Chapter 3: Stewart
My first encounter with Stewart Jameson was much different than that of Elinor Lewis. Stewart is what his mother Annie often referred to as a “whoops”. He had beaten the odds during her pregnancy and was born a healthy nearly eight pound baby. This was not the result of the way she had cared for herself during pregnancy. Annie was twenty when she got pregnant with Stewart. It wasn’t her first pregnancy, it was at least her third or fourth. She’d lost count. To say that Annie was addicted to drugs would be an understatement. She’d do anything for a fix, including selling her body. She had no idea who Stewart’s father was. It was only when she was no less than seven months pregnant and could feel the baby wiggling around for most of the day, that she decided to get off the streets and move back to her parents for a while.
Annie’s life took a turn for the worse just after her seventeenth birthday. The bickering and hate filled arguments (on her end) were a constant at home. Annie felt her parents were overbearing and too religious. For as long as she could remember she would was up early every single morning to read the bible with her parents and go to church at least four times a week. She wasn’t allowed to hang out with friends or date boys she wanted – her parents never approved of her choices.
Annie had secretly started to see a young man that she met at the TG&Y. She would leave the house for school each morning but never actually show at the high school. She’d meet her boyfriend up the road. He’d give her beer, which she’d never had, and then convince her to make out with him, which she had also never done. After seeing each other for a few weeks, he decided to move a few counties over for a new job with a buddy. He convinced her to go with him, so she ran away. We’ll get married and have our own place she’d thought excitedly. I won’t have to answer to anyone and I can live my own life.
The life Annie had fantasized about didn’t become a reality. They lived in a run-down trailer with several other twenty-somethings, no one realized she had only been seventeen until they celebrated her eighteenth birthday. This first boyfriend introduced her to drugs, pot at first and then acid or coke if they had the money for it. He also introduced her to sex and convinced her that anything goes. “Stop living by your parents religious rules!” he’d tell her each time she balked at his latest suggested sexual experimentation. Determined to be nothing like her parents, she would try anything. Multiple partners and even allowing her boyfriend’s buddies to watch became the norm. On more than one occasion she had heard her boyfriend say to a group of guys, “Give me twenty bucks and I’ll show you something cool. For forty I’ll let you have a hands on experience.” By the time Annie turned eighteen, she was completely dependent on drugs just to tolerate her daily life. This is when she found out she was pregnant for the first time. Her boyfriend kicked her out because she was “a dumb bitch to get knocked up” and besides she was “such a whore she probably didn’t even know who the father was”. Confused and scared, she was homeless for the first time.
A few days later, she was able to move in with a friend of a friend who allowed her to sleep on his couch. He would share his drugs if she’d sleep with him whenever he wanted. That man, Annie doesn’t even know his name, started beating her and she lost the baby. He beat her up so badly at one point the police were called. He was arrested and she was taken to a women’s shelter. Annie felt that the shelter was worse than living at home. There were too many rules; she’d never expected to find a place that had more rules than her parents. After a few days of being told when to wake up and when to go to sleep, when to eat, when to pee in a cup and when to wash dishes (a color-coded chore chart had been devised for the shelter residents – something Annie hadn’t seen since elementary school), she decided she couldn’t take it anymore. The last straw came when the house counselor told her she hadn’t made her bed properly so she would be receiving two demerits – enough to take away her television privileges for that evening. Annie figured anything was easier than the shelter so she decided to call home. Her parents were happy to have her home but she didn’t stay long. She began to run with her old circle of friends. She’d leave and stay high or drunk for days. She became pregnant again and again over the next couple of years but lost those babies due to her heavy drug use or getting beat up – she rarely made it past two months. I met Annie during all of those losses. She knew I was there, even if she was high and delusional, she still knew.
Then Stewart came along. Her drug of choice was now heroin and she was shooting up most days at that point. She would stay with friends or sleep outside if the weather was nice. She had a few guys that would pay her for sex now and then; she preferred that they pay her in drugs. While passed out in a park one night the police picked her up after getting calls about a pregnant girl that was sleeping on one of the benches. She was admitted to the hospital and treated for dehydration. She stayed in the hospital for a few days and met with several social workers that wanted to help her rehabilitate her life. To Annie, it seemed they only wanted to talk her into giving her baby up for adoption. They would give her a place to stay and make sure she had medical assistance but she’d have to stay clean. Annie was afraid they would put her in the type of shelter she had been to in the past.
Annie waited for me to come, and when I didn’t, she decided she wanted to keep this baby.
For once, she thought she must have something valuable that other people wanted. She decided on her own to make some changes in her life. She’d go back home to live with her parents until she could get a job and her own place. Annie had always just wanted to be on her own. She had never intended to live as a homeless addict who would sleep with anyone for a fix. Then again, who does?
Stewart was born a healthy boy. He was quiet with big blue eyes that silently absorbed the world around him. He was a great sleeper and rarely cried. Annie’s mother would rock him for hours and sing him old hymns. He was a content baby. Annie tried to get along with her parents and they tried to get along with her. But after some time, there were not enough church services or AA meetings to keep her desire for drugs at bay. She started waiting tables at a local restaurant and it was there she met friends who liked to party like she used to. At first she would go to work and just not come home for the night. One night began to stretch to two nights. And eventually she’d be gone for weeks at a time.
Her tendencies to “not come home” were patterns she had established with her parents before. Her parents were always left to care for Stewart. When Annie first relapsed, she would go weeks without seeing Stewart; and soon, weeks turned into months. She drifted home at one point after being gone for several months. Stewart was now four and it hardly registered with his young mind that she was his mother. She had been strung out for several days and only came home to tell her parents she needed money. Stewart hid behind his grandmother’s housecoat as he listened to his mother scream. His grandfather was out making a delivery and Stewart felt scared for his grandmother. Annie was filthy and looked as if she had not bathed in several days. Her arms were covered with bruises and sores and her eyes were wide and shifty. Her jeans hung on her hips and were only held up by the belt that cinched them several inches. She wore flip-flops and Stewart noticed the purple bruises on the tops of her feet.
Annie’s mother refused to give her any money and when she did, Annie pushed past her and grabbed Stewart.
“Annie, please honey, you can’t take him. I don’t have any money to give you. Wait until your father gets home and we’ll work out something.” Stewart began to cry, his mother was squeezing his arm.
“Come on Whoopsie, grab some stuff. We’re leaving. We’ll go have some fun, ok?” she scratched at her scalp and arms. “Leave me alone Mother. He’s my son and I can take him whenever I want. Pack your stuff Stew.”
“Ok but let’s just talk about this. Let’s wait for your father and we’ll help you with what you need.” Stewart’s grandmother looked frantic but every time she’d try to get near Stewart, Annie would block her. Stewart grabbed his backpack and put a few things inside and Annie grabbed his arm again and pulled him down the hall and out the door.
“Annie. Please. Please don’t take him. Where are you living? At least tell me where you are living now?” She was sobbing and kept looking at Stewart hopelessly.
“I’m staying with some friends I used to work with. It’s like you told me Mother, I need to grow up. Take responsibility. That’s what I’m doing. You should be happy.” Annie opened the driver’s door of the car she’d driven and pushed Stewart inside.
“I’ll figure out how to get you some money. I’ll come up with a way.” But before Stewart’s grandmother could finish, Annie had started the car and was backing out of the driveway while simultaneously lighting a cigarette.
Annie had no idea how to care for Stewart or even what he needed. The place she was staying belonged to some friends. It was an old home that was in such a state of dilapidation the city was about to condemn it. The carpet was stained and smelled of urine. There was only running water in one bathroom. The kitchen was piled high with old take out bags, garbage and rotting food. The two bedrooms had decrepit mostly broken furniture and the bed linens hadn’t been changed in years. There were rats and roaches that occupied and chewed at every crevice of the house. Stewart was afraid. When Annie had taken him from his grandparent’s house, she had told him to pack his bag. Not knowing he had no idea how to pack a bag at the age of four, he had grabbed his backpack and placed his favorite blanket, book and action figure inside.
“Can I go home?” he’d asked soon after they arrived at her house. Tears rolled down his face. He was hungry and needed to go potty. He was sitting on the floor because a man was asleep on the one couch that was in the room. The sleeping man was only wearing dirty boxers. Another lady walked around in a daze. She also only wore her stained underclothes and kept moaning as she paced the room. Other people were sitting around a table smoking something. The smoke burned Stewart’s eyes and the whole place smelled like rotten food.
“No, you live with your Mom now. You need to call me Mommy.” She’d answer. “Stop crying!” Her hands shook as she tucked her hair behind her ear and looked around the room.
“I’m hungry” he whined.
“Oh my God. Don’t be a whiny brat, do you understand me?” She raised her voice and grabbed his chin. Stewart put his chin to his chest and tried not to cry. He stared at his power ranger rubber sandals and tried to be brave. She found a half-eaten bag of chips in another room and gave it to him. “Sit here and be quiet. Maybe we’ll do something fun later” she added thinking that would shut him up. Stewart knew he was supposed to wash his hands before he ate. His grandmother told him he’d get sick if he didn’t. He put the chips in his backpack and got his blanket out. He held it close, rubbing the silky edge with his forefinger and found a corner to sit in.
“Annie.” A tall guy said to Stewart’s mother. “You better have good news for me.”
“I didn’t get it.” He heard his mother tell the man. The man looked very angry and Stewart’s mom looked scared. “I’m going to go back later and ask again.” She scratched at her arms again.
The man grabbed his mom by the back of her neck and pulled her into another room. He heard them yelling at each other then it was quiet for a while. A few minutes later he heard groaning and what he thought sounded like the gorilla at the zoo. Stewart loved the gorilla at the zoo. His grandmother would take him to the zoo on Saturdays when it was warm. The people at the table laughed at the noises. When his mother and the man finally came out, the man said “Let’s go, I’ve got a plan.” Everyone in the house left, even the man on the couch put on shorts and walked out barefoot. Stewart walked to the window and saw them get in a car and drive away. He was at the house alone. He tried to find a bathroom but couldn’t. He wet his pants and was thirsty. He knew how to work the kitchen faucet but he couldn’t reach it and there were too many dishes and piles of garbage in the way.
When Stewart’s mother came home the next morning she found him asleep on the floor.
“Why did you wet your pants?!” she yelled and jerked him up by the arm.
Stewart was too confused to answer. His tummy growled and he just wanted to go home.
“You are too big to pee in your pants! If you have to go to the bathroom you come in here.” She pulled him to the bathroom and showed him the toilet. She watched Stewart as he tried to get himself on the potty and then pull his damp pants back up. He then climbed on the toilet so he could reach the faucet to wash his hands. Stewart saw that his mom was sad and tears filled her eyes. “I’m so tired. I just need to get some sleep.” He heard her say as she left the room.
Stewart spent the next few days eating chips or candy that his mom would give him now and then. He’d use the bathroom when he remembered, but he sat in the same corner in soiled clothes for most of the time he was there. He had developed a bad rash on his legs from the wet clothes and his arms, face and ankles were covered with bites. He had figured out how to reach up to the bathroom sink and fill an old plastic cup with water when he got really thirsty. He’d play with his action figure and look at the pictures in his favorite book. Sometimes he’d watch the movies that his Mom’s friends watched but they were mostly scary and had lots of people that didn’t have on their clothes. Stewart thought about his movies at home, he usually watched Sesame Street or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – his favorite. When it was time for his nap, his grandmother would put a movie in the VCR and allow him to watch until he fell asleep.
Different people were always coming and going at the house. They would talk to the smoking people at the table or sometimes they would go into one of the bedrooms for a while. When people weren’t coming over, his mother and the others would leave and he’d be alone. When they came home they smoked more and played the music loud. Stewart thought it was strange that they stayed awake when it was dark and slept when the sun was out.
Annie’s parents were finally able to track down some of the people Annie had been living with. They were able to find the place she had been staying and bring Stewart home. He was alone when they drove to the house and knocked on the door. Stewart saw them from the window and went to the front door to try to let them in. His grandmother grabbed him and hugged him.
“Everything is going to be okay now Stew.” She saw that he had the same clothes on that he had worn days ago when Annie had taken him. He was filthy and wet and his smell indicated he had an accident in his pants. She saw the corner with his backpack and blanket where he had been sleeping. “Let’s get you home and take a warm bath and Grammy is going to fix you whatever you want to eat! Does that sound good?” She took him to the car and held him in her lap. Stewart laid his head on her shoulder and his grandmother hummed in his ear and whispered Thank you Jesus over and over again.
Stewart’s grandfather left a note for Annie. Stewart didn’t know what the note said, but he didn’t see his mother again for several years.
Stewart had been traumatized when his mother took him. He regressed with his potty training skills and became mostly nonverbal. He would spend hours sitting alone with his knees cradled to his chest staring around the room with those big blue eyes. Stewart’s grandparents never knew exactly what he’d gone through in those days he was gone, but it had changed him.
Stewart didn’t see his mother again until he was seven and in the second grade. His grandparents got a call that she was in the hospital after being picked up off the street. A homeless crack addict is what the police had called her. She was very sick. They brought her home and tried to bring her back to health. The moment she walked in the door, Stewart wet his pants and began to hyperventilate. Stewart didn’t like being around her. He’d cling to his grandparents every time she was around. Her skin was a weird yellowy-gray color and covered in scabby sores that she constantly scratched and picked. She was missing her front teeth and her hair was matted in some places and bald in others. She bit her fingernails all the time and they constantly bled. If she tried to touch Stewart or hug him, he would run away terrified. She looked nothing like the girl in the photos that hung on the wall or topped the piano in the family room. When Stewart had been younger his grandmother would show him photos of his mother and Stewart thought she was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen. His grandmother said that people would stop and stare at Annie and always comment on her beauty.
One afternoon Stewart’s grandmother was in the kitchen cooking. Stewart could smell the baked chicken and macaroni and cheese that his grandmother was making – it was his favorite. His grandfather was out working in the garage on some furniture repairs. Stewart had been out helping him earlier, but he’d grown bored after a while and came inside to play in his room. He was building a garage out of Legos for his matchbox cars when Annie grabbed him and pulled him into the bathroom. She locked the door and took off her clothes and eased into the bathtub that was full of steaming water. Stewart cowered in the corner terrified, he was too afraid to call out to his grandmother. An empty prescription bottle lay next to the tub. Stewart wanted to tell his mother that “only Grandma or Grandpa can touch those bottles”, but he remained silent and concentrated on not peeing his pants and crying – two skills he’d been working on for a long time.
“Hey Whoopsie” Annie said. Her voice was course and raspy and her “s”s made the “th” sound because of her missing teeth. “Don’t you love me? Don’t you love me at all?” It would be many years before Stewart understood why his mother always called him “whoopsie”.
He didn’t respond, he pressed himself as close as he could to the bathroom wall. She started to cry. “I hate myself. Do you know that? I hate myself more than you hate me. I hate myself more than grandma and grandpa hate me. I was never meant to be anything in this world. I’m tired of even trying.” Stewart watched her grab a razor blade from the side of the tub and slowly and carefully cut her wrists. Blood began to run down her emaciated arms and color the water. She laid the blade back on the side of the tub and sat back and watched him, her eyes at half-mast. He couldn’t look away.
This was my first time to meet Stewart.
As his mother’s life slipped away, I watched a terrified child weep. I saw him squatting on the floor holding his knees to his chest; a scared child with eyes so full of fear. It’s rare that a child so young would be filled with such angst and sorrow. The moment Annie’s life ended, there was a noticeable burden lifted from this child. Stewart, like Elinor, felt my actual presence – but Stewart was drawn to me. He saw me as a figure that had taken every concern and fear away from him. For as long as he remembered, he felt an anxiety around Annie; his fear of injury from his mother had probably started in the womb. When near her, he felt threatened and disposable. I had banished the monsters from his life with that one appointment.
He sat on that bathroom floor staring at his mother long after her eyes glassed over. Her lips went blue, her skin went cold and the water turned crimson. He felt the emptiness that death brings to those left behind, but unlike most, he savored the feeling. He sat there in the silence until his grandmother realized he wasn’t in his room. She was horrified when she found him and pulled him out of the room and called the police.
Later that evening she tucked Stewart into bed. He had not spoken since his grandmother found him in the bathroom. The police and an ambulance had come. A big van came and took his mother’s body away and now everyone was gone except his grandparents. Snuggled in his bed with his grandmother next to him, Stewart felt safe under his favorite turtle sheets. His grandmother stroked his head and held his hand. She closed her eyes and Stewart knew she was praying.
When she was finished, she said “Your mother was very sick hun’.” She looked away and her eyes brimmed with tears. “She was confused about a lot of things. She didn’t know how to be your mother, but she’s in a better place now. She has gone to be with the Lord.”
Stewart knew what that meant because it was often discussed at church. Since his mother had taken him, he didn’t go to the class with children his own age anymore – he was too afraid. He sat in the big pews with his grandparents. He’d listen to his grandmother sing and watch as she’d highlight and write notes in her bible.
Stewart squeezed his grandmother’s hand and smiled up at her. With conviction he said, “It’s ok Grandma, death is a good thing. I feel better now that she is gone.”
I knew I would meet Stewart many more times during his lifetime.