me and told me that you would never forget my birthday. You were always playing pranks like that. For my 12th birthday, you bought me my first set of pearls. When I turned thirteen, we took a trip to Spain to celebrate. For my quinces, you and Mami threw me a quinceañera party, which you told me cost $30,000. As soon as I was of driving age, you gave me my first new car. And on my 18th birthday, you came home with a platinum Montblanc pen. You said you hoped it would inspire me to write the greatest words ever written.

Most of my memories of you come attached to the things you bought me. You were the new Bongo Jeans, the Motorola cell phone, the brand new white and pink bedroom set. I was surrounded by you, but you were never there.

I know you tried. You taught me that a girl could do anything a boy could. You hammered in me the importance of going to school and never letting anyone take me for a sucker. If I was home sick and you happened to be in town, you’d take me with you as you ran business errands. I was your little assistant. On these days, I got to see first-hand what it was like to get “things” done.

Like that day we went to visit your cousin, to collect some money he owed you after you helped him get his trucking business started. You asked me to wait in the car while you met him inside his office. You expected things to get ugly and you didn’t want me to see the two of you arguing. I remember it was raining. I sat in your black Pontiac Bonneville, listening to Jose Feliciano. I studied the gun in the glove compartment.

After you collected your payment in full, we went to a small cafeteria in Little Havana for coffee and pastelitos. As you sipped your colada and flirted with the waitress, my eyes lit up when they spotted the Butterfinger candy bars in the glass case beneath the coffee window. I didn’t even have to ask. Seconds later, there were two Butterfingers in my hands–one for me and one for Annette.

These days, I think about how if you only knew what would become of me, you might have changed some of the choices you made. Would you have tried your hand at a noble profession that paid little, but set a good example for your daughters?

When Mami was dying of cancer at Mercy Hospital, five years before you lost your own battle, she looked at me the way one looks at a starving child in Africa, in a Save the Children commercial; it pulls at your heartstrings, but you know deep down there is nothing you can really do to change that kid’s future. The last time she spoke to me, she said, “Can you imagine it? A father provides for his family by trafficking the very thing his daughter later becomes addicted to.” That’s when it all came into sharp focus–when the trips to Puerto Rico, the extravagant parties and the lavish jewelry, car and houses all finally made sense. I had just turned 21.

I am comforted by the fact that while you weren’t physically there for us, or a model citizen, you did love us in your own way. You always protected us, especially from the reality of your career. The only one who truly suffered was Mami, who didn’t always know if you would make it home that night, while Annette and I assumed you always would. We didn’t know any better.

You grew up poor, on the streets of Cuba–bouncing from family to family and sometimes even crashing with friends, after your mother handed you over to her mother so that she could start a new family with her second husband. Later, your grandmother would try to commit suicide in front of you when you were nine years old. You grew up with nothing, but always found a way to survive. Once in America, your ambitions found a fertile underground world where your dreams of being wealthy could finally come true. You put yourself in danger in order to give us what we needed, except you.

Later, when it was your turn to lie in a hospital bed dying of cancer, one of my best friends from middle school came to visit. She walked into that cold and sterile room at Coral Gables Hospital and found you buried underneath a pile of blankets. You were weak and skinny–almost unrecognizable, except for your strong hands. Even as the morphine dosage increased, they continued to mimic the act of lighting a cigarette, which you did several times a day, every day, for 40 years. I fondly remembered how I used to wrap my little hand around one of your big fingers, as we walked along side each other. My friend smiled at you and asked: “Hola Viejo, te acuerdas de mi?” (Hey old man, remember me?).

You smiled graciously, but I knew you didn’t recognize her. It was Mami who drove Grisel and me to gymnastics every day after school in the sixth grade. It was Mami who made us s’mores and popcorn when Grisel slept over. Mami was the one who knew that Grisel’s mom, Elena, called her by her nickname “Cookie” and once borrowed her recipe for natilla pudding with vanilla wafers, because I couldn’t stop raving about it.

In that moment, any anger I may have felt towards you for not being around, melted away. I felt sorry for you. You were once my hero and overnight had become an unfit father. But just then, you turned into a poor old man who was never really able to enjoy the true riches that this life had to offer.

Growing up, it was rare when you were around. On those occasions when you missed my birthday, you would send me a bouquet of one dozen pink roses. It always made me feel like the most loved and most special girl in the world. The card would always read: “Feliz cumpleaños a mi bella hija. De tu papa, que te quiere.” (Happy birthday, to my beautiful daughter. From you father, who loves you.) I would go to school and tell everyone about it feeling so important. Today, I wonder if those flowers ever really came from you or if Mami sent them on your behalf. I have so many questions that I know will go unanswered. Your business associates may know more about you than your family did. They called you “El Ingeniero,” (The Engineer), a nickname you carried proudly. But no matter what you did or didn’t do, after all these years, you were and will always be Papi–the only man to ever send me a bouquet of flowers.