Photos of Pain and Pleasure

I scroll the photos

you’ve left in the cloud.

They appear on my computer

and I wonder at that last year

of your life with a mixture of

deep love and profound heartache.

What you suffered…


The Party

All of the ashes drifted loftily toward the ground beneath the cascade of street lamps and this buzzed gathering of friends. From above we must’ve appeared as a sloppy collection of dancers, performing mismatched minuets and waltz’s. Within the rhythmic melee, however, there was the comfort of familiar faces and voices that curled away the dreams the day had extinguished.

The past always seems noble, or somehow admirable, in this way. Youth, in memory, is disguised by smiles and careless, freefall evenings where anything goes. As the embers distinguish themselves with their orange, sparkling allure, the exaltation of a bright Summer night elevates the arrogance and conversations blend with literate depth and patronizing parrying. The truth is that the night always meant the precious light of the workday was done and we could finally play.

            We were corralled in Colleen’s back yard when Ben took the picture of all of us that night. The white, picket fencing formed a perfect rectangle that encased our drinks and secrets. It was always a kind of revelry at Colleen’s. The merriment was squeezed within this snug space and no one seemed to break protocol to venture beyond the gated area. We simply sailed between chats spiraling, like adrift life rafts searching for smokes, drinks, or just someone to laugh with.

            I used to love the way Jean’s frame would cast shadows beneath the colorfully hung Christmas lights that defied the absence of the season itself. Her outline was sleek and slender, stirring with as much flight as the physical form that bore its glistening weight. When she spoke, you could hear the mixture of oblique melodies and clear edges, like songs you never see coming.

            “I HAD to leave work early today. The nausea was mind-numbing…,”she bellows above the crowd and clamor. She’d been working the same flower stand for nearly two years. The owners only recently figured out that she was fourteen when they hired her, paying her under the table for her time. Her age was finally revealed because a few days prior, on her sixteenth birthday, Ben and I pooled our money and sent her an arrangement of flowers with a balloon that showcased a sparkling “16”. The kicker, we thought, was that she was getting a delivery from another, competing flower stand.

            There was an alacrity about her that I admired. She was ready to be there for someone even if it meant dragging her down a peg or two. Beneath the swift zeal of dancing firelight, she was beautiful and she barely knew I was alive. I remember standing there that evening, as Ben took his photo, wondering how I could snake my way through the crowd to utter a few simple words for her to hear. You’re beautiful, you know that?

            As the breeze broke through the Summer night, so did my planned resolve. Walking adjacent of her centered position I made my way toward the keg corner for another round before deciding to call it a night. There would be other evenings with Jean, moments when we’d laugh about something the sun had said or marveling at the rolling waves of La Jolla Shores. All the while I spent my time hoping she’d see something in me she could believe in. But I always miss her eyes beneath the blinking lights of Christmas lies.


There’s no everlasting love

when life is never lasting.

I miss you, Jean.

I miss you in that way

that the embers of dreams

try to rekindle themselves

when you wake up from something

so precious and everlasting.

When I wake up you’re not here

and my heart feels void of time.

I miss you, Jean.

I miss you in that way that

dust settles and portraits of

landscapes seem to possess

dreams and futures that have

nowhere to run and escape.

I miss you, Jean.

I miss you and I love you

in that way that faith has a way

of carrying a dance forever and on.

I Blame Her…

It’s an ornate elephant necklace

with a brunette hue, ordained

with dollops of sprinkled flowers

and deep, dark  orange petals

…or is it a pink. It’s tanned

and aged, like the chain that

holds it free as I hang this connection

to your life, the speechless seconds

locked within a nearby picture of you,

standing within the edge of our

old doorway. Your sunglasses

hang at the tip of your nose, and

you eye the camera with a poised,

poesy prose. You seem to peer your gaze

through the lens to this moment


as I hang this chain that

must of have enjoyed aligning

the nape of your neck, with freedom

and a sultry solidarity that was meant

for the adjusted daily life between us.


Your left leg is propped forward

as I remember all the men who

participated in your death and I allow

the anger to swell with a compulsory

heartbeat. I remember meticulous seconds

scouring our phone records, realizing

your death began its spiral with Ms. W.

Advice to race away sent you dashing

from the prescribed safety of medication

that leveled your broken will to whispers.


Scuttling the avenues of our city

to see if your old life could erase

the prick of pain from her words.

You took her sentiment to mean

the end, but she never knew you.


I can point fingers at men and their

abusive, coveting cream pie cravings,

but she was as much a perpetrator

as any of the wicked worms who’d

enter the insanity of your room.

At the end of the day, I blame her.


As I hang the necklace to adorn

the wall next to the desk, I can

smell the hovering allure of coffee

grounding the kitchen with rich perfume.

I can follow this stained memorial in the air

to pour a cup for you…but you’re gone.

and I miss you dearly as I blame her.

A Sonnet

It was our first time and I staggered, heavy

with nervous energy, the soft spread

of her legs, unwound along a lovely levee

capturing the thrill of each breath and thread.

Laying down with her was as nurturing

as opiates, intoxicating the depths within.

Her indiscreet arched, angelic angling

plucked desires with rolling ease. Her leg

braced, then quivered with tangy tease

of tremors formed from lonely long hours.

We felt saturated in a lovely satin sea

as swirling tides seemed paced to devour

tensions from shameless silhouettes spun

and cradled by some perfect curling ocean.

A Letter…

Is this what you want from me? My death in spades?

I keep fucking up as I torment and anguish through every breath of missing you. I can still feel the caress of you around every corner through this home. I can still smell the perfume you wore permeating through nightmares…


I keep fucking up and I don’t know how to dig a way out of this hole.

I keep doing this all wrong. I can’t grieve right and I’m hurting people that I don’t want to cause any pain toward. They don’t deserve that pain.

I do. I do because I failed you. It was my fault. It’s my fault you took your life. It’s my fault you’re gone. It’s all on me.

I don’t want to glorify who you were. I want them to know you suffered through the pain you knew you caused. I wanted to keep you whole…to show that you were more than what others believed.

A human being. A mother. A woman. The woman I love.

I wanted to show the bitterness and beauty…but I’m failing you all over again.

You were both beautiful and toxic, and I love you for who you truly are beneath the chaos.

I keep making mistakes. My decisions are wrong. I can’t think straight and every turn is drawing me closer to following you.

Is this what you want for me? Because that’s the message I’m getting…

I love you. If you need to me to join you, I will.

If you want me to keep you company through eternity, I’ll do as you ask. If you don’t want to be alone, I’ll be there.

I have every word…

…and every pill you left behind. I can join you at a moment’s notice. Just tell me…invade my last nightmare, and then hold me in your own peace.

I’m so sorry I failed you. I should’ve saved you. I should’ve been there. I’m so very sorry…for all of it.

Ever yours.

It’s Not Coffee Unless It Spills

I remember you

as I scrub the coffee stains

from the floor, listening

to some vivid, faraway

morning happiness captured

by that ritual in your voice.


It’s not coffee unless it spills.


I remember you in a periphery

of cream-lined Pacific tides

with their sharp, lyrical roar


like memories that brew

with profane, glittering

emptiness, as stars shed

tears across an array

of fractioned, forlorn

linoleum seconds, aching

for the dreamlike embrace

of just your folded arms.


I remember you

as I polish the ground

of an entire swirling globe.

A Ghost Drifts In…

I’m standing at your door

soaked with panic and fear.

I love you so much!

Please be okay!

is all that runs through my

saddening, stifled mind as

I slip my frenzied note

beneath the breath of your door.

I wanted to marry you that week,

infusing a life we wanted

a little bit sooner because

I needed to save you.

I failed.


I failed because our wedding date

is just around the corner…

December 14, 2016, and you died.


I was too desperately late

to hack your email account,

posting a message as you

on your Facebook wall

delivering justifiable cause

for the police to enter your room.


I was too late as I listen

to your last, urgent voicemail

that prays for me to come over now

because you’re taking all your meds

…and all the heroin

you had.


I had no idea the holidays

would sigh with so much pain.

Days pile on with anxious guilt,

with blame becoming like blades

slicing the eloquent edge

of a sorrowed song

into me.


I know your smell because

your perfume and portraits

are sprinkled throughout this home.

This home that should be



Passive Aggressive Dream

The smell of Don Baldwin from the night before drifted and lingered, surrounding her like some foul aura. As the trolley pulled up to the Fashion Valley station, Jean checked her huge, rose bag for the money from Baldwin that morning. The dope-sickness and the lack of sleep were gripping her skin and it stung with fierce yearning. She counted numbers in her head, and a tranquility caused by those hundreds lead to composure, and then to a mindful memory of Baldwin the day before. She had left with him the previous afternoon for a date and had fallen asleep after he’d passed out in the room at Civic Plaza in Mission Valley. She knew the rules well enough to wait until he was passed out before taking the money off the nightstand and placing the wad of cash in her bag. The stench of his seaweed nut, still drifting along the ridge of her mouth, forced her into a chaotic sleep just so she could forget what they had done earlier.

Just before heading to North County to see her kids for her supervised visit the sight of the clock pierced her already caustic senses. I’m fucking late! She wasn’t exactly surprised after being up for three days on crack. When she awoke, however, it was to the mouth-watering aroma of room service French toast and coffee. What luxury! Dazed from the first good rest in days she groggily checked her phone and found 17 messages from Burt, each growing progressively irate.

Apparently, Burt had called the connect to come over at the exact time when she was supposed to return to National City. She’d forgotten to tell him about her scheduled supervised visit with her two oldest children that day. When she wasn’t around, and he had no money, the connect threatened to cut him off and only deal with her. Knowing he hadn’t a penny, she was resignedly frustrated to realize that, yet again, her money was not her own. Not a penny for her kids and, once again, she’d be behind on her child support.

Leisurely she finished the golden triangles of breaded ambrosia and then began to stress. Burt was going to be so pissed at her and might even put her out again, keeping all her clothes to sell to the other girls for hits. She didn’t know what to do and, tired of her life, began to cry.

Rule number 76 of being a whore, she thought, cracked within the stage of that moment, never cry in front of tricks. They are paying for a good time, not drama. But Don wasn’t a bad guy. He just smelled atrociously rotten and vowed to help her. He gave her 900 bucks extra and dropped her off at the station that would take her directly to North County this morning. She was already an hour late.


The archaic sports theme adorning the stained walls seemed oppressive, aged, and blemished, as if it somehow paired itself with the chestnut haze dangling over Oceanside, California. She entered the room looking around earnestly for her two oldest children, Johnathan and Esther. She hadn’t seen either of them since the divorce from Dylan became final over three years ago. Since then, failed stays in drug rehabs – like Kiva – and the birth of her new twins, life had been a series of irrational arcs. The birth of the twins resulted in her return to Kiva after her blood work revealed the heroin she was using just before their delivery. Through her addictions, and the bends her choices created, wholly organizing her life was impossible and paying for court ordered supervised visits such as this one hopeless. This was the first visit she could afford. Maintaining a firm grasp of reality through a smog of mental illnesses was blotched by the beguiling shackles of a life she both despised, yet needed to survive. At least this is what her brain had attested and proven to her.

The sports antiquity of decaying posters lining the walls felt like some bitter reminder of recent dates and escorts she’d grown accustomed to over the past year or so. While the walls didn’t seem to reek with foulness, the space seemed to penetrate her senses. They aligned themselves within her dope-sick mind, applying that August stench of recent men. Their sweat, grunts, and demanding undulations nagged at her unnervingly. Their appetites shook her with turmoil even during the loneliest of moments in their absence. Her fingers trembled as she shut the door behind her, tremoring as she loosened her grasp of the gold, metal knob

The supervising facilitator sat in a sullied, cobalt (or was it black?) easy chair, with coils and frays seeming to come alive as the bottom draped the thinning, apple green carpeting. This young, modern woman sat in the far corner of the iridescently lit room, not seeming to notice Jean’s arrival within the small sea of other families mulling about the plainness of the tiny room.

This coordinator was thin, with pink highlights that matched the full, bright pink of Jean’s own bowl cut hair. Jean pegged her to be twenty-four…twenty-six – maybe. A fucking intern logging hours toward a credential or degree. Jean hated her already, but allowed her eyes to wander and search the room for her children, or even Dylan. As she scanned this den Jean noted the intern’s notepad, busy beneath the small, silver pen, recording each oversight and instance that would later affect the lives of the children and parents wandering the room, engaged in bland, banal activities afforded by the drabness of this managed cave.

Jean’s thoughts began to flutter backward, to Don Baldwin. A nice enough gentleman in his late fifties, his afflicted and unfortunate malodor remained sealed to her clothes and skin, as if a disgraceful collaboration had formed between the idea of filth and vicious realities that formed her daily life. She could feel the putrid flavor of him braiding through her thoughts as she fought to focus on finding her children’s faces. His foul, semen halitosis had somehow found its way into her precious pudenda, slithering along her skin to annex an odor to her clothing that she wished, at this moment, didn’t exist. Looking downward, beneath the hem of her skirt, she also craved a change in footwear. She still donned the topo suede, over-the-knee, high-heel boots she wore for many of her customers. She also remembered she hadn’t showered that morning.

Through the heroin-haze of this dawn mist she spotted Johnathan, her oldest, crouched before a plum bookcase against the far wall. Just above him hung a poster of Steve Garvey, the white creased paper marking a path along his Dodger uniform and smile.

We’re San Diego! They can’t afford to at least put up a poster of him wearing a Padre’s uniform?

“Johnathan?” Her voice vibrating with apprehension. She wasn’t sure her son would recognize his own mother, with her pink hair, thrift store denim skirt, and lamentable boots.

“Mom!?” He turned and raised himself just enough to find an embrace as slight, joyed tears fueled his eyes. The salted taste of Baldwin that was still lodged in her throat dissolved slightly as she soaked in her son’s elation.

“What are you looking for here?” Her voice still shook, but the comfort of that second seemed to counter the strain of finding a question to ask. After so long, she simply wasn’t sure where to begin. Her mind raced and coiled with options and answers. How do I repair this? What have I done? What kinds of books does he like? Does he even like to read? He must. He’s a reader, just like me! What was the last book? Oh yeah! Dr. Seuss!

He’s eleven now. Don’t bring it up. He hates me.

For an instant, her mental illness and dope-fueled mind synced with fetid self-reflections as her eyes twitched around the room. These men! They’re loathsome and wondering how much and how can they get a hold me later. Maybe I can make some money…it’s all I am anyway!

“I’m not looking for anything, really. Well I was looking at this one. City of Bones. Ever heard of it? My friends have been talking about it and I want to read so bad, but my mom,” he paused. “Carol.” His faced reddened and then he collected himself within that second between the tick of the clock on the wall. “She says it’s too advanced for me. Something about murder and weird tattoos.”

“She’s a bitch, Johnathan. You should get it. Can you take books from here?”

“I don’t know.”

Before Johnathan could say another word Jean’s thin, quivering, yet sure, fingers were stuffing the worn pages of the book between stockings, clumps of jewelry, a goth wig, and dark tethered lingerie within her large, mahogany bag.

“Is that a large rose on the bag? I love roses!” Johnathan remembered their yard in Rancho Penasquitos. Within a sprinkling stage of time a portrait of Jean planting roses near his bedroom window filled his eyes just enough to allow meaning to breathe between them. A mere flash of sturdy connection between mother and son that consecrated and stretched seconds into something uniquely infinite.

“Roses are my favorites! Your grandmother loved tuberoses.”

“Grandma Ana?”

“No…you’re other…”

Before she could correct his understanding of genealogy she felt the firm, grim presence of Dylan behind her. Esther was nowhere around. Jean didn’t have to ask and, at the site of her tremoring frame, her ex-husband explained frankly. “She didn’t want to come. I wasn’t going to force her.”

She wasn’t surprised, but the heartache was there. She could sense the facilitator’s pen working madly behind in that horrid easy chair. (Mother is clearly dope-sick and supervised visits should continue with reduced occasion and diminished time allowed considering the inconsistent visitations that have already occurred).

She didn’t know this young lady, but she abhorred her instinctively. As the three of them made their way toward the door, with her fingers behind her, just above the line of her denim mini-skirt, Jean offered the facilitator a definitive finger. Fuck you!

The memories flooded forward in her mind as they walked outside. The rehab that Dylan had dropped her off at in East County; the divorce paperwork arriving within the week; her first hit after fucking that youngster who had the black she made a bee line for. In that twinkling moment all accountability for her actions became authentic and tormenting beneath the August sunlight that pierced her eyes once outside the dingy, stucco office complex.

There were no “goodbyes”. Johnathan’s tears were stalled in the presence of his father but, as they clasped one another with wide arms, Jean expertly slipped the copy of City of Bones in his small, delicate hand and gently whispered: “Hide this. I love you so much.” She never wanted to let go, but she knew what she’d done to him already. It was time to go.

She turned in silence, and found the road leading toward the bus stop that would take her to the Coaster Connection back to South County, and then to National City and Burt. The visit was barely fifteen minutes long.


As she boarded the Coaster that would turn a quick 40-mile trip into a protracted series of scheduled rail stops. She found a seat as far away from any of the prying eyes of men as she possibly could so that she could soak in and saturate the brief visit with Johnathan. She felt her heart cut, a blister of disfigured memories fuming within a flash of gloom and grief.

Johnathan had treated her like a stranger, as if some new neighbor he’d only barely met, discreet within the vicinity of his father. God knows I still love Dylan! Why am I such a fuck-up! The tears sang through her mind like a forceful, booming bell, coalescing with the syncopation of hunger for a renovated history.

As the line moved quickly South toward Del Mar, and then La Jolla, past the point where Linda Vista stood to the East, she contemplated her reluctance to love her twins – Ally and Chase. She noted her fears and her knowledge of herself and the life she CHOSE. She could feel the restless hesitance to offer the twins the love they deserved for fear of losing custody of them someday. She needed to spare them the pain of losing their mother, just as Johnathan and Esther had. She knew that if she loved the twins any more than she did – and lost them – she would find no reason to continue living. The tense authenticity of this truth bit through her with a strangling emanation.


The train approached the stop where she’d transfer, returning to National City to deal with Burt, the twins father. She lumbered for a moment in her suede, heeled boots, as the brakes of the car she was stood in halted with screeching assertion. She waited an hour for the trolley to National City. The putrid scent of Don Baldwin from the night before was still hovering around her. She loved this because she knew Burt hated the smell of Don and wouldn’t want to fuck her for at least a couple of days. As the trolley pulled up to the 24th Street station, she checked her huge, rose bag for the money from Baldwin that morning. Still there. At least Burt wouldn’t punch her square in the jaw for that and, maybe, he’d be in a good enough mood to hook up some hard white to stave off the dragon. The dope-sickness was draining her and she was out of darts. Her thoughts were beginning to amble and the crowds of men that sashayed past her on the station’s platform triggered a concussion along the crust of her skin as her eyes hunted for somewhere to run.

Surrounded by men and the stink of Baldwin still fastened to her skin, she began her regimen of counting to find calmness and peace in the elongated intervals that passed until the trolley’s arrival. Once in National City, after the long trip from seeing Johnathan, Burt opened the door of the apartment to Jean audaciously fluttering $700.00 bucks in his face.

“What you got, kid?!” his elderly, Trinidad accent exacerbated and disgusted her every time. One of the many reasons she left his name off the twin’s birth certificate.

“I need an eight ball now! Get to work!” With Jean’s demand, the other girl living there shot a weary look with comatose, bloodshot eyes. Jean hated living with Burt. She hated that deal of having to fuck him and give him half her earnings from dates, but she had no other options open to her right now. The tincture that is my fucking life!

She was tired and drained from the visit with Johnathan, seeing Dylan, the absence of Esther, and Don’s stink. The dope-sickness was settling in with a traumatic crash. Thanking God that she wouldn’t have to fuck Burt, she made the bed in the middle of the studio by throwing the other girl’s discarded clothes on the floor so she could sit down. This girl (what was her fucking name?!) feigned shyness and went into the closet to dress, or so she thought.

That bitch! She’d come out wearing a brand-new dress Jean hadn’t even gotten to wear yet, a birthday gift from Kenny – Jean’s pimp, and basically Burt’s boss. When Jean protested and screamed at Burt, he simply allowed her to shriek. Or maybe age had caught up to him. Jean eventually pried off the dress from the powdered skin of this delirious and drugged girl, half ruining it in the process. She eventually ran off this worked over girl, watching easily as she cried. Probably because she didn’t get to smoke, Jean thought. The mini cat fight had aroused the bastard and Jean’s heart sank.

But the epiphany of Don materialized through her dope-sick mind. Burt hated any reminder of what she did to get the money through Baldwin and was getting the dope he expected anyway. She still stank of Don. Even though the smell wretched her own stomach, she refused to shower all day long. Burt kept his distance from the whiff of that nomadic odor for two days.

Thank God for passive aggression!

June 29, 1975 – July 17, 2016

July 15

The door of the residential hotel opens and her sultry frame quickly breezes through the entryway as I put my cigarette out and walk up the stairs, welcomed with a firm kiss and those hazel eyes that captured me over twenty-five years ago. She’s damp, fresh from a shower, as the sunset catches the sheen of her blue-black hair and her voice cracks quickly and gaily with Did you get your homework done? Who cares? Hurry up! I want you! She pauses as we walk down the narrow, carpeted hallway toward the stairs up to her second floor room. As I place my hand gently along that curve of her hip I can feel the contour of skin beneath the veiled, olive shirt. I love you, she says as her head turns slightly my way. Room fifteen was just up the stairs at the end of corridor.

The smell of pot drifts through the hall of the hotel. As we climb the stairs it reminds me of my college days at UC Santa Cruz so many years before. The aroma floats through the second floor and beyond each door the stories are far removed from the lives of college freshman. These lives wear donated hand-me-downs and the wrinkles of years added from harsh, unforgiving days where the only reprieve burns away through a cheap homemade pipe.

Her room is small and possesses the pleasantness of a walk-in closet. The tanned stains that drip down the walls barely reveal the Navajo white beneath. With the money I’d given her weeks before she was able to afford a single with its own shower next to the twin bed against the window. Other tenants, with softer incomes, were forced to share the community shower downstairs and the wanting eyes of her neighbors was a disgust she wanted to avoid.

The door closed, I feel her press against me for a longer, deeper kiss and I can feel my day melt away along the lines of her lips. We hold each other in that brief second as the history of San Diego ticks away outside. She holds me there in that moment, next to the bed where she would take her last breaths a little over a day later on a desperate Sunday morning. She cements me there in memory, inside that little room where just two weeks’ prior her homeless friend – Eric Wynn – raped her on her forty-first birthday, after taking a series of pictures she’d use for personal ads on Craigslist. She holds me right there every single night.


Deborah Jean Gadzala (Jean or Jeanie to those who knew her) was born June 29, 1975, in Phoenix, Arizona. Soon after her mother’s relationship to her father ended they relocated to San Diego where she and I would eventually meet while she was dating a mutual friend of ours. It was the early nineties and Nirvana had broken barriers to the underground music scene we surrounded ourselves with back then. Bands like Unwound, the Melvins, Rocket From the Crypt, and Modest Mouse, found wider audiences in the United States and abroad. The first time I saw Unwound play Jean was the one who’d book their show. She and a few friends rented a small, empty retail space downtown on E Street to hold shows where kids who were too young for the bar scene could come and see bands play.

On most nights the crowds were local and the number of people barely ebbed outside the door. When Unwound came down from Olympia, Washington, the crowd was overwhelming, spilling out to the streets and congesting traffic. I remember her hand pulling me through the crowd so I could glue myself right in front of the singer when they played. She disappeared with her boyfriend after I was settled but, many years later, on our first date, she tested me. Where was I sitting at that show?

Easy. There was this low ceiling beam just over the area where the bands played. You were sitting just above the drummer, wearing a short, black mini-skirt that had ruffles, or something like that.

 How do you remember I was in a skirt? she asked with an air of flattered shock.

I was peaking up your skirt.

She was fifteen at that time, but I wouldn’t know how young she was for another year when we shared a house as roommates on Eagle Street. She’d been kicked out of her mom’s and was working at a floral stand near Washington Street to pay rent. One evening she came home sobbing and shaking. I could hear her breath heaving from the kitchen and, when we met in the living room, she told me she’d found out her boyfriend – that mutual friend – had been cheating on her with a few of our other friends. Devastated she talked me into buying a jug of gin and I sat with her that night, each of us drunk, emotional, and tearful. I remember the moonlight peering through her window, cradling us with soft shadows as I passed out in her lap. I never told her I had a crush on her back then. I wouldn’t get to tell her for another two decades.


As the nineties rolled on we drifted apart with our lives, keeping in touch lightly the way friends often do. I went off to college, traveled the country, dated, married, got sober, and had my son. I’d heard she’d gotten married and had two kids of her own, but then news of her simply went dark. In 2014 she emerged on Facebook and I quickly added her, curious as to what had been happening through all that time.

From my end of the screen she didn’t appear too adept or interested in the age of social media. From snippets of her infrequent posts, however, I gleaned she’d recently completed a woman’s detox program in San Diego and was nervously trying to raise her young twins. She seemed an amateur parent and, lacking confidence and expertise, would post her fears and frustrations about school or meals or tantrums. Reading one of the posts I called her. I remember her voice shaking on the other end as I calmed her through the tail end of stressful a day of losing car keys and coping with hungry kids. I told her about my recent divorce and she talked about her twins. Her older children were living with their father in Carlsbad and she hadn’t seen them in almost six years. She was open and forward about the reasons surrounding that lack of contact, explaining how she’d been struggling with addiction to heroin and crack through the years.

I was an adjunct librarian at a college in Victorville during the 2014-15 school year. For Spring Break I drove down to San Diego and we met at a park near her mother’s in Linda Vista. She wore an olive green cap, red t-shirt, and faded jeans. I spotted her right way across the grassy field and, at our embrace, she commented with a smile I know I plumped up, didn’t I?! Her eyes caught mine as the action of the park faded. We sat and she explained that the methadone was where the weight gain came from, but that she was earnestly trying to shed those pesky pounds. I was nervous around her. I felt twenty-two again.

We fell in love in a few weeks. The foundation of growing up together made an easy connection and the inspired, resourceful soul I knew was still at the core of who she was. And I fell in love with her survival. She was candid about her divorce ten years before: the heroin addiction that started in rehab after her infidelity with a young dealer; the life on the streets as a prostitute and escort; the name “Samantha” and who she was for other men; and the crack addiction that was married to that life. The stretch of men who’d held her hostage and robbed her of any value would, as the time between us grew, cause heartbreak and tears for me as she recalled each story.

Her pimp, Kenny Boy, was one of the first men she was forced to trust after a stay in rehab and around her divorce in 1995. He’d be a constant fixture of her life thereafter and a consistent worry for us from the instant we moved in together. Of all the people she knew, his number was planted firmly in her mind and she never forgot those digits. His psychological control equated to a relationship she couldn’t easily pull away from. During the early years he’d sometimes wake her up in the mornings with a pistol shoved cleanly down her throat because he felt she wasn’t tough enough for the “life”. She was conditioned and that “life” held her hostage and never let go of her. She was formed to the chaos, robbed of any ability to believe she was good enough for anything more. The nurturing, loving person she was morphed and curled with a lust to mentally escape reality any way she could no matter the consequence.

Later on there was Joseph, a boyfriend she’d lived with in Oceanside. They spent almost two years hopping from street to hotel as she earned the money they thrived on. Most of the week he’d wake up, crazed from the craving for more crack or black [tar heroin], beat her until she woke, and send her out to earn enough for the room or drugs. Sometimes he’d have her bring the “dates” back to the room so he could get high and watch. One morning she didn’t wake up quick enough when he hit her so he broke her pinky finger to shock her out of sleep. She had to set it herself while she went out to pick up the next “date” a few hours later. Nine months after hearing this story I placed an engagement ring on the finger next that one as she softly said “yes” with those full, hazel eyes.

Many of the scars on her face held tales of “dates” gone bad, ending in rape or being thrown from a moving car at three in the morning. She was staying a residential treatment center in East county after her last arrest. That’s where she met her attorney. They became “friends” when he offered representation in exchange for “services”. After the treatment center she had nowhere to stay, so she lived with him, sleeping on the bare floor of his spare room. She’d have to hide in the closet whenever he had a genuine client or girlfriend over.

One evening she went out for a walk. She wasn’t even working, she told me. She’d been up for fourteen hours and, knowing the best way to come down off speed was in University Heights, she took a cab there from Ocean Beach at the three in the morning hoping her connect was back from the casino. There was no answer on her phone, or when she scratched on her window, so she decided to grow eighty bucks on the blade (a prostitute term for strolling the most lucrative areas). The second car had barely passed her on Texas Street when she was picked up by an innocuous Honda. She figured it’d be another quickie college student just so turned on that he was picking a girl on the “Blvd.” and that’d he’d last maybe three minutes.

As soon she got in the car she had a bad feeling. Whenever she got a bad feeling, and semi-panicked, she checked the first thing she always checked: that the door handles weren’t tampered with so she couldn’t get out. The guy was really antsy and giggly in a creepy, nervous way. She became positive it was a bad idea when two arms grabbed her from the back seat. A second little creep had scrunched behind the seat in order to reach around, grab her arms and immobilize her. Fuck, I sighed to myself, at least let it not hurt too badly.

Some dates ended with attempted strangulation and robbery. Others ended on the pavement along Rosecrans after being thrown from the cars of satisfied customers. The array of abuse by “dates” was a constant companion to the life she led to fuel her addiction or quell her inner demons. Each scar revealed the story of her working life or some love she’d held onto with hopes for something more serene or normal. Ten years of trying to get it right through rehab or sober living homes. Ten years of struggling and giving up on the world around her. One time she was committed after being found unconscious on the Green line. She’d taken fifty trazadone between stops because her life was robbed of anything meaningful.


Along with a buffet of drug addictions she suffered from bipolar depression and borderline personality disorder. She took Wellbutrin, Neurontin, and Effexor, as well Klonopin and Vistaril for stress. Co-occurring disorder. There would never be an adequate or routine medication regimen that would hold her steady. At some point the fear and reality inside of her would always be at odds with the reality surrounding her, leading to the compulsion to escape any she could. She was an addict whose disease was profoundly felt and warped through abuse and self-mutilation.

Earlier this year, in February, I was beginning the process of filing for full custody of my seven-year-old. Jean had pushed for this after witnessing his mother’s attempts of having him declared disabled to collect a social security check on top of the welfare and child support she already received. To prep I wanted to familiarize myself with autism, cerebral palsy, and EEG recordings in young children so that I knew exactly what it was his mother was attempting to label him and how best to frame my own rebuttal.

I scoured and studied stacks of academic journal articles, websites, and group forums for nearly a week. Our coffee table was littered with statistics and essays regarding topics surrounding the issues I felt I should know. One day, after carping over something minor, her voice began bubbling over with tears. You can spend hours studying hundreds of fucking journals about your son, but you can’t read one article about me! I never responded to her accusation and I would never have the chance to tell her that I had. And I can still feel the mixture of gratitude and sorrow as she suggested we keep our engagement quiet until the hearing over my son.

At the end of last summer, just before she moved to Barstow with her twins to live with me and my son, I spent a week studying borderline personality disorder, bipolar depression, heroin addiction, crack addiction, and the effects of methadone. I learned about the process of tapering off methadone, the ways that crack can fuel sex and alter judgement, and the physical signs of both crack and heroin use. I reviewed websites that listed drug terminology and slang. Photograph so pock marks on the skins of drug users invaded my thoughts throughout the week, somehow reminding me of her through concern. I even combed San Bernardino for rehabs and treatment programs that would support methadone patients who wanted off the prescription. I also learned about the withdrawals that align each drug. I was expert inside a week and I learned one thing very quickly: I knew absolutely nothing.

I wasn’t prepared for the instability and imbalance that surrounds the toxic combinations that pervaded her. The instability of addiction and mental illness meant that she would always feel alone. I could be holding her with the most loving embrace, whispering my love for her and she would still feel isolated from the entire world. She was hostage to the life she survived, as well as her constantly shifting mental tides. I never saw her first relapse in our home happening in October until it was too late because I couldn’t decipher which part had a hold on her: her addiction or her mind.

The second week of October a friend of hers from San Diego came to visit. I’d already begun suspecting something was wrong, but wanted to wait until after her friend left at the end of the week before confronting her. A few days before her friend had arrived she drove down to San Diego to see her probation officer and didn’t return until one in the morning and, when she did come home, she was shaking and evasive, and her car was packed with toys for the kids that were open, spread throughout the cabin like a wonton array of pebbles.

She’d been wearing more foundation on her face the night I caught her, and her unease and shaking disposition seized with enough discomfort to shiver the family surrounding her. After dinner, with our children winding down, she disappeared into the bathroom. About an hour passed and I heard the repeated, consistent flicker of her lighter. I’m just lighting incense bellowed from beyond the door.

When her seven-year-old son, dancing for a turn, knocked at the door she shouted go away! with a fuming tone and I’d had enough. I opened the door to broad, bewildered eyes and her nude body sitting on the floor, glass pipe in hand. No plan, I packed what I could in a bag, snatched my son, bee-lined out the door of our small home, and pulled out of our driveway. As I was moving through this list of actions she was at my back, at first furious for barging in, then weeping at my silence…then incensed as I steered down our block. From the rear view I could see her running onto street, hands waving and completely naked. I remember feeling torn between loving her so resolutely and ensuring the safety of my son. I remember trembling as the car inched down the block. I wanted so badly to turn around, leap from the car, and hold her in my arms. I remember knowing that my son had to come first and I kept going. I was never angry. My heart simply broke as I rounded the corner past the stop sign.

My son and I stayed a hotel in Lenwood. I’d just been paid and chose a room in the top floor. I just wanted to feel whole and free for the night. I didn’t want to think about anything except sleep and my son. We sent texts back and forth late into the night, much of it with tears dripping through each letter typed. The next day I got my son to school and after I’d dropped him off Jean’s mom called to find out what was happening between us after reading some feverish posts on her Facebook page that morning. I didn’t tell her much. Before moving to Barstow a few months earlier she’d set me aside to tell me that if anything ever happened with Jean to call her and she’d come and take the twins right away. It would’ve broken Jean’s heart to lose them, so I kept my mouth shut that morning.

Jean called three times shortly after I’d spoken with her mom. On the third ring I answered and she was crying, incoherent, and her voice drifted in and out of my ear like someone struggling with a whisper. She’d taken the old road – Route 66 – to Victorville to dose at the clinic, but her car ran out of gas just miles before the interstate. Worried and frantic I rushed across the open highway and found her – and her friend – sitting in the car on the shoulder. She was mumbling and nodding and her face was smeared damp with sleeplessness and sobs. I called AAA, got the car fueled and followed to her the AM/PM at the interstate entrance. In the course of those few miles she crossed the center line nearly colliding with two or three cars. At the gas station I fueled up her car, emptied her purse of the pipe and bags, and took them both home. At home the first thing she rummaged through was her purse. After a minute of watching her I steadily commented I found your pipe. I tossed it. She was angry stumbled to the bedroom, striping herself of her clothes. The last image in my mind from that day is her wobbling, exposed frame kneeling on the floor anxiously picking apart the carpet surrounded by a bed scattered Klonipin.

A month later, with her twins living in at her mothers, she checked herself into Vista Balboa, a crisis house located on Laurel Street, across from Balboa Park in San Diego. A renovated two story home, the surface atmosphere was community driven and cozy. It was a safe reprieve and the program supported her through a bio-pscyhosocial approach that emphasized tools to survive and cope. I was hopeful and in love and relieved through our visits. I could see the color in her eyes again and felt the nuzzling thaw of my soul at every embrace. It wasn’t the last relapse and it would be her first visit to the crisis house through the next year. There were a lot of great days, but the bad ones always came.


There was damage after October. Through that event I shut myself off from her. It wasn’t a deliberate callous coldness, but a delicate protection that subconsciously seeped through to the surface. I built a wall around myself for fear of getting hurt by her use and never realized it fully until her death. One of the most tragically helpless feelings is watching the one you love slip away right before your eyes. Beneath those turbulent moments I knew who she was and loved her completely. The feeling is like being forced to lie in bed with the one you love as that person fucks someone else. It’s literally torture in its truest form.

But I was always hers. From the first moment we hugged in the park near her mom’s house to this very small, insignificant second as I labor with her memory on a page.

One of the reasons we left San Diego was because her mom was returning from a long trip to South Carolina and simply wanted her house back. The other reason, however, was that her use over that summer had escalated to a degree that required swift action. I confronted her late one night, a week before we packed to move to Barstow together, after I’d come over to be greeted by a home with only her twins. It was two in the morning, the kids were asleep and she was nowhere around the house. When she came walking down the block about thirty minutes later I could see the quiver of her fingers and eyes. Her voice cracked with forced repose I was just out for a walk…

At two in the morning leaving the twins alone! Your children!

She retreated to her bathroom as I waited in her room down the hall. I could hear the lighter as seconds ticked and reverberated across the tranquil chaos of wood floors. In her room, door locked, we stood at her disheveled bed surrounded by piles of shoes, boots, and laundry begging for the mercy of a wash. I narrowed to her eyes and asked Are you using? I know you are. Just tell me. Please.

Her head lowered faintly, her eyes remained in mine, but her defenses were down. A soft vulnerability supplanted the fight to hide and I could feel love ebbing between us. Yes escaped her lips in a soothing, sad melody.



You have to stop, you know that. Do you want to lose us? The twins?! me?!

Even she knew it was bad. The money she’d get from me or welfare or social security went to the black or crack before she’d even thought about bills, her car, or the twins. I’d been wiring money from Barstow when I could, but it had already become overwhelming and frightening. She wanted to stop in that moment, but she could not find the strength to simply flush away what she had left. Capturing me in time she bargained. Just let me finish what I have left and I’m done. I swear.

An apprehensive agreement and she quickly broke out what she had. Laying her pipe on the night stand she poured the rocks from the small bag and scooped them to the small, charred glass pipe she used. I felt weak and powerless, sobbing through each hit, the smoke flowing across our divide and resting along the edge of moonlight illuminating her room. Once she was done she took my hand, stood up, and slid her summer dress up, over her head revealing her beautiful bare figure. One of the effects of crack is heightened horniness. We were still up when the kids awoke for breakfast the next morning.


There were wonderful moments between us that validated and expressed the poetry we shared. Those were gifted times where we knew how lucky we’d been to fall in love with our best friend. As a mother she was vibrant, poised, and radiated her nurturing love to all of our children. She was my backbone and will.

I miss the fondness for feathers; her love of Varo and Goya; the loud cacophony of Jack White, Unwound, The Black Keys, Fugazi, and Circus Lupus; the weakness for Snickers and high heels; her natural flair for arranging flowers; the insatiable appetites; the manic laughter reverberating through the house; little ornate boxes along the windowsills; a glimmer of a tuberose or peony sparkling deep within her hazel eyes; our children weak from her infectious, playful laughter; the way coffee stains littered the kitchen every morning with the joyful rationale of It’s not coffee unless it spills!; the way she expertly expressed sultry boots; the array of lingerie she introduced me to… her soft whispers as I slept, the I love you don’t ever leave she thought I couldn’t hear…the way her hair spilled across my skin…the innate genius of her own writing and the way she wrote herself into my heart. The list is as infinite as the tumultuous fear that commanded her past.

One afternoon at my son’s school his mother blasted me with accusations of causing our son’s flu the week before with a finger on neglect. In the face of a public outburst there’s nothing I can do but stand there and take it all. I could feel Jean’s fermenting steam rise behind me and the word “cunt” slipped through her lungs. I swiveled around, caught her arm and guided her away and toward our parked car with gentle sternness. After I picked up my son, and the three of us were buckled in, she said I’m sorry. I just hate her. I nodded my understanding, but smiled inside. I was fortunate to have her in my life. She was the voice I couldn’t use.

There were hectic mornings, especially when the Jetta was out of the question. She’d have to do the forty-mile drive to the clinic early to get back in time for school. When my son wasn’t there I’d walk with the twins and she’d race my car down the street to catch up with our two block walk. On the days he was with us it’d be a deliberate pace of getting the kids motivated and ready with peanut butter waffles as she sped up the driveway, music screaming, and dust filtering through the kitchen while we ate. Exhausted breath, wide eyes, and Did I tell you today? I love you! for all three kids on the way out the door. And while the twins were safely living with their grandmother, Jean was mother to mine with a hug and kiss before bed.

Near the end of the fall term my contract with Victor Valley College ended and I was told it wouldn’t be renewed for the next term. My heart aching, I texted Jean with the news. At the end of that last shift she was waiting in the parking lot, braving the cold, biting desert winds and standing next to our car. She strolled across the empty lot and, wrapping her arms around me with a kiss, I felt her compassion of her soft voice in my ear. I’m sorry, baby. It’ll be okay. I love you. Back at our house later that night we sat in our small bedroom surrounded by the soft light of candles atop the supple, sadness of our quilted covers. We were talking about how we were going to get through the holidays and the months ahead. But you don’t want me to do “dates”, right?

What?! No!

I cried. It was all she thought she knew.


We’d planned on moving back to our hometown and getting our own place by August. We left Barstow in June after I’d been commuting to San Diego for two months for work. She was staying with the only person she knew who would put her up, her attorney in Oceanside. Staying at my dad’s with me was out the question because she’d relapsed at his house during the Christmas break. Around the middle of the month, on Father’s Day, I sensed something was wrong with her. After several relapse I knew the signs. When she snapped at my son I pulled out of getting a place with her. You have to be thirty days clean before I can put you in a home with my son! I need stability for him. It broke my heart to tell her, but I felt I had to protect my son. With what little money I had I paid for her hotel in Hillcrest and hoped for the best. I never stopped loving her and we were still planning a marriage for December.

We spent two hours in her hotel room that Friday before she passed and, as I was I leaving, something about her felt even more off than it had the last few weeks. She mentioned her that mom was picking her up and she’d ducked out of plans with me, something she’d never done before. Later on, after I’d left, I noticed a voicemail from her number. I heard the nervous, high tone speak but remained numb for hours. This is Samantha. I was just returning your call. I’m looking for someone to party with… Through all her stories I knew that name, and knew that not only was she using, but the life of “dates” had gripped her. When I texted it twisted from rigid denial to admission to I’m doing what I need to survive but I’m not doing what you think.

At four in the morning I met her at her hotel. I confronted her with the voicemail and there was nothing left to say after that. Just tears. We held one another on the bed, each of us shaking, sobbing for breath, and desperate for salvation to come. I didn’t know you loved me this much!

Of course I love you! I was holding back! I wanted you to get better!

We made love…for the last time that early morning. I can feel the smooth calm of her skin against mine, her eyes seizing mine and I knew, with everything within, we loved one another. But I left, still dazed and held by her in that frame of time. I left still shocked and sickened by the thought of her with other men.

Saturday was more texting, phone calls, and Please! You gotta forgive me. What I do with those losers and what you and I do aren’t nearly the same! to Please come over. I want to say goodbye in person later that evening. The weight of that last text message took several hours to sink in and, when it did, I called and texted paragraphs, pleading with lines of desperation. I called the police twice that night. At four in the morning the officer called my phone to tell me that they couldn’t enter her hotel room unless she was actively asking for help. They wouldn’t break in unless there was some sign or message that indicated she was asking for assistance. I had none to offer.

At eight in the morning I was pounding on her door. I hadn’t slept and I’d found her ads on Craigslist and knew a little more than I had the night before. I was desperate, shaking, and sobbing her name with a howl. I frantically needed to know she was safe. All I could do was leave a note. Be Samantha, be Jean…just be mine. Marry me this week and let’s fix all of this… The idea to hack her email, and subsequently her Facebook account, came later in the day. Posing as Jean, I posted a message that stated simply I’m overdosing on heroin. 3942 8th Ave., #15. Please help. Had I not posted that message she would have been alone in that room for another two days…but I was still too late. She’d been gone for four hours when the police finally broke down the door to her room.

An hour after her mother called to tell me she was gone, her voice message from the night before came through. I’m taking every pill in my cupboard. I just got my meds refilled. I’m doing this heroin I have and I’m locking my door. She was always afraid of being alone. In her last moments she only wanted me…she wanted me to come and save her, but I was too late. She didn’t want to die alone. I listen to that message every day, haunted by my failure to save her.

Through the weeks following I scoured her emails, texts on her phone, and read through her journal, which mostly consisted of me and her love and worry about my own stress. She wanted to show me she could stand on her own and be a real partner, but was terrified I’d find out about that path she took to get there. I saw her every day the week she died and she cried herself to sleep every night after I left. I know how much she loved me and how much she felt unworthy of my faith. If she’d only seen in herself as the rippling exquisiteness I always saw.

I discovered voice to text messages under her Google archive and heard her speaking to her connect as far back as February and read how other dealers and her pimp were aiding her. I know how much life they robbed her of through drugs and abuse, pushing her over a precipice she both dreaded and couldn’t escape from. I learned about the rape on her birthday. I found the pictures she used for the ads on her computer and knew that Eric Wynn took them that night. I emailed him if, for nothing else, to ensure that it sunk in that I knew…and he took her life as surely as the “life” and all the drugs that came with it. And I know the “dates” began in May, before we moved back to San Diego. I never should have taken a job away from her, leaving her alone.

She took her life because she thought she’d lost me for good, but that was never true. I never left and I always understood. I knew why she paced whenever we were thick within crowds and why she rocked in her chair two hours after dosing. I knew why she counted and why she needed a cigarette whenever the clerk was a man. I knew, I understood, and I loved her. Others have told me that I probably gave her an extra year of life. It’s a dear thought, but not a comfort as my hand absent-mindedly reaches for hers in the car realizing it’ll never feel the fold of her fingers again.

And many friends we share have expressed their thoughts encompassing her addiction and suicide, calling it a “choice”. I understand the notion. I even agree with the view to some degree. For some who deal with an addiction it tapers down to a choice between drug and the people in your life. For me, the choice to remain sober has become a simple matter of daily practice. But to label such acts as a “choice” for everyone who’s held by this disease is a faulty premise. For Jean the addiction wasn’t a choice. It was more than compulsion or urge. It was a design of temptation commanded by abusive men, an unhealthy, ravenous sex drive, and a brew of mental illnesses that was beyond her control or ability to manage. In a very real sense she was attacked by herself and the world around her at the same time every second of her life. For Jean, “Samantha” wasn’t just an alter ego, she was as real as Deborah Jean Gadzala, allowing her to confront the chaos she dove into for ten years. Samantha was that half of her mind she fought to bury in vain because it was a part of who she was.

Her grace and poise lie within her yearning to strive for a better life for herself and our children. In the end that mélange within her mind attached to addictions that couldn’t be overcome. She never had a choice. She was imprisoned all along and throughout her life.

So this is where I’m at. I’m still falling in love with the richness of the person I love, turmoil and all. She was ever a brewing, broiling storm on the verge of a colored array of moods and universes. I survive each day knowing how miserably I failed her and how much I missed. My days are seeded with should haves and why didn’t I see? The very moment I feared the worst, desperate in front her hotel door, whatever barrier I’d built to combat the pain of her addiction simply crumbled, as if I were suddenly allowed to feel the full measure of all my love for her. Every day the pain of never being able to share the vastness of that love with her kills me just a little bit more.

Two days after she died I had a court hearing over my son. I was awarded full custody. I would not have him here with me if not for her. It’s a bittersweet victory, at best. All I have now is this gift she gave me.

I love you, Jean. Always.