It all began with harassing phone calls and threatening texts. Or to be more precise, my most recent snapshot into a much larger drama began with harassing phone calls and threatening texts. While I was the one being harassed (a total of 16 phone calls, 15 texts and 8 messages before I got everything blocked), I was not the one being threatened. That dubious distinction belonged to a beloved one who appears to have turned the keys to her life over to her addiction. The first call arrived in the middle of the night and delivered complaints that she had taken his van, which he wanted back. Texts reported that she was ass up naked in the middle of the woods. Messages promised that she was headed to jail and he was headed to see her daughter. Other snippets trickled in from a different source: was it gang-related? a van full of crack and $500,000? had she called from jail? Finally, the report of a two thumbs up text and word that she was dead. For one horrendous, heart-stopping hour, we feared that might be the truth. Sometime the next day, she resurfaced and without pausing to take a breath, chided us for our concern, minimized the risks before her, downplayed her actions and laid out her plan. And so, life goes on and returns to “normal.”
What kind of normal is it when kids have to wait through the agony of that hour, wondering what the truth is and how they will ever know if they’ve encountered it? When a child ends up in foster care because her mother has been evicted and then gone missing, only to be reclaimed by parents unable to enroll her in school or fix supper? When a high school student is the confidant who hears of escapades and affairs, drug concoctions and legal fallout? When a college student makes other arrangements for summer and winter breaks, suspecting home won’t exist long enough for him to return? My prayers for “those who long for a people and a place to call home” were birthed by stories of gay youth expelled by their parents, but have since expanded to include teens and young adults who literally and emotionally have no home to go home to.
Even after years of practice, my head still has to rehearse the conclusion that there’s nothing I can do to turn this around. My heart doesn’t stand a chance. So when she calls, as she has and undoubtedly will again, to ask for help with the rent and to keep the lights on; to report that she’s clean – this time for keeps; to say that she’s camping in an empty apartment and can we spare a mug, towel, set of sheets, some cash for food; if we’ll underwrite a great deal on a phone and minutes for a month, she’ll be positioned to look for work and another apartment… My head spins, my clarity crumbles, my stomach lurches and my heart despairs. Where on the continuum can I stand? Somewhere between closing the door and throwing away the key, and encouraging her intimacy with drugs to settle down and stick around, but where? I believe in hope and fresh starts, that manipulation is an art form that can be perfected with use, that love never gives up and never gives in, that addiction is a cruel beast that distorts beauty and shatters lives, that only the addicted can corral it into a box, seal it away and strip it of its power. When that day comes, when she decides to claw her way back, dig the tentacles out of her pores particle by particle, and lock them up for keeps, the way might be eased by the occasional smile, whiff of grace, glimpse of new life. And if it doesn’t come? Then I’ll stand at her grave and weep, pondering where things went wrong and what I might have done differently, wondering when it will end and with whom.