So you want to know why I want to take root?
I came home from Iraq missing three pounds, eight ounces of flesh from my right arm and leg, and unable to sleep more than three hours a night. The painkillers I took to get through the day were the real problem. I just kept taking more and more of them.
Trying to get off them was worse. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, convinced I was back on patrol under fire, wedged under my bed and trying to find my weapon.
Eventually, the paperwork for detox finished grinding through the system. I checked into the hospital and took Antagine. I watched bad TV for thirty-six hours, feeling a faint echo of withdrawal, and went back home.
That worked, for a while. The pain in my arm and leg was manageable, but I still couldn’t sleep much. I thought a pizza box by the side of the road was an Improvised Explosive Device, jumped out of the bus and got winged by a passing car.
In the veterans’ hospital, the guy in the next bed told me, “They gave you the weak stuff.” He emptied the bag that came out of his abdomen. “You want the real thing, straight from the bush in Africa, the root, man. I can hook you up.”
My parents dipped into their home equity and I flew up to a house on the British Columbia coast. Twelve hours after my last dose of painkillers, I took my first taste of root. It tasted like bitter licorice.
I lay under the cotton duvet, listened to the seagulls outside and let it take hold. I felt only a faint echo of the withdrawal pains, even less than at the other detox treatment. What was different was when I closed my eyes, I saw memories, as clear as if they were around me, right now.
My mom and dad, trying to connect to a child they didn’t expect. My teenage self, smoking weed in the basement. Myself, filling out the paperwork at the recruiting station, thinking how this would piss off my dad. Myself, opening the thick envelope and realizing that this was all very real. Thousands of people down on their knees praying towards Mecca. What was left of a man’s head after I put two rounds into it. Myself, finger-combing my squadmate’s intestines out of my hair.
And I saw that none of that mattered. The memories were still there, but I had to think about remembering them, like listing state capitals, instead of them being something I had actually done.
Thirty-six hours later, I was… different. I didn’t want percs or anything else. I felt shiny brand spanking new. Take the relief you feel from peeling the dead skin off a sunburn, and magnify that a thousand times. Adam didn’t feel that fresh on his first day in Eden.
I moved out of my parents’ house, relocated to the West Coast and put my engineering skills to use. Luckily I got the job just when the boom in house and car refits started. Plus I met a nice girl.
A year later, the business was dying, my parents weren’t talking to me, and the nice girl and I had screaming fights every other night.
There was only one thing to do: take root again.
I flew back to the BC clinic and signed on for another dose. I had to fib a little bit, tell them I was still having the same problems from before, not an entirely new set of issues.
It still tasted like licorice, but it was different this time. There was no opiate withdrawal to distract me from the review. I saw the same things again, but with the post-root memory tacked on. They went away along with all the others, in the past, compressed and archived.
I got up, ate eleven whole-grain waffles with organic maple syrup and started my new life.
I stayed in Canada this time. I rented a one-bedroom in Vancouver, hooked up with some expats and got involved in anti-poverty work.
Sixteen months later, I couldn’t stand any of it. I spent a fourteen-hour day trying to get one guy at city hall to return one phone call, then put my fist through a wall. While I had my knuckles bandaged, I decided what I had to do.
I called the clinic again. They turned me down. I hunted down a detox outfit in the Carribean that sold root, no questions asked. I cleaned out the rooming house’s bank account, bought a plane ticket and another dose. Then, when I was new, I started another life.
I’ve done a lot over the past few years. I’ve learned new careers to replace obsolete skills, mortgaged my parents’ house, married rich, divorced not as rich, embezzled. I’ve gone by John, Jack, Jackie, JD, Joe, Jonathan, Jacob, Jake, JJ, Johnny and Warren. I’ve married six times (five women, one man) and divorced four times. I started voting: Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent and even started my own party. Years ago, I gave up thinking that this time would be the last time. I’m always waiting to see how long I can last. The shortest time between doses is six weeks and two days, the longest is seven years, two months, four days.
That’s why I found this clinic, why I’m asking you for another dose. There are only two constants in my life, my lives. I take root, again and again, because sooner or later I realize I can’t stand myself, again and again.
I want to take it again so I can become somebody who doesn’t care about that.
Peter Tupper is a freelance journalist and writer in Vancouver, BC, Canada.