I came home from work that day and could barely recognize my own daughter. She was right in front of me, slouching down the stairs. There was no missing those piercing blue eyes, those strong hands for shooting baskets. But something was different, something was wrong. My 17-year-old had changed so quickly these last few months.
We’ve always called her Breezy—like her headlong embrace of life. When she was little, people stopped us in shopping malls to tell me how beautiful she was—her eager grin, her wavy blonde hair, her clear, delicate skin. But the girl who shouldered me aside and stalked outside that day wore a scowl. Her hair was dyed black, her face blotchy and broken out. “Breezy,” I said.
“Where are you going?”
“Out.” A car had pulled up. Breezy’s new friends were in it. They were older. Their arms were covered with tattoos. Their noses were pierced. Their hair was dyed black. They stared sullenly from behind the windows.
“Not with them, you’re not,” I said.
“I’m late,” she snapped, and ran out the door. She was already climbing into the back seat when she turned and yelled, “You can’t tell me who my friends are! I hate you!” Then the car sped away.
I stood, silence settling over me. Shelley, my wife, stared at the floor then walked to the kitchen. Not long before, Breezy had been a happy girl. The house had been filled with the laughter of her basketball teammates. But, then, over the course of the summer before her senior year, everything changed. I’d always been so sure about the way we raised Breezy. Where had I gone wrong?
Breezy, our middle child, was a tomboy, a daddy’s girl, the one who never left my side. Shelley, sometimes, found her hard to handle. But I knew her like I knew myself—she was fearless, tough, a bit willful at times. I remember driving up our block one day. A 10-speed bike was rolling toward me, piloted by a tiny form. It was Breezy, four years old, straddling the cross-bar and leaning low to reach the pedals. To stop she kicked her foot against a wall.
She bypassed dolls and went straight to sports—soccer first, then basketball in third grade. When I washed the car, she scrubbed the hubcaps with her own little sponge. When I went to the store, she was out the door before me, blonde ponytail jammed through the back of her baseball cap. I can still feel the slap of sun as we eased the convertible from the cool, dark garage. “Take the top down, Daddy!” she’d yell.
To my regret, we didn’t go driving very often. I was a business consultant. I worked evenings and weekends. I left for weeks on assignment. I knew my family missed me. But we caught up on vacations. And I made sure the kids got the no-excuses discipline I had growing up. I’d been a military policeman in the service, then worked as a cop during college. I was strict. I was loving. And it worked.
I remember once, when Breezy was a junior in high school, she asked if we could go out to dinner, just the two of us. In the booth, she started crying. “I was trying not to tell you, but I can’t be dishonest with you. Dad, I’m so sorry, but I went to a party where there was beer and I tasted one. It was terrible!”
At first, I flushed with pride at her honesty. But then a small fear spoke. Parties. Beer. Where else was she going? Was she still Daddy’s little girl? I resolved to keep an even closer eye on her.
By high school, Breezy was a basketball star. My work had kept us moving every few years. But we finally settled in a Portland suburb so Breezy could join one of the state’s best teams. I wanted to make sure she had every opportunity. Shelley and I—when I was in town—would cheer so loud at her games that Breezy said we embarrassed her.
Though Shelley and I cheered for Breezy together on the court, we differed when it came to discipline. Shelley was more willing to give Breezy space; I was a stickler for the rules, maybe because of my police background and maybe because I wasn’t always around to watch her. Strict rules did the job when I couldn’t.
Then, right before her seventeenth birthday, Breezy was caught missing practice. Her coach threw her off the summer team and told her that if she wanted to rejoin in the fall, she needed to shape up. It was then that I began to notice changes.
First, our house fell silent. The hungry athletes who came home with Breezy to raid the fridge and watch the big-screen TV disappeared. She took to her room. Loud, hostile music sent out the message: Stay away. Strange kids began to drop by and loiter on the lawn. She dyed her hair. Then came that day when I got home from work and she told me she hated me before getting into the car with people my instinct told me were no good.
Things didn’t improve that fall. One night I was working late. The phone rang. It was our pastor. “Jim, I don’t know how to tell you this.”
“Breezy is addicted to methamphetamine. Shelley’s taken her to the hospital. They’re there right now.” I twisted the phone cord. How come I hadn’t known? Why hadn’t I seen that this was what was behind the changes in my daughter? Suddenly, I knew all the answers to the questions that had been plaguing me. I knew why she wouldn’t speak to us. Why her looks changed so drastically. Why she snuck out to careen through the city with those sinister “friends”. Everything clicked. Drugs.
“Jim, are you there? Are you okay?”
I put the phone down and got into the car. The speedometer edged to 75. Freeway lights flicked past. At the hospital, a doctor led me through the ER to a bed encircled by a curtain. He tugged the curtain aside, and there was Breezy crouched on a bed, long arms curled around bony knees. She looked up warily. I could tell she was regretting the confession to Shelley that had landed her here. Why hadn’t she come to me like she had about the beer?
“Breezy,” I said. But her eyes were vacant, cold.
“Your daughter has been using for about six months,” the doctor said to me. “I asked what time she last took drugs. She said eight o’clock tonight.”
I looked at my watch. It was 9:30 P.M. She’d been home that night, and even out driving with our youngest daughter.
I stumbled from the bed and hid my eyes. But I warned her. I watched her. Drugs were against the rules. I gave her everything. What did I do wrong?
Within a few days my wife found a treatment center recommended by a friend, and drove Breezy there. It was a nine-month program. No phone calls, but she could write to us. At home, I checked the mail obsessively. But no letters arrived. I’d taken some time off, so all day I sat at home, trapped in my deepest interior. At first, I tried blaming Shelley. Too permissive. But then I wondered. Was it me? Had I been too strict? I replayed Breezy’s childhood, the times I laid down the rules, especially about drugs. I remembered telling her what I had seen as a policeman—furtive, conniving addicts stripped of everything but their desire to get high. Should I have done more?
The days wore on. My thoughts twisted and re-twisted, always looping back to a single image: Breezy staring at me, through me in that emergency room. As a cop I had seen countless addicts cycle through recovery programs. An addict is an addict, I’d concluded. Now the thought crushed me. How can I guide her? How can I make her Daddy’s little girl again?
Then, one morning, exhausted and broken, I started my morning devotions at the kitchen table. Outside a drizzling rain soaked the trees. The house was quiet. I was alone, staring at the Bible that lay closed on the table before me. I buried my face in my hands. Lord, how do I get through this? How do I know you have your hand in this? I opened the Bible and leafed through it. Suddenly, a new image came to mind. Always before, I had obsessed over what I did, what I should have done, what I could do now. What about God? He’s the healer, not me. Breezy is in his hands, not mine. This was a hard thought. I resisted it. But I’m the father, I insisted. I’m the one who takes care of things and shapes my kids. But the image of God the healer wouldn’t go away.
I realized I needed to commit Breezy to his hands and concentrate on the one thing I could do: love my daughter. I grabbed a pen and paper. “Dear Breezy,” I wrote. “I’ve been praying for you. I hope you’re doing all right. I love and miss you. Dad.” No lectures. No threats. I took the letter to the post office.
Returning home a short while later, I leafed through the mail. My heart leaped. Her handwriting on a letter! I tore open the envelope and read, “Dear Dad. Many things are happening here at rehab. I’m feeling better. I never want to go back to the dark life I was living.” I held the letter in my hand for a long time, my tears falling on it. Was it only coincidence that it had arrived on just this day? Or was it the answer to a prayer I’d found so hard to say? To give my daughter completely to a higher power.
Breezy is out of rehab. Yet, she still struggles. We all do. I believe her when she says she’ll never return to drugs. But Breezy’s part, like any addict’s, is not easy. She finished high school and is working, and thinking about going to college. She’s let go of her druggie pals, but has found it hard to make new friends. I pray for her constantly.
One Sunday not long ago we were getting ready for church. I was about to shout up the stairs for Breezy to hurry up when all at once she appeared at the top. My mind froze and so did Breezy. I looked at her for a long moment, as if she were poised in some limbo between the young, innocent Breezy who’d once been my little sidekick, and the Breezy who had been ravaged by methamphetamine, a shadow daughter whom I didn’t know. Then she smiled, her eyes bright and clear. “Let’s go,” she said. “I don’t want to be late.”