I haven’t seen my son in nearly a week now. Always a bad sign. But I’m trying not to think about that at the moment. Unfortunately, that’s a bit like trying not to think about purple elephants—as soon as you tell yourself not to, it’s all you can imagine. The mind is funny that way.
I saw a public-service ad on TV this morning. “Parents, the antidrug,” is the theme, and it shows a tough-love mom grounding her teenage son after she discovers him smoking pot. This woman is quite impressive, solid as a rock, and almost believable. But what the ad fails to show is what happens later. What does she do when her son totally ignores his “grounding” and sneaks out after everyone’s asleep? What then?
Really, I’d like to know what in life prepares a parent for something as invasive as drugs? Where is the How to Prevent Your Son from Becoming an Addict handbook when you need it? Or is this simply the kind of thing you must sort out after the fact? Is this just one of those painful lessons that just goes on and on?
And some days, like today, I don’t even have the energy to consider these questions. All I can do is put one foot in front of the other and try to remember how to breathe. I honestly don’t know where I’ll go from here. Maybe I don’t even care. Or maybe it makes no difference.
When I think of what my life used to be—all that’s been lost this past year—I feel as if I’ve been filleted with a dull and rusty knife and my insides are now spilled out across the dirty pier for curious onlookers to view and to judge. But my therapist says I must face all this if I want to get better. In order to recover, I must allow myself to grieve. And in order to grieve, I must acknowledge what’s been lost. It feels like a vicious cycle of pain to me, a spiraling hopelessness without end. But I promised her I’d try.
I’ve only seen Dr. Abrams for a couple of months now, but she appears to be a sensible person, reasonable and caring, and I want to trust her. But it’s been my trusting nature that’s betrayed me in the past. Or so it seems. Although I have learned at least one thing through all this, and it has become my number-one rule in dealing with my son, Jacob, especially lately, and that is to never trust an addict. It felt harsh and unloving at first, especially since I’m talking about my only son, but I have come to believe it is necessary and, more important, true. Because the fact is, drugs are liars. They convince the user that their chemical highs will make him happy, but all they do is destroy him. Even so, the user falls for it again and again. Oh sure, he may end up facedown in the gutter, locked up in jail, or even nearly dead from an overdose, but he still believes the drugs. Jacob’s drug of choice, crystal meth, is one of the worst liars. And I’m sure that’s what’s occupying my son right now, but as usual, I am digressing. My goal is to focus on my own life today. Why is that so difficult?
My promise to Dr. Abrams was to ask myself how I got to this place. I know she wasn’t referring to this physical place, but as I sit here in this shabby, two-bedroom apartment that still smells faintly of pets I have never owned, I have to wonder. Day after day I look out at the busy street below and watch others. I study those people who have places to go and people to see as I make a feeble attempt to chart the series of events that have dragged me to what seems an almost certain dead end. Still I am determined to try to make some sense of what feels completely absurd and almost random at times. Or perhaps I will simply follow my best friend’s lead and take up smoking to cope with the losses in life.
It’s hard to believe that less than three years ago I was actually living out the American dream. A spacious and beautiful home on the hill, in-ground pool in the backyard, a Porsche and a Range Rover in the garage, a dog and a cat, and neighbors who not only knew our first names but had celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and various milestone events with us over the years. It seemed so, well, perfect. There’s no other word for it really, and that’s what makes it all so ironic.
During our last year of “normal,” Jacob was sixteen and quite handsome. My brown-eyed, blond boy, a reflection of his father, lived and breathed basketball, soccer, and baseball. Academics were another thing, but that had more to do with his lack of motivation than IQ—or so the academic counselor assured us. Sarah, on the other hand, had just been named valedictorian of her senior class and consequently was offered several impressive scholarships. My husband, Geoffrey, was a senior partner in his law firm. And life was oh so good. Or so I made myself believe by skating on the thin surface of it all.
How quickly things change when you’re not looking. How easily we can be blindsided just when everything seems to be going well. And the harsh reality trickles down into every decision I make. Now when I set down my pen and go back for another cup of coffee, it’s the kind that comes in a tin can and smells vaguely like tuna fish. I can no longer afford the good stuff. I never realized that grinding whole beans costs about five times as much as this generic brand in the big blue can. So many important things I’ve been learning lately. Still, I assure myself that I will forget those little luxuries in time. I will move on.
I sip the acidic coffee and absently glance out the window to see two young children playing on the sidewalk next to the busy street. I know their names now, but I still remember the first time I saw them down there, a girl about four and her little brother, who’s still in diapers. It was shortly after Jacob and I moved into this place, about three months ago. Naturally, I went dashing down the cement stairs like a maniac, afraid that the small children had slipped out of their apartment unnoticed and would now wander into the street and be hit by a passing car. I’m sure I thought I was going to save their little necks. But when I got down there, breathless and on what felt like the verge of a heart attack, I noticed a young woman with bleached-out hair just sitting on the steps and complacently painting her toenails an iridescent shade of electric blue.
“Are those your children?” I gasped as I clung to the wobbly metal stair railing, attempting to steady my shaking knees.
“Uh-huh,” she muttered without even looking up.
“Aren’t you worried about all that—that traffic?” I pointed to the busy thoroughfare, four lanes of nonstop vehicles moving at forty-five miles per hour. “What if your children go out into the street?”
Then she squinted up at me and scowled, and I could tell that she wanted to tell me to mind my own stinking business, but she simply shrugged and said, “Yeah, well, they know better than that.”
“But how can you be so—”
“Look, lady, are you from children’s services or something?” She stood up now. Narrowing her eyes, she twisted the lid on her bottle of fingernail polish, then stuffed it into the back pocket of her low-cut and tight-fitting jeans as she peered at me accusingly.
“No, I’m just a neighbor who—”
“Then, butt out.” She glanced over at her children, who I felt were playing precariously close to the street just then. “Avery! Warren!” she screeched. “You two get over here right this minute!” Then tossing an angry look my way, she grabbed her children by their scrawny little arms and yanked them, crying and complaining, back into the apartment just below mine.
As I trudged back upstairs, I felt as much like a spoiler as a busybody. And I had to ask myself, just who am I to tell another mother how to raise her children?
But I suppose I relate to this arrogant young mom in some ways. I remember when I thought I knew it all too, back when I was about her age or slightly older. After all, I’d taught kindergarten for five years before I decided to take time off to start our own family. I felt certain I knew everything there was to know about raising good kids, and what I didn’t know I figured I could easily learn from one of the many parenting books that were already beginning to stack up on my bedside table. Naturally, Geoffrey, pleasantly distracted with his still fledgling law practice, wholeheartedly agreed with me on this. After all, we were intelligent and educated people. We were Christians. How hard could raising children be?
And certainly we’d fare better than our parents. Geoffrey’s biological father had been an abusive alcoholic, abandoning his wife and child while Geoffrey was quite young. Not that Geoffrey ever spoke about this era of his life. What little I knew about it had been learned from his grandmother. And even she rarely spoke of such things. “Some stones are better left unturned,” was her polite way of changing the subject. To be honest, I didn’t really care back then. I suppose I thought what we didn’t know would never hurt us. And I wasn’t particularly proud of my own family, although my parents had managed to keep their marriage intact until I was grown. I later discovered this was mostly “for the sake of the children and church friends,” but by the time the last of us left the nest, my dad, tired of the charade and experiencing what I’m sure must’ve been a midlife crisis, called it quits. My mother, a very religious and somewhat oblivious woman, still tries to act as if this never happened. I suppose it helped her case that my dad died shortly thereafter. I think she considers herself more of a widow than anything. But we don’t talk about that. I suppose both Geoffrey and I come from a long line of denial. We were both experts at concealing anything that made us uncomfortable. As a result we displayed this lovely veneer of comfort and ease while underneath it all we were slowly dying.
Wouldn’t Dr. Abrams be proud of me, I think as I jot down these profound thoughts and observations. I am making real progress. Then the phone rings, and I come completely unglued. It must be Jacob, I think as I strain to listen for the second ring so I can hopefully locate where it is coming from. Like most things in my life, the phone is not where it should be at the moment. I finally realize that the cordless receiver is in my bedroom. I had it with me last night, just hoping my son would call.
I trip over a running shoe that’s in the doorway as I dive onto the bed and grab for the phone. I’m sure my heart rate and blood pressure have risen again.
“Hello?” I say breathlessly, hearing the desperation in my own voice. How I long to hear the voice of my son, to be reassured, once again, that he is still alive.
“Jacob, is that you? Where are you?”
“Mom, I need some…some help.” His voice chokes.
“Can you come get me? Right now?”
“Sure, honey. Where are you?”
“Just outside of the city.”
“But where exactly?” I demand. Of course I imagine some of the worst areas outside of Seattle. Trailer parks. Crackhouses. One of those places I would never have seen if not for my son.
“I’ll meet you at Ambrose Park,” he says, “in the west parking lot.”
“Okay,” I tell him in a firm voice although my hands are shaking. “I’ll be right there.”
And, of course, I feel relieved. Just to hear his voice on the phone reassures me that he’s not lying dead in a Dumpster somewhere, the result of an overdose or a disgruntled drug supplier who hasn’t been paid on time. Despite my departure from what used to be my life, I still read the paper and watch the news, and I know for a fact that these things do happen. And while I realize I should be thankful this isn’t the case with Jacob right now, times like today always unnerve me. I never quite know what to think or do. I wish I had someone like Geoffrey to lean on right now. But that, too, is over. And I need to move on, to stand on my own two feet.
The problem is, I’m always second-guessing myself when it comes to Jacob. I’m never sure whether I’m doing the right thing. As I hang up the phone where it belongs by the breakfast bar, words like codependent or enabler or just plain fool roll through my brain like those metal balls in a pinball machine that go around and around but never find a place to rest.
And so I dash like a madwoman down the stairs, fumbling through my purse with shaking hands as I search for my keys. The adrenaline is already racing through my veins as I climb into my decrepit Ford Taurus, and I am praying that, despite the freezing temperature, it will start. I’ve long since quit missing the silver Range Rover I used to drive around this town. I am attempting to forget its luxurious heated leather seats and eight-slot CD player as well as all the other amenities. Really, it seems nothing more than a faded memory now or perhaps something I’ve imagined altogether. If only I can get this temperamental engine to cooperate with me today.
The Taurus finally turns over, and I am driving down the street with a cloud of black smoke trailing me. And now I begin to run all the possible scenarios through my head. Has Jacob been mugged and beaten by one of his “friends”? Or perhaps he has overdosed again and needs medical attention. Has he reached the end of his rope and attempted suicide? Who wouldn’t in his situation? Or maybe he’s simply in trouble with the law.
Finally I settle on the most positive possibility. Maybe my son is at last willing to get help. Maybe today is the big day—the big turnaround I’ve been hoping and praying for, for nearly a year now. But, like I said, drugs are deceptive, and the users aren’t the only ones who get taken for a ride.