Archives 3. Map

March 4, 2017

maps

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

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Crackers

I was supposed to raise my medication almost two weeks ago; what the doctor didn’t know was that I hadn’t been taking it, so, as I was deemed to need it, I began it on a lower dose.

Today I increased it to the expected level.

My vision closed in, my limbs began to shake, I felt just a little sick, but I was sitting , so I didn’t notice the other symptoms.

At the ring of the doorbell I staggered into a standing position and noticed that my knees were bending, in the way I’ve seen my son’s knees buckle when he was on particular drugs, but I didn’t give in, no, I made my winding way around furniture which had expanded since I woke this morning, leaving narrower gaps for me to negotiate.

I calculated; already hours had passed since I took that little pill. I spoke through the intercom, but the words came out the wrong shape; I could almost see them; magically writhing chunks of elastic detritus brought to life by the tide, making me nervous.

I mustn’t be seen like this by those who will gossip and misunderstand.

It was a relief to learn that my guest was a man who’s familiar with chemical that play with the mind. It was just Laura’s ex who had come to collect his key, which she’d given to me.

Joe was talking fast and he seemed excited. His eyes were wide and his pupils contracted but even like that he could see there was something amiss; let’s face it, it couldn’t be missed,with my erratic gait and the way I collapsed, but when I explained what medication I was taking he smiled in glee.

He related an occasion he’d taken the same thing without a prescription, but he took a bigger heap, and pretty soon we were laughing together, discussing shamons and things of the spirit, while I made him a cup of tea.

He stayed for a while and we talked about Laura, and by the time he left he’d agreed to come to me in the event of tragedy, and hold me and help me to see that it’s only her body which will decay; her spirit will finally be free, and we’ll find a way to celebrate a life which I made, which never wanted to be.

He hugged me and told me he needed a friend like me; a friend who is crackers and understands him.

You may call Joe a druggie, an addict, a junkie, and he wouldn’t disagree, but the first time I met him I felt a connection, a recognition, and though we are different in the way we live, in our souls we are really the same.

With him I feel liberated, intied from convention, polite pretention, stripped down to the depths of me. I know he’s a friend, I know he’s a soulmate, I knew it instantly. It’s love without need for sadness or pity, and it’s a rare emotion to see.

And yes, he lives on mind altering substances, but I won’t let prejudice cage me, difference enrage me, judgement disengage me. It doesn’t decrease my feeling of kinship.

Amidst all this, I spoke to my doctor and listed my symptoms. He waited for me to say I would like to discontinue my medication, replace it with nothing and see how it goes. His agreement was instant; even eager, and he admitted he doesn’t like Lyrica [lie-ree-sa]. It had been recommended by a psychiatrist I had seen.

Now a streaky sea of evening sky advances, and still I am shaky, still I am staggering, still I am off my face. Which probably proves I am not the type to misuse drugs, or I would be more immune, and the message is strengthened by my decision to give up taking prescribed medication, even though it’s the kind that’s desired on the street.

And in case you wonder, when I wake up tomorrow, straight and sober, I’ll still know that Joe is my friend.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Like Judas

Weeks of running, chasing the tail of crack and smack, the hateful demon siblings.
Dodging police, each narrow miss another weight on him.
Paranoia, like a fever, seizing him, flinging him into prickly thorns;
chasing him across lines of fast traffic, forcing  him to scale walls,
skin his shins, fall, leading him to muddy puddles, dunking him in deep seas.

If the police didn’t get him
he’d grow too weak to swim.
He would sink.

I made his last supper and like Judas, I waited, smiling while he tasted, chewed,
passed compliments on the food. I assessed his pitiful condition —
flesh cut and bruised, ripped jeans stained where the blood had seeped through,
eyes hooded beneath brows not designed by me,
pupils working overtime; taking in the room, flicking to the draped window,
his screaming mind picturing police in the street.

Judas did it with a kiss, but in this age of technology I did it with a click.
My text sent, its single word a simple request activating a chain of events
that brought a tense knot of uniforms to my door.

As the handle turned, my heart churned, altering the shape of my fear,
but offering no relief.

a
six
year
prison
sentence
was expected.
it felt like
eons,
like
f
o
r
e
v
e
r

The police were kind; they gave him time to say goodbye.
I looked into his face and recognised the child I’d raised
who’d filled my soul with love and pride. I’d thought that child had died,
and yet, as if he’d been baptized, arrest had cleansed him of his sins,
rinsed away the years of filth the drugs had left behind.
The feeling of grief and loss redoubled, splintering behind my ribs.
Pity dripped into my soul. I struggled to hide my tears:
crying wouldn’t ease his journey to the cells. When they took him away,
a brave smile fought to find my twitching lips.

My eyes stayed dry;
I didn’t shake; I didn’t hit the floor –
until I heard that final sound –
the slamming
of the
door.

My son was imprisoned in March 2014. He received a thirty month prison sentence – far less than was expected, and has since been released on licence on three occasions, only to be returned each time for infringing his licence agreement. He left prison a free man in September 2016, having finally completed his sentence.

©Jane Paterson Basil

To prevent him from dying

Lying in late this morning, because it’s Sunday, because I can, because I feel like it, because, just because… my mind drifting in luxury, dirty breakfast dishes beside me, waiting to be washed.

When I hear the knock on a door I’m unsure if it’s my door, so I ignore it until I hear it again. I look through the frosted glass pane to see a man waiting.

He’s roughly as tall as Paul, has short hair and a similar build, and there’s no way I’ll let Paul in, so I bolt the security chain, then open the door enough to see two policemen looking at me.

I smile my relief, and say, Sorry, I thought you were my son, then I release the chain and let them in.

One of them flashes his ID and asks; Is your son with you?

It would be rude to mention that as I thought he had been outside my door, he’s unlikely to this side of it.

He points to the trainers on the floor and says “Are these his shoes?”

“No, they’re mine,” I reply.

He says “Oh! It’s just that they look very big.”

Thank you kind sir, yes, now that you mention it, I do have big feet, but they’re healthy. Would you like to see?… I’m so taken aback that I don’t say that. I don’t even think to tell him that Paul’s feet are four sizes larger than mine.

Upon inspection it’s discovered that Paul isn’t in the kitchen, living room, bedroom or bathroom. He’s not in the utility area or the wardrobe, or hiding under blankets between the sofa and the wall, because since the last time he tried that little trick, I’ve put them away, on a high shelf. He’s not on the shelf either.

I’m being unkind, and there’s no need for it, except to nourish my sense of humour. Apart from the inadvertent remark about the shoes, both policemen are polite and respectful, and they’re trying to complete the job I’d like to see done – that of getting my son back to jail, where he’ll be safe. They’ll catch him in the end anyway, and the sooner he hits the cells the greater the damage limitation.

All afternoon the street grapevine buzzes nervously. The phones of addicts and dealers are red-hot from calls to and fro, warning each other that the police are on the prowl, going to all the houses, trying to track Paul down. No doubt those who don’t lose out will profit from the extra sales to replace drugs that have been flushed down toilets.

And me? I’m getting a few calls of the
do-you-know-where-Paul-is-because-the police-are-looking-for-him
sort, and I tell them all I know; he’s camping somewhere, laying low until he’s ready to go in, but he never will be. He’s ill because he can’t get hold of money for drugs, and judging by the glare of the sun, he’s probably at risk of sunstroke.

If he’s still at large tomorrow he will have access to money for enough drugs to accidentally kill himself. I’ve seen him on the run before, and he will have reached a state of near insanity where he has no ability to judge his tolerance, and the worst could happen.

No, I don’t know where he is. If I did there would be a police car racing towards him, pulling out all the stops, not so much because they want to cop him, more to prevent him from dying.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Momentum

bridge-19.jpg

I recently heard the story of an addict who had been using for years, daily staggering through the same old game, hustling for the money to feed his habit before trailing after dealers to sell him his next inch of jaded relief. One day he was sitting in his regular patch when an old friend from school passed by. Without slowing his pace, the man turned slightly, and, glancing his way, said Are you still at it? in a disinterested tone, then continued on his way.

The addict stared after him, shocked by those few, simple words. Only he knows what images of the past crowded his brain, what feelings of loss at his wasted days, what thoughts of his shame and degradation – but in that blinding instant he made the decision to change, to embrace the future he had perhaps, long ago, in his schooldays, taken for granted.

He went into recovery, and now he repeats his inspirational tale to all who he feels may find it helpful.

I like to think that he thanked the school-mate for clicking the switch that gave him the momentum to change his life.

We all have moments of grace, when desire, strength and faith combine to make many actions that hitherto seemed too distant to consider, achievable, and the littlest thing can open our minds to great possibilities.

©Jane Paterson Basil

A wisp of hope

An unsent message to my daughter, written last year.

Although I can no longer look at you, I picture the image you left the last time you came into my place, filling my formerly safe space with danger and pain. You were so thin that I swear I could see the white of those bones which threaten to crumble to dust while I still live. Your skin a strange hue that defies description. Angry sores on your face. Blank eyes swimming in madness.

What do you want from me? Could it be that you feel the need of a mother’s love? Do you wish for sympathy or are you simply driven by the desire for drug money? I cannot give you any of these things. Even my love for you is locked so deep inside that it cannot be released.

I don’t ask you to listen. I write this not for you, but for me. Wrapped in your soft, blood-stained armour of golden brown liquid, you cannot hear me now, and when your inability to score strips you naked you are in too much pain to feel anything but your need for more poison.

Heroin submerges, deep beneath her lies, what you once knew to be the truth. She tells you you need her in order to survive, and although something inside you whispers that you are going to die, it no longer seems such a high price to pay because your sight is too dimmed to see what that means.

She led you to care so little for your life that any drug would do. Now she keeps her distance as you trip through amphetamine insanity, with black, staring eyes, and limbs akimbo. She lets the leash stretch knowing you are still within her reach.

These words are bent out of shape and refuse to be a goodbye. Hard as I try I cannot make them say what I wish you to know before you go, because within me a wisp of hope still exists.

The wish that you may recover, and learn a way to live.

©Jane Paterson Basil