My Name Tomorrow? A tale of growing up too
by Kathleen Grassel
"A life is never about one person but
rather a tapestry of many lives."
Alicia is under house arrest at a shelter
for pregnant girls. An old rambling house
in down-town Albuquerque with big rooms and
plenty of light it may be the best place Alicia
has ever lived. At 17, she's been homeless
most of her life, running away from an abusive
home, then running from the law, always with
older men, only to find a new "home"
in another gray, windowless jail. I pick her
up on Sunday afternoon for a late lunch at
Einstein's Bagels. She can go out for an hour
at a time under supervision. I first met her
last year when she was in the county youth
detention center. She was an attractive, quiet
girl in my Saturday morning T'ai Chi class.
My class is aimed at teenagers with alcohol
or drug addictions. Alicia was one of the
most hard core, addicted to methamphetamine
We drive around at her request. She is starved
for attention and wants to talk. Her grandfather
is dying of some alcohol-related dis ease.
She wants to visit him, tell him about Jesus.
She would feel at ease if he were in Jesus'
care. Alicia is deeply religious, storing
her beat-up Bible in the same cache as needles
and spoons-the paraphernalia of her addiction.
Her mom picks her up for church Sunday mornings.
This is their weekly contact. Alicia rarely
misses Sunday services, not so unusual until
you know that she started ditching school
in the fourth grade, drinking and smoking
with some classmates. She's gotten her education
since then at detention homes and other correctional
facilities. "There's where I'd go when
I was homeless," she says, pointing at
a graffiti covered house, a site of frequent
drug busts. "There's Denny's," she
points across the street. "That's where
I would sit up all night tweaking and drinking
coffee." I ask her what tweaking is.
"Doing meth," she replies absently.
All I knew about meth was that it's
a powerful, addictive stimulant that badly
jolts the central nervous system. Alicia told
me how it's made. She rattles off the recipe,
the ingredients of which sit on the shelves
of drug stores, hardware stores, animal feed
stores; stuff like cold pills and fertilizer.
Easy as making burritos, which Alicia can
also do. This much red phosphorous, that much
ephe-drine, so much iodine and lye. Add water
and simmer for a few hours. The efficient
meth cook stays away from the finished product,
though, which Alicia never could do. If she
knew that $1,000 of ingredients could turn
a profit of$ 15,000 or more, it probably would
not matter. Alicia has been injecting the
stuff for years, as an aside claiming her
use of the drug let her cut back on chain-smoking
and drinking. But she's not kidding her self.
"Once the needle went in, it never came
out," she says matter-of-factly; I marvel
at the poetry of her insight.
Alicia went to court shortly after en
tering the maternal shelter. The judge sentenced
her to six more months house arrest at the
shelter-about the time her baby is due-and
following that, two years probation. In some
ways, Alicia has lived a charmed life. She
has been in front of a judge some 20 times
since she was 13, and always gets a break.
She's pretty, though carrying a rough look
after so many years of drug abuse. She's charming
and lively, with a life-embracing sense of
humor. "I knew I was pregnant when I
craved milk in stead of meth," she said,
not trying to be funny but laughing anyway.
The judges, attorneys, probation officers
and counselors-as much a part
of her life as the bad company she keeps-seem
to like her, and she likes them.
This time, though, the judge threw in a bitter
pill. As part of her probation, he disallowed
her any contact with her "old man."
Alicia's "old-man, "perhaps
a more appropriate term than "boyfriend"
since he's 42, is the father of her upcoming
child. She says she loves him and would do
anything for him. She writes him every day,
and her eyes brim with tears of frustration
and longing every time she thinks of him.
"I'm going to be there for him,"
she says. "He needs a lot of support."
Maybe so. He's in jail awaiting trial for
manufacture and operation of a meth lab, illegal
possession of firearms, and a host of other
crimes. Most likely, he'll plea bargain and
get five years-maybe enough time for Alicia
to raise her baby and forget him. Alicia was
with him when the FBI raided the remote trailer
house where they manufactured the stuff. He
was cooking meth and she was cooking supper
when they started beating down the door. She
immediately sprang into action, pouring bleach
into the chemi cals and over the equipment
and light ing the whole works on fire to spoil
Alicia wants to be domestic: to cook
and clean and raise babies and serve a man.
Her choices in men have been atrocious: always
decades older than she, always connected to
drugs. She seems to want someone to protect
her and, at the same time, to get her high.
In return, she loves them with all her heart
and very quickly lands in deep trouble. She
stands by them arid they throw her away.
She ran away to Seattle at age 14 with
one of these guys. When he got busted, she
concocted a plan to break him out of jail.
It worked. As he escaped, she got caught hut
lied her way out of jail, then hitchhiked
with truckers back to Albuquerque. Pursued
by police another time in Denver, a different
"old man" let her fend for herself
as he jumped from a moving vehicle they'd
just stolen. She had just shot up a “75-uriit
blast," as she describes it, getting
her self caught with a quarter ounce of meth,
spoons, needles, the works, wrapped around
her midriff. For that she was transported
to the emergency room and put on an IV drip
to rehydrate her badly abused 82-pound (37kg)
body, then transported, in shackles and tears,
back to New Mexico, again ending up at the
detention center, and later in my T'ai Chi
class where T first met her. Some months later,
on probation, she fell in drug love with another
"old man," got pregnant and hosted.
Back she came to the D-home and again to my
“Hi, hello," she chirped.
“Remember me?" "Of course
I do, honey," I replied, giving her a
hug. "I'm going to have a baby,"
she said. "I'm going straight."
Then she burst into tears.
At the detention home, the girls aren't
permitted the makeup, jewelry, and clothes
that so heavily define them to their peers.
Everyone wears the stand ard blue T-shirts,
sweatpants, and Nikes. On the outside the
girls dress in short, tight dresses to show
off their tattoos as much as their bodies,
paint their lips and eyes and nails, and lacquer
their hair up and out beyond belief. But on
the inside they resume a childlike demeanor
that belies their tough, saucy personas. Only
when I met Alicia at the shelter did I realize
that she, too, was one of those girls. She
swung her body with the confidence of an adult
who has lived a full life.
A life is never about one person but
rather a tapestry of many lives. People at
the end look back, remember untold, forgotten
or discarded stories, trying to understand
their lives. Alicia, at 17, de-termined to
change, is like those old people. "I
don't remember half my life,” she says,
referring to alcohol abuse from age 10 and
drug addiction from 14, hav ing blotted out
the scorched psychic landscapes of all she's
seen. She remem bers her parents divorce when
she was three, a disturbed brother who strangled
the family dog in front of her, sexual abuse
by Mom's boyfriend, changing schools as one
or both parents moved, her first boyfriend
blowing his brains out in front of her and
everyone at an all-night drug party. "I
want you to drink my blood when I die,"
he told her sec onds before covering her and
every one with blood and bone shards and somehow
the party went on.
Neither her mother or father noticed
or cared when she left home; at least that's
what she says. Her relationship to her father,
and uncovering his history, could reveal the
cause of her fatal attractions to older men.
She is anxious to make contact with him. It's
been a year and a half since she last saw
him, and now, after a half dozen times standing
her up, he's finally kept an appointment.
Many of us, as we grow older, lose the
will to take risks. We just follow patterns.
Alicia, by going straight with all the firm
determination she can muster, is taking the
most radical risk of her life. 'My addiction
has already taken me," she says. "If
it took my baby, too, I couldn't live with
it." She's resolved to get healthy for
her baby, and in doing so, is starting to
understand that she can save her own life,
too. And, most important: "T want
my child to be a child till she's 12 even.
I want to cry. Alicia has no way of knowing
that one can be a child long after the age
I drop her back at the shelter with
a hug goodbye. I think of karma, how under
the law of karma there's only complete justice.
Then I think of grace. Yeah. Something, somebody
will make an exception for you. Alicia believes
in grace. So do I
Kathleen Grassel lives in New Mexico, where
she works as a technical writer, editor and
graphics designer at the Institute of Public
Law at the University of New Mexico. She is
also working on a Masters degree in Water
This article was published in New Renaissance,
Volume 9, No. 1, issue 27 and this page was
posted on the web on August 18, 1999.