Today I write about the path of drug addiction and how it affects everyone. My younger brother has battled this disease for the better part of his life. It is no secret, and to be enmeshed in the kinds of behaviors one partakes in during the highs and the lows is something many people would walk away from.
Seventeen years ago, my brother was arrested for possession of a narcotic. It was a sting operation and he got caught. He was trying to buy cocaine at an auto body shop. He was there getting his car fixed, but apparently they offered additional services, if you get my drift. After our mother posted his bail, he was released. Two days later my mom went to their apartment — he was married and had a 7-year-old daughter. My mom wanted to bring some sense of normalcy to her granddaughter’s home. She took her granddaughter to the local Barnes and Noble and then they went to dinner at Coco’s. This was “their time” and even before his arrest this was a weekly thing they did together.
When they returned to the apartment, my mom had to walk back to her car to get her overnight bag. She had planned to stay there and go to work the next day. She never made it. She had a heart attack at the base of their porch stairs, her hand outstretched as if she had one last opportunity to reach out and say goodbye. I got the call about 10 minutes later and drove to the hospital where the ambulance had taken her, crying and praying all the way that she would live. When I arrived, our entire family was there, in tears, in shock. They told me they couldn’t revive her and she was gone.
I’ve written articles about the loss of my mom, a life ending at the young age of 65. Everything I wrote was cathartic and part of my healing. My brother continued on his journey. The incident was his first offense, so he received no jail time. I felt compelled to help them financially, to assuage the issue of my brother’s life choices. My dad helped them as well, and my sister-in-law had a great job. That was one good thing.
I won’t get into how insane some of my brother’s actions were. I am the older sister. I’m the firstborn, the one who everyone can count on to be there and take care of things. It’s my nature. I embrace it and I understand it.
A few years later his marriage dissolved, and while he was able to see his daughter, he didn’t always have a place to stay. He would rent a room from friends, and when that door would close because of his antics, he would rent a room from others, people he didn’t know. That worked for a while, and eventually about 10 years ago he was intermittently homeless. He had a car and he’d stay at Chatsworth Park and sleep there. My heart broke for my niece, who was now a teenager and seeing all of this firsthand.
We’d see him occasionally at family gatherings, though that became less and less through the years. He’d call and ask for money and I would do what I could, then in 2014 he started dating someone, they came to his daughter’s high school graduation and it seemed he was on a better path. Eventually he moved out of state and I would hear from my niece how he was faring. He had been in jail, released, in jail, released, rinse and repeat.
One evening I took my niece, my other niece (my sister’s daughter), my sister, my son and daughter to see Tears For Fears at The Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa. We had a great time. We ate corn dogs and cotton candy; the kids went on rides at the fair. The concert was awesome, and on the way home, I cherished the fact that everyone was in my minivan, half asleep and cuddled together. I was getting low on gas. I stopped at the Chevron on Balboa in the San Fernando Valley. It was nearly midnight. As I was filling the tank, I wondered where my brother was. I looked in the car at my niece. She was sound asleep, and I thought about how much my brother had missed.
For many years I couldn’t drive past that gas station without thinking about my brother, a life of what could have been. He was a UCLA graduate and very smart. He was bilingual and had worked as a teacher and in human resources, yet that was finite.
About a year and a half ago, my father got a call from one of the hospitals in the valley. They said, “Your son is here, we are treating him, he told us to call you.” My dad found out they were going to help to get my brother clean and give him a chance to go to rehab. They gave him the name of the center where they were going to take him. My dad passed that information on to my sister and me.
My sister went to see him first. She is the brave one. She called me after she saw him and convinced me it was OK to go. I went the next day. It was chilly and windy outside, so I grabbed a new hooded sweatshirt to give my brother. I am always the mother making sure everyone is OK. I hadn’t seen him in over four years.
The word irony comes to mind, because the facts of that day were so obvious no one would believe me if I repeated the story. He was staying at a care center whose title contained his last name, my maiden name. He was near the mortuary where our mom’s body was taken when she died. It was just south of my father’s office. You couldn’t make this up, seriously! And yet what did it all matter?
I walked in, told them I was here to see my brother. They took my name and said to please take a seat. I looked around; I didn’t judge the people there, for I had not walked in their shoes.
After about 10 minutes my brother came out of the room. We hugged. Surprisingly, he looked well. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, socks and tennis shoes. He said, “Can we go sit in your car and talk?”
I said, “Are you allowed?”
He said, “Yes.” So we walked outside to my car. It was cold so I gave him the sweatshirt; he put it on immediately and thanked me
We talked for over an hour. He had missed so much of our life. The care center was near the San Fernando Mission and Cemetery. I told him that our neighbor, who had lived across the street from us when we were growing up, had died and she was buried there. She had always been so kind to our family. She was a very important person to me; I called her my “Virginia Lady.” I said she lived to be 92 and whenever I was having a hard day, I would visit her gravesite. Her headstone says: “Go With The Angels Darling,” which was comforting to me.
He told me he wanted to “rejoin” the family and he wasn’t a bad person. I told him I never thought that, but hoped he was on the road to recovery so he could enjoy our family, his family. I asked what the next step was. He told me he needed to be clean and then he would go to rehab, but he had to be willing to do the work. I said, “Wow, that’s great, when do you go?”
“In three days.” I was glad we were having that dialogue. Maybe this time it would work.
As the conversation winded down, he said, “Jen, I’m tired so I’m going to go back in and take a nap.”
I said, “OK, sounds good, but first can we take a photo together?” He obliged. I took a selfie of us, happy that I could. I said I would call him in a couple of days and told him Cindy (our sister) was planning to visit and bring him a Subway sandwich. He smiled, and then he left my car, and said goodbye. As I drove away, I thought perhaps a new “chapter” had begun.
Two days later, my sister called the care center to see when she could visit again. She found out he had left the facility. He had taken a bus back to MacArthur Park.
Oddly enough I found the strength to see that was “his choice.” I don’t believe I could have done anything more. I am now able to smile when I drive past the Chevron on Balboa, for I have the closure I needed.
Ah, but you must be wondering why the title: A Simple Man? Back in the day when I was enmeshed in all of this, I would have “ringtones” for all my family members; my brother’s was “Refugee” by Tom Petty. The title pretty much summed up his life. One day I asked him what his favorite song was and he told me “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd and that evening, I changed his ring tone to that song. It seemed like the right thing to do.
“Oh, take your time, don’t live too fast
Troubles will come and they will pass
You’ll find a woman and you’ll find love
And don’t forget, son, there is someone up above”
— Lynyrd Skynyrd
Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident, writer and author of the book: “Angels in the Clouds©.”