A Walk Down Misery Street

I soon learned that the government was paying for their education. According to US labor laws, people with chemical dependence are categorized as disabled and therefore have the right to a free education at training programs and even colleges. The main requirement to study in a substance abuse school on a government grant, is that a drug user has to be clean—free of any junk or alcohol for at least three months.

“Is it fair and just? While one person has to work as a security guard and stand still for hours in the supermarket, counting every penny to pay for his education, another, who has been getting high for years, learns for free?!” This was my initial angry reaction.


Sylvia, the Lioness

Of the whole group of twenty people, only three, including me, were not in recovery.1 Now I’ll introduce you to several students in recovery.

I’ll start with Sylvia, as I found myself sharing a desk with her on the very first day of school.

She was an American of Italian descent, about fifty, with luxurious black hair and in good shape for her age. I was soon surprised to learn that she wasn’t fifty, but . . .forty! Sylvia retained some charm, but her beauty was obviously fading. It struck me that, had she not picked up the syringe twenty years earlier, Sylvia would have escaped misfortune and still be driving herds of lustful men crazy. But in life, unfortunately, “coulda, shoulda, woulda” don’t exist, and we can only speak of what we have now, not of what could have been.

Still, Sylvia tried to maintain her image as a lioness, portraying herself as a sort of socialite. She dressed provocatively: short skirts and tight blouses.

On the second day of classes, during break, this lioness went on the hunt, and I was her intended prey. When we were left alone in the auditorium, Sylvia began to inquire about who I was and where I was from. She talked about herself, intriguingly raising her eyelids and leaning toward me so closely that our foreheads almost touched. I didn’t even notice how she had caught hold of my hand—whether to shake it or to press it to her chest. By the second break, I already knew that Sylvia was single and lived in a studio apartment in Brooklyn. Her thirteen-year-old daughter was living with her mother in New Jersey and she had divorced her husband a while ago. And . . . she was completely free this evening after school!