We all have our own, personalised maps, which we carry in our heads. Red and green roads leading to doctor, family or shops may stand out from the rest, these destinations painted in gold, grey and red, radiating from the place where we live. As we age, the world moves on in jagged stages, and the trails may change.
Addicts have maps, too. Ten years ago, two of my children displayed theirs, waving them in my face, their ash-stained digits tracing narrow, blackened tracks for me, gazing with sinking-unblinking-blinkered-blinded-pinprick-pupilled eyes, eyes which failed to see their fall, or the festering fissure that yawned each time they entered my chest.
The creases of the pocked pages of their maps made a smudged and faded cross in the middle of the paper, and that cross marked the spot that gave me unlikely hope. It was the abode of E.
Like many, E. had his sad history. As an illiterate kid, he’d assumed that when he grew, his feet would fit into his father’s shoes. His father would teach him the specialised trade that he practiced, and the people in his little world would gaze in awe. He would be made; in his own eyes, he would be an idol, like his dad was to him. While he was still in his teens, his father died, leaving E. helplessly clinging to the scarred fingers of his suffering, sole surviving parent, as he swung one inch above an open hole.
His own hands, slick with sweat and tears, slipped, and he fell, readily descending into the well of addiction. When my children met him, he was in the depths of that hellish pit, eating needles and rocks, and beginning to think there may be better nutrition at the surface.
E. spoke to them, and later, to me, of recovery. Though they weren’t yet ready for the pain of healing, he had planted seeds in their brains. Later still, I met him on a hill. He was clean, and he said it had been easy. He’d put on weight, and got a dog, a black whippet, to keep him company. From then on, whatever shape he may be, when I sighted his canine friend, I knew he’d be nearby.
For a long while, my children danced in the dark, down where hollowed-out passages lead them to their punctured desires.
Meanwhile, E. looked down, nostalgic for the closest thing to comfort he could recall. This time, he jived to his decline, ignoring the facts of it, chasing the cackling witch of addiction, tasting her many flavours, licking his lips, greedy for the next tickle in his nose, the next explosion of the brain. Speed, cocaine and spice; banned drugs and legal highs of of every kind, while he told himself:
“At least it isn’t heroin.”
As my children slowly rose, raggedly climbing over craggy stones and sly shale, sliding, then climbing again, they met E. several times, going down.
I watched my two, and I reached, while they were yet out of reach, until I saw they were scarring my heart, and in doing so, tearing their own souls. So I stood back, crying, “Here I am. Find me in your own time. Come to me when you hunger for love and not for drugs. Come to me, not for money, or to sully my truth, but free from the uncouth devil that charms you, holds you in her sticky arms. Come, let me to stroke your sore feet.Feel my warm hands on your face. Come to me for a smile or an embrace.”
Their sinking-unblinking-blinkered-blinded-pinprick-pupilled eyes gazed, glazed. Agonised requests stuttered from across the caked terrain. They begged for sharp things, for painkilling murder in the veins. They begged for death, diluted in the blood.
Every time I saw E., he would look at me, eager, shifty, from the edge of the abyss, his arms battling with Saint Vitus dance – but losing, his loose, drooling lips speaking through frowsy, chemical haze “I am clean, Jane, see, I am clean.”
My children peruse the bright, speckled lanes, marking out new trails on their maps. Laura, thrilled with her pristine plan, takes me on brief excursions down spingtime highways, pointing out primroses, softly smiling, soaking in sunshine, her lovely eyes holding mine, as they silently describe love, regret, compassion, and hope.
Paul knows that if he shows me a roadmap, I’ll suspect it’s stolen, so he keeps it folded, and stays away from my desgner rage, designed to keep the wolf at bay. This could be a good sign, but I shall not waver from my decision to stay distant until I feel safe.
Today, I got a text from Laura. “Hi mum. U want to come ova? xxx” My reply was followed by “How about 5 o’clock. Love u lots. xxx”
I looked into the cavernous hole below. Neither of my children did I see, just a man with a black dog; a whippet. I didn’t immediately recognise the guy; he’d lost weight, but I knew the dog immediately.
I went into my kitchen to make coffee. From my window, I could see E. waiting in the rain, waiting impatiently, pacing, waiting at the bottom of that yawning cave, waiting, waiting, for his dealer who lives in a flat – marked with X in the rusty colour of old blood, on E.’s crumpled map – a block away from me.
Beneath gratitude for the new hope given to me, I feel sorrow and pity for E.,who planted the seeds of recovery in my offsprings’ heads, so long ago, when even the echoes of my own laughter had become a distant longing. I watched him on the incline, climbing so much faster than those tied to my womb, and I saw him topple and tumble back into the pit. I saw him crumble beneath the weight of hollow air. I felt the void that his father wrote, with ink that wasn’t there, his dead fist limp in the grave, unable to grip a pen that wasn’t anywhere.
©Jane Paterson Basil