Saturday, April 28, 2007

Are You on Crack?

Sometimes I say that in response to things people say that I find to be, in some way, preposterous. Sometimes, out of habit, I say that to my uncle when he says something that I find, in some way, preposterous.

"All that hatred down there, all that hatred and misery and love. It's a wonder it doesn't blow the avenue apart."
-Sonny in Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin

I'm at B&N, shaking like a leaf due to excessive caffeine intake. My regular Saturday night homework binge. I just read the above referenced story for my literary analysis class and, like most every piece my teacher assigns, it struck a chord. Now I want to talk. But, I'm alone. Never truly alone, because I have you. You get to hear me talk.

A handful of you know what kind of family I come from, you've heard me talk about it before. For the other handful of you who haven't... I come from white trash. I have no problem with this, I love my family- every stinkin' one of them (and I assure you that some of them do, indeed, stink). My mom is the only of 13 siblings (some half, some step) that actually graduated from high school, the only to go to college. Many have GEDs now, one of the many offerings of the prison system.

Of the 13 siblings, I've grown up close to five of them- four uncles and my aunt. The uncles are shady characters, all have been addicted to some substance nearly their entire lives, two of them have been clean for a good while now. They've all been in and out of prison my entire life, just like my father was.

Since I was old enough to have a favorite, there is one uncle who has always been extremely special to me. He's the one I feel the need to discuss currently.

He's tall, he's good-looking, he's charming. Despite his lack of schooling, he possesses a certain intelligence, one can immediately see he is wise, not book-smart per se. There is something about him that people are drawn to, even though they know better, men and women alike.

He's seven years older than I am. He has always had a gift for being the person that children gravitate toward, as I did as a child. As I see my children doing.

Sometime, probably when I was entering adolescence, I began distancing myself. Alcohol and drugs began to consume his life. Growing up amongst his brothers (he was the youngest), it would be nearly impossible for that not to happen. As it consumed him, he had better things to do than concern himself with me or anyone else who wasn't partying with him.

My first love was a bit of a project. He was nearly three years older than me and deep and depressed. I was wildly attracted to that. He had done nearly every drug there was when I met him and I knew that. My first Christmas with him, about a month into our relationship (I was 15), I brought him to Christmas dinner at my grandparent's house. My uncle recognized him from a party. They bonded over it. My uncle loves to have control and tried to exert such over me by referring, without giving anything away, to things that my boyfriend had done at that party. I began to hate my uncle and worked very hard to "save" my boyfriend to rebel, I think, against my uncle.

That was the last my uncle had an effect on me until I was about 20.

I was working in a factory and he was in prison. One day, my mom called and told me that my uncle had actually been released from prison and was at a halfway house where he would only be able to leave to go to work. He got a job at the factory I was working at, the same line I worked on, same shift. I was to be his transportation.

Try though I may to shut him out, to be politely aloof, he won over everyone there, every single one of my friends (I'm sure he did it on purpose) and, in no time, me. He was my best friend at work, I was proud to be related to him. Even when I knew he was dealing again, I looked the other way. I let him fill the tank in my car, buy me breakfast after a midnight shift, stayed to work overtime when he wanted to stay, anything he wanted. I adored him. I always have. I always will. Despite everything, I knew and still believe that he would kill for me.

He's so incredibly charming.

When I was 21 (he was back home, no longer at the halfway house), the police broke in on him and his girlfriend (now his wife) while they were sleeping. He wasn't doing drugs at that time, but he was making good money off of them as a dealer. That day, when they took him, I was devastated. I didn't look at it like he had done anything wrong, I felt like I lost everything.

That's why this story I read has struck me. It is absolutely astonishing how loving someone with a drug problem can take over everything, no matter how many other good or bad things are happening in one's life. That's what the narrator of the story struggled with.

That day, as soon as I got the news, I drove to Todd's house, practically hysterical. This may have been our first emotional disconnect. I was so devastated. He didn't see that I needed comfort. He said, coldly, "Melissa, you had to see this coming. I don't feel bad for him or you, because you shouldn't have let him affect you this way."

Right or wrong, it's very hard when you love someone, when you let them in and they, in turn, let you down. This happened to me, then, twice in one day.

I pulled myself together, utterly hurt and disappointed by Todd's words. I desparately needed comfort that day and he had no interest in providing it. He said it was my own fault. I don't think I ever showed him that side of me again. I pretended he was right and walked out of his house with a strong facade, immediately breaking down again when I got into the car.

I communicated through letters with my uncle in jail. His apologies. His commitments. I hesitantly believed him. But, after about a year, when he got home, something had been lost. I pretended to be supportive, knowing it would happen again.

When he got out, I was a month away from having Jenna, I was nearly 23. He married his girlfriend and a year later, she gave birth to their first child. When she gave birth, she did it alone. He was addicted to crack and couldn't handle the stress or whatever of his wife giving birth. He left the hospital room to have a cigarette and didn't come back until she was home two days later.

I hated him.

The next year he was in prison again.

Now, he's been out for a year and a half and has been clean, completely- no drugs, no dealing- the entire time.

I read this story and realized that I've let him back in. I didn't plan to, of course, but it has happened. Worse, my kids adore him.

My family is very "tight." We see each other alot. None of them are as special to me as he is.

When I ask him if he's on crack, it's just something I say out of habit. I say it to everyone. I forget that I shouldn't say it to him. He always looks so hurt. Like I should care.

I hope he doesn't do it again.

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