Resurrection: Philadelphia - 1995-2002
This is a preview to the chapter Resurrection: Philadelphia - 1995-2002 from the book Don't Tell Me What To Do: A Spiritual Memoir by Ron Alexander.
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“How you doing, baby?” she wanted to know.
I had looked at myself in the mirror before leaving my apartment. My clothes hung on my thin body as if I were a hanger swallowing up my arms and legs. The stench of my sweat stung my nose. I hadn’t taken a bath in days.
My eyes were sunk back deep into my head. Dark blotches of skin covered my face. My lips were dry and brittle. Yet, there I sat, grinning at her through gritty, yellowed teeth, my lips peeling, the deep cracks around my mouth stinging me every time I tried to drink coffee. I wasn’t there to see how she was doing. I came to steal her money to buy crack.
“I’m alright,” I said, trying to sip from the cup of coffee without fully opening my mouth.
She took a long swallow of coffee and carefully sat the cup down on the saucer. “Are you really alright?” She talked slowly but her eyes were alert. I hadn’t counted on his. I had hoped that she would be so medicated she wouldn’t see the wreckage in my life. Every visit with her, every time I came calling, showed her how crack/cocaine was depleting my will and ability to fight against it, how my lust for getting high was slowly killing me.
“I’m doing better, Mama.” I was smiling, trying to sound convincing. “I really am,” I added. I scanned the kitchen to see whether her pocketbook was lying around. It wasn’t. “I have to go to the bathroom,” I told her. That was my excuse to get away from her and search her bedroom upstairs for money.
I tried to get up from the table without showing the strain on my face. The muscles in my legs and back ached as I got up to walk across the kitchen floor, up the steps to her bedroom. I spotted her pocketbook lying in clear view on the neatly made bed. The sight of the pocketbook made me anxious. I paused to ask myself if I really wanted to do this. I gazed at the framed family pictures sitting on the dresser. Thirty years of my life pressed and passed through mind.
I snatched up the pocketbook, rummaging through it until I felt the soft, leather wallet in my hands. I took all but a single bill from the wallet. I rushed down the steps. I was inpatient to feel the exhilaration of pulling long and hard on a crack pipe, feel my lungs expand like a giant muscle against my shirt, suck all of the air out of my body to the point of feeling faint, high and lost, extinguishing memories of my past or hope for a future.
My crazed mind drove me out the door, onto the street where I ran breathlessly for several blocks until I was sure I couldn’t hear her voice. Nearby was a crack house. I ran straight into the waiting arms of a drug dealer.
* * *
When the call came, I was laid up in bed feeling a wrenching pain in my bones. I stretched out my arm to pick up the telephone, groaning from the stiffness in my muscles, I faintly said, “hello.” My mother was on the other end of the phone.
“Your grandmother is seriously ill. I want you to come the hospital right away.”
I hung up the telephone without asking any questions.
Mustering up the strength to get out of the bed seemed damn near impossible as I laid there reciting the tasks I would have to perform to go to the hospital. As simple as it was to do, the dreaded thoughts of taking a bath, brushing my teeth, finding a clean set of clothes among the piles of clothing scattered around my apartment, left me feeling helpless and chained to my bed. More than anything else at this moment, I wanted something to eat and to go back to sleep. I had no room in my life for another crisis, especially if it meant I had to go outside of my apartment.
I knew that I couldn’t hide from passing strangers how deep into the gutter I had fallen. Grudgingly, guilt pushing me out of the bed, I got up, firmly resolved that I had no choice in the matter. I had to go to the hospital.
When I reached the hospital, I paused before walking into the main entrance, feeling a sudden nostalgia when I reflected on that this was the hospital where my grandfather had died. Standing at the entrance of the hospital, a cold, wet sweat ran down my back. I trudged on into the hospital. When the elevator door opened, two women came rushing out, nearly colliding with me, and not even stopping to excuse themselves. I stepped inside, punched a button, leaned back against a handrail, and watched the buttons flash red as the elevator moved up the floors.
On the visitors floor, I found Mama’s room easily. I looked down the corridor of rooms and walked to where there was a group of people congregating around the door of Mama's room. As I approached the room, I scanned their faces, looking for someone familiar, finally spotting my mother, who was sitting
in a lone chair outside of the door. There was a stern, indifferent expression on her face. She was not part of the noisy chatter buzzing around her head. She just sat there, seemingly in a trance, not displaying the slightest acknowledgment of the endless chattering swarming around her. It was only after I called her name that she came alive, stood up, and brushed past the crowd to talk to me.
“I’m so happy that you are here,” she said, giving me a slight smile. She motioned for me to move away from the crowd. She and I walked far enough down the hall that I didn’t have worry about anyone but her scrutinizing my appearance. We stopped and leaned up against a wall. I asked her the only question I could think of to ask. “What’s wrong with Mama?”
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