“I have always been a midtown Mobile girl. My grandmother had a restaurant at the corner of Old Shell and McGregor. When people put a nickel in the jukebox to play ‘The Twist’, I would twist my heart out. My daddy was a pool shark and had a pool table in the back of the restaurant. He set me in the middle of the pool table and let me roll balls into the old drop pockets.
I don’t know how my parents got together. Daddy was a playboy who looked and acted like Dean Martin. Mama was pretty, but she was a homebody. Daddy wanted to party and play all the time; Mama did not. They divorced when I was five or six. Neither wanted to care for me, so they gave me to my daddy’s sister. I was provided for and sent to good schools, but no one asked about my schoolwork. No one hugged or kissed me or tucked me in at night. I was just a being in the house.
My parents were in and out of my life. Dad was sweet, outgoing, and loving, but I rarely saw him. I was told my mother wasn’t well and went to live with her aunt in California to get better. I later found out that she was an RN with easy access to drugs. I was too young to understand any of this, but I pulled out my eyelashes and eyebrows and had a bald spot about the size of a silver dollar on the top of my head. These were clues that something was wrong, but nobody noticed me.
Parental abandonment wasn’t my only trauma. I was molested by a family member when I was 11 or 12, and nobody knew; they thought it was sweet when he took me for milkshakes. I never told anyone; it was another family secret that we didn’t discuss. A nun at my school called me stoic. Of course I was stoic, I was just trying to get through it all.
Back then, girls were raised to get married and have babies. I met a wonderful man, and we had four beautiful children together. We were married for 20 years, and life was the white picket fence for a long time. My kids went to St. Paul’s School, and I was there for every practice, game, and field trip. I picked them up from school every day with fresh-baked muffins and cold milk. They were my world.
I was a good mother, but I didn’t realize I wasn’t a good wife. I didn’t grow up with a healthy model of marriage, and nobody ever told me that I was supposed to take care of my husband, too. He had his roles, and I had mine, but that wasn’t enough. Things went south, and we divorced. Suddenly, I was on my own with no college education or marketable skills. I had nothing to fall back on and couldn’t even afford the power bill. The kids went with their dad because he had the resources. I lost my family, my home, and life as I knew it; I had no idea how to get them back.
A woman I went to high school with heard about the divorce and took me out to dinner and offered me cocaine. I had been a goody two shoes all of my married life -no drugs, alcohol or cigarettes- but I was so low at that point in my life that I would have taken arsenic. I took that drug for three days before realizing it was actually crack. Too late. I was addicted. I didn’t know addiction runs in my family, and I was predisposed.
I was 48 years old, addicted and homeless. I slept in the streets and abandoned cars, on back porches or in homeless camps for 12 years. I was also incarcerated for three of those years.
As horrific as these years were for me and my children, I also learned good people were out there. I would walk the streets and old ladies who lived along the way would feed me. One was the woman who owned property on the corner that I called ‘Crackdonald’s’ because I could get anything and go. She was always packing a gun and had brass knuckles that she wasn’t afraid to use. Everyone, even the cops, respected her. She made it clear no one was going to mess with me. Her brother realized my daddy had given him his first cue stick and taught him how to shoot pool. While he was in prison, my father was also the only person who brought him money and cigarettes. This was a part of my daddy that I didn’t know. God used this woman and her brother, who my daddy had helped, to keep me safe. Most women I knew on the streets are dead, but I was never hurt.
I cried all of the time, missing my kids. My family and ex-husband tried over and over to help me, but I was a hot mess and so out of control that I couldn’t be trusted in their homes. I took their rent or grocery money, rationalizing that I would return it in a few days. They learned to put up boundaries and love me from a distance while still giving me hope.
I tried 90-day programs, but they weren’t enough. I was a dragon filled with hurt, anger, and unresolved issues. Drugs calmed me down, and I sat outside and smoked by myself. I was 48 the first time I saw the inside of a jail cell.
I was in Metro jail nine months before I saw a judge because they couldn’t find my papers. That was God sitting me down, sobering me up, and putting the right people in my path. After the drugs left my system, the lights came back on. I wrote a three-page letter to the judge explaining my situation, and she had me in court the next day. Elizabeth Chiepalich had a jail ministry involving art, which was up my alley. Elizabeth and I hit it off and developed a relationship. After I got out, she would take me to her house to plant pansies and garden together. As good as that was, I couldn’t change. I even hurt Elizabeth, but she never gave up on me.
I got another charge, and the judge wanted to put me in drug court. It felt like a trap, and I turned it down. Phones weren’t allowed in drug court, so I Ieft mine with the the bail bondsman across the street. When I returned to pick it up, I was ugly crying. The owner looked at me and asked how he could help. I could only think of Waterfront Rescue Mission for Women in Pensacola. My kids had tried to send me there, but it looked like a Jesus Camp, and I didn’t want to go. I also wasn’t allowed to leave the state of Alabama. The bail bond guy said he could take care of that, but I thought he was full of shit,
That day was my last rock bottom.
I jumped through all of the hoops and medical requirements to enter Waterfront Rescue, but I still used drugs the night before I entered the program. I was a hard-headed little cuss for the first four months and cried to my family about being there. They told me I wasn’t coming home.
I finally prayed, ‘Okay, God, I don’t know about this Holy Spirit business. If it’s something that you think I should have, then I’m down.’ It was just a little surrender, but ‘I’m down’ was all it took. Things began to change, and I thank God for that Jesus camp.
I had been at Waterfront almost a year and was three weeks from graduating when the women’s program closed. I worked at the Waterfront thrift store, and the counselors helped me find a little place to live and keep going. It was two years of working on myself in recovery while good people surrounded me. I had weekend passes to go home to my family. They were so proud of me, and started seeing that I could be trusted. My judge, Sarah Stewart, was always kind and patient and saw someone with saving. But I still had a pending charge. The woman I stole from didn’t believe I was changing and wanted justice – that meant incarceration. I was sentenced to six months in prison.”
Cindy, Part One