The Kind Man Who Used to Sell Me Heroin

By M.L Lanzillotta originally published in Filter_Mag.

In popular culture, people who sell drugs are stereotyped as remorseless monsters, like the loathsome Mikey Forrester from the book Trainspotting, who’d kill their own grannies for 20 bucks. And news media depictions of “dealers” are heavily racialized, peddling an Innocent White Victim narrative in the overdose-crisis era.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie or read a book with a sympathetic, well-meaning character who sold heroin or so-called “hard” drugs. Even if sellers of marajuana or “club” drugs have, on occasion, been portrayed more sympathetically in recent times, like Jay and Silent Bob from the films of Kevin Smith.

Fictional dope “pushers” often try to get white middle-class suburban kids “hooked”—something that always seemed hilariously unrealistic to me. In my experience, some won’t even sell heroin to people unless they can prove that they already use, usually by showing their track marks. I even once had a person insist on seeing my ID, because I looked like I might be underage.

I have certainly encountered unpleasant sellers. These include some who sexually harassed or belittled me, or who pressured women to exchange sex for drugs. One I briefly knew kept giving me free drugs, then tried to coerce me into doing sex work at parties he hosted, which led me to stop speaking to him. But then, I have encountered equally unpleasant and sexist people in many occupations.

My long-time regular heroin seller was quite different. I haven’t seen him since the pandemic began, and have been unable to contact him—his phone number no longer works—but I doubt I’ll ever forget him.

A quiet, thoughtful middle-aged Black man and fellow heroin user, he operated his business from an SUV he kept parked in a certain parking lot downtown. I have a lot of warm memories of him. He always treated me, and all of his customers, with respect and consideration.

When a number of people were robbed near where he usually parked, he agreed to meet me in a safer neighborhood. And if I didn’t have cash on me, he’d front me (this was mostly because I always paid him the next time; I was careful to only use when I could afford to).

To continue reading, check out the full piece on Filter_mag.