Anna says she's been clean for about a week, at least since Monday, four days ago.
I don't know if I believe her. I'd like to, but ...
It's not that I'm calling Anna a liar, because heroin addicts have a different interpretation of the truth than you and I. The magician lives by slight of hand, the addict by slight of brain. Everything - every act, every statement - must serve the addiction because the horse has to be ridden.
Anna is the 26-year-old adopted daughter of Darrell Gordon of Rancho Peñasquitos and his late wife, Joyce. She knows nothing about her biological mother or father.
Darrell's unhappy story as the parent of a heroin addict was published last Monday in this space.
Anna seems an improbable source for so much sadness. She's a small woman with a pixie face and an ebullient personality. She's thin, maybe 20 pounds underweight, which gives her a waif appearance. She offers a cheerful face and open-arms candor that announces, "Here I am, world. This is me."
She has several visible tattoos. Perhaps not surprising, considering that her husband is a tattoo artist, currently unemployed.
Anna's upper teeth are practically gone. Just stubs. When she speaks, she self-consciously puts her hand in front of her mouth. Eroded teeth are a common result of crystal meth usage, which she admits to in the past. The condition is called "meth mouth." Anna, however, blames it on stomach acid from vomiting that she says she used to do frequently.
(A dentist confirmed that either situation can destroy teeth.)
Anna and her husband, Corey, 28, live in Riverside County. He is also a heroin addict. Corey says he has been on drugs since age 13, when he got started on pain pills.
Four years ago, Anna served a year in Los Colinas women's jail for the sale of drugs. She's had other encounters with the law that didn't go well.
She admits having shoplifted to support her habit, which can easily exceed $100 per day. Other than that, she's vague about how they come by money since both are unemployed.
How do you get money now?
"Well, at the moment, we don't. So that's, I mean ... just, you know, budgeting."
Both were clean for six months last year, before and after the birth of a daughter in August. Both went back on heroin toward the end of last year. Anna says the little girl was born free of drugs in her system.
Anna says, "I love my husband. Like my dad says, we have a lot of similarities. In a lot of people opposites attract, but my husband and I, we share a lot of similar qualities."
(I don't use the couple's last name because I have no wish to make their lives tougher than they already are.)
Anna's life is a litany of woes masked by her smiles. However, she had gotten off to a good start.
"I had a good childhood. I would like to raise my daughter the same way my parents raised me. At the same time, it was rough. My mom passed away when I was 4."
Her Oceanside childhood home was middle-class normal, almost straight-laced by what her father says, to which Anna agrees. Her relationship with a subsequent stepmother was fine, as those things go, and her two brothers are doing well.
"School was good. I got good grades all the way up until I started doing drugs. I started drinking in the sixth grade. My friend's mom would make us piña coladas or buy Mike's Hard Lemonade or Smirnoff Ice. And then I started smoking weed a year or so later."
Was marijuana a starter drug for you?
"I would say so. When I was smoking back then, if you asked me if it was a gateway drug, I'd be like, ‘No, it's not.' But it is, it is. I know. Everyone who says it's not is in denial."
Her middle-class home notwithstanding, Anna's life continued its rush toward the cliff's edge. She was beset by depression and even cut her wrists in seventh grade. Even if it was a cry-for-help gesture, it was still a cry that went unanswered because she kept her angst hidden. And when she started acting out, no one could pinpoint a cause.
It wasn't until her teen years were almost over that she was diagnosed as bipolar. By then, her life was on a destructive course that she couldn't or wouldn't change.
She says the psychiatric drugs she was given have, over time, had the opposite effect.
"I ended up with (steroid) rage, in a way. I was just angry, angry, angry."
Couldn't you tell the doctor you need an adjustment on the drugs?
"Yeah and I need to, I haven't. It's something I just, I haven't gotten around to."
Do you have mood swings?
"I do. Throughout the day, I go up and down and up and down. High, low, high, low. Yeah."
So wouldn't medication help that?
"Yeah. I think so. Yeah."
I take it you just don't want medication?
"Yeah, because I believe that I can be better than that. Like, I was raised better than that. I don't need to depend on a drug. Maybe I'm in denial, but I want to believe that I can be someone without relying on a drug."
Anna, how do you feel when you're on a heroin high?
She's quiet for a moment. This requires more than a quick answer. Then she digs into it. "It's hard to explain. Like, numb, in a sense, kind of. It just becomes routine, and you don't feel anything besides normal. You're not exactly high, but you're not sick, which is what you would be without the heroin. Dying is what it feels like. In the beginning, it's fun, and you just feel relaxed, like really relaxed. It takes away stress.
"When I think about it, it's just something I'm so used to. I mean, it's what I do. I use (heroin) to occupy my time. I mean, I've had jobs and stuff like that, and I enjoy that. But after having a criminal record and all that, it makes it harder to get a job. Then I'm kind of stuck being bored, and then I want to just - it just kind of passes the time. It makes your day go by."
What did it feel like when you resumed taking heroin late last year?
"It's nothing like how it used to be. It ends up being a matter of staying well enough to get through the day. It's like there's no rush anymore."
The effect diminishes over time, with use?
"Yeah. Your tolerance gets higher, and then you need to buy more, and if you can't buy more, then you're stuck with the same small amount, and so you end up just managing to stay not sick. There are some times that you'll have a random moment where you have a rush, but it's pretty much just like checking out. Checking out of life.
"I've only seen a couple of people (overdose), and it was just scary. It was the most horrifying thing that I've ever seen in my life."
Do you have fears of overdosing?
"I never really have because I'm really cautious."
Anna, do you sometimes wake up in the morning and say, "Today's the day I'm going to quit"? Or do you just say, " I have to get a fix"?
"When you're high, you're like, ‘I'm gonna get clean tomorrow,' and tomorrow comes and you start going through the whole pain of it all, and it's hard."
Once you go through the pain, and once you get clean, don't you say, "I'll never do that again?"
Then why do you regress?
"I'm trying to remember. My memory is so shot from all the drugs and alcohol. There was one specific time, in 2014, I think, I was like, ‘I'm not going to do it again.' Then I found myself at a friend's house, and they gave me a syringe of heroin. Just gave it to me, and I was like, ‘Oh no, that's OK.' And then ... I don't know. I was overwhelmed because my ex had just been arrested, and there was no way to pay the rent. It was scary and stressful. And so, I used."
When you're using, how many times a day do you smoke or inject?
"It depends. On a good day, if I'm able to get a lot (of heroin), it could be six times."
She says the combined usage for her and Corey can range from 1 to 3 grams per day. The street price in San Diego is about $100 per gram.
Anna says, "As a person, I like who I am. I wish I had made better decisions, but I can't change the past. I can just change my future. I want our daughter to grow up and be proud of her parents."
Is Anna's an achievable dream? I would never kill someone's dream; only he or she should have that power. Lives can be changed and saved. But for the heroin addict, getting clean and staying that way is a hot, dry desert to cross.
Anna was the girl next door. Dick and Jane, cute lunch boxes and afternoon cartoons.
But along came drugs, and that's where the storybook closed. No prom, no homecoming, no tasseled mortarboard.
Also absent from her life are the home-anchor husband, the safe and secure kids doing homework, the PTA, the career, the mortgage. Where did that all go? What happened?
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]