First Oleander on the Right Elizabeth Willis Barrett December 9, 2011
I drive up Bunker and just past Lionel I make a left turn onto the canal bank where I shouldn’t turn at all. I don’t think cars are very welcomed on the canal roads. But this is where he lives and I have come for another visit. I pull up to the first oleander and get out with my feet feeling like they are trudging through deep, dark mud and with my heart slogging along above them.
“Jeffrey?” I call.
“Hey, Mom,” comes his voice from the middle of the bush.
At least he’s alive--a good sign, I think. I walk up to the large overhanging oleander, and part the branches. There he is like he was the night before, wrapped in his sleeping bag and several blankets and looking very comfortable. I almost want to join him. Almost.
“How are you?” I ask.
“Good. Except for my hip. I think it’s broken.”
The first story is that he had jumped over a wall and landed on his hip. The next story is that he had hitchhiked and as he was getting out of the Good Samaritan’s truck, he caught the heel of his boot and fell hard on his backside. Truth has lost its way in his muddled head and doesn’t know how to get to his mouth anymore. Honesty used to be a valiant companion of this beautiful son. But she was so neglected that she left long ago. We have missed her.
Jeffrey is already dealing with a broken elbow that he acquired when his scooter failed to turn a corner. Scooters don’t miss garbage cans on their own. They need a sober driver and this one didn’t have one. Lack of sobriety was most likely the cause of Jeffrey’s hurt hip as well.
I never planned on any of my children becoming homeless. Homelessness is for people with no families, no opportunities and no one left to care about them. We have lots of room in a very nice home and plenty of food and love to share. We could easily keep Jeffrey for another 27 years. But the fact is, our keeping him was doing him harm, not good. We had enabled him too long or rather dis-abled him.
His father and I finally reached a decisive intersection where we stood together as adoring yet formidable parents. Although we had been at this juncture a hundred times before, this time we irrevocably meant it when we took a turn to the right and declared, “YOU CAN NOT LIVE WITH US ANYMORE!”
I used to wonder how people ended up being homeless. When I’ve encountered panhandlers on the edge of the freeway, I’ve questioned why they didn’t go get a job and pay for shelter. I’ve seen many “help wanted” signs. Surely those on the street have seen them, too, and could “inquire within.” But I understand now. They have “inquired within”--within themselves-- and the answer was, “Drugs. I need drugs.” Jobs cannot be sustained by those who need drugs. And standing on a corner with an outstretched hand can bring in as much as $25 an hour. That beats the wages for dunking French fries into oil at McDonalds. Since they don’t have any ambitions nipping at their heels, why not stand on a corner and beg?
On one occasion, a very kind and well-meaning gentleman gave Jeffrey $100 when he heard that he was homeless. That $100 nearly bought Jeffrey a permanent shelter measuring eighty-four inches long, twenty-eight inches wide, twenty-three inches tall and six feet under, since the entire amount was used to buy drugs.
When I had to take Jeffrey to TASC one day to get a court ordered pee test--more formally called a UA for Urine Analysis--to check for drugs in his system, we joined some rather questionable characters congregating for the same purpose.
“Do you want to be like these people?” I nearly shouted at him. I mean, who would? They all looked frightening and frightened, aimless and aimed at.
“No, Mom,” he said. “I wouldn’t be like these people. When I do drugs, I always know I have a home and a bed to come back to.”
I have to remember these words when I falter and want to gather him up and bring him home. In his case, home has kept him from growth and made using drugs way too easy.
So, I have allowed him to be a homeless beggar, choking back my motherly compulsions and desire to keep his natural consequences at bay. I don’t want him to be cold. I don’t want him to be hungry. I don’t want him to be alone.
As I leave him in his makeshift camp in the bush, I have become a beggar myself. I am begging that a change of heart will come, that truth will conquer, that the need for drugs will diminish. I am begging that another of the many people who love him will be able to influence him in a positive direction since his family no longer can. And I am begging that Jeffrey will finally be able to sustain a home much stronger and more stable than the first oleander on the right.