As I raise my head and start to slowly focus my eyes, the stench tells me that I am on familiar ground – but I don’t know how I got here. My emotions start to overwhelm my corpse and the sick feeling of disgust is the only pulse that lets me know that I am still alive.
I stand to gain my composure and to adjust my disheveled clothing. I feel a chill, so I put my hands in my pant pockets, but my frigid fingers were not obstructed, this consciousness created a crushing feeling of remorse and shame that confirmed what I already knew – I was out of drugs andout of money. So I started my long walk home.
It must be Sunday, because the church folks are in their best and the traffic seems calmer than I remember when I left my apartment Friday morning on my way to work – now it all started to come back to me.
It was a brisk fall morning and I awoke with good intentions. It was payday, and things were going to be different. I had a slight pep in my step and a crocked smile on my face. I told myself that I might stop at the bar for a quick drink after work, but that would be my only detour.
Five o’clock seemed to take longer than usual. I wasn’t sure if I was just anxious to start my weekend, or if it was a divine delay created by the Universe, that I purposely ignored. Either way, I grabbed my coat and pushed my way through the line of workers waiting to finalize their work day with the swipe of a badge.
The wind caught the door as I opened it, but I held it tight to allow the person behind me to exit safely. I said my see you laters, before I made a small turn to go down the stoop and that’s when I was greeted by my Friday welcome wagon. The two people who I could always count on. The two people currently in my life that never let me down. With a fake smile on my face and a fabricated sense of confidence, I weakly shook hands with Loan Shark and Dope Man. They both were waiting patiently for me on the sidewalk, because like them, they could also count on me.
Drugs had me piped out and empty, as if I were a bucket sitting on the ground of a hollow well.
Listening to the rhythm of my shoes hitting the pavement as I endured the walk to my apartment – the pace sounded like words repeating: “Nothing to show for it, nothing to show for it.” They hit me as if I were taking body blows from a prize fighter, each jab with more intensity, punching me down lower and lower. Drugs had me piped out and empty, as if I were a bucket sitting on the ground of a hollow well. The only place I can go now, is up! So, I decided to be my own rope and pull myself out.
I turned the key in the lock of my apartment door, and as I entered I was overcome with a conflicting sensation. I started to weep in unison with anger and joy. Angry at myself for this epic fail with addiction, but happy that a change had finally come by my own admission. I swiftly threw some essentials into a duffle bag, as my shaking hand reached in my coat pocket for my cell phone. Beads of sweat covered my forehead and with a dry lump in my throat, voice covered in tears, I called my brother to come and get me. I stared catatonically at my watch for ten minutes – hearing only the sound of my heartbeat until my trance was interrupted by the loud blaring of a car horn. That was my fam. As I opened the door to leave, I slowly looked over my shoulder to take a bittersweet glance, catching my reflection in the mirror. That was the last time that I would see my apartment – the final time that I would respect my broken image.
The smell of cardboard boxes and copier ink filled the air of the outreach facility as I waited in line with the other men to be assessed. Expressions of doubt and dismay had been carved on all of our faces and our eyes were screaming in agreement, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!” While every few minutes, I kept looking at my brother, checking to make sure he was still with me. I felt like a little kid on the first day of school, scared to be left alone.
The intake coordinator and I filled out a gang of papers about nine inches thick. As I stood up from the desk rubbing my wrist from writer’s cramp, I immediately turned around to look for my brother – but he was gone. He knew that I was in a safe-haven now, even if I didn’t. I felt heat rush over my body and I immediately started to map out my escape plan. My knees started to buckle and then someone gently grabbed my arm, ”Howard, please step this way.” I never felt so thankful to hear a voice and feel human touch in my life! It was a counselor leading me to a private room where I would soon get my admission papers to an out-of-state thirteen-month drug program. Instantly, the visual of the package man and the loan bookie died a slow death in my mind’s eye and I immediately started to feel the release of their grip.
In the beginning, I was bucking the system. Rebelling against restraint and snapping on authority. My thoughts raced in a constant state of flux, until I devolved a relationship with God. He would meet me in the chapel every day, whispering soft verses that resonated in my ears like a soothing chime bell. The scowl on my face started to gradually dissipate, and the creases in my forehead began to smooth. I emerged as a mentor for young men, steering them to turn their frowns into smiles as I invited them to pursue something greater. Although my mind-set was wavering – occasionally off tilt and at times in balance, I still knew that I was changing.
Months later, I am stronger, wiser, better! I met my breakthrough moment with pen and paper planning out my graduation speech in the silence of my small dorm room. That’s when it hit me like lighting striking Frankenstein! I had allowed myself to be tormented by a root so deep that only the Creator could pull it free. My contentious paternal bond affected my existence, causing me to lose my identity and replace it with the persona of destruction and self-sabotage.
I take a sip of my Tall Mocha Latte as I adjust the metal and wooden stool, slightly shacking my head in reflection – while holding my son’s photo in my hand. The traffic on Wisconsin Avenue is congested today, but I am not bothered in the least – I am actually enjoying my front row view, as I glance out of the large picture window. There is a white lady walking deliberately to her destination in what appears to be her work attire – blazer, scarf around her neck to block the wind, and a suit-skirt and walking shoes. I notice her because she also did not appear to be affected by the hustle and bustle around her. Just having this moment, gave me pleasure. I have a wide toothy grin plastered on my face, because from where I am sitting, life has definitely transitioned. At that moment, a petite brown-skinned lady with natural hair sits down on the stool next to mine, and she catches a glimpse of my smile – rightfully assuming it was meant for her. She then greets me in a friendly, non-evasive tone. Quickly remembering where I was, I held out my hand, giving her a firm hand shack, as I proudly told her my name. That ended our brief conversation, but that short interaction trigged some new thoughts. I am Howard – Blessed and highly favored! I am a father responsible for another life, and I am an example for my child. I am blessed to be a black man in business for himself who has totally eradicated drugs and alcohol from my life – three espresso shots in this hot coffee is my strongest indulgence, and this September will be thirteen years clean. Gathering my belongings, I took the last sip of my latte. As I stood to exit the coffee house, I chuckled to myself – feet don’t fail me now, because I have everything to show for it!
Thank you Howard Lea for stepping up to the Podium…Your inspired testimony will truly encourage healing!
Sister Speak Milwaukee