We would go to Disneyland, attend little league games, and participate in the school bake sales. What set us apart from other parents? We were smoking copious amounts of methamphetamine.
The following is excerpted with permission from Mother Load: A Memoir of Addiction, Gun Violence and Finding a Life of Purpose, from Rothco Press. Copyright 2019 by Wendy Adamson. All rights reserved.
A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. It says you are here…. Without this body against you, there is no place. The absence of a body against my body created a gap, a hole, a hunger. That hunger determined my life. -Eve Ensler
When I looked out the peephole of my front door, Kim, a twenty-four-year-old tweaker, was standing in a cropped t-shirt and skintight jeans, her blond hair covering one eye, peek-a-boo style. She had scored earlier that day and was back for more. It was obvious that she was doing a shit load of meth. But who was I to judge? It was the early nineties and my husband Max and I were living the so-called American Dream. We had two boys and managed apartment complexes with a swimming pool in a quiet suburb outside of Los Angeles. We would go to Disneyland, attend little league games, participate in the school bake sales and enjoy an occasional Sunday Bar-B-Q. What set us apart from other parents? We were smoking copious amounts of methamphetamine.
Opening the door a crack, I looked over her shoulder to make sure she wasn’t being followed. “Come on in,” I said, quickly shutting the door behind her. Our nine-year-old son Rikki had fallen asleep in his room, while my sixteen-year-old, Jerry, was staying at his friend’s house a few blocks away. I hadn’t gotten any real sleep in days and I was exhausted. I was just about to call it a night when she knocked.
A fringed leather purse bounced off her hip as she sashayed to the couch. “I like your purse,” I said. “Very sixties.” Kim sat down and fondled it like it was a puppy, “Oh this thing? I got it for ten bucks.” “Ten bucks?” I was struck with envy. “Yes ma’am.”
Why does this bimbo refer to me as a ma’am? Is she trying to imply I’m old? How about I smack you upside the head with your puppy purse, you blond dimwit? I flashed her a phony smile.
Just then, Max walked in, shirtless, rubbing his jet-black curly hair with a towel. “Yo, what’s happening Kim?”
“Hi Max,” she giggled. “I came by to see if it’s too late to score a gram?” The dealer, wanting to cut down on foot traffic, had assigned Max as the middle man and for his efforts he’d get a cut of whatever he bought.
“Giiirrrrlll, you know speed freaks don’t sleep,” he wagged his finger. “It’s never too late to score from a meth connection.”
Kim laughed, while I blankly stared off in space. I had heard the recycled-speed-freak jokes before, just like I had heard all of Max’s jokes. I figured that’s just what happens when you’re married to someone for twenty years. Everything ends up being old recycled news.
Within minutes Max and Kim headed out the front door to the connections across town. When I was sure the coast was clear, I rushed to the master bedroom and pulled out a stash I had tucked away earlier that day. Due to my increasing paranoia, I had convinced myself Max was doing speed behind my back. So, why not beat him at his own game?
I poured a generous line of the white, glassy powder onto the crease of six-inch-squared- off tinfoil. With a straw gripped in my teeth, I held a flame a few inches underneath. The powder began to smolder and a metallic smoke spiraled upward. I sucked it in like a human vacuum cleaner, determined not to let any of it get away. I held the smoke in my lungs until they felt they might explode.
As I set the foil down my heart was pounding like a drum. I gripped the edge of the mattress, riding the rush of adrenaline like a racecar driver hugging the wall of a sharp turn. The ceiling fan spun overhead. A dog barked somewhere in the neighborhood. The neurons fired in my brain like it was the Fourth of July.
I was as jumpy as a lab rat and wanted to direct the frenetic energy in a constructive manner so, I went to the kitchen, sat on the sticky linoleum floor and started emptying the cabinets of all its pots and pans around me. I was trying to scale back because I had way too much ‘stuff’. I mean who needs three cheese graters when I barely use one?
I looked down at the soles of my feet. They were filthy! Deep cracks ran along the edges of my heels. I made a mental note to take a shower but quickly dismissed the idea. The meth always made the water feel like tiny needles shooting all over my body. I shoved a nostril in my arm pit. It smelled like old meat. Maybe I’d take a bath later on?
It was hard for me to stay focused on meth. One minute I would want to attend to house- wifey chores and the next I would feel a creative impulse come on. When inspiration hit me there was just no stopping it. I pushed myself up and rushed to the hallway cabinet where I kept my craft supplies. I had everything from dried flowers, beads and embroidery thread to ceramics, paintbrushes, and crayons. When I opened the cabinet a roll of gold ribbon fell to the floor and spun down the hall.
As I stood my brain released an enormous cascade of creative ideas. I felt like such a visionary who could craft anything with my nimble hands. Eventually, I decided to make a colorful Easter bonnet, even though I had an aversion to anything churchy since being kicked out of Catholic school in the ninth grade. I grabbed my trusty glue gun, a batch of yellow silk flowers and a wide brimmed straw hat. With my arms full of supplies I went to the living room to set up a work station.
I spread everything out on the floor when it occurred to me that the Johnny Carson Show was on. Geez. Was it that late already? Looking at the clock I saw it was now past midnight. Holy shit, Max had been gone for over two hours. Drug dealers may not have the best customer service skills, but normally it wouldn’t take so long. Worried, I began flipping through worst- case scenarios in my head. What if he had gotten in a car wreck and he’s in the emergency room somewhere? Or what if they got busted, and he was sitting in the back of a police car? What then? I didn’t have the money to bail him out.
Then it hit me. Call it a hunch, women’s intuition or instinct, but I knew down to the marrow of my tweaking bones that Max was cheating on me. In a flash everything slotted into place and made perfect sense. The way Kim giggled at his stupid jokes, the countless trips to the dealer they made, and the way she looked at him when he walked into the room. Why hadn’t I seen it sooner? How could I have been so fucking stupid!
A tightness gripped my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to throw something, hit something with my fist. I wanted to scream at him, “You can’t do this to me you fucking asshole!” Instead, I went to the bedroom and smoked more speed. My hands shook as I sucked the spiraling metallic smoke into my lungs. My jaw clenched so hard it was a wonder my molars didn’t turn to dust. How could he do this me? Hadn’t I given him children as well as the best years of my life? In this moment it never occurred to me that I could leave him or kick him out of the house. Instead, I thought, maybe if I scared the shit out of him he’d think twice about ever cheating on me again. So, I had a plan as I slipped into the closet and stood on my tippy-toes, reaching around until I found the gun at the back of the shelf. My fingers gripped the hard steel of the .38 Smith & Wesson as I pulled it out. Max and I bought the gun a while back from a tweaker who was in need of cash. We somehow convinced ourselves it was a good idea to have around for protection in case anyone tried to break into our home.
I went to the living room and placed the .38 on top of the armoire. Waiting, I paced back and forth like a feral cat. Images of Max and Kim fucking in the back of her El Camino played inside my brain like bad porno. Mother fucker! my head screamed, you can’t do this to me. I cooked your food. I washed your dirty drawers. For what? To be discarded like some old coat you don’t want anymore? No fucking way. I won’t have it!
I pushed the screen door, stepped onto the front porch but there was still no sign of them. My thoughts were coming at me like the rapid fire of an AK-47. He said he would always be there for me. He said he would never leave me. We made a promise to each other twenty years before that we’d grow old together. He can’t do this to me.
My heart hammered against my chest. Sweat dripped down my back. I had managed to work myself up into an eyeball-boiling rage when I looked out the door again, I saw them. Max was driving Kim’s white El Camino, looking for a parking space. I grabbed the .38, barreled through the screen door and ran into the middle of the street. Taking a military stance, behind them, I extended both my arms, with the gun in a two-fisted grip, I aimed above the car and pulled the trigger.
The sound felt like it reverberated through my chest. The noise was so piercing it’s a wonder I didn’t give myself permanent hearing damage. The car didn’t stop so I ran after it with both my knees and arms pumping away. I distinctly remember seeing my neighbor, Mrs. Brown, peering out her large bay window with her head bobbing back and forth.
Mind your own business you nosy bitch. This is a domestic affair.
When they turned the corner I darted in between two parked vehicles and caught my foot on the curb. I fell onto the wet grass but popped back up like one of those blow up dolls that won’t stay down. When I turned the corner I was shocked to find the El Camino sitting in the middle of the street. I rushed over like a deranged special ops commando and hurled my torso across the still warm hood. My chest heaved. I was panting like a dog in heat. Kim was sitting shot gun with her jaw unhinged. I pointed the gun directly at Max’s face. His big brown eyes were filled with terror. It was a look I’d never seen before. Those were the same soulful eyes I’d fallen in love with at sixteen years old. He was the love of my life. My best friend. The father of my children.
In an instant it felt like I slipped out of my body and was staring down at myself sprawled out across the hood of the car. I heard a voice reason inside my head say, “You know, Wendy, if someone were to see you right now they might think you were crazy.” And they would have been absolutely right. I was in the middle of a drug-induced psychotic break. Sleep deprived and smoking way too much methamphetamine for any human being to consume, I had snapped. I had lost my mind just like my mother had years before.
Then Max must have come to his senses because he stepped on the gas. As the car moved forward I slid off the hood and landed solidly on my feet. Pointing the gun downward so I wouldn’t hit anybody, I fired another round. As I did Kim’s face contorted before they drove off. Oh shit! Did I hit her? No way! The gun was pointed down.
I stood there out of breath and watched as the taillights disappeared with the weapon dangling by my side. That was not the result I had in mind when I picked up the gun. In some strange way I thought he wouldn’t leave me if I showed him I meant business. My next thought was to change my clothes so no one could identify me in a lineup if the cops happened to show up.
I ran back to the house but before I went inside, I shoved the gun under a pile of dead leaves by the back porch.
Once inside I checked on Rikki, who was still asleep. As I stood watching him breath one would think his pure innocence might penetrate my drug-induced state but that was not the case. It was as if the meth, a diuretic, had not only leached my sanity, but drained my maternal instincts as well.
I headed for the bedroom where I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror. My breath nearly jackknifed. My brown hair was disheveled, the bones in my face were all sharp edges and I was hunched over. My eyes were like two dead, vacant pools and my skin was a sallow gray. It was jarring how much I looked like my mother had when she had gone insane.
A familiar darkness grabbed me like fingers around my throat. I wanted to stop the madness but had no idea how.
I flinched when I heard something outside the window. I opened the front door and when I stepped onto the porch I was blinded by a dozen spotlights, pointing at me like fingers of accusation. “Hands in the air!” a disembodied voice yelled from beyond the glare.
The Catholic girl still inside me did exactly what she was told as a stampede of Lomita sheriffs surrounded me. It all happened fast after that. One of them cuffed my hands while another patted me down and others rushed inside the apartment.
My legs shook like a high-strung Chihuahua. A scruffy-looking cop slipped plastic baggies over my hands and manila envelopes over that.
“What’s going on? What, what what are you doing?” I asked, feigning innocence.
A young cop, who looked barely out of high school wrapped duct tape around the envelopes secured the envelopes at my wrists.
“My son is asleep in there…” A cop yelled inches from my face. “SHUT UP!” I flinched. I felt like I might pass out. When they were done, it looked like I had two flippers where my hands were supposed to be.
A young sheriff led me by my arm, shoved me into the back seat of his squad car and slammed the door. I leaned my forehead against the window and watched as cops scurried in and out of my apartment. Where was Max? Why hadn’t he come back to see what was going on? What was going to happen to me? I needed a cigarette so fucking bad.
I looked down at the strange appendages resting on my lap. I realized the cops were trying to keep the gunpowder intact on my hands as evidence. I gripped the corner of the envelope with my teeth and began ripping, tearing, spitting the scraps of paper on the floor. Ripping, tearing, biting, and spitting like a trapped animal determined to get free. Finally, I broke through the plastic baggies and started licking my hand and fingers. I was no dummy. I knew how to outsmart those cops. I was in a frenzy when the front door of the squad car flew open. A good-looking cop peered through the thick mesh screen.
“Look, Wendy.” He paused. “Why don’t you just tell me where you put the gun? It will be easier for you if you cooperate with us.”
“Under the leaves by the back porch.” The words just rolled right off my tongue. You clearly wouldn’t want to drop me behind enemy lines. He ran off like a school kid picked for the winning team. When I thought about Jerry and Rikki my heart sank to my feet.
Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God oh shit shit shit. My poor, poor boys. What the fuck have I done? What have I done?