He was high again. Huffing, what a waste. I had to get up early every day and go out with the old man to help make money for the family. Harry was my STEP-brother, an intrusion, and a competitor for the little love the old man and my stepmother evinced. I ignored him. I ignored the problem. He’d been huffing for two years when I found out by catching him with his rag in his hand, drooling in the bedroom corner. Being straight laced, working every day didn’t engender me to other kids my age, so it was a while before I learned what Harry was doing and that he was sniffing Toluene. He and his cronies had a secret entry into the neighboring paint manufacturer’s building. Something they kept unobtrusively hidden but easily accessible so they could get the paint additive. They didn’t need much. A gallon went a long way, depending on who else was using and how much they lost in spillage. They’d put it into small plastic bottles originally used for food or hair products. Bottles small enough to fit in a pocket without bulging or under the belt or tucked in the ankle band of a sock they were wearing. A gallon could last a month or longer and by only taking just that and nothing else from the factory they had gotten away with it for years. Eventually the opening was discovered and sealed but Harry had moved on. On to weed and speed and finally to heroin and it’s successor crack.

   Time passed and I got married, moved to a better neighborhood and tried to make a better life for my kids. Harry fell in love too. He met Debbie when he was fifteen and she was thirteen. It wasn’t a sexual thing; it was a deep emotional bond that only the passing of many years would prove to be true love.

   But Harry continued to use drugs struggling between the addiction and his love for Debbie. He wasn’t allowed in my home. I would not have that around my kids. I remember the day he showed up at my door telling me the old man died I still did not let him in.

    I don’t know how but gradually we started getting to know one another. He was charismatic. During prison stints while he was straight and lucid he’d call and we’d converse. And if I weren’t there, he’d chat with my wife winning her over slowly with his wit, charm and intelligence.

She asked him once, “Harry can’t you get drugs there in prison?” 

“Yes,” he replied, “But I don’t dare do them in here. These guys would play with your head and worse.”

 “Well” she asked, “ How do you control the desire, the pain, the addiction.”

 “By keeping myself occupied,” he responded. 

“Then when you get out that’s what you should do, get a hobby”, she concluded.

     By now we’d gotten to know Debbie fairly well, they had a son together and though she loved Harry she couldn’t abide his drugs.  She tried living without him, found other boyfriends, moved to a new house without telling him, ignored him, refused to talk or go anywhere with him.   He always won her over. Always told her he’d kick the drugs. And he meant it, but the drugs inevitably would win.

    Through it all he always got money to her, and if she needed something she wouldn’t hesitate finding a way to let him know. When their son was born it was his responsibility to provide the clothes, pampers, brand new coach and crib, toys, whatever. Nothing used. Debbie wouldn’t have that. “If you can find the money for your drugs you can find the money for our son.” She’d always say.

   My wife and I had tried several times to help Harry and Debbie to defeat Harry’s addiction, but then he’d revert and be back in the druggie neighborhood, getting high and be lost again. It got thin and we’d give up. Till next time he went to prison. Finally we just gave up.

   But not Harry and certainly not Debbie. Even in those lapses he tried to quit, sometimes for days, others for weeks or months. And other times for over-night sessions.  There is or at least was a mission run by Father Xavier. A ramshackle three story building on Front Street with three simple rules, no drugs were allowed in the building, you had to be in by 6 P.M. and you could not leave before 5 A.M. the next morning. Harry told me Father Xavier locked the door at six each night and wouldn’t open it till 5 the next dawn. He gave his temporary tenants a hot meal, a cot to sleep on and an opportunity to interact with God.  If you broke any of his rules you were never allowed back in, (though I’m sure the priest bent the rules for Harry several times).  Harry wasn’t much on religion then or ever. But he was grateful for the gift of trying that Father Xavier provided.

     My wife got the phone. It had been ringing in the middle of Jeopardy and I didn’t want to lose the thread of the game. It was Harry. No I couldn’t be bothered, he was probably in jail again and was going to beat it this time. I wasn’t impressed. But she was always more of an optimist, a firmer believer in the good within every person. So she stayed on the line and several weeks later had convinced me to talk to him. What a conniver she was and I love her for it.

   We went to Debbie’s and I promised them Harry and Debbie that no matter what; this time we would stick it out, no matter how many times Harry fell, I would be there for him. I would stand by and help him beat his addiction.

    Harry started each day by going out without a penny in his pocket. He told me, “If I could start every day broke and make, borrow or steal the $200 a day I needed then for the drugs then I can do it now.” That was his amount; he’d leave each morning and earn the money each day. When he had earned his set goal he would go back home to Debbie whether it was noon, 3 p.m. or midnight he wouldn’t quit till he earned the money and then straight home to her and his son. He wouldn’t go to or through the neighborhood where he had copped drugs even if he had to take a circuitous route to get to whatever job he had scheduled.

   And he started a hobby. He acquired an old convertible, the shell of a sports car and started to rebuild it from scratch taking it completely apart and purchasing each nut and bolt new. Harry and Debbie had an agreement; he had to buy them a home and for every dollar he spent on his car he had to spend an equal amount on their home. How he ever got a mortgage I don't know but within three months they had  a house.

    He fell, oh he fell. Debbie called, “Harry’s not home. He had told me he would be here by such and such a time, Rick and he’s been kind of antsy lately. Like he used to get when he wanted drugs. I’ve been out looking for him, but I have the boy and without a car I can’t go far. Will you go? Try to find him?”

    And I’d go looking for him. The first time he fell I drove all through that neighborhood up back streets and alleys, parking long enough to run into abandoned houses asking if anyone saw him. Asking the drug dealers if they’d keep an eye out for him. Hours later I finally was tired, worn out. I went to Debbie’s. Disgusted with him, disgusted with myself for failing to find him. I told Debbie I failed. And dragging my tail behind me I went home.   Three hours later Debbie called Harry was home.

   Later Harry told me he had seen me in the neighborhood. Every time he’d settle into a spot to do his drugs I’d show up. He’d be just around the corner or in the next room and so he’d come home.  Soon we had a ritual, I don’t know if Harry was doing it on purpose or if it was a subliminal thing with him but we’d be talking and he’d tell me, there’s this spot I like to go where nobody else comes and I can do my drugs there. And sure enough the next time Debbie called that’s where Harry was.  He’d look amazed and ask, “How’d you find me?” I’d just shake my head load him into the car and say take a ride with me I have to go somewhere”. Once in the car, I’d hit the highway, jump on the turnpike and drive until Harry started to come down off his high. Then he’d look around and ask where we were and plead with me to turn around. I’d make believe I didn’t understand for another half hour or so then turn around and head for home. He wanted to cop drugs and get high again but we were too far from the dealers and by the time we were near  he'd be  straight enough to want to go home.

    Gradually the times he fell were less and less frequent stretching from weeks to months and then not at all. Harry had beaten the drugs. Debbie was proud of her man.

   Harry proved an astute businessman. Started doing mechanics. Located an abandoned garage and moved into it. First thing he did was take pictures. Then, in stages bit by bit he started fixing the property, clearing and removing all the rubbish and debris, cutting down and removing all the weeds, installing a fence, cleaning and repairing the garage floor, installing bars on the windows and a new garage door, putting white gravel on the lot. When eventually the owner of the property showed up the place looked immaculate and he wanted to reclaim his property. But like I said Harry was charismatic. He chatted with the owner showed him the pictures of how it had looked before he started and the gradual improvements he had made.  He walked away from their meeting with a lease purchase agreement that was more than favorable to Harry.

    During all this time Harry had slowly been acquiring the tools and equipment he needed for the garage. It was harder for him because the quest for drug money had shown him the easy way of just stealing what he wanted. But Harry was determined to turn his life around and he struggled for every penny. I think one of his proudest possessions was a scrap book he kept in the bottom drawer of his office. Tucked behind the plastic of each page was every receipt for every tool and piece of equipment he had. Sometimes when I’d visit his garage he’d be looking through those pages and he’d make like he was inserting another receipt in place.

      Harry could surprise you with the things he remembered and did. Like the day he drove to Father Xavier’s.  Debbie related to me. Harry went to Father Xavier’s just before 6 P.M. and asked if the priest remembered him. Of course, Father Xavier remembered Harry, nobody could forget Harry.   Harry asked the cleric who was sleeping in his cot. Father Xavier took him over and introduced him to Billy another itinerant fighting an addiction.   Harry told Father Xavier, “He’s mine now. He’s going home with me.” And Billy did.   He idolized Harry for that act of compassion. Harry rode him and chided him and kibitzed with him and made Billy a member his and Debbie’s family and worked with him until Billy too beat his addiction.

     Harry and Debbie had two more beautiful boys.   It was about eight years after he had beaten his addiction that Harry took sick, extremely sick and I learned later it hadn’t been so sudden but had been coming on and he had been trying to ignore it. He was diagnosed with AIDS. Full blown.  The doctor estimated Harry had six or seven months. The doctor did not know Harry. Did not know how strongly Harry and Debbie loved each other.  Harry fought that disease for two years. In lapses and relapses from feeling extremely well till finally knowing he had given all he had.

    He passed away. Debbie following not long after.  Debbie’s sister is raising their children now and Billy went back to his home in the mountains. I have a tape of Harry's last birthday party and at times I sit watching the tape and recalling  the memories of a man who I first resented, then despised and finally learned to love.


rickdogood rickdogood
56-60, F
2 Responses Aug 5, 2007

rickdogood you're one of those people that others would be proud to call a friend, or brother. God bless you, man!

wow. Your story really moved me, very well written. There is a tear in my eye.