The air remains heavy and hot, despite the fact that the sun has long since disappeared.
Summer nights in the south aren't so much a cooling off as a kicking off of the heavier blanket, where the sheet gets left on, keeping some of the air trapped. The crunch of my tires on the seashell driveway is an undercurrent to the cicada songs that undulate past my window.
Past the neighbor’s place, large dark shadows move slowly, telling me the horses are out. A break in the trees and there it is, my headlights hit the small white house sitting on the edge of the water.
The garage door is open, waiting for me. I hesitate at the entrance and wait for the motion sensors to come on, there is no telling what the configuration of the garage will be each time I come and I can’t afford to fall out here.
Under the yellow bug lights I pick my way through the odd assortment of dry goods, fishing poles and rusting gardening tools. The old wooden screen door leading into the house creaks tiredly, pulling it open draws a drag of fetid air with it. I cringe inwardly as I can feel the layers of smell settling on my clothes, years of exhaled cigarettes, stale sweat, dried urine and even a trickling thread of … decomposition?
This part of the house is quiet, living room lights on courtesy of timers. Furniture unused for years sits on Persian rugs whose tasteful designs carefully camouflage a variety of yellow and brown stains. I put my bags down and make my way past the virginal dining room table. The smell of rot is a little stronger as I head into the small kitchen.
A dying cantaloupe is folding in on itself on the counter, sticky juice pooling beneath it like a little melon crime scene. Every surface is covered with a composite of grease, odd spills and splashes. Dishes with dried food, meals untouched or left off in the middle, sit by the sink. I crack the refrigerator (face it, you would too) and realize this is where some of the smell is from. Steaks, lamb, burgers, a mosaic of browns and grays that were never meant for meat. Curiosity duly punished, I follow the sound of a blaring TV to the living room.
Piles of catalogs, loose papers and assorted garbage are dotted across the floor. The local newscaster smiles at me with his non-regional diction from the enormous TV in the corner. An old typewriter is on the couch next to barely literate letters on stained paper, laboriously typed to people no longer alive or who no longer care.
There is ash everywhere, empty packs and cigarette butts visible in every receptacle that will hold them. An odd assortment of items from those discarded catalogs crowd the end tables and furniture – an Egyptian wall clock with moving Horus, an Airstream trailer birdhouse, an Uncle Sam nutcracker, bird art of all kinds. I go to perch gingerly on the edge of a couch and am immediately hit with the acrid smell of urine from the cushions. Failing to find safe purchase to stop and collect my thoughts, I know I have to continue looking.
The hallway leading to the bedrooms is dimly lit by a single nightlight, which is reflected by the glass in fallen picture frames that line the floor on one side of the hall. Old family photos slump against the floor, staring up in mute indignation. There is light coming from the last door on the right, where the garbled sound of a second TV competes with the news behind me. I crane my head and look into the room.
She sits on the edge of a bed that’s covered in soiled sheets and a faded comforter. Legs crossed in a very ladylike fashion, she draws deeply on her cigarette, ash falling unheeded onto the floor. There is dried blood all over the arm of her pink satin nightgown and other, even less palatable, dried stains elsewhere. She wobbles slightly, and an empty beer can falls from the pile atop the small garbage can next to the bed. It clatters raucously across the hardwood floor, reminding me who the master of this house is.
I lean against the doorway. “Hi Mom.”
This is not fiction. This is my life, or a snapshot from it. I make no bones about coming from a long line of dedicated addicts. In fact I've lost just about my entire family to them. Mostly alcohol, some drugs - no matter, they're all strung out or co-dependent to someone who is. The only away to avoid the trap, is to be able to have boundaries and stick to them. Balanced against the inherent love of your family, having to strength say "no" and walk away comes at an incredible cost.
I understand now why my father could never do it. Why my grandmother could never do it. I have been able to do it, but it is profoundly heartbreaking and goes against my entire character and the values I've built a career on - to help. To maintain it is a daily struggle that is just as constant as the addiction is and will only end when death comes.
If you know my mother or rather, knew my mother, then do not feel you have to read this. If you have good memories and healthy boundaries, there is no reason to look further. I share this because I believe that when it comes to addicts, secrets are what kill the family and I won't do it. I share it because I know (for a fact) that I am not the only adult child facing this, or to this degree.
You are not alone.
To my friends in Recovery, thank you for each day you get up and win one more round.