A photo of Molly watering our veranda plants to soften the blow of the conversation below.
Me: (writing emails early this morning)
Hank: Hi mama.
Me: Hi Hank.
Hank: Whatcha doin’?
Me: (with the tone of someone off to the dentist for a root canal) Writing emails.
Hank: To who?
Me: You mean to whom? If you would say he or she you would use who. If you mean him or her you use the word whom. Unless it is formal and the recipient is undeclaired then it is whom.
Hank: English is hard.
Hank: So yah…
Me: To whom are you writing emails?
Hank: Sure. That.
Me: I am writing an elevator pitch to a literary agent.
Hank: What is a… Huh? I have too many questions about that one sentence.
Me: A literary agent sells books. A literary agent is a person who works for a writer and represents them to publishers as well as other agencies that would like to buy the rights to use a writer’s work. An elevator pitch is a phrase used to describe why you would buy, invest, support something said in the briefest and most direct language possible in the length of time it takes you to enter and exit an elevator.
Hank: So you have to read this email in an elevator?
Me: (grinning) The elevator part is metaphorical. It represents the length of time you have to sell your idea or in this case my latest book project.
Hank: Ooooooooookay. I understand. Wait, that must be hard for you. You talk a lot.
Me: (raised eyebrow)
Me: (loudly slurp coffee, eyebrow still raised)
Hank: I mean in a good way. It takes you time to tell your whole ideas. This is why you are a good writer.
Me: Nice save.
Hank: (relieved) Thanks. I was worried. You know what I mean though.
Me: I do. Trust me. I hate these query emails. I hate writing press releases for the blog. I hate promotion. I feel so slimy. Like I am standing in front of a group of people I respect and shouting, “Hey! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! Aren’t I great? I am soooooo great. Oh, you think I’m great? (death metal growl) GOOD THEN PAY ME.”
Me: But I have to start using my creative writing to pay me more so I can freelance less or else the blog and my book projects have become very expensive hobbies that I can’t continue to devote so much time to.
Pai: Children and Teens are terrifying to some people. They represent the future where their ideas will no longer be powerful. They are taught to love and accept all people and that education is the real power not fear. That makes them a target.
Hank: Children were there at night? This happened at 10:30pm, right? Why were there children there?
Me: (large lump in my throat) A child is any person under the age of thirteen.
Pai: They were your age, Hank.
Me: That could have been you.
Pai: And you, Joy. I would have bailed rather than sitting through a pop concert.
Me: More likely Hank, you and one of your Tias or Primas (aunts or cousins).
Pai: It would be like walking into school and the majority of your class wouldn’t be there today.
Hank: This feels normal. This feeling I have. This feeling is becoming normal now.
Me: That is what the sick and sad people of the world want.
Pai: They want you to be afraid and angry.
Hank: I am not afraid or angry. I am so sad that there are no word and no tears. I can’t even cry. I just want to find a person who is thinking about hurting people this way and be their friend and love them enough that they know they don’t need to hurt people.
Me: (nodding, rubbing Hank’s back) Hurt people hurt people.
Me: (deep exhausted sigh) She ate already so I gave her baby crack.
Hank: (diving into his meal) What is baby crack?
Pai: The iPad.
Me: Crack is a form of cocaine, a highly addictive drug. Molly is highly addicted to bouncing around the iPad. If we were to give her unlimited access she would forget to eat and forgo sleep just like a person sick with addiction so your papa and I refer to the iPad as baby crack.
Hank: So crack is a drug?
Hank: How many drugs are there?
Hank: Have you ever done drugs?
Me: Who are you asking?
Hank: Both of you.
Pai: I have never done any drugs that were not prescribed by my doctor.
Hank: I don’t mean medicine, papa. I mean the drugs people are worried about.
Pai: My answer stands.
Me: In my 37 years of life I have tried marijuana three times and each time years apart. Twice pot made my world spin until I puked my guts out and the third time I just took a nap, so that made it a rather expensive nap I could have otherwise had for free.
Hank: Drugs are expensive?
Me: They are an expensive vice or if you become addicted to drugs they become expensive for your health and wellbeing.
Hank: This is what I don’t understand. People talk about drugs and then they talk about addicting.
Hank: Right, so some people do drugs and are not addiction…
Hank: Right and some people do drugs and they are like the parking lot men out on the street. (In Portugal one way to hustle drug money is to “park cars” asking for a few coins to keep an eye on your car so that it doesn’t get robbed or damaged. They also “help” you park by directing you to an open space.)
Pai: May I?
Pai: Your mother has a very different experience with drugs and drug culture than I do, but what I want to say is for the millions of drugs in the world there are varying intensities. There are some drugs that are the same as drinking alcohol and there are others that will erase you from your life and your family and after you are so ill that you will for the rest of your life struggle.
Hank: So crack is an erasing drug.
Pai: Yes. There are some drugs that once you cross the line to try them there is no going back. You are lost to the disease of addiction.
Me: Recently I have lost two friends. Growing up I would always say when I was offered drugs that I wasn’t interested because if I ever tried drugs I would never stop using them. Saralee first tried heroin when we were 15 years old and she never could stop. This really shaped my personal choices. Her beautiful, bright, brilliant soul was lost in addiction. Same with my friend Brett. He did his best, they both did, but their addiction to getting high, emotionally and physically, was too strong and they both died too young and they both had kids. They were loved, so loved, they were parents and they were powerless against their disease. You should never judge a person who has an addiction, they are ill. No one intends to become so dependent on drugs that they chose an uncomfortable life divided from family and friends. That is why it is so important to ask questions, Hank, and have conversations like we are doing now.
Hank: But why aren’t those drugs never made or like not given, are they given?
Pai: People take drugs to escape, to feel better, because you will never feel as good as you do when you are high on a drug. The trade off is that you will spend your life trying to stay high. That cuts you off from life.
Me: And life isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
Pai: Drugs are bought and sold so it is a business and very profitable, but because of the nature of drugs and that taking drugs then leads to a public health crisis, they are illegal.
Me: In Portugal drugs are illegal, but decriminalized. You can have up to a certain amount of any drug on your person at anytime and it is still illegal but you won’t be punished with more than a fine.
Hank: Like a parking ticket kind of fine?
Me: Exactly. Distributing, selling, trafficking large quantities of drugs are still a criminal offense, but partaking of drugs is no longer a crime in Portugal. At anytime you can walk into the hospital or a health center or a police station and ask for help and you will be given treatment, doctor’s care, counseling. In Portugal they don’t make the person with the addiction a criminal. We understand that the person is ill and illness should never be considered illegal.
Me: I read. According the the ACLU something like above 8 million people incarcerated for a marijuana offense in the US and Portugal’s population is about that, right?
Pai: Around 10 million, I think.
Hank: 8 million people are like in jail?
Me: Yes, sir.
Me: America chose to literally wage a war on drugs while Portugal chose to decriminalize and focus on public health and outreach.
Pai: And life got better for Portugal and it’s people. When you provide sanctuary and a way out it shows respect and instead of preaching drugs are bad and wrong we learn that drugs lead to disease, illness, deformity, mental incapacity, isolation and death and at any point if you find yourself out of control you have help. In Portugal you aren’t a criminal and you don’t have to hide.
Hank: But there are drugs that will make you a junky and there are drugs that won’t.
Me: Let’s not think of it that way, your pai (dad) said it best: all drugs have different intensities. The intensities are not what you should focus on although that knowledge is very important. The biggest risk factor other than overdose is addiction and addiction is a disease.
Pai: Alcohol is a very powerful drug that can also be highly addictive, but it is socially accepted so therefore not illegal.
Me: The difference between recreation and addiction is as simple as need vs want. Do I need to eat an entire bag of jellybeans or do I want to eat an entire bag of jellybeans.
Pai: Do I need to drink a beer with dinner or do I want to drink a beer with dinner.
Me: I have an addiction.
Hank: You do?
Me: Yes. What happens if I don’t have a coffee when I wake up?
Hank: OH! You, you…
Pai: Are a monster.
Hank: You yell and say you can’t handle things and then you get dressed and leave.
Me: I abandon all of you! I get dressed. I walk out of this house. I walk down the street and into a café with €0.60 and I drink a coffee before I even attend to the needs of my family! If I do not drink a coffee my mood is erratic and irritable, I get a splitting headache and I am not able to function. I am addicted to coffee. Now this addiction won’t kill me. I could stop drinking coffee and it would be a miserable week, but I wouldn’t die. I NEEED the coffee I do not WANT the coffee.
Pai: Tell Hank about your first thought in the morning. That is a better example.
Me: Right. Hank, I used to smoke cigarettes.
Hank: (chewing) I know this.
Me: I started smoking in 1994 and I quite smoking in 2003, but I would occasionally cheat until about 2005 and then after I had you I never ever touched a cigarette again, BUT every single morning when I open my eyes my first though isn’t how much I love your papa or you or Molly. My first thought isn’t what I need to do that day or even that I need to use the bathroom. Hank, I haven’t smoked a cigarette in over twelve years and my first thought is always, every single morning, “GAWD I WANT A CIGARETTE!”
Pai: Addiction, even if you break the pattern and change you habits, pledge and pray and think you have over come it is always with you.
Me: It never goes away. My body isn’t physically dependent on cigarettes anymore like it is on coffee, but I will always be addicted even if I never smoke again. I loved smoking cigarettes, but I know they will shorten my life and I love my life so every day I make a better choice. Never judge someone who suffers from an addiction. Addiction is powerful and often beyond someone’s control at that particular moment.
Pai: You will have a lot of choices as you grow up and it is our hope that we have many more conversations like this one in the future.
Me: Always talk to us or another adult in our tribe about whatever makes you curious: Pot, Booze, Sex, Stonehenge, Stock Car Racing, LDS, Onomatopoeias, Sacred Bundles, Meth, Hairless Cats…
Hank: (giggle snorts) I have seen those on the Internet. They are creepy.
Me: And hypoallergenic.
Pai: It is my greatest wish that you chose not to ever use intense drugs or suffer from an addiction stronger than coffee.
Me: Or jellybeans.
Hank: But wait… so how do you get better if you have an addiction in America if drugs are a crime? Doing drugs makes you a criminal, right?
Me: (sad) Yes.
Hank: Then how do you get help now that Obama Care is gone?
Me: Obama Care didn’t insure that you would be given drug treatment, Hank.
Pai: Portugal is unique and our initiatives have bettered our nation and our people, but our choices aren’t universal.
Hank: But how do you get help in America?
Me: Treatment opportunities depend on each individual state and how much you can afford or your family can afford for treatment. There is help, but it isn’t a national plan like it is here.
Hank: If a person is sick why is it about being able to afford treatment? Why doesn’t America become like Portugal and have healthcare for everyone?
Me: (pausing with my dinner fork in mid rise to my mouth wondering how to explain complicated, baffling, capitalistic politics to my nine year old) That is an excellent question. Maybe someday you will go over to America and help change things.
Pai: For now be grateful to grow up here.
Hank: Oh, I am. Portugal just makes sense. (stuffing his face with salad)
Me: (wincing) Yes, but also today in London. Now, Hank keep your back to the TV unless you want to see. The photos on the news will be brutal.
Dalia: Meu Deus, quatro pessoas morreram. (My god, four people died.)
Hank: (not turning his back on the TV)
Molly: Here you go. (serving us Tea oblivious to the television)
Me: Are you okay, Hank?
Hank: Those people are very hurt.
Me: Yes, but let’s look for the helpers, okay? Look at all the people with them. No one is alone.
Hank: That woman is bleeding on her head.
Me: Yes she is, but look at the woman holding her. Look bleeding woman is holding on to that woman’s arm. She is safe and she is being loved and cared for. Let’s focus on the help and support.
Molly: Queres mais (want more)? Mama? Avó-vó Dalia?
Me: Yes, please.
Dalia: Sim, filha (yes, daughter).
Molly: (refilling our cups with pretend tea and refilling Hank’s cup that has yet to be touched)
Me: (sipping my pretend tea) Do you have questions, Hank?
Hank: Why would this man do this?
Me: Are you listening to the reporters?
Hank: I hear them, but it still doesn’t make sense. You said he was sick. Was he vomiting and this was an accident?
Me: No, honey. Everything he did was intentional. He was ill in his mind. He had a broken heart that never healed. He was probably isolated and lonely and marginalized and surrounded by equally sad and sick people and thought the world was against him and he wanted to make a point outside the British Parliament and horrifyingly he felt he needed to hurt people in order to make his point.
Hank: Was the world against him?
Me: That is a great question and one that if he had been well he could have asked and have answered. He could have engaged in an honest and difficult conversation with members of his community, neighborhood, church if he was religious, and other citizens London and his local government representatives. He could have told his story and stated clearly how he felt while others did the same. He could have reached out, but that kind of help only works if you are open and willing to listen and not just be heard. I am not saying his life wasn’t hard and that injustices weren’t committed against him. What I am saying is it takes greater courage, you have to be brave to fight for change, to listen compassionately as well as be heard. It takes more bravery to listen, learn and work to create change than it is to fight back with violence. Only a coward fights injustice with violence.
Hank: Is he dead?
Me: Unfortunately, yes. It is unfortunate that he didn’t stop when cautioned. But look at this image. This is the man and look at all the police and EMT’s fighting hard to help him, too. To save him. When there is something frightening, some violence…
Hank: Look for the helpers.
Me: Do you have any other questions, lovie? Are you okay?
Hank: I am not okay. I am so sad it hurts. I just wish he had been willing to be brave. I wish he could have asked for help, then those people and he would be laughing today instead of bleeding. He was loved, but he didn’t know it. I would have been his friend. I would have listened to him. He didn’t have to do that.
Me: (weepy, reaching for his hand to squeeze) Kindness, Hank. You will save the world with your kindness.