It had been many years since I’d married and moved to the other side of the country with my husband and little boys. Now I was back in Southern California visiting Mom and my eight siblings. It was wonderful to see everyone up close and personal rather than hear of family joys and sorrows only by telephone or letters back in the 80s.
One disturbing sorrow I learned from a sister concerned our brother, Jim. He was eight years younger than me, in his 30s now. Years earlier as a high school senior, he’d attended a party and been introduced to drugs. In subsequent years he time and again fell to temptation and eventually heroin became his best friend. The horror and shock went deep. Several images of him as a child danced through my head. In one old photo he was about eight months old and looked like an angel dropped to earth. How could my sweet little brother be a heroin addict?
Early one morning during my visit I woke feeling thirsty. I pulled on my robe and quietly crept down the stairs to the kitchen. I didn’t want to wake anyone. Jim and another brother and two of our sisters were all asleep in various parts of the house. Reaching for a glass from the cupboard, I heard a noise on the stairs. I turned off the water to listen and decided to see who the other early bird was. But quickly the front door opened. I shot a glance out the kitchen window which faced the street. Jim was scurrying down the sidewalk.
What could he possibly be doing, I wondered? I stood stock still while random thoughts hurled through my mind. Maybe he was only going for coffee or wanted a cool morning walk. Please let it be that, I prayed. But then it dawned on me. Slowly and with anguish I could hardly bear, I realized my brother was heading for his drug dealer. The stories my sisters had told me about how and where to get just about any kind of drug you wanted in that neighborhood smacked me in the face. Should I leave the house and call after him? Maybe I could save him by begging him not to go. My thoughts raced between denial and angst. He had disappeared before I could even move. I went back upstairs and tried to sleep.
Later that day I mentioned the incident to two of my sisters and they confirmed my suspicion. This was Jim’s way. He knew just where and when to meet with his terrible mistress and he went on to live that way for 27 years. There’s much, much more to the story, and my brother has since died, but my dreadful awakening that morning has given me a deep compassion for the family members of drug addicts who are at a loss in knowing how to help. They have my heart.
Susan Sundwall writes from New York.
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