Sunday, September 07, 2008

Other People's Druggies

I've seen the needle and the damage done - A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie's like a settin' sun.
- ©Neil Young 1972

Living in New York, I quite frequently see druggies, or junkies as I prefer to call them, wandering around waiting for their next hit. On subways, on the streets of the East Village, pan-handling on street corners.

Schapelle CorbyI feel absolutely no sympathy for these people. I never give them money. After one glance they are gone from my mind. I also read about them. A few years ago there was a big story in the Australian newspapers. About a young woman, Schapelle Corby, who was arrested for drug smuggling in the Indonesian Island of Bali. Many people felt sorry for her. She was young and attractive. I felt nothing - no pity, no compassion.

I see such people as pathetic, dregs of society people who are all take and no give, weak and selfish people who could not care less about their families. They take up no space in my life. They are other people's junkies.

But - and here's the rub - I am the mother of a junkie. I'm not talking about a kid who smokes a joint or two - but of an adult woman who has been on heroin for almost two decades. Of course, I'm not sure of when she started on the hard stuff. Maybe it's only one decade. Whatever.

I now know terms like "using" and "nod" and the street meaning of "horse". The horse with no name ... A short time ago, my daughter started taking photos of horses. I was pleased. I remembered when she was nine and was, like many little girls, just crazy about horses. We bought her cute little jodhpurs and a riding hat and she took dressage classes. So when as an adult she took horse photos, it was with the typical mother-of-a-junkie denial, that I imagined that she was reliving happier days. Then one morning, out of nowhere, the real meaning dawned upon me.

Unlike my attitude to other people's druggies, my feelings about my daughter are feelings of pity and sorrow. Sorrow for what could have been. I know that she is no different than other people's druggies, but I just do not see her in the same way.

Last night I was talking on the phone to a friend's daughter in Melbourne. She'd recently seen my daughter in Victoria Street there. My friend's daughter, K, was with a bunch of other girls when she spotted her. "She looked out of it," K told me and added, "I said to my friends, "Oh I think I know that person, and one of them said, 'but she's a junkie'".

Out of all the incidents I've heard about, all the late night phone calls I've experienced, it was this one that completed my broken heart.

I see my daughter as a lost soul, wandering the streets of Melbourne. Living a life I cannot comprehend. Eyes glazed. Emaciated. Penniless. Viewed by a bunch of young Melbourne University graduates as, just another junkie.

Yes, they saw what I see in New York. And like me, they continued on their way, without another thought for that lost creature.

I wonder how I can have compassion for my daughter, yet none at all for other people's druggies. My heartfelt wish is that I could view her as I view other people's druggies. Perhaps then people close to me would not see me as weak, a person manipulated my daughter - a mug, and a boring one at that. Because, you see, I can't help talking about her to my friends. I resolve to stop - what use is there in recounting the latest horror? Her being taken into custody by the Victorian police, her nearly burning down my Melbourne apartment, her latest junkie boyfriend who bashes the living daylights out of her, her constantly lying to me?

"Have you thrown her out yet?" I'm asked. "Not yet," I say - I get no brownie points for my compassion. I need to enroll in a "Get rid of your compassion" course.

It's been a long hard road. There's no end in sight. Sometimes I imagine the end. It's the same end as is imagined by her father. We both dread the 3:00 a.m. phone call.

Yes, I picture my daughter, wandering down Victoria Street Melbourne. It's a sunny Australian day. She's out of it. Perhaps she doesn't even know where she is. She doesn't recognise the young blond girl in the bunch of recent Melbourne University graduates. They are chatting about their new jobs, their boyfriends, clothes, the latest movie. They have money in their pockets. Years of study behind them. A future in front of them. One of them comments, "But she's a junkie". They move on.

I wish I could.

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