A gay man hopes the story of his crystal meth addiction will help save those still in the closet about their own drug problems.
"It's very sad," says Luciano. "These are young, smart men who could probably have lived out their whole lives without ever getting HIV if only they hadn't used crystal."
While Luciano acknowledges some people can take crystal once or twice a year and be done with it, he says the unique challenges of life as a homosexual can lead to the insecurity that propels casual use into addiction. And gay society itself is partly to blame.
"I have people come into my office and tell me they're depressed because they're not on the A-list," says Luciano. "This idea that they don't have six-pack abs, they don't make lots of money, they don't get invited to the best parties-I tell them: "What A-list? You're in Philadelphia.' Gay culture, and in part this is because the straight media puts out these images of gay men, is far too focused on material success."
Luciano's challenge is to help his clients focus on looking inside themselves for self-esteem, which is what Dagenhart had to learn. In New York he bounced from one high-paying job to the next in fashion and real estate, and became his friends' meth supplier.
"They all knew where to find it," says Dagenhart, who gave the drug away. "I liked being the candy man. But then I hit bottom. I had no money, and I was like, "My friends! Where are all my friends?'"
Dagenhart spent days at a time in New York City bathhouses, particularly the West Side Club. In a single weekend he might have anonymous, unprotected sex with as many as 20 or 30 men. He fell into a rhythm of spending every weekend at the bathhouse, then running to get tested for HIV on Monday.
A ritual developed: The doctor would usher Dagenhart into his office, then deliver the good news from behind his desk. But after one binge weekend the doctor sat down next to him. "I said, "You always sit behind your desk,'" recalls Dagenhart. ""Go sit behind your desk!'"
"I'm HIV Positive"
Dagenhart confessed his HIV diagnosis and his drug addiction to his mother-on Mother's Day 2000. From there his behavior grew increasingly bizarre.
He moved from New York, back to Richmond, Va., to Virginia Beach, to Baltimore, traveling frequently to Washington, D.C., and New York City to score drugs and visit bathhouses. He lost job after job. Whatever glamour the drug once held for him soon faded.
He did crystal before he got out of bed and made coffee. He began to excrete it through his pores. "It comes out very much in a rock crystal form," he says. "But in a weird way it still had a perverse appeal. I felt like a warrior-a drug warrior. It was the only thing I could say to legitimize myself. I was so fucked up."
He hatched fantastic plans. There was always a project or business to start, but the drug destroys the creativity it fuels. His apartment in Baltimore was half painted. He moved and half unpacked. When the drug called, he left and never finished what he'd started.
High on crystal, he propositioned a straight man in Baltimore, who beat him for it, yielding only when Dagenhart told him, "I'm HIV positive, and some of my blood is going to get into those cuts on your hands."
Then 9/11 happened-but Dagenhart didn't know until four days later. "I'd been on a binge," he says, "and I turned on the radio, to NPR, and they were talking in these really solemn voices about the Twin Towers being destroyed. I thought, "What kind of bullshit is this?'"
Dagenhart started calling friends on Sept. 15 to try to confirm the terrorist attacks. He drove from Baltimore to New York and parked on the side of the road within site of the city's diminished skyline. He got out of the car and knelt down on the pavement as traffic whizzed by. A cop came up behind him and asked, "What are you doing?"
"Praying," Dagenhart replied.
He spent a little time in a holding cell over that incident and in a hospital, getting rehydrated. Crystal addicts flat-out forget to eat or drink. And there were other episodes.
He once knocked on a strange lady's door, thinking it was his mother's house-but his mother lived more than 100 miles away. He spent the night in the woods and defecated liquid, suffusing his clothes and skin with feces. And finally he stood on the side of a construction site in Washington, D.C. Dozens of workers operated machinery below in a deep pit cut out for a building's foundation. "I said, "If God exists, he'll catch me,'" says Dagenhart.
Then he jumped.
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Dinner with Luke Palladino