It’s easy to take some of the blame on ourselves. In hindsight we shouldn’t have picked him up. Tension had been thick for days, the result of finding drugs and alcohol in his room and continuing our determination to hold him accountable.

But first, how did he get in our room? Every single time he asked if he could move in, or if he AND his girlfriend could move in, the answer was no.

“It will ruin our relationship,” J had told him.

We didn’t want him in our house when he was using. Bad things happen.

Then he got into big trouble in South Carolina. He flew home, desperate, defeated, pockets empty.

We spent a lot of time talking about it. We knew that without help, he had zero chance of getting ahead. We also knew that his stay as a guest had an ending- he was going back to SC for court, and he was facing jail time. We knew it could and probably would end badly if we let him stay with us. We couldn’t help but hope that some stability and normalcy in his life might help. A place to sleep, plenty of food. Maybe he could focus on getting it together instead of living each day in desperation.

So, when he asked again if he could stay for “a few days”, we said ok.

We said no drinking.

We were encouraged when he got a job. He was visiting for four weeks, and he didn’t even have the money for his plane ticket back. J brought him to and from work each day, and he was up and ready to go every morning.

When he got his first paycheck he said, “I felt rich, I’ve never had that much money, and for four days of work!”

The first time, when I was gathering dirty towels in his room and came upon an almost empty bottle of alcohol, I still kept hope.

I dumped out the remains, rinsed it out and wrote a note to put inside. I started it with: “These are some things I believe:”

I told him that I believed he was capable of respecting our house rules and not drinking. I believed he had a choice to make about how he wanted to live his life. Did he want to keep going the way he was? Or did he want to be happy? I told him I believed in him. That I believed he could do it. That I believed he really did want better. That I believe in integrity, respect, accountability. That I believe in forgiveness. That I believe in helping our kids when they are trying to help themselves.

I rolled it up and stuck it in the bottle and put the dirty towel back over it.

Within minutes of his arrival home he had found my note. That meant that within minutes he had gone for his bottle.

I had left for the grocery store, but he went out to the yard and stopped dad on the lawnmower to argue about why he should be allowed to drink at our house.

When I arrived home he apologized to me, and I noticed while he was packing his lunch one day that he was carrying my note in his lunchbox with him. I have never wanted someone to get better so badly.

You’ve heard the worst, and it’s all true, but he is lovable despite himself. He is funny and sweet and charming when he’s sober. I love it when he plays guitar. I loved sitting down to dinner with him here.

There were a couple times more where we knew something was going on but we weren’t sure what. We told ourselves that he was leaving soon, that we were just trying to get through the next week.

The night before he left, he drank so much that he fell down the stairs carrying two plates of food. I cannot understand why he thinks we wouldn’t notice how drunk he is, or how he thinks we won’t hear him go to the ice maker 26 times.

“He’s leaving tomorrow,” we said.

Before he left he said, “I just need to stay here like two weeks when I get back, then me and Nate are getting our own place.”

We knew when he got back things had to be different. Like I said, we’ve been studying everything we can get our hands on. We couldn’t turn the other cheek, just because we didn’t want to deal with it.

So when he came back, we reiterated the rules. No drinking or drunkenness.

Something was wrong with him when he came back. Sluggish, dark circles under his eyes, keeping weird hours and what the hell was that smell coming from his room?

At first he was burning incense, but we knew that was only to cover up something else. We said no more incense. Still, a smell we couldn’t identify.

There were beer cans in his room. Another argument about why he should be allowed to drink. Paraphernalia and more beer cans. Again, another argument.

“It’s MY ROOM,” he said.

He had already fought with dad about it, now he was working me.

“It’s not your room,” I said, “it’s a room in our house that we are letting you use in exchange for following the rules.”

He went back and forth, between telling me he was sorry and telling me it was bullshit.

“Bunz do you see us sitting around getting wasted with our parents?” I asked him.

“No, you don’t. I’m not arguing with you about whether or not you have a problem,” I started again, “you have to come to that on your own. I’m telling you that we’re not comfortable with you or any of our kids getting wasted in our house. It’s not how we grew up and it’s not something we’re comfortable with. House rules. But I gotta tell you, if you can’t not drink or be drunk while you’re here, then that’s a sign of a problem.”

“I’m NEVER going to quit drinking,” he responded and then he huffed in the house saying, “this is bullshit.”

The next day I greeted him with a friendly smile. Every day is a new chance to get it right.

But there was a smell, clearly coming from his room. There were seven more cans. He left in the afternoon to go to the beach, and we didn’t hear from him again until eleven thirty, when he needed a ride.

After the weekend, we couldn’t let him back home. He’d had lots of chances by then, each one getting worse than the last. We could only imagine what might happen next. We didn’t even feel safe enough, or trust him enough to let him back in for his things.

J went to rent a storage locker and I started packing up his room. I found a lot of weird things that I admittedly did not at first recognize. Like, why would he have shredded up steel wool in a bag?

I’m not hip on all the drugs, but google tells me people who smoke crack use it. I found it in an article titled, “Signs Your Teen is Using Drugs.”

When I stripped his bed I came across multiple things. A dab pen, a dugout, a smoke catcher. I cried because I knew that this was how he put himself to sleep every night. He falls asleep with it.

I also knew that was probably why he wanted so badly to get into the house.

I sent him a note after we told him where to find his stuff. I told him that we still want to help him when he’s ready to help himself. I told him I’m worried about him, and I hope he wants to get better. I told him that I’m sorry it came to this, that I want him to make good choices to make his life better.

And I took another big breath.

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