From my front row seat

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Confessions of a Child Burglar

When women apply to Blue Monarch, they are required to fill out an eight-page application that asks, among other things, “What is your drug of choice and when did you start using this drug?”  They are given the opportunity to list lots of drugs, not just one, and rank them in order of preference.

Remarkably, the age for first time use that shows up quite often is eleven.  This has always been hard for me to imagine.  Naturally it makes me immediately picture my own world at the age of eleven and wonder what would have caused me to start using drugs at such a young age.

I’d say the closest I came to breaking the law at the age of eleven was when my best friend, Debbie, and I decided to pretend we were burglars.  I am not sure in thinking back why that was so fascinating to us, but I suspect we had watched way too much GET SMART on television.  We put lots of preparation into this plan and had every detail rehearsed well in advance of the heist. 

When the appointed night came, after a tall glass of chocolate milk, we innocently said goodnight to Debbie’s parents and went off to bed.  As soon as the house got quiet, we stripped off our nightgowns, revealing the black shirts and pants we had hidden underneath.  After synchronizing our watches – not sure why - we pulled her mother’s expensive, nylon stockings over our heads (which distorted our faces beyond recognition) and stuck black stocking caps on top before grabbing pillowcases for our stash – her mother’s jewels (which we honestly planned to return the following day).

The first order of business was to go through the entire house and unscrew all the light bulbs so we would not be discovered in the dark.  First stop: her parents’ bathroom, which in looking back seems awfully ambitious.  We tiptoed into their bedroom, quietly opened the bathroom door, and I proceeded to crawl up on top of the sink.  Their vanity had a Hollywood mirror with lots of large, round light bulbs all around it.  I stood up and straddled the sink, reached up to the top of the mirror, and carefully unscrewed the first bulb just enough so that it wouldn’t light if someone turned on the switch.  Good job.  But just as I began unscrewing the second bulb, it suddenly fell into the sink and bounced around making the most horrible, unbelievably loud clanging sound.

Debbie’s parents rushed into the bathroom and that moment forever froze in time.  First of all, I had never seen Debbie’s glamorous mother without her makeup, so that was a stunning surprise.  And her father was already a mystery to me, so I didn’t quite know what to expect from him.  But the looks of horror that quickly turned into shock and then disgust, were something I will never forget.  It was a long time before I was invited back for a sleepover, and my life of crime ended that night.

But the other day as I was talking with our residents around the kitchen table, I asked them to recall some of their own memories at the age of eleven so I could understand how drug use could start at such a tender age – an age when I didn’t even know what drugs were, and could barely get my cat eye glasses on straight.

One immediately told about being molested by her mother’s boyfriend and how her mother wouldn’t believe her.  Another talked about having to drive the car at the age of eleven because her mother was often in no shape to drive.  One woman remembers her father driving away from the house in a rage and running over her on her bike.  And sadly, another woman recalled walking the streets for hours looking for her mother who would disappear for weeks, leaving her to care for her younger brother.

So it’s no mystery why drugs looked like a good solution at the age of eleven.  Why not?  It numbed the pain, and the adults in the house were doing it, too.

We can’t go back and redo those painful eleven-year-old memories for our residents, even though I often wish we could.  But here is what we can do:

We can make sure that the precious children we serve at Blue Monarch have good memories of their mothers tucking them in bed at night after saying their prayers.  They will remember waking up in the morning, not wondering where their mom was, but seeing her as soon as they opened their eyes.  They’ll know they didn’t have to wonder if she would be there when they got off the school bus.  And they will remember feeling the safety of a secure home, night after night, and the love of a nurturing environment on a beautiful farm with room to romp and play the way children are supposed to.

And then the cycle will be broken.  One eleven-year-old at a time.

Lord, we thank you that Blue Monarch is a place where beautiful memories are made.  We believe an eleven-year-old is still a child who deserves a happy childhood.  Thank you for making that happen in such an amazing way for the precious children we serve.  And we pray for healing for all the eleven-year-old memories that are not what they should be but are hopefully the last of their kind in the family tree.  Amen.