Confession No. 86 — How nature crushed nuture

The good memories are fading. They were once plenty.

I entered her life when she was six and witnessed plenty worth recollection. But, the production line one evening … just stopped.

Her beauty was natural — and a certainty, with striking deep brown eyes and onyx hued hair. She had proven herself on the stage, at the plate and with her embouchure. But, she had dreams still in waiting.

As a little girl, she was much like any other. She talked about her birthday — months out; she eagerly awaited Santa’s arrival; and she preferred the over-salted gravy and fried chicken strips at Ponderosa Steakhouse to any homemade dish — except for her Mom’s spaghetti and meatballs.

I can still smell the sweat of a young child who spent her day climbing fences, playing hopscotch and racing the little boy who lived two doors down. My memory needs no refreshing to see her blue-on-white saddlebucks peddling and pushing.

I can also hear her whining voice when she didn’t get her way.

‘So, what are you gonna be for Halloween?’ I remember asking that little six-year-old. ‘Power Rangers? Dora?’

‘Mom makes me dress up as a Bible character every year,’ she told me, frowning.

‘Like what?’ I quizzed her.

‘Last year, she cut a hole in a big basket and attached it to my waist. Then she dressed me up like a baby,’ she explained. ‘I was supposed to be Moses.’

‘Well, that actually sounds pretty cool,’ I responded, smiling at the sad pathetic look of a child who was disappointed. ‘What do you say we try to convince Mom to let you dress in a devil costume this year. You could scare every kid in the neighborhood.’

Her eyes briefly widened. An excited smile came to her face. Then both disappeared, as if she had a contradictory thought.

‘Even you won’t be able to talk her into that,’ she said.

‘We’ll see,’ I responded. ‘I mean, the devil is biblical. Yes?’

Though Mom didn’t offer her blessing on the whole devil costume idea, we managed to convince her to construct an ensemble in the likeness of Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz.

I was a young man who sprung himself into fatherhood after falling in love with a beautiful single mother. I was far from perfect — often expecting too much and other times not expecting enough. I deeply regret that, in all the times I told that little girl how beautiful and intelligent she was, we never shared an embrace. We both needed it more than we knew. Yet, we subconsciously avoided it.

Still, she and I made an excellent team.

Once, not knowing my way around the neighborhood, she volunteered to navigate. Snug in her blue booster seat, she shouted directions from the back. Left. Another left. Go straight. Now go that way. We became lost, but we eventually found our way home, with a bagful of soda and candy.

‘I thought you knew where you were going,’ I said over my shoulder.

‘I figured I’d take you on the scenic route,’ she responded, just as seriously as she could.

She would get hers about seven years later.

‘Watch her pitches,’ I whispered through the chain-link dugout. ‘She’s fast and intimidating, but she’s not hitting the strike zone.’

‘Well, I’m swinging anyway Dad,’ she said ‘because I don’t want the coach to yell at me.’

‘Look,’ I responded, ‘you can’t score a run if you don’t get on base. You were swinging at air last inning. She’s all over the place — except where it matters. Let her put you on base. You can probably get a steal and then you’ll be in her head.’

In just about everything I’ve ever done, I’ve played with the odds. In competition, I’ve always tried to find my biggest strength and pit it against my opponent’s most glaring weakness. Sometimes, one’s strengths are lost against an opponent. That first at-bat was one of those times. She just needed to be patient.

‘If she throws one down the middle, by all means — take a swing,’ I pleaded. ‘But she hasn’t placed more than one pitch in the strike zone during any at-bat. Think about it.’

As she stepped from the on-deck circle and approached the batter’s box, I just stood at the corner of the backstop and stared. We made eye contact and I nodded.

Four pitches later, the umpire used both arms to make his loud animated call. She’d struck out. Looking. As she lumbered back toward her emotional coach, we exchanged glances. I could only shrug my shoulders. She had two more at-bats, and struck out swinging every time. She had a strong desire — then — to please.

Though I was trying to help her succeed, I still regret that moment. I’d pitted her against her real teacher. And she gained nothing … except a verbal lashing and some prolonged time sitting on the bench.

I remember sitting on a large towel beneath an umbrella on Long Beach Island, just minutes from our home. While her mom and I fought off gulls who wanted our sub sandwiches, she introduced herself to other little girls — and boys — and invited them to play. Like a good cold-calling salesman, she accepted ‘no’ with grace and quickly moved to the next potential customer. Within minutes, usually, she would be surrounded by the laughter of other children.

No matter how out of tune she might have been, she continued to sing. And sing. And sing. She was adorable in her perseverance. And innocent.

Somewhere along the way, the songs began to fade.

The beautiful outwardly friendly little girl began to withdraw and see herself in a negative light. She began to hunger for more esteem from her peers, but seemed puzzled on how she would accomplish it. She began to want more along materialistic lines. Unrealistic yearnings such as living in the town’s most expensive neighborhood.

Those desires quickly turned to hard cravings.

Once a little girl who befriended inspiring counterparts, she had gradually become attracted to a different crowd. This new group could best be described as lost. Outsiders. Drawing flies. They were neither athletes nor musicians. And they were far removed from being academicians.

Despite that none of her new chosen peers had a single hobby or nary a desire to attend college in a few years, she attached herself. They accepted her, she explained to us, and made her complete. Had she lost sight of her wide acceptance during the previous 10 years of going to school? Would she go from colorful to drab? Why?

A couple of years passed us by, during which lies became more frequent than the truth. We tried to welcome her friends into our home, if for no other reason than to know who she was admiring and trying to emulate. Someone, we felt, had a strong hold on our daughter. But, she was careful and calculating. We met very few of her acquaintances.

Throughout that time of letdown and disappointment, one thing never waned — her work ethic.

I gave her my old Honda Civic. She could install her own stereo, decorate it with bumper stickers or even use those hideous strawberry-scented Christmas tree air fresheners. But, I made sure she knew that my name was still on the title of ownership, in case she thought about getting into trouble.

She used that car to take herself to school, and to two jobs. While her grades left a lot to be desired, she stepped from her newly updated comfort zone and acted in a school musical. The recently tapped group of friends were still kept mostly hidden from us, but we saw progress with our daughter.

As she looked into the mirror, she began to discover her beauty again. She ate well and worked feverishly. She seemed content and acted the part very well in much of her life. Her mother would get another chance at establishing a strong bond. Maybe I would too. Our little girl was coming home again.

Nature. Relentless nature.
It was a Saturday night. Our son was lying on his bed playing a handheld video game. Our youngest daughter slept soundly in a bed a few feet from her older sister’s. The dog was inside and it was time to turn off the lights and lock the doors.

‘Adam!’ Catherine yelled down the hallway. I was in bed, relaxed and flipping through TV channels. ‘Adam! Come here!’

‘Jesus H. Catherine!’ I yelled back. ‘I’m in bed!’

‘I need you in here!’ she yelled back. I could hear the shakiness in her voice.

Frustrated that I had to climb back out of bed, I quickly threw on a T-shirt and made my way down the dark hallway, toward the light of the girls’ bedroom. What in the hell could she want with me? And why couldn’t she just come to our bedroom and ask for it?

As I rounded the corner, I saw our oldest sitting on the edge of her bed. Her eyes were wide open and dilated. Catherine stood beside her first child, her own eyes big. I could sense that she wanted to release some sort of primal scream.

Instead, she produced a lightbulb with the screw-cap broken off and filament removed. In her other hand was a short red straw and a cigarette lighter.

Our little girl had found contentment … in the form of pseudoephedrine, battery acid and ammonia. Meth.

The little girl who became a protective big sister a few years before, was now sucking the exhaust of boiling toxic chemicals — just feet from where her little sister dreamed of her own birthday parties.

The little girl who once played dress-up and looked like Dorothy on Halloween was now killing her heart and brain with stuff meant for clearing drains and stripping wax from dirty floors.

The little girl who had once memorized the books of the Bible — in order — was now meeting people in the church parking lot to make exchanges. Wadded up cash for poison.

Moving on
After three attempts at inpatient rehab facilities, a child taken away from her, a couple of jail stints and a life now with someone who has even less ambition than her, that little girl is still addicted. Her DOC (drug of choice, for those who are fortunate enough to have avoided such vernacular) has changed through the years.

Our little girl’s goal in life gradually changed from attending law school to acquiring prescription anti-anxiety pills, marijuana, K2, bath salts and crystal meth, when available.

Though her eyes don’t tell the story that they once did, we remember the little girl and beautiful young lady that she once was. We cannot help but to recall the laughter and fun. The blowing out of birthday candles and the sprint from the school bus to the front door. The beach.

Oh, how we long to be guided again along the scenic route.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. I’d also love for you to join me on Facebook (click the ‘like’ button), Pinterest and Google+. — Special thanks to Megan E. Hawkins at The Underground Writer for editing this piece.


There’s no adequate way to segue from such a devastating story to food. So, I won’t try. — The most famous sandwich to come out of Louisiana is the Po’ Boy — fried seafood, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles dressed with mayonnaise on a crusty piece of French bread. There are many legends behind the name, just as there are with the Hero, Grinder, Hoagie and so on. No matter what story you choose to believe, this sandwich is divine.

Shrimp Po’ Boy Shorties

po boy

With all due respect to the Muffaletta, the Po’ Boy is the most famous sandwich to come out of Louisiana. This one’s the real deal.

2 lbs – Shrimp (16-20 ct.), peeled & deveined
2 – eggs, beaten with 2 tsp – Old Bay Seasoning
About 1 cup – Plain Panko crumbs

Vegetable oil, for frying

2 Large loaves – French bread
Real Rémoulade Sauce
Lettuce
Tomato slices
Dill Pickle slices

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Heat about 2 inches of oil to medium-high (about 350°F) in a large skillet.

While oil is warming, dip shrimp one at a time in egg, then Panko — pressing to ensure there is plenty of coating. Fry in batches until golden brown, about 2 minutes per batch. Place cooked shrimp onto paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil.

Just before cooking the last two batches, place bread in hot oven until warmed through and browned. About 8-10 minutes.

Cut each hot loaf into three smaller loaves (hence the name ‘shorties.’) Split down the middle. Top with lettuce, tomato slices, pickles and a heaping helping of cooked shrimp. Dress with Real Rémoulade Sauce.

Makes six Po’ Boy Shorties.

Comments

  1. I want to try one of those with fresh oysters sometime. Do you know anything about the name Po’boy?

    • It’s funny you mention oysters. Oyster Po’ Boys are my favorite, but I went to three different places to make (mine) and … fail. I’ve heard a few stories about the origin of the name. The most popular one involves a slew of striking workers who were being fed (sandwiches) for free.

  2. I wish I had some of your talent for bringing words to life.

  3. juanitascocina says:

    Adam, I have no words. Except to say that I wish everything we did as parents was “prevention” rather than “guidance”. But it’s not. So we live life, knowing that we did the best through our mistakes.

    Somehow it seems weird to say I love your shrimp sandwiches right now. But, I’ll say it anyway. I love your shrimp po’ boys. And I love that you’ve shared.

  4. Oh Adam. This made my heart hurt. I will be praying that your daughter will someday soon be able to tap into the strength to quit the drug use and will be on that forever road to recovery! I’m so, so sorry for your pain and her hurt.

    I do love a good po’ boy. This looks fantastic.

  5. Adam :( Thanks for sharing. So sad—so sorry. I’ll keep your daughter in my prayers …

  6. There is nothing worse than seeing your child go down the wrong path. I can’t even imagine your pain. Thoughts are with you.

    What about the Muffaletta? Tough I do love a good Po’ Boy.

  7. Melina Bush says:

    Oh Adam, I’m so sorry you and your wife are living this. There are no words to express the pain of a parent’s heart, but you came as close as anyone I’ve ever heard. You have guts and honor, and our prayers.

  8. Adam…. my heart hurts on so many levels for you and your precious daughter. Placing herself into a prison of darkness and hurt, with child-like visions & dreams of being accepted… of finding her place in this world. I had those fantasies, too. 24 years of them. Maybe alcohol will take the pain away…. no, it just numbs it for a while. Maybe these pills will work. Damnit, they don’t take the pain away for long enough. OK, let’s try a combination of both this time. YES… that’s the ticket… but I need MORE of it. I need it every minute of every day so that I don’t have to face the things in life that I’m afraid of facing. I don’t have to look at myself in the mirror and see disappointment. I don’t have to listen to the cries of my parents….

    It’s often said that the definition of insanity is doing repeating the same behavior or action over and over, all while expecting a different result. An addict doesn’t realize that insanity can only be cured by admitting defeat. By acknowledging that we are powerless to the demons that control us.

    My prayers are with ALL of you…. for indeed, your step-daughters addiction IS a disease. It’s a disease that won’t ever go away… but it CAN be managed…. one day at a time <3

  9. Your story is haunting and powerful. There is no doubting the love you have for your daughter, and you expressed it beautifully. Thank you for sharing with us Adam.

    • And thank you, Megan, for being my second set of eyes. I know I’m not the easiest edit in the world and I’m appreciative.

      This is something that I have needed to write for some time. I shelved it for too long. About a week ago, I read your essay about The Prostitute and something clicked within me. Despite that the words pretty much just flowed from my mind to my fingers, this was among the most difficult pieces for me to record. In many ways.

      Again, thank you for editing my work. And thank you for inspiring me to forge ahead.

      • It is easy to edit exceptional work. You are an unique and gifted writer and this piece was just another example of how talented you are. As hard as it was to write, your readers are grateful and honored to read this.

        • Shucks, Megan. You’re embarrassing me. ;-) Behind the scenes you are like Mr. Miyagi — Wax on! Wax off! Now you’re making me feel like I’ve just earned my black belt. Thank you.

  10. Adam, like your daughter, my dad entered my life after I was born, when I was 3 1/2. I struggled with abandonment issues (who am I kidding? I still struggle at 50 years old) and I finally came around when at about 30, I finally found the bottom of the bottom for me. And where was it? At home taking care of my dad as he died. When people ask me the best thing that ever happened to me I always say it was my dad – people are shocked I don’t say it was the birth of my daughter – but the BEST thing that could have ever happened was the man who didn’t care he didn’t create me. She’s still there and inside, I know she feels the same way even though it doesn’t appear so. Hugs and Kisses! Kelli

    • Thank you, Kelli. It’s difficult to forge a bond sometimes. I believe that she loves me. I know that I love her. Her son, despite that we share nothing biologically, is mine. We bonded immediately and … he owns me. Even in all of the darkness, there’s some light. :-)

      • That’s exactly the way my dad was with me AND with my daughter – I promise – she knows. Drugs are a mean mistress. I hope she comes back to you one day, but as I’m sure you already know – it has to be because she wants to get better and even then, it’s a daily struggle for them. Bless you all. Hey, and THANKS for reminding me what a great thing it was for my dad to adopt me!

  11. I re-blogged this on my site. I cried a bit. Thanks, it was more beautiful than I can ever put in a simple comment.

  12. It is hard to understand why a child would accept the world of drugs rather than being the loving well rounded child you and your wife raised. It’s even harder to understand the hold drugs have on a person. But accept it, one must in order to reach out and help. Thank you for being brave enough to write about this because so many think it can’t happen to their child. Your pain and love for this child will be there should she decide to come back to being the child you raised. We had one that never came back and now at age 40 is going down the final road, may you have better luck.

  13. I rarely leave serious comments on people’s posts, but this deserves one – I hope she gets all the help in the world and I hope you keep making her incredible food and giving her incredible love, because there is scarcely a better remedy. All best wishes from London.

  14. I do feel for you and your family…..the harm these ‘friends’ do, taking the good, but vulnerable, down with them.
    But it’s more than clear you haven’t given up on her…she still has a lifeline. i hope she hauls it in some day soon.

  15. I am new here, but I have read many of your posts and loved them. This one is a heart breaker……. The recipes are fantastic! Who knew to make rice like that? My only issue is I am on Nutrisystem for Lent! And now Po’ Boys too!!!!! Can’t wait till Easter to eat.

    • First, thank you for your very kind words. Now.. Nutrisystem for Lent? Does Nutrisystem know about this? You could earn riches beyond your wildest dreams by letting them know this! If I owned Nutrisystem, I’d hire you as a pitch person for next year’s Lent. Just sayin’.. :-)

  16. My heart is very heavy after reading this Adam. Bless her heart and I hope for everyone involved in her life that she finds peace and rehabilitation. This must be so difficult for your family. Virtual hugs to all.

  17. I had tears streaming down my face by the time I was finished reading this. My mom has a couple siblings who struggle with alcoholism and drugs, and watching them slide downhill has been painfully sad. I hope your daughter can find herself and her strength again, and her way back home, before it’s too late.

  18. Adam, your post sincerely touched me in my heart and soul. I have a 13-year-old daughter and I am so afraid that she might go down the wrong path in life, even though we have striven to raise her the best possible way we know how. But, after reading your struggles and heart-felt words, I now realize that even being raised in the best possible environment may not ever change the path an individual chooses to follow. Adam, you can hold your head high. Bless you.

  19. I can see why this was so difficult to share. My heart goes out to you and your family and I hope that your daughter finds herself someday and realizes that life itself can provide us the highs we want as long as we’re looking in the right places. It’s a huge struggle for you all and I wish for you the strength to make it through. At least you know that a Shrimp Po’Boy will given you a momentary good feeling, so keep eating them. It sure reminds me of New Orleans!

  20. I don’t have much to offer on drug use, but I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while now and wanted to thank you for your great posts, and to offer the best of wishes to you and your daughter. Don’t lose hope.

  21. There is so much support for you here. I’m so incredibly moved by your story and the confidence with which you posted it. Thank you for trusting us with your feelings and I pray things turn around for you all.

    • I appreciate that, Maureen. You are right. There is a lot of support here. And to think that I expected very few responses because of the … uncomfortable nature of this post. My readers are the best.

  22. Here by the Grace of God go I or any other parent, Adam…thank you your courage to write and share…there’s just so much love and support in these comments…love and hugs, ally

  23. Adam, I really do not know what to say. Sharing in this manner isn’t ideal, but it’s what we’ve got…I sat dumbfounded when I finished, hoping this wasn’t your actual story, but I see it is. My heart is so heavy for your family, and your girl. I’ve gone to God on her behalf, and your family’s–for comfort, healing, wholeness, salvation. He is the God who sees, who can penetrate darkness and bring beauty from ashes. Please tell your wife I will remember her in my prayers. With Christian love, Ann

  24. Adam, thank you for this. My family lives it too, and its hard. Talking about it is good- so many people are ashamed, or exceptionally private, but I think the personal stories of addiction need to be expressed more. People are more open discussing cancer than they are addiction, and I hope that changes. It’s so heavy on the heart to watch someone you know and love fade away, and frustrating to live through the relapses. We worry about what we do or not do, say or not say, and what we did or didn’t do. I’m sure this was a difficult post, so thank you for taking the time to write it. I’m not ready to share my own story yet but I hope to be someday :)

  25. I’m sorry, what happened to your daughter is too sad and heartbreaking and what I hope never happens to my 3 year old or any of my friend’s children, I didn’t even look at the recipe.

  26. As an ER nurse, I see this sort of thing on a fairly regular basis. The disease sucks in so many people. I hope you and your wife have gotten professional help dealing/coping with this issue. You both need to be healthy for each other and yourselves. And if she ever gets healthy, you will be healthy for her. Regardless of the fact, I feel for you and I pray you find peace in your soul.

  27. Hi Adam,
    My eldest rang me today to tell me that she had just been offered her first job (she is just completing her Masters). She and her (3rd year marketing) sister are the lights of my life. I am amazed at your honesty and openness in this piece. I did not even notice the food. Amazing communication. My heart is with you in your quest for resolution and peace.
    Best,
    Conor

  28. Adam, your heart must be heavy while writing and my prayer is that she will win this battle. I know the heartache you guys feel~

  29. Adam I just couldn’t respond when I first read this yesterday. This post touched me right down to my core and I didn’t want to post trite platitudes to something so heartfelt. I can feel your anguish and feel your love for your entire family. Any addiction – drugs, alcohol – doesn’t matter, affects so many people in addition to the addict but from all that I have read, meth is about the worst to break free of. As parents we all try to do the best that we can but at some point, peers have much more influence than all the years you’ve spent as a parent. I remember being young and feeling invincible and am thankful that I may have taken a wrong turn or two but somehow found what I needed inside myself to get back on track. I’ve always felt that parents either get too much credit or too much blame. Everyone has to make their own choices and I hope that someday, someway your little girl will return. I am not what most would call religious but my heart and thoughts are with you on this.

  30. Oh my, I am so sorry, we already know that our children as adults are on their own life path. You write so eloquently, and my eyes are full of tears for you, your family and the struggles. I worry about just this very thing, now that my daughters are in their teen years, and hoping that addictions (of a different kind) that disrupted many in my family from their once goals will not affect my girls. Addiction is so powerful, easily makes a permanent place in a person’s life and often difficult to kick out. I hope for her recovery and to read about that and it’s recipe!

    Your recipe for that po’ boy sounds heavenly and comfortable.

  31. damn I want one of those. And kudos for the crinkle cut chips. Love those things too!

  32. My older brother had a similar attraction to alcohol. All his life. It is hard when you know and they know, but cannot or will not do anything different. Love is all you can give them.

    Po’boys of any variety are great. Have you tried a pressed one?

    • Thanks, Bonnie. The only time I’ve pressed them is with my hands — when I’ve overstuffed them and cannot take a bite. :-) I have seen pressed Po’ Boys on some New Orleans menus though.

  33. Adam, What a courageous thing to do by sharing a part of your family story. We too, have a child who became lost in the drug scene even though he was raised in a good home with good values etc; He is my step-son and a young man that I love dearly. As a result of his usage and dealing of drugs he was sentenced to 25 yrs. of imprisonment. We continued to love him and visit him wherever he was sent, but more importantly, we continued to pray and trust in our God. We leaned on our church family and remained in prayer for our boy, believing that even in a horrible, dark place he could be restored to sanity and reach out to the loving God he was once very close to. The cobwebs that the drugs had caused in his mind began to clear as we continued to pray for a miracle. I am here to give you hope for a new day with your girl – cause God turned the situation around after just four very long years and our son was paroled on good behavior. That was in 2009. He is now a hardworking store manager, happily married, involved in his church and community, but more importantly – is 32 yr. old young man with honesty, integrity that any parent would be proud of.

    Hold on, Adam and please don’t give up on her. You never know when God may decide to turn the situation around. I will be praying for your family.

  34. I am “virtually” patting you and your wife’s hand. I’ll bet you can guess why. I am so very, very sorry. And we have been there.

    • Thank you, Deanne. — When I wrote this, it was essentially therapy for me. When I published it … Well, I felt the need to tell a few people that we tried. Really hard. In addition to the comments here, I received more than 100 emails from people — many of whom were going through the same thing and blaming themselves. The thought of comforting others who live this situation never crossed my mind, but I’m really glad that my own therapy was therapeutic for others.

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