Mercury Falling

For 11 years, Markus Cook was synonymous with Bay Area bike messengers. But he didn't live to see his dream come true -- the Cycle Messenger World Championships held here in San Francisco.

They tried the Rational Recovery program at St. Francis Hospital, which also failed. Mark called Camille from a pay phone outside the hospital telling her that he had no place to stay; he was no longer living with Carla. His sister met him in the lobby, and he confessed he'd been using again.

"My first impulse is to put you on a plane to Utah," she said, and he agreed.

Camille sent him to live with their mother in Salt Lake City, thinking it would be difficult to score drugs in the exalted bastion of Mormonism. He attended NA meetings every day. He started calling friends in San Francisco, telling them he was an addict, but he was now in recovery, cleaning himself out here in Utah.

Within 10 days, he was stealing from his mother and shooting up in her house.

"This was hideously ugly," Camille says. "Hideously ugly to watch."
Camille tells the story in a three-hour conversation in a 24th Street cafe, the rain pissing down outside. Although a tough-minded immigration attorney, she can't help bursting into tears occasionally. But she keeps talking.

"We don't see that there's any point in an article being written that doesn't say that he died of a heroin overdose, because that's what he died of," she says. "As far as I'm concerned, if there's any point at all -- and I don't know whether I believe in God or not, but whether you do or not, the only possible point there can be to this death is that somebody should learn something from it."

The family wanted Mark to live with his sister Shawn in Oceanside, in San Diego County, but he flatly refused and bolted Utah for San Francisco. The family was smothering him, he said. He wanted to work with his own program, fight his demons on his own turf. He checked out various NA meetings in the city every day, and looked for work. Later they learned that he would leave Carla's, where he was staying, cop some dope, and go to the meetings high.

Finally, Camille and Carla sat him down and berated him.
"What are you going to do?" yelled his sister. "I'm not going to spend the rest of my life with this. We're gonna do this one more time, we're gonna do this right. I am not going to spend the rest of my life being the sister of a heroin addict!"

Camille opened the Yellow Pages to the recovery program listings, left it sitting open, and went home. One stood out -- 18th Street Services. Mark contacted them, and was referred to Walden House.

When contacted, a Walden House spokesperson expressed extreme reluctance about saying anything about one of its clients. Perfectly understandable, especially if one dies while enrolled in the program.

"To say that Walden House is ineffectual is putting it mildly," says Camille.

After a preliminary screening process, Mark was accepted into the day program of Walden House, located at 15th and Mission, a block from his dealers. He refused to enter a residential program, instead moving into his sister's house. Her ground rules were no lying, no stealing, and no using, or she'd throw him out on the street.

As the days went by, improvement was remarkable.
"He became Mark again," Camille says, "instead of somebody you couldn't trust."

His initial program began at 9 every morning, Monday through Friday, and continued until 8:30 in the evening, when he was released. Saturdays were 10 to 6, and Sundays were free. Walden House provided all meals, counseling, meetings, and regular drug testing.

Markus' infectious personality returned. It was a daily Walden House routine to read everyone's horoscopes aloud out of the Chronicle, but on the morning the paper didn't arrive, Markus insisted on making up horoscopes on the spot, to the delight of his pals. On another occasion, he walked into a meeting for African-Americans in recovery. One of them looked at him and asked why he was here.

"Because I'm black," answered Markus. They loved it.
Soon they had Markus answering the phones, and when he asked special permission in November to play a previously scheduled L. Sid gig at the Covered Wagon, they bent the rules and allowed him to enter a bar, accompanied by a counselor. He was receiving a General Assistance check of around $170 every two weeks, hoping to save enough to pay back all his debts. Camille and Carla monitored his every move throughout the city. No band rehearsals, no zine, no job, no organizing, no promoting. Just Walden House and NA meetings.

It seemed to Camille that Walden wasn't quite prepared for such family involvement.

"I felt like every time I called, I got, 'Yeah, yeah, he's doing great. He's wonderful, he's fitting in. We're all on the same page. He's really getting grounded in the program.' " Camille scowls. "Yeah, right."

Markus was told he would undergo random urine testing, a process delicately called "dropping the bottle." But he was tested only twice, once after he was admitted, and another time around the end of the year. After each test, it would take two weeks for the results to come back. He passed the second test. He'd been clean for almost 50 days. Which meant his tolerance was down.

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