Family Tree the Novel:
I needed to pull over. I couldn’t see clearly through the tears. I didn’t feel safe driving now—I felt like I wanted to destroy something. I was driving way too fast. I’d opened a sea of emotions I now drowned in. I couldn’t part the vastness of water. Moses wasn’t coming to save me, like he had with the Jews, and I wasn’t ready to join my sister Lady. I wasn’t sure God was even thinking about me now.
I exited off the 405 freeway some place, I didn’t know where exactly. I hadn’t gotten very far only about 10 miles away from my mother’s house. I was in Long Beach. I could see the round Holiday Inn off the 405 from the Lakewood Boulevard off ramp, which oriented my location. I’d passed it many times before and always thought it odd because of its shape.
I pulled into their parking lot and moved to get out of my car and check in, but feared the front desk clerk would think I was there to commit suicide. I’d worked in a hotel and had that exact experience—checking in a suicidal lady. I picked up on it and saved her life.
I often wondered, as the police took her out of the hotel, if she was grateful for what I did. I felt bad about it for a long time. I felt bad because who was I to decide if she lived or died? I didn’t like having that much control over someone else’s life. What if I had just sent her back into her own hell? She’d decided to die; and when people decide to die they have had enough. I reacted without thinking about what she wanted or knowing her situation. But, if I had to do it over again I would’ve done the same thing—called someone to save her in the hope she found a reason to live.
Even so, I still felt bad for bothering her life. I didn’t know her, and who was I to play God with her? It just felt wrong to me for some reason. I cared for her and hoped she could tell. I hoped she felt my concern in the one glance we shared, eye to eye, as she was escorted out of the hotel by the police. I wanted her to know I felt her life was worth living, though I wasn’t qualified to make that decision.
Everyone’s life is worth living in my opinion. How can we make our lives better if we don’t try? No one had been through more than I had now. True or not, I certainly felt that way. I was still here in the midst of it all. I didn’t believe things could be worse for me emotionally but, I never wanted to kill myself.
I had thoughts about it before, when my son was born. Postpartum Depression clung to me for quite a while, but I couldn’t do that to him. I thought about it at the time, knew it was a bad idea. I overcame it when I started taking antidepressants; I felt better. The weird thing about it was, I ended up on life support from an accidental overdose.
At the time, I’d forgotten to take a few doses because I felt better, and wasn’t thinking about medicine or that I needed any. But then, within days, I gradually fell back into my horrible depression. So I doubled a few doses not realizing the synergistic effect when mixed with alcohol. Having taken them, I felt better again. I was caught up with the doses I missed, so I thought all was well again. I went out socializing later on that day. I was supposed to take my meds twice a day, and the second dose that day happened to be with a glass of wine.
I decided to have a glass with Lady and her friends while we were playing cards. I was enjoying myself. But I had to stop playing and go lie down after feeling an overwhelming tired and heavy sensation on my chest.
I was going into respiratory arrest. My lips and nailbeds had turned blue and I struggled to breathe unknowingly—I lost consciousness. Lady called 911.
When I woke up, it was three days later and I was in the intensive care unit of a hospital. I was on life support watching an accordion device on top of a machine breathe for me. The accordion opened and my chest went up as the machine filled it with air. I noticed the machine was pulled away from the wall, a short electrical cord extended from it, to the wall, somewhere out straight. My first thought was, what if someone trips over that electrical cord I am doomed? I tried to laugh but there was a tube down my throat. That’s when I noticed I was in restraints—I reached to feel my mouth and couldn’t.
A nurse walked in and said, “Oh good, you’re awake.”
I watched her approach my bed.
“You’re in the hospital.” I’d already figured that part out. “You’ve been in a coma for three days.” I wanted to speak so desperately, to explain, but I couldn’t even breathe on my own.
I wasn’t trying to kill myself! It took years for me to convince others, if anyone, I wasn’t. I’d made a mistake. I never ignored the warnings on a medicine bottle again. Do not mix with alcohol. I only took two doses of my meds doubled, a total of four pills. I never thought that could kill me.
They counted my pills when I could talk again; I told them to do that, then I signed myself out of the hospital AMA—against medical advice. They weren’t going to convince me I was trying to kill myself. I told the truth and thank God I lived.
I didn’t want to die then or now.
I had to hear for years how I tried to kill myself when my son was an infant. Only Lady defended me. Lady saved my life too, by calling for help that day. I wish I could have returned the favor.
How odd I thought, to be in this situation after Lady’s suicide.
I sat parked in the hotel parking lot but didn’t think that was a good idea either. All I needed was one more, bad thing to happen and I was going to snap. I was outside of self-control, God only knows what would happen if the police pulled up to see what was wrong with me, why I sat in a car crying …wearing a Star Trek costume dress and it wasn’t Halloween. I wasn’t suicidal, but homicidal wasn’t far off. I didn’t want one more person asking what to do or telling me anything else about horrible things that had nothing to do with me—forcing me to make decisions. I had my own shit to figure out.
I didn’t know what to do next but not crying anymore was first; so I stopped and sucked it up. Wiping the tears from my face with my shaking hand, I looked around my car for a napkin left over from fast food to dry my face with. I’m not the tissue and gum carrying type, I never had those in my purse. I used the sleeves of my hoodie after looking around my car and finding nothing I could use.
I put on lipstick and black eye pencil to appear as if I was refreshing my makeup, to anyone who might be looking at me. I never looked around to see if anyone was actually staring at me, wondering what I was going through. I didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone to find out.
Not being compelled to cry anymore was the next thing to get straight. I got out my cell phone and called Dwight for help. I wanted to get off the street and away from strange people.
I went and relapsed on drugs for two days; no one knew where I was except him. I wanted it that way, keeping everything and everyone far away from me. He always, welcomed me with open arms any hour of the day or night; at times getting out of bed to let me sleep there when I had to go to work, sharing his tiny single apartment.
I don’t remember the drive over, but I do recall knocking on his window. He looked outside at me through the bars after pulling back the curtain. He’d already made arrangements for me; I’d told him to on the phone to get drugs—crying again while I spoke to him on the drive over to his place. I couldn’t take anymore. He seemed to expect the call, maybe he saw something coming perhaps, something I couldn’t.
“Let it all out,” he’d said as I drove. “I’ll be waiting for you.”
There’s one thing about doing drugs, for certain, you think of nothing else while you’re on them. I needed that. I wanted to be so far away from my mood, I couldn’t stand to think of anything or anyone I’d been around since being released from jail.
I went inside and told him what I’d learned about my stepfather and sister; the man I’d idolized and the woman I couldn’t save from him.
“Oh my God. I just thought you were finally grieving,” he said, standing in the doorway with his mouth open. “Well, you bring yourself in here and sit down.” He seemed nervous and anxious, trying to move out of the way.
I pushed past him hurriedly. I was overwhelmed with sadness and confusion about what I should or should not do. It was more than I wanted to think about—more than I cared to know. The information had been forced on me; I was angry about it. Why was I suddenly burdened with the mistakes of others and what to do about that it? It wasn’t my decision to make.
So, I didn’t do anything. I wanted nothing to do with their shit.
I didn’t want to sit; pace was more like it. But I did, hoping I might calm down.
“I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to get high. Do you mind if I bite and scream into this pillow?”
I looked at him. “I’m kidding.” We kind of laughed, I think. “Get the drugs out. Jesus, what’s taking you so long!”
“You sure you wanna start that now? Having come so far?” His tone scolded.
“I’m doing it with or without you.” I stood back up. I didn’t need this shit.
“All right, then here.”
“A joint? Are you fucking kidding me?” I knew he was trying to protect me from myself. I started laughing, rolling my eyes toward the ceiling. “You can’t save me,” I said. No one can.
My drug issues had been severe in the past; I hadn’t used in almost two years. I’d made a promise to myself, if I ever started with them again I’d never let myself get out of control on them. I’d worked really hard on my issues, and didn’t feel the need to do them … until now.
I knew I’d pick up right where I’d stopped with my addiction. I’d only have maybe a few uses before I’d be back where I left off. Even so, it wasn’t going to work. Dwight couldn’t discourage me; my mind was made up. I wasn’t budging.
“Nothing could be worse right now, then how I’m feeling—not even being strung out on Heroin.”
“Really,” was all he said back to me.
I was grateful to him for caring. I was worth caring about because I still cared for myself. I wasn’t planning on giving up on myself any time soon.
Sometimes we could speak without talking. Dwight could see it in my eyes, I hoped. I was out of words; they couldn’t keep up with my emotions.
I told him all this by the way I looked at him.
“I love you,” I said aloud. It was the only thing I could get out, and even that was too much.
As I turned and walked back to the door he stood and said, “Okay, wait. I have what you really want. Sit down. I just wanted to give you time to change your mind.”
I was ready to slap him.
“DWIGHT!” I yelled.
“I don’t want you out in the streets looking for a way to get high. It’s been awhile since you been out there.”I am protecting you, I know he was thinking. I could tell, and I suddenly realized he thought I wanted something I didn’t.
We’d done a lot of drugs together over the years. What are YOU going through? I thought. That wasn’t me now.
“I’m not trying to do heroin again. Crazy,” I said. “Is that what you thought?” I wanted to make sure I was right. I laughed a little. “I told you before, I was never doing that again. I meant it.” Some things you just don’t do and for me heroin was one of them.
I made a promise not to lie to myself about drugs; I would be lying if I ever thought I could do that again. I went from pot to heroin the first time I ever used. I progressed to cocaine after that, then speed instead of cocaine.
“You don’t?” Dwight frowned.
I laughed, “Hell no!” He was being ridiculous.He was; at least as far as I was concerned. I didn’t know whether to think of this as a good or a bad thing—him getting “H” for me. On the one hand, it meant he thought I’d lied to him when I hadn’t. People lie about drugs all the time. I guess I couldn’t get mad at him. I was hysterical.
On the other hand, I do know he was trying to help me in some way, and I shouldn’t have put him in the position to have to decide how best to do that.
I apologized to him.
He thanked me, telling me how much anxiety he was going through over it.
I hugged him and said, “I’m sorry,” again. “But I really need to alter my consciousness.” We both laughed, really hard. I cried at the same time. “Give it to me,” I said.
“No, nitwit. The heroin.”
I took it and flushed it. He seemed pleased and relieved.
“You know, we could have gave that back.” He looked at me. “I didn’t pay for it yet.” And we laughed again.
“I will, don’t worry about it.”
We never did the big “H” together. That horrible experience was behind me and I wanted to leave it there. I’d used it on my own, in a previous lifestyle, without anyone I knew, presently. They’d only heard about it.I’d cut all ties with that particular group. It was surprisingly easy, how it came about.
It all started was with a co-worker years before; we went out to a party. I had smoked some pot and then someone offered me a line. I was in my twenties and had never done drugs before. I had the fear of God in me about doing any of them. I assumed the line was cocaine. It wasn’t. I really didn’t know what it was. Having decided I wanted to live a little, experience what everyone around me was doing, I partook. It was China White, one of the purest forms of Heroin.
I remember, before throwing up and being delirious, the last thing I heard and saw was my co-worker running toward me and saying, “No!”
I lifted my head and dropped the straw. I could hear her arguing with the guy who gave it to me. But I felt great; way too good to care about anything else. I didn’t know that was possible.
“What? Do you want her to end up like us?”
“I didn’t know. She said, yes, she wants one,” he defended himself.
I knew from that experience, I never wanted to be the reason for anyone else’s drug issues. I was never going to make that mistake, never going to offer anything to anyone. And I didn’t.
Before long, I started smoking it with my co worker. She warned you could still get hooked on it even though you were smoking it and not shooting up. Too late, I was by then.
It surprised me how fast it happened—maybe two or three times is all it took. I thought I had the flu when I didn’t do it, it hit me that hard.
My history with heroin was very brief; I used it all of six months, maybe less. Though in that short time, I saw and experienced things and ended up places I could never have imagined before I started using it.
I looked around me one day, I was in a shooting gallery. Blood squirted across walls from syringes in the cheap hotel room. My using partner, my co-worker, would usually go there alone and buy it for us. I decided to tag along one day—had no idea what to expect when I got there. Definitely not what I saw.
“I don’t remember her name anymore, but I can still see her face whenever I recall the events,” I told Dwight after he asked about the incident. “I was told to never think or talk about that day again, because of what happened when I went with her that particular day. After I left, I did just that—pretended it never happened.
Telling Dwight about it was the first time since that day I spoke of it. He needed to know why I was never using heroin again.
I told him about having issues, when I was younger, with not wanting to feel anything. Everything I did seemed to be so hard to accomplish. I struggled all the time. I was very insecure because my self-esteem was non-existent. In order to overcome my emotional issues, I had to admit this to myself and that wasn’t easy for me to do.
When I was on heroin, and around the people who I used it with oddly enough, I felt better about myself for the first time. I wasn’t as bad off as they were; I didn’t shoot up and this somehow made me feel better about myself—better off than they were. So I wasn’t so bad. I was, but I didn’t know it at the time. I figured it out through therapy. I would never have engaged in those relationships if it wasn’t for drugs. More than likely, I would never have met them.
“Getting off of heroin was the hardest thing I ever did. Harder than what I’m going through now.”
“Wow,” he said.
“I was too unhappy with what I was becoming, like them. I still cared about myself then and now. One of the guys at the shooting gallery told me, I don’t ever want to see you here again, you don’t belong here. I never went back.”
“What happened?” Dwight asked eagerly.
“Someone overdosed in the bathroom while my friend was waiting her turn to go shoot up. They took him and carried him outside with his arms over the shoulders of two guys, the one who told me not to return seemed to be looking out for me. He acted as if the guy was drunk—just helping him out as if he had passed out.
“He was dead. After they got downstairs, he put him in a shopping cart and covered him with his own coat. I could see everything from upstairs through the huge window I hid off to the side of. The needle was still in his arm. My ‘guardian angel’ ran off and left the dead guy in MacArthur Park near the lake. It was late at night. Dead bodies were found there all the time.
“I wasn’t allowed to leave until he got back. He left with us and warned us not to speak about it. No one wanted to be involved with the police. ‘We didn’t kill him, he killed himself, that damn fool’ he’d said. ‘I loved him.’
“He told us he called it in from a phone booth. That they’d find him. We could hear the sirens of the ambulance approach as we left the area.” Dwight and I sat silent for several heartbeats.
“I never wanted to be in a situation like that again. It scared me away from doing it anymore—for a while. But I was addicted. I’d shot up a few times by then, couldn’t do it on my own. My friend used to help me. I’d hold the belt tight while she found the vein. I knew, I was going to die if I continued. My friend would tell me, don’t get too far gone with it. I heard her and listened one day.”
I explained to Dwight how I needed help getting off, it was controlling my life. I had a terrible secret. I checked myself into a hospital not too long after. I wanted to get high every time I thought about the dead guy. It took going in the nut house three times before I stayed off for good. I didn’t tell anyone, ever, what had happened—until now.
I felt so good on heroin it made me forget about what had happened that day. The power over my life that drug had was unbelievable. Something that can make everything wrong not matter, in an instant, at one’s fingertips, is a dangerous thing to discover. The physical addiction was also increasing. I needed more and more, and was in denial for awhile that I was even addicted to it; I didn’t do it everyday but enough to not be sick every couple days, if the heroin was good.
I isolated myself from most everyone then. I was in college and had met someone, I may even have loved him—my son’s father. It was becoming harder to hide it. I smoked a lot of pot to mask the effects from everyone. But I didn’t want to be that either so I started using cocaine. At least it kept me from nodding out. How ridiculous in retrospect.
That’s how warped my thinking had become. I was in denial and had no control with it. I thought cocaine use was what I needed to help me get off of “H”.
We laughed about my ignorance then, as we smoked speed now.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” I asked Dwight. I held up the speed pipe, looking at it as I talked. I never wanted to be controlled again by anything. I’d made up my mind the third time I was in the hospital. I’d asked God, take this from me please. I’ll be dead if I continue. I knew it. I promised him I’d never use it again. I made the promise then, to myself, not to ever lie to myself if He lifted the hold it had over me.
I don’t lie to myself about anything, not knowingly anyway, no matter how bad it seemed; even if it meant I could never tell anyone else what it was and felt guilty about doing it. If I could have admitted the problem, I could have fix it. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble. I was not alone with my emotional problems.
I was self medicating, with no idea why. I learned, through therapy, I couldn’t stand to be alone with myself and my fearful thoughts about my abilities to be able to accomplish anything. I was afraid of the future and I didn’t know what I might offer the world. I didn’t think I could offer anything, at the time.
I had no idea what I could or wanted to do with my life. I felt broken and I knew it, but in what way I needed repair was not apparent, which was the problem.
I had been discouraged as a child from what I wanted. I was lost as a result of it, crushed by the lack of support I needed to pursue comedy. My mother thought she was helping or doing me a favor to avoid future disappointment.
We laughed, Dwight and I, about how odd what I was saying sounded.
She had no idea she made me question my own decision making after discouraging my choice to be a stand up comic. Oh Angel, I don’t know how to help you do that; Where do you go to school for that? She didn’t know I was crushed by her reaction. I was never the same again. I had to teach myself to trust the choices I made and that I could do them. I didn’t know at the time that’s what was happening to me. I only knew I didn’t want to be around her anymore or be further discouraged by her making suggestions about doing something else.
I left home, thinking something was wrong with me for wanting to be a comedian and for not knowing what else to choose. I thought my mother knew best. This couldn’t have been farther from the truth. My mom projected her own insecurities onto me. I thought she knew everything. I learned over the course of many years, for myself, she didn’t.
I never thought of an insecure parent being my problem.
I didn’t start off with the intention of being addicted to heroin or knowing just how well it would work to mask my insecurities. I only knew, it worked the first time I used it.
Dwight and I smoked speed all evening.
“Put on your roller skates,” I said, after I was high. We skated in Star Trek dresses around the room in a circle holding hands. We laughed for hours; Dwight had his dress there from a previous Halloween, but I had my own dress at home to wear whenever I felt like it, and happened to have it on.
“Let me put mine on too,” Dwight had said and ran to get changed.
I would wear my dress from time to time when I’d visit him. I hadn’t realized I was even wearing it when I showed up after calling him.
We always had fun and would laugh together. He’d shake his head with amusement asking, did anyone see you walk in here wearing that dress? He didn’t really care. I didn’t give a damn if they did; I liked wearing it for no reason other than I liked it.
He would remind me of how different he thought I was from most people. Thank God, I’d say; or I probably wouldn’t have any real fun being like everyone else. I loved throwing caution to the wind. I enjoyed freedom because mine had been so restricted.
I suggested going to get afro wigs and dressing in 70’s clothes before we went out dancing that night. We went shopping later on for our outfits and something to eat. But, not in that order. We got something to eat first. I didn’t believe in doing drugs without taking care of myself. If anyone was doing drugs with me, that very rarely happened—I was very private about it, but if it happened we had to take care of our bodies. Try to at least, by not ignoring meals.
I was never at anyone else’s place doing drugs—unless they were a close personal friend like Dwight. This experience was just as rare as letting anyone else see me do them. I didn’t like using around others, probably because of my first experience. I had seen some horrible things people have done on them. I’d say, why don’t you find something else to do that doesn’t torture you? Or you can’t be having fun, riding around in your car thinking you’re being followed. I didn’t have those issues. If I did, I’d quit doing any drug so blatantly devastating to my life.
One time, this pregnant girl was at a friend of mine’s doing drugs. The second after she took her first hit off of the pipe, she immediately started looking for more drugs. She became obsessed with finding them even as she stared at us with embarrassment, but couldn’t stop herself from doing it—feeling through the ashtray; the ashes got all over her in a matter of minutes. She couldn’t stop herself. I heard later, when her babies were born, only one of them lived. They were twins.
I wanted no part in those type of stories. I separated myself from most things, especially if they were completely outta my control as a result of wanting drugs, or just the effects of use. I never related to it until I thought closely about it. Though, I’d seen and heard enough when my guard was down to stay away from people doing them. Things still happened.
I didn’t care who people were when they weren’t with me. I just, in no way, wanted to be the reason for anyone doing anything stupid, or to be around for it. I never stole or had sex for drugs. I didn’t understand people who did. That wasn’t necessary in order to have them.
Selling them was the next progression, if one had to have them around for use. Drugs are expensive. Just buy more with money and be able to have personal use of them without all that other drama added in.
When I started selling, I didn’t have those types of clients; mine were mostly professional people who understood there were other things in life. Though I struggled with it at first in my heroin days, I learned very quickly to treat what I was doing as a business. My priority was not to get high, it was to make money. Some could not separate the two, becoming their own best customer.
I didn’t have that problem.
When Dwight and I got low on money, we sold some of our drugs then got more—they paid for themselves. I let him deal with the customers and kept my anonymity.
I had no control over anyone else’s behavior, or any knowledge of what to do about any knowledge of it. I couldn’t help but feel I should do something about it, I just didn’t know what. I couldn’t stand feeling so helpless and uninformed about what happened in my own family. I might have been able to save Lady from killing herself, had known her struggles. I felt, somehow, it was my fault for not knowing about what was going on. If other people knew, I should have too. But I had distanced myself from my family.
I’d enough of feeling helpless.
All this complicated information came too soon after being released from jail. And not only that, but from being medically terminated from my job too. I was still working on getting over it, coming to terms with what happened. I wasn’t ready for this. My life wasn’t that sorted out to be thinking about someone else’s complications, someone else’s actions, right now.
But when I was high, things didn’t seem as bad nor did I care as much. My feelings were numbed on drugs. I wanted to be numb. Besides, it was only going to be for this one time, or so I thought.