No one I knew used cocaine when I was a kid. We just drank beer and smoked green mota. Snorting coke was for rich and poor people in the United States. It amazed me when I heard they were smoking it. That sounded stupid. They could do it all they wanted. I only wanted to sell to them but wasn’t high enough up for that, so I ran errands for the local big guys who made deals.
They told me I was lucky, that all young guys on the streets of Ciudad Juarez were so lucky because we, the Mexicans, were going to demolish Colombian cartels and others and become cocaine kings of the world. No need for the Caribbean to be the primary route to the United States. The gringos’ planes and ships were intercepting too much. The best place to mainline coke into the U.S. was right through Mexico.
For years cocaine had been too expensive for most Mexicans to use. And we were scared of it. But the price kept dropping and I was around too many people who’d begun using it and craving more, and eventually had to try. Snorting wasn’t much, I thought. Smoke it, the big guys said, it’ll blow your head off. And it did, an instant fantastic high that crashed right away and demanded another white rock afire then more, always more. I wasn’t complaining. I loved it as much as hated it.
When I got big enough to sell, I didn’t have to buy anymore, and I smoked most mornings, afternoons, and evenings, and didn’t want to do anything but keep smoking, and got paranoid and skinny and eventually owed people who were angry but told them I’d pay when others paid me and wished I could stop but couldn’t and eventually said okay this is killing me I’ll go into treatment with the rest of the guys in our gang.
The first night in rehab, on a dirt road lined with shacks, in a musty old building that at least didn’t smell like hot coke exploding in my brain, we were preparing to pray and sing about God and ask him to come into our lives when masked gunmen, wearing bulletproof vests, charged in firing assault rifles. People dropped all around, dead and playing dead, and I ran for an interior door before getting hit several times. As blood poured out both ears and my mouth onto the floor, I couldn’t imagine why they’d targeted people trying to leave crime and cleanse bodies, minds, and souls, or why federal soldiers, parked a few shacks away, did nothing.