[caption id="attachment_1263" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="The tools of the trade."]
"Dude, seeing these pictures brings back a lot of memories, man. I used to live just like this," said James. He sat quietly, analyzing the photographs in front of him, then repeated, whispering, "A lot."
James was once addicted to, among other things, heroin. His name isn't James; I'm using a pseudonym at his request. By looking at him today, nobody would ever guess that James was once a true drug addict. And he intends to keep it that way.
I am less well versed in the ways of addiction, so I consulted James after I checked out this house in the burbs. Chemical dependency plays a role in a small but significant portion of the homes we service, and while it's easy to tell when Jim Beam and Jose Cuervo are frequent guests, heavy narcotics are more difficult for me to identify. James, though, took one look at this modified baby food jar and said, "Black heroin. That's likely what they were smoking out of this piece." He studied the photo a little more closely. "And all that powder next to the pipe? Probably ash and powder residue from crushing pills."
[caption id="attachment_1264" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Checkmate."]
I showed him this photo. "Bingo. Those look like some could be generic versions of prescription-strength painkillers. People grind those up and snort them. Then, over time, you just deteriorate."
[caption id="attachment_1265" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Not a place you'd want to lay your head."]
The rest of the home had deteriorated, too. The smell was of garbage, filth, and neglect. Pornography covered the floors in several rooms; used condoms littered the hallway; soda cans and paper plates and plastic bottles congregated in all corners. A fine dust of ash clung to every surface like lichens on a stone cliff. The garage was packed with several feet of garbage. Meanwhile, sunlight was kept out by curtains, bent blinds, and sheets. It was like a vampire lived there.
[caption id="attachment_1266" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="The garage has no room to park."]
As you might expect, conditions were less than sanitary. Neglect crept into the kitchen, the fridge, the bedroom, the bathroom. Dirty laundry sat next to the washing machine. There wasn't a clean area in the entire house.
[caption id="attachment_1267" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Be sure to brush twice a day."]
[caption id="attachment_1268" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="This, like the teeth, could use a good brushing."]
I've grown accustomed to scenes like these. Disorder and filth are much more common than I once thought, and it doesn't bother me. What does still get to me, though, is when I see that children are involved in these situations. Innocence lost, a future scrambled, a family broken: the unfortunate die has been cast. Deterioration reached the family level.
[caption id="attachment_1269" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="This was once the play room."]
There are toys strewn about. One room, under piles of cigarette butts, holds arithmetic homework. A potty chair is full of toilet paper and ash. An uncut sheet of wallet-sized school pictures peeked out from under a broken hair dryer.
[caption id="attachment_1270" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Sad evidence of children here."]
"It's [messed] up, man, I know," said James. "But you gotta understand that the addiction takes over. It doesn't mean that the addict doesn't love his kids, or want the best for his kids. It's just that he can't do anything. He's addicted. Drugs are his life."
[caption id="attachment_1271" align="aligncenter" width="425" caption="Art."]
It's a lifestyle that I'm fortunate not to understand. Moreover, this house spoke to me more than most because it reminded me of my childhood home in a working-class suburb. My memories are of climbing trees and baseball games and riding my bike through the park. The children who lived here would share much different tales.
[caption id="attachment_1272" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="One side in, one side out."]
As I walked the outside of the property, a saw a broken window. Part of my job is to document safety issues at the homes, and the shards of glass and improperly boarded opening called my attention. But when I was training my lens on the offending window, I noticed the reflection on the twin window next to it. The left side was broken, jagged, blocked from within. The right side, while distorted, reflected what was all around, what could be: newly green grass, tiny buds on the tree, and rooftops down the street. Inside the house is despair. But all around it is hope.
"I must admit, I'm a little nostalgic looking at these photos," James said. "I mean, it sucked, like, it was a really bad, dark time, but it's familiar too. I understand this mess. I lived it."
Would you ever go back?
He didn't hesitate with his one-word answer: "No."
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