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Poway teen tweaker busted in mom's gourmet kitchen

Independence

"In eighth grade we moved to Poway, and I started hanging out with stoners, with people doing crystal. I started hanging out at tweak houses. They were always down at the end of some dirt road." - Image by Larry Ashton
"In eighth grade we moved to Poway, and I started hanging out with stoners, with people doing crystal. I started hanging out at tweak houses. They were always down at the end of some dirt road."

At 1:00 a.m on July 4 two teenage girls entered the courtyard of a 4000-square-foot Spanish-style home in what realtors might call “Poway’s prestige gated community.” A lighted fountain splashed near the courtyard’s entrance. Jasmine and honeysuckle cascaded from enormous tiled planters surrounding the fountain. A pool filter hummed behind the house. A Lexus and a new Toyota 4Runner sat in the circular cobblestone driveway. An accent light above the porch shone down on the front door’s brass fixtures, one of which was a knocker shaped like a dove. The dove’s shiny beak rested against a plaque engraved with the words Peace Be With You. This was not the sort of home to which troubled teenage girls made unexpected 1:00 a.m. visits.

Elizabeth still kept her Madame Alexandra doll collection on her dresser.

Seven years ago the $485,000 house had been advertised as a “sensational single-story family home with a great open floor plan and soaring ceilings.” But because of its size and soaring ceilings, it was often hard to hear the doorbell, especially in the master bedroom at the rear of the house where its owners, Ken and Tracey, slept. Both entrepreneurs — he in biotech, she in software — they had worked a long day and gone to bed early. They had a lot to do in the morning. They’d planned a Fourth of July poolside barbecue with family, a few co-workers, and some old acquaintances. Elizabeth, their 17-year-old daughter, had called earlier to say she was spending the night with friends, and although she’d been doing that a lot lately, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Ken and Tracey weren’t expecting any surprises. It took a long time for them to hear the doorbell. The two girls almost gave up and walked away. When Ken finally yanked the front door open, everyone just stood there in the early quiet with silly surprised expressions on their faces.

Tracey recognized the girls as friends of Elizabeth. That explained how they got through the prestige community’s gated entrance; they knew the code. But that didn’t explain what they were doing in her courtyard at one o’clock in the morning.

“We have to talk to you and your husband,” the girls said.

Ken and Tracey ushered them into the living room, an intimidating room for two teenagers with bad news for adults. The ceiling is 18 feet high. When you talk, your voice sounds small and weak. Ken is a pretty good Sunday painter, and two of his large watercolors of the Cuyamaca mountains flank the fireplace on antique easels. The coffee table, made from a Spanish convent’s door, displays T racey’s collection of vermeil sterling demitasse cups. Tracey loves Amish quilts, too. She’s hung three high on the walls above her antique Mission furniture: over the couch, a $1095 orange and navy blue quilt done in the Crown of Thorns pattern; across the room, above an armchair, Crosses and Losses ($1200); over the cherry wood bookcase, Robbing Peter to Pay Paul ($985).

“Elizabeth’s tweaking,” one of the girls said.

“She’s lost it,” said the other.

“What? I don’t understand,” said Tracey.

“My God,” said Ken.

The two girls explained that a little after eleven p.m. in the middle of a respectable street in Ramona, Elizabeth had stood in the $120 Doc Martin buckle shoes her mother had bought for her birthday and swung an aluminum baseball bat over her head and screamed, “Come on, you big pussies! Come on and get me! I’m gonna kick your fuckin’ asses!”

Elizabeth was hanging out with a bad crowd. Elizabeth was in trouble. She was smoking a gram of crystal meth every day. She’d been using since she was 12.

Elizabeth is a sweetheart. Her long blonde hair is thick and curly. Her eyes are green. Her shoulders and arms are soft and rounded. She is small and slightly plump in an old-fashioned, girlish way. She has pale dainty hands. Her throat and cheeks flush when she laughs. She is lovely. She seems as if she would be easy to make happy.

In a blue cotton sundress, Elizabeth sits in the shade of a magnolia tree at Cafe 976 in Pacific Beach surrounded by lavender, snapdragons, licanthus, and roses. She says she doesn’t remember much about the girl who stood in that Ramona street, howling.

“I guess,” she says, “that was just the addict in me coming out. I was a cold bitch.”

Actually, Elizabeth remembers a lot. The addict first came out in sixth grade when she and her parents lived in Bonita. Her bedroom then was done in white. She still kept her Madame Alexandra doll collection on her dresser. She liked to sing along with Bette Midler’s “Wind beneath My Wings.” One day after school she went home with a group of senior boys. One of them pulled out a bag of crystal and offered her some. She says she didn’t know what it was but wanted to seem cool. She snorted her first line and loved it.

“I felt like doing cartwheels.”

Elizabeth swallows, plays her tongue around the inside of her mouth, reflexively conjuring up the taste of meth. “I didn’t even think that it had really happened.”

She used infrequently when she was 12. She used a little more in the fall of seventh grade, when she says she was unhappy.

“I hated having to be a fake. Here I was this white girl in a mostly Mexican school, and I had to pretend to Mexican to get along. I learned to dress like a chola. I learned to talk like a homegirl. But I wasn’t really using meth then because I was unhappy. I was still just curious about it, about the way it made me feel.

“But in eighth grade we moved to Poway, and I started hanging out with stoners, with people doing crystal. I started hanging out at tweak houses. They were always down at the end of some dirt road. The kitchens were always dirty, filled with dirty dishes. The carpets were dirty. The people were dirty. For some reason I just felt comfortable in these places, although there was never much going on in them. It was mostly people just sitting around, waiting for someone to show up with the crystal. And then it was exciting. They’d share it with me and my friends. And then they’d always run outside to bury it in the backyard.

“At this point I started turning into a real rock ’n’ roll girl. My hair was long and straight, parted in the middle. I started wearing a lot of black rock ’n’ roll, heavy-metal T-shirts. I was hanging out with these two kids, Doug and Faith. They were really crazy, only 13 or 14 years old, and really, really into drugs. They were already tweakers — Faith’s mother put beer in her bottle when she was a baby. Faith and Doug would buy the crystal and share it with me. Then later, we’d sort of pool our money together. I used my allowance, which was, like, $5 a day. It was a whole new world.

“By ninth grade I had changed a lot. I put my Madame Alexandra doll collection away. I had lots and lots of Nirvana and Metallica posters on my walls — the walls were absolutely covered with them. And I had blacklight posters, psychedelic posters. I asked my mom to buy me a black satin comforter and black satin sheets and pillowcases for my bed. She did. I put my favorite doll, Claudina, a baby doll, away. And I put up the screaming skulls and pictures of pot leaves.

“I told my mother it was just a phase. When she was young her parents had never given her the freedom to be what she wanted to be. She wanted to believe me.

“I started drinking and smoking pot. Faith and Doug and I started grinding up aspirin and putting it in little Baggies and selling it to 12-year-olds. We told them it was crystal, and they bought it. 1 don’t know how many of them actually snorted it, but a lot of them would come back to as to buy more and say, ‘Hey, that stuff was incredible!’ I guess they wanted to seem cool.

“In ninth grade I’d use every day for a week or so, and then I’d take a break. And then I’d go back to it. I’d stay up all night drawing psychedelic pictures. I’d listen to Alice in Chains and Metallica. I didn’t really start getting out of control until the next year when I made friends with Karen.

“Karen and I hung out with a totally straight crowd. Crystal was our secret between us. It was our understanding. Nobody knew.

“I guess I’ve been depressed most of my life. But in tenth grade I was really depressed. I had trouble with boyfriends. I had no self-confidence. Crystal made me feel strong. It made me be able to tell a boy, ‘Fuck you, get out of my life.’

‘Tenth grade was also difficult because my parents took me on a trip to France and Spain for a month. And I couldn’t use. I didn’t have meth. It was horrible. I was smoking like a fiend. Every chance I got I’d get away from parents and chain smoke. I don’t know how I kept from going completely crazy.

“Eleventh grade was when I started using every day. I got a job working at a sandwich shop in Poway. All the kids who worked there used meth. After a while, it was sort of known in the community that everyone who worked there was a tweaker. People started coming in and asking if we sold anything other than sandwiches, and we’d just laugh and pretend we didn’t understand. But I was going into the bathroom all day long, chopping up lines of crystal on the back of the toilet and snorting. I broke up with my boyfriend. I was turning into a cold bitch.

“It was about that time that I started smoking crystal My complexion was breaking out real bad, and I learned that if you used a hodge, your skin doesn’t break out as bad. A hodge is this glass pipe that’s about five inches long with a little glass bubble at the end. You use it to smoke crystal. Some people make their own. Other people buy ’em at head shops. You just drop a little lump of crystal down into the glass bubble, and you heat it with a lighter. The crystal sort of liquefies and starts bubbling and then it sort of crystallizes on the inside of the glass bubble. Then you heat it again with your lighter, and it makes this smoke and you just suck it up. The high is different than when you snort. With smoking crystal, you have all that energy, but you’re more mellow. I couldn’t work without it. I couldn’t get up in the morning without it. I’d wake up, and the first thing I’d think was, ‘Do I have any crystal? Do I have enough crystal?’ And I’d sort of get these dry heaves because I needed it so bad.

“Some nights I didn’t sleep at all. I’d go nights and nights without sleeping. I had this impression that I was very busy, that I had a lot of things to do, that I was getting a lot accomplished. But I look back now and think and I realize that I really wasn’t busy. I wasn’t doing any school work. I had my job. My time was free. But I felt really, really busy. Tweakers are like that. They’re always saying, ‘I’ve got a lot to do.’ And what they’re doing is really a lot of manic, compulsive shit, like taking a car engine apart and putting it back together—over and over and over again. You have this illusion of being busy and productive.

“On nights when I didn’t sleep I wasn’t doing much. I’d listen to music. I had this collection of wigs, and I’d sit in front of the mirror and put one on, like, a long black curly wig, and I’d do my makeup—come up with an entirely different look for myself. Then I’d take the wig and the makeup off and try another. Over and over again. Straight through the night. Never sleeping. Just trying on wigs and putting on makeup and listening to Metallica sing ‘Fade to Black’ and listening to Alice in Chains sing ‘Down in a Hole.’ “It finally got to the point where I was using a gram of crystal a day. Which is a lot. It’s more than a lot. I’m this 17-year-old girl and I’m doing an entire gram of crystal a day. That means I’m smoking, like, 15 times a day. And I’m hanging out with these two really, really bad guys. Like total criminals. Guys who stole cars and beat people up who owed them money. And 1 don’t remember eating and I don’t remember sleeping I’m just cruising around at 4:00 a.m. with these guys and one night I took them to break into the house of this girl who owed them money. It was insane. But I was totally tweaking and crystal makes you feel like you’re invincible. Like you’re incredibly strong. And the one guy gets out of the car and he crawls through this girl’s window and the next thing I know he’s trying to carry this huge TV out the front door. She must have heard him because all of a sudden she comes running out of the house screaming and hitting him, and he just drops the TV and runs. We barely just got away.

“I remember listening a lot to that Doors song during the last days before I was busted: ‘Break on through to the other side.’ I was listening to it that last crazy night before I was basted. I was with the two guys, and we were at this Taco Bell in Ramona. July 3. It was about 11:00 p.m. And we just happened to run into these people who owed the two guys money. So one of the guys gets out of my car, and he starts arguing with them, and I guess he sort of hits or kicks their car, and they get real angry and they say they’re going to kick our asses. And so the guy jumps hack in the car, and we drive away, and they start following us, and I’m looking for cops. All this time I’d started to be real paranoid from the crystal. I thought everyone was an undercover cop. But on this night when I need a real cop, I can’t find one and we’re driving around and around Ramona trying to lose these people who were going to kick our asses and we finally end up on this street in Ramona Country Estates. I figure that I’m not going to run anymore. I’m totally out of my head. I park the car and I pull out this big aluminum baseball bat, a Padres bat, and I start running down the street after these people who’d been following us. And there I am standing in the middle of the street, swinging this baseball bat over my head and I’m ready to kill all of them. I guess I scared them. They drove off. I guess I looked really crazy. I guess I looked like some tweaked-out 17-year-old girl who had completely lost her mind.

“The next morning I got the call from my mom. She said I had to come home. It was urgent.”

Elizabeth didn’t know that her two friends had visited her parents. She didn't know that very early on July 4 her mother had called her sister, Elizabeth’s aunt, and told her what had happened. Elizabeth didn’t know that her aunt had explained to her sister what an intervention was. She didn’t know that her mother, father, aunt, and grandmother were afraid that they’d lost her forever and were afraid that if they didn’t stop her, she was going to die.

“When I walked in the kitchen I saw them all standing there. I thought to myself, ‘I’m so fucked.’

“I yelled to my mom, 'Get me the fuck out of here!’ ” Elizabeth’s words ricocheted around the kitchen, with its tile floor, butcher block island, and three bay windows that look out on potted laurel, rosemary, lemon and lime trees, and the pool. There are two large convection ovens with microwave capability. There is a SubZero refrigerator and an eight-burner, stainless steel Wolf stove. An entire cupboard is devoted to steaming utensils: an asparagus steamer, a fish steamer, a rice steamer, and a five-tier all-purpose steamer made from bamboo that Tracey bought in Hong Kong. Other cupboards hold souffle dishes, tart pans, ramekins. cookie sheets, and the complete French line of enameled cast-iron Crusette cookware. Custom shelves in the breakfast nook hold Tracey’s set of 19th-century Havilland china. None of this was only for show.

Tracey cooks. From her twin ovens and eight-burner stove, Tracey has hefted meal after meal onto the butcher block island. Hers was no Ten-Minute Gourmet household. On weekends especially she cooked Southern French dishes. With her Wusthof Dreizack knives she’d carved pot-roasted leg of lamb with black olives (“Gigot en Cocotte Aux Olives Moires"), sauteed chicken with apples and Calvados (“Poulet aux Pommes de Reinette Flambe au Calvados”). She’d stood in her kitchen on Sunday afternoons and sipped Italian white wine and watched rain spatter the bay windows while Ken’s favorite anchovy puffs and Elizabeth’s favorite garlic crusts baked in the oven. She’d made apple tarts and pear tarts and caramelized apples and fried chicken. She’d made all of that and more because it relaxed her and made her happy and made Ken and Elizabeth happy. But it turns out that while Tracey was in her beautiful kitchen making elaborate Happy Meals, Elizabeth was in her bedroom snorting fat lines of crank, lying on her black satin sheets, listening to Metallica wail about spiritual destruction.

This is the kitchen, then, where Elizabeth’s intervention happened. Where her grandmother stood in the doorway and wept. Where her aunt dumped Elizabeth’s purse out on the breakfast nook table and pawed through its contents, looking for drugs. Where her father, his voice breaking, tried in vain to lecture her about all the privileges, advantages, love, and support she’d enjoyed. Where her mother, still numb with shock, kept asking if anyone wanted coffee. And where Elizabeth, in a T-shirt and a pair of dirty white cut-offs that hung loose around her bony hips, screamed and screamed and sobbed.

“At first she denied everything,” her aunt says. “She said she’d stopped using two weeks ago. I told her she was lying. Then she said she’d used a week ago. I told her she was lying. I finally told her, 'Look, we’re not going to let you go. We love you too much. We’re not going to lose you.’

“That’s when she started to scream.”

Elizabeth remembers screaming. She remembers being out of control. But mostly she remembers being exhausted. The most tired she’d ever been in her life.

“I was busted. I knew it. There was no turning back. And while I was screaming and acting like a crazy woman, part of me was glad. It was all over. I wanted it to be all over. That’s why I started screaming. I started screaming, ‘Okay! Okay! But you gotta check me into a hospital right now! I can’t wait! I can’t do this on my own! I can’t do this on my own!’ ”

Her aunt started making phone calls. They finally found a place, Pomerado Hospital, that dealt with meth-addicted adolescents. By the time they drove Elizabeth there, she was incoherent. She could hardly stand up. Her answers to the intake counselor’s questions didn’t make sense. At one point she yelled at her mother and raised her hand as if to strike her, then she passed out.

Elizabeth slept for the next three weeks, waking only for drinks of water or to stagger to the bathroom.

Elizabeth has been sober now for 95 days. She spends most of her time going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Pacific Beach. She hangs out at Cafe 976 between meetings. She says that many people in Pacific Beach are in recovery. She said that when she drives around the neighborhood she’s amazed by how many people she recognizes from Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

She met her new boyfriend Warren at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Warren is 36 years old and wears mirrored sunglasses and lives in a halfway house down near the beach. He cruises around P.B. on a ten-speed and is looking for an apartment because most of the people at the halfway house are crazy and talk to themselves all the time. Warren was addicted to crack and is on parole for some kind of crime that neither Elizabeth nor anyone else seems too interested in learning about. Elizabeth says she and Warren are trying hard to live in the present.

“I’m not interested in going back and blaming anyone for my problems. I made a choice to do what I did. Maybe part of it was genetic. Maybe it wasn’t. Still, I’m responsible. Just like I’m responsible now for staying clean. I’m making a choice. Warren is good for me because he gives me good advice. He makes sure I go to my meetings. He makes sure I stay clean.”

Elizabeth finds it unremarkable that she has a 36-year-old boyfriend on parole. She says she never really cared much for her parents’ beautiful home in Poway.

“I’ve always been really street. I enjoy being out and about. I like street life.”

She takes a drag on her Camel Light and examines her fingernails.

“My parents’ house was like a museum. 1 felt like I was living in a museum. I never felt comfortable there. I was hardly ever there. It never felt real to me. My room never felt like someone actually lived in it.”

I ask her about her future. About what kind of home she would like to make for herself.

“I think it would be a Victorian house, with lots of windows and flowers and trees and plants. And a dog. It’d have a big grand piano and a big collection of musical instruments. Instruments from all over the world — drums, flutes, string instruments. Anything that made a cool noise. And there’d be framed black-and-white photographs on the walls.

“But I don’t see a husband there. I don’t see myself living with a man. But I do see a little girl there. I’d have a little girl and she’d have long curly blond hair like me.

“I guess I’m kind of describing the house I grew up in. I guess I’m kind of seeing my mom and me. The way it was when I was a little girl.”

Elizabeth has a theory. She says that people who take hallucinogens, who take downers, who drink, are people who want less reality. Maybe they come from homes that were violent. or maybe their present is too painful to bear. But what they want is for things to seem less real.

Elizabeth is different. She says meth made things seem clearer. It made her vision sharper. Things looked vivid and distinct. She says her home wasn’t very happy, although everyone pretended that it was. She says that perhaps people who come from homes or situations where things were left unsaid and truths were ignored prefer drugs like meth that give the illusion of drawing the world into sharper focus. She says meth made the world seem more real.

She says she doesn’t know if her theory is true or not, but it’s at least interesting to think about.

Elizabeth’s parents are relieved she is doing better. They’ve had to realize that Elizabeth’s sobriety is up to her, that she is almost 18, and that she will soon be beyond their control. They’ve tried to put their lives back in order.

Tracey has been doing a lot of gardening lately. Ten years ago the land on which her home was built was wild. The land in and around the house still has lots of surprises. Tracey has to work hard to keep the native weeds and animals from invading her flower beds. At night raccoons play in the Jacuzzi. Field mice have invaded the kitchen and Tracey’s humane traps don’t seem to help much. Some mornings she’s sat in her kitchen sipping coffee and watched squirrels devour her zinnias while staring in her direction with insolent beady eyes. Nature’s presence is so strong it’s almost as if she and Ken and the house weren’t there, or shouldn’t be there. Only last weekend, when Tracey went out to work in her garden she found a rattlesnake. She cut off its head with a hoe. It was the seventh rattlesnake she and Ken had seen around the house this year.

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"In eighth grade we moved to Poway, and I started hanging out with stoners, with people doing crystal. I started hanging out at tweak houses. They were always down at the end of some dirt road." - Image by Larry Ashton
"In eighth grade we moved to Poway, and I started hanging out with stoners, with people doing crystal. I started hanging out at tweak houses. They were always down at the end of some dirt road."

At 1:00 a.m on July 4 two teenage girls entered the courtyard of a 4000-square-foot Spanish-style home in what realtors might call “Poway’s prestige gated community.” A lighted fountain splashed near the courtyard’s entrance. Jasmine and honeysuckle cascaded from enormous tiled planters surrounding the fountain. A pool filter hummed behind the house. A Lexus and a new Toyota 4Runner sat in the circular cobblestone driveway. An accent light above the porch shone down on the front door’s brass fixtures, one of which was a knocker shaped like a dove. The dove’s shiny beak rested against a plaque engraved with the words Peace Be With You. This was not the sort of home to which troubled teenage girls made unexpected 1:00 a.m. visits.

Elizabeth still kept her Madame Alexandra doll collection on her dresser.

Seven years ago the $485,000 house had been advertised as a “sensational single-story family home with a great open floor plan and soaring ceilings.” But because of its size and soaring ceilings, it was often hard to hear the doorbell, especially in the master bedroom at the rear of the house where its owners, Ken and Tracey, slept. Both entrepreneurs — he in biotech, she in software — they had worked a long day and gone to bed early. They had a lot to do in the morning. They’d planned a Fourth of July poolside barbecue with family, a few co-workers, and some old acquaintances. Elizabeth, their 17-year-old daughter, had called earlier to say she was spending the night with friends, and although she’d been doing that a lot lately, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Ken and Tracey weren’t expecting any surprises. It took a long time for them to hear the doorbell. The two girls almost gave up and walked away. When Ken finally yanked the front door open, everyone just stood there in the early quiet with silly surprised expressions on their faces.

Tracey recognized the girls as friends of Elizabeth. That explained how they got through the prestige community’s gated entrance; they knew the code. But that didn’t explain what they were doing in her courtyard at one o’clock in the morning.

“We have to talk to you and your husband,” the girls said.

Ken and Tracey ushered them into the living room, an intimidating room for two teenagers with bad news for adults. The ceiling is 18 feet high. When you talk, your voice sounds small and weak. Ken is a pretty good Sunday painter, and two of his large watercolors of the Cuyamaca mountains flank the fireplace on antique easels. The coffee table, made from a Spanish convent’s door, displays T racey’s collection of vermeil sterling demitasse cups. Tracey loves Amish quilts, too. She’s hung three high on the walls above her antique Mission furniture: over the couch, a $1095 orange and navy blue quilt done in the Crown of Thorns pattern; across the room, above an armchair, Crosses and Losses ($1200); over the cherry wood bookcase, Robbing Peter to Pay Paul ($985).

“Elizabeth’s tweaking,” one of the girls said.

“She’s lost it,” said the other.

“What? I don’t understand,” said Tracey.

“My God,” said Ken.

The two girls explained that a little after eleven p.m. in the middle of a respectable street in Ramona, Elizabeth had stood in the $120 Doc Martin buckle shoes her mother had bought for her birthday and swung an aluminum baseball bat over her head and screamed, “Come on, you big pussies! Come on and get me! I’m gonna kick your fuckin’ asses!”

Elizabeth was hanging out with a bad crowd. Elizabeth was in trouble. She was smoking a gram of crystal meth every day. She’d been using since she was 12.

Elizabeth is a sweetheart. Her long blonde hair is thick and curly. Her eyes are green. Her shoulders and arms are soft and rounded. She is small and slightly plump in an old-fashioned, girlish way. She has pale dainty hands. Her throat and cheeks flush when she laughs. She is lovely. She seems as if she would be easy to make happy.

In a blue cotton sundress, Elizabeth sits in the shade of a magnolia tree at Cafe 976 in Pacific Beach surrounded by lavender, snapdragons, licanthus, and roses. She says she doesn’t remember much about the girl who stood in that Ramona street, howling.

“I guess,” she says, “that was just the addict in me coming out. I was a cold bitch.”

Actually, Elizabeth remembers a lot. The addict first came out in sixth grade when she and her parents lived in Bonita. Her bedroom then was done in white. She still kept her Madame Alexandra doll collection on her dresser. She liked to sing along with Bette Midler’s “Wind beneath My Wings.” One day after school she went home with a group of senior boys. One of them pulled out a bag of crystal and offered her some. She says she didn’t know what it was but wanted to seem cool. She snorted her first line and loved it.

“I felt like doing cartwheels.”

Elizabeth swallows, plays her tongue around the inside of her mouth, reflexively conjuring up the taste of meth. “I didn’t even think that it had really happened.”

She used infrequently when she was 12. She used a little more in the fall of seventh grade, when she says she was unhappy.

“I hated having to be a fake. Here I was this white girl in a mostly Mexican school, and I had to pretend to Mexican to get along. I learned to dress like a chola. I learned to talk like a homegirl. But I wasn’t really using meth then because I was unhappy. I was still just curious about it, about the way it made me feel.

“But in eighth grade we moved to Poway, and I started hanging out with stoners, with people doing crystal. I started hanging out at tweak houses. They were always down at the end of some dirt road. The kitchens were always dirty, filled with dirty dishes. The carpets were dirty. The people were dirty. For some reason I just felt comfortable in these places, although there was never much going on in them. It was mostly people just sitting around, waiting for someone to show up with the crystal. And then it was exciting. They’d share it with me and my friends. And then they’d always run outside to bury it in the backyard.

“At this point I started turning into a real rock ’n’ roll girl. My hair was long and straight, parted in the middle. I started wearing a lot of black rock ’n’ roll, heavy-metal T-shirts. I was hanging out with these two kids, Doug and Faith. They were really crazy, only 13 or 14 years old, and really, really into drugs. They were already tweakers — Faith’s mother put beer in her bottle when she was a baby. Faith and Doug would buy the crystal and share it with me. Then later, we’d sort of pool our money together. I used my allowance, which was, like, $5 a day. It was a whole new world.

“By ninth grade I had changed a lot. I put my Madame Alexandra doll collection away. I had lots and lots of Nirvana and Metallica posters on my walls — the walls were absolutely covered with them. And I had blacklight posters, psychedelic posters. I asked my mom to buy me a black satin comforter and black satin sheets and pillowcases for my bed. She did. I put my favorite doll, Claudina, a baby doll, away. And I put up the screaming skulls and pictures of pot leaves.

“I told my mother it was just a phase. When she was young her parents had never given her the freedom to be what she wanted to be. She wanted to believe me.

“I started drinking and smoking pot. Faith and Doug and I started grinding up aspirin and putting it in little Baggies and selling it to 12-year-olds. We told them it was crystal, and they bought it. 1 don’t know how many of them actually snorted it, but a lot of them would come back to as to buy more and say, ‘Hey, that stuff was incredible!’ I guess they wanted to seem cool.

“In ninth grade I’d use every day for a week or so, and then I’d take a break. And then I’d go back to it. I’d stay up all night drawing psychedelic pictures. I’d listen to Alice in Chains and Metallica. I didn’t really start getting out of control until the next year when I made friends with Karen.

“Karen and I hung out with a totally straight crowd. Crystal was our secret between us. It was our understanding. Nobody knew.

“I guess I’ve been depressed most of my life. But in tenth grade I was really depressed. I had trouble with boyfriends. I had no self-confidence. Crystal made me feel strong. It made me be able to tell a boy, ‘Fuck you, get out of my life.’

‘Tenth grade was also difficult because my parents took me on a trip to France and Spain for a month. And I couldn’t use. I didn’t have meth. It was horrible. I was smoking like a fiend. Every chance I got I’d get away from parents and chain smoke. I don’t know how I kept from going completely crazy.

“Eleventh grade was when I started using every day. I got a job working at a sandwich shop in Poway. All the kids who worked there used meth. After a while, it was sort of known in the community that everyone who worked there was a tweaker. People started coming in and asking if we sold anything other than sandwiches, and we’d just laugh and pretend we didn’t understand. But I was going into the bathroom all day long, chopping up lines of crystal on the back of the toilet and snorting. I broke up with my boyfriend. I was turning into a cold bitch.

“It was about that time that I started smoking crystal My complexion was breaking out real bad, and I learned that if you used a hodge, your skin doesn’t break out as bad. A hodge is this glass pipe that’s about five inches long with a little glass bubble at the end. You use it to smoke crystal. Some people make their own. Other people buy ’em at head shops. You just drop a little lump of crystal down into the glass bubble, and you heat it with a lighter. The crystal sort of liquefies and starts bubbling and then it sort of crystallizes on the inside of the glass bubble. Then you heat it again with your lighter, and it makes this smoke and you just suck it up. The high is different than when you snort. With smoking crystal, you have all that energy, but you’re more mellow. I couldn’t work without it. I couldn’t get up in the morning without it. I’d wake up, and the first thing I’d think was, ‘Do I have any crystal? Do I have enough crystal?’ And I’d sort of get these dry heaves because I needed it so bad.

“Some nights I didn’t sleep at all. I’d go nights and nights without sleeping. I had this impression that I was very busy, that I had a lot of things to do, that I was getting a lot accomplished. But I look back now and think and I realize that I really wasn’t busy. I wasn’t doing any school work. I had my job. My time was free. But I felt really, really busy. Tweakers are like that. They’re always saying, ‘I’ve got a lot to do.’ And what they’re doing is really a lot of manic, compulsive shit, like taking a car engine apart and putting it back together—over and over and over again. You have this illusion of being busy and productive.

“On nights when I didn’t sleep I wasn’t doing much. I’d listen to music. I had this collection of wigs, and I’d sit in front of the mirror and put one on, like, a long black curly wig, and I’d do my makeup—come up with an entirely different look for myself. Then I’d take the wig and the makeup off and try another. Over and over again. Straight through the night. Never sleeping. Just trying on wigs and putting on makeup and listening to Metallica sing ‘Fade to Black’ and listening to Alice in Chains sing ‘Down in a Hole.’ “It finally got to the point where I was using a gram of crystal a day. Which is a lot. It’s more than a lot. I’m this 17-year-old girl and I’m doing an entire gram of crystal a day. That means I’m smoking, like, 15 times a day. And I’m hanging out with these two really, really bad guys. Like total criminals. Guys who stole cars and beat people up who owed them money. And 1 don’t remember eating and I don’t remember sleeping I’m just cruising around at 4:00 a.m. with these guys and one night I took them to break into the house of this girl who owed them money. It was insane. But I was totally tweaking and crystal makes you feel like you’re invincible. Like you’re incredibly strong. And the one guy gets out of the car and he crawls through this girl’s window and the next thing I know he’s trying to carry this huge TV out the front door. She must have heard him because all of a sudden she comes running out of the house screaming and hitting him, and he just drops the TV and runs. We barely just got away.

“I remember listening a lot to that Doors song during the last days before I was busted: ‘Break on through to the other side.’ I was listening to it that last crazy night before I was basted. I was with the two guys, and we were at this Taco Bell in Ramona. July 3. It was about 11:00 p.m. And we just happened to run into these people who owed the two guys money. So one of the guys gets out of my car, and he starts arguing with them, and I guess he sort of hits or kicks their car, and they get real angry and they say they’re going to kick our asses. And so the guy jumps hack in the car, and we drive away, and they start following us, and I’m looking for cops. All this time I’d started to be real paranoid from the crystal. I thought everyone was an undercover cop. But on this night when I need a real cop, I can’t find one and we’re driving around and around Ramona trying to lose these people who were going to kick our asses and we finally end up on this street in Ramona Country Estates. I figure that I’m not going to run anymore. I’m totally out of my head. I park the car and I pull out this big aluminum baseball bat, a Padres bat, and I start running down the street after these people who’d been following us. And there I am standing in the middle of the street, swinging this baseball bat over my head and I’m ready to kill all of them. I guess I scared them. They drove off. I guess I looked really crazy. I guess I looked like some tweaked-out 17-year-old girl who had completely lost her mind.

“The next morning I got the call from my mom. She said I had to come home. It was urgent.”

Elizabeth didn’t know that her two friends had visited her parents. She didn't know that very early on July 4 her mother had called her sister, Elizabeth’s aunt, and told her what had happened. Elizabeth didn’t know that her aunt had explained to her sister what an intervention was. She didn’t know that her mother, father, aunt, and grandmother were afraid that they’d lost her forever and were afraid that if they didn’t stop her, she was going to die.

“When I walked in the kitchen I saw them all standing there. I thought to myself, ‘I’m so fucked.’

“I yelled to my mom, 'Get me the fuck out of here!’ ” Elizabeth’s words ricocheted around the kitchen, with its tile floor, butcher block island, and three bay windows that look out on potted laurel, rosemary, lemon and lime trees, and the pool. There are two large convection ovens with microwave capability. There is a SubZero refrigerator and an eight-burner, stainless steel Wolf stove. An entire cupboard is devoted to steaming utensils: an asparagus steamer, a fish steamer, a rice steamer, and a five-tier all-purpose steamer made from bamboo that Tracey bought in Hong Kong. Other cupboards hold souffle dishes, tart pans, ramekins. cookie sheets, and the complete French line of enameled cast-iron Crusette cookware. Custom shelves in the breakfast nook hold Tracey’s set of 19th-century Havilland china. None of this was only for show.

Tracey cooks. From her twin ovens and eight-burner stove, Tracey has hefted meal after meal onto the butcher block island. Hers was no Ten-Minute Gourmet household. On weekends especially she cooked Southern French dishes. With her Wusthof Dreizack knives she’d carved pot-roasted leg of lamb with black olives (“Gigot en Cocotte Aux Olives Moires"), sauteed chicken with apples and Calvados (“Poulet aux Pommes de Reinette Flambe au Calvados”). She’d stood in her kitchen on Sunday afternoons and sipped Italian white wine and watched rain spatter the bay windows while Ken’s favorite anchovy puffs and Elizabeth’s favorite garlic crusts baked in the oven. She’d made apple tarts and pear tarts and caramelized apples and fried chicken. She’d made all of that and more because it relaxed her and made her happy and made Ken and Elizabeth happy. But it turns out that while Tracey was in her beautiful kitchen making elaborate Happy Meals, Elizabeth was in her bedroom snorting fat lines of crank, lying on her black satin sheets, listening to Metallica wail about spiritual destruction.

This is the kitchen, then, where Elizabeth’s intervention happened. Where her grandmother stood in the doorway and wept. Where her aunt dumped Elizabeth’s purse out on the breakfast nook table and pawed through its contents, looking for drugs. Where her father, his voice breaking, tried in vain to lecture her about all the privileges, advantages, love, and support she’d enjoyed. Where her mother, still numb with shock, kept asking if anyone wanted coffee. And where Elizabeth, in a T-shirt and a pair of dirty white cut-offs that hung loose around her bony hips, screamed and screamed and sobbed.

“At first she denied everything,” her aunt says. “She said she’d stopped using two weeks ago. I told her she was lying. Then she said she’d used a week ago. I told her she was lying. I finally told her, 'Look, we’re not going to let you go. We love you too much. We’re not going to lose you.’

“That’s when she started to scream.”

Elizabeth remembers screaming. She remembers being out of control. But mostly she remembers being exhausted. The most tired she’d ever been in her life.

“I was busted. I knew it. There was no turning back. And while I was screaming and acting like a crazy woman, part of me was glad. It was all over. I wanted it to be all over. That’s why I started screaming. I started screaming, ‘Okay! Okay! But you gotta check me into a hospital right now! I can’t wait! I can’t do this on my own! I can’t do this on my own!’ ”

Her aunt started making phone calls. They finally found a place, Pomerado Hospital, that dealt with meth-addicted adolescents. By the time they drove Elizabeth there, she was incoherent. She could hardly stand up. Her answers to the intake counselor’s questions didn’t make sense. At one point she yelled at her mother and raised her hand as if to strike her, then she passed out.

Elizabeth slept for the next three weeks, waking only for drinks of water or to stagger to the bathroom.

Elizabeth has been sober now for 95 days. She spends most of her time going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Pacific Beach. She hangs out at Cafe 976 between meetings. She says that many people in Pacific Beach are in recovery. She said that when she drives around the neighborhood she’s amazed by how many people she recognizes from Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

She met her new boyfriend Warren at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Warren is 36 years old and wears mirrored sunglasses and lives in a halfway house down near the beach. He cruises around P.B. on a ten-speed and is looking for an apartment because most of the people at the halfway house are crazy and talk to themselves all the time. Warren was addicted to crack and is on parole for some kind of crime that neither Elizabeth nor anyone else seems too interested in learning about. Elizabeth says she and Warren are trying hard to live in the present.

“I’m not interested in going back and blaming anyone for my problems. I made a choice to do what I did. Maybe part of it was genetic. Maybe it wasn’t. Still, I’m responsible. Just like I’m responsible now for staying clean. I’m making a choice. Warren is good for me because he gives me good advice. He makes sure I go to my meetings. He makes sure I stay clean.”

Elizabeth finds it unremarkable that she has a 36-year-old boyfriend on parole. She says she never really cared much for her parents’ beautiful home in Poway.

“I’ve always been really street. I enjoy being out and about. I like street life.”

She takes a drag on her Camel Light and examines her fingernails.

“My parents’ house was like a museum. 1 felt like I was living in a museum. I never felt comfortable there. I was hardly ever there. It never felt real to me. My room never felt like someone actually lived in it.”

I ask her about her future. About what kind of home she would like to make for herself.

“I think it would be a Victorian house, with lots of windows and flowers and trees and plants. And a dog. It’d have a big grand piano and a big collection of musical instruments. Instruments from all over the world — drums, flutes, string instruments. Anything that made a cool noise. And there’d be framed black-and-white photographs on the walls.

“But I don’t see a husband there. I don’t see myself living with a man. But I do see a little girl there. I’d have a little girl and she’d have long curly blond hair like me.

“I guess I’m kind of describing the house I grew up in. I guess I’m kind of seeing my mom and me. The way it was when I was a little girl.”

Elizabeth has a theory. She says that people who take hallucinogens, who take downers, who drink, are people who want less reality. Maybe they come from homes that were violent. or maybe their present is too painful to bear. But what they want is for things to seem less real.

Elizabeth is different. She says meth made things seem clearer. It made her vision sharper. Things looked vivid and distinct. She says her home wasn’t very happy, although everyone pretended that it was. She says that perhaps people who come from homes or situations where things were left unsaid and truths were ignored prefer drugs like meth that give the illusion of drawing the world into sharper focus. She says meth made the world seem more real.

She says she doesn’t know if her theory is true or not, but it’s at least interesting to think about.

Elizabeth’s parents are relieved she is doing better. They’ve had to realize that Elizabeth’s sobriety is up to her, that she is almost 18, and that she will soon be beyond their control. They’ve tried to put their lives back in order.

Tracey has been doing a lot of gardening lately. Ten years ago the land on which her home was built was wild. The land in and around the house still has lots of surprises. Tracey has to work hard to keep the native weeds and animals from invading her flower beds. At night raccoons play in the Jacuzzi. Field mice have invaded the kitchen and Tracey’s humane traps don’t seem to help much. Some mornings she’s sat in her kitchen sipping coffee and watched squirrels devour her zinnias while staring in her direction with insolent beady eyes. Nature’s presence is so strong it’s almost as if she and Ken and the house weren’t there, or shouldn’t be there. Only last weekend, when Tracey went out to work in her garden she found a rattlesnake. She cut off its head with a hoe. It was the seventh rattlesnake she and Ken had seen around the house this year.

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