And I thought, What are you doing to yourself? Their contact became increasingly strained, with Fiver coming to Carina whenever her use spun out of control, and Carina employing what few resources she had to try to stanch the downward spiral. Twenty-three years of age, with no understanding of addiction, never mind the means to send her lover to recovery, Carina did what she could.
She became a sort of Wendy among the Lost Boys. Carina also liked being around Quijas, whom she found to be good people. And she let a homeless Joan of Anarchy sleep in her living room with a similarly homeless girlfriend. During that visit, Joan confessed to having a nightmare in which Carina made her go to a poetry reading. When they poured into a bar my breath caught in my chest. I wondered what sort of transformation I would have to enact in order to date any of them and came up blank.
Yes, I knew they did drugs.
In the s my daytime hours were spent sleeping off my hangover on my crumby futon, eventually heading out to do some writing, a spiral-bound notebook stuffed into my army bag. At night I wrote in bars, but when the sun was out I wrote in coffee shops. It was on Sixteenth Street, between Albion and Guererro. One day some HAGS were there.
I focused on my writing and tried not to eavesdrop on their urgent mumbles. One of them walked over. It was Johanna Lee. She had a sweet baby face and wire-rimmed granny glasses. Johanna and her co-HAG were going to make stencils about it and spray-paint the Tenderloin. I peeked over at her table.
I tore pages from my notebook, thrilled to be a part of the caper. So feminist they frightened other feminists, so feminist they could shit-talk the movement and write it off as a trifle, because they were in fact living the hard-core feminist lives that only someone like Valerie Solanas would have recognized and understood.
And me. I understood too. I desperately wished they would invite me along on their vandalism art project, but they did not. And truly, their vandalism art project might never have actually happened. Nobody I spoke to knew anything about it. I heard about how, when Joan of Anarchy needed her pacemaker replaced, Fiver comforted her visiting mother, assuring her that Joan had a good head on her shoulders, that if any of them were going to make something of themselves it would be Joan.
But nobody remembered them making stencils in honor of Valerie Solanas. Probably a good idea that got subsumed by speed-distraction and was eventually discarded like a broken clock. It was Fiver who got Becky thinking about getting clean. Like drugs take you away from your soul, almost. That some do is a miracle. By the time your problem is a problem, it has leached into every facet of your life.
It is your identity and coping mechanism; it is how you interface with others and connect with yourself; it is deep inside your cells now, and you belong to it. The one thing that fed the hope that she might survive was Lynnee Breedlove, who cheered her on, believed in her, laid on the love and pep talks. A few years in, after she got her footing and was incredibly, blissfully sober, she pulled Lynnee aside to thank him. I thought you were gonna die!
Joan of Anarchy wanted to get clean too.
Joan could not remember. Once the speed was out of her system, Joan returned to San Francisco. She got a girlfriend, a nice girl with nice friends, and they became her social circle. She became Johnny. And I saw her in the street, and she saw me, and I just passed her up. When they pulled into the Bay Area, the girl introduced Ren to her live-in girlfriend.
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In spite of this, Ren remained in town. Ren is a real can-do dyke. Ren made zines and became close with Johanna, who drew funny, sharply subversive comics. Ren still has them, part of an archive of s dykephilia which should be protected in some institution somewhere. She was hoping to barter with someone who could teach her how to tattoo.
Initially I ran into Johanna at the Bearded Lady, where anyone could spend the day on a single coffee without hassle. I myself had come to the city essentially homeless, with no familial support; the specter of life on the street haunted me. Giving coins to spare-changers was a sort of tax one paid for the luxury of having a home of your own.
She always appreciated it. She was in the backseat mumbling and talking to herself, just a crazy bag lady on the street. She was really, really smart. Because it was not as large a countercultural movement as all that rose and fell during the s, because it was less a national movement than something occurring within specific neighborhoods in San Francisco, and certainly because those involved were lesbians—specifically dykes who were not looking to fit in so much as fuck shit up—there is no recorded history of this scene and the copious amounts of culture it produced in the realms of politics, fashion, art, and sex.
When a man eventually fucked with her, the rest of them would jump out of the shadows and kick his ass. Johanna was just a freak among freaks. How would you know someone was crazy when we were all pretty freaky? She kept her giant, sputtering radio shoved into the pockets of her cargo shorts. Eventually she learned her way around, got the necessary Zo Bag, and made enough money to pay for her weekly room at the Potter Hotel, one of the better SROs in the city, populated by fellow queers and bike messengers. She spent her nights debauching with the HAGS.
If nobody was home Kelly would grab a piece of chalk and leave a note on the sidewalk. We fought like we were a couple. She was super jealous. But she could fuck your girlfriend. Anya had been drinking tequila in a bush outside a party when she met Kelly; she was hiding from her clean and sober girlfriend. She tried to pour beer and it was empty. She kicked the can and cursed and that was Kelly Kegger.
The same system was in place with Quijas and her dominatrix girlfriend; they would all pick her up at the dungeon and joke about it. The love and intimacy can penetrate the gang and make it vulnerable to the outside.
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When she burned through her stash before payday—as happened more and more frequently—she would steal the locksmith van and drive it through Oakland, using her tools to help folks on the street bust into cars for a fee. Now living in a studio in Oakland, she became increasingly isolated from friends, her days and nights revolving around scrambling for cash and accessing drugs. Kelly urged Quijas to go to the free clinic on Haight Street for a checkup, observing that her friend appeared dangerously swollen.
She had to quit drinking and using drugs. She let Quijas and another HAG stay at her place, but they were so loud and paranoid, screaming that Kelly had stolen from them, that Kelly feared getting kicked out. At the pay phone they made small talk about whom they were buying from. Quijas recommended a new guy whose dope was good and cheap, and who would do home deliveries, even out to Oakland, anytime of the night. Kelly switched her source. In early Kelly noticed she had tiny open wounds all over her legs and her butt.
Little dots. The workers at the methadone clinic took a look at the wounds and sent her to the hospital. Anya dragged her from bed and brought her back to Kaiser. And then they did emergency surgery. What the doctors were saying did not quite register with Kelly. Partly it was denial native to addiction, and partly she was haggard and addled from drugs and detoxing. Also she was sick, very, very sick. Kelly survived, but the doctors warned her she might never walk again.
This struck her as absurd, as she could feel her toes just fine. The doctors continued: if she had shown up at General they would simply have removed her legs. It had taken the doctors at Kaiser fourteen hours of surgery to prevent those amputations. Do you understand that? Kelly understood that she had had a bacterial infection, one that had gotten close to sending her body into septic shock. Her butt harbored deep wounds, now stuffed with gauze. After three weeks, the hospital wanted to send her home, but Anya had moved and Kelly had nowhere to go.
She was sent to Medical Hill, a nursing and rehabilitation center. At Medical Hill, Kelly was put on methadone and taught to walk again. She had yet to come to grips with her situation. When her morphine drip was removed after two months, she put in a call to the home-delivery dealer and ordered some heroin.
Also at two months, Kelly got fired from the locksmith job. Why are you doing this? The woman, who hosted lots of visitors, was confused as to why Kelly had been seen only by her drug dealer and Anya. But eventually she talked. Technically, I guess I still am. Usually they just OD and die. She spent the days trapped at home, tripping out on pop culture.
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One day Anya called her from a pay phone in San Francisco; during the conversation, she spotted Quijas and put her on the line. You should take better care of yourself. On June 6, , a thirty-three-year-old woman presented to the San Francisco General Hospital emergency department with a chief complaint of two days of excruciating, sharp, and continuous pain in her left buttock after four days of fever and chills, nausea, vomiting, and lethargy.
She reported five years of heroin use, black tar heroin use on the day of admission, and occasional methamphetamine use. She was alert and oriented but anxious, with pale, cool skin and pinpoint pupils. It was hard to obtain information, they said. For the record, from the records, it looks like they tried to save her—Fiver. She was twenty-eight years old. She reported skin-popping black tar heroin for the past seven months, most recently earlier that day. Can I convey the simple chaos that existed outside that room, that hospital? The chaos of people living their lives on drugs, of people accustomed to no access, broke people?
None of these people had cell phones—these were folks who communicated with one another via chalk scrawls on sidewalks. Eventually some went to the hospital and told the staff that Quijas had never come home. Stacey Quijas was in the ICU. By then she was probably on her third or fourth surgery. Lynnee Breedlove came whenever he could. Blood was everywhere. Her beautiful body that was all tatted up everywhere—they had to cut away the rotting parts, and there was no way to stop the bleeding.
Andre Campbell is the San Francisco General attending surgeon who operated on Quijas and others who contracted the flesh-eating bacteria through exposure to contaminated black tar heroin. He is the coauthor of the medical paper detailing the cataclysm. It treats about one hundred thousand people with soft tissue infections each year, overwhelmingly IV or intramuscular drug users. It means cut away, cut off the skin, the tissues underneath, the fascia and the muscle.
You have to get control. The day before Quijas died, a third HAG came to the hospital. She had lived with Fiver and Quijas in a dilapidated warehouse where chickens ran amok and that would later be shut down by health department workers in hazmat suits. The third HAG had come to visit her friend, but while she was there, she spoke with a doctor about her worry: she had been skin-popping the same black tar as Fiver and Quijas. The doctors examined her and found nothing of any concern but gave her 2. The HAG went back to the soon-to-be-condemned warehouse and promptly shot a bit of the contaminated heroin into her stomach.
This will likely baffle and even enrage anyone who has not been touched by the powerful insanity of addiction. The third HAG, unable to resist the pull of a piece of dope currently killing her two best friends, did some, and returned to the hospital the following morning. After ten surgeries, 20 percent of her body surface was removed.
She was in intensive care for over a month. After forty days, she was released to a rehabilitation facility.
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She is alive. Campbell himself conducted a press conference. Between and General had treated only seven cases of necrotizing fasciitis; in less than one month it saw five. Campbell feared that a bad batch of the drug, and who knew how much of it, could be on the street, killing people. Getting the word out was crucial.
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Needle-exchange programs were kept in the loop by the health department, helping to spread the warning to IV drug users. The story became more lurid with speculation that the heroin had become contaminated while being smuggled up from Mexico in cadavers. What the doctor thought he could learn was whether the contaminant was present in the drug itself, confirming that a batch was tainted or if the bacteria had come from another source: dirty needles, contaminated water, chicken shit.
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