Almost 22 years ago, I began to raise my grandson. That’s when he was born and that’s when I fell in love so hard with a baby that it shook me to my knees. His mother did not love him, so it fell to me to show him what it was to be loved. And love him I did. Over the years, his mother would visit him on occasion; she would be emotionally abusive to him and sometimes physically abusive to him. If I became angry at her, he would defend her. (“She didn’t mean it, Gramma. She didn’t mean it. It was an accident!”)
When my grandson was 11 years old, his mother took up with a very enraged, angry man who, at first, only verbally abused him, and then took to physical abuse during his visits, which my grandson would not tell me about, knowing that I would keep him from his mother, whom he loved and whom he desperately wanted to love him.
In his teens, my grandson turned to drugs, and in order to sustain his addiction, he turned to crime as well. Petty theft at first, then escalating into larger crimes of theft, such as breaking and entering. Of course, during those years, he stole from me constantly, money and jewelry and CDs and DVDs, anything he could sell to get money for drugs. He went into rehab, juvenile hall, more rehab, more juvenile hall, more rehab, jail (after 18 years of age) and then out on probation. Jobless and unable to find work, he continued to live with me. And steal from me. And lie to me. I continued to believe him and believe him and believe him. And hope. (And, yes, I went to Al-Anon and Families Anonymous and listened to all the other parents and relatives struggle to stop being enablers, unable to shut down their love, unable to turn their backs and take that final step to shut out the beloved addict from their lives.)
And then one night, my husband and I stood listening to him lie to us, slurring his words, unable to determine what day it was, laughing at his own drugged-out state, and we kicked him out of our home. The next day, he asked if I would just pick him up from his friend’s house and take him to McDonald’s to get some cheap burgers with the money we had given him. I picked him up and we drove over.
“I hate my life” he said.
“I hate it, too — yours, I mean,” I said.
“No, Gramma. I mean it. I have f—ed up my whole life. I did it. You gave me every chance. And I made your life miserable. You were the only one in the world who ever loved me and believed in me, and I treated you like s–t. I know it. But I can’t help it. All I live for is getting high. All I want is to be high or drunk. I don’t care what it takes, even if it means stealing from you. And I’m sorry. My life is over. I’ve ruined my own life and sometimes I just wish I would die.”
“What are you talking about? You’re only 21 years old. You have your whole life ahead of you. You can change it immediately if you want to.”
“But that’s the thing, Gramma. I don’t want to. I don’t want anything but to be high. It’s all I want. If I overdosed and died high, that would be fine with me. I just don’t want to go back to jail. But I don’t want to do anything else either. Just get high. You have no idea how addicted I am. People say marijuana is not addictive, but I’ve got news for you: I can’t live without it.”
“Your life is not over. Regardless of what you feel. It’s only beginning. And you can make the choice to change it if you want. I understand that you don’t want to. At least not right now. But you can no longer live with us. You have trashed our house. You have trashed our credit and put us in debt. You have made it impossible for us to feel comfortable in our own home. You stress me out constantly. And I can’t bear it anymore. I’m sorry. I hurt for you. I ache for you. I love you and you know I will always love you. But I’m through with you. I will drop you back at your friend’s and ask you not to call me again.”
“I know, Gramma. I know.”
Of course, he continues to call, to beg, to plead. Can he just sleep in the yard, in the garage? He’s cold. He’s hungry.
Please. He promises and begs and hollers. And I realize he’s so far gone that he does not realize that everything he says he has said so many times before. And then I realize that it’s always worked before, so why shouldn’t he continue to try now?
I know and understand his pain. He has never been able to get his mother to love him, to protect him, to care about him. The monster she married was able to abuse him while she watched and listened without intervening. She never consoled her son, or apologized to him, or comforted him in any way. She was more eager to have her hideous, monstrous husband by her side, even as he abused her daughter. But that is another story. Right now, this is about my grandson … whom I raised since his birth almost 22 years ago.
And now I want him gone. Even as my heart breaks, I want him gone. I want the fighting and hollering and disappointment and fear and discomfort of having him around gone. I want it over. I want him to disappear and not to hear from him, even as I know that I will not sleep or have one easy minute unless I know he is safe, which he will not be. But I am willing to live with that pain and that anxiety in order to have him gone from me, from us, from our home. And then, of course, there is my complicity in all this. The giving in, the missing him, the desperate need to know that he is OK (without me to take care of him), the hoping that this time it will all get right (“right,” of course, being that he will no longer be addicted and his life will take a healthy, happy direction). My own guilt, my own failure to save him, to pull him out of his addiction, to prevent it from ever having happened. And that guilt gives me no reprieve at all. My pain is my penance, his is my encumbrance.
I know the days ahead will be full of his calls and begging, and I know that I must stand firm because I can’t survive with him in our home. I will walk around my house looking at the pictures of him as a baby, as a toddler, as a young child, as a preteen, as a teen. (And then the pictures grow fewer as he slowly descends into the abyss of drugs and alcohol.) My beautiful boy. My bright boy. The child of my heart. Go away, my boy. My boy. My dear, dear boy.
Jan Schulman is an Oxnard resident and wrote this piece so that it might give somebody some hope knowing they are not alone in this struggle.