“For where does one run to when he’s already in the promised land?”
― Claude Brown,
I feel as though I fell asleep, like “Rip Van Winkle“, and woke up is a world that is becoming more and more baffling.
When I was in High School, I had a chance to read “Manchild in he Promised Land” by Claude Brown. All of these years later I still remember the horror described by characters in the book fighting drug abuse and trying to make it out of their urban hell. The book was praised for its realistic portrayal of Harlem—the children, young people, and hardworking parents; the hustlers, drug dealers, prostitutes, and numbers runners; the police; the violence, sex, and humor. – See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Manchild-in-the-Promised-Land/Claude-Brown/9781451631579/reading_group_guide#sthash.5t6fkRBs.dpuf
From Brown’s point of view, the autobiography is the story not only of his life but also of the children of a generation that came from the South with hopes for a promised land of jobs and opportunity and instead found itself in frightening urban ghettoes. The parents of Brown and his friends attempted to maintain values and habits learned in the rural South and were baffled by the complexities of a new world. With parents and children inhabiting different mental worlds, family ties were severed and mutual respect was often lost.
I still remember the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach as I read about one character or another falling victim to he “horse” also known as “heroin”. In my naive and sheltered existence, I envisioned this drug as dark, hot and evil. And it is. One could say that one of the major characters of his story is heroin, which Brown describes as the scourge of his generation. The power of heroin to destroy is described in Brown’s recounting of his relationship with his younger brother, Pimp. Claude took his responsibilities as an older brother seriously, but his younger brother fell victim to addiction, and Brown was forced to admit that he had lost him. His single most bitter regret was the fact that he served as a tough-guy role model for his younger brother Pimp, who became a drug addict and eventually went to prison. One of the most interesting parts of the book was the description of how Claude’s younger brother Pimp, got his name. Claude’s mother went into labor and the only person who could get her to the hospital was a local prostitute by the name of “Minnie”. Minnie was proud of the fact that she never gave her money to a man or a pimp…… that is until Claude’s mother gave birth to a boy. Minnie promptly cursed her new “godson” before naming him “Pimp”.
So what does this have to do with heroin abuse in New England? Plenty. The story of “escape to something BETTER” is a tenet in both journeys. Kevin McCarthy (not the politician) had it made, at least financially. The McCarthys’ rambling farmhouse on U.S. 1, not a quarter-mile from the ocean, had a separate wing for the boys. They called it The Bunkhouse. They had cars, money and plenty of independence, like many teens in Falmouth, a town of 11,000, a place of privilege just across a short bridge from Portland, the state’s largest city. When one son , David, was starting at Falmouth High School, his parents split up. Beginning in 10th grade, he lived with his father; his relationship with his mother frayed.
In 10th grade, one of David’s stepbrothers, Michael, an avid snowboarder, suffered an injury and was prescribed codeine and then Oxycontin, an opiate painkiller. It was an at-will prescription; he could get more whenever he wanted. Michael — whose family asked that he be identified by his middle name — offered some pills to David and his friends. Soon, David was buying Oxys from a guy in the grocery store parking lot.
Oxycontin is “a drug of isolation”, very similar to heroin. The day before David’s funeral, one of his high school friends, a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship that lasted more than a year, wrote about him on Facebook: “I think I lost the moon while I was counting the stars.… we ALWAYS found our [way] back to each other…. I will always love u and cherish what we had my first love. David McCarthy may angels lead u in.” Ironically, the woman who wrote that tribute was one of two high school friends who supplied David with heroin, according to McCarthy’s parents, friends and the police. “We call her the angel of death,” they said.
The man sold the fatal heroin to David and, the next night, to his stepbrother, overdosed on heroin, the very next night. The “angel of death” then alerted her friends that she was leaving town: “I’m packin what will fit in my purse and im running away. I’m gettin in the car with the first stranger that picks me up whether they have candy or not.” Ironically, “angel of death” has a young child of her own. Accounts of parent-teacher conferences bump up against invitations to get wasted. “Happy birthday to my little man” follows “Shout out to the ladies that keep their clothes on and make money. I’m not one of them but good for y’all.” I might add that in addition to being a drug dealer she is a stripper.
In Falmouth and Portland, heroin is often sold by addicts operating out of their own homes. They drive south on Interstate 95 to depressed cities in Massachusetts, to Lowell, Lynn or Lawrence, where they connect with Dominican and Mexican gang members selling cheap heroin from Mexico, now the source of most heroin in the United States. Heroin has become much cheaper in the past two years because the crackdown on Oxys made it much harder to get pills on the street.
So, this is the landscape of the affluent who followed their dreams of a “great place to raise the kids’ to the beautiful, tranquil and boring landscape of drug abuse. These children of affluence lose all concept of decorum and civility. “David” went to live with his mother for a while and one day, she came downstairs to find a jar of yellow liquid on the kitchen counter. “He had pissed in a jar,” she said. “He just lost all sense of decorum, appropriateness. He didn’t care.”
The facade is one reason why it is often more difficult for these children to change or find help. Let me give you two examples. the first is of a very wealthy set of grandparents, on both sides, who agree to take in their 4 grandchildren on a “share” basis. No mention is made of the “parents” of the children except for the fact that one mother told me “they were lost” and she blamed herself because “they gave too much”. The need to cover and hide is especially necessary in suburban communities where the need to “keep up appearances” is important. “Don’t talk to the police”….. just don’t talk.
Another example is even more poignant. It involves a wealthy lady who I know is using. And I suspect her daughter is also. My children and I visited with this long time friend who lives in a glamorous city, in a glamorous home with glamorous things. And by the 4th day I was a nervous wreck. She would disappear, and then appear… at various times languid and relaxed enough to fall asleep on he floor. She accidentally locked my daughter in the garage and turned on the alarm. I heard knocking and went downstairs, finding her (my daughter) after 2 hours. It was not funny. The constant cigarette smoking in the back yard while pacing, extreme weight-loss to the point of skeleton proportions, lack of friendships and connection with people around her made it necessary for us to leave by midnight of the next day. Since then, stories of other friends waiting outside the home for hours while this friend was taking a sudden nap on the inside has been unsettling.
Although it is the same drug, because of the circumstances, this latest epidemic might be a bigger “nut to crack.” The new affluent drug user ain’t escaping anything, they have arrived……. And it will have to be addressed in more than just platitudes because with the push for marijuana legalization for recreational use, we might just become the land of the living dead if we don’t get on track. This includes electing leaders who are true leaders and not panderers, sincere and not poll testers, people who will lead with hope and optimism and not gruff, patronizing liberalism.