Once upon a time, I was a very, very messed up young lady. Not messed up in the everyday, average, run-of-the-mill way I am now. I’m not talking about depression or anxiety this time, which I seem to suffer from in a very “normal” way, judging by the lives and comments from my friends. I don’t know many people who make it to this age in life without some baggage, vague mental illness, and/or flat out jadedness. I’m not saying this is a good or even acceptable thing, I’m just saying…it’s kind of part of the deal.
What I’m talking about here is my “former life”. The life I began at 19, the part where I wound up on drugs for such a long time. When I tell you that I was bad, I need you to believe me. There were no days off, not if I could help it. I lived, breathed and existed for my drugs. It was my life. I wish that it weren’t true, but facts are facts.
What I don’t often talk about is the kindness that was shown to me through those years. The people who saw something more in me, something good, and gave me chances, reached out a hand, tried to help. There are more kind and giving people in this world than you would ever imagine, if you have never needed help the way I used to.
I was homeless, periodically, many times throughout those years. And yet I never once had to sleep in my car- not ever. My friends would take me in for various lengths of time, never asking for for anything in return. I was always fed when I was hungry, I always managed to have a pack of cigarettes, I never remember feeling afraid or having nowhere to go. I was asked to house-sit, invited to stay over. My clothes got washed, I showered. I honestly don’t know how I got so lucky, but I always felt that I was. Even in the worst of times, I recognized that my life could be so much worse.
Did I disappoint people? Oh, yes. Regularly. The remorse I feel for the people I let down is almost a living thing, sometimes. It’s better now that I’ve made something of my life. I don’t feel it so acutely, with the passage of time. When I think about those years of my life, it honestly feels like I am viewing the memories of another person…someone I could never possibly have been, except that I was. I took advantage, overstayed my welcome, pilfered change from pockets, ate food that wasn’t meant for me. I was given jobs that I casually didn’t show up for, and borrowed money I could never pay back. In short, I was kind of a nightmare. Looked like a sweet kid, behaved like a monster.
And still…people helped me. My friend Debbie, who I’ve lost track of over the years, replaced my headlights when she was scraping by on a waitresses salary. The number of nights I spent in her apartment, blasting Aretha Franklin and driving her nuts, I couldn’t count. A lady named Suzi that I worked with asked me to “house-sit” for her every time she left town, knowing what a risk I was. People rolled the dice on me all the time, and I was not a safe bet. But I’ve never forgotten. I have never forgotten the kindnesses I’ve been shown.
One time, I was at the welfare office in Nevada, in a desperate situation. I needed money, I needed food- at this time I had a small daughter, and I had waited too long to look for help. There was no way I was making rent. I had called the Catholic charities, I had tried to figure it out, but things were dire. It was winter time, I remember that, and things were not looking good in that welfare office. It was harder to get help in Nevada than it had been in California, and I knew things weren’t going to work in my favor for once.
There was a woman working there…she was probably the age I am now, mid forties, a heavy-set black woman. She had this beautiful necklace on- a simple chain with this big, shiny, single rhinestone hanging from it. In the midst of all the bullshit I was spewing, wired out of my mind, I said “I really love your necklace.” Because I did. I will never, ever forget what happened next. She said “You know, I never wear this thing. I felt called to wear it this morning, and now I know why.” And she took it off her neck and handed it to me. She GAVE it to me.
You know, that meant something to me. It might have just been a little piece of costume jewelry, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, she did something incredibly kind in that moment. She made me feel worthy and special and less like that desperate, messed up young woman I was. I don’t know how to explain it. But it gave me a boost that I needed so much right then. I will never forget it. I still have that necklace, and I wish I could find that lady and tell her I turned out okay after all. She might not remember me, but I will always remember her.
Another time, and this story is very strange, I was at the beach- a beach I frequent, even to this day. I was at the end of my last run, really strung out, really miserable, feeling like I had reached the end of my rope. I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore…I had realized that no one was going to come along to save me, that I was going to have to rely on myself, and that thought terrified me. I just remember feeling incredibly down that day. The beach was nearly deserted, and out of nowhere, this woman approached me. She had on a skirt, I remember, a longish skirt, and she seemed out of place. She had a bag of sea glass with her, and she showed me her finds. I would guess she was in her fifties or sixties, and she seemed a little odd, though friendly enough. All of the sudden she told me she felt called to pray over me and asked if it was okay. Normally, this would have been SO not okay with me. But that day…I really needed it. It was the strangest thing. She held my hands, and she prayed for me, right there in broad daylight on that deserted beach. I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it. I never saw her again.
I don’t know where I am going with this, except…I’m just really grateful for the kindness I’ve been on the receiving end of over the years. I have hurt people and let them down, ripped them off and fucked them over. Yet I never saw the end of that kindness. It always kept coming, and always when I needed it most. I forget that sometimes- how kind people are when it matters most. Having been self-sufficient for so long now, relying on the news and social media to tell me how the world is, I let myself forget. But that’s not the truth, the things you see online, or on your phone. The truth is, people are mostly good, they want to help. I bet you know this about yourself. I bet you see it in others.
I would not be here without the kindness of strangers, the giving hearts of my friends. I know that much is true. Never stop reaching out, even when you think it’s a lost cause. You just never know the impact you might have on someone.