Although her parents were divorced when she was a year old, Monica Little saw her father often, and they had a close relationship. Her mother made sure she was home by 9 p.m. She was not allowed to date until she was 16.
Now 34, Little recalls stepping over rusty hypodermic needles on her way to junior high school in Washington. She also recalls a friend who snorted heroin.
"I saw her getting sick and vomiting," Little recalled. "I said how much of a high is that?"
At 16, Little became pregnant. Her mother took care of her newborn daughter as Little prepared to go to college in El Paso. While attending a three-day college orientation session there, she met some servicemen and told them she was from the District.
"They said, 'Then you must know how to get high,' " she recalled. "'Sure I get high.' " she said, concerned that she would not be accepted. "So I stuck my arm out and turned my head so he could hit me with the needle."
"It was like nothing I had ever had. I was carefree, no problems, no worries. It was the ultimate."
Little stayed in El Paso a month. When she returned to Washington, she was an addict.
"In the 18 years I shot dope, I never got that same high," she said of the first time she took heroin. "I think that's what I was looking for."
Little served 2 1/2 years in jail for charging purchases on stolen credit cards. "Somebody would come along on the strip, where they had just taken a pocketbook, and I'd buy the credit card for maybe $35 for three. Then I'd purchase something and sell it for half of what it cost." She said she used the money to buy heroin and clothes for her two daughters.
"I've let jobs go because I didn't want anybody to know," she said of her addiction. "I was driving a bus and resigned because half the time I was thinking, 'Where can I park this bus and get some dope?' I had 60 people's lives in my hands."
Little worked as a computer programmer several years ago. At lunchtime, she went to the rest room and and shot up. "People noticed I would be sluggish in the morning," she said. "I could not keep up the charade any longer." She quit the job.
The heroin habit turned her skin blotchy. She felt like scratching all the time. She saw friends die from overdoses. Other friends disappeared when she needed money. Today, Little takes doses of methadone that are being slowly reduced. She says she is determined to end her drug addiction entirely, and hopes to stop taking methadone soon. She now lives in Virginia with her mother and daughters.
"It's a living hell," Monica said. "I don't know of anyone I hate enough to turn on to heroin . . . It was my choice. I don't know why I started. The only thing I know now is I am sorry I made that choice."