I was a lousy tooth fairy. I couldn’t find the tooth. Dodging cigarette butts, syringes, and moldy fast food wrappers, I crawled on the filthy floor looking for my son’s dental crown. The dentist said he’d reattach it for a minimal fee. He wasn’t being kind. I’d already paid off a substantial portion of his mortgage to restore my son’s beautiful smile. I needed to see that smile, but my son wasn’t in his apartment like he said he’d be. Addicts aren’t known for truthfulness.
His apartment wasn’t locked. I walked right in with only a slight hesitation at what I’d find. It was as bad as I thought it would be. Addicts aren’t known for cleanliness. It was hot, gloomy, and smelly. The electricity had been shut off. Addicts aren’t known for promptly paying bills.
No air conditioning; no lights; no tooth in the place my son called home.
It was getting dark. I needed to get out. I needed to breathe fresh air. I needed my son not to be an addict with a hole in his smile. He already had a hole in his soul, I couldn’t fix. I’d tried many times and failed, just like the times I’d tried to lose weight, exercise, and be the perfect mother.
As a child, my son was afraid of the dark. I’d turn his dinosaur lamp on, and read him a bedtime story from one of his Dr. Seuss books. When I’d finish, he’d hug me tight and remind me to leave the lamp on. I missed those hugs.
There aren’t words to describe how I felt going to bed with a full belly under a pile of blankets in the winter knowing the little boy, who had been afraid of the dark, was a grown man without a full belly, a pile of blankets, or much of a future.
I couldn’t save him from him. I didn’t know that then; I know it now.
I thought if I cried enough, spent enough, worried enough, and pleaded enough he would stop. Eventually he did, but not because of my wasted tears, money, worry or words. He said he stopped because he was tired. He stopped because he was ready to stop.
My heart felt light as a feather the first time my sober son told his story of hope to a crowded room full of addicts. When he finished, he looked at me in the audience and grinned that beautiful, expensive smile. I grinned back with tears in my eyes. While people stood and clapped, he walked over and hugged me tight. I didn’t want to let go, but I’d learned the hard way that I had to.