"YOU NEVER REALLY UNDERSTAND A PERSON UNTIL YOU CONSIDER THINGS FROM HIS POINT OF VIEW; UNTIL YOU CLIMB INTO HIS SKIN AND WALK AROUND IN IT." ~ Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
I had purchased these shoes for her with the implied purpose of them helping her with her therapy. I did want for her to be able to walk again, but now that she could, these shoes also represented her freedom. They gave her the independence to take the steps I knew she was dying to take. As soon as she was physically able, her addiction would win her over and she would escape the hospital's care just long enough to meet up with allies late into the evening hours. There, I feared, she would obtain and use the drugs that I could see her body was so desperately craving.
So, with one eye on her and the other on what I was doing, I managed to slip the shoes into my bag without notice. My thinking was that by taking them I would impose my intended restriction on her. Then, under the guise of innocence, I placed a light kiss on my girl’s forehead, just like I always had, and wished her good night before making my getaway. I fought the feeling of shame and would not allow myself to be remorseful for taking them away from her even though I knew she would unquestionably be tormented by what I had done.
"The end justifies the means." I repeated the phrase to myself many times in hopes that it would help abolish the menacing feelings I held for what I had done to her.
The words spoken by her doctor had instilled the fear he had intended them to in me, but clearly had had little affect on my daughter.
"One more hit, of anything, is likely to be your last," he had explained to her. “Your body is clearly telling you that it can not withstand any more of the toxins that you have been injecting into it. You are dying. Now it’s only a matter of when.” I couldn’t chance that she would find a way to use again. I couldn’t allow her to die this way. Not before I was ready to let her go.
As my guilt for taking her shoes and the doctor's warning took turns at occupying my thoughts, I made my way up King George Highway in the direction of my hotel. Though the neighbourhood was in a less than desirable section of Surrey BC, the hotel itself was a safe and welcome refuge from my long days at the hospital with Jac.
My journey between the two locations was my time to reflect and ponder the circumstances I faced. This day was no different. I had been in this strange city with only one focus and sole purpose for so long by then that I had begun to consider it all as a familiar way of life.
The battle would be an arduous one. Her body would never be the same again; nor would her mind. Her addiction to opioids had been consuming both for over a decade already and now it had become undeniably evident that neither would withstand her abuse any longer.
Your child is your child; no matter what age they are or what they have done. Even though there were many people in my life that thought what I was doing was asinine I couldn’t help myself. Part of me did agree with them when they said that at the age of thirty-three, if my daughter wasn’t capable of taking care of herself; it was too late for me to have any affect on her. However, if I were forced to admit the truth, I wanted and needed to have control over her. I had to have it actually. I was petrified that she had given up on herself and desired death over the life she was living, and, if she was choosing death then I felt I not only had the right, but the obligation and responsibility, to stop her. As far as I was concerned, from the night the phone had rung in my Ontario home, and they told me of her condition, no other purpose existed for me other than the one of fighting to keep my daughter alive for as long as I possibly could.
The doctor's explained it to me this way: My daughter had two underlying conditions that they believed were caused by her addiction. One was Agranulocytosis, which is a severe depletion of certain white blood cells likely caused by the cutting agent, Levamisole, commonly used to dilute cocaine and heroin. The second was Cryogobulinemia; which is an abnormal protein in the blood that sticks together and forms into gel like masses, effectively restricting blood flow through the arteries and veins. Both were contributing factors to the condition she had been hospitalized for, Necrotizing Fasciitis, better known as flesh eating disease.
She had gone to emergency with blackened patches of flesh encompassing both of her calves, as well as, her left thigh and buttocks. Shortly after I had sat down to dinner after staying late at the office to complete a project I had been working on my cell phone rang. I read ‘Surrey Memorial Hospital’ as it displayed across the screen and somehow I just knew that by answering that call my life was going to be changed forever. I left my home in Toronto to catch the next flight to the west coast of Canada not knowing what I would find once I had arrived.
Five separate surgeries debrided the dead and rotting flesh down to the bone, muscle, tendons and ligaments in the affected areas. To add to this I was told that she was Hep C positive, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus - a bacteria resistant to Methicillin and very difficult to treat infection) and VRE (Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci - a bacterial strain of the genus Enterococcus that are resistant to the antibiotic Vancomycin) making her conditions that much harder to treat
Put into terms that I could easily grasp, I was told that my daughter’s body was a ticking time bomb of infections that she was too physically depleted to fight and that at best the infections could be fought off for a few more months and at worst, only a few more days.
My thoughts, which were usually preoccupied with the details of legal briefs, time lines and the day to day needs of keeping my boss’ law practice running had been wiped clean to make way for educating myself on the medical terms, therapies, treatments and medicines that I would need to understand in order to sustain my daughter’s life for as long as I could. I spent most nights researching rather than sleeping and I was feeling the affects of it as my adrenalin levels returned to normal.
I arrived at my hotel room chilled to the bone and too mentally and physically exhausted to be bothered with changing into a nightgown or even pulling the covers down on the bed. Removing the shoes from my bag I brought them with me as my body dropped, deadweight, onto the bed. I moved to find comfort amongst the pillows and the shoes found a place against my chest with my arms rapped tightly around them.
It seemed that as soon as my eyes closed the dream began. I was walking in circles, never getting anywhere or recognizing the people or my surroundings along the way. All the buildings were different, yet strangely seemed the same. It was also true of the people in them. It wasn’t until the third or fourth building in my dream that clarity won over my confusion and I began to realize that what I had been dreaming had been my daughter’s real life nightmare. I was being shown what it was like to go from one crack house to another and from one high to the next, over and over and over again, just like my daughter had been doing for years.
Not being able to wake from the dream only added to my anxiety and freight. I spun through the same sequences repeatedly until it had me completely out of control and begging for something or someone recognizable to cling to for security and footing. How fitting, I thought, that I would be experiencing this dream at this time.
Just when I knew I couldn’t possibly take anymore, the dream changed. I was brought to an abrupt stop; frozen in motion except for my sight as though being told to take a good look around. Without feeling the same fear, my eyes traversed through the scenes of the dream. As I took it all in my heart saddened and I cried out “What? What am I suppose to see in all of this?”
In answer, I felt hands grasp both of my feet and continue to secure them in place. My eyes shot down to see who and what was restraining me. On my feet were my daughter’s shoes and on her knees in front of me, was my daughter. She was holding my feet in place and showing me that this was her journey, and her shoes, and that I had no place in either of them.
As she released her grip, the tension that had been stopping me from moving also gave way and I sat down in front of her to remove the shoes. When I was free of them, I placed them between us.
She observed them for a minute and then reached out and placed a hand on her them and whispered “my shoes,” as though she was claiming them as hers again. It impressed me that a simple pair of shoes could hold such importance and so much significance. Just as these shoes were hers alone to walk in; so was the journey in the life she chose. Who in was I to interfere with that? It was not for me to choose her path or prevent her from walking it, nor – as much as I would have liked to - to walk it for her. My purpose was to show her the consequences of her actions, which I had done, and then to be there for her and give her the security of my love.
I reached through the distance between us and took her face in my hands and cradled it there while I explained: “there are two things that I want you to understand about your life and how you choose to live it and how you choose to leave it.”
I wouldn’t allow her to look away and she didn’t struggle against my hold as I continued, “I hate your addiction for everything it’s done to you and for everything it’s taken from you. I hate that it’s robbed us and that it’s affected so many things around you.”
We were both crying by then and I brought her to me and held her against my chest as I finished, “But you my baby…” I paused to catch a breath and to look her in the eyes before continuing.
Through my tears and with as much compassion for her as I had to give, I went on: “You I love unconditionally and no matter what. So, as you go where your journey is going to take you, just remember, that you never go alone. My love is always right there beside you.”