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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Be Very Careful What You Wish For

Part 1 - May 17, 2011

On Sunday afternoon, after publishing a whiny post about having misplaced my muse, I ran straight into a situation that I must write about. I don’t want to write about it, but that is one of the reasons must. I have not been able to start this post until tonight, because I worked Monday and Tuesday, and I was afraid it would become so emotional that I wouldn’t get the rest I need to work 12 hour days.

Sunday afternoon, I piled the dogs into my car and went off to Walmart. It was a cool afternoon, and they had plenty of water. Honey, the Ruler of all Dogdom, had the front seat, of course. I cracked the windows and started toward the “Enter” door at Walmart. It was breezy, and I had my head bowed into the wind, so I wasn’t aware of what was going on at the entrance. I looked up when I heard a familiar voice addressing the man in front of me. The voice was asking for money, begging.

I was instantly aware of why the voice was familiar. It belongs to Clint’s granddaughter. She and her husband were panhandling at Walmart. I almost vomited, in fact had to swallow bile at the sight of them. My heart seized, my breath came in rapid gulps; I thought I would faint.

Gathering my wits, I spoke to the two of them, asked what they were doing.

The reply? “We’re just waiting on our ride. How are you doing?”

“Doing great,” I replied and moved through the automatic door, still tugging for air, seeing stars.

As I pulled a buggy from the carefully lined rows, I glanced over my shoulder. They were already gone.

An automaton, I moved through the store, followed my list, piled groceries and other things into my buggy. By the time I checked out, my breath was normal, but my heart was still pounding.

Arriving home, I knew I had to write this down, but I was afraid to. Putting the whole nightmare into words would make it real, make me own it, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to plant my head firmly in the ground and pretend it never happened.

I sat on my emotions, waited until I could make a halfway coherent recording of this story. I used work as an excuse not to address this issue, but I’m not working again until I return from France.

But I am exhausted, emotionally and physically. One of my dearest patients will not be here when I return to work. I don’t kid myself about that. I do bring work home. I wouldn’t be worth a tinker’s damn as a nurse if I didn’t.

Part 2
May 19, 2011

A little history is in order. The Beggar, who is now in her mid-twenties, was a difficult child from the beginning - disobedient, prone to outbursts and defiance of all authority figures. She could not wrap her head around the fact that there were acceptable limits to her conduct. If and when she wanted to do something, she did it, and the consequences be damned. She seemed to lack a moral compass, but she was charming and a great manipulator.

When she was 15, she “borrowed” her uncle’s SUV one night and took her 12 year old cousin on a joy ride. After running into a mailbox, she returned the car and said nothing about it. Her cousin, however, told on her. To this day, The Beggar has never understood what the big deal was. When faced with the fact that she could have harmed her cousin as well as herself, her reply was, “Well, only the car got hurt.” End of conversation.

On another occasion, she set her grandmother’s carpet aflame while smoking a cigarette she pilfered from her.

Punishment was never effective. Taking away her TV or her CD player or her MP3 player never phased her. In answer to her punishment, which was frequent, she sneaked out of the house, and her boyfriend picked her up at the end of the street, and off they went to buy cigarettes and beer with the money she stole from her mother’s purse.

A bright young woman, she made passing grades, studying only enough to keep herself out of trouble with her parents. After graduation from high school, she came to our house on St. Simons Island for the summer. Clint and I thought a change of venue and some separation from her parents would be good for her.

She was with us six weeks when she got her first DWI. We let her sit in jail for three nights, hoping to get her attention. Nothing worked. She had a job at a local restaurant and took to staying after work to drink with her coworkers.

We grounded her, allowing her use of her car only to travel to and from work. Her bedroom was at the opposite end of the house from ours, and she began to sneaking.

I could go on for pages, but I’ll just say we had to ask her to leave, find other living arrangements. I think she slept in her car for a while. She finally talked her parents into letting her come home, charming them with promises that she would not break house rules. Over the following years, she was arrested repeatedly for DWI, driving without a license, stealing, underage drinking. Finally, her parents asked her to leave.

Two years ago, she started dating her cousin’s ex-husband, and when he won a million dollars with a scratch-off lottery ticket, they got married. Without going into details, I’ll just say that now they are broke, flat broke, as witnessed by the scene I encountered on Sunday. They both had the dark, hollow, sunken eyes of the addicted.

That image is burned into my brain.


Sue said...

What a sad story that is. I can see why it affected you so deeply.

Life can be quite heartbreaking at times.


Anonymous said...

Hi CJ, I am not sure who I feel the most sympathy for here - Clint's granddaughter for a wasted life, her parents for going through hell with her or you for witnessing the awfulness of her current predicament (this last she still does not seem to have grasped). Sadly, we can't help everyone - some just wont be helped. Your job is one of such caring and as you say, you take it home with you, that I think all you can do is be comforted by the fact that you spoke to the girl and that by doing so, you offered her the chance to ask for help or to explain.She didn't take it.You are needed elsewhere.
I am not surprised you had to steel yourself to write about this - but you have, it is done.

Katie Gates said...

Oh my. A sad path "The Beggar" is on, and I feel for your angst. As a nurse, you are naturally and professionally compassionate, and so it must be especially difficult to witness someone who will never accept the possibility of healing. I hope you will be able to release the visual memory, but I understand how it can stay in the mind, so hauntingly. My thoughts are with you!

Athena said...

I have family that have similar stories -- and it always makes me sad, confused, torn, hurt, troubled and bothered. While there was no million dollar lottery ticket, there was a multi-million dollar estate -- and with it, multi-millions worth of squandering, fighting, addiction and nonsense.

And it still goes on ... 7+ years later. It is awful, and there isn't a darn thing I can do about it.

Amanda said...

I hate to use those words but unfortunately sociopath comes to mind. I'm very sorry.

PS. On another lighter venue, you probably must hear this all the time, but the younger pictures of Clint look just like Tom Hanks.

Colleen said...

I think the Beggar needs help, and not the kind she'll get begging for change in front of a Walmart. Hopefully she'll have an epiphany and decide on her own to change her ways. I know many people whose lives started out this way, with alcoholism and petty crimes, and who went on to live extremely productive lives after getting sober.

I don't think I've ever heard of someone winning a million dollars from a scratch-off lottery ticket. That's amazing, and it's also amazing that they've already blown through it.

Martha Mawson said...

I am so sorry that you had to witness that. I have an ex-stepdaughter who was just like that. Apparently, she has turned her life around, but I know that there aren't always happy endings. I hope you can detach yourself, but I know how hard that is, too. Sending hugs to you.

Life@Cee said...

Such a tragic story. Addiction knows no bounds.