My baby wants to come home… home. She’s an adult now, in her twenties, and she’s been on the streets again for most of the last year. I’ve seen her twice since last April, both brief visits—one with us sitting in my car, me watching her scarf down drive‐thru food while I sat too nauseated by her circumstances to eat. Then again in January, the two of us walked through Walgreens to buy the hygiene products she picked out and pay for her prescriptions called in by a clinic where she has been seen for yet another bout of walking pneumonia.
“Can I have some hair dye, Mommy?” She asks as she browses through the boxes. “Sure, Baby,” I say. She goes for a deep red this time because she says her hair is in too bad a shape to handle double-processing to platinum. I say sure because I know her need to change and control something easy. The real changes, the real control and strength she needs to stop using, stop running from her reality, stop letting people use her, stop hating herself… Yeah, hair dying is much simpler than making any real changes.
I walk her to her waiting ride—some guy I don’t bother to meet—and help her load up her purchases and the bag of food I threw together from my restaurant where I was working when I got her call. Looking in the bag, she sees some of her favorites. “Oh Mommy, cheese soup! Thank you! I know this is better than all those meds the doctor prescribed!”
I drive away from them but barely make it to the next parking lot where I pull over and cry my guts out and scream and cuss and then get control of myself to be able to drive the hour home.
Home. There it is again, that word. Currently for me home is in a small—no, tiny—town in Northwest Arkansas. An hour out of the city where I grew up and have lived most of my life. A quiet safe place with the man I love. It has been his home for all of his life. We live in a trailer on his family property while we put the finishing touches on our remodel of his grandmother’s house—a darling rock house that’s forty years old.
I moved here almost two years ago, leaving my little apartment of four years, an apartment I had moved into to get away from my divorce house of two years—a house that never felt like a home even though I tried so hard to make it one. Both my kids liked the house, but I never felt quite safe and secure there. Something just wasn’t right. Maybe because it was a forced choice, the answer to “I don’t love you anymore so go away.” My kids lived full‐time with their dad at this point, but they bounced back and forth between both houses, and luckily we only lived a mile apart.
I moved from that house after about two years, rented it out and went to live with my parents who needed help dealing with my stepdad’s medical issues stemming from his near‐death from the MRSA virus and his subsequent leg amputation. My mom had had to place her mother in a nursing home because she wasn’t able to deal with my grandmother’s advancing Alzheimer’s and my stepdad’s many needs and time demands. I stayed there for nine months. Again in a home that just wasn’t home. Not the house I’d grown up in. The house that my folks had moved to just a few years before, after they had sold the house they lived in for thirty-six years. After about nine months I felt I had done all I could to help mom—my “tour of duty,” I called it.
I moved into the apartment close to where my kids were living with their dad but they both spent lots of time at my place. During the four years I was in that apartment, I found out my son was an addict. His drug use had started when I was in the divorce house; I just didn’t know about it. Pretty quickly my adorable little safe apartment, my home, stopped feeling so safe. The chaos of his addiction and the people it brought into my life, our lives, was devastating. My daughter started using also. Life became a merry‐go‐round of ups and downs, fear, heartbreak, terror, and anger. They have both used at my apartment, stolen from me there, and broken in when I locked them out and told them they couldn’t be there without me. I’ve had scary people come to my door who I have had to stare down, cuss out, and call the law on. Four years of a quaint, cute home that was a hell.
Two years ago and eighteen months into our relationship, my now‐fiancé asked me to give up my apartment and move out to the country with him. The thinking was that I might be able to catch my breath if I could have a break from financial responsibility, enough distance from my kids in their addiction madness, and time away from the constant reminders of the heartache and crimes. He works in town during the week, so I have plenty of solitary time. In many, many ways it has helped. I’ve been able to go back to school, take some courses, and start a new career in home caregiving with the elderly, something I really love but have put on the back burner while I take care of my restaurant that I had owner‐financed but that fell back into my lap. So I’m back and forth to the city more, but being able to come home to the peace of the country is keeping me sane.
But for six months last year I let myself get pulled back into the madness of my kids’ addictions. I allowed my then‐pregnant daughter and her boyfriend to live in my divorce house while I had it on the market to sell. It was a nightmare that I can’t quite put into words for fear that I will drop into grief for days. That time ended with the premature birth of my grandson, who tested positive for meth. I held him and loved on him as much as I could for three days until he was released to an amazing couple with a son whose only wish in the world was to get a little brother. An answer to prayers for all of us.
Within two weeks, my daughter was off and gone, now with more self‐loathing and anger and self‐destructiveness than she had ever had before.
The other night she called from jail, where she has been since shortly after the last time I saw her to help her get her meds. She’s calling to tell me that she gets out next Monday and she wants to come home. My heart broke yet again.
I got to thinking about home. What the fuck is home anyway? I’ve counted twenty-five houses I’ve lived in over my fifty-two‐year lifespan. I did my level best to make all of them a home when it was within my control. I recall what my ex said to me on moving day when we separated, “What the hell! With you taking all your stuff this doesn’t even look like a home anymore.” Exactly, asshat, I thought. I made it home! I made every house we lived in a home! Humans—especially women—just do that. We nest; we make our spaces ours. You can even see this in the homeless camps downtown. I think women take this homemaking more seriously than men.
Mostly what I think of when I think of home is a safe space. A place of security and retreat. And I am making that for myself again. Slowly, in the home I have now, my own walls have come down. I’m trusting this man I love, and he keeps showing me that I can. We are building and planning and picking out paint and stone and furniture, and it is so much fun. And it feels so nice to feel safe and at home.
So when my girl called to say she wants to come home, I had to pause a minute before I answered, before I said, “Honey, we don’t have a home anymore.”
Truthfully, the spare bedroom is full of stuff and boxes as we prepare to move into the new house soon, so there really isn’t room or a bed. And what I don’t want to have to say to her is no. No, because you and your brother and your addictions have destroyed my safety and sanity and my feelings about home over the last five years. And I’m strong enough finally and happy enough finally to not let this new home and relationship be tainted. I know my fiancé will do anything in the world for me, but I’m not going to ask him to compromise his peace and safety.
I asked her, “What’s your plan?” She said she had made the calls we talked about, and she had a bed at a women’s and children’s 130‐day rehab facility. She is pregnant again, approximately six weeks according to the ultrasound they gave her in jail. This is a program for pregnant addicts. So I said it.
“Honey, we don’t have a home anymore.” And she got quiet a minute, so quiet I could hear the jail noise in the background. And with a quivery voice she said, ”I know, Momma. I know why you really can’t have me out there with you. I understand. But home for me is you, Momma, wherever you are. I just want to be with you and sit in your lap and hold you and rock and talk and eat something you’ve cooked. My heart just hurts and I miss you so and I’m scared. So can you just find a way to pick me up when I get out Monday? And we can just be together for a little while and sit and hold each other, and then you take me to this place. I want to be better. I want to be happy and I want to make a home for this baby and do this right this time. I’m going to start doing right for this baby and somewhere down the line it will start being right for me too. I want to be sober.”
“Okay, my baby,” I whispered. “I’ll be there.”
Photograph provided by author.
Voices on Addiction is a column devoted to true personal narratives of addiction, curated by Kelly Thompson, and authored by the spectrum of individuals affected by this illness. Through these essays, we hope—in the words of Rebecca Solnit—to break the story by breaking the status quo of addiction: the shame, stigma, and hopelessness, and the lies and myths that surround it. Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, adult children, extended family members, spouses, friends, employers or employees, boyfriends, girlfriends, neighbors, victims of crimes, and those who’ve committed crimes as addicts, and the personnel who often serve them, nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists, prison guards, police officers, policy makers and, of course, addicts themselves: Voices on Addiction will feature your stories. Because the story of addiction impacts us all. It’s time we break it. Submit here.