(NOTE: My Vegas experience has been one of extreme difficulty for me to process and be able to talk about. There is so much for me to share that I feel it is best done in several phases. This being the first of my “Vegas mini-series”)
Vegas…a place that is nothing more than a stinking cesspool filled with bottom-feeders who are continuously committing unforgivable atrocities that are forever seeping into the nooks and crannies of our self-created society. Or at least that is what I had believed for quite some time. There are so many things I could say about that godforsaken place. Such as “been there, done that,” or the ever-so-very infamous “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but that would be nothing more than adding yet another lie to the never ending misconceptions feeding the vicious mouths of our society’s not-so-mindful voice. Because in reality, what happens in Vegas does not always stay there. I should know.
Of course any story has to start with a “beginning,” right? This one is no different and yet I find myself having extreme difficulties in determining where exactly that “beginning” is. I suppose because it is so closely tied to many of my most valuable life lessons, but if I had to pick a spot…which clearly I do as I am the one writing this…then I would say this particular story’s beginning would have been while I was living with a boyfriend in Connecticut. See, after having disappeared for 15 years my father invited me to move from Illinois to Connecticut to stay with him. In part because I was going through my first divorce and in part to get to know each other. However, he left. Once again, he was not who I thought he was…who I expected him to be…or who I hoped for him to be, which was really the fault of us both. Me for holding him to my expectations rather than recognizing and accepting him for who he was, and him for stepping into a position he was not capable of fulfilling. So naturally, I became a 22-year-old heroin addict…seriously dripping with sarcasm here…and I was right in the midst of leaving detox. I mean I was literally about to walk out of a five-day program one day early and not because I was unable to handle it. Nor was I under the false impression that I had it all figured out or that everything was going to be fine, because that could not be further from the truth. At the same time, I knew they could not help me. I knew no one could…not yet anyway.
So here I was walking out of the safety of the confines of detox and straight into the arms of my boyfriend who had somehow managed to find a ride to pick me up. Only moments earlier we had been on the phone discussing how badly I wanted to leave, and now here we were heading home on another borrowed ride as he talked about his mother. She wanted him to move to Colorado with her and asked that I join him. I was in slight disbelief because she had never met me, so I was uncertain as to what her motives were for inviting me at all? At the same time, I also knew my life was destined for nothing more than a horrific path of destruction if I were to stay, so I thought why not? Why not take a chance to leave all of this behind me by starting a new chapter in a new place? Why not allow myself a new beginning? So I agreed and suddenly we were to moving to Colorado that following week, where I found myself overcome with hope. Hope for acceptance. Hope for a new life. Hope for love…and not from my boyfriend, but I had hoped that a family would finally love me enough to make me part of theirs. I hoped for a chance to belong. Never could I have foreseen what a mistake it had been to accept her invitation.
I was unfortunately sick for the first couple weeks…you know, between dope sickness and getting used to the elevation, it really does a number on your body! Within the next couple of weeks he began working while I helped around the house and searched for a job of my own. I started believing that she really did want me there and that she genuinely liked me. I started to relax. Finally, I was no longer using and things seemed to be looking better…I even looked better.
Of course it was all short-lived as we one day climbed into the van to drop my boyfriend off for work. Something just felt a little off so I instinctively became hyper-aware of every detail of my surroundings and what was happening. Because he was in the passenger seat he was unable to see what I saw, which was a large object that had been covered with a blanket. For some reason I knew instantly what it was…my trunk…and it occurred to me that I was on a one-way trip. All these thoughts began running through my head as I could not help but to question whether he knew yet his attitude told me otherwise and it was clear that she was the mastermind. I did not understand. She had been so nice and I was beginning to feel as though I were a part of everything. Clearly I was not. When we arrived at his work I gave him a big hug and said what I thought to be our last goodbye as though everything were fine. I was good at that you know…making everything appear okay while it was actually falling apart. I doubt she had any idea that I had any idea because she underestimated me. Everyone underestimated me…including myself.
I never would have guessed that my Colorado experience would end in this way…at the bus station. It certainly was not how I had imagined or hoped it would be. As she pulled up to the door she began this tirade of insults completely berating me and telling me what a disgusting, worthless human being I was. That I served no purpose being there. That she would call the cops on me if I did not get on the bus and leave because she believed I was the one who managed to trick her son into using heroin. Not once did I ever tell her the truth. In fact, I wonder to this day whether she really knows. In the end, she never wanted me there and only invited me so she could make sure he came. Now that he had, it was time for me to go. That is when she handed me a bus ticket to Vegas because she knew my brother lived there, but she clearly had no idea of our history or relationship. If she had she would have known it was non-existent. In fact, he and I had not spoken for quite some time, but it was not worth it to me. She was not worth it to me. I was not worth it. I did not have the strength to fight…I never did. Instead, I sat there as each word dripping from her venomous lips began poisoning my already broken heart while my body ached at the realization that there was yet another person in this world I had wrongly trusted. So I took the ticket in spite of knowing it was a horrible option because it was my only option.
There I stood. In Colorado at the bus station with every belonging I had, while knowing that I was about to go to a city to ask for help from a brother who had never been one. I watched as the driver shoved my trunk into the cargo area and, just like high school, I went out of my way to find a seat where I hoped no one would bother me and I was on my way to Vegas. I struggled with the thought of calling my brother, but I somehow managed to…what other choice did I have? He was hesitant but said I could stay with him and that he could help me find a job so I could get on my feet. Somehow the whole situation did nothing to calm the overwhelming anxiety I could feel rising within my body. However, when I arrived he was nowhere to be found and I was not surprised when there was no answer each time I called, as my mind began racing and my heart was pounding with growing anticipation. So I called my father who really is the epitome of uselessness. He said “…you are an adult now and can handle yourself, give me a call in a week or so to let me know how things are going.” Of course he did at least tell me to call collect since he knew I had absolutely no money. So, here I was standing in the Vegas bus station with nowhere to go, no one to call and no money to do anything.
It is difficult to explain how entirely surreal a moment like that is. Watching people going in and out of the bus station while effortlessly making their way around me and my trunk. Effortlessly heading towards their purpose. Each overwhelmed with emotion. Some with joy at finally wrapping their arms around their loved one. Others with pure sadness at having to say a goodbye…no matter how temporary that goodbye might have been. Life was suddenly happening in slow motion, as though it were taunting me waiting for me to make a decision. I remember looking out the windows realizing that once I left the bus station I had no idea of where to go, whether to choose left or right. Maybe go with the crowd? Or would it be best to stay away from the busy areas while heading into the less populated ones…wherever those might be. I suppose one could argue that this was the definition of rock bottom. The funny part…I was clean…well, for the time being anyway.
Up until that point I had never felt so alone…because I was alone. I was 22 and officially homeless in Vegas.