Walk Down Misery Street

For the most part, Liza’s arrests and jail time were for drug possession. (This is a neat trick the System has devised: the criminal offense is not for using, but for possession. But is it really possible to use drugs without having them?)

However, Liza also had a criminal record for burglaries in which she had participated with her ex-husband, a man who was apparently a great adventurer. He involved his dear wife in all kinds of criminal exploits. Somehow, they managed to have two kids in between the arrests and hospital detox stays. By the time Liza and I met, her children were grown up and had families of their own.

Liza’s husband died from an overdose, and she herself struggled for a long time with her addiction. She’d get treated, relapsed, get arrested again, get treated again—sometimes mandated and sometimes voluntary. Altogether, this struggle lasted almost twenty-five years—a quarter of a century! Liza worked as a substance abuse counselor for more than fifteen years in numerous clinics. She hadn’t worked long at the one where we met, and therefore here she was a newbie, just like me.

We immediately felt a mutual affection. Liza said she liked my “simplicity of heart.” She said that even though I was intelligent, not raised on the streets, and had read many books, I wasn’t conceited or full of myself.

She told me about her past in a picturesque way, with humor and irony.

For instance, there was this story. Liza and her husband had robbed an apartment. He’d climbed in through the window of a four-story building, and she stood on the roof to receive the stolen goods. As this was the winter, it was terribly cold and a snowstorm began. Liza was waiting for her husband for God knows how long, growing numb. She jumped up and down and slapped her arms to keep warm. She couldn’t figure out why her husband was taking so long to appear, and why so many police cars with flashing lights were driving up to the building.

It turned out that her hubby had discovered syringes and morphine while rummaging through some drawers. And, of course, he decided to use right away. He was so high that he didn’t notice the owners had come home and called the police.