He kept holding his hands up to me as if we would start boxing at any moment. But he was wobbly, and the only reason I stood so close was to make sure he didn’t fall. The closer I got, the more he made threats though about how he’d whoop my ass. Then followed the myriad of comments expected during a 1:1 with another black man. The attempts to bond over booty–he yelled about which nurses he would fuck and how he would do it, but grew disappointed, then angry when I told him to quiet down instead of agreeing with him. There was of course, the inevitable claim that I was an Uncle Tom, and the final and most brutal insult in the black community–the claim that I was a “faggot.” I had heard all of these things from so many patients that sometimes I don’t even notice. I’m supposed to be all liberal and empathetic when it comes to drug abuse/addiction, but this was only a few days after Mother’s Day and people just kept asking how said day was. This guy’s mannerisms, the look on his face reminded me way too much of my mother.
I hadn’t seen her high in at least a year. But I understood that she was still smoking crack regularly. That would never change. My grandfather would say, “all day every fucking day that bitch is smoking crack.”
“Well,” I told him. “She’s never done it at my place.”
Which was true. She hadn’t been high in my presence for over a year, even though for a few weekends a month or nearly every time I have the kids I had allowed her to stay over too. Until the Friday before Mother’s Day. Funny thing is, I was doing what a psychologist once suggested I do–meeting her where she was. I hadn’t berated her, I hadn’t worn her down with rhetoric about advancing her life, getting a job, changing her ways. I was taking it slowly and just trying to comfort her–I allowed her to bring my infant niece to my place too, even though I had a lot of work to do. I even bought her cigarettes (which I swore I would never do) and didn’t lecture when she ate nearly all of my food. I made reservations for a nice restaurant in the city that I knew she would love.
And then on Friday, when the kids were at school she got high. Thankfully my niece was already back home. I was surprised at how instantly I noticed the subtle changes in her mannerisms, even though it had been such a long time. She took shorter, choppier steps, her right elbow rested in her left hand, with her right hand on her neck (a position I often find myself in, sans crack-cocaine), she said “huh” when I asked what she wanted to eat, but she never, ever says “huh” in response to mishearing something. She was in the kitchen laying a dish in the sink, but before she even turned to face me I asked her.
“Are you high?”
“Huh,” she said. “No, why you ask me that?”Then she turned towards me. She was sweating and her lips were pressed so tightly that it looked painful. Her eyes bulged out of their sockets.
“Listen,” I said. “You have until I get home with my kids to be sober, or you’re leaving and you will never see them again.”
She went into the bathroom to “clean.” By that I mean the activity that her and my grandmother often did when high, remove everything from a room and spend around 4 hours scrubbing a single spot over and over again, in between staring out of windows. Except my mom would talk to herself the whole time and say things like “uh uh,” or “they’re coming to get me.”
I left. The kids had good days at school and were asleep as soon as they got in the car, they whined when I woke them up to come inside. Everything was out of my bathroom on the living room table and the bathroom door was locked. I put the kids in my room and told them to stay there and play for a little while.
“Get out,” I said through the bathroom door.
“I knew this would happen,” my mother said.
“Yea, I guess I did too.”
In a few minutes she came out of the bathroom twitching. It smelled horrible and I went to open the window. Her eyes were even further out of her head, perfectly round.
“You have to go, now,” I said. She just stared at me.
“You don’t know what I know,” she said, with a little grunt following the end of her sentences now.
I remembered what a waste of time it was talking to people who were that high. Same thing with the guy at work. When I asked,
“Do you need to use the bathroom?” He started beat boxing. I handed him a urinal anyway.
“I need some privacy you fucking faggot,” he said.
“Sure,” I told him, and closed the curtain. Then he detached himself from the monitor and stood up, stumbling back against the wall a little, so I got ready to brace his fall.
“You touch me imma fuck you up faggot,” he said.
Please, I thought. Let this motherfucker do something he’ll regret. I found calm in the thought of crushing his trachea underneath the heel of my shoe, hearing it crunch.
And then I was disgusted with myself. I couldn’t believe I had let that kind of shit get to me. Especially not to a point where I could find pleasure in the pain of some unfortunate bastard. But that is apparently where I was at. Where I’m at more often now than ever.
Back home my mother had made little progress in leaving. Ten minutes had elapsed and she was still standing over her purse and book bag. I tried to help her pack it. I was exhausted and the only thing I wanted to do was supervise some grade school homework and lie down.
“Uh uh,” she told me when I reached for her bag. “You know they be watching me?” She moved stiff and robotically.
“I wish you could understand how you sound,” I told her. “To see yourself like this.” Really, I was just concerned that the kids didn’t see the grandma they now claimed to love in such a state. I told her that she would never, ever see them again.
She stood in the living room staring at me, ignoring every polite gesture towards getting her out.
“Do you want me to call the police?”I asked her.
“They already know where Kia at,” she said.
“Listen, my kids are here, I’m not doing this,” I said.
“They’re not doing it,” she said.
“I need you to leave,” I said.
She growled and snorted at me. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little. When we were kids, my siblings and I sometimes made it a game to mock her while she roamed the house high in the middle of the day. What seemed like every day. But just like years ago, that thought was only a brief respite. I considered whether I would have to physically remove her from my apartment, and how much shame I would feel afterwards. At least that wouldn’t be as bad as having the police come and remove her. I fantasized of what it would have been like to have just had dead parents. Even if they didn’t leave behind any money or property, it would somehow be easier than absent and cracked out ones.
When she finally left, at my urging I was so angry and disgusted with myself for kicking her out that it was difficult not to take it out on the kids. They were very quiet when I let them out of the room and I feared they had heard us. They didn’t ask where grandma went either.
The next day she texted me: “I’m sorry, I lied to you yesterday when you asked if I was high.”
Still, I was glad she made it home okay.
I called her, but she was high again.
On Mother’s Day she texted me and asked: “Are we still going out to dinner?”
I ignored her. But I couldn’t ignore the next day’s drug addicts or interrogations about Mother’s Day, but apparently I’m still good at masking fury, since co-workers tell me all the time as I’m berated by the pseudo sickly,
“You’re so patient.”
Even though I know I’m not.