Someone in one of the comments trails asked me about chapter one. Okay, sure. Here goes.
It’s the night after Christmas and I’m relishing an evening alone, music in the CD player and dear god, finally, peace on earth after all that Christmas prep, when my oldest calls, his voice strained. “Mom, we need to talk. I’m coming over. And I’m calling Dad and telling him to come, too.”
My heart flies to my throat, but I say, mom-like and practical, “Sure, hon. What’s up?”
“Just be there. Is Noah home?”
“He’s not. Is everything okay?”
His voice breaks. “No.”
I hang up, shaky. Joe’s 20, the picture of stability. His voice never breaks. Not about anything. I’m alone. My husband has taken 14-year-old Noah to a movie for the evening.
It has to be about his year-younger brother, Logan. The two older boys live together in the city. They moved out so similarly, on two separate nights last summer. Just gathered bedding and pillows in their arms, the two of them almost identical in the way they left, grinning, dimpled, “Bye, Mom! Headed to my new house.” No ceremony, no family trip in a U-Haul. Just a grin and a wave and a gentle goodbye click of the front door.
Now it’s six months later, the New Year is looming, and we’ve been worried about Logan. He’s enrolled in junior college, yes, but is he going to classes? He seemed so strange the last few times he was over. In fact, our family Christmas dinner was torture. He was late, then drooped over his girlfriend all evening, syrupy, disgustingly. Seemed almost wired afterwards, while we sat around the living room and played games. Is he doing pot again?
Is that it?
The half-hour it takes Joe to get here is torture. I go online and surf the web for a little while, trying to distract myself.
After a while I leave the computer room and sit on the couch. The house is clean, save for the piles of gifts still un-put-away. Leather gloves, CDs, sweaters for Logan. Funny he didn’t take them with him. Joe took everything but the new lamp for his house. Noah has stacks of DVDs and X-Box games neatly stacked.
I put on some different, softer music, and try to breathe normally. Don’t give in to conjecture. Maybe Joe just wants to talk to us about changing his major or something.
The door opens and he comes in. Even in the dim light, I can see his eyes are red. My calm dissolves as I stand up and hug him.
“Joe, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t you call him?”
“I couldn’t reach him, but I left him a message. He hasn’t called here?”
He sighs, his 6-foot frame curled at the top like a wilted leaf. “Do you want to wait for him?”Hell no, I want to know what’s going on.
“Tell me what’s wrong, son. You’re kind of scaring me.”
He ushers me to the couch and sits down next to me. This is odd, awkward. I don’t know how to act. I smile nervously.
He sucks in a breath and says, “It’s Logan, Mom. He’s been shooting up heroin.”
He stops and looks at me, waits for my reaction. I have none. My brain registers that I’m supposed to react, so I say, “Oh, god,” and shut my eyes as if to keep out the news. But I feel nothing. Heroin? Heroin?
“I’ve known about it for about 6 months,” Joe continues, looking into my eyes as if he expects me to start screaming at him or shaking in hysteria. When I don’t, he says, “I’ve talked to him, over and over, told him he had to stop. He promised me he would.” Tears leak out his eyes. “But he hasn’t.” He rubs the tears. “I was moving a table upstairs at our house tonight, and I needed his help. But he couldn’t get off the couch. He just laid there, in a daze. Like he always does.” His voice breaks on “always,” and he sobs for a moment.
I gather him in my arms and he cries. I do too, but more because Joe is crying, my big, rock-solid 20-year-old, and it evokes a maternal sadness in me. The practical part of me is already whirring to life, already formulating a plan. We’ll fix this. We will. We always do.
“The thing is, Mom, if he could stop, he probably would have. A couple weeks ago when I came home from class, Logan was home looking really scared. He said his friend Freddy almost died from a heroin overdose that afternoon—right on our couch in our house! So Logan and his other friend Tommy carried Freddy out of the house to try to drive him to the hospital. But I guess this cop came by right then and asked them what was going on, and the cop called an ambulance. Then he came in and searched our house, and didn’t find anything.”
The image of skinny Logan and tall Tommy, who I’ve known for years, carrying their overdosing friend out to the snowy curb fills me with horror.
Joe’s voice turns soft. “The thing is, you’d think that would’ve scared him enough to make him quit doing it.” He pauses. “I don’t think he can stop.” He turns his face toward mine. “Mom, we have to do something.”
I nod. “I know. Yes, of course we do. But what?” I search his eyes for an answer. “What are you supposed to do in a situation like this?”
He whispers, “I don’t know.”
Of course he doesn’t know. He came to me for help. I’m the mom. It’s up to me to figure out a plan. I stand up and pace. Oh dear Jesus, what do I do? Why did this have to happen when Reid isn’t home? Wise Reid, who would know what to do.
The phone rings, and I grab it. It’s my ex, James, sounding annoyed. “Yeah, Joe called and wants me to come over, but I’m busy. He said it’s something about Logan. What’s going on?”
“Just come over.” It comes out ragged.
Silence. “All right, I guess, if it’s really that important.”
“Yeah. It’s important.”
Joe goes into the bathroom and I pace, wondering how long we’ll have to wait for James to arrive. The problem is here, now. What do we do?
James arrives with a blast of icy air from outside. He comes in, warily. It’s not very often he’s invited in here. In fact, I’ve fought with him about not coming into my house as if it were his own. It might as well be my own, he sometimes says, for the amount I’ve paid you in child support.
He sits and looks from Joe to me. “What’s up.”
Joe tells him. “Logan’s been shooting heroin.”
James shakes his head, and I brace myself for how he’ll react. I don’t have to wait long. “I can’t believe this. Do you know what this means? This means he’s been lying to me. I told you I was missing money, remember that? He took that money!”
Joe sits up straighter. “Dad, that’s not what this is about.”
James ignores Joe. “He lied to me. He lied to me and took my money for drugs. I even asked him. I said to him, ‘What, are you using that money for pot or something?’ And he said ‘no.’ He lied to me!”
Time for me to be mom again. “James, of course he lied to you. That’s what drug addicts do.”
“But why?” His voice is a lament, and then suddenly it turns. “This makes me really angry.” His lips become a hard line. “That’s it. I’m cutting him off. He’s not getting anything else from me. What a rotten little liar.”
Joe’s voice has a low, steel edge. “Dad, we’re trying to find a way to help Logan. The money’s not what’s important.”
James looks surprised. “He’s not getting any more money from me.”
A dam of anger bursts inside me. “Joe, would you step outside for a moment so your father and I can talk in private?”
It catches me off guard. Joe never says ‘no’ to me. Ever.
“Joe, I need to be alone with your father.”
He stands, wavering for an excruciating moment. He wants to be there. He doesn’t want to be treated like a kid. He’s in this with us. But he steps outside, hot anger evident in the slam of the door.
“James.” I feel years of fury under the surface. “Now you listen to me, and you listen well.” My face feels like it will explode. “Your son needs help. You, of all people, should know what it’s like to have an addiction. I swear, James if you treat him like he’s a loser, if you act like he’s a stupid idiot for this, so help me god, I will cut you out of this and not include you in anything that goes on here. I swear it.” The fool. Acting like it’s all about money when his kid’s life is on the line.
I have never hated this man more.
He acquiesces. “No, I know. He probably needs our help. Okay. It just makes me mad, is all.”
Joe comes back inside, into the hot trail of my fury. He sits, angry, jilted. Treated like a kid. Shut out when the chips were down. Not allowed to jump into the fray. Have I always done this to him? Yes. Yes, I’ve protected him. I protected all of them. Never let on in front of the kids how bad it really is.
Is it me? Have I been wrong? Is that why my kid has turned to heroin?
After a while, James leaves, and Joe and I cry some more. Tomorrow, we decide. Tomorrow we’ll figure out what to do. Tomorrow we’ll act.
Right. What am I going to do? After Joe leaves, I call my sister and tell her, through sobs. It’s only now that I really break down, here with my sister on the phone, who is as shocked as I am. Oh my god, Frankie. Logan? Sweet little Logan?
After a few minutes she says she has a friend who is an AODA counselor, an acronym for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse. She hangs up to call the friend and ask for advice. A minute later, she calls back. “Mel said it’s important not to do anything until you’re prepared.”
“Prepared to do what?”
“I don’t know. She just said there are certain steps you need to take, and you shouldn’t confront him until those steps are taken.” Steps? There are steps? There is a plan, a course of action?
Oh thank god. If there is a plan, I can get through this. I feel the first rush of relief.
“Mel says you can call her in the morning and she’ll tell you what you need to do. Oh, Jeez, Frankie, I’m so sorry.”
It makes me cry, so we hang up, promising to talk again in the morning.
Reid still isn’t back from the movies with Noah.
That’s all it takes: the space of one movie, and your life is completely and utterly turned upside down. You thought your kid was just doing a little pot? Oh, it worried you, all right, you even took him to drug counselors once a week and made him undergo drug tests when you first found out he was doing it. Dragged the kid to the clinic after school for UAs. Endured his I-hate-you stares when you made him pee into a cup for the tests. But you couldn’t make him stop using, all those years ago, no matter what you did. All your efforts just made him better at hiding it. So you learned to live with the idea. A little pot, hey. You wish he wasn’t doing it, but you know plenty of fine, successful adults who do it and cope just fine. And all the highschoolers do it: you read how it’s more common than drinking. So you rationalize the weird behavior away. Pot. Psssh.
You listen to him tell you that it’s not a gateway drug. You read his high school essays about how marijuana should be legalized. And you slowly, slowly, learn to live with the knowledge that your kid uses a little dope here and there.
Until someone smacks you upside the head with the news that it’s not a little dope anymore: it’s heroin and needles and syringes and drug dealers and kids who die.
And you go to bed, and you try to breathe, and you hide in your husband’s arms and you cry into the dark for your boy to live until morning, when you can do something: you can start a plan.