That could be my son
Last updated 1/11/2023 at Noon
How did my beautiful golden-haired, blue-eyed boy who grew to six-foot-five, who loves animals (he’s a dog whisperer), has a wicked sense of humor, is enviably creative in a variety of ways — how did he morph into a 46-year-old shell of a man, living on the streets?
His physical body is wracked by damage from years of addiction and recurring infections. His mind slips into and out of a world of paranoia that sometimes even questions my motives.
He made his entrance into the world as the youngest of six children in a busy blended family, the members of which had each experienced their own kinds of loss and trauma. Looking back, I experience guilt for his earliest years when he seemed to live in his car seat as I chauffeured his five half-siblings to schools, practices, lessons, friends’ houses, and appointments.
From the very beginning, he had exuberant energy, a sensitive, kind heart, and a large physical stature, causing people to mistake him as being older than his tender years. All through my pregnancy with him I took exceptional care of myself, doing everything I could to ensure a happy, healthy baby. It breaks my heart over and over and over to see how he has destroyed that handsome, healthy body.
Knowing he is homeless is an especially cruel irony. His father was an exceptionally successful homebuilder, providing housing for thousands of families throughout Puget Sound. He died several months ago, bringing to a close a very unsatisfactory, damaging relationship between father and son. His dad just never understood him, or really appreciated his talents. After hearing his father was gone, my son uttered through his tears, “I just wanted once for him to be proud of me. Now, that’s no longer a possibility.”
My son was diagnosed as having ADHD at age 5. I’ve often wondered if the medication he was given made him more vulnerable to predisposed genetic addiction – a trait with a long history on both sides of his family.
Despite his innate intelligence, school was a very frustrating place for him. I always knew when he had a really good teacher who understood, liked, and encouraged him because he would excel.
He discovered in junior high that drugs helped stop his mind from racing, and soon they took precedence in his life, and school had less and less importance.
His physicality and size made him a welcome addition on youth football, soccer, and basketball teams. He even tried fencing for a while, which was good because it required him to focus and rely only on his own abilities.
Growing up in a prosperous suburb, he had all the advantages that money make possible. He was a Cub Scout, was able to swim in the summer at the nearby racquet club, attended summer camp, enjoyed GI Joe and Star Wars toys, wore Vans sneakers, went on a number of family vacations, and had several nice bikes and skateboards. He also had several different tutors and counselors through his younger years. His father and I divorced when he was 8.
This typical advantaged suburban boy began his long road to addiction and houselessness when he started “experimenting” with consuming 40s of beer and smoking marijuana. I think he would agree the experimenting phase didn’t last long.
What followed was a series of problems at school, legal difficulties both as a youth and adult, adolescent outpatient and inpatient substance abuse treatments, psychiatric hospitalization and escape, time at a ranch for troubled boys and running away, juvenile incarceration to age 21, periods as an adolescent and adult of not using and living at home with me, two terms of community college, birth of a daughter, committing crimes, adult incarceration, a year of abstinence after release, engagement in a video project targeted at troubled youth that took him across the country for presentations, summer film school, increased drug use, introduction of oxycontin and heroin, and moving down the housing ladder to reach homelessness.
Writing this leaves me sad and tired. What a terrible waste of raw talent, great natural abilities, and creativity in drawing, painting, videography, and writing.
To ease my own concerns, I paid for a week in a two-star motel for him over Christmas because his locale was having unusually frigid weather. I relaxed a little knowing he was warm, had a bed in which to sleep, and a bathroom – at least for a few days.
I hope the next time you encounter one of our houseless neighbors, or are tempted to denigrate “those homeless people,” you will remember that person is someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, sister or brother, or friend. They didn’t come into this world battered and bruised, and what they deserve is kindness, not judgment, and an encouraging word. You could be looking at my son.
I love my son with the love only found in a mother’s heart. This is not really my story to tell, but I share it to let those of you who face similar heartbreak know you are not alone. I also hope it will serve as a reminder to those who look askance at our houseless neighbors to show some compassion.