This is not what my Grandmother wanted. It’s not what I had in mind when I imagined coming back to social media after the fight. Cancer side effects, cancer itself, the ripple from the “cure.” In the spring I will have spent two years fighting for my life. No one gossiped about me. No one was mean. I call my husband’s parents mom and dad as they have stepped in to fill that role during my illness. Mom and Dad being great. No family drama. In fact, no drama at all! The parents who raised me weren’t in the picture, but I figured they were secretly rooting for my health. Never imagined Dru would be telling this story to people who have only met me a few times. As my oldest son reminded me last night, this is why we don’t speak to them. Drama.
I am going to share with you the absolute worst thing I did as a person. While I was a teenage heroin addict. A story of my Grandmother’s beauty and grace. Boy, did that woman exude grace. She was strength and love and graceful. She never wanted this story told beyond me and her, but I confided in Dru. And Dru turned a lovely story about her mother into an ugly story about the worst thing I ever did. Once I tell it everything else will be okay because there is nothing as bad as this.
Even as an addict I was quite content to hurt myself over and over again. But I never took, stole from or hurt people. Except this one time… my grandmother. In 1998 I was 18, living in Vorhees, N.J. I became addicted to heroin. I knew the first time I used it I would be doing it again. The absence of pain. I could get up and go about the day without immense grief. With heroin I didn’t have to kill myself. Without it I tried often. Back to the worst thing I ever did…
Dru came over one day. At that time she was still “mom” and she was a good one at that. Sat on my couch and asked if I was using heroin again. Everything inside me began to say no when I burst into a giant “YES.” She held me, hugged me and told me she would help me again. When I relapsed and my addiction got out of control she was great in those situations. I never felt like she didn’t love me. She did a great job loving me. And for those 4 years she was all I wanted. I needed my mom and she showed up. She wasn’t afraid of my addiction. She fought it with me and at times she fought it for me. Had I not become a mother I might have stayed an addict just to have that back with her. I would give anything to have my mom. She was a great woman. Nothing can take those memories. Of a mom who gave herself to her children, even the heroin addict. That woman would have been devastated to learn I have a cancer that is fatal. She would never behave the way she now behaves. My other mom is wonderful and is helping our family through sickness. I guess it’s too much to ask for both.
After that day on the couch I went through a brutal detox. Mom was there for every dry heave, every siezure, every moan and tear. After that, Dru and Grandmom Peggy decided I should leave the place I lived in alone and move in with Grandmom. My Grandmother and I were very, very close. I will cherish that time living with her. It was irreplaceable, it was a gift if there ever was such a great gift. I got to know my Grandother deeply. She opened her home to me and she shared her life with me. We racked up hundreds of hours talking, tearing up, and learning about each other. On her deathbed I thanked her for those talks and told her those were what I was going to hold tight. Still do, especially today.
I started using heroin. I was serving tables in a restaurant and making friends. Building a life at Grandmom’s home. But my addiction and all the issues causing it still existed. I was still in a lot of pain. Especially at night. My bed was against a wall and on the opposite side of the wall was my grandmother’s bed. My head was mere feet from hers. I should have told her I wasn’t well. I sobbed quietly at night and pretended I was okay during the day. I lost someone I loved and I never got help for it. I didn’t know how to ask the right way. I got shut down the first time I tried to talk about it with Dru. I should have persisted and told her how important it was… how badly I hurt… how I would hurt for the rest of my life. But I got silent like a coward and then blamed her for not letting me talk. I don’t blame her anymore. She had no idea how to parent a child who lost her first love to death. I wouldn’t know what to do if I was in her shoes. So I cried for three years. Mostly at night and in the shower. And I did heroin. I could do heroin like a champ. And I got addicted like a junkie. For 4 years I was addicted to heroin. And I lived with my Grandmom Peggy for one of those years.
One day I drove into Philly and I spent my money on heroin. Got back home to find that the drugs were fake. I was getting sick. Heroin withdrawal is bad physically, but mentally it’s the worst. And as I got sick, I did the most disgusting thing my junkie mind could think of… I chose a piece of jewelry my grandmom had in her room, one she wouldn’t notice was gone for a while, and I sold it at a gold store. I asked the woman what she was going to do with the necklace and ski shaped pendant. She would possible resell to a jeweler or melt in down. I left and bought heroin and I lived to be a junkie another day.
About two weeks later I thought about all the jewelry in her room. I thought about taking more that she might not miss. I thought those evil thoughts. So I did what my mother raised me to do… I sat across the table from G-mom Peggy and like so many other mornings I began to tell her secrets. Over coffee I told her that I took her necklace, sold it, used it for drugs and I couldn’t get it back. And I wanted to take more. I was an addict and I was not the person she thought I was.
With emotionless eyes which I tried to read with every breathe, she paused for a long time. I looked down and prepared myself for what she needed to say. I hurt her. My Grandmother had loved me to pieces and I betrayed her. As she took in air to speak I looked up and locked eyes with a teary-eyed Grandmom. “I think we both know you need help. You can’t stay here. And this needs to stay between us.” I walked over to her side of the table and clung to her. I don’t know if she held me or I held her, but I clung for dear life.
When I got clean and sober two and a half years later I told my mom what I had done. I told my mom that I wanted to use my cleaning money (she paid me to do jobs around the house for her because I wasn’t working) to buy Grandmom a Christmas gift of gold. My mom helped me choose a beautiful braided gold necklace. She even helped to pay for it because it was important and that’s who my mom was. Grandmom Peggy gave knowing smile when she realized what the gift meant. She never spoke of what I did. My mother showed her grace when she gave her own mother the necklace and said, “This was important to Jackie for you to have.” Never mentioning my sin. Never taking credit for helping me pay for the gift. I was a part of a beautiful legacy. Woman of substance who believed in forgiveness.
Two decades later…
Knowing she was dying, she asked her dear friend Bonnie to give me something when I came home for the funeral. It was a beautiful necklace with a snowflake charm. Presenting me the necklace, Bonnie gave me a message – private and loving. A reminder of how to love. It was more assurance of goodness in the world from the grace of an angel.
That is the story of what I did. More importantly, it is the story of who my Gandmother was. I know she deserved better. When she passed away I was a homeschooling mother of three children trying to make a broken marriage work. I had not been an addict in years. I had achieved more than even I thought possible and I was so proud for her to know that she saw goodness in me and I needed her to know I was worth her love.
That is the time I stole from someone to pay for my addiction. That day I was a thief. My kids know, my husband knows. I tell that story when I talk about what heroin can do to a person. And I remember that story when I think about forgiveness and love and the gentle grace of my Grandmom Peggy.
If you hear me called a “thief” by Dru or by her best friend, this is why… I will never forget what I did. And my Grandmother will never know how I’m being treated now, thank God.
Now that the meanest thing I did to anyone is “out there” I can share openly about everything else. More to come!!!!
Thanks for reading. Love,