Small-town America isn’t what it used to be.
Next to the Ohio River sits a small, depressed town where a drug is easier to find than a well-paying job.
As a little girl growing up here, our neighborhood used to come alive at night with children carrying flashlights playing Spotlight Tag. Kids don’t play this game at night anymore. Doors are locked, strangers don’t say “hello” like they used to. If you are known to have prescriptions, you are a target to get robbed. The small town is currently under siege and afraid.
My town has a real name. It has a local university where football players become NFL stars winning Super Bowl rings. Another name has been given to my home. You won’t find it on a map. I live in a place nicknamed “Moneyton.”
In the Appalachian foothills, coal was the primary job provider. Trains are not rumbling down our tracks as often as they once did. Our land is being stripped bare of its natural resources, and there is a new way to live. There is a pipeline running from Detroit to my home. The highway is a constant supply of heroin, crack, and death.
I was born into these hills, and I will be buried in them. I married a man who was also bred, and born, into what used to be a nice place to live. There are two ways out of Moneyton: pack your bags and leave, or die here. There is no real quality to life.
I want better. There has to be a better way to live, a better place.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Many years ago, I sought help through a local mental health center. The therapy I received came in the form of pills. It would come to be known in our region as “Hillbilly Crack.” I spent three years suffocating in addiction’s quicksand.
Not caring, in my foggy world, I battled my husband. And in return, he watched me snort reason after reason. Four hundred reasons were supplied to me every three months masked in an orange prescription bottle. While I cut off the plastic straw and sucked a burning sensation into my nostrils, I never noticed the poverty around me. I couldn’t see the hurricane brewing in my city.
The hurricane has landed.
Legislature has cracked down on legal pharmaceuticals making them more expensive, and harder to get. Today, once legal addicts turn to illegal methods. They strap rubber ties around their arms. They insert needles filled with a cheaper, more potent drug called heroin. And, many are dying. Death doesn’t know any age. It doesn’t care if you came from a good home. Death is leaving families without their sons and daughters. Death is here.
It’s been seven years since I snorted my last pill. Yet, I still see addiction. Through my sober eyesight, addiction is still in my home. It is across the street, and it comes out of the alley next to my house.
I see it in my neighbor who rents the apartment across the street. Her children are only allowed to play on a small balcony. She screams at them to “shut the fuck up” as she asks her dealer how much the bag costs. I watch as the crackhead creeps out of the alley and digs furiously through the bushes for his scrap fix.
A hooker comes out of that same alley with strung out eyes. She is hoping to make enough money to score the medicine in order to also stop feeling. Sometimes, I watch as men follow a few feet behind her as she hangs her head staring at the old brick streets. Everybody is seeking a fix.
I want a fix too. I want to self medicate again. I want to not see the town also dying in despair. I want a better life.
Since I stopped my addiction I find myself asking day after day, year after year, one question to my husband. I’ve begged a repetitive plea.
“When can we head south? I want to smell salt water instead of coal dust. I want something better for our family.”
My mountains are my home. The hills hide the misfortunes as our loved ones are overdosing. They are hiding our pain away from the rest of the nation. We have a plague. My town is in a drug-riddled epidemic. Drugs and coal dust won’t bury me, because my mountains gave me fortitude. I spent three years forgetting an abusive childhood by snorting pills. Today, right now in this moment, is my ribbon bound, gift-wrapped present. The decisions my husband and I make will be our child’s future. They will be our future.
My son looks to the clock and says, “tick-tock, tick-tock.” How much time do we lose before we learn to live? Before the tick goes into the tock?
“Hickory, dickory, dock.
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock.”
The Black Death caused rats to run. The clock is past one. Hickory, dickory, dock.
Mice are running down a clock away from a plague in my town. Our time is dire and essential. I realize I have two options, to run or die. Those will not be my son’s options. He deserves better. There is no money to run right now. I’m too stubborn to die.
I can write. I can tell you my story, a town’s story.
Write a better tomorrow for my baby, for myself. Write for my town lost in a seemingly hopeless battle. I write for those two little kids playing on the balcony across the street, for the hooker and the crackhead coming out the alley each day. There is the option to stand and fight as my pen is a powerful sword.
To Huntington, there is a better life, we can fight together.
Photo: Flickr/Jeri Koegle