Lost Heels and Hustlers: The Summer I Discovered Cocaine and Writing in London

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They say it rains a lot in London, but on this Thursday morning as I tottered down the city streets, in black pants, a sequined-top and a push up bra, hair bleached blonde, the sun beams were sharp as (or enhanced by) the throbs in my head. I shielded my eyes as I once again, in humiliated awe glanced down at my feet. I had on no shoes and no idea where they were. It could have been the club, or the after-hours punk bar, or somewhere in the streets, likely tossed off in an angry blur for pinching my feet. I didn’t see them at Mahk’s apartment, although admittedly I wasn’t in a state of mind to search properly. Ignoring the stares of the well-dressed locals on their way to work at the mess of an American girl, I eventually hailed down a cab and went back to the flat I was staying in with a dozen other students in South Kensington. Thankfully, I had not lost my wallet.

This was almost six years ago, the summer I spent studying and interning in London. “Mahk” (real name “Mark” although I had his number saved as Mahk either as that is how it sounded to me when we met though his accent, or because I was too fucked up to type) a 20-something handsome hustler, my summer romance and the first person to give me cocaine. I couldn’t notice the difference, but he spoke a lot about his accent and how it showed he was of a lower social class than other Londoners, and was quite ashamed of this. He lived with his father, who at times would pretend to be Mahk’s brother, or cousin rather than dad in an effort to pick up younger women.

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That summer in London.

About an hour before I finally found a cab to take me back to the other American college students, only a few who knew the truth about my whereabouts, I awoke in Mahk’s bed fully clothed, yet the bed was not. All the sheets had been removed, and it was only later I recalled the Sambuca shots brought over to us earlier in the night, and that I had puked all over the bed, and Mahk and his father, two sketchy yet, at least in this moment, kind hustlers, removed the dirty sheets and kept my head to my side as I slept so I wouldn’t choke on my own vomit. Mahk worked in the nightlife industry for various clubs so drinks were always free, but I gathered his job was basically a cover for being involved in the cocaine industry. He and his father may have been very seedy criminals, but they weren’t rapists, and never tried to take advantage of me. In fact Mahk and I never even had sex that summer, he would mostly take me out to clubs to show off his blonde American girlfriend, then get too high to function, and most nights we would split ways and I would head back to my student apartment, trying impossibly to sleep with a head swirling full of blow on a hard top bunk bed with a snoring roommate in the cot below.

Prior to that summer, I had been vehemently against cocaine. I knew one kid I grew up with who OD’ed, had a cocaine heart attack before reaching adulthood, so swore I would never touch it. But drunk off wine and a new city, when a friend of mine suggested we score some one night out, I agreed. It was freakishly easy. We spotted Mahk, an attractive guy slightly older than us standing outside the entrance to a club and asked him if he knew where we could get any. He stepped away for a moment, and minutes later were handing him money for a baggie wrapped in a British lottery ticket and he escorted us us past the line inside the club. As I watched my friend use her credit card to split up the lines, the group of us huddled in the bathroom, I was turned on, flooded with endorphins before the powder was even sucked up my nose and entered my blood stream. Until I gave up hard drugs, and eventually ventured into full sobriety, there were a few years in my early twenties when cocaine was indeed a part of my life. It’s day by day as they say, I’m not perfect, but I just had my first Christmas without so much as a sip of wine.

Aside from the sheet-less Sambuca night, I spent one other night in Mahk’s bed, doing bumps and kissing as The Dire Straits played. He told me his dreams of separating from his father and going back to school, I told him of my dreams to go to New York and become a writer. He loved the romanticism in that, and asked if he could come too. “Let’s go to New York together, how’d you like to be a hustler’s girlfriend?”

There’s another saying, often said in 12-step programs, about how getting clean can allow you to accomplish all the things you stayed up all night frantically plotting. There’s no denying the role drugs can play in the creative process, a brief mental scan of your favorite writers, musicians, or actors will confirm the connection. Yet personally, there is no way I would be up and writing this during a cocaine comedown or even with a wine hangover. I’m a wee little babe with much to learn and accomplish, but I did make it to New York, I am being paid to write, those dreams discussed with Mahk over Mark Knopfler’s voice in a messy London flat have begun to come true. In total honesty, without that summer, I don’t know if I would have discovered that this is where I want to be.

I was 20 that summer, spent weekends traveling, half the week was taking class, and the other half at an internship for a local non-profit TV station. The company had too many interns and too little work, so I was rather ignored. In my downtime, rather than sign onto Facebook as I was worried my supervisor would see, I started writing to pass the time. I wrote about music, the Sigur Rós show I had seen last night, the boy back home who had broken my heart, the sex show I saw while lost in Amsterdam, anything. I fell in love with translating emotions and experience onto a page. When I got back to school, I specified my major from communications to journalism, and boosted with the college credits I accumulated in London, picked up extra classes and worked my ass off to graduate early from my small Southern college. I don’t want to credit this motivation to the discovery of cocaine, rather it was the entire experience of the summer, my world had expanded, I wanted out, I wanted to be in New York, I wanted to write.

I often wonder what happened of Mahk. I have a pattern I am trying to break of attracting unhealthy men into my life, perhaps something I need to work out karmically. During my last weeks in London before heading back, he became more aggressive, calling me constantly, becoming terrifyingly angry that I wanted to spend my remaining time with friends rather than him. “The world is our oyster, Sophie, choose me!” I realized that I had acted rather selfishly, for me our time together was a fling, a new wild experience that I always knew had an expiration date, but he was serious about wanting out of his current life, and thought I was his ticket. Many months after returning home to school, he would call me constantly, to the point my new boyfriend would have to answer and demand he leave me alone, and I eventually changed my number.

The summer of 2008 was when I realized my dreams and frantically spoke of them while high, yet it took escaping that lifestyle to turn them into reality Even the dealers, the hustlers, the seedy shady men you see outside clubs deserve a new life if it is what they seek. Synchronically, as I’ve been writing this article, I received a message from another man I know who used to deal cocaine who cleaned up and is now a nurse. Mahk, wherever you are, I apologize for being so unaware of our different perspectives, and hope you have gotten away from your father and are alive and well.

  • Jamie James

    I really like your writing style, please stay around!