The young, brown-skinned man entered the back passenger seat of my blue Optima high on Crystal Meth. I did not know this until I inquired into his “drug of choice”–a question prompted by his unsuspected and disarming self-revelation about how he needs to get back on his feet, but has had a hard time doing so because of drugs. This came up in the course of a conversation that he started–asking me about how it is driving for Lyft–just after he closed the door and I drove off with him inside, heading toward his chosen destination: the back parking lot of seedy motel between the cities of Santa Ana and Orange, California.
Named after one of the archangels in Judeo-Christian mythology, this Gabriel comes from a secure family in Santa Ana–a populous Central Orange County city 10 miles inland from the Pacific Coast with a largely Hispanic population. He has been in an out of recovery houses for an addiction rooted in nothing else but boredom. He says that accepts responsibility for his choices and knows he has a problem, knows he needs to get his shit together, but that he wants to get high all of the time and struggles with the willingness to get sober.
Now living on the streets, this young man, not more than 22 years old, seems to spend his days in a fog of paranoia, which, he admitted to me, is one of the reasons he wants to quit smoking Meth. Part of his problem, Gabriel said, is that he does not surround himself with sober people. I asked him if he has any supportive friendships. He does, he said, such as that with the other young man who ordered the Lyft for him, but he’s an occasional user himself.
I offered Gabriel a pack of cigarettes I bought that morning as a kind of “replacement activity” to satisfy some part of the urge to use and he thanked me for it. Before dropping him off, I shut down my Lyft app and we shared a few smokes outside the car, during which time I learned more about his wrestling with a disease to which we are all prone–the current pandemic of opioid addiction in this country, to say nothing of the crack-cocaine explosion of the 80s, a case-in-point.
“I love you because I love the struggle in you,” I said, thinking of my own battles with addiction and dependency, “It is mine as well.”
He didn’t quite know how to respond to this, but I felt compelled to say it. Addicts are at a loss for love, often failing to recognize it, even as it stares them squarely in the face. I’m not sure that he really heard me, nor did I expect him to. I have no doubt that he was going to go looking for a fix the minute I dropped him off at the pristine front sidewalk of a business park office building, in the shadows of which he would find his relief from boredom. I thought afterwards that I should have offered to take him to a sober living facility, but I knew that my efforts would be for naught. He was hooked. And he would find a way back to the shady, back end of the parking lot where he asked to depart.
“God bless you,” Gabriel said as he exited the car.
“God bless you, too, brother,” I said, adding, “And watch out for those angels. They’re everywhere.”