(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!”