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A Line in the Sand

A Very Fine House by Barbara Cofer Stoefen 9780310341239

Annie called home a couple of weeks later, asking me for a ride. I had decided long ago not to give her rides and always said no when she made these requests. I didn’t want to enable her lifestyle, nor did I want to unwittingly drive the getaway car in a drug deal. But today, Annie wanted to see her therapist. I thought it an odd request since she hadn’t shown interest in self-care in a very long time. I wondered if she was being straight with me, but decided to take the chance she might be reaching out. I agreed to meet her.

As often happened when Pete and I met with Annie, we got together in a public place, typically near whatever dive she was living in. Annie was on foot when we met in the parking lot of an old-time coffee shop. With snow on the ground, I knew she hadn’t walked far.

She looked awful. Annie always looked awful these days. Her skin was gray, and her hair was matted and dirty. Her eyes were cold and dark, with perfect half circles under each. From head to toe, it looked as if all the clothes she wore were men’s. They just hung on her. All and all, she looked like the homeless person she was. The smell of cigarettes and sweat clung to her. There was that other smell too — the foul odor of meth seeping through her skin. Some say its distinctive odor resembles urine. I hated it with everything in me.

Annie did indeed have me drive her to see her therapist, and I parked in the adjacent parking lot and watched her enter the building. I waited for her in the car for about forty minutes. When she returned, I bought us each a hamburger and a soft drink at a nearby drive-through. I didn’t consider it enabling to give my daughter a meal and, as always, felt hopeful and expectant that maybe something had changed since I last saw her.

Annie seemed irritated by her session with the therapist, however. She refused to talk about it.

We lingered in the car over our burgers, eating our meal quietly as the strangers we’d become. Losing Annie in this dreadful way, and seeing who and what she’d become, was torment. I needed it to be over. While I lived in almost constant fear that Annie would die, I sometimes dared to fear she wouldn’t. Would life always be this way?

I secretly wondered if it was possible to produce a bad seed. Was Annie a bad person, that is, inherently bad? Every arrest, incarceration, and break-in, every hang-up ending with vile expletives, every contact with the monster-who-used-to-be-my-daughter reopened deep wounds. It was a hurt that kept on giving. Like my friend Sally-down-the-hall had said, death was easier.

I, of course, did not want my girl to die. I just needed the pain to be over.

I finally broke the silence. “When will you be done with all of this, Annie? When will you let us help you?”

Annie’s answer was grim, emotionless. “I dunno. Probably never.”

I didn’t know what to think. I felt emotionless myself. My daughter was in the car seat next to me, but she couldn’t have seemed more foreign or further away. While there was some familiarity, there was no longer any knowing her.

We sat in silence a while longer. A boldness swelled inside of me. I couldn’t bear the distance, the grief, the insanity anymore.

“Annie,” I said, “I want you to know that I love you absolutely unconditionally and I will until the day I die. But I’m not willing to have an unconditional relationship with you. I don’t want to go where you’re going, and I don’t want the life you’re living to touch me or our family.

“God willing, I have another thirty years left, and this isn’t how I’m going to spend them. I’m your mother, and I can scarcely believe I’m saying this, but I’m going to survive you. You’re going down, sweetie, but you’re not taking me with you. And you’re not taking my marriage or my son either. If our family goes from four to three, then so be it. I will miss you forever.”

Annie had finished eating, and she was now leaning forward in the passenger seat with her elbows on her knees and her hands clasped in front of her. I watched for a reaction, any reaction. She was still.

“Your dad and I love you more than you will ever know, but we won’t watch you destroy yourself. If you’re ever ready to step back into your life, we will help you. Our door is always open if you want to take that step. But if you choose to remain where you are, you are on your own.”

When I finished talking, Annie turned her head to look at me. Her jaw had dropped slightly, and while there was a hint of disbelief on her face, she didn’t say a word.

I didn’t know if my speech would bring any change in Annie — I doubted it. But I realized that I had changed. Helicopter Mom had just crashed and burned. I’d drawn my line in the sand. It was totally out of character and totally unpremeditated, though it had been building for a long time.

In that moment I also realized something else. It was totally freeing.

I’d decided I was going to live.

Excerpted by permission from A Very Fine House: A Mother’s Story Of Love, Faith, And Crystal Meth by Barbara Cofer Stoefen, copyright Zondervan, 2014.

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