when home is a meth house
The desert will destroy you if you stay here long enough.
Some never make it out.
As hard as I’ve tried to get away, it always has its way of finding me.
Victorville is ranked amongst the top ten of California’s most dangerous cities, and topped the list for least police investment. Even the cops have given up on it. The streets are overrun with criminals, a wasteland of meth cooks, thieves, and dealers — the people here never stood a chance. Mom is among them. And now, so am I. I’ve been stuck here for two months but it’s felt like a lifetime.
I’ve been staying in Grandma’s meth house. It’s forever spilling over with people—eleven at the moment, but sometimes I lose track. The carpet is worn down to bare threads from the constant coming and going of Mom and her favorite homeless, desert strays of the moment.
To survive in Victorville, you have to fall into the dark pit of “the settled”—the ones who have given up on finding the light at the end of the tunnel. The thing is, I haven’t given up. I will never give up. But man, every day that I’m here feels like a battle and I am so damn tired.
Sleep never comes here at Grandma’s meth house. Unsettling sounds bounce around in the dark—the blaring TV news stories about the endless crime, the constant helicopter overhead, the sirens pouring in through the window, and Mom’s junkie friends stumbling in and out, slamming doors and making the dogs bark (all seven of them including the giant german shepherd that thinks he’s a lap dog).
The sun is streaming in through the window and it feels like someone is shining a floodlight in my face. It’s barely 8am and the heat is already seeping through the walls. My hair is wet with sweat. My ankles are crossed and sticking to each other like I laid in chewed up gum.
When my eyes adjust I see Mom standing in the doorway. Her wild curls are sticky with sweat along the side of her beautiful, tired face. She has scars up and down her arm from when she was in the hospital. Her hand is swollen and she’s holding a piece of paper between her fingers. She has two pairs of reading glasses from the dollar store on her head. Bringing both down onto her nose, she reads me a proverb about love from 1973.
“That’s beautiful, Mom,” I tell her.
She leaves me with the old proverb and says she has to get ready to go to one of her hundreds of doctor appointments.
I need a shower but I’m dreading it because Grandma’s bathroom gets more use than the public restroom at the gas station up Seventh Street. I slip on my sandals because there’s no tellin’ what’s on the floor. I’ve found razor blades, crack pipes, bowls of old cereal, dog shit, old bandaids, used gauze, y’know, the usual.
I lean into the shower to turn the water on and it smells like piss. It’s all over the outside of the shower curtain from some sleep-deprived junkie missing the toilet. I’m desperate for a shower but being in the bathroom makes me feel even dirtier. My feet stick to the shower mat and I turn up the heat as much as I can handle. I close up into myself so my body doesn’t graze the shower walls.
The mirror has a layer of fog over it when I get out. I wipe the steam away with a rag so I can see my reflection. My dark eyes look heavy and my cheeks are flushed from the relentless heat. I pin my hair in a wet bun and put on the lightest dress I own because I’m already starting to sweat.
I’m hungry but I can’t eat here. I haven’t eaten at this house in all of the sixty days I’ve been here. The kitchen smells like peanut butter and rotten milk. The counters are covered in flies and remnants of microwavable meals, the stove is stacked with pots containing things that can’t even be classified as food, the sink is overflowing with dirty dishes, and the dining room table is starting to collapse from all the junk that’s stacked over top of it.
This house. This is the most uninspiring and depressing place for someone to endure.
My heart hurts to think that for now, this is home.
And even worse, it’s home for Mom.
She calls it the dungeon.
I can stay at the neighbors, a hotel, an Airbnb—I know I have options—but the whole point of being here is to spend time with Mom. My most favorite moments are the tiny ones, the mundane ones, the fleeting ones, the ones I’d miss if I stayed somewhere else. I’d rather be with her in the trenches than on the sidelines, shiny and clean, without her.
I’ve offered for her to come and live with me, her and Grandma both, but Grandma doesn’t want to leave the desert because it’s been her home since she moved here from Belgium over 50 years ago. And Mom, she’s scared to leave her boyfriend, her friends, her job—the life that she’s built here (if you can even call it that). She’d probably say the life I want for her is boring, maybe it is, but at least it doesn’t end with her in a coma in the hospital.
She says she will move out to me in September. I don’t know if I believe that she actually will. I don’t really know anything anymore. And even so, what’s going to happen until then? My skin crawls in the uncertain air.
I feel like I’m abandoning her if I leave.
Who’s going to look out for her?
Who’s going to remind her of her potential?
This place doesn’t believe in potential, in change, or anything good. There is no changing in the desert. This whole town is like a cult. You have to drink the poison of complacency or it will kill you—what’s left of you anyway.