I see him from the window of my son’s room. He has good bones and paper white skin and dark greasy hair. I bet he smells like sweat and smoke and unwashed hair. He crouches between the parked cars with his needle and a crumpled brown bag. I’m not entirely sure of the process although I’ve watched it dozens of times from my second story window. His arms are waxy and his back bones poke out when he pulls the black sweatshirt over his head to get at his arm. People walk by and this isn’t an unfamiliar sight on my street, so they just pass. He gives them a half-apologetic smile if they look too carefully. It seems to my eye that it’s a lot harder to get a vein than it ought to be. He stabs, when it seems like it should slide under his skin.
Sometimes I pound on the window. He looks around, but never up. I watch his head fall back and after a minute he gets up, scans the pavement to make sure he hasn’t left anything and scurries off.
I see him in the early mornings as I drink my coffee. Chubby little Mexican girls in Catholic school uniforms run past him, and I can hear the slap slap of their sandals on the sidewalk. Sometimes I’m out, walking my dog with the baby strapped to my chest, and I see him crouched in the familiar way between cars. I cross the street rather than get the apologist smile.
At bath time, I run my hands over the baby’s silky warm skin and think of needles and dirt and God knows what he has to do at night for that crouched morning pleasure.
He looks like the kind of guy I used to date. I would wake up cotton-mouthed on his futon. I’d knock over the full ashtray with my bare feet on the way to the bathroom. I would have to resist the prissy urge to hover over the filthy toilet seat and it would sting when I peed.
I see him with his shirt off in the park – long skinny arms and visible bones in his chest. The sweatshirt is spread on the grass next to him like a black jelly fish. He has his head back, face toward the sun, same position as after the needle push, only now he can hold it, linger in this warmth. There are lines around his eyes. In the yellow summer light, he looks older, more solid. Less like a scurrying kid, less like some furtive skateboard punk. He looks adult. His pale skin shines, and I think absently of the sunscreen I now carry in my bag.
The baby’s skin is smooth and pink and is so soft that there really isn’t a word for its touch. I rub his back and his fat legs, creased and dimpled. I kiss his knees and put his little hands in my mouth and suck each finger. I know as he grows his body will become his own, and I’ll never have this tactile pleasure again. His skin will change texture, and he’ll have scabs on his knees, then hair on his legs, and then I’ll have to remember that this is the same person, the same body.
I see him pull his pants down and shoot into his thigh. He’s scavenging for needle entrances. His face is covered with scratches and scabs.
I picture him clear-eyed, working at the video store. He smiles at the baby while he rings me up. We discuss the movies I’ve picked out. He’s seen them all. Or I imagine the paramedics coming. They never hurry, like they do in the movies. At least, not on this street. They step down from the van, no break in their conversation. They stretch him out on the sidewalk.
I jiggle the baby on my hip while I consider both scenarios. They both make me feel lighter. I realize I don’t have enough love to save him, to make him well. I want him out of sight. Gone, it doesn’t matter how. I resent his dirty intrusion into our soft world of songs and milk and warm water. My new mother love isn’t strong enough to embrace the world. Instead, I hold the baby so tight he cries.