While driving along Pacific Highway today (this stretch of road continually appears as a source of bad memories for me, but a good source of writing ideas) I saw a man probably in his 40’s pushing a stroller along the sidewalk. Something immediately struck me as not being right. Not to assume or jump to any stereotypical conclusions, but this man was clearly unkempt and most likely homeless. As my car slowly passed him and I was able to take a quick look back, and to my relief, the stroller did not contain a child. It did, however, clearly contain all of this man’s belongings.
As I continued on Pacific Highway, each cheap and likely dirty motel, quick loan pawn shop, and heavily trafficked intersection I passed, only deepened my sadness. It is beyond a doubt devastating when one loses everything they once possessed. One doesn’t see this coming. It’s not like the stop sign approaching meters away which gives you ample warning to slow down and then brake. It’s more like barreling the intersection without a stop sign only to see a Mac truck passing through giving you no option but to slam on the brakes, close your eyes, scream, and hope for the best. Whether the reason being a person’s house has foreclosed, they became addicted to drugs, they lost their job and family due to severe mental illness, it is still heartbreaking to see such ruin. I know upon seeing some individuals, we can’t help but think one deserves it more than another. There are some things we bring upon ourselves and others that coincidentally happen. I can jump off the nearest cliff and spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair, or a tree can fall, landing on me while I am out for my morning run leaving me in a wheelchair. Two completely different circumstances. Same result.
When I saw this man pushing the stroller, not only did I feel sad for him and whatever life’s circumstances brought him to this moment, but at the same time I had a vivid flashback which pained me. My ex admitted to me years ago, while he was smoking crack cocaine, he took the kids with him on a ‘mission’ to get more dope while I was at work. Not only was I mortified when he told me this, but seeing this man pushing a stroller drove a chill down my spine and brought a wince to my face. When I think about it, I vigorously shake my head back and forth like a child who refuses to eat their peas at dinner. I am doing it right now because the thought of this is like noise in my head I can’t bear to hear. I often place my hands over my ears as if that is going to silence my own thoughts. I’ll stop with the tics now so I can write.
Years ago when my daughter was about 5 and my son 3, my ex (I call him D for anonymity reasons), during a relapse decided it was necessary to make the long trip down to our credit union. Under typical circumstances, this is not a long trip. But these were not typical circumstances. We had a car, but since D got on the bus for this adventure, our dealer had the car. D would loan out the car in exchange for dope. He smoked it so fast, he needed to call the dealer multiple times a day so he could deliver more dope. This only meant the dealer could keep the car even longer. We went through 4 or 5 vehicles in a year that D eventually just handed over to whatever dealer he had at the time. That’s right, he gave the cars away, car seats and all, for a handful of crack. He was that desperate. This being said, I should clarify that when the car became an object to barter with, every other option had been exhausted. First cash (a payday often triggered a relapse). An empty space stuck out like a sore thumb where the stereo receiver and DVD player were once stacked. The camcorder and digital camera were at the pawn shop as well. My wedding ring and every other piece of jewelry had been sold, sometimes to a pawn shop, but more often to the dealer himself. Our food stamp card went next. I hated this because before I could even protest he had made arrangements with the dealer over the phone and had been in my wallet to steal the card. This meant very little food in the house for an entire month. It is amazing the meals I could make out of cans in the cupboard I didn’t even know were there. I would try to get groceries before D got to my card, but I was only so lucky half the time. He eventually sold me without my knowledge, but I’ll save that for another story.
Although both kids were of walking age, we had one of those cheap strollers which was perfect for our son because he got tired so quickly when walking. His little legs just couldn’t keep up with the rest of us. D put him in the stroller, led our daughter out the door and walked the couple blocks to the bus stop. D had been high and most likely coming down and stressed from being out of dope. I am sure the dealer didn’t want to hear his voice again until the next day. Although I worked just around the corner at the dry cleaners, he didn’t dare come in and ask for money like he normally would because he had the kids. Often they were at one of our parent’s houses when the using took place. I was working an 8 or 10 hour shift and had no idea he was using with the kids in the house. He would put them in the bedroom to play, set them up with DVD’s and give them a box of Goldfish. He wouldn’t use in front of them (I don’t think), just lock himself in the bedroom. So if the kids were gone, that freed him up to walk around the apartment with his crack pipe.
What normally took 10 minutes by car, I imagine took a few hours round trip by bus to get to the bank. It pains me to imagine him on the bus with his little girl by his side and his son in the little stroller probably asking where they were going and what the surprise was. Taking a bus ride wasn’t a typical adventure. D, I am sure, informed them that they were going on some exciting trip and if they were good and could survive the duration, they would get a sucker at the bank. The bus ride took only 25 minutes. After that, however, was a long walk from 1st Avenue to 4th Avenue. It doesn’t sound like a long walk, but the dusty train tracks made for a bumpy and long walk, especially for a child. My daughter was probably wondering where the car was (for years after all this she would look out the window and feel scared if the car was gone, it was a sign something was wrong). So D pushed the kids to the credit union with some idea up his sleeve. It always amazed me the bullshit he could pull when he wanted to get high. He could manipulate the smartest people out of anything. Addicts are good at that. I don’t know what he did or said this time, but he managed to convinced the bank teller to give him money we didn’t have. He called the dealer from outside the bank. No more stress. All smiles. Two kids with suckers, and a dealer on the way. He got his dope and headed toward home. More train tracks, another bus ride, a short walk home. Get the kids settled, and load that pipe. Just another day for him getting what he wanted. He stopped at nothing. He would walk for miles and miles to get dope. And he has.
When I came home from work that night, I reached the top of the stairs and saw toys scattered all over the living room floor. I knew he was using. That was a telltale sign. The kids were in their room and he was in ours with the door locked. I learned to hold my breath while walking up the stairs after work. The unknown that awaited me had become such an anxiety. It’s amazing how our brains work. My brain protected me from completely losing my mind due to this stress. Which is why I can now let it all out. My brain doesn’t have to protect me from him anymore. When I envision him taking our kids on a “mission” as he would call it, my heart hurts. Yes, I am angry he would involve the kids. But, it also saddens me that he would need to do such a thing. Why couldn’t he wait? Make other arrangements? Or just stop? I am not defending him. But I understand addiction. So when I saw the man walking with the stroller today, the memory came back as anger and sadness together. I hope that man is going to be okay. He was skinny and unhealthy. Maybe he was on a mission of his own. It looked like he had been ruined by meth. I see a lot of that now.
My heart will always hurt for those afflicted by addiction. It’s a lonely place to be. It hurts. Not only the person using, but everyone around them. And the pain, memories, scars and consequences last forever.