xxxi. Shane's Pipe Dreams
Stammering, O'Neill once said, is the "native eloquence of we fog people." Perhaps he was thinking not only of himself but of Shane. If ever there was a child of the fog it was Shane, conceived by the sea and born by the sea. As an infant, Shane could hear the bells tolling their warning, the sea lashing at the Provincetown coast line. "The fog was where I wanted to be," his father once wrote. "I was a ghost belonging to the fog, and the fog was the ghost of the sea."
After Agnes, with her dying mother, went to the Coast to join her new husband, Shane sank deeper and deeper into one of the depressions that periodically plagued him. At last, he and Cathy decided that it might be a good idea to leave New York, for a long time. They left it, but not for long. The place they chose to go to was appropriate to Shane's mood -- Key West, a haven for wandering artists and writers by the sea. It was not long before Agnes had to send them money. Cathy was pregnant again, and she and Shane made their way north to St. Cloud, Florida, not far from Orlando, where Cathy's mother lived. There Shane's third child was born on February 15, 1948. They named her Maura. The new baby brought some comfort to Cathy; to Shane she brought the terrifying realization that, once again, he had given a hostage to fortune.
As soon as Cathy was well enough to travel, she and Shane returned to New York. They sublet a cold-water flat on Ninth Street near First Avenue. It was located in the gashouse district above the lower East Side. Shane went back to work for Rowland's display studio in Greenwich Village. It was not long after this that he fell in with a group of people who were on "horse," or "H," as they called heroin.
"Shane got in with this bunch," Cathy has said, "who were taking the stuff. I didn't know it. I did know that I didn't like them. There was one guy in particular, named Jamie, that Shane saw a lot of. I guess he was a junkie."
It was during the spring and early summer of 1948, that Shane's addiction to heroin grew to alarming proportions. The cost of feeding this habit was, of course, ruinous. He spent all the money he had been able to obtain from his mother. He borrowed money wherever he could. Soon, he was disposing of every salable object in his apartment.
Exactly when Shane became addicted to drugs, or why can be answered only partly by available facts. Authorities in this field do not know precisely why one sick person can take drugs to relieve pain with impunity, whereas another, taking an equal amount, becomes an addict. Shane, of course, was close to being an alcoholic when he began smoking marijuana. Although marijuana is said not to be habit-forming, it is quite common for those who come to use it heavily to "go on to other things." Shane went "on to other things" in 1942, when he shipped aboard a merchant marine vessel and started taking morphine pills from the first-aid kits. He was twenty-four then.
In recent years, psychiatrists have been suggesting that there is often some defect in an addict's personality which makes his self-destruction so thorough and violent that his chances for complete recovery are meager. In the light of many of their findings, it is not difficult to see wherein lay the seeds of Shane's addiction. One authority, for example, found that in more than half the cases he studied "there was evidence of psychosis, neurosis, or alcoholism in near relatives." Viewed in context with the facts of Shane's life, a statement by Dr. James A. Lowery, head of the United States Public Health Service Hospital at Lexington, Kentucky, is significant.
"The personal history of many of these patients [at Lexington]," the statement reads, "shows the absence of the father, or a weak father or mother, during the patient's childhood."
Shane attributes his final descent to association with other addicts. He said he smoked marijuana because all his friends were smoking it. Later on it was heroin. "It was a social thing. It's something you do with other people. I was going with a group of people who all took heroin. Not taking anything made me feel embarrassed, out of place. I felt that unless I took something I'd be a poor sport. So I tried it and I liked it."
It was not long before he became an out and out "junkie." He let his clothes become dirty and rumpled. He did not eat and he grew thinner and thinner. He acquired the language and social attitudes of the junkies, who were then building up a language and a kind of depraved folklore of their own.
The fact that Shane was Eugene O'Neill's son soon became known to his fellow junkies. "It had its advantages," Shane has said, "and its disadvantages. Some of the pushers were afraid to let me have any buys [packs of heroin] because they figured if I got caught, there'd be a lot of publicity and they might get into serious trouble. Some of the guys, on the other hand, thought that, on account of my father, I might have good connections for getting H."
Shane's earlier retreats from life -- in liquor, in marijuana, in morphine -- were largely a matter of providing himself with relief from the depression that had plagued him most of his life, but his addiction to heroin provided him with something more than escape from the pain of living.
"Taking it," he has told a friend, "gives you something to live for. You have a goal in life -- getting the stuff and earning enough money to pay for it. I know people who make fifteen, twenty, twenty-five thousand dollars a year just so they can earn enough to keep using H."
By the middle of the summer of 1948, Shane was hopelessly addicted. The cost of his habit, when he was able to obtain the money, had reached thirty dollars a day. The more "caps" he used, the more he needed. Consumption of heroin does not remain static.
He and a friend named Jimmy wandered through the city together or holed up in furnished rooms with other addicts. Cathy remained in the apartment caring for Maura, but sometimes Shane and his addict friends would come back and stay. Shane and Jimmy obtained most of their buys of heroin from a pusher whose area was Greenwich Village. On Tuesday afternoon, August 10, Shane obtained enough money to buy three capsules of heroin, but was unable to establish contact. Jimmy said he had a connection on the waterfront. It happened that the waterfront pusher was at the time under surveillance by agents of the United States Treasury's Bureau of Narcotics.
Shane and his friend arrived at the appointed place a few minutes ahead of time. When the pusher turned up, Shane gave him four dollars and a half for a packet containing three capsules, then he and Jimmy hurried away, followed by T men. Other T men followed the pusher.
As soon as the agents nabbed Shane and his friend, Shane threw the packet on the sidewalk, just as other addicts had cautioned him to do in the event of arrest. The agents retrieved the evidence and took the two friends downtown to the Federal Building at 90 Church Street. There, they were searched and questioned. Neither would reveal the names of any of the dealers who had been supplying them with heroin. Although Shane's friend remarked that one of the three "caps" was for him, this fact in itself was not deemed sufficient evidence to hold him. He was released and went immediately to Shane's apartment to tell Cathy the news.
Meanwhile, Shane was booked, fingerprinted, and placed in a cell at the Federal Detention Headquarters. When an agent volunteered to make a telephone call to his family, Shane gave him the name and address of his father's lawyer. Aronberg said that O'Neill was in Boston but he would telephone him and find out what he wanted to do. He called back to say O'Neill would have nothing to do with the case. Shane was on his own.
The next morning Shane was questioned in the office of the United States Attorney; afterward, his bail was fixed at five hundred dollars and he was held for the Grand Jury.
Cathy set about finding out what she could do to get Shane out of jail. The next day she, too, called O'Neill's lawyer. He told her O'Neill was ill and could do nothing. He said they didn't want him to know about Shane. Several days went by and Shane was still in jail. Eventually, a friend of the Shane O'Neills' made arrangements with Harrington Harlowe, an attorney, to take Shane's case. Harlowe went down to the Federal Detention Headquarters and talked with Shane. He then went to see Cathy.
"Cathy and the little baby, Maura, were a forlorn sight," Harlowe has said. "There was practically no furniture in the apartment. She told me of some people I might call to get in touch with O'Neill. I finally got his Boston apartment on the phone. I talked to a woman who, I think, was Mrs. O'Neill. She told me she would speak to Mr. O'Neill and to call back later. I did and was told to see O'Neill's New York attorney. I went around to see him and he said he would find out what O'Neill wanted to do and let me know. The next day we met again and he told me, in effect, O'Neill was going to have nothing to do with the boy. I got the impression that O'Neill had pretty definitely washed his hands of the whole thing."
A week later, on Tuesday, August 17, Shane was brought before the Federal Grand Jury and was indicted. Meanwhile he underwent the onset symptoms of being suddenly without drugs. His flesh became heavily goose-pimpled, a withdrawal symptom which has given this traumatic illness its name -- "cold turkey." Beads of sweat appeared all over his body. His muscles jerked. Tears flowed from his eyes and his nose ran. Cramps doubled up his body, and, from time to time, he vomited. His temperature and blood pressure rose. Finally, an ambulance surgeon was called and Shane was administered a shot of morphine with a hypodermic needle. The shots of morphine were repeated so that he was not subjected to a protracted withdrawal period.
Eugene junior, reached by telephone in Woodstock, told Aronberg that there wasn't anything he could do. He did not have the money for bail, and he said that there was nothing to be gained by his coming down to New York. He had his own problems.
Cathy visited Shane in jail and talked to him through a heavy wire mesh screen. She told him that there was no way of arranging bail. He was bitter that no one seemed to love him enough to help him.
"I remember Shane didn't seem to mind the jail too much," Cathy has said. "He talked about the other prisoners, all kinds of thieves and what not. He said he liked the guys inside."
Harlowe, who worked on Shane's case without fee, learned that the government would drop the prosecution of Shane if he agreed to go to the hospital at Lexington for a minimum of four months, or until discharged as cured. This would require Shane to plead guilty to the charge of possessing "approximately three grains of heroin on or about August 10, 1948." Harlowe explained that he recommended this because he had seen addicts who had gone there voluntarily and had been able to stop taking drugs. Shane agreed to follow Harlowe's suggestion.
The case of the United States of America versus Shane Rudraighe O'Neill was called on Friday morning, August 20, 1948, before Judge Harold R. Medina. There were no friends or relatives of Shane's or Cathy's present in court.
"At the time Shane O'Neill was brought before me," Judge Medina has said, "I was serving in the criminal division of our district court and I can tell you I didn't like it. I hate judging my fellow man."
In this instance, Judge Medina's duty was even more painful. The judge is a Princeton alumnus, and his two sons are Princeton men. Judge Medina was a sophomore at Princeton when O'Neill senior was a freshman.
"It was a shock to see the boy," Judge Medina has said, "when he was brought before me. He looked terrible, down and out, disheveled, dirty, dressed in rags. I could only feel the deepest sorrow for him, he looked so lost, so bewildered. I got that feeling I so often got when I was serving in the criminal division -- there but for the grace of God go I. I wanted to help him. I wanted him to feel I wanted to help him. I knew that going to Lexington doesn't always help these addicts. I knew that an institution is not the best place in the world. I tried to think what I could say that would let him know there was someone who wanted to help him. I tried to think of something to say that would build up his morale."
Judge Medina turned to Shane and said he had a suggestion to make to him. "You have got a real chance here," he said, "and it may, as these things go, be your last chance. Now take advantage of it and you may find, when you get down there, some things that may be hard to take, all the way down the line, but if you just make a resolution that you are really going to take advantage of this it will fix you up for life and you will be all right. Now try to do it."
Shane listened intently to Judge Medina. "Thank you, sir," he said, "I will attempt to."
Judge Medina thereupon remarked, "I want you to know while you are down there any time you have something on your chest that is worrying you, you can write to me as you would write a friend and I will treat it just that way."
Shane spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in his apartment at 151 First Avenue with Cathy and Maura. He said he was not surprised that his father had refused to do anything about his trouble. His father was not well, he pointed out. He was still bitter, however, that no one had produced his five-hundred-dollar bail. The ten days he'd lain in jail, alone and forgotten, had seemed like a lifetime to him. Even criminals made bail, he said. He was philosophical about going to Lexington. He said he was determined to be cured of his addiction.
Cathy told him she would make out all right. He should get cured and not worry about her and Maura. She would stay with her father in Stamford for a while and then probably go on down to her mother's in Florida.
Early Monday morning Shane reported to the United States Marshal in the Federal Court House and, with other addicts, was taken in a bus to Lexington. Afterward, he said, "It's a tremendous place, wonderful food. I met several people right off I knew." He adjusted quickly and was given a job on the hospital farm milking cows and doing odd jobs. One thing that made his stay at Lexington easier, Shane feels, is that he did not have to go through a withdrawal period. He had been through that at the Federal prison in New York. He liked working on the hospital farm because he had always liked caring for animals.
Left to shift for herself and her baby, Cathy again called on O'Neill's lawyer to ask whether there would be any possibility of getting assistance from Shane's father. According to Cathy, the lawyer said, "Gene is so sick, we don't want him to know about this."
Agnes and her husband reached New
York about Christmastime and went on to Bermuda to recondition and
rent Spithead. They were there when they learned that Shane was in
Lexington. Agnes was distressed to learn that Eugene had been
informed of his son's predicament and had done nothing to help him.
But O'Neill's apparent inability to face the problem of drug
addiction in this instance was, perhaps, understandable in the light
of his earlier experience with it. His first and perhaps only
genuine reaction was horror, the horror that he had felt regarding
his mother's addiction. And it has been suggested that he was
burdened with a powerful guilt feeling arising from the notion that
the pain of his birth caused his mother's addiction. The horror and
the guilt are both unforgettably dramatized in Long Day's Journey
into Night, but his re-creation of these emotions did not
signify his mastery of them. Besides, by 1948 Eugene O'Neill was
indeed seriously ill and had aged horribly -- both physically and
spiritually. He was no longer master of his own destiny.
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