a needle and the damage done

As America watches its mangy rash grow exponentially, while avoiding contact and adminsitering cream periodically, the instinctive reaction is to ignore the widening edges and instead just focus on the color. Ravaging the poor and vulnerable, the problem is conspicuous but, apart from its occasional political capital, ignored. Yet the placard of drug abuse and the opioid epidemic continues to hang on humanity and local doorways. One of those doorways falls within the town of Newmarket, NH, where  past the threshold, a mother dies from the latent effects of heroin addiction while her son watches by the bed. That woman was, and is, Richard’s mother, who after navigating the gauntlet of drug addiction, prison time, and finally getting clean, relapsed again. She died of an acute pulmonary embolism from an previously ignored infection caused by dirty needles in 2015. She did not overdose, but the end result was the same.

 

Richard is a 24-year-old English student at the University of New Hampshire. He has full, colored tattoo sleeves and a scruffy, yet managed beard with a side fade on top. He is accompanied by his six-year-old son as we sit in a dingy cafe in Durham during the early hours of an October weekday. He’s well kempt, you might even say photogenic. He didn’t always look like this, and within his family, cleanliness is an anomaly.

 

 With a booming “Ray Romano” radio voice, he details his story and the yellow-brick steps that preceded his journey to this spot in time. While raising his six-year-old son, he attends undergraduate programs while studying for the LSATS.

 

The lasting product of opioid, heroin and general drug abuse is a demented image of a life lost at its lowest point: a convulsing mother dying on a bed, a junkie beneath a bridge, a black bag huddled below paramedics. Do you see the chemical process? Do you see the moments, the hope or the friends? No, they are stored within the dirty windows which are blocked by caution tape and sunglassed figures. 

 

A child lost within this impoverished world is usually just that, lost. But Richard became aware of who his parents were (and weren’t) in fourth-grade, deciding then that he could only rely on himself. He realized the temptation that captured his parents was an abscess that had buried their emotional humanity and replaced it with coils and wire begging for a needle full of damage. He had been abandoned by his father and his mother was in a prison cell. She was on a three-year sentence for intent-to-sell. By the time he graduated high school, he had lived in almost 30 different locations: basements, motels, closets and floors. There were “home-bases,” there were “family” homes with over ten different members occupying two-room trailers and temporary solutions. But, in the six years prior to eighth-grade, he hadn’t slept in a bed, ate at a dinner table or used a dresser. This was his life, drowning in the soup that was slowly suffocating his loved ones who didn’t show their love back. 

"I gave up on my mother when I was ten year old."

Richard was born to a 17-year-old mother who had just dropped out of highschool. She began dealing with headaches after her pregnancy, for which she was liberally perscribed painkillers. This is how her desent into herion addiction started - from headaches after high school. All throughout his life Richard saw those around him abusing each other and themselves.. He moved with various family members every few months, taking with them only clothes, money and drugs. Cramming into small towns in New Hampshire or cities in Massachusetts, they were desolate and impoverished and Richard was alone within it all. He would do his homework on the floor while blurry faces rushed to and from the bathroom. 

 

Everyday Richard would wake up with people who saw him as a formality and a chore. His only safe-haven was a middle-school friend’s family and his grandmother, who were the first people to give him a sense of self. “They made me feel like a person... and cared enough to put my report card on the fridge.”

 

Without the surrogate-family in his life, Richard might not have recognized what his own family had become. “I gave up on my mother when I was ten years-old,” Richard remembers. Towards the tail end of her life, they did not speak frequently. The last time they saw each other was an accidental run-in at his grandmothers house.

 

 “She asked me if I was ever going to talk to her again, and I said ‘probably not,’ and those were the last words I said to her.” 

She died three monthes later. Richard is a single dad who had his own child at the same age as his mother, and was surrounded by similar temptations in painkillers from a long surgical histroy, that plagued her and the rest of his family. Yet he persisted, and refused every innocuous bottle of pills given to him. He has never taken painkillers, drank alcohol or even smoked. He has used his family as a guide to how not to live, regardless of the  circumstances. Richard escaped this story because it was already told before him. Some are not so lucky, and so the story continues.

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