Carrick Doesn't Come Home
I'd slept fitfully for an hour or two at most. At 6 a.m., I shook my wife, Deirdre.
“We've got to get rolling,” I said.
Deirdre asked what I intended to do. I said that I was going to New York City to look for Carrick, our seventeen-year-old daughter, who had not returned home the night before. About midnight, we had called Carrick's friend Vanessa and learned that they'd gone down to the East Village the previous afternoon, a Sunday, against our wishes. Vanessa had last seen Carrick about 9 P.M. at Grand Central Terminal, when she had boarded a train home to Bronxville. The small village where we'd lived for fourteen years, Hastings-on-Hudson, is on a different line than Bronxville and the train departs twenty minutes later.
“Carrick seemed fine,” Vanessa told us. “I thought she was getting the next train home.”
Deirdre said that she would call some of Carrick's other friends as I headed downtown. This was not the first time Carrick had disappeared. I tried to sound confident as I told Deirdre that wherever she was, I was sure nothing bad had happened to her. The words just hung in the air as I kissed her and walked out the door.
It was Nov. 5, 2001. At 10 a.m., Carrick was due at the headquarters for the Students for a Free Tibet on East Ninth St. between Avenues B and C in Manhattan, where she had been volunteering for the past month. Community service is a part of the curriculum at Walkabout Program, an alternative public high school for seniors who, like Carrick, have had difficulties in traditional settings. Since she was in eighth grade, Carrick had attended several programs for kids who have educational, emotional, psychological, or substance-abuse problems, all of which had afflicted our daughter.
I got the 7:49 express train that arrived at Grand Central terminal thirty-five minutes later. Positioning myself in front of the gate from which the next train to Hastings, the 9:20, would depart, I tried to convince myself that after a night of carousing, Carrick would stride up and say something blithe: “Hey, Pops, whazzup?” We'd board the train and return to Hastings, another misadventure navigated. We'd trudge up the steep hill from the station, I'd press the unlocked latch on the front door, and Deirdre and the dog and a cat or two would scurry to greet us. After some hugs and tears, we'd try to figure out, once more, what was going on in Carrick's life.
In my heart, I knew my wait at the gate was futile, but I really didn't know what else to do. Should we notify the police? File a missing person report? Call all the numbers she'd dialed on the cell phone we'd lent her a few days before?
I called Deirdre. She said she had talked to Megan, a girl who was interning with Carrick at Students for a Free Tibet. Carrick had become friendly with someone who called himself Chaos, Megan told Deirdre, and she might be with him. He hung out in Tompkins Square Park. She described him as pierced and heavily tattooed. Megan told Deirdre she would arrive at Students for a Free Tibet's offices a little after 10, and told her she'd meet me there.
“Tell your husband not to look for Carrick himself,” she said, “He might scare her away.”
I watched a few laggards trot toward the departing train, then headed to the IRT local subway to go downtown. The irony of Carrick becoming attached to someone who called himself Chaos was too perfect to contemplate.
I got off the subway at Astor Place and walked a few blocks east on Ninth St. which, at Avenue A, intersects with the entrance to Tompkins Square Park. The park, ten acres that had been the property of Daniel D. Tompkins, James Monroe's vice president, was first enclosed in a wrought-iron fence and opened to the public in 1834. It has been a locus of dissent and disaffection for a long time. In 1874, more than 7,000 workers demanding relief during an economic depression were routed by police wielding billy clubs. In 1967, as the center of the East Village hippie scene, it was the venue for The Grateful Dead's inaugural East Coast tour. Deirdre would go there in high school, hoping to see Allen Ginsberg or the Lovin' Spooonful's John Sebastian, who lived nearby. In August 1988, the supporters of squatters living in shacks in the park hurled firecrackers and bottles at the police, who swept through the park, again swinging nightsticks, to evict them.
Despite the gentrification of the neighborhood, it remained a popular hangout for drug dealers, users and the homeless. It also was a magnet for young people like my daughter who, bored by the suburbs, are drawn by its ability to absorb, without judgement, any predilection that comes its way. Stan Mack once drew a facetious map of the different groups that hung out in Tompkins Square Park for the Village Voice newspaper. Latino and black chess players had an area in the northeast; Ukrainians and Poles played in the southeast (“don't mess with 'em, may be ex-freedom fighters,” read a parenthetical aside). “ 'Burb brats in for thrills” congregated just inside the southern Avenue A entrance. Carrick recently had told Deirdre she had met some interesting characters in Tompkins, and that she wanted to move to the neighborhood some day.
Making fleeting eye contact with the few people I saw sitting on benches, I walked the paths that crisscross the park. Seeing no sign of Carrick, I eventually took the east exit at Avenue B and continued along Ninth St. to walk to Students for a Free Tibet. I had been on that block nearly nineteen years before, when I covered a fatal shooting in a social club as a reporter for the New York Daily News. I remembered the incident well because the residents of the block seemed so shocked that the social club manager had fired two shotgun blasts into the back of a patron despite the reality that, as I pointed out with a tabloid cliché, “random violence is no stranger to the Lower East Side.” A school custodian who lived there told me: “It's a beautiful block. Black and white, we all correspond together. I want to have it renamed E. Nice St.” Another resident said: “There's never any fights, no shootings, no drugs. It's just working folks.” That may have been so back then, and it may still be so today, but I didn't feel entirely comfortable there either time.
Students for a Free Tibet
Students for a Free Tibet headquarters were on the ground floor of a decrepit factory building on the north side of East Ninth St., closer to Avenue C. Inside, it looked like a time warp of '60s activism - cast-off furniture, posters on the wall, beer cans strewn about, squished chips on the floors, ashtrays overflowing. My first reaction was that it did not seem to be an ideal environment for a seventeen-year-old in recovery. The organization's soft-spoken executive director apologized for the mess when I arrived. He said there had been a staff party for Halloween. I told him why I had come. He had not heard from Carrick, he said.
Soon after, Carrick's direct supervisor arrived. I repeated my story; she was visibly upset. She told me Carrick had done a good job when she was around, but that she frequently had been absent, or often had not returned from lunch at Tompkins Square Park, where she had taken to hanging out. She also said that she thought she'd smelled alcohol one day when Carrick and Megan had returned from lunch and had challenged the girls. It turned out that Megan had just applied an alcohol-based perfume, she said, and she had apologized for questioning them. I thanked her for her diligence, and was reminded of the many times I'd thought I detected something suspicious but talked myself out of it, or let one of Carrick's convoluted explanations sway my common sense.
I sat down on a squishy couch, exhausted, as a couple of other staff members arrived. In a hushed voice, the supervisor filled them in on why I was there. Megan finally came through the door, later than I'd expected her. I introduced myself. She said she thought she knew where Carrick was, but she had to go to get her alone. About forty-five minutes later, she returned. She had not found Carrick, she said, but she told me there was someone who wanted to talk to me. He knew where Carrick was, but he was nervous. Would I meet him outside?
“Of course,” I said. “Is it Chaos?”
“No. His name is Champ,” she said.
Champ the Boxer
Champ was wearing a green army jacket. His curly, sandy hair was disheveled. His craggy face looked a good ten years older than the thirty-five he later claimed to be. He was about six feet tall, and stocky. He had a light touch as we shook hands, but I could sense that he held strength in reserve.
Inexplicably, he started by telling me he was a boxer. Trying to build a rapport, I told him my father had run the Golden Gloves boxing tournament in New York. He claimed he had an incredible record as an amateur - seventy-two and three, or something - and said he'd fought as a pro, too. Champ said that he'd met Carrick when he saw a group of men circle her in the park. He thought their teasing was going too far. He intervened, and had given Carrick lessons in basic self-defense.
“She confided in me,” he said. “She's upset about things.”
Sometime after midnight, he said, he had gotten word that Carrick was looking for him, and he went to her.
“I talked to her like a brother,” he said. “For hours, like a brother.”
Then he found a place for her and someone else, whom he would not identify, to crash until the morning, he said. There had been a dispute that he couldn't talk about, however, and they had to leave the apartment. He didn't know where Carrick was now, but he was sure he could find her. He just had one condition. Wary, I asked him what it was.
“You have to promise that you're not going to hurt her,” he said.
I assured Champ that I had never hit or hurt Carrick in my life.
“All I want to do is bring her back safely home,” I said.
'She's afraid you'll lock her up,” he said.
I said that I could not guarantee that we wouldn't seek treatment for Carrick that might result in her being sent to a drub rehab program. I said that it was not a given, just an option that we had to leave open, depending on Carrick's health.
How ridiculous is this? I was thinking to myself. Why am I justifying our decisions about our daughter to a guy on the street? But I felt that I had no choice if I wanted any help in finding Carrick. I knew from experience that the police have no legal authority to pick up a child older than sixteen unless she has broken the law, and the East Village streets were filled with runaways.
Champ changed the subject. He told me that he had been living on the streets since the terrorist attacks of September 11. He was from Pennsylvania, where he was a licensed plumber. He had gotten a job helping to renovate a building near the World Trade Center. He had been staying at a hotel in the neighborhood and was walking to work when he saw the first plane hit the tower. Not only did his job disappear, the plumbing company that employed him went out of business, he said. He'd been looking for a job ever since. We bantered a bit more, as if I was being coyly qualified by a social worker. Finally, Champ said he help me find Carrick. He'd walk the streets and ask questions. He asked for my cell phone number and promised to call me when he got a lead. I gave him my Sprint phone card to use.
I let Champ disappear down Ninth St. before heading in that direction myself. I didn't want him to think I was tailing him, but felt Carrick was somewhere around Tompkins Square Park. It was about 11:30. I spent the next hour and a half walking up and down the streets, in and out of the park. The cell phone finally rang about an hour later. Champ told me to meet him at the Odessa coffee shop on Avenue A. He knew where Carrick was, he said.
Holding an unlighted cigarette and looking like a beneficent padrone, Champ sat in a booth sipping coffee I later paid for. The word on the street, he said, was that Carrick and Chaos were hiding out in an abandoned theater. He asked me if I knew where that might be because he didn't really know the area. I said no, but it could be the huge abandoned building on the corner of Eighth St. that was covered with signs protesting an impending eviction. He said we'd have to get them out ourselves, and that he needed my word that I would not get the cops involved. I said okay, although I dreaded entering what I envisioned to be a nest of rooms filled with crackheads.
“I gotta tell you something you don't wanna hear,” he said.
I looked at him and nodded. Nothing he could say was worse than what I'd imagined.
“She's using heroin, Tommy,” he said.
“How much and for how long?” I'm sure my voice that sounded much calmer than I felt. “Is she shooting or snorting?”
“It's bad, Tommy,” he said. “She's hooked.”
He didn't know how long she'd been using, though, or whether she was shooting it or not. He told me that getting her back would be complicated by the fact that Chaos, the guy she was with, owed somebody some money for some dope they'd scored that morning. I was suspicious, which must have showed. I asked Champ if he meant that I'd have to pay somebody off, and he said we'd have to wait and see. He suggested we try to get more information from the people in the park. I gave him $60 for his help so far. I wanted him to know that I was prepared to reward him if we found Carrick, and that I'd pay others if I had to. We left the coffee shop.
“Tommy, I want to make sure we're clear on one thing,” Champ said as we crossed Avenue A. “No cops.”
I took a deep breath.
“I've heard a lot of stories and I think I've got a pretty good sense when somebody's conning me,” I replied. “I don't think you are.”
I said that partly because I wanted to hear in my own voice whether I believed it or not; I sounded like someone trying to convince himself that he's doing the right thing. It had reached the point where I was just reacting to circumstances. My only goal was to take Carrick home. And I knew that, in reality, I was easily conned. Carrick herself had proven that to me time and again.
Inside the park, Champ approached a group of people sitting on a bench. I kept walking on the path to the left. At best, I looked like a reporter, if not a cop. Champ came over and told me he would have to give them some money. He pulled out the $60 I'd given him. I thought he wanted to pay off the dealer that Chaos had supposedly beat that morning, and told him that I didn't think it was a good idea. Champ said that wasn't the case.
“Nobody gives up anything on the street for nothing,” he said. “Listen, they say that Chaos and your daughter are sleeping in the band shell near the bridge. Do you know where that is?”
Offhand, I didn't. He suggested that I walk back to the group with him. He took aside a wiry young man with closely cropped hair, handed him $20, and introduced me as someone who was looking for Chaos because I wanted to buy some crack. Sizing me up through squinting eyes, the guy asked how much I wanted and why I wanted to buy it from Chaos. I told him I didn't want any crack; I was a father looking for his 17-year-old daughter, who was with Chaos.
“That your daughter?” he said, with a slight Spanish accent. “She's a beautiful girl. Shit. I wished someone was looking for me.”
He said that Chaos and Carrick and another guy were in the old band shell in the park by the Williamsburg Bridge and told me how to get there. After I thanked him, he asked me if I was sure I didn't want some of his crack.
“Chaos isn't a good source, man. Not for crack. Dope, yes. Not crack.”
I shook my head.
A Walk in the Park
Champ and I walked through the park and across Ninth St. toward the river. I told him that I wanted to stop at Students for a Free Tibet to let them know what was going on. He was leery. He told me that he'd level with me. He had an outstanding violation for jumping a turnstile and that if the cops got involved, they'd take him in. As suspicious as I was that Champ had done more than beat the subway fare, I assured him again that I was not calling the cops. I did call Deirdre, though. I wanted her to know where we were heading. I wasn't sure it was the right decision, I said, but I saw no alternative.
Champ and I discussed a lot of things as we headed toward the river. He did most of the talking. He told me that he had been in the army. He said he'd come from a large family, and his father would beat the shit off out the boys when they did something wrong. His twin sister was a junkie who was always stealing from him until she had overdosed and died. He thought we should drop a nuclear bomb on Afghanistan to wipe out El Qaeda. What did I think?
We crossed the footbridge over the FDR Drive and walked south along the park path. Few people were out. It was a blustery day, the wind swooping in from the river. The longer we walked, the more I began to question what we were doing. I had played softball in the park ten years before, but my memory of a band shell was vague. I checked a pocket street atlas I'd brought from home, but it only showed swings, baseball diamonds and a tennis court. I told Champ that I hoped we weren't being set up. He resented this. I assured him that I wasn't suggesting that he was setting me up. Of course, I wasn't sure of that either.
I was walking even faster than my normal quick pace. Champ kept up, wheezing from the cigarettes he seemed to light continually. He talked more about his past. He had owned his own plumbing business in New Jersey, he said. His partner, who was a crack addict, had cheated him out of it by failing to keep appointments while Champ had been in prison. When he got out, there were no customers left. He also mentioned his wife, Maria, who was strung out on drugs, he said. They were divorced. They had two kids, an eight-year-old boy who looked just like him, and a younger girl. Champ said he had given Maria everything - a house in Pennsylvania, a good TV, and all the appliances she could ever want. When he'd come home after a full day of work trying to build his business, followed by a night of moonlighting, he expected her to at least serve him a cup of coffee. Even that simple task seemed to be too much for her, Champ said. Then she'd get out of bed in the middle of the night and start cleaning everything obsessively, he said, because of the drugs she took.
I asked him about his jail time. It was a bad rap, he said. He'd been minding his own business when he saw a guy beating up a woman outside a bar in New Jersey. He told the guy to stop. They got into a fight. He punched the guy in the ribs. The ribs cracked and punctured his lung and he died. Because he had been a boxer, Champ's hands were considered a lethal weapon, and he had been convicted of manslaughter. Then he almost got killed in jail when a black guy stabbed him in the neck with a shiv — he stopped to show me the wound — while he was playing poker. The motivation had something to do with cigarettes. He also told me that his partner had shot him several times. He wanted to show me these wounds, too, but I was beginning to feel numb to his tales of woe and just kept walking.
We passed two Latino youths who looked to be about twenty. One was pushing a stroller. I assumed a baby was in it but didn't look. As soon as they went by, Champ asked me if I had another $20. He wanted to ask them if they'd seen Chaos and Carrick. I pulled a bill out of my pocket. He called after them. At first, they were suspicious. Then Champ told them that I was the father of a seventeen-year-old girl who had run away from home and that I just wanted to get her back. This seemed to click with the one not pushing the stroller, a tall young man with smooth skin and a sweet face. He said that two guys and a girl who fit my description were sleeping in the back of the band shell. He'd seen Carrick around, he said. He had no idea how young she was, and said he understood why I was doing what I was. He said his name was Danny. He offered to come with us. We tried to figure out what to do about the $20. The guy with the stroller wanted a cut of it even though he wasn't accompanying us, but Danny didn't seem to trust him to split the money later. I was reluctant to pull my wallet out of a concealed pocket of my jacket, but I did. I gave the guy with the stroller $10, and Champ told Danny he'd get the other $10 after we were sure that Carrick really was where he said she was. That seemed to be okay with him.
We got to a wire fence on the north side of the band shell, which was in terrible shape. Champ suggested that he and Danny look inside the structure, and that I wait by the fence alone. They were afraid Carrick would take off if she saw me coming. They went through a rip on the river side of the fence, and stopped at the wall of the structure for a few seconds. As they walked back, I could not discern from their expressions what they'd seen.
“She's there,” Champ said, his voice trailing off, as if there was a hitch. My heart raced - part joy, part anxiety. Then, like a soldier who'd been behind the enemy lines, Champ described the scene. He said the three of them were asleep under some blankets on a raised platform.
“It's not stable, Tommy,” he said. “It could collapse at any time.”
Champ then turned to Danny and told him he could go, handing him a $10 bill from the money I'd given him earlier.
Danny shook his head.
“I want to make sure this man gets his daughter back,” he said.
Champ started to get agitated. He asked me what I wanted to do. I didn't really trust anybody at this point. But I figured having two people around was better than one, so I said Danny should stay.
“I think it's better if I go in alone, though,” I said. “I'm going to make it clear to everybody that I don't want any trouble. I just want Carrick to come home with me.”
I felt like I was in an outtake from the movie Traffic, which I'd seen recently. The protagonist, played by Michael Douglas, discovers his addicted teenage daughter turning tricks in a squalid hotel room to support her habit. I hoped that it would not come to a fight, as it had with Douglas's character, or that I'd face a weapon. But I also felt a foolish confidence, as if the righteousness of my mission would protect me.
"I Don't Want Any Trouble"
I slipped through the fence. Champ and Danny remained at the opening, presumably ready to back me up. I walked quickly across the vaulted chamber, which was filled with debris and trash. A makeshift ladder leaned against what looked like a sleeping loft about eight feet off the ground in the southwest corner. I climbed it. Carrick was in the middle of two lumps under blankets, cuddled against a figure in the far corner. I leaned across a completely submerged body and shook her. I wondered what to say. Should I be firm, or conciliatory? Should I ask, or demand?
“I'm here to take you home, Carrick,” I said. “I don't want any trouble.”
It took a couple of shakes before Carrick open her eyes and looked at me.
“I don't want any trouble,” I repeated.
She said nothing; closed her eyes. The young man in the foreground sat up and stretched, but seemed oblivious to me.
“C'mon, Carrick,” I said.
“Give me a couple of minutes,” she muttered, as if I was rousting her for school. Her face was dirty; her hair matted. She looked stoned. She shook the body in the corner, and started to whisper in his ear. I heard her say, “baby.” He lifted his head, which was swathed in a bandana. I saw a crescent tattoo on his temple. He glanced at me through dazed eyes, and looked away.
I climbed down from the ladder to allow them to, I hoped, say goodbye to each other. I walked to the middle of the bandshell so I ostensibly was out of earshot but could still see them. I worried they would take the opportunity to hatch some escape plan. Carrick lay down. I gave her a minute or so.
“C'mon, Carrick,” I said, “time to go,” again assuring everyone that I wanted no trouble.
She sat up, slowly gathered some loose gear, stuffed it into her leather backpack and pecked on the cheek the man who I assumed was Chaos. She said goodbye to the other figure, who was heavily pierced, and crawled over him. She would not take the hand I offered to assist her as she came down the ladder. At the bottom, I hugged her. She responded hollowly. She did not seem to be there. She greeted Champ warmly, though, and they immediately started talking.
Danny Believes in God
Danny and I led the way on the walk back up the park path. Carrick asked Champ for a cigarette. They stopped, so I did, too. Champ shook the pack until a few butts protruded, and silently offered them to Danny and me. Danny took one. I shook my head. The three of them shared a match that Champ cupped against the wind. Carrick told me later that she was sure I was going to take a cigarette. I had quit smoking, for the last time, about ten years before. I'd told Carrick several times that it was even harder for me to quit using nicotine than alcohol. For the last five years of my addiction, I smoked a pipe, but inhaled. On one of my birthdays, I gathered Carrick and her brother Duncan, who is five years younger, in front of our wood stove and ceremoniously tossed my half-dozen briars in the flames. I probably did entertain the idea of lighting up when Champ extended the pack to me. Maybe there was a tinge of hesitation in my voice that Carrick picked up on. My lungs often jump at a whiff of cigarette smoke. Carrick later told me that she was very relieved I said no.
“I would have lost my respect for you if you'd taken the cigarette,” she said.
Danny and I talked. He asked me if I believed in God. I said not in the sense that most people do, but that I respected many religions and thought that anything that helped people was good. I was spiritual, I said, but not religious. He said he couldn't imagine that there was not a God. He said he was in recovery himself, from drinking and drugging. He was going to meetings again after having slacked off. The streets were tough, he said. A popular kid in the neighborhood had died a few weeks before when he shot up some dope laced with rat poison. Everyone knew the pusher responsible, but he'd disappeared.
“When we find him,” Danny said, “he's dead.”
Danny told me that he'd seen Carrick snorting heroin in East River Park the night before with the girl she was with, whom he had not seen before. I was surprised - not by the fact that she had taken heroin, which I'd already become resigned to, but because it was evident that, like a small village, everybody seemed to know what was happening to everybody else in Losaida, as the neighborhood is known.
Danny said he'd had a tough life himself, but he wasn't complaining. His father had owned several nightclubs and was prosperous, but he got into drugs and lost everything. Danny used to fish with his father, he said, and they loved each other, but he died several years before. His mother drank, he said, and beat him. She had thrown him out of her apartment in the Jacob Riis public housing project, but he was on his way to see if she'd take him back because he couldn't stay with his girlfriend any longer. We shook hands at the corner of Ave. D and East Tenth St. I gave Danny a twenty and wished him luck. He said that if I ever wanted to know more about the neighborhood, just ask for Danny. Everybody knew where to find him.
"I'm Gonna Pay You Back"
After Danny left, I watched Champ and Carrick prattle like drinking buddies. I wasn't entirely sure that that they weren't in cahoots. Maybe Carrick had convinced Champ I was an evil dad and she'd tear down the street while he restrained me. I broke into their conversation, telling Champ that I'd seen a jogger that morning throwing jabs and repeating loudly, “keep dancing, keep dancing.” He agreed that boxing was all about where you put your feet, and started to give us a demonstration on the sidewalk. A woman with a stroller nervously swerved around us.
Carrick said she was hungry and suggested that we eat at an Indian restaurant. I asked Champ if that was okay with him, and he said that he'd never had Indian food. I saw a couple of other ethnic restaurants on the street; Champ said he was basically a meat and potatoes guy. We wound up at a Polish restaurant, where he ordered a hamburger. I devoured my kielbasa; Carrick didn't finish her meal. Neither, to my surprise, did Champ. Junkies don't seem to have much appetite, I learned later, except for crap like sugary cereal and ice cream.
Back on the sidewalk, Champ asked for directions to Tompkins Square Park, which was only a couple of blocks away. It struck me that, despite his swagger, he was a rube who had not ventured far from familiar quarters. He took me aside, whispering conspiratorially.
“Listen, would it be okay if I called Carrick to see how she's doing?” he asked. “Maybe I could even come and visit her sometime. She says she'd like to take some more boxing lessons.”
“Sure,” I said. “Why don't you keep the calling card.”
“Really? Hey, thanks, man. I could use it to find a job.”
I looked into his eyes and gripped his hand as firmly as I could.
“I want to thank you for saving Carrick's life,” I said. I did not think I was exaggerating. I slipped him another $20.
“I really mean that,” I said.
“It was nothing, man, nothing. Soon as I get on my feet, I'm gonna pay you back.”
Carrick and I headed to the station for the No. 5 train. When it came, she took a seat, and I stood over her. Her eyes closed and her head slumped.
I was reminded of a subway ride I had taken with Duncan to Yankee Stadium about six weeks earlier to see Cal Ripkin, Jr. in his final appearance there. We sat across from two black girls. They looked to be even younger than Carrick. I couldn't help but feel that their lives were destined for misery. Their eyelids seemed weighted down, their heads swayed lightly like one of those plaster bobbing-head dolls, their hands were suspended in front of their face, shielding them from anything external, fingers occasionally flicking. They were deeply stoned.
Carrick was not nodding, but she had the same look of detachment as I looked down at her.
We got off at Grand Central.
As soon as we boarded the Metro North train to return to Hastings-on-Hudson, Carrick slouched in the seat and shut her eyes. I told her she had to answer two questions before I'd let her sleep.
“I want honest answers because we can't help you to help yourself otherwise,” I said. “How long have you been using heroin? And are you shooting it as well as snorting?”
“I've never touched that shit,” she said. “Whoever told you otherwise doesn't know what the fuck they're talking about.”
I knew she was lying, but what could we do except wait for the results of a drug test? And then what? We'd have her tested for the HIV virus, too, for sure. And hepatitis. But what beyond that? Should we force her to go to another rehab? Using what reward as bait? What punishment as a threat?
I felt I'd accomplished nothing. On the surface, I had dragged my daughter out of the belly of the beast. But deep down I knew it was illusory. When I saw her lying between two scuzzy junkies in that crumbling band shell, I knew how low she was prepared to sink to in order to use drugs. Like a pipe to the head, it struck me that Deirdre and I had little, if any, control over our 17-year-old daughter's fate.