Memoirs of a Marked W•man


You Say "HEROIN" And I Say "COCAINE"

In 1974 when I was 21, after me and my boyfriend Dominique split following a summer theater experience in the Alps, my father allowed me to live in a one bedroom in the building he owned in South-East Paris, the one I'm living in now. About 3 or 4 months after I moved in my parents told me my sister Agnes was divorcing and coming to live in Paris with her two young children, and they told me I had to make room for them in my one-bedroom.

I was going out with an old American photographer who taught me the rudiments of photography. I got to be very interested and bought a reflex camera and two lenses. Then I went out with a British photographer who said he was a poet (that's why I fell for him) and who made me very unhappy and since I felt very bad with the apartment crowded by two irritable kids and my sister, I was looking for a way out and found it by looking at the personals in a lefty weekly magazine. A man was looking for a female companion to travel to Indonesia so I answered the ad and from then on until the spring of 1975 I took train trips to visit him in his chateau in the Luberon mountains. Until I got tired of his emotional sadism because he said he couldn't make his mind between me and another young woman of whom he never spoke until after we had had sex and I was enamored of him.

So I stopped opening his letters and he stopped writing. At the time, on returning from the last week-end at his mediaeval pad, during which he had left me alone in his bedroom to sleep with the other woman in another room, I was convinced this had all been a set-up and I remember that after spending the Saturday night in the train -Jean cut the week-end short and drove me to the station- I returned home with a broad smile on my face because I felt so relieved, I knew at last it was not because there was something wrong with me but I was incapable of thinking anyone in my family could have engineered this horrible cruelty so I didn't dwell on it and went on with my life.

At some time in 1975 Agnes created a situation which in retrospect looks incredibly implausible but while it was occurring I didn't understand where it was leading to. The end result was that my father had been displeased by something and as a result was evicting us all, his two daughters and two young grandchildren. The motive was a complete fabrication which Agnes had attempted to make plausible with a very contrived scenario.


With her new boyfriend and future husband she moved to an abandoned house in the neighborhhod, just a short walk from where we were, and not knowing where to go, unwilling to get a steady secretarial job to afford an apartmment by myself and attracted by the prospect of living rent-free, I moved to the big house too.

The big house became a community of young divorced mothers, their children who all went to a neiboring progressive kindergarten-elementary school name "la Barque" and the couple of Agnes and her beau plus her two children. Many people visited us out of curiosity after hearing about us through word of mouth. This is how I came to know Vladimir: he came to a party we were having one night. He said he was a friend of a young mother who didn't live with us but whose child went to the Barque school. After I left the party and went to my bedroom to sleep, he knocked on my door and asked if he could sleep in my bed with me, assuring me that he only wanted to sleep, but initiating sexual advances after lights out. From that day we had a non-exclusive sexual liaison that lasted several years. Almost every time I saw him he said he was in love wih his woman-friend and apparently the love wwas not reciprocated. And THIS man said that he liked to have some heroin once in a while. He made it sound like it was cool and hip and no big deal, not the horror that the mere word evoked in my mind. And so did his friend Philippe. I never saw either take it in front of me but Vlad said they were both having some together once in a while and this was the reason for their friendship.

After we were forced to move out a year later in the hot summer of 1976, after I had my front teeth chipped in a fake accident that was supposed to knock them out and after that horrible episode at Club Med in Morocco, I moved to an apartment in a small house my mother owned in the outskirts of Evreux. It was in fact the attic which I occupied, while the ground floor was being renovated into an apartment my mother rented out later. I did most of the painting myself. In that city which I found very boring many young people my age were not only junkies but also dealers. A young mother was visiting the baby's father in prison every week after he got busted dealing heroin. She said she was shooting heroin in front of the baby and she thought the baby understood at some level what was going on. Then in 1977 I met, in that same city, a man in his thirties. I was 25. He came to the bar "le Gallion" one night I was there as usual, sitting alone at a table even though I knew almost everybody my age. So I came to sit at the table where he was. He said he was just back from South-East Asia where he had been doing photo-journalism for a news agency. He was tired of doing war-reportage. He was quitting the profession. We started going out and our liaison had hardly begun when he said that he had a heroin habit. A fair amount of my motivation in going out with him was to find a way out of my predicament. I was desperate to leave Evreux and had no money, no job and no place to stay in Paris, and of course, no help from my parents. Since my father had evicted us from the apartment in Paris I refused to see him. So now that I had been "going out" with Sylvain for a while and become enamored of him and met his family -his mother had a hair salon in the city- I learned that my savior needed saving more than I did!

He said he needed to get away from his dealer and other bad influences and went to live in Tunisia in the beginning of the summer. I joined him there for a month. He slept most of the time and I was very bored then I returned to Paris but I missed him too much, silly me, and I worked hard to save money and return to Tunis. On my second visit, which I intended to last much longer than the first, he bought paregoric elixir from pharmacies. This drug was a remedy against the "turista". He said that there was opium in it and it helped with the withdrawal symptoms he was feeling. He often said that the flash of heroin taken intravenously was a thousand times better than an orgasm. How nice to say this to your girlfriend! I was missing smoking weed or hash which were not available (or maybe the plan was to keep me from having any to encourage me to try the elixir!) I started taking some myself. It had a strong taste of anise and alcohol. It didn't take long for the routine to take root: we would go from pharmacy to pharmacy, maybe five in all, buying the maximum allowed per person and per day, and since it was too much liquid to drink we boiled it down to a goo which we swallowed in one gulp, and then waited for the floating sensation. He rented a house near the Bardo museum. The house was empty and we had no furniture. The floors were tiles or marble, the ceilings high and we had no carpet and no heater for the winter. It was so cold that we moved to the maid's shack in the backyard. It was a small space but we could heat it. We went to the house only for the bathroom. No hot water of course. While he had a day-job in a publishing house whose owner was a friend of him -at least this is what I was told) I was not allowed to work and stayed home most of the time, and in that little shack the bed was the only piece of furniture and I stayed in it to keep warm. The blanket was a very heavy rag blanket. Around Christmas Sylvain took a short trip to Paris and came back with a little opium which we ingested. I liked the sensation of floating. Time didn't count, the cold either.

The following spring, without prior warning, my sweethart told me I had to go back to France. I protested and got a week's reprieve, but I had to go. Since I didn't earn any money I wasn't in a position to argue. Sylvain promised that he would follow shortly so I left without worrying too much.

I found lodgings in a cheap hotel rue de Nesle in Paris 6th district. My first evening there, there was a party in the backyard and I got drunk as a skunk after drinking several sorts of wines. I met a woman a little older than me, Christelle G., who lived there. She had a well-furnished room with lots of Oriental drapes. Next to her room lived a man younger than me and good looking, who (said he) was a junkie. There were drops of dried blood on the ceiling. He explained that it was from shooting himself in the arm. He said he had robbed little old ladies after they got their pension at the post office. And that his own brother had died of an overdose in his arms. Yet he kept doing it. He was extremely clever at using all his powers of reasoning and seduction and B.S. and obtained money from me to pay a doctor's visit and a prescription for Palfium, a heroin substitute. After I gave in to his entreaties and handed him some cash when I was very hard up myself,I realized that this drug destroyed people's moral sense. But he gave me a Palfium pill and I took it, at least I got something for my money!

I contacted the people I knew and a young mother who had lived with Agnes and me, nicknamed "Vanvan" said she knew a woman who was looking to share her apartment. It was a one-bedroom apartment rue Doudeauville in the 10th district, East of Montmartre. The tenant of record was a very small jewish woman about my age named Francine Ibram. There were nerve-pills all over the apartment. Valium, Tranxene, what-not... They were not in their packaging, they were sprinkled around all over the place. And my sweetheart was still not coming back. Every week I called his mom to ask if she had news and month after month she said no, so I tried the pills.

I was careful, I only took one to see what it did to me, and it made me feel like Alice when she shrank to the size of a mouse. I really felt this way, like I was a hundred times smaller than normal, and my voice came out like a tiny squeak. It made me feel terrible. I only took two or three pills in all, just to make sure the first effect was not an aberration. (Maybe what I was supposed to do was take them all at once!)

Sylvain returned to France a few months later. Or at least he contacted me. By then I had recovered from my heartache and was going on with my life, trying to switch careers at 25 to advertising copywriter. But his return made me regress to my prior neediness and even though I knew I had no future with him it was hard to give up the dream of Mr Right. I tried hard to see him but he was hard to nail down, one day in Paris, one day in Evreux, always on the move. I went with him once to visit his dope dealer. Some time later, frustrated that I wasn't seeing him enough to my taste, I called the dealer who told me Sylvain was with him. I took the subway to go there but when I reached the courtyard in the Impasse de l'Astrolabe the dealer was crossing it on his way out. He said Sylvain had just left and his eyes, his eyes when he looked at me, were PURE EVIL! I think they were green, and he looked at me with his lids half-way down, and gave me this piercing look that froze my blood in my veins. And after that I never tried to see Sylvain again. I was sure I didn't want to compete with this guy for Sylvain's attention.

While trying to find a job as a copywriter I worked as a temp for Kelly Services. I told the agency manager that I was interested in advertising and she found me a job at Dorland-Grey, which later became Grey Advertising. There someone introduced me to a young man who was an account executive. He had his feet up on the desk when I entered his office, and he wasn't doing anything. He spoke all the time about the USA where he had gone and where he bought the high-tops he wore on his feet. He appeared a little crazy, a little hyper. He explained he had just been hired at a small ad agency that had great accounts. He invited me to a costumed garden party and since I was eager to meet people in the industry and people in general I was interested but I had no costume. He said he would lend me something from his wardrobe and invited me to his apartment so I accepted. He was getting around on a motor scooter so I climbed behind him and off we went to Puteaux, a city North-West of Paris next to Neuilly where my grandparents lived but across the Seine River. He was buying an apartment on a top floor in a high rise named Puteaux 2000 or something to that effect. Among the clothes he showed me I chose a pair of shorts and a slinky tank top which I wore without a bra. After the party we went to his apartment so I could change back into my own clothes and after I sat down on the couch, tired or probably a little drunk, he kneeled down in front of me and took my shoes and my socks off my feet and from then on it was a matter of a heartbeat until we started having sex. But I soon learned he didn't want anything serious. It would have been an infringement on his freedom to ask him personal questions, the kind people ask each other when they are in love. He didn't want to see me or even hear me every day. He only wanted to see me maybe once in a fortnight, so we went out, had dinner somewhere, and he never failed to complain that it was always the man who "signed" (he didn't say "pay") even though he knew I wasn"t making much money at all. As far as my professional ambitions went, he advised me that it was better for advancement to start as a cleaning lady in a small agency than as a secretary in a large one. He didn't smoke anything but he drank a good deal. He had his summer vacation in India all planned so he left me for a month while I worked at making a portfolio to show prospective employers. To quench my thirst in the hot summer I started to drink whiskey with a lot of water and ended up drunk every time. This was the beginning of my alcohol problem.

The following spring, must have been 1978, while having a drink alone at the terrace of a cafe near Les Halles I met a couple who were motorbike riders but still they had a car because it's in a car that we went to the Senlis forest to ride dirt bikes. At that time, the song "Les Uns Contre les Autres" by Canadian singer Fabienne Thiebault was at the top of the charts, as well as the group Dire Straits. And then, at least Nicole and me, switched from the dirt bikes to horseback riding. There was a stable and riding club right next to the biking grounds. The woman who lead the little group of riders was a young black woman, Maryse. She had her hair completely shaved and she was stunning-looking. I smiled when I saw her ample butt spread on the horse's back -she was riding bareback- and the horse's butt just below. That's the time when I rode a crazy horse but this is not the point. After a few months we stopped going to the club. Guess I wasn't falling off the horse soon enough and they gave up the plan? Funny thing is when I spent the week end at my parents'home I spoke about how exciting it was to ride this horse! After we stopped going to the riding club I called up Maryse one day and from then on she came to my place. Francine told me I had to move out. Guess she hadn't expected me to last this long but I wasn't interested in her pills so she needed to get rid of me another way. I had always resented her for not making a little room available to me in the only closet that had a rod to hang clothes on so I kept this in mind to soften the blow of being evicted. After Doudeauville I moved south to Place Cambronne in the 15th to share again, this time with Françoise aka Fath who worked in a marketing research company. She (said she) was a pill-popper, taking amphetamines to lose weight. Some meds she allegedly used were Tranxene, Valium and Tofranil. I never used this kind of pills, I was mistrustful of pharmaceuticals so I stayed away from them, except this one time as I said before.

With Maryse we smoked pot or hashisch, I smoked a lot of that stuff, and she said that she took heroin intravenously. I thought it was odd that she was into horses AND a heroin fiend because a slang word for heroin in French is "horse". From then on we saw each other once or twice a month, she always came to wherever I was living and never made a comment about my frequent moves from one part of Paris to another. She was ten years my junior, she said, and a scorpio like me. She showed me some art pieces she said she did. While trying to find a job as a copywriter I worked as a temp for Kelly Services.

We never spoke about the riding club in the Senlis Forest where she worked and where I met her. I never heard about her holding a job. Well, of course she was very young but then what was she doing leading a group of weekenders on horseback? As often happened with people I met, the initial reason for our meeting soon disappeared in the mists of the past. Like Jean Roché, for instance, who put an ad to find a female companion to travel to Indonesia and record bird songs. That's what the ad said, and what we discussed the first time we met, but after we became involved sexually he never mentioned it again, though he did have a sound studio in his chateau, where he mixed his recordings and had vinyl records pressed from them under the label "L'Oiseau Musicien".

I only went to Maryse's place twice. She lived with her mother in a city South of Paris that was a few bus stops beyond the subway's last stop. Their lodging was a kind of shed that was not initially intended for human habitation. They were poor, obviously. I may have spent one night there and Maryse insisted so much to make me try a small shot of heroin that I relented and allowed her to shoot me with a small quantity of the damned stuff. After giving me the injection she was extremely kind and motherly, asking how I was feeling, if I desired anything etc. If I had been babied once in my life, that was the time. I kind of knew this sudden change of attitude was intended to motivate me to do it again so I didn't let it influence me.

I met her dealer twice. He was a very young man of Indian ancestry and his name was Dilip. He looked at me with an intense gaze and hardly said a word. It never occurred to me that the reason I was meeting him might be to give me a chance to buy some junk from him. It's only now that I understand! As fate would have it, at the time I met him for the second time, I was reading a book about cocaine, an autobiographical novel translated from the American. The original title was "Snowblind" I think, and it was an entertaining read that gave a good idea of how it feels to be high on coke. And when I met Dilip for the second time I brought the book with me and loaned it to him, with forceful advice that he should read it! I can understand how maddening I can be when I don't get the hint and some people who are waiting in the shadow for me to fall into the trap realize that their umpteenth scheme has failed too.

[This essay is incomplete.]