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Kickstart My Heart

Shire Pharmaceuticals. Adderall. 1996.

Among children born in America in the late 1980s, my classmates at the San Francisco Day School must have been the happiest, healthiest, most unthinkingest cluster of them all. Our parents raised us to give thoughtful Bar Mitzvah gifts, walk or jog daily, recognize Kwanzaa. If the community was not quite anti-intellectual, it was certainly not a culture of quiet indoor pursuits. The weather was too nice, for one thing. And our parents, who hadn’t attended Ivy League schools and didn’t read literature, had yet done well enough to afford beach houses up the coast and a rainbow flock of Polar Fleeces. Among us, their offspring, there was no such thing as academic rivalry. We worked together if we worked at all.

This changed when I began my first year at the Ivy League university from which I recently graduated. There I met freshmen who had taken the SATs more than twice, who spoke three Asian languages, who began drinking coffee in middle school. “Things are different on the East Coast,” I told my mother on a cell phone from the campus Starbucks, where I was conspicuously reading the New Yorker and hoping to make friends. The kids of the East Coast intellectual guard had a whole culture of rituals and objectives by which to define themselves: anticipation of the LSATs, the New Criterion, cocaine.

It was this New York and Boston–bred clique that taught me what I know about Adderall—or showed me, rather, since the drug is less talked about than exhibited. It is not hard to tell if someone has taken a lot of Adderall. His mouth will be tensed, his shoulders stiff, his gaze unwavering. Everyone looks the same after ten or so hours of untrammeled focus. During freshman year I got mine from Bronson, a sloth of a boy from Brooklyn whom I hooked up with at a party. Bronson was prescribed the drug for his ADD but it had a somewhat deadening effect on him, and he made extra cash by selling what he didn’t use or want. Once a month I would visit him to sit on his dorm bed while he counted out pills from an organizer. There was a Scarface poster on the wall and on the mini-fridge, a jar of weed which Bronson would uncap and wave under my nose, as though it were single-malt scotch or chloroform. He refused to sell me his 20-milligram pills because he thought I might have a heart attack, so I took 10s.

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