I’d hid amongst the filth and waste, scratching at my skin, clawing at my hair, and clutching at my belly. I wept for all the things I’d become and all the things that I would never be.
I thought about how much I hated Dean; about how I never wanted to see him again.
I missed Dean.
I loved him and I ached to feel his arms around me.
I’d had a run in the night before with a hooker; the same outlandishly tall blonde that had slapped me just moments earlier; and she’d thrown a bottle at my head, though I couldn’t quite remember why.
I watched the stranger in the mirror as she reached up with one hand to touch the tender spot behind her ear.
I felt the raised ridge of the gummy, barely-clotted gash with my own fingers.
Yes, I knew that wasted creature in the mirror.
I knew how she’d become the scrawny shell of her former self.
I knew each of those scars, and I remembered how they came to be. I knew each bruise and scrape, and I knew those empty eyes.
I had spent the day trying to understand my enemy and now, there I was face to face with her.
The music swelled as two older women came into the bathroom.
I leaned forward and splashed more icy water in my face. I pulled paper towels from the nearby dispenser and blotted my skin dry.
I looked back into my reflection, forcing myself to meet my own gaze; it was not easy.
I watched as both of my hands went to flutter at my belly.
I had no way of knowing if my baby had survived my last beating, but somehow I felt that he was okay.
I told myself that it was not too late.
I left the room before the women emerged from their stalls, heading back out into that ridiculous, throbbing light. I had gone into the Red Eye with a purpose, and now that purpose had been renewed and redoubled.
I found Mort at a table with two other men. They were laughing and talking as they tossed back their drinks. He turned and smiled at me as I approached.
“Can I talk to you Mort? Please?”
After so much time living in that hell; in that valley of lost souls; Mort had been one of the very few to show me true kindness. No one really knew his story, or why he spent so much time around the hopeless when he himself wasn’t a drug addict. Some people called him Jesus behind his back; some mockingly called him Mother Teresa. It seemed he was always there to lend a hand to any sad sap that asked for it.
He did not disappoint me then. I could tell he was hesitant to cross Dean, but his genuine concern for me outweighed his sense of street loyalty to a man he could just barely stand. He proffered up his keys and told me I could stay with him for as long as I needed.
“Just till tomorrow, Mort.” I assured him. “I have a few things to deal with, and then I have a life I need to get back to.”
It was, without a doubt, the strangest day of my life. I had lost myself, and then found myself only to discover that something very important was missing; a future. I had lost all hope; even the hope of hope; and then, as if touched by some tiny miracle, I was able to rediscover it.
The madness of that one day; that tiny cluster of hours; had shown me a stark reality that I had been too long blind to.
I saw myself through a stranger’s eyes, and it was through that vision I was finally able to see the real me again.
The night I’d met Dean and begun my decent into hell, my baby sister had been a gawky eleven-year-old kid. I’d prepared myself for seeing that same little kid getting off the bus that afternoon, but I was shocked speechless when instead I saw myself; a much younger, prettier and far more innocent version of myself; pull to the curb in a little, lime green V.W. Bug.
She started to get out and I rushed from the shadows to greet her. “Can we please go for a drive instead?” I asked.
I could see the pity and concern in her eyes when she looked at me, despite her attempts to hide it with a smile. She nodded and got back behind the wheel. I scrambled into the passenger seat as fast as I could, immediately engaging the lock behind me.
I kept expecting an attack from Dean. Or worse… a plea, an apology… another storm of empty promises. I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to walk away from that.
He never appeared, but it wasn’t until we were blocks away that my heart stopped thudding painfully in my chest and I was finally able to relax a little.
We parked in a slot just inside of Stanley Park, facing the ocean.
For awhile we just sat there in awkward silence, but then the floodgates broke and I told Katie everything. It came out in a rush; even things I’d never had courage to admit to myself bubbled out of me.
I knew I shouldn’t be laying so much burden on her, but it felt right to let it all go.
I don’t know how long we sat there crying and holding each other; both of us mourning the life that should have been but never was. It could have been only moments or it could have been hours. Finally I pulled away from her and looked her in the eyes.
“Katie,” I told her. “I need help. More than that though… I want help. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t live like this… it’s not even really life.” My hands fluttered back to my stomach. I looked down, thoughtful and committed. “I can’t do this to him.”
Katie insisted I go home with her, that we sit together with our parents and talk.
I was hesitant. They didn’t want me there and with good reason.
“But Laney,” Katie said softly. “This changes everything.”
I don’t know when my baby sister went and got so grownup; I wasn’t there to see it; but somehow, during those years I had spent in a drug induced haze, our roles had become reversed. I was no longer fit guide her, but I was desperately in need of her guidance. Her wisdom had become absolute.
Going home was hard, but I had known worse, and I would come to know even tougher times still.
The detox was brutal, and made only harsher by my refusal to use methadone to cut back the cravings, but I didn’t want to waste my time covering up one addiction with another.
There were days in the midst of it that I thought I was going to die and other days that I actually prayed for death.
Somehow, I endured.
My family’s distrust was glaringly obvious; especially after I left the clinic and went back to stay with them. At my mother’s urging, dad had put locks on the medicine and liquor cabinets, and it seemed everything of even minor value disappeared for awhile.
But I endured.
In the days that followed my return home, Dean showed up frequently. He would come begging my parents time after time, for one last chance to see me.
Some days he was utterly remorseful; pleading, crying, and swearing that he would make the needed changes. Other days though, he was so full of the venom and rage that had for years been stealing control of what might have once been a good man.
On at least two occasions the police had to physically remove him.
When he came, I stayed in my room. I didn’t trust myself to face him. I didn’t trust my resolve to turn him away.
Amazingly, I endured.
Eventually I even stopped watching down from the window.
One evening, a little more than a month from my due date, I sat down with my parents and Katie and explained how I no longer felt completely safe there, nor did I quite feel like I belonged. I told them that if I was really going to make this work, I had to cut out my own little piece of life.
With their help, I moved to Victoria two weeks later.
My son, Jeffery Dean; named both for his grandfather, and for the father he himself would never know; turned three last week.
He was born, thankfully; despite the physical and chemical abuse inflicted on my body during the early days of his existence; entirely healthy.
One day I’ll sit him down and tell him everything without reserve, but for now, I just want to encourage his mind, and protect his innocence.
My mom and dad come to see us as often as they can. Our relationship is still somewhat strained, and I know it will likely never again be what it was before, but it does seem to get better all the time.
They’ve been far more supportive than I had any right to expect.
Katie moved to the island last year so that she could be closer to us. She’s currently attending classes at UVic, and shares an off campus apartment with her boyfriend.
I honestly don’t know what I would do without her. She is my best friend and my most trusted confidant.
I got news last winter that Dean was dead; the drugs had won, and he’d overdosed. No one seemed certain whether it was an accident or his last defiant act of will, but I heard they found him drowned in his own vomit in that little apartment above Hastings Street.
I cried for days.
I really had loved him, and I’m pretty sure he’d loved me too, at least in the beginning.
I know it would be impossible for most people to understand, but when I heard he was gone I cried because I realized, despite everything, I still loved him then. I still love him even now.
Mostly though, I think they were tears of relief.
I continue to keep in touch with Mort Hagen. I always think of him and smile… my own knight in shining armour; my guardian angel. It’s amazing how even the thinnest shards of light in an otherwise black world, can cultivate hope amongst even the most hopeless, and lead the lost in out of the dark.
Mort was my shard of light, just when I needed it most.
His was the one act of kindness that proves optimism never dies.
The cravings are still with me and my NA sponsor, Chuck; fifteen years clean himself; tells me they will never entirely disappear. Sometimes it’s a little tough to manage, but I don’t think I want them to go away. They serve as a badge of honour and a souvenir of everything that I have overcome. They serve as a constant reminder of everything I never want to be again.
Motivated by Chuck’s constant urging, I went back to school just after J.D. was born.
I work with street kids now, doing what little I can do to make their world seem a little broader and their choices a little brighter. Every day of my life I intentionally immerse myself in the world that nearly killed me in the hopes of making a difference.
I don’t know if I do.
I hope I do.
I have so much to atone for.
I can smile now, because I am no longer the walking punch line.
I am, however, a joke on the statistics.
I did not come from a broken home or abuse.
I was not born into a world of drugs or poverty.
I was born blessed, and when I fell from grace it wasn’t a gradual decline that left a trail that someone might follow; I just leapt. I spread out my arms and plunged into the great chaos without a moment’s hesitation.
I spent nearly six years of my life snorting, smoking and injecting everything I could get my hands on. I hit rock bottom and was too high to even feel the impact.
Statistics show that 93% of methamphetamine addicts that go through traditional rehab eventually go back to using.
As one final joke on the statistics, I am over three years clean without a single relapse, or even so much as a near fall.
I have every intention of keeping it that way.
I am of the other 7%.
I will always have my scars –both physical and emotional– to tether me to my past, but I can I look into my own reflection now without turning away in shame.
I know what I was, but I also know who I am now, and though they’re two sides to the same coin, these are infinitely different beings.
I am healthy once again; mentally, emotionally and physically.
My life belongs to me now, and nothing could ever make me relinquish the reigns again.