Tag Archives: addiction

Crossing the Street

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“I’m sorry, I don’t carry change.”

That’s what I always say, though sometimes
it’s a lie.

From Goa to Mumbai
it is considered unwise to give to children who beg on the streets;
better to donate to charities that protect them from their tormentors.
I live by that principle on my forays through this English town
where the victims are adult, their tormentors
are chemicals to be melted on a spoon and injected,
and their habit can kill.

These days I rarely engage with them;
they don’t require sandwiches, pasties or practical advice
and I can’t give them a bed for the night, so I can do nothing to assist,
yet those eyes kidnapped me as she begged beside Tesco Metro.

“I’m sorry – I don’t carry change,” I said.

It was the eyes that detained me;
eyes that sang in the storm of cause and effect,
in the chaos what was and what might have been;
eyes that could not be silenced, that trilled above the din,
calmly revealing what she would have liked to conceal,
colouring in the thrill of travel, the regret
of roughened hands which once caressed,
rising to a crescendo to describe the hurricane
that threw her up, and flung her
in the gutter,

and as her eyes glistened,
I listened to the howling wind
as it echoed her dirge of the death
of a wolf of the Steppes,

If we are not all equal, as some believe,
she was much more than many I meet. When we parted,
I flirted with my purse, knowing my money would bring her
a pin-prick of relief, but I crushed the brief temptation,
since it could purchase her doom.

Her eyes watched me while I wrote,
and while I ate and read and slept. When I woke
I thought of her.

Spying from my hallowed side of the street,
finding third parties to relate her trials and treats,
I kept my distance to evade the pain of intimacy,

Just once, I fell again
into those eyes that had swum the skies
before sinking into the blood-flecked mud.
I asked her a question and watched her eyes
while they lied to me.

Her tongue was too noble to verbalise an untruth,
yet her eyes suggested a lie;
thereby giving me fake justification
for my evasion.

Yet I had openly lied to her when I had said
“I’m sorry, I don’t carry change.”

I can’t say I knew her, or that she knew me,
but she affected me.
It seems she touched everyone she met.
I wanted her to find peace, but not like this.

I’m on nodding terms with the other side of the street,
so the news has already reached me:
last night, her spectacular eyes
closed for the final time.

Today, two bodies lie in the morgue,
the tiny one tightly curled in the womb of its mother,
and I try not to weep for the multiple tragedy
of mindless heroin’s dumb victory.

Rest In Peace, Diane

Word of the Day Challenge: Spying.

When I feel inspired, I write a poem before checking out the word of the day. I usually find that it fits. Today is no exception.

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©Jane Paterson Basil

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Hidden Layers

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Lately, times and dates become smudged.
I only know it was a cold October.
My mother was taking a break away from home.
She meandered along the embankment, noting
how her beloved London had changed.
Wrapped in a warm coat, snuggled into gloves and scarf,
she shivered as the chill
crept through.

She’d looked forward to this ambling trip down memory lane, but now
she missed the warm house, safe from wintry elements,
where a friend from  agile dancing days awaited her return.

She envisaged strong coffee, cosy conversation,
intelligent debate, heartfelt agreements.

Later would come supper, wine, a welcoming bed.

Wine, with its layers of taste
Wine, gulped down, leaving a wide smile, and no visible stain.

She stepped up her pace at the place
where the ground beyond the wall on her left
began to dip.

Glancing that way, she spotted the shock
of cardboard city; the place that street-sleepers might wryly call
their safety zone, where they laughed and cried and fought,
where few found love and many raged in anger and frustration,
where most drank themselves into a stupor to escape racking pain and loneliness,
where flattened boxes raised chilled, aching bodies from
hard, ungiving
concrete.

That night she wrote it in a poem – her hopeless, hollow, agonised desire
to make it right;

to take it all away,
to save, to save… to wash and shave them, change their clothes,
dress their sores, pour a healing salve onto their brains,
to feed and shelter them;
to make them well again.

She described her sense of helplessness for these broken lives.

She said it felt like a punch
between the eyes. Her shoulders curled in, her legs
threatened to buckle.

-<-<-@

“Dear God,” she wrote,
“dear God.”

-<-<-@

When she came home, she showed me the poem.
Though something in me preened in the reflected glory of her elite literacy,
I cried for the plight of the homeless, and for an elusive secret
tucked between the lines;
a message I couldn’t quite read.

Still weeping, I typed her words onto a clean sheet of paper.
This I gave to her, together with the original.

I kept no copy for myself.

Maybe it was down to the drink, but
for whatever reason, the poem was spirited away,
probably thrown out by mistake –
along with other significant documents.

My mother’s words, gone forever.

Those precious words shared the secret her misplaced shame
could never speak, yet they remained unheard.
Years later, a mystery illness revealed the weakness hidden in her genes.
My father pulled out green and amber bottles
concealed beneath the bed, behind her clothes,
inside cupboards and closets.
I smelled the amber liquid as it glugged into the sink,

a picture forming in my mind –
I’m twelve years old, delving through a pile of rags,
discovering empties underneath,
my mother’s brief irritation, her evasion, when I questioned her,
and how, when she found an excuse,
I couldn’t dispel the feeling of unease and confusion.

Did I never guess, or did I refuse to know?

Twenty years on, the clue was there, in the last lines of her poem,
the only lines which have not been – and will  never be – erased from my mind:

-<-<-@

Dear God, dear God,
there but for thy grace,
go I.

-<-<-@

This poem – like many others I have written – honours my mother, who had more positive qualities than any other woman I have ever known. She was plagued for many years by alcoholism, but her love and strength were such that her family had no idea until she started to experience frightening catatonic spells, and was admitted to hospital. Addiction is a tragic disease that often runs in families. She warned me against it, and I took heed. I know I carry the disease, and I owe it to her that I have not allowed myself to become lost in it.

Were she alive today, she would be 102 years old on 14th February.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Boulders and Daisies

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You hustled a one-way ticket to hell,
hopping heavily aboard the chugging train,
smutty snow dripping down shrinking lanes,
tripping its way into cellular recesses
sifting your sight and your senses like sand.

Love and ribboned opportunities
jumbled up with rusty maybe-memories,
stuttered on the hollow horizon.
Blinded by the back end of a telescope,
all you perceived were burning trees.

You regretted the leathery ticket to hell,
and bravely you leaped from the trickety train.
Bruised by boulders and freed from near-misses,
the broken pieces were soldered with kisses
and you bathed in the cleansing rain.

This video is visually poor, but I like the sound. Beatlemania was a weird phenomenon – the fans made so much noise that they drowned out what they had paid to hear…

©Jane Paterson Basil

Ask Me Why

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When we were families,
grandma’s house was a shared nest, and her attic
held history’s secrets beneath
dust that had caressed generations of kin.
Fingerprints revealed the smudged sheen
of an oaken music box, broken
by children’s rough love.
Though empty, it retained memories
of seamed silk stockings and a mother’s kiss.
Buried in a leather trunk an unworn
wedding dress told a musty story of domestic hope,
its promise stolen by the guns of war;
beneath the yellowed crepe-de-chine
lay mothy remnants
of a bridal bottom drawer.

When we were families,
most of us had somewhere
we could call our family home.
It may be humble, rough-and tumble,
with crumbling bathroom walls,
but it was many times better than no home at all.
When cold weather crept through our vests,
we’d pile into the kitchen through a welcoming door
and nestle next to a warming fire.

   * * *

Beyond my window, rain splashes passers by.
A billowing wind blows them forward, to where dry warmth beckons .

Half a mile away an encampment of flimsy tents
does little to protect our homeless friends.

At night they crawl inside their sleeping bags, fully dressed.
Curling up tight, they pretend to themselves that their nest is safe,
while council officials continue their plot
to rob the dispossessed of what little they’ve got.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Cold Substance

Their tears spill over my lids,
sting my eyes, drip down my skin.

Some families direct their rage at other victims,
laying blame, unable to comprehend that their children’s choices
were freely made.
I have been like them, and there are times when I wish
I hadn’t learnt my lessons so well;
that I could rise up and say, “it was him”;
anything to take my mind off the streets of pain, the losses
that gain in number every day —
but the perpetrator is faceless;
a brown powder with no individual markings
and no sentiency.

When I was a child, dessicated coconut was often sprinkled onto our school puddings. I thought it was the worst thing that had ever been invented; hate seemed an appropriate word to use in connection with it.

Now I direct my seething hate
at tiny packages that once cost thirty quid, but have since
dropped to twenty-five.

I want to shout obscenities at heroin;
to voice my hatred, to threaten the needle of death with annihilation,
to spit foam at the filth, as I scream: kill, kill…
but every time I get there too late, and with no weapons,
while passionless heroin builds up its armoury, boosting itself
with hidden fentanil,
another cold substance with no brain,
no wicked heart to whisper: death to the meek,
yet it enters the veins of pained seekers,
and fills up our graves.

As fatalities leap,
we repeat the phrase: rest in peace,
please rest in peace, we beg,
rest in peace with the rest
who rest forever in peace.

We brave the rain to lean bouquets against
wet walls where grieving souls will weep
to see wilting petals push those they love
into history.

We walk away, wishing for white doves,
their beaks holding gifts of gentle serenity,
and helplessly, we say:
At least he is finally at peace.

Rest In Peace, Nathaniel – your friends will remember you as one of the best.

I was eleven years old when I first heard the following song. I was deeply affected by the horrific imagery. The words stayed with me, playing in my head when my best friend at college became addicted to heroin, and all through the years of my children’s addictions.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Healing. Part 2

 

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This is part two of my response to Reena’s Exploration Challenge Week 11. You can find part 1 HERE.

The first part of my post covers the first question – although it doesn’t do so until you reach almost to the end of the poem. 🙂 Now for my answer to the second question:

I described my daughter as an angry fox. I chose the metaphor to match her hair; some of you will know it has a lovely red glow to it. Also, owing to my surname and the colour of my own hair (which has since faded to a lighter colour) I used to go by the nickname of Basil Brush. Basil Brush was a fictional fox in the form of a puppet that starred in a popular children’s comedy TV show in the ’70s.

It wasn’t the best metaphor I could have chosen, but once I started, I decided to run with it. The most accurate thing about my story is its ending. The night my youngest daughter came to me, broken and bleeding after a violent attack, from a man who tried but failed to break her neck (the memory of which still makes me cry), I knew there had been a change in her perspective, and if she could hold onto it for long enough to make that change a reality, I knew it would change my life.

Has my perspective changed? Yes, it has. Laura has risen far above my highest expectations. She’s made me more proud than I ever thought possible, and more than that, she’s been instrumental in my son’s recovery from addiction. Paul’s journey has been hard; he’s undertaking his recovery in his home town, learning to avoid the triggers which must pop up daily. Even the staircase to my flat is a trigger. I don’t often speak  about Paul; his addiction stripped him of all compassion, leading him to  hurt me deeply throughout those torturous years. The wounds are slow to heal, but we’re making good progress. He switched to a vegan diet a while ago, so lot of his attention is concentrated on food. He and his girlfriend have offered to cook me a meal next week. I look forward to it with relish. He’s a good cook, but more than that, it will be another step towards healing.

Now it is time to turn my mind to the rest of my family. My two elder daughters have suffered too, but through their suffering, I have always known I can count on their support. My oldest grandson has been witness to things he should never have seen, but he’s come through like the champion he is. It’s been difficult to maintain close relationships with my four younger grandsons, so I have a lot of ground to make up.

(Life is not always easy for the siblings of prodigal children. I must tell them that my pride is not limited to those who have recently returned to the fold. I must let them know that they are magnificent.)

Looking back at my life, I can see how my strength has increased, along with the increasing difficulties I’ve faced. It’s a bit like weight lifting – as the weights get heavier, your muscles split and heal continuously.  My mental health has suffered, but I do my best to keep on top of it, constantly reviewing and learning.

I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be, and happier than I had come to expect.

Yes, yes, yes; my perspective has changed, but only for the better.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Without Prejudice. Finale

I throw out these scraps as if it’s all there is to tell, but these are mere highlights in my tale of our police. I could write a book, and on every page I’d describe some small or major kindness; the type of generosity of spirit that is too rarely commented upon; far too meanly treated, especially when meted out by the police. 

However, I expect this chapter to be the last, and it tells a story which ended on Thursda, with me weeping from gratitude, even though I had faith that it would happen. It concerns a WPS; S, who had a special interest in my daughter’s plight. She specialises in abuse cases, and she was involved with Laura for a while. During this time we met a few times, and had several phone conversations.. During this period, Laura was particularly unwell. She knew my deepest fear, and she shared it. Rather than pretending that she reckoned everything would be fine, she owned up to the truth; that my daughter was unlikely to survive much longer, and that no professional who was working with her, could understand how she’d stayed alive. She added that in the best case scenario, Laura would be involved in a serious accident which neither killed nor permanently maimed her, but took her off the streets for a few months, where her only choice would be drug recovery. Looking back, I expect she knew, as I did, that Laura had a reputation for running across and back in the path of moving cars. Even with this information and more, hard as they tried – along with the local drugs services, they couldn’t get her sectioned, as they have no authority over the NHS. Three doctors carry out an interview on the patient, and they have to agree that she is putting her life, or the life of someone else, at risk. People in psychosis are often remarkably sly, and more aware than you may expect. They frequently slip through the net. Sometimes they die as a result.  

Coming back to the subject at hand, S’s remarks may sound harsh, but she only told me what I knew to be true, and followed it up with my own secret wish. She was deeply intuitive; she knew that I had no desire to hide from the truth, and thanks to her being open, I felt less alone in the sustained terror of my daughter’s death. It’s true to say that the end of our talk I felt strangely relieved, to the extent that I began to hope that the grizzly miracle might happen, taking Laura’s recovery out of her hands and placing it firmly in the lap of the unwilling, underfunded, oversubscribed NHS., and giving her a chance of a future. If she ended up with a steel shaft in her leg, so be it. Better metal than graveyard mould. That’s how desperate I was to avoid what we all thought was a foregone conclusion until my WP friends gave me hope. 

Laura had not committed any crime; rather, she was chief witness (otherwise known as the victim) to a filthy batch of them. Perhaps due to limited court time (Rule Britannia, Britanna blah blah blah, Britain never, never, never shall be sane), only three were being brought against the abuser, but they were serious. Contact with S ceased to have any professional relevance when Laura proved herself to be too unwell to appear in court. The judge had no choice but to abort the trial in the interests of her mental health – not that it helped; at that point nothing helped. Laura continued to spin in a jerky trajectory that seemed to have only one possible destination. S continued to be privately concerned about Laura’s precarious lifestyle.

As many of you know, in Spring, Laura fulfilled my highest hopes by going into determined recovery, with the support of a kind friend of mine who has since become more to her, leaving all who truly know her dazed, while the addicts of this town continue to be cynical about the changes she’s made.

They haven’t seen her.

I got a thrill when I reflected upon how much better her life is now than mine has ever been – I still do – but one thing was bothering me. The police had not been told, and they deserved to know. On the day I called them to complain about the monstrous man who threatened me with death, the guy who took my call was so accommodating that I explained my quandary. Immediately – even eagerly – he asked me for a name that he could send a message to, pointing out that the police rarely hear the happy endings, no matter how they care and wish to know. I gave the name of my favourite WPS, and although he was in a call centre forty-eight miles from here, in a straight line, he was as good as his word.

On Thursday afternoon, as I worked in the back room of the Oxfam shop, I got a call from a private number, and before I touched the phone, I knew who the caller would be.

She sounded the same as always; warm and friendly. I gave her all the details of Laura’s current life – within reason; I didn’t mention her new clothes or finicky things like that, but she got my drift, and I heard the relief and pleasure in her tone. She told me how many times she had thought about Laura, and dreaded the expected final report on her desk, and it suddenly occurred to me that if the worst had happened, she would have been almost certain to have requested or chosen to be the one to visit me, if she’d been at work.

I could so easily have been soaking her clothes with my tears.

I held myself in check while she asked me to send Laura her warmest regards, and wish her the very best for her future. I kept it together while she said she hoped she would see my daughter in Barnstaple some day, and have the opportunity to speak to her now that her tragic mask of killing addiction has been flung onto the motorway that leads to her home in the city, and crushed by a million cars; now that he had finally silenced the wild cacophony inside her head, and returned to health – except that she didn’t word it quite so colourfully.

I said goodbye to S, who had once considered applying for a transfer to the City, where the would be more promise of promotion, but changed her mind when she realised that city police have less sense of community; she’d have less opportunity to apply the personal touch, and to work in a close-knit way with her colleagues who were less friendly than those in this country town. That’s why she stayed.

I put down the phone, and cried tears of joy. I knew how much her wishes would mean to Laura, and they meant a great deal to me.

The complex mix of emotions that rose as I was writing this post have exhausted me like no other I can remember.

I’m so tired that I can hardly stand. Maybe I’ll sleep on my sofa tonight.

©Jane Paterson Basil