The first casualty of America’s opioid epidemic beyond the users themselves? The American family. As Julia Lurie reports at Mother Jones, while mom and dad are nodding out and overdosing in record numbers, the kids are going into an under-funded foster care system struggling to handle the sheer volume of children who need food, shelter, clothing, and above all, stability.
Long before the social workers showed up in his living room this March, Matt McLaughlin, a 16-year-old with diabetes, had taken to a wearying evening routine: trying to scrounge up enough spare change for food while his mom, Kelly, went to a neighbor’s house to use heroin. On a good night, the bookish high school junior would walk through his neighborhood in Andover, Ohio, a Rust Belt town surrounded by fields and trailer parks, to pick up frozen pizza from the Family Dollar. On a bad night, he’d play video games to distract himself from his grumbling stomach and dipping blood sugar, and wait for Kelly to return with glazed eyes.
It wasn’t always this way. When Matt was little, Kelly was a Head Start caseworker who patiently taught parents how to manage their autistic children. She loved hosting potlucks with friends and playing Barbie with Matt’s sister, Brianna. There was always music: Tchaikovsky when Kelly was at the piano, or Jimmy Buffett blasting through the speakers while she cooked. “Growing up, we were the house that everyone wanted to come to,” remembered Brianna, now 20. “I loved every minute of it.”
It’s hard to overstate just how pervasive the epidemic feels here. Detective Taylor Cleveland, who investigates drug cases in Ashtabula, told me, “I’m dealing with some ruined home two and three times a day.” Cleveland, who coaches youth soccer and recently adopted a 17-year-old player whose mom overdosed, leads a task force that responds to every overdose in the county. Once, he arrived at an overdose scene only to realize that the victim slouched over in the motel room was his cousin, whose young daughter had called 911. “Every OD that happens, I get a text. I’ve gotten two texts while we’ve been talking.” We’d been talking for less than an hour.
Meg first appeared to me as a nimbus of curly red hair, looming above my top bunk late at night. The hair, backlit and aglow, was so remarkable that I reached up and patted it as though it were a rare creature. Meg offered the nervous, extra-buoyant “hi” of the girlfriend meeting the boyfriend’s kid for the first time. In reply, I stroked the hair.
I was five; she was 25. Just a few weeks before, she had met my dad at an art opening. He was up-front about the fact that he was 37, divorced, with a 15-year-old and a five-year-old. She was working the second shift at a hospital, reading dense Buddhist texts, hanging out with a band of artists whose blue velvet berets and psychedelic hand-stenciled trunks would later color our house. They met in February and married in October. The ceremony was in the backyard of our old brick house near downtown Cincinnati. There was carrot cake, a smoldering fall sunset, an exchange of vows inspired by a California guru. Meg walked down the aisle to the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.” In November of the following year, my brother Jackson was born. Read more…
On a still summer night in the last year of last century an overweight woman in a wheelchair appeared, as if an apparition, under a street lamp in a parking lot on the west end of campus. I had not seen her when I pulled my car in. It was an hour till midnight, and I was covered in sand.
I’d spent the night playing volleyball and had returned home to married student housing where I was summering with a friend’s wife, while he interned in Minneapolis. She was a nurse who worked nights, and I was an English major lazing between my junior and senior year. We rarely saw each other; the only complication in our cohabitation resulted from my inability to lift the toilet seat when I got up to pee in the middle of the night. In the mornings we’d cross paths and she’d tell me, again, that it was no fun to come home and sit in piss.
That night in the dark parking lot, the woman rolled her heavy body from behind a street-lamp. “Excuse me,” she said, coming closer.
“Hi!” she said cheerfully. “Can you, uh—would you be able to give me a ride home?”
She worked at a telemarketing place near the corner of University Ave. and 42nd St. Work had let out, but the buses had stopped running, and she needed a way home. She crossed the busy intersection and wheeled into the expansive parking lot waiting for someone to help her. I was tired and dirty. I just wanted to slink into the stuffy efficiency, shower, and distract myself to sleep with PlayStation. But here she sat.
“Sure,” I said. “Sure, I’ll give you a ride home.”
Nineteenth-century Nantucket brings to mind whaling ships, harsh weather, and austere morality. So when a Victorian-era dildo was found in the chimney of an old Quaker home, back in 1979, it quickly became the subject of local lore.
In an essay at Literary Hub, Ben Shattuck traces the provenance of this unlikely sex toy (called a “he’s-at-home” by Nantucketers). Along the way, he also reflects on the tricky art of reconstructing intimate histories, and the ways that the objects we leave behind define us:
Mattie died at seventy-eight, in 1928, from a stroke. She had chronic myocarditis, an inflamed heart. At some point in the thirty years since James had passed, it seems, she’d gathered what she had left of him and stuffed it up the chimney, along with her dildo. All of it was small enough to fit on a damper ledge, and later inside a pink dress box. James and Mattie didn’t get to curate what they left behind, didn’t get to clean up.
Often, in death, you exit in a rush, with your things scattered about, your life exposed, your desk drawers a mess. That will be the case for all of us — leaving behind more than what we’ve accounted for. The valuables and debris of your life reach equal status at death. They are simply everything that’s left behind. Everything that was once yours. You will have thought of money, jewelry, maybe car or house, but you will not have thought of your toothbrush, your old slippers, letters from your first girlfriend you could never bring yourself to throw away, a favorite book, your child’s baby teeth. These items will be found, puzzled over, and either tossed out or kept in the back of a drawer to follow the next generation and maybe the one after that. There will also be those items you always intended to throw out but which your death will have safeguarded. I recently found in my great-grandmother’s correspondences a few letters from the secretary of state talking about the kiss they’d shared in her bedroom (she was sixteen at the time). Burn this letter, he’d written in red ink on the top of each one she saved.