I was watering the flowers when I overheard someone in distress. At first, I thought the flurry of f-bombs might have been coming from a kid walking home, talking to a friend. But it became clear pretty quickly that this was no kid. This was something other than that.
I walked toward the hollering. There was a young woman sitting curbside holding a phone up to her ear and carrying on what surely was a one-sided conversation. The words flew out of her mouth at a rapid-fire rate, like a preacher in the throes of a tent-revival fervor.
“Hey, do you need some help?” I asked.
My question did not slow her down, not for a moment. She never even looked at me until about the fourth time I hollered, “Can I help you? Are you okay?”
She dropped her phone into her purse, stood up and began walking towards me. Her walk was completely unsteady. Not even a gait really. Her arms flailed about wildly, one leg swung out wildly to the right as the other leg seemed to have a catch in it, so it wanted to lag behind the rest of her body. Spastic.
“I’m sorry for disturbing you,” she hollered back at me.
“It’s fine,” I said. “Are you okay? Is something the matter?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m having an argument with my ex.”
Her blonde hair was tied up in a messy bun. She wore a black tank, no bra, and grey jeans. There was a low-tide foam ebbing around her mouth. The foam confirmed what the walk suggested – this young gal was under the influence of something mind altering.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“Yes,” she said. Then, remembering manners she had been taught sometime, somewhere, she introduced herself. Said her name and stuck out her hand. I shook her hand and told her my name. She followed me back to the house. Hemingway was chasing a butterfly across the lawn.
“Your dog is cute,” she said, taking a seat on the porch swing.
“He’s a mess,” I said, handing her a glass of cold water. She cupped it with both hands, Trump-style, and gulped it.
“Thank you for being so nice,” she said. She shifted her purse off her shoulder onto the swing. “I’m sorry. I just got out of jail on Thursday. I’m having a dispute with my ex. It’s because there’s property. We own 20 acres up at the butte.”
As she rattled on about her ex, I noticed the fresh track marks on her right forearm. There was a bright red line where the needle had been pushed in, and a bulging blue vein.
“Do you have any children?”
“Two, 11 and nine,” she said.
“You don’t look old enough.” I had figured her to be in her mid 20s, maybe even younger.
“I’m 29,” she replied. “My parents live up at Eagle Crest.”
“Would you like me to call them for you?”
“No,” she said, handing back the glass. “It’s just a fight with my ex.” She grasped her forearm, attempting to cover the track marks which she hoped I had not yet seen. “I’m staying at the sober house tonight.”
“Are you sure there isn’t anyone I can call? Do you have a friend in the police department?”
“Don’t call my parole officer!” she exclaimed.
“No, I wouldn’t,” I replied. “Can I get you something to eat? A bagel?”
“No thank you,” she said. “I appreciate you being so nice to me.”
She hadn’t said one cuss word since she introduced herself. Whoever she was, she had been raised properly. She had manners. I thought of her parents, her children, even her ex. Wondered how she had reached this point of addiction. I thought of the Sackler family and wondered how they could look themselves in their gilded mirrors everyday knowing that their money came from girls like the one before me, girls whose lives had gone off the rails, girls with kind hearts gone astray. Girls addicted. I wondered if her children were in foster care, or with their grandparents, or with her ex.
I knew the girl in front of me didn’t think at age 11 she would be shooting up at age 29. No kid ever grows up wanting to be addicted. No kid ever says to themselves: When I grow up I hope to be an addict. I wondered who it was she wanted to be. How did she reach this point? Did the Sacklers ever think about how an addict foams at the mouth? Did they ever think about how difficult it is for an addict to even walk across a street in the throes of a high? When they pull back the luxurious covers on their well-apportioned bed, did they ever think about how people with fresh tracks on their forearms aren’t allowed to stay at shelters for fear of the harm they might inflict on others?
She mentioned suicide. I wondered if she had a gun in her purse. “I have to get going,” she said. “I’m supposed to meet someone.”
“Is your dad coming to get you?” I asked.
“No, my friend is,” she said.
Before leaving she let me give her a Popsicle. It was hot out. She thanked me again. Hemingway chased after her, following her to the street. She turned to make sure he was safe before heading off. Thoughtful. Somewhere beyond the addiction was a good daughter, a good mother, somebody’s good friend.
I went inside the house and called the non-emergency police. Within 10 minutes, two police cars passed by the house. They were out looking for the young girl.
“Do you think she has a weapon of any sort?” the officer had asked me.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “But she’s a danger to herself and possibly to others.”
Wherever she is, she likely missed the Washington Post report that drug companies weakened federal protections at the height of the opioid crisis by lobbying members of Congress to limit the powers of the DEA. The Sackler family and others “devised tactics to push back against the DEA”. Even going so far as to commission a “crisis playbook” to blame the federal government for not doing enough to stop the epidemic. The “Marino Bill” sponsored by Congressman Tom Marino (R-Pa), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and supported by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) curbed the DEA’s ability to immediately suspend the operations of drug companies that failed to follow federal law.
Marino was President Trump’s first choice for drug czar, but withdrew his name because of reports that it was his bill “that hindered federal agents from going after the Big Pharma firms that flooded the country with addictive opioids.” Marino resigned his congressional post 3 weeks into the new 2019 session.
Let the people get addicted.
Let the people have unfettered access to firearms.
So much for protecting the people and the country from all enemies, foreign or domestic.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of MOTHER OF RAIN (Mercer Univ Press).