“Heroine is the only thing that keeps me from killing myself”

I walked 11 blocks on 5th Ave only to discover I was in the wrong place for my break out session at Movement Day in NYC today. I walked another 10 blocks, realizing I was going to be late for lunch, which was being served at the session. I began to hurry thinking I needed to get something to eat before going to the meeting point where we would start our trip to the airport in Newark.

As I walked something on the sidewalk caught my attention — a young lady carrying a sign that read “living off compassion, please help.” She looked unkempt, distant, like a ghost or maybe a vampire (if I knew what they looked like). Her entire demeanor was disturbing. If there was a soul behind the shell of her body, I could not tell. I hesitated: Is she crazy? Maybe violent? Disturbed?

There I was, literally only a few steps from the church where we were having this big conference about helping the poor, and disadvantaged in our cities, and especially New York City.  The irony was screaming at my face. Do I need to do something?

I still passed by her, my heart heavy, but immediately turned around. She gave me a quick glance then looked away. I walked passed by her again, now in the opposite direction, still unsure of what I was going to do. Then I turned again in her direction, lowered myself, and said, “Have you had anything to eat?” She said, “No.” I said, “I would like to get you lunch. Where can we go to get it?” She said, “Well, I’m vegan, that’s okay.” I said, “I am sure there is a place here that sells something you can eat. I will be glad to treat you.” She said, “Are you sure?” I said, “100% sure.” She offered, “There is a Chipotle a couple of blocks away.” I thought, “Yes, Chipotle. God exists after all!”

We walked to Chipotle, the line was as long as the questions I wanted to ask Rex, this new girl I had just met on 5th Avenue amidst signature stores, fashionable people and expensive buildings.

I started making small talk but soon realized there would be no small talk with Rex. She told me that two years ago she gave up her apartment and a job in NYC to travel in a van to California with two friends. She lived in San Francisco, scraping by and begging by — no income, no home to speak of, no one to call on for help. Finally, two months ago, she returned to NYC — older but not wiser, broken but not mended, humbled but not changed. She is a wreck. Not even her mom will accept her in her old house.

Rex is only 23, only a couple of years younger than my younger daughter. She believes her life has no value, she sees no beauty in herself and is convinced that everything she ever tries turns into a mess (she used another word for it). What is more, she is covered in shame for all the embarrassment she has caused her family. There will be no prep talk with Rex either. She doesn’t even believe God cares. At night, she goes to an abandoned house with other homeless friends, and there they try to mimic a semblance of an existence until they get kicked out to another ignominious location.

But, as she repeated twice, “I have my own mattress,” as if this were the last thing she had to bring back the scraps of how things once were or perhaps ought to be. She is severely depressed and knows she must do something about it but doesn’t know where to start. Or rather, she knows but the steps are too painful to take. “If I go to a church, they will tell me to go to a shelter. And I will NEVER go to a shelter.” “Look at me. I am a mess, I can’t apply to a job anywhere.”  “I know I need God but there are certain things I don’t think I can give up.”

You see, Rex is a Heroine addict and has been one since High School. She said heroine makes her happy. “It is the only thing that keeps me from killing myself,” she said, without hesitation. I told her about my friend whom I buried a couple of years ago. The first day I met him he told me, “I am 33 years old. My dad introduced me to cocaine when I was 13. He overdosed when he was 50. If I don’t get this under control, I will die before I hit 50.” Two years later he was dead. Rex didn’t even flinch. She said, “That’s probably what is going to happen to me.”

I shared about the hope of Christ with her. I told her that God loves her and that He sees her as someone who has tremendous value and dignity. She was now fully interactive with me, speaking with animated eyes and asking intelligent questions. She was no longer a ghost, just a girl with an inquisitive mind. She didn’t get the whole thing about Christ — why he had to die, how his death gets rid of our sins. “That’s totally weird to me.”

I tried my best. I told her she is believing lies the devil fed her. I insisted that she go and get help, supernatural help, to find a church, to look for friends outside the streets, to get into a rehab facility. Above all, I implored her not to give up hope. I said, “God cares so much about you, He sent me to you today to tell you that it you can still turn your life around. He loves you and He wants to restore your life so you can experience joy and fulfillment. It’s not too late, please listen to me.”

She thanked me, profusely, and even allowed me to get my picture taken with her (above). For one whole hour I interacted with this young lady while church leaders from around the world huddled in small groups across the street, and in other buildings around the area, strategizing about how to help people like Rex who live in mega cities across the globe. I wonder if we would have learned more had we simply walked outside and talked to the homeless — eye-to-eye, heart to heart, human-to-human. But, as one plenary speaker said today, “Sometimes we care more about strategies than we care about people.” How sad (for us and for the likes of Rex).

Ivanildo C. Trindade