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No Less

More than a "junkie."

Standing barefoot and slack-jawed, I listened with horror as the local news station spoke of Phillipines President, Rodrigo Duterte, and his war on drugs. Duterte claims he personally executed drug abusers.

Drugs destroy lives. I know this firsthand. I also know that each of these "junkies" has a story. They are no less human than you and me.

My Dad was one of them. He never learned to value his life, and now it's gone.

As a child, I looked up at my Dad with love and adoration. I didn't see all the cracks in his foundation. As the years went by, I watched him slowly decay and begin to crumble. His breath reeking of Budweiser and Marlboro cigarettes, a gun in his hand, he would threaten his family, swearing he was gonna take his own life.

I recall a night in Manteca, California, my sister and I shaking in fear as he walked outside, closing the door behind him, a gunshot echoing in the night! I remembering seeing him in my mind's eye, lying on the cement outside, by the trash can, bleeding, dead. I cried out in terror. My mother reassuring us that he wouldn't do it, he was only trying to frighten us.

She knew him well.

After twelve years of emotional and more than likely some physical abuse, my mother had finally had enough. We grabbed a few of our things in a rush and left our home. At the age of nine, I understood my mother when she explained she was going to divorce our dad. At the age of nine, I was happy to hear that my mom was going to stop being mistreated.

Daddy didn't come around much after that. When he did, he used us to harass our mother. She once said that if he loved us, he wouldn't just use us to get to her. While that hurt to hear, she wasn't completely off base. He meant to love us. I don’t think he knew how.

One day, my daddy would express regret to me, as he lied on the couch in our messy little one bedroom duplex, his body riddled with disease, that he should've been a better person.

As a young kid, he lived without rules or consequences. A devastating death in the family, the loss of his oldest sister, while he was in the womb, left his mother consumed with guilt. As a result, he was born prematurely. She let him do what he wanted. She had concluded that if she hasn't said no to her daughter, Nadine, that fateful day when she asked her mom if she could skip out on a school trip that resulted in twelve-year-old Nadine's untimely death, she would still be alive. Thus, she second guessed everything and my dad was given free reign. Grievously, this set the tone for the rest of his life.

Addiction was an integral part of my Dad’s life since a very young age. By the age of nine, he was already an established smoker. A little rebel; the teachers in his life found him to be difficult and wildly unruly. Failing to comply with his teachers’ directions, he deemed school to be a failure and dropped out before even reaching high school.

The years that followed, I know little about. I would bet that they were full of short-lived ups and plummeting downs. The downs including drugs, alcohol, and brawls. The ups included being a children’s Sunday School teacher, marrying my mother, and having a few kids along the way (three to be precise).

As I have already divulged the outcome of his marriage to my mother, let’s jump ahead again to his future.

My dad lived a life of constantly seeking instant monetary gratification. He was in a tough position, as you could imagine. He couldn’t just go out and get himself a good honest job, he’d have to pay my mother child support. So, as it were, he was only able to take under-the-table jobs, the most profitable of those was in the drug business and maybe even a little petty theft on the side.

In the years to come, he’d spend the majority of his time locked up; Vacaville, Waco, Chino. Most of his letters full of regret and talk of what he’d eaten for dinner that day.

One day, we got a call from my Aunt Brenda saying that my dad was in the hospital and wasn’t doing well. My sister and I, now teenagers, went to visit him in the hospital. I can still see him, lying there in that hospital bed. They said he had pneumonia, but they were finding it difficult to treat him. He was not getting better. We sat with him and told him how much we love him, then we had to return home.

Days later, as my sister and I were waiting for our ride to come pick us up for church, my mother called us into the living room. She said that our Aunt Brenda just called and they had test results for our dad. From her tone and her look, we already new that the news was not good news. My dad had been tested for HIV and he was positive.

That was a moment that shook my world, a moment that I will never forget. In my head, I thought that this meant the end for him. It wasn’t what I expected it to be. It wasn’t the end. We were blessed with many many more years to share with him. There was joy, there was anger, laughter, remission, relapse.

My sister has a fond memory of him attending church with her. He went down to the alter with her and cried and swore he would do better this time. I believe that he meant what he said. I am not trying to excuse his actions by any means, but I think he decided as a child who he was gonna be, whether he realized it or not. He never took responsibility for himself. Maybe if he had, he could’ve had a much more rewarding life.

As I walked through the door of my sister’s house on the morning of December 13th, 2003, after working an overnight shift at Walmart, I saw her sitting in a chair in the corner, by the Christmas tree. I joked that she didn’t have to wait up for me. Then I saw her face. She said that Brenda had called. That was all I needed to hear. He was gone. He had passed away the night before, all alone in his hospital bed.

To this day, it brings great pain to think of him. I am sad for the life he could have lived, the life he should have lived. He certainly could have been a better person, but we all loved him just the same. He was stubborn, prejudice, hilarious, lost.

Drugs destroy lives. I know this firsthand. I also know that each of these "junkies" has a story. They are no less human than you and me.

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