That day was different. Maybe because it was more frenetic than other days. But more because it was the last day.
A day when things changed – forever.
Several times during the day, I got the call – the call to get money to pay the motel bill…and for other things. It was always an emergency. I drove from work to the motel and back and then did it again. He was at high pitch and I was tapped out. I had borrowed all that I could borrow and there was no more money coming in. He “forced” (that is really the only word I can use) me to deposit checks from one (empty) account into another in order to withdraw funds that weren’t there. I was sick to my stomach about it all.
There had been talk (for months) about going to Bergen Pines Rehab. There’s a bed. There’s no bed. I can go in two days. The bed is gone. He talked to Amber about it and relayed the information that she gave him (her mother had been there multiple times) about how to get in when there was no bed. But it never seemed to come together. And because I was the mother of an adult child, I could find out nothing on my own.
Finally, I spoke with Amber directly. She had been encouraging him to get help, even though he told me that she had not. She knew how to get him accepted there even without a bed. He would have to say that he was suicidal – or on the brink of suicidal. If he was too convincing, they would put him in a straitjacket and give him no meds for withdrawal. He had to hint at it without actually saying it. By the time we took him there, he didn’t really have to lie much.
I thought that he had gotten enough money during the day. I thought he was ready to go. I was wrong – on both counts.
I drove to the Budget Inn to meet him. I had been there daily for months. The big red sign taunted me. The low tan buildings looked all the same. I wondered who else stayed at a place such as this. Occasionally, I would see people, even sometimes some children with their parents in the pool. As I turned the corner behind the office, I would look to see if he was standing on the curb, smoking a cig with his phone tucked between his shoulder and ear. I would usually drive in, meet him in the back, and try to drive away. Sometimes I actually locked the door so he couldn’t get into my car and insist I drive him to some “connect.” He would say he didn’t have enough money for a cab. And I had no money to spare.
The same was true on this night. But I had no intention (and I thought no need) to provide more money. He had a different idea. He intended to use whatever he could before we left for Bergen Pines. The truth of it is that he probably never really intended to go. Amber was there with him. He was angry because the two of us were united in our intention. He was going to go there that night, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
He did what he had done over and over again. He asked for more money. One more fix. One more time before he left. I said no. I truly had no more resources. This made him angry. He became agitated. He begged for Amber to help him. He begged for me to do something more. There was nothing we could do.
He retreated into the motel room. He refused to go.
Amber and I stayed outside. She had hope for him that she didn’t have for herself. She had grown up in “the life.” She didn’t finish high school, had no skills, no hope of getting out. Knowing about his past, she believed he could make it out. He had an education and a family, a strong good family, to support him. He had lived a life in which he had wanted for nothing. To her, he had so much hope.
So she went into the motel room to try to convince him to go.
I remained outside. Waiting. Uncomfortable and conspicuous. But I waited.
It wasn’t long. Amber came back out. She was defeated. She said he wouldn’t go…unless he could use again – one more time. It was always one more time.
I called Cory. I know he would have loaned me money. I couldn’t take one more thing from him. I just couldn’t. He had been holding me up in ways that I could never pay back. I just needed to talk to someone who knew and understood.
I called Lori. I knew she had used Xanax for her anxiety in the past when it had become overwhelming. I asked if she had any. She did. She even offered to give me some for him. I remembered the other rehabs he had entered. They had told me to let him use so that he would be compliant. So that he would agree to go. I thought the Xanax might take the edge off enough to convince him to give in. I didn’t commit to Lori. I just kept the idea – just in case.
Amber told me I should go into the room to talk to him.
So after months of just seeing it from the outside, I walked out of the warm summer night into the seedy hallway leading to his room. Room 106. The dark door was slightly ajar.
I entered and saw him laying curled up on one of the beds in the room. The covers were all swirled up in a ball. His bed always looked like that. He slept as if in a whirlwind, tossing and turning, thrashing and moving. The covers never stayed put. The room was as I could have expected. It was ugly and tan and maroon. He didn’t even respond to me.
This is the image I conjure up when I think about him on his last day. He wasn’t in the same motel, but it might as well have been the same one. All I can imagine is that ugly room littered with dirty clothes and paraphernalia, with a stiff bedspread crumpled up beneath him.
I sat beside him and begged. He curled himself up tighter like a snail recoiling from salt. I got up and paced. I started to gather his things from around the room into a bag, a garbage bag, not a suitcase. That is what he had been reduced to. I walked into the bathroom. The sink was littered with paraphernalia. He had not even started to clean up. I didn’t touch it. Couldn’t stand to see it. The scene was like something out of a bad movie, but I had to pretend that it was normal. Not shocking and sordid.
I offered the Xanax. He pushed for money. I told him there was none to be had.
It was hours after our planned pick-up that he finally gave in. I don’t remember what turned him.
He disposed of his needles and other tools for using in the garbage can outside of the entrance to his room. We gathered up his garbage bag full of his most prized possessions and got into the car. Amber was going to come with us.
And then he ran. Across the highway and into some trees. We couldn’t see where he had gone. We got into the car to follow him. It was as if he had disappeared into thin air. He had no phone. We couldn’t call him. We waited and waited.
We drove up and down the back streets. We went to McDonalds and to the A&P down the street. It seemed too far for him to have gotten there in that amount of time.
Up and down the dark streets, peering into bushes and behind trash cans, we looked for him. And then we gave up and went back to the parking lot behind the motel and waited.
Finally, he came back. It must have been an hour. Maybe longer.
He and Amber sat in the back seat together. I drove and tried not to talk. He was angry. I didn’t mention the Xanax again.
I had driven the route before. It was over an hour away, at the northern end of the parkway. The last time I drove him there (when he said that a bed was waiting for him) he had gone in and come out quickly. He told me that he had gone to the detox unit but that they had sent him away. I think he actually just went to the bathroom. That time I had been naïve enough to bring him back home with me. I didn’t really believe him, but I didn’t know what else to do.
This time I had Amber with me. She knew the drill. She was on a first-name basis with local cops, county prosecutors, rehab orderlies. She was deeply entrenched in the system. She knew Bergen Pines.
She told him what he needed to say. We said our goodbyes. We watched him as he walked, ever so slowly, towards the doors to the Emergency Room. It was 3 AM.
We drove away.
He had sold his phone for drugs. He had no cigarettes, no money. Only the clothes on his back. He was about to try to negotiate a place in the detox unit by saying that he was on the verge of hurting himself, mortally. But not quite. He had to say he was desperate and depressed, but he couldn’t quite admit to being suicidal for fear of the straitjacket.
As we drove down the highway, I felt a bit like Thelma and Louise. Two girls out for an adventure. I felt relieved and hopeful. I was out of gas so we started looking for a station. I had been afraid to stop on the way there for fear he would jump out of the car.
We pulled into a truck stop and that is when we got the call. He said that he couldn’t be seen until 7 AM and that we should come back to get him. We refused. It had started to rain. He was hungry. I refused.
It was the hardest thing I had ever done – to that point. But I had Amber with me, and she told him what he had to say. He didn’t want to say it, probably hadn’t. He didn’t want to be admitted.
We stood our ground. We got some gas in the car and headed home. We had to stop answering the calls eventually.
At 6:30 AM the house phone rang. I had just gotten to sleep, I think.
It was a doctor from the emergency unit. He wanted to know about my son. I gave him some background, making it clear that he was desperate and in need of care, hopeless and without other options. After a few minutes, the doctor agreed to admit him. He would be in the program for the mentally ill and chemically dependent, MICA. He would be taken to a detox unit. We wouldn’t be able to talk to him for a while.
I had stood my ground. Isn’t this what everyone had told me to do again and again? Say no. Tough love. It never felt right. Didn’t feel right this time either. But I was out of options. Taking my lead from a broken little girl. Wanting (needing) someone else to be in charge.
He was in the hands of the system. I had a moment of relief.
But the system failed him.
I had finally said no to him, maybe for the first time in his life.
It didn’t save him.