Journalist, writing instructor at MIT
Posted: September 17, 2010 07:00 AM
On my daughter’s fourth birthday, a swim party in 2002, my youngest sister showed up late in an outfit befitting a weekend rager: ratty black jeans, a threadbare camisole and a long-sleeved voile blouse in dingy white.
“It’s the closest thing I had to a bathing suit,” she told me skittishly, before wandering off to smoke a Camel.
Then, she disappeared for two hours. She reappeared only when everyone had left, running to us across a field, so skinny her bones seemed to rattle.
Looking back, her choice of swimwear should have been another of the warning bells going off that year. There were the false teeth she’d gotten to replace her own because of a rare gum disease. The frequent, sudden naps — in a chair, on my rug. The strange gifts — used teleconferencing software for me, worn beige tap shoes for my daughter. The way she’d fought me — bitterly, unrelentingly — when I’d refused to let her take my bike out late one night for a spin.
Two months after the party, I learned the reason for the get-up and behavior: My sister, then 42, had become addicted to methamphetamine. The shirt and long pants on that hot summer day were to cover the tracks from shooting up. And the lateness? Victim to the compulsive behavior that is one of meth’s hallmarks, she’d been sidetracked diving into dumpsters to collect “treasures” on her way to see us.
What had driven this successful juvenile-defense attorney to turn to drugs? As she tells it, a big part was precisely that: the stress of winning cases–of keeping moms from having their parental rights terminated (one client’s child died while in foster care). My sister, upended by the child’s death, had “burned out.”