I met a crack addict the other day. I saw her through the window at McDonalds with a handful of crumpled tissues and an untouched cup of tea. Tears were dripping from her chin. I hesitated mid-step, but walked straight past. Fifty metres down the road I knew that I could not let her go.
“Hi. I saw you through the window and just wanted to ask if everything’s okay?”
Turns out it wasn’t. Turns out her husband had died 6 months ago of liver failure – a direct result of too much heroin for too many years. His body just gave up. He was in prison when he died, he was about to be released. She told me an epic love story of their meeting at 16, marrying soon after and of a fulfilling 25 year partnership that followed. Without him she was lost.
“I just want to kill myself. I want to throw myself under a bus out there. And I would. I swear I would. But I don’t even have the guts. I don’t even have the guts to kill myself. Useless. Fucking useless.”
She had her first hit at 14 and was a full blown addict before she reached 18. She’d been addicted ever since. She told me how the pair of them had drifted in and out of prison for years, mostly for petty crimes like stealing from the family business.
While we sat there a scrawny man handed her 40 quid before scuttling away wordlessly. I don’t know why. She muttered something about loaning him some money a while back.
There was silence for a while. I had my hand on her knee and we both stared at the crowds surging down the street outside. The sky was fittingly grey.
“I just don’t know what to do. There’s no point me being here. There’s nothing for me.”
Her parents had been pleading with her to come home to Ireland. There was a job waiting for her at their corner shop.
“It won’t work. It never works. I steal from the till and run off. I’ve failed them too many times. I’m a failure.”
She spoke like it was something completely out of her control. And it was.
Her parents had taken guardianship of her two children as soon as they were born. They had to wean them off drugs as newborns. A girl and a boy, 14 and 16 now she told me. I thought I saw a flash of life in her eyes, but it could have been the lights of passing car.
“But I don’t know them. I don’t know them at all.”
A fresh wave of tears and another stretch of silence.
She still took methadone, prescribed by the NHS. She also took anti-depressants. The latest batch was making her fat she said, they made her hungry all day long. Her hair was a dull blonde, almost grey. Clumped and limp. She was missing a few nails and the tip of her middle finger. Her teeth were jagged and yellowed.
I tried to speak words of life to her. I tried to encourage her. Told her life was worth it. She was worth it. Things will get better. We both knew I was 20 years too late. She had already written herself off. I told her there was no way I could fully understand what she was going through. The loss of a soul mate, life-controlling addiction, children she didn’t know. I had no wise counsel to impart. But I did know that she was precious and valued and noticed. I noticed her.
We hugged for a long time before parting ways.
I don’t know if there’s some major life lesson in all this. I don’t know if it happened for a reason. It’s just a chance happening that I think about sometimes. I think of her in her vulnerability and I think of me in mine, and it sure puts my problems into perspective.
We’re all souls needing to be noticed and needing to be heard – just some more than others.