Thank you, cancer. Just a story.

My father was 33 and I was 13 when he divorced my mother after she fell in love with an assassin for hire in Belorussia where my family is originally from.

In America, we settled down in Brooklyn, NY, where the immigrants’ mainstream had always found home. I was living with my Mom’s parents, my Dad was living with his old folks: “We split to get bigger headquarters”, - I was told. Headquarters my ass: a shitty brownstone where everybody spoke Russian and ate lard, even on Hannukah.

Papa worked as a delivery guy like thousands of other immigrant males who found pride in sacrificing their butts instead of upgrading their brains.

A rarity among the Russian pro drivers, my unholy Father never drank vodka. That was why it took me so long to discover that he was a drug addict.

All kids in my neighborhood did some drugs since early age among other stupid things, trying to prove their toughness to the local. Why? Postpartum (with Motherland) disorder, depression, lack of language skills, wrong hygiene habits, peer pressure, every answer is correct.

The Russian kids would normally start up with sniffing glue, some’d graduate to pills which they got from local babushkis who kept their little drug stores in their subsidized apartments and would trade their stock for home errands. The babushkis never accepted their social status as drug dealers. Foreigners, yob vashu mat’!

The Brighton Beach babushkis felt fully safe surrounded with the Russian language barrier. As to their prescription drug based dealings with the younger de-generation… they didn’t give a flying fuck: the Matriarchs on public assistance provided for their families whereas their men failed.      

I was 14 when a classmate introduced me to smoking.  That guy bought a half empty pack of Russian papirosi named Belomorkanal from a drunkard on the boardwalk. Those smokes were composed of a hollow cardboard tube extended by a thin cigarette paper tube with tobacco. I inhaled twice and collapsed on the ground. My partner in sin followed suit. When we both came to, minds cleared, we walked to the Abraham Lincoln HS and sold the remaining papirosi to highschoolers as a new Russian hashish for the price of the weed. The business turned up to be a success since the stock of papirosi was unlimited and Americans don’t shop where Russians do.

With time, I became curious as to why my fucked-up Father had never had any dough on hand. He really was not making a bunch of money by doing delivery but obviously, he was saving a lot by staying with his parents who were on Section 8. They also fed him and even bought some clothing. Besides that, being moneyless, he could not afford a girlfriend, which was also a save. All of the above, my Father was not a big spender.

Once, I asked him what he does with his earnings but he just said that he was in debt for his old van repair, and also, that he had to take care of his traffic and parking tickets. True, his van was breaking all the time indeed, and the bunch of summonses on the dashboard never seemed to recede.

His mother was giving him some kind of allowance as if she never noticed that he grew up. With all that, he often tried to lend some money from me, asking no questions, like where would a kid of my age get 20 bucks to pay for his Dad’s gas.

Can’t recall how I finally decided to visit his boss. The man was not at the store but one of his sales’ people asked me if he could help his buddy’s kid. I asked him: ”How come my father never has any money on him? Does he get paid at all?” The sales person was not a great educator, he just put it bluntly: “your old man, kid, - he said, - is a junkie, sniffing heroin on about 40 bucks a day, now you do the math.”

I rushed to my Father’s Mother’s place and pressed her for truth. She admitted that she had always known about drugs, but she would have never given it away to me because at some point, her freak of a son told her that if she did, he would jump out from her apartment’s window. (The Russian immigrants almost never move out of their subsidized dwellings, so my Grandma, could live off the rest of her life in a place where her son ran away to death from.)

I was getting more and more stressed out and ultimately, turned for advice to our neighbor who used to baby sit me in my preschool years. She worked front desk at a psychiatric facility and considered herself a psychotherapist for the hood.

“Drag your old man’s ass to a psychologist”, - she said.

Of course, my Father totally refused. Like all addicts, he was sure that he was fine. He even said that it was not drugs that he was taking, but rather a medicine for pain. He never knew I was aware of his choice of medication.

I convinced his boss to fire my father with an agreement to hire him back when he cleans up (which the boss never did).

Now, looking back, I muse about that weird kind of a collusion, that those mother fuckers at my father’s job, they all knew he was on drugs, and none of them bothered to alarm our family. They kept his druggie privacy. By the time, I discovered that my father was dependent, he had been doing heroin for 4 years.

God knows why and how but eventually, I did to my Dad what he’d done to his Mom: I said, if you don’t make an effort and go to rehab, I’ll treat my stress with your choice of medication-heroin.

He started up with a one-week rehab program. They give you methadone, which just cleans your system but that program would not help you stop thinking about drugs. I still remember that week when my father’s eyes looked empty, with no symptom of life in them.

You, healthy world, not knowing how happy you are, you don’t really wanna know how long it takes to get into a rehab if you don’t have any medical insurance. I will also skip the details on how long it takes to get into the program for the uninsured. In the interim, I had to buy drugs for my Dad so that he wouldn’t get even sicker. It is not exactly easy indeed, for a loving son to pave the way to hell for his father.

When finally he finished his rehab program, he refused to go thru therapy for at least a year as his doc’d suggested since it would cost us, his support, a lot of money (by that time, Dad knew I was a successful fake drug dealer).

Once off the rehab, it only took him a week to stay clean. It was way more shocking for me than the first time. I tried to convince him again but he did not listen and finally I gave up.

He went to rehab again because he did not have any money for heroin. “Just give me anything at all!”

The ending was happy though, like in those shitty movies: he overcame. Or rather, cancer saved my Father from the drugs’ deadly grip.

He was diagnosed stage 4 and needed a big surgery, but his surgeon refused to do it when he found out about my father’s use history. So he went to rehab first, then he had to wait for the surgery date, then another surgery and another one. That shit took about six months while he could not use, and then my grandpa passed away, which was another reason not to return to drugs, just because of the burial expenses.

All of this made him stop using, not just one particular reason. Believe me: there are not so many addicts out there, who quit their habit for good. Those quitters deserve respect. I am not sure if my dad stays clean for life, all I know is that I have to believe in Him.

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