My adult middle son leaned against the
kitchen counter and crossed his arms. “I’m not worried about getting it.” He raised
his chin. “I’m immune.” He shrugged, but his cheeks were hollow and sharp, the
way they get after he’s been on a binge.
I hesitated. He had to be tweaking—the part when the methamphetamine is wearing off and irritation and aggressive behavior surges for a period of hours to days. I’d learned to walk carefully around a tweak.
In the background, a television blared the latest on the coronavirus. All schools were closed, and large events postponed or canceled. Slowly I let out my breath, a sort of anti-sigh. “I see. How are you immune?”
His features contorted; he practically
spit the words. “If you don’t know, I’m not gonna tell you.” He called me a hateful
name and stomped out the door.
I froze. No matter how often I experienced
this behavior, it never got easier. I’d always maintained that it wasn’t my
real son, that drugs were doing the talking. Still, I was never prepared to
hear him curse the one person he knew he could always count on: his mom.
Outside in our garage, he ranted at his
brother. His lighter had gone missing. “Where’d you put it, _-hole?” He growled
more than spoke. “Cough it up or I’ll beat your sorry __.” He let loose another
string of expletives, needling his younger brother until he escaped the garage.
My middle son slammed his way back inside, still yelling as he tromped down the
Angry energy engulfed the whole house. The
air vibrated with what some would call bad ju-ju while the TV anchor announced that
the pandemic threatened the whole world.
People walked on eggshells, afraid to tell
a soul about their cough or cold. Everyone felt isolated, fearful of what new
calamity awaited them. The novel coronavirus had halted American life,
spreading anxiety, panic and even death.
Then I realized: That’s my life anyway. We
who love those with substance use disorder live this way almost all the time.
We never know when the next binge, the
next disappearance or the next eruption will hit. We’re always trying to outrun
guilt, shame, jumbled emotions. We lock up our valuables, secure our
prescriptions, build fences around our hearts. We know the subtle signs that
our loved one has relapsed or that we’ve been lied to or manipulated.
We keep loving anyway. Our broken hearts
limp around even when the insults go for the throat. And we don’t know how long
all of this will last, if there will ever be enough treatment, if our loved one
can get help if the worst happens.
For a mom like me, this coronavirus
pandemic feels a whole lot like daily life.
By the next morning, my son was sober. His
eyes were full of sleep as he tucked into his breakfast. He smiled in between
big bites of Frosted Flakes.
I sipped my coffee. “Did you hear? They
closed the schools. Coronavirus is spreading fast.”
“It’s pretty contagious—even actor Tom
Hanks has it.”
He picked up his bowl and slurped the
My fingers traced the cats on my Laurel
Burch mug. “Why’d you say you’re immune to coronavirus?”
Irritation flickered in his eyes. “You
really know how to start a bad mood, Mom.”
“It was an honest question.”
“Here’s my honest answer. Meth keeps me
from getting that stuff.” His chair nearly tipped over as he stood and fled the
Later, I researched his claim. A 2012 United Kingdom in vitro study found that large quantities of meth might suppress some flu virus. There was no mention of coronavirus, and nothing about meth as a legitimate treatment for anything. I still don’t know why my son thought meth made him immune. But during this pandemic, many have misunderstood or skewed expert advice. In my son’s circle, had a rumor about that study gone . . . viral?
Meth can’t save us from coronavirus, of course. But moms like me have some good tips while we’re social distancing: You may feel alone but you are not alone. Keep your loved ones close. Take care of yourself, keep expectations realistic. Most of all, don’t ever give up hope.
If he hadn’t rushed off, I’d have hugged my son, hard. I’d have told him how much I love him. And I’d have reminded him to wash his hands.
Painting: “Summer on the Shore” by Edvard Munch