(This is my second draft of a memoir essay I am turning into my Freshman Composition class. The names have been changed, some things have been changed to protect identities and locations…some of this is from real life events. The essay assignment has to be a minimum of 1,000 words and I chose to use a memory of a day from my past to write about. The day I decided to leave my hometown to get clean.)
It was hot, the kind of hot that made it difficult to breathe. As I walked the street alone, the sweat ran down my face and neck, leaving a huge wet spot on my turquoise t-shirt. It appeared as if I just left a wet t-shirt contest I was drenched in so much sweat. Where was I going? I had no idea. I just knew I had to go somewhere and clear my head, figure things out, so I walked. It was just the road, my muddled thoughts and I. The freshly tarred black pavement absorbed so much heat from the blistering sun it felt as though my shoes were nonexistent. The pungent smell of the tar below my feet made this walk more like a chore than an escape to clear my head. The sound of little critters echoed from the woods to my right and the popping tar bubbles below my feet filled the area around me as dehydration surely began to set in slowly. The side streets to the neighborhood were to my left as I trudged my way up Hahn Rd. I grew up on those streets and now I faced the choice of dying on them as a drug addict or leaving them behind for good.
Those woods to my right I spent majority of my childhood exploring them, pretending I was some extraordinary scientist on another planet looking for some other form of life. I climbed those trees. I fell out of those trees. I rode my bike on the trails there. Many of the scars I have today were received from the branches from those huge oak trees, or from the huge boulders sticking out from the hilltops, or from the uneven trail tracks I raced down. I built forts in those woods. I sat in the shade and wrote some of my best poetry and short stories there under the huge oaks. I became lost in thought. How did I become this pill popping, opium using, drop out, walking to God knows where, and in search of who the hell knows what? Who am I? WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING? HOW AM I GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS ONE!? How did I end up here? I better figure something out…
The top of Hahn road on the right sat a quaint little convenience store named Phans Grocery. Really just a hole in the wall that consisted of three isles of groceries, a deli that gave the neighborhood four options of bologna, ham, salami, and what looked like bologna with pickles in it and a corner cold section with milk, soda, and beer. The store stood there for generations. Mr. Phan watched my four brothers and I grow up in the neighborhood. He knew us by name.
“R, hi there, what can I do for you kiddo…”
No matter how old I got, he still insisted on calling me kiddo. Mr. Phan was always a kind man, who looked aged. His wrinkles told stories of worries and stress and his gray hair told stories of loss. I stood in the entrance propped against the rusted metal door framing.
“Mr. Phan can I use your phone? I have to make a call to my brother in Indiana? I will pay you for the long distance I promise?”
His brows furrowed in concern as he nodded his head yes. I approached slowly being overwhelmed with exhaustion from the walk. The blazing sun for the last half hour probably dehydrated me and depleted me of any energy. I inched closer and closer to the deadline of becoming sick if I didn’t get some drugs into my body soon too.
“Your brother in Indiana…didn’t J move over there? How is he doing anyway? I haven’t seen him around here since your dad’s passing…again I’m so sorry for your loss…your dad was a good man R…neighborhood isn’t the same without Dan around.”
Mr. Phan stretched the phone across the counter to me. I breathed heavily trying to catch my breath.
“J is doing well. He hasn’t been there long actually. He moved there a few months ago from ….. I’m having him come and get me out of here actually. Thanks for letting me use your phone.”
I didn’t want to focus on thoughts of my dad. It hurt too much. Hell, my dad dying got me into the life I was living. It was the last thing I wanted to think about it, talk about, or especially comfort anyone else about. I couldn’t even comfort myself, let alone a man who watched me grow up in the neighborhood.
The phone started to ring. Sweat still ran down my face and neck profusely. I kept switching the phone receiver from my left hand to my right hand, left ear to my right ear, the sweat made it impossible to hold onto. Come on, answer the phone. Answer the phone J. I need you to answer the phone, I thought to myself, as the anxiety built in my stomach. My stomach began to churn and I began praying that my drug dealing husband, at that time, didn’t figure out where I was come and get me.
My husband then, Dick, roamed the streets looking for me. We will name him Dick here for purposes that fill me with joy. Dick was obese, malodorous, drug dealing; abusive man. I would have not given him any chance to be with me if it had not been for my dad being diagnosed with lung cancer. Dick had the drugs. I wanted to run away from all the pain and reality that my dad was going to die, and he was going to die soon. I ran off and decided to marry him in a Kentucky courthouse on this spectacular high I was on the day my dad died. Yes, that is what I said, on the day my dad died. If that wasn’t a sign this guy was bad news there were plenty more I ignored along the way simply because Dick was my door to the drugs. I got what I wanted, when I wanted them, for free. I came close to giving up on my brother J answering his phone when suddenly his deep southern accent was in my ear.
I was temporarily comforted to hear J’s voice on the other end of the telephone.
“J! You are there, thank God!”
“R…what’s going on? Is everything OK?”
“I’m in trouble J…the worst kind…I need your help man…you gotta get me outta here…”
I started to whimper.
“Hey…what do you mean you’re in trouble? Where are you?”
“I’m at Phans store. He let me use his phone. I walked here from moms. J you have to come get me man or I am going to die…please…I know it’s a lot to ask but you’re the only brother who can help me….”
“R…what have you gotten yourself into? What about R?”
“I need to get out of here…you are the only one who can help me with that…R can’t help me with this…you’re the only one…and I can help you too…I want to leave everything here J…I got mixed up with drugs…the worst one…I want to get clean…”
I expected him to yell but his reaction was the opposite. He had a stillness I never knew existed in him.
“You’re doing smack!!? …what the fuck..”
You could hear the trepidation in his voice as he released a quivered sigh and a moment of silence brought pause to our conversation.
“J…I’m not on the needle…I do smoke opium…pop pills…snort them sometimes…smoke weed…I gotta get outta here man…they are everywhere and I’m hooked bad man…I can get clean if I leave here and I can help take care of your kids after I do while you and J work…I can’t get clean in Mansfield, I need to completely change my life J…”
Terror gripped me as I worried his answered was going to be no. I asked him to drop everything in his life to not only drive over to Ohio and pick me up, but bring me home with him to live and deal with me detoxing all the while living with blind faith that I would actually keep my word that I would get clean and stay clean, which most addicts have a hard time with.
“Where are you staying? You staying at moms?”
“I am at moms yes…but I know Dick will be there trying to get me to go back to him…I have to get outta here J…please help me…”
“I have two days off work…I will be there in three hours…be ready.”
We hung up. I was overcome with happiness that the thought of becoming sick from not having drugs was the farthest thought from my mind in that moment. I wiped the phone receiver off from the sweat deposits I had left and turned to thank Mr. Phan.
“Mr. Phan thank you so much for letting me use your phone, you might not understand this now but you just saved my life. My brother is coming to pick me up and taking me to Indiana. I will stop by before we head out to pay you for the phone call.”
I gave him a hug.
“You don’t worry about that phone call R and I know I saved your life with that call. That is why I let you make it. You go and get well. Be the girl I thought you would grow up to be and the girl your dad thought you would grow up to be.”
I started to walk down Hahn Rd. back the way I came. I headed back towards my mom’s house and Mr. Phan yelled from his store entrance before I reached the freshly paved road.
“R when you are tempted to look in the rear view mirror at life, keep going, it isn’t a sign to turn around and come back…you remember that!”
For a week I worried about presenting my autobiographical speech for my communications class. I had to prepare a speech that fell between three to five minutes. My first initial concern was, how could I have prepared my story of 36 years in under five minutes! My second concern was that majority of my classmates were fifteen years younger than me. My final concern was how was I going to share my story, a very dark story, filled with missteps and trauma with a youth on looking from a perspective I imagined was a huge difference to my own life.
Today I had to present my story to my classmates. My heart was racing; my face I could feel began to blush, palms sweaty, and my voice trembling I stood up there and gave it my best shot. I focused on my breathing and trying to appear loose. Little things were making the anxiety worse like the clicker for my slide show was not cooperating fully. The content making me feel uneasy as well.
Someone had said, “Maybe you shouldn’t share some of your story.” Referring to my past drug addiction and perhaps some of the trauma I went through growing up. I contemplated this myself as I went over the speech several days. I spent days refining it, cutting things away from it, adding material that was brighter. In the final draft however I kept the drug addiction, the information about my mother being mentally ill, and I kept the information in it about my disability.
I mean why should I choose to omit these things when they belong to me? Yes, they belonged to me. So much so, that if these things did not exist I would be a completely different woman today. Quite frankly, I am proud of who I am today. Do I enjoy having a dark past? Does anyone? No, but you have to own your mistakes in order to prevent repeating them. I acknowledge what I have done wrong in my past and I do not plan to repeat them ever.
I stood there, looking at the crowd of my fellow students, feeling my heart in my throat. I took a deep breath and I began from the beginning. Each section I arrived at I’d glance over my classmates, hoping they would be preoccupied with some electronic device so I could feel at more ease with the next section. To my amazement every eye was glued to me. Some were even leaning into the desk as if they were leaning into my story wanting to hear it all, word for word, what I had gone through, what I had conquered in my life thus far. This increased my anxiety.
Fleeting thoughts running through my mind, “they are judging me; they are so young, can they even begin to understand what events I am sharing…” I was trying so hard to push those thoughts aside so I could get through to the end.
Then, something happened. I locked eyes with a few classmates. Something in their facial expression told me they were not judging at all. They were curious, almost mesmerized by my words of defeat, hurt, loss, agony, joy, success, and hope. Standing up there suddenly felt different. I was still anxious but I felt acceptance from the crowd.
Five minutes is not a long time, but when you are standing in front of crowd feeling naked as you share your life history, those five minutes feel like forever. In the moment I locked eyes with a few classmates it changed. Three minutes passed by so quickly and before I knew it I was ending the speech.
The claps I received felt like at any moment it would turn into a standing ovation from the entire room. It filled me with accomplishment, confidence, and acceptance.
The class sat and listened to about five more speeches and class was over. I was approached by a few students in amazement. They said, “They were so touched, and inspired by what I shared.” I said, “Thank you so much” and walked on out of class.
Then one student called out my name, “Rachel!” I stopped in the hall. Her eyes were glossy and on the brink of shedding tears as she reached out to put her hand on my arm. “Your story was so inspiring Rachel, you have greatness in you. Wisdom came out as you presented your story perfectly. You inspired me. I can’t begin to tell you how much I related to what you were saying up there. I see you reaching your goal to graduate and you will be an honor student I see in the future” wiping tears from her eyes as she shared some more of her story with me.
She shared with me her history with an abusive past. She talked about how her journey to where she is now wasn’t the easiest either. We shared thoughts about courage, strength and a desire for independence.
She said to me again, “Rachel, I am so glad you shared your story and I got to be lucky enough to hear you give it so gracefully.” I reached and hugged her I was so overwhelmed with warm feelings for this woman. I did not think I gave it gracefully. I thought I was a wreck standing up there trying to speak to the room. Anxiously, I was throwing most of my flaws into the wind of that small communications room, giving out bullets that could be used to harm me later.
She lifted me up to a level at this moment I can’t describe in words. She said I moved her but yet here she was moving me. She was moving me closer towards determination. Closer to victory over all I had done wrong in my past. She was moving me closer to acceptance that I had in fact been a drug addict, an abused woman, a lost young lady feeling hopeless with the death of my dad, but that those things were OK because I am not the only one carrying scars from childhood, or young adulthood.
It was an amazing end to my school day. I am glad I didn’t cut away some of my dark past. Today I took responsibility for all of it. Today I didn’t hide behind a sheltered computer screen, BLOG post, or safer environment. I am glad that I was able to stand up in front of strangers today to finally own it all.
I am not ashamed of that. I am not ashamed of any of it anymore. Today proved to me that I am finally not ashamed of where I have been, or where I come from. Most importantly today proved to me that I am where I belong and my future is going to bright. I am so excited about my life, my entire life. It deserves to be celebrated.
So Wednesday in English Composition we were made to get into groups to do an assignment. While we were working on the work a fellow classmate asked me why I decided to go back to school at my age? I couldn’t answer right away. It wasn’t that I didn’t have an answer, in that moment it felt that it was a complicated, personal and long answer. I simply told the classmate that I have something to prove I guess. I wasn’t ready to give that entire piece of myself up in that moment. I have thought about that question since Wednesday. Why did I decide to finally go back to school? What was it that finally pushed me to that point of committing to such a long, tough road to travel? Why couldn’t I answer the question? A few things have entered my mind…and now I can share that piece of myself.
The roll over crash I survived in 2012 really jolted me. Jolted me in a good way. It made me realize without a doubt the potential I had been wasting for years would have been a shame on the memory I would have left behind and the obituary that would have been left. I guess that was the main event that pushed me to finally decide to commit. I know you are probably wondering why I waited until spring of 2015 to take the step of enrolling.
Well that is where my disability, and my health came into play. I set a two year mark for myself. I had told myself if I could work, and continue driving bus for two years then I would know I had a 90% chance of being able to do it physically. Driving bus might sound easy but trust me it is a very demanding job. You have to have many skill sets in order to be a successful bus driver. Responsibility needed for that job can be overwhelming at times. Maybe one day I can share with you what it takes to be a successful bus driver.
Now there is still a chance I do not finish or make it to my final goal I know. These things are out of my control and I do not think I should waste my potential on something I have no concrete evidence of happening. I could end up in a wheel chair. I could end up having no other choice but surgical removal of the tumor leaving me with no use of right leg, stuck with a colostomy bag. These things are just a possibility. So is me getting hit by a bus in my work parking lot. Does this mean I should not go into work? No, it means that shit happens all the time that we have no control over and we keep moving forward in spite of those possibilities. It is called living.
So I guess my short answer as to why I decided to return to school at my age would be I got tired of wasting potential I knew I had in a life I know could end any moment of any day.
Why couldn’t I answer the question on the spot? I never thought others would be interested in why I was thirty-six and in my first semester so shock was a factor I think. Also it isn’t easy telling a stranger, a stranger who is most likely fifteen years younger, that you really fucked up in high school. It isn’t easy to say out loud that you were an abused child, angry teen, addict, etc. I know I should wear my sobriety on my sleeve as a badge of honor. I just don’t know how to do that in the real world. That is something else I am figuring out on this journey. I have lost lots of friends to overdoses so to be a survivor is a miracle in my eyes. I have to figure out how to wear it on my sleeve like a badge of honor in front of my fellow students and professors I guess…
Tonight I want to talk about a fear of dying I had before my previous surgery. I truly worried about dying on that table. It was the first time I can say I actually feared dying. I have never feared dying before. Even now, I’m healed and living life normally, I do not fear dying now like I did right before that surgery.
Was that to test my faith in God? I believe it was. I believe God was testing my faith in him. He took care of me like he has always done in the past. Deep down I knew things would turn out how he planned it out for me but I was terrified that I was going to die.
I had said in the previous post that I have felt death surrounding me. I haven’t figured out what that is about. Maybe I don’t want to.
My brother and I had a short conversation the other day on the phone about going to hell or heaven. He says he going to hell because of the life of sin he has lived. I told him that all sin is equal so that would mean that I could go to hell too. He said I had a better shot to getting into heaven then he does. Do I? I don’t think so…
One- I’m not baptized. Two- I take things into my temple that do damage knowingly, smoking being only one of them. Three- I do not attend church and have not for years. Four- I cuss like a sailor without worry. Five- I lack in prayer at night often.
There are five reasons for me not to make the pass into heaven. His list might be longer but every sin listed would be equal in God’s eyes. So I guess that would mean my brother and I both would go to hell.
Does that frighten me? Absolutely! It is one of my biggest worries. The problem is though I don’t take steps to change some of those sins I listed. Some I work on daily but others I don’t even bother. What a joke of a Christian I am! I guess maybe I should not call myself one.
I feel like a Christian because I feel so close to God. I really do even in my sins. I talk to him daily even if I miss my nightly prayers. I feel him in me, and around me. It is really hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced the feeling of Christ. Some will say I’m crazy and that is their right but I KNOW GOD is with me no matter what non-believers say.
I know for sure that God was with me after I came out of anesthesia for my gall bladder surgery. I felt him there. I felt a peace when I woke up that I couldn’t explain to anyone. I felt foolish being so scared of dying after it was all done and over. It wasn’t like all the other times I had gone under.
I had to have a DNC done when I had a miscarriage before and when I awoke from that anesthesia I cried out for my husband who at the time was just my fiancé. I wasn’t at peace at all.
When I had my back surgery and came out of anesthesia it was somewhat similar. I was not quite as unsettled, but I was certainly not at peace like I was after this gall bladder surgery. I am not saying God wasn’t with me those times because I believe he was or I wouldn’t have came through them both. I just didn’t have the connection I have now with him back then. It is sad but true.
I just wish I could figure out why I was so scared of dying this last time I went under for gall bladder surgery. I wish I could figure out why I feel death around me too.
I have lived a rough life up until now. I have had a lot of demons to deal with and conquer. I’ve had a rough time dealing with depression and learning how to truly forgive. Through this journey in my life it has brought me to a connection with God that I never thought I’d have. My dad told me how great it was to be so close to God as I grew up. I was a fucked up angry kid, teenager, and later a young adult that couldn’t see it. I didn’t see the big picture then as I see it now. All I could see then was the pain I lived.
I never had a relationship with my mother. Some family members sexually abused me. I abused drugs to escape. My first husband abused me. My dad was my hero, and best friend and died my senior year. I drank obsessively for years. All of that kept me away from God when in reality it should have pulled me closer to him. It made me hate him for a long time. I blamed him for all of it. It made me think that he wasn’t a loving, forgiving lord, but a lord that left his children to these abuses.
I see things so differently now. It is weird how your perceptions change, as you grow older. Will the past send me to hell? I think it will send me to hell if I don’t make things right and live by Gods rules. I have to forgive, let go, and enter into Gods arms. I’ve handled my past. Those demons are finally dead and gone.
I have to now fight the present demons that prevent me from being the Christian I want to be.
Am I afraid to die tonight? Strangely, no I am not. God bless to my readers. I’m going to go now and read a book, relax and try to not think too much more tonight.
Until next time…