Sunday, January 31, was a milestone in the life of my twenty-year-old daughter Merritt. She swooped in at 11:30 p.m. to grab the car keys to her brother’s vehicle, proudly announced she’s officially been clean for ninety days, kissed me goodbye then flew out the door with her friend.
Of course I don’t mean clean in a hygienic sense (although over the past two years there was many a day she appeared pretty rank). Also a case could be made that hygiene is paramount when one has been routinely sticking a needle in their arm for two years and occasionally sharing them. But no, by clean I mean drug-free.
As her mother I should be touched and gratified. My little girl, clean for ninety days! What an accomplishment!
So how come I’m not wiping tears of joy from my tired old eyes.
Oh it’s hard being a mother and not having the ability to control your children. All you mommy-and-daddy bloggers beware! That feeling of control, that satisfying feeling of being able to influence your young ones by being a good example is just an illusion. Telling them they have to wear the pink pants to school on Thursday because you paid good money for them and forcing them to eat broccoli and lima beans may feel like control but that’s just surface fluff.
Deep down they’re becoming the people they were wired to be regardless of how much they’re read to or for how long, how many D.A.R.E. presentations they’ve attended, how many lectures they’ve been given about the rewards of working hard and studying and the importance of a college education.
Their motto is ultimately “I’ll do what I want.”
Which is exactly what my daughter Merritt did when she began experimenting with drugs.
The good examples set by her family members, the responsible male role models, the meals eaten together as a family, the vacations, the steady fount of support and encouragement by relatives, teachers and friends, the generosity of her grandparents, the admiration of her peers and also her little brother and sister, the extracurricular art lessons, music lessons, dance classes, Girl Scouts, reading clubs, counseling sessions, doctors appointments, etcetera etcetera etcetera.
None of it made a difference.
Her younger brother Archer warned me on many occasions that he was sure she was using drugs but I brushed him off. I’d know it if she was, wouldn’t I? I didn’t raise her that way. I was her mother. Didn’t I know her best? And besides, she denied it anytime I asked her. I’d occasionally search her room and find nothing but the butts of the cigarettes she swore belonged to her friends.
What was I supposed to have done?
Now that she’s fessed up and come clean both literally and figuratively, I don’t know what to think. When other kids her age were college freshman, she was living with her druggie boyfriend in a dump in a hick town and selling off her possessions for drug money.
When other kids her age were college sophomores, she was selling my possessions and the possessions of her little brother and sister and stealing money from my checking account.
She’s wrecked our cars, destroyed my trust and made her little brother hate her. She’s turned down a nice scholarship to a prestigious private art college and dropped out of school (twice) because drugs ruled her life.
Now she’s muling for a telemarketing company, at a job that’s straight commission setting appointments for insurance sales reps (she gets paid when the people she’s cold-called agree to an appointment) so of course she makes almost nothing.
Since she no longer has a car of her own I’ve let her borrow her brother’s Honda while he’s away at school because she needs it to get to work. He would kill me if he knew; she’s wrecked it once already when she took the keys late one night and drove away in it. I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to sell our cars. They’re practically the only things left.
She blithely comes and goes, mainly to get money from me since she has none. She doesn’t seem much different from when she was “unclean” except that she’s not concentration camp thin anymore and her eye doesn’t droop like a stroke victim, as she nods off in the middle of a conversation.
She still prefers the company of her friends although they appear to be a more wholesome bunch than the cretins she used to associate with.
When she breathlessly announces she’s been clean for ninety days I wish I could muster some enthusiasm but I can’t. I can’t help but wish she were instead telling me about the plum internship she just scored or the “A” she received for an outstanding artistic creation.
The bills from the rehab facility come every month and sit unpaid on my kitchen counter as do the bills from the various doctors she saw while there and also for the lab work she needed and the prescriptions. I can’t afford to pay these bills. Also, the student loan lending company she reneged on not once but twice when she signed up for classes at a local college keep sending reminders that she owes them money.
She doesn’t make me proud, she disgusts me, especially when I think of people who had so much less in life, so few advantages, and still made their parents proud.
I wish I could stop living in the past and thinking about what could have been. The counselor I see occasionally tells me I should be proud of her, that it sounds like she’s making great strides in her rehabilitation and this is something to celebrate. The counselor tells me there’s no going back, only forward and of course I know this is true.
But when I think about the artwork she used to turn out effortlessly, the paintings and drawings and clay pieces and illustrations; when I remember how beautifully she used to play the piano and how I preferred her playing to the radio; when I recall the stories she used to write and the expository papers that would come back with remarks like “mature thinker” and “well-thought out” and “good point!” I can’t shut out the past.
The burned bridges, the wasted potential, the hurt feelings, the trust destroyed, and most devastating, the innocence of her little brother and sister prematurely shattered. Try as I might I can’t always shut out the past and look forward.
She may be clean now but I feel soiled.