I have been so busy planning a fundraiser for The Walk to Defeat ALS™ for this upcoming Saturday that my mind is having a hard time focusing on anything else. In moments like these though, I find I forget the important things, and remember things from long ago. Yesterday, I tried to call my voicemail, and realized I forgot the PIN number. The number I have dialed to retrieve my messages for two years, and I forgot what it was! It wasn’t one of those momentary lapses, either. You know the ones; when you think, “What the heck?”, and then it comes to you. I tried several number combinations last night, and none were right. It was very frustrating, but I thought I must just be tired. I went to bed, and felt for sure it would all come back to me today; but it didn’t.
I tried dialing different number combinations again this morning, to no avail. Hours later, I remembered that the PIN is four numbers, not three. Why was I having this mental block? The clincher to this story is, as my sister Elaine and I were approaching my apartment on our return from Target this afternoon, we drove by the house across the street on the corner, and I said, “That’s Rosalie’s house.” Rosalie was friends with my best friend’s mother when I was a young girl. Sometimes, we walked up here and went to Rosalie’s and played in her backyard, and she gave us Iced Tea. I haven’t thought about Rosalie since I was that young child. The two oddities to me about this are:
1. I have lived in my apartment for three years, and Rosalie’s house was always there, but I never remembered that until today.
2. I couldn’t remember something I use every day, but I remembered something I haven’t thought about in over thirty years.
I understand that at fifty years old, I can expect to have some memory loss. I am convinced however, that the periodic complete shutdown and reversion to past memories is in part a leftover side effect of my drug and alcohol usage. I have recently seen commercials which advocate quitting smoking by saying that after ten years of not smoking, the odds of you getting lung cancer are half that of a smoker’s. What I think when I see that commercial is not only, “Thank God I quit”, but also, “I bet it will take at least ten years to repair all the destruction I have caused to my mind, body, soul and psyche with alcohol and drugs.” Not to mention the external damage to my family and friends; the collateral damage to those who should not have been subject to the disaster that was my life.
I was sitting at my desk at work recently, working on mundane tasks, and thinking about the absurdity and havoc of a typical day in the life of a crackhead. I want to tell you all about it, but honestly, picking one day is hard to do, because they were all the pretty much the same; they were all horrid and insane. This is just a glimpse into the world I was living in. I will tell you more as we go. I just thought you ought to know who I was, so you can better see who I am.
I had just come off of a binge, and again, gone back to Marian’s house in Point Pleasant Beach. My cousin always took me in. She cared so much. I think she knew she was enabling me, but she was praying hard that I would get the message of sobriety before I died.
Everyone else had stopped dealing with me at all. How do you watch a shipwreck, when you know your sister, mother, friend is on the boat? Marian did, though. She couldn’t help herself. She felt compelled to love me well. It wasn’t working, but she kept trying. She was still trying at this point in the story, at least. Eventually, even Marian had to walk away, but that comes later. For now, Marian had taken me in again, and I was going to Outpatient Rehab, going to meetings, and waiting for my IRS check for three thousand dollars (thank you, Earned Income Credit, from drug addicts everywhere) to come, so I could go north, get a job and an apartment, and get my son back. That was the plan, and that was what I wanted more than anything.
When the check came, it came to me in Bergen County, and I convinced Marian and myself that I had to go get it, and bring it back. Marian gave me specific instructions to retrieve the check, bring it back to her house, and she would cash it for me. That way, she could watch the money, and make sure I didn’t spend it all. I took the train to Bergen County, got a room in the Winslow Motor Hotel (home to overnight Crackheads from all around), and of course, proceeded to call around for drugs. I was still convinced at this point that it was going to be a one night thing, that I would get my check, go back to Marian’s, get my job and apartment, and my son, and live happily ever after.
Flash forward four days. It is seven in the morning. I am sitting on a couch in my arch-nemesis Donna’s apartment, where I have been staying since that night in the hotel, when she found out I had the money coming and became my best friend again. We cashed the check, I moved into her flop house, and we have stayed up since, and smoked all that money right up. It is convenient that her new live in boyfriend is a crack dealer. He told me he would hold my money for me, so I won’t spend it all, since I am just stopping by for a short while, then I am getting an apartment, and getting my son back. That was four days ago, though, and by seven on this fourth morning, I discover we have spent almost all of my three thousand dollars, and according to Donna and her dealer lover, much of his and her money, too. We are not the only ones smoking. People come in and out all night and day, ostensibly to buy, but mostly to smoke what they can get from others, who I am.
On this morning, I realize I have no voice left, my throat is closing up, and there are sores in my mouth. I haven’t slept, eaten or showered for three days, and now we are out of chore boy and stems (pipes made from the glass stems surrounding the little roses you see in Krauzer’s and Gas Stations). As it has been for three days, it falls to me to go across the street, try to pretend I’m straight and once again, need Chore Boy to clean with, and think those little roses are so cute. I slither out the door with sunglasses on, as if they will hide my shame and disgusting visage. I whisper for my items, since that is all I can do. The clerk doesn’t care. I can see she thinks I’m dirt, but that is who she sells to. I don’t care, either, or so I tell my dying self. Really, I care more than ever.
I go back to the crackhouse, and we light up like we are lost in the desert, and the pipes and rocks are our water mirages that now are real. Sometimes you pass out on crack, and that is really what you want. That’s a great hit. That is what we as crackheads chase. The first hit of the batch is always good, and it makes you forgetful. Every other hit is just about chasing the first one.
The hits never stop, though I do get up, and go into the bathroom to see what my throat looks like. It hurts so much; I’ve been smoking for three and a half days, and I can’t get rid of the hurt, no matter how high I get. It just gets worse. I look in the mirror, and I am shocked at what I see. Death is in the mirror, staring at me. There is a gaunt, sallow skeleton with black and sunken eyes where my image should be. Inside that skeleton’s mouth is disease, and it’s permeating her whole essence. I try to brush my teeth, but it really hurts, so I just lightly sweep them with the brush. I also run a brush lamely through my hair, and quickly leave the bathroom, so I don’t have to look at the skeleton anymore. I return to the living room, pick up my pipe, and smoke it.
You would think that would be enough to stop me, but that insane binge went on for four more days, until I ran out of money, Donna and I had a dreadful fight, and I became homeless. Marian rescued me one more time, and one more time her prayers and love were not enough to save me. Then, I was homeless for real, on my own, and headed kicking and screaming towards sobriety.
I just thought you ought to know some of the realities of my nightmare, and not just my self-determination to get better and what I have learned. I will share more of this nightmare, if you can handle it, as we go. I want you to know how horrible I was. It hurts, but it’s important to me that you know that even those you think of as ‘bad people’ can turn their lives around. It happens every day. It happened to me, and I was the most shocked of all!