Retching in the Night
When we got home from the city, Deirdre and Carrick tearfully embraced. Then Carrick went to bed. Deirdre and I talked about our options. We agreed that unless Carrick wanted to get and stay clean, there was little hope that she would. We could make the offer to help in any way we could, but it would be fruitless unless she had the desire, herself, to stop using drugs. Since she had denied using heroin, and seemed to be tired and dirty but physically okay, we decided to have her tested before bringing up the subject of a detox program.
I heard Carrick retching during the night but did not get up. The bathroom smelled of vomit in the morning.
Carrick's relationship with Deirdre and me during the next few days was an emotional seesaw. We were never quite sure which way she would tip — contrite or demanding; demure or combative. After a few days, Deirdre took her to our family doctor for a drug test. Several weeks later, we were told the test was useless because there had been excessive water in her urine.
Carrick had gained two practical skills from WestPrep, one of the several drug rehabilitation programs she attended: She learned where to get more potent drugs, and she had become an expert at doctoring tests (although this particular job was so amateurish that it suggested she just didn't care).
Champ called a couple of times during the week. We'd discuss job possibilities for him, and then I'd put Carrick on the phone. She'd take the cordless and drift off to another room, where I'd hear her laugh from time to time. We tried to figure out a day when Champ could come up and visit. He said he'd give Carrick boxing lessons, as he had in Tompkins Square Park, and she seemed enthused. We finally settled on Sunday. It was Deirdre's and my twenty-fourth wedding anniversary but we didn't want to go out and leave Carrick alone anyway. I gave Champ explicit directions: Get the No. 6 train at Astor Place, transfer to the No. 4 at Grand Central Station, and get off at Bedford Park Blvd. in the Bronx, where I'd pick him up at 3 p.m. I told him to count on dinner, too.
Back To School
Carrick returned to the Walkabout School on Wednesday. The academic portion of her program was about to kick into gear. I'm sure this frightened her. She talked to the social worker at Walkabout, Jeannie. We had informed her of everything that had happened, even of our suspicion that Carrick had snorted heroin. Evidently Carrick and Jeannie had a good, open conversation. On Wednesday night about 10 p.m., Carrick finished up some homework that was overdue and asked me to help her attach it to an e-mail message to her teacher. I did not check her work that night — those days were long gone; I was just happy to see her so eager to finish something. I've looked at it since, though. It's titled “Journal: Finished Piece.” In it, Carrick wrote that she had found the perfect place to people watch on the Lower East Side, right above a subway station.
“Old men come here to drink beer while I come here to smoke weed, and we stay as far away as possible from each other on opposite benches, respecting each other's recreational boundaries,” she wrote.
The next morning, it became clear why Carrick had been so intent on e-mailing the assignment to her teacher. She cut school. We learned that she had posed as Deirdre and called both the bus company and the school office to report that she was sick.
In the early afternoon, we got a call from Jeannie asking how Carrick was feeling. It was then that we discovered she was absent. I was sure she'd taken off again, but Jeannie was sanguine. She suggested that we wait until the time Carrick was due home before worrying. Sure enough, Carrick sauntered in right on schedule. I trapped her with one of those ungratifying questions like, “So, how did school go today?” She concocted a story that revolved around how boring the day had been. When I told her that I knew she hadn't gone to class, she cooked up another tale about visiting her friend Vanessa in Bronxville. I believed that she'd really gone down to see Chaos, but she denied it. Our conversation was civil.
Later, Carrick told me that the day before she had bared her soul to Jeannie, who told Carrick that she should be as straightforward with us as she had been with her.
“So,” Carrick told me, “I'm going to be honest even if you don't like what I have to say.”
A Diatribe Against Suburbia
What followed was a diatribe against suburbia, phoniness, fashion, make-up, keeping up appearances and related Holden Caulfieldesque themes. I recalled delivering a very similar speech to my parents about 30 years before. I particularly remember keying in on Westchester County, where our home is situated, as the ground zero of everything that was plastic in American society. I swore I'd never live there.
Carrick then said some sweet things about us. She appreciated, in particular, that we were "open-minded."
“But,” she continued, “Monday [the day I'd gone downtown to find her] did something we could not ignore.”
She told me that the people she learned the most from didn't fit the status quo. She admitted that she was addicted to weed but said she did not want to change. She did not have any desire to use any other drug than marijuana. She did not agree with the precepts of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. She understood, however, that as long as she lived under our roof she would have to respect our rules about using drugs. A curfew, though, was something else. She simply was not going to be “grounded” anymore.
I pointed out that while we had been keeping very close tabs on whom she went out with and when she returned, we had not turned down any request to go anywhere or do anything since she'd come home from her last residential treatment program several months before. She had managed to do things within the parameters that we felt were safe for her, and that's the only concern we had.
Our conversation got heated. By the end, Carrick was yelling at me. I don't know if I was physically yelling back, but I'm sure I was psychically. She stormed off. Later, we reconciled when she came down from her room and agreed to the two things I insisted upon, even though she did not see anything wrong with smoking marijuana:
- that she stay sober
- that she get involved with a 12-step program of her choice
The change of heart had come all too easily, it seemed to me, but I was getting used to Carrick's running hot one minute, cold the next. I was also suspicious that she might have something up her sleeve. I asked her to write down what we agreed upon. I actually have a collection of similar “contracts,” which therapists suggest are a good way to clarify expectations and goals. They are no doubt correct. In our experience, though, they have literally not been worth the paper they are written on, however sincere the intent. On a piece of loose-leaf paper, with the holes on the right (a classic ADD mistake of hers), Carrick wrote:
“I promise that I will make time to go to meetings every day (at least for my first 90), get a sponsor I can work with, and work the program.
P.S. And I will not lie. I am definitely an addict and not feeling too honky dorie about getting sober.
That night at an AA meeting in Hastings, Carrick met two women in their twenties with whom she professed she felt a bond. Both were primarily drug users, liker her, and not drinkers. They told stories similar to Carrick's, she reported. They were closer in age than most of the other participants at the local meetings. One of them mentioned a NA meeting in White Plains, which was 20 minutes away by car, and offered to drive Carrick there the next night, Friday. When Carrick came back from that Friday meeting, she burst into tears in our living room. She had met yet another young woman whose story was very much like her own, she said. She had felt at home with the group. For the first time, she was among people who could understand what she was going through.
Saturday evening, Deirdre and I had a longstanding dinner engagement with a couple of friends at the Manhattan apartment of one of them. All week long we'd told Carrick that she had to come with us, and she'd not put up a fuss. Both women had known Carrick since she was an infant. The one whose apartment we were going to had been like an aunt to her, always giving her a well-considered gift at Christmas, always asking about her interests. On Saturday afternoon, Carrick threw a temper tantrum about accompanying us. It was if she were five years old. As had become usual, however, she calmed down and we all had a pleasant evening. When we returned home that night, there was a message on the answering machine that was indecipherable to us, although we later listened to it at least a dozen times. It was Chaos.
The next morning, I awoke about 9 to see Carrick standing in the doorway of our bedroom. She had a coat on. I asked her where she was going.
“Out for a walk,” she said, “I love you.”
She turned and left. When Deirdre and I got out of bed later than morning, we could feel Carrick's absence. Instinctively, we knew she'd taken off again.
"I'm Afraid of Champ"
Later that day, among the dirty clothes in a laundry basket that I guess she knew I'd look through, I found a note written on a page torn out from a stenographer's pad.
First of all, don't worry. I am not running away. I'll be home soon.
But - Champ isn't who you or I thought he was.
He is a con artist.
I first got concerned about him after Pops told me Champ's story about meeting me the other day.
Champ's story about his grand rescue while I was being harassed in the park is completely bogus.
After that I became suspicious & found more fabricated stories of his.
Then, my last straw, was when I found out today that his interest in me is not a Platonic one.
I know you guys want my safety more than anything.
But I'm scared. More scared than I ever have been. And something tells me in my gut that this is bad. I don't want him in my home or knowing where I live for that matter.
I don't trust him.
So I went somewhere where I can be alone & feel safe, because I'm afraid of anything getting serious - I don't trust him at all guys - please do what you can to keep him away.
I don't want him in our lives & I am sorry for bringing him into ours.
Down and Out in Philadelphia
Carrick had, in fact, run away with Chaos. We did not hear from her for more than a week, although she sent an e-mail to Vanessa asking her to let us know she was okay. Slowly, Deirdre built up an e-mail correspondence with Carrick, who used our AOL account at public libraries. Then Carrick started calling collect. We gave her a phone card number, and began to hear from her every few days.
She and Chaos were living in an abandoned veteran's facility in Philadelphia, panhandling and scrounging through garbage pails and dumpsters to eat. They also worked a scam at department stores where Carrick or accomplices would boost some items and then take it back to the returns department. After doing this a few times, they could only get store credit, which they'd sell at a steep discount to passers-by. We knew this only because we knew her password and were able to monitor her e-mails to Vanessa and other friends. She also e-mailed her brother from time to time, telling him that she had learned a lot about people.
People are afraid of me - now I am the kind of person that people cross the street to avoid,” she wrote to Duncan at the end of November. “Probably the kind of person that you are afraid to see when you go into the city, and it's not because I am mean or evil. I don't do drugs. I am always (still) polite to people but people look at me like I am less than they are - YOUR OWN SISTER! And you know why, Duncan? Because I don't have the money in my pocket - and bad people (the real Grinches) can smell that and they look down on me for it.”
I avoided talking to Carrick myself when she called home because I did not feel I could believe anything she told me. For one thing, I did not believe she was not using drugs. She, in turn, told Deirdre that she didn't trust me; she was afraid that I'd come looking for her if she gave us any more details about where she was staying. Indeed, there were times when my inclination was to have her arrested because I felt she'd be safer in jail, and perhaps would get some help. My cousin was a congressman at the time, and I considered calling him to intervene with federal authorities but I was reluctant to pull strings, particularly since I felt she'd just run again at the first opportunity.
Deirdre was more tolerant. She was firm about our expectations, but more flexible emotionally than I could be. If she said something that upset Carrick, she'd apologize. She kept a sense of humor, too, telling Carrick she had given her the earth name, “Running Daughter.” I admired Deirdre's capacity to bend, but could not do it myself. I was afraid that if Carrick said something provocative, I would answer harshly, and perhaps loose the connection Deirdre was forming.
One day in early December, I answered the phone when Carrick called. Our cautious greetings to each other soon degraded into a diatribe about how hard it was to make money on the street.
“I hate people. Everybody has a fucking attitude,” she said. “They don't understand how evil they are; how fucked up. They won't acknowledge me. They think I'm doing this for fun. I'm making nothing. They don't realize I don't have a choice?”
“But you do have a choice,” I said.
“I'm not coming home, if that's what you mean,” she said, and hung up.
In reaction to that call, I wrote a note to myself that I carried in my wallet for more than a year:
“You lie, steal, cheat and hurt other people without a thought. Why wouldn't people be smart to stay clear of you? I'd love to talk with you, but only when I'm reasonably certain I can believe what you say.”
On December 18, I talked to her again.
It was a dismal Christmas. Carrick didn't call. We ate in a deserted Turkish restaurant on the West Side and went to see the first Lord of the Rings movie.
Carrick did come home in the middle of January after two months on the streets. Chaos, who followed her to New York City, lived under the Williamsburg Bridge and visited her at our home a few times. We learned that his real name was Sean Courtney, that he was 30 years old, an ardent Irish republican, had been a guitarist and singer for a punk rock band, had grown up in Akron, and had two children with two different women. He also played the bagpipes and flute, we were told, and wanted to teach music to kids.
On the occasions that he came up to our home, Chaos seemed like a dark shadow, a ninja who skittered about and murmured gutterally more than spoke. His life story seemed unfathomable, filled with dangling aspirations and claims, and I didn't even attempt to nail it down.
Before long, Chaos was arrested in Jersey City, N.J., for possession of stolen property. There was a convoluted story about his accompanying a friend to Jersey under some other pretense and getting stuck on a sidewalk holding a TV that the guy boosted from an apartment.
I wanted to believe him. In fact, I always wanted to believe the best possible scenario in any given situation involving Carrick, despite the strong lunar pull of facts or common sense in the other direction.
Chaos called collect from the Hudson County Correctional Center for several weeks, but we cut his calls off after a $280 bill, at nearly $1.50 a minute, arrived. I thought it was outrageous that the New Jersey prision system did not allow convicts to use phone cards, and had contracted with a service provider that charged such an outrageous rate. Who, I wondered, was getting paid off? I contacted a friend of mine who edited a paper in Jersey, but the story didn't go anywhere. Of course it didn't. Who wants to read about convicts getting ripped off?
After I cut off the costly phone conversations, Chaos wrote Carrick several letters. She would read them and leave them open in places like the kitchen table, as if she wanted us to read them. I did, attracted by his childlike enthusiams, and his affection for Carrick.
"Carrick hey love," he started a letter in early March 2002. "So it's another day of nothing. i hope you can read this. i have been learning how to write in script. im getting better at it but it still needs a lot of work..."
Chaos said that he'd been doing a lot of writing in jail but he'd probably burn most of it when he got out. He asked if Carrick had gotten in touch with his dad to get pictures of his daughter. He talked about taking Carrick to San Francisco. Then he mused about going camping somewhere with her when he got out. He said he missed being able to built a fire whenever he felt like it. He claimed that a producer in Ireland had called his brother to see if Chaos' band, Rum Rebellion, would play in a Celtic music festival in homage to one Paddy West, evidently the deceased leader of the group. He wasn't sure if he should do it, and wanted Carrick's advice. He recommended that Carrick read Brendan Behan's The Quare Fellow and Ayn Rand's Anthem. And in the most bizarre passage, he wrote about having nightmares about when he was "still a soldier back home." He said he knew he was fighting for the right things, but sometimes he felt that he was "little more than a glorified killer."
In a subsequent letter, Chaos told Carrick he would do anything for her, and talked about the two of them getting an apartment with puppies and opening a café/bookstore together. He also urged her to “be careful.”
“You know what I mean,” he wrote. “I've lost so much because of that shit. Most of my friends are dead, or close to it.”
These words prompted us to order a drug-testing kit over the Internet. Before it arrived at the end of March, Deirdre awoke one morning to find a cloth pouch on the kitchen counter. It contained a glass tube with screens, two hypodermic needles, an empty glassine envelope, a bottle cap and a clothespin.
"I will tell you what I would do with a second chance: I would never forget that alcoholism is a disease, that I should hate the disease but care for its victim — just as I would react if a loved one were suffering from cancer or diabetes. I tried to maintain these attitude with Terry, but frequently my anger at her behavior in the grip of alcoholism translated into resentment and disappointment directed at her instead of her illness."
For years, we struggled to find the right balance between being compassionate toward Carrick and not enabling her self-destructive behavior. Early on, we agreed that I would be the bad cop and Deirdre would be the good cop, but this sent a mixed message at times.