by Shannon Barber

The nurse kept asking if I smoked crack. My intake at the clinic seemed to focus around my supposed children, my supposed acts of wanton prostitution and my supposed crack habit.

“When was the last time you did any drugs?”

The nurse never looked me in the eye; she spoke my name in a weird buzz heavy voice, Mizz Barr-Berrr. She made my name sound like an accusation, of what I didn’t know but I was guilty of course.

I had to keep my composure, I called her ma’am, I filled out my paperwork in my neatest hand and I honestly listed my ailments. Then there was the crack and children questions, I stopped counting at six times because I was so angry I couldn’t keep it up, I remember clenching my toes inside my boots so I wouldn’t clench my fists and appear like the angry Black woman I was.

“Mizz Barr-Berrr, when was the last time you did any narcotics?”

“Two weeks ago I tried marijuana.”

“I see. How many times a day do you use it?”

“None, I don’t like it.”

She pursed her lips and scribbled something hard on the clipboard, she exuded disapproval and left.

I sat in a cold exam room in my paper gown with my boots still on. I felt gross; I wasn’t sleeping, had no insurance and needed a pap smear. I couldn’t concentrate enough to keep the repeated questions about the crack use I’d never experienced from playing in my head.

By that time I had pretty well established what drugs I could and couldn’t do. I loved hallucinogens, E, prescription speed all were trusted old friends. I didn’t sleep much anyway and anything speedy kept the sleep deprivation symptoms at bay. Anything that made me dance or fuck all night was fine by me. Crack was not on the list.

I sat on that cold paper covered exam table, contemplating crack. I hadn’t ever tried it despite having had plenty of opportunities. I hated the way it smelled, I hated the idea of burning my lips and fingers on a pipe and yet I still wondered if I could forgive all that for the high? Was it important to my experience that I try it at least once so I could answer that question in a more satisfactory way?

My exhausted brain fixated on the idea and I forgot why I had gone to the clinic in the first place. When I arrived, I had my purpose in an iron grip. Pap smear, help for my insomnia and perhaps some advice about how to get mental health help because I was fairly certain I was going insane. I had to try and concentrate so I could talk to the doctor like a grown up lady. When the doctor walked in and began to ask me the same questions about my supposed crack use and possible history of abortions. It was too much.

The weight of the doctor’s disapproval regarding my apparent lies about my drug use and number of children or abortions I’d had, broke the thin veneer of self-control I was clinging to. I wept like an over tired toddler who can’t even throw a proper fit. I confessed to everything.

I tried smoking weed, I got drunk, I got really drunk, I liked speedy drugs, I ate shrooms when I could get them, I wasn’t sleeping so I was masturbating so much my labia felt swollen and irritated, I thought I was going crazy and I had a weird rash near the crack of my ass. I couldn’t seem to eat anything but crackers with everything on them and my face kept twitching.

The doctor was unimpressed by my outpouring and closed the file folder with a snap.

“We do not tolerate drug seeking at this clinic.”

She walked out and I sat there weepy and bewildered, I put my clothes on without having a stranger look at my cervix or squeeze my breasts. I wandered out and back into the lobby where the nurse was waiting for me.

“Mizz Barr-Berr, take these and come back when you are ready.”

I was ready, I was twenty-one goddamn years old, people had been looking at my cervix since I was thirteen, and I had mammograms before. I had gone all alone to get HIV tests and full STD panels. I was so ready to-

Then I realized that supposedly I was a crack addict, prostitute and deadbeat Mom who had aborted countless hordes of fetuses. The pamphlets were for Narcotics Anonymous and there was one on sterilization. I left and sat at a bus stop trying to process what had just gone on.

My mood swung from feeling guilty of everything to the familiar and comforting gut churning rage I like to call my friend. I got myself back together and went home. After masturbating again and failing to go to sleep I laid on the floor staring at my ceiling and pondering the merits of getting on the glass dick.

I reasoned that no one expects a crack addict to be sane so I could stop pretending. I already did not sleep so the hours of mania would be no problem. I could probably suck dick for cash, I sucked cock for free so why not for profit? Would I like more than I liked any other drugs?

I dug deep into my drug knowledge and impressions of the crack addicts I knew, my brain spun and then I slept. The sleep was the kind of restorative thing that put all my civilized human things back into place, except that I still had a smoldering urge to try smoking crack.

For months after that, my method of counting sheep without counting sheep was debating with myself in my head about whether or not to smoke crack. I never did try smoking crack. Not because I talked myself out of it but because of the voice of that nurse I knew that the second I hit a crack pipe, the only thing I would hear in my head would be her voice, forever ruining my high.

“Mizz Barr-Berr…”



Shannon Barber writes things and lives in the Pacific Northwest. Her most recent work has been seen in the Flash Fiction Offensive and Children, Churches and Daddies.

To read more, visit her website:

12 Responses to “Cracked”

  1. […] a spring breeze on your face in the last days of winter. Even better, she’s up. Her story Cracked is live on Junk right […]

  2. […] far more exciting news my essay at Junk has finally gone up and I am so proud of it I could burst. I worked really hard on it and the […]

  3. This is so wonderfully written, angering, and sobering. Thank you.

  4. This is powerful–great work. Have you read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander? I just finished it. Relates to this piece & highly recommended.

  5. […] 1 non fiction out in the universe. I also got a very sweet note from someone who read my piece at Junk and wanted to apologize to me on behalf of her fellow medical professionals. It was really a sweet […]

  6. […] up, new in Junk a piece called Grace and it’s really beautiful. While you’re there read my piece if you like. The whole zine is actually […]

  7. Just linked to this piece on my Facebook business page with the comment: “Who I aspire NOT to be is the nurse in this terrific piece…She appears to need an empathy transfusion…”.

  8. […] first awesome thing. The fantastic people at Junk nominated my piece that was in their zine for a Pushcart.  I have no idea if that actually means something and […]

  9. […] got nominated for a Pushcart. Holy shit right?  When I got the note from Tim, I was really sick, my partner had […]

  10. […] 2011 Junk nominated my essay Cracked for a Pushcart. Am I even saying that right? Let me confess, at the time I didn’t even know […]

  11. […] a few years ago I wrote an essay and sat on it for a while before Junk: A Literary Magazine picked it up. Now at the time when it was published I was really happy about a lot of the feedback […]

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