Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fool Creek

Fool Creek

When the deputies found him, he was barefoot and wearing only torn gym shorts and a wife-beater. His right eye was swollen shut and bleeding. He was wrapped in a sodden sleeping bag stumbling through a foot of fresh snow a mile and a half from the main highway on an almost-a-road headed toward the mountains. He told the officers that he thought someone had been with him, but when they found his car, which had gone through a farmer’s fence and into a ditch, there was a single set of shoeprints.

He almost died in a blizzard at four a.m. up Fool Creek Canyon , just a few miles from home as the crow flies. And I’d suspected he was in trouble and I hadn’t called for help.

He’d called me at around 2:30 a.m., the fourth night in a row that I’d been awakened by one child or another in distress…three of those nights, it had been him. I was bone weary, what with two days of serious detox this 30-year-old alcoholic son of mine had been through, and the resulting relapse on the third day. We’ve been on this roller coaster since he was 12, and have seen the heights his soul can reach, and watched, with horror, the depths to which this disease can take a family. This time, we’re in the deep again.

“Mom, I’m going to stop at Wayne’s because the snow is too bad to drive home.” I felt the breath go out of me. Wayne was an ongoing provider of the beverage that was killing my son.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. You’re almost home.” I looked out the window and it only looked like a few inches on the road to me.

“Mom, I’m scared. I can’t see the road. I’m going to sleep at Wayne’s. He’s not even home.” It’s funny that he uses the same lines he used as a teen and thinks I can’t see through them.

“Well, did he take all his alcohol with him?”

Silence. Then anger.

“I’ll be fine. See you tomorrow.” Click.

It wasn’t five seconds until the phone rang again.

“Mom, whatever prayer you just prayed will you un-pray it? My headlights just went out!” He was beyond angry and thought I was responsible. If I’d had that kind of power, he’d be sober.

“Where are you? I’ll come get you.”

But the jonesing for more alcohol was too strong. “I’m fine mom. I can see enough to get to Wayne’s house.”


“Where are you?”

“I don’t even know where I am.” That was a lie as transparent as the icicles forming outside my bedroom window. “I can get to Wayne’s, Mom. Don’t worry. I hate it when you worry.”
Then don’t give me so much to worry about, I thought. I knew better than to speak those kinds of words aloud.

“I don’t feel good about it, Chris.”

“I know, Mom.”

It was in the middle of a desperate prayer that he called again. (I’d been praying what I called the prayer of Alma on behalf of my son. I wanted the angel…the miracle…)

“Mom, I went off the road.”

“Where are you?”

“I don’t know where I am.”

“Well, you must be close to the main highway.”

“I’m just going to sleep in my car.” He didn’t sound drunk. He was a little slow, disoriented maybe. That could just be tired. I had told him during the last drunk driving call that if I thought he was drinking and driving again I would call and turn him in. But I wasn’t sure. Or maybe I knew and didn’t want to know. Looking back it’s easier to tell than it was in the dead of night reality I was experiencing.

“Chris, it’s snowing. It’s cold. You can’t sleep in your car.”

“Mom, I’ve winter camped a hundred times! I have a sub-zero sleeping bag in my car. I have lots of gas. It’ll be light in a couple of hours. I’ll be fine.” I know it’s hard to believe, but it made sense at the time. I told him it scared me, which annoyed him.

“You’re an adult. You do what you need to do,” I finally said, which I’m sure he took as permission. Honestly, I was tired. I thought it was tough love. He hung up.

Here’s what really happened. He had been drinking the previous evening, but had worn out the alcohol supply and his freeloading welcome at this particular friend’s house, so he was seeking another. I had taken control of his money, but addicts are creative and charming and extremely resourceful. He was on his way to another drinking buddy’s house. He’d been stressed out by the drive and had taken enough Xanax to safely relax five or six people. He’d driven off the road, through a fence and sustained a concussion among other injuries.

While I thought he was safely asleep in his subzero bag, he was climbing out of the wreckage of his car, and heading in what he thought was the direction of Wayne’s house. He had climbed a fence, crossed the highway, climbed another fence and headed up Fool Creek Canyon toward the mountains. How he didn’t realize he wasn’t on a highway? Who knows? Somewhere along the way, he’d lost his shoes. A couple of times he’d fallen asleep and felt someone wake him. The last time, he’d heard that same man tell him to call 911. His phone battery was dying as he asked dispatch if they could find him by GPS. And they had. The sheriff’s had breathalized him, but he only blew .02 so they didn’t charge him.

It’s a miracle he didn’t die. Another miracle that the man he insisted had helped him didn’t exist. One set of footprints.

A third miracle? He is alive in my kitchen.

He’d almost died, and I hadn’t called 911.

How does a mother live with that? Or with the fact that, hours later, he would be drinking again, more than 100 beers in three days? What does a mother do to try to save a son who insists on trying to destroy himself?