In a Lorain apartment complex, 17-year-old Brooke storms out of an apartment and into the stairwell, leaving her mother Sharon, 3-year-old sibling Eva and a social worker in the living room.
At the moment, Brooke, whose father is dead and mother is a drug addict, wants no part of talking about her home life.
Sharon, 49, sits at a dining room table and looks nervous. For the first time in years she is trying to be a mother, which Brooke is having trouble accepting. Brooke had filled the role of mother to Eva while Sharon was using heroin, and she had become accustomed to freedom from any supervision.
The family’s names have been changed at their request.
Sharon was born in Bay Village to a single mother who had two priorities: Working at the former Ford Motor Co. Lorain Assembly Plant and drinking at home and in bars when she punched out each day. They moved to Lorain when she was a child, and she’s been here ever since.
The red cap on her mother’s ever-present fifth of tequila sticks out in Sharon’s mind, as do the beatings she says she received in her youth.
“Mom was a functioning alcoholic who was never there,” Sharon said. “I had her money but not her love. I think she loved me, but she was just never physically there. She drank, hit the bars and worked at Ford. When she was home, she locked herself in her room and slept or whatever she did in there.”
Sharon said she hated her mother’s drinking and subsequently she hated everything about alcohol from the smell, to the taste and the way it made people act. As a result she never really drank, but drugs helped her fill a void.
She said like many kids she tried smoking marijuana in high school to fit in, but not very often. At some point in her 20s, she was introduced to powder and crack cocaine, and she soon was hooked.
“In my 30s I got real bad and I had to go into treatment,” Sharon said. “I completed treatment and stayed sober for almost 11 years.”
When Eva was born her father, who also was using crack, left and Sharon said she got depressed. At the time Sharon’s mother, who has dementia, moved in with her. Rather than seeking help for the emotions she felt, Sharon said she went back to her old ways.
People living above Sharon’s apartment were selling heroin and she approached them. She said heroin was easy to snort since she had snorted cocaine for years.
“I’ve never used a needle in my life, but it doesn’t matter,” Sharon said. “It’s still the same effect, the same sickness and the same hell as if you did the needle.”
Sharon said heroin took away feelings of guilt about her parenting and feelings of resentment toward her own mother. She said for a time it even made her feel euphoric, like she could do anything, at least until her body had to have it.
“That’s when it got really bad,” Sharon said. “You have to physically have it to get out of bed and the sickness overtakes any kind of high you’d feel.”
In this state, Sharon and her two daughters moved to an apartment filled with roaches, no refrigerator and an absentee landlord. Brooke started looking after her sister and her mother.
“It was terrible there,” Sharon said. “When the winter came, there was no heat.”
Sharon sought help for her drug problems, Children Services got involved and Sharon entered Family Drug Court, which aims to reunify children with parents in a sober environment. Brooke was temporarily placed in a group home and Eva was placed with a family member as Sharon tried to get sober.
In September Sharon was sober, although she relapsed once in January. She said Brooke resents her and doesn’t like that she’s now trying to be a parent.
Sharon said she now sees that her daughter’s life is much the same as her own youth, and she worries Brooke is heading down the same path she did.
“It’s a cycle, but I think I broke it,” Sharon said. “I’m struggling to rebuild trust, love, honesty and accountability with my 17-year-old. This tore my whole family apart.”
Maybe there’s hope for Eva, she said, because she’s still so small.
Sitting outside of the apartment on a curb with a friend, Brooke said her mom always has been a drug addict, but she hopes things will be different this time. Brooke said she just wants her mom to be successful and do things moms should do, like take her little sister out for ice cream.
But one can see in her eyes she’s doubtful, and she scoffs when asked whether her mother was sober for 11 years throughout most of her childhood as Sharon claims.
“She’s used crack all her life on and off,” Brooke said. “The heroin started about two years ago. She wouldn’t show me no love. Just gave me money and told me to go do whatever. It felt like I didn’t have a mom, like I was abandoned.”
Brooke said if Sharon didn’t have heroin in the morning, she’d send her to the “dope boys.”
“She would make them front her drugs and then not pay them back,” Brooke said. “I’d be scared at night and think they’d break in. And basically I had to be a mom to my sister because my mom was so sick.”
Brooke said she would never take the path her mom took, but social workers say she’s been making bad choices and she’s struggling. In the way a teen from a more stable home might share a memory of their upbringing, Brooke nonchalantly recalled the time her mother almost overdosed in front of her or the time one of her mother’s boyfriends tried to get her to smoke crack.
The teen stops talking as a flashy car pulls into a parking space near the curb where she’s sitting. She looks toward the car and ends the conversation, saying she can’t talk anymore. She gets up and heads toward the car without saying a word about who awaits behind the tinted windows.
“Thanks for talking to me,” she said. “It helps.”