A Walk Down Misery Street

Only now I can imagine how she was struggling. Poor Sylvia, whose joints were aching, leg muscles wrenching, stomach-churning. She had to hide her cloudy, doped-up eyes from the students and teachers. But they all knew: Sylvia had relapsed! In addition, she dragged her boyfriend into the abyss with her and he also picked up drugs. Why did he need her? He would have been better off studying alone.

Everyone was looking at Sylvia. Was she still a goddess, a lioness-socialite? Or was she now your so-called useless, dirty junkie? How embarrassing it must be!

Sylvia didn’t finish school. She relapsed several times, then finally gave up coming to classes altogether. The thousands of dollars that the government granted her as a scholarship were wasted.

Then I started to realize that my angry reaction against the distribution of government funds to help drug addicts in getting professional education was very superficial. The real problem is not that the government funds are distributed unfairly (as some allege), but that even with such generous support a good percentage of drug users were not able to change their life and after unsuccessful attempts returned to the dreadful world from which they came.

Before I finish with Sylvia, I have to mention one more incident that perplexed me greatly.

During a class, Sylvia raised her hand to answer a question posed by the teacher. Then she unexpectedly spoke openly in front of the whole group on a topic apparently unrelated to the lesson.

“My older cousin molested me when I was thirteen. I haven’t been able to have a normal relationship with a man since. I live with shame. I’ve been sexually promiscuous from the time I was seventeen. I’ve never considered myself a normal woman. I was embarrassed and hated myself. I hated men and I feared them. I dreamed of meeting my ideal man and becoming his true friend, but I lived like a prostitute! Then heroin entered my life . . . “

I was in shock. I hadn’t imagined it was possible—a young, thirty-nine-year-old woman speaking before a group of strangers about what would be hard to say even to one’s closest friends and family! She cried, practically howled.

The students’ reactions also impressed me. Some paid close attention to her, knowingly nodding their heads. Others half-listened, and still others utilized the pause in the lecture to sneak a peek at their iPhone.