Andrew finds room at the inn

“I hate our school.” Andrew, 13, lay facedown on the floor of his friend John’s** bedroom. The piece of charcoal in his hands was filling his sketch pad with strong, dark lines that seemed desperate to jump off the page and never come back. John, who was opening a bottle of beer, didn’t reply: that he agreed with Andrew went without saying.

“They all think they’re better than us,” Andrew continued, sitting up. “We’re never going to fit in there.” He took a drink from John’s bottle and examined the drawing. Frustrated, he crumpled it up and tossed it into the wastebasket. His arm throbbed for a moment where he purposely had cut the skin a few nights ago.

“Hey,” said John suddenly. “I got something new you can try.” “Oh, yeah?” John pulled out a small plastic pouch of white powder and waved it with a grin. “My new best friend.” “Cocaine? Can’t you die from that?” Andrew was more curious than afraid. John shrugged. “I’m still here.” Andrew laughed. What the heck? He watched John take his and followed suit. Then he waited for everything — thoughts about school, the disagreements with his family, all the times people had told him he wasn’t worth anything — to go away.

Andrew, 24, awoke from a fitful sleep to find his face squashed unpleasantly against the back seat of his Honda Civic. Groggily he sat up. Catching a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror — the only mirror he had, since his car was now his home — Andrew muttered an expletive. When he went to his twelve-step meeting that night, he was sure Carmen, one of the members who had taken Andrew under her wing, would notice his dilated pupils, his glazed-over eyes, his nodding off, all of which gave away the fact that he had been using heroin. At least she wouldn’t notice the bleeding on his arms from where he had cut them; that he had well covered up.

That evening, as the speaker talked about prayer, about how to give your life over to God, Andrew struggled to keep awake. A couple of times he could tell he’d slipped, because he’d come to and found Carmen glaring at him reproachfully. After the meeting, she walked toward his chair, her steps full of purpose. Andrew felt a twinge of guilt as he steeled himself for another lie. It’s the depression. It’s my medication for bipolar. It’s nothing; don’t worry about it.

“I know you’re using, Andrew,” Carmen said sternly. “How am I supposed to be your friend if you keep lying to me?” Andrew grimaced. Marie, another of his concerned friends from twelve-step, had recently said pretty much the same thing. “Look,” Carmen continued in a gentler tone. “I know this place. It’s called St. Christopher’s Inn, it’s a shelter and recovery program connected with the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. Other guys from twelve-step have gone there. It’s got a good rep. You should get yourself to detox and then check it out.”

“I told you, Carmen, nothing’s wrong with me.”

“Don’t waste my time with that B.S.,” Carmen snapped. “Just do it.”

All through art therapy class at the Inn, words from the past few weeks kept repeating themselves in Andrew’s head. Father Bill, whom he had met at the Inn: You’ve done some bad things, Andrew, but you also were sick. You need to forgive yourself. Carmen, in her last letter: I know this isn’t easy, but you need St. Christopher’s. Stick it out. Finally, Nurse McCullagh, who had given yesterday’s lecture: If you ever need to talk, come to my office.

These last words stayed with Andrew the most. They kept him from concentrating. She was just saying that. Why would anyone want to hear about my problems? But after class, Andrew found his steps leading him past other residents, past staff, past the friars in their long brown robes and up to Nurse McCullagh’s office. He knocked.

“Come in!” called a cheerful voice. Encouraged, Andrew stuck his head around the door.

“Andrew!” beamed Nurse McCullagh. “Come on in. Make yourself at home.”

Andrew sat down, opened his mouth, and promptly fell into silence. Nurse McCullagh merely smiled at him. She had plenty of things to do, but she waited as attentively as if this visit was her only task for the day.

“Yesterday you were talking about healthy relationships with
other people,” Andrew finally began. Slowly, he turned his bare, scarred arms underside-up on his lap. They looked so vulnerable, bearing as they did the testimony of so much hurt he’d done himself. “I want to know how to do this. How do I let people into my life when this —” he nodded down at his arms — “scares people away?”

Nurse McCullagh didn’t lecture. She didn’t tell him he wasn’t worth bothering with. As Andrew talked, she simply listened.

“Carmen?” The voice that replied over the phone did a poor job of hiding its anxiety. “Andrew. Is everything all right?”

“I left St. Christopher’s Inn.”

Carmen’s disappointment was so tangible that Andrew hurried to break the rest of the news. “I left because I graduated. Five months. I finished the program. I’m at a halfway house and looking for a job. And I want to apply to art school.”

“Andrew Bruce, if are pulling a fast one on me, you are going to regret it.”

“You could call my folks. They know it’s true.”

Carmen’s voice was strangled for a moment with pleasure. She then began peppering him with questions. Andrew grinned. It felt good not to lie. It felt good to have plans, to think that maybe there was something he could do with his life besides be an addict. It felt good, he thought, to be going somewhere. CD

* based on the story of Andrew Bruce
** Some names have been changed for privacy

Love Your Neighbor
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