This is the latest in a series on homeless persons in East County based on first-person accounts. Because voices of the homeless are seldom heard in the media, this provides an ongoing platform for the homeless to relay their unfiltered stories. If you are homeless, or know of a homeless individual willing to be interviewed, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Richard Darvas
June 28, 2010 (El Cajon) -- Lucy has lived a rootless life. In a recent interview with East County Magazine, the 46-year-old homeless woman detailed how she lost her way. (To shield her children from untoward attention, she is using a pseudonym for this article.)
Before spending the last two years on the streets of El Cajon, Lucy caromed from Cologne, Germany to Madrid, Spain to Escondido, California. Perhaps the instinct to travel was inherited from her father. With more than a touch of irony, his parents fled war-torn Hungary when he was a boy and defected to Nazi Germany in the early 1940s. In his teens, the family resettled stateside in New Jersey. Later, during a four-year stint in the Air Force, the émigré returned to Europe when he was stationed in France. After a marriage to a Frenchwoman and a military reassignment, Lucy was born in Georgia in August 1963.
The new parents and their infant daughter left the U.S. to take up residence in France six months later. Finally, a year later the cosmopolitans put down more permanent stakes in Germany.
Lucy was the beneficiary of a well-rounded education as a civil servant’s daughter. She went on ski trips, toured castles and visited a concentration camp. Her family jetted off to France for frequent visits with her maternal grandparents. Every two years, they vacationed abroad to reconnect with the other set of grandparents in New Jersey. To outward appearances it seems a charmed upbringing. However, Lucy says the seeds of substance abuse and abandonment issues were sown early.
“We used to go to my grandmother’s house on the southwestern coast of France,” she recalled. “My grandmother owned the only bar/café in the town, so I grew up around a lot of drinking people. I used to actually sell cigarettes when I was four years old on the bar for my grandpa.”
In Germany her father worked in telecommunications at military sites. She recalls he was often absent due to job-related duties. “My dad worked so hard and he took such good care of us. He was gone like 80 percent of the time on TDY [temporary duty]…He had to go away to the mountaintops to fix the radar and microwaves.”
A seemingly innocuous introduction to drugs took place as a teenager. Lucy smoked her first joint at 16. A schoolmate grew marijuana in her apartment.
After graduating high school, the B+ student left home to study at the University of Maryland in Munich. Over the course of her freshman year, recreational drug use metastasized into full-fledged abuse of hash, alcohol, acid and more.
With the lure of free boarding, at year’s end her college roommate, a naval attaché’s daughter, convinced Lucy to transfer to Madrid’s University of St. Louis. It was an easy sell for someone whose passion for travel seemed a birthright.
During a two-week hiatus from studies in Madrid, Lucy traveled back to Germany. While there, she was assaulted on a train. “I was drunk and smoking a cigarette on the train…He told me to put my cigarette out and I guess I didn’t do it. So he ripped my shirt and I was all exposed.” She sued her attacker and won a settlement.
She dropped out after one semester in Spain.
“I met a Spanish boyfriend, and he took me to Portugal for the summer.” She remembers little more of this jaunt than liberally partaking of port wine.
A brief return to Madrid ended with her boyfriend putting her on a bus back to Germany. Before departing, she explains that she forged a strong connection with her boyfriend’s brother, who was suicidal. “All he wanted to do was put an acid trip inside his veins.” Upon arrival in Germany, she learned that he had indeed taken his own life.
Back in Mainz-Kastel, Lucy worked for a college educational center for nearly two years as a timekeeper at a video-audio mart. Germany seemed more like a crossroads than a destination, however. Her mother’s French heritage clashed with German sensibilities. Nazism had victimized Hungary on the battlefield and in death camps. Mostly though, she couldn’t resist the urge to roam.
In the summer of 1984 she decided to quit her job and relocate to her birthplace. “I really didn’t belong in Germany…Since I was an American citizen I wanted to move to America.”
An uncle lived in Santee at the time. A sister rented an apartment in La Mesa. Her Hungarian grandparents resided in New Jersey. A childhood friend had a home in Connecticut. Lucy split time between these places on an extended vacation. During her late teens and early twenties she lived a rudderless gypsy lifestyle. It was also the first time she had experimented with cocaine.
Lucy met her first husband in California. Her sister introduced the couple. “You should meet the guy two doors down,” she suggested, according to Lucy. “He’d be a really good catch.” After dating a month, he convinced her to move in with him in Escondido. After a pit stop back in Germany, she returned to California.
“I went back to Germany and sold my car, quit my job and closed my apartment,” Lucy remembers. “I was completely self-sufficient over there. It was a really stupid thing to come out here.” But it was not a clean break.
“Two weeks after I got here, I found out I was pregnant,” said Lucy. “I had a boyfriend in Germany, and I had this boyfriend in California. So I didn’t know who the dad was.” The combination of uncertainty about the paternity of the child and being spiritually unready to become a mother spurred the next choice. She decided to end the pregnancy. “I felt so guilty about the abortion.”
In Escondido she worked for a solar panel retailer as a marketing assistant. Shortly before her first pregnancy, she says, she was introduced to crystal meth by an upstairs neighbor in her apartment complex. Lucy claims it was the one drug that threw her over the edge. Awake for three or four days at a time, she’d compulsively clean every inch of her house while “tweeking,” or high on crystal meth.
Soon she was pregnant a second time. Lucy was eight months pregnant when she married her boyfriend. In 1986 she gave birth. To maximize the time spent rearing her infant daughter, she took a part-time job delivering newspapers in the early morning hours. It was a trying time. Lucy recognizes that she was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood.
After two years she became pregnant again. It was a boy. “I always wanted a boy ‘cause I never had a brother. And my dad was gone most of the time. So I really wanted a son. I really wanted a son.” She says she smoked pot and cigarettes during both pregnancies.
“When I was pregnant I was not allowed to use any hard drugs at all, or I probably would’ve,” she admitted. “Because I was smoking so much pot I was de-motivated all the time—just didn’t have a spark for life. I was stoned all the time.” The married couple smoked weed together.
An obstetrician diagnosed her infant son with a cleft hip. Lucy was told that he’d have to wear an A-frame brace for the first year of his life. She says she was wracked with guilt because she believed her drug use caused his deformity.
“I thought it was because I had smoked pot,” she explained as her voice cracked. “And because I had done acid in the past. Or because of my drinking. I thought I had fucked up my eggs.” After six months, however, doctors reversed the original diagnosis and issued her son a clean bill of health.
Lucy’s husband was an HVAC technician, a good provider and a devoted father. “But he was not a good husband,” Lucy affirmed. She recalled a traumatic experience after the birth of her first child. "One night he ripped off my clothes, did his thing, had his thing, and left me there….He ripped all my stitches from my episiotomy. I’d never had a baby before; I didn’t know what it was about. So I go to the bathroom and pee on myself, just screaming my head off because it burned so bad.”
Her husband discouraged Lucy from pursuing any pathway that might lead to financial independence, she said. Furthermore, she claimed, after the birth of their children her husband’s libido vanished, and he would belittle her attempts to rekindle an intimate relationship.
Lucy explained why she weaned her son off breast milk early. “The second one, I was like ‘this is too much; I want to party. So I got him off the tit in four months. It’s all a blur after that…I ran into some bad people.”
In 1989, Lucy planned a birthday party for her soon-to-be one-year-old son. But she was “coming down so hard” off crystal meth that she was forced to abruptly cancel.
Shortly thereafter she entered recovery and began to attend AA meetings. (This marked the beginning of a recurrent pattern.) Lucy claims her husband left with the kids and filed a restraining order against her while she was getting clean.
Working toward sobriety on her own, Lucy was impregnated by a recovering addict in her program. “I was in spiritual warfare in my head.” She says he wore down her defenses. “I was gonna get a divorce and have his baby.” He moved her into his construction worker’s home.
“I got scared,” she recounted. “My first husband came back and said, ‘We’ll get back together if you have an abortion.’” At four months pregnant, she acquiesced. “I went to have an abortion three times, but I could not get into the clinic: once there was a demonstration, twice the doctor didn’t show up and the third time I didn’t know what happened...So my husband took me to the ghettos of Los Angeles, and I had an abortion there.”
Afterward she says that she was bedridden for nine months with post-partum depression. “I had an abortion because my husband wanted me to, and to be back with my family. I got very depressed and ended up relapsing” on marijuana.
Lucy says she recommitted to clean living. She also gave her marriage a one-year window. One year of sobriety later, she moved into an El Cajon apartment and left her husband. “I got an apartment through the welfare department.”
For seven years, from 1989 to 1996, Lucy says she managed a drug-free life. After nine months of living alone, she moved in with another recovering addict. “I got pregnant and miscarried the baby,” she said. Then she got pregnant a second time by her live-in boyfriend and successfully gave birth to her last child, a daughter. Her youngest child was born in 1993, the same year her divorce was finalized.
“That was my clean-and-sober baby. I only smoked cigarettes with that baby.”
At this stage in her life, she agreed to joint custody of her two children from the previous marriage. Lucy admitted that her relationship with those children was a challenge. “My oldest daughter was always a big crybaby. She was a very difficult child. But I had difficulty with [motherhood] ‘cause of the huge responsibility and the pressure on my marriage. Not being satisfied in certain ways.”
On her son’s sixth birthday, she says she discovered track marks along both of her boyfriend’s arms. He had relapsed and was shooting speedballs—a dose of meth and heroin. “The baby was one or two years old at the time…It devastated me. It absolutely devastated me. Not only did my first family fall apart, but my second family was falling apart…” she faltered . She was raising three kids, working and attending college. Soon her boyfriend was arrested on a probation violation for a previous domestic battery and failed to appear for his court date. He served nine months in prison.
Not only did his descent into addiction pose an unmistakable threat to Lucy’s sobriety, it shattered a fragile balance. She says she lost all respect for him.
Upon his release it wasn’t long before he resumed his former substance abuse. She alleges that he demanded $400 he had previously given her for rent. He was desperate to rent a hotel room and go on a heroin binge. She refused.
“I said ‘F--k you. No way! No way I’m givin’ you the rent money.’ So we started fighting. He was going to bite my whole nose off, but instead he decided to mar me,” she recounts as she points to a deep horizontal scar near the bridge of her nose. “And he was choking me and I was screaming, ‘Help, help! Call the police!’ ‘cause I felt my life was in danger. When a guy has been to prison and you start screaming for the police, they start freaking out really bad and trying to shut you up. So I remember he was sticking his wallet in my mouth and it was breaking the corners of my mouth…He pulled the phone out of the wall, but the police showed up anyway. He ran away, hopped over the back fence, socked a neighbor and he was finally caught.”
While he was incarcerated, Lucy worked at an engineering firm as a secretary to the vice president of marketing. She claims she was sexually harassed on a daily basis. A confidentiality agreement bars her from identifying the company, but the alleged perpetrator was a relative. After she filed a lawsuit and sued for $135,000, she was awarded $7,000 after attorney’s fees.
“I was a welfare mom…I needed the money. I had three babies at home, you know?”
Out of work, her welfare checks stopped arriving in her mailbox after the court case. “I had $7,000 so I had to get off welfare. So I’m scared again, because that’s how I feed my children, how I house my children.”
In dire straits, she began writing a pen pal. The imprisoned father persuaded Lucy that she stood to benefit from the guidance of a fellow inmate who had 16 years of sobriety. He sought to boost her morale and strengthen her resolve to stay clean. At first she rejected the idea out of hand, but later relented and struck up a correspondence with the stranger. The inmate had been convicted of second degree murder in 1987 and was sentence to 15 years to life. “On a blackout drunk he shot this woman seven times,” Lucy explained.
When the father of her third child was set to be released, Lucy arranged extra time to pay a visit to this incarcerated man. About six months later he proposed marriage. She accepted. In 1996 they married in a prison ceremony.
“He gave me $80,000 over a year and a half. He dispersed all his IRA funds to me. So now I had $87,000.” Lucy spent the whole sum on “two apartments, three phones, a health insurance policy for the entire family, food, clothing, gas and a brand-new car.”
“He’s a genius,” she boasted. “He’s got a website.” The site details quantum neutron fusion. She said it became too costly for her to visit him in San Luis Obispo, so she insisted that he get a transfer to Donovan State Prison in San Diego. “He came down to Donovan and I visited him once. But he didn’t want to because his son and his family was up in Sacramento working for a state senator who was a friend of his. He got his son a job.”
She claims she remained faithful to her prison husband until his appeals were exhausted and it became clear to her that he would spend the rest of his life behind bars. During this time she visited him four times a week. “I kinda sold out. He gave me a bunch of money.” Meanwhile, she continued to share custody of her three children.
Lucy says she had some unresolved bisexual tendencies that she chose to explore after the marital separation. “I met this girl and she said ‘If you drink with me tonight, then we’ll start a relationship.’ So I relapsed that night. That only lasted one night.”
After her ex-husband learned she had relapsed, he regained full custody of the two children in 1998. Lucy says he moved out of state with the children and left no forwarding address. Her parents informed her three weeks later that they were in Oregon. “I have not seen my children since.” After failing a later drug test, she lost custody of her third child. “Once I lost the first two, the last was a piece of cake to take away,” Lucy conceded.
During another stay in recovery, she says she was raped by a man named Dave.
Immediately thereafter she met her significant other, Bill, while working for a moving company. “This is my boyfriend,” she added as she made reference to a homeless man who loitered nearby during most of the interview with ECM. On and off, Lucy said, they lived together over the course of the next 10 years. During that span she says she miscarried repeatedly. She says she miscarried six times in one year-and-a-half stretch of time.
In 2000, her baby’s death immediately following childbirth left her heartbroken. “She lived for three hours and passed away,” she said. “They gave me codeine. I got a refill. I got another refill. Pretty much, I haven’t been able to deal with it since then. I’ve lost one job after another.”
During a brief period of sobriety she regained custody of her youngest child around 2001. They lived together for one year before she lost parental rights due to an overdose on antipsychotic pills as a ploy to stop her boyfriend from scoring heroin.
In 2008 Lucy became homeless. Friends she was crashing with at the time needed to make room for their children, and there was no more space available.
For six months she stayed in an abandoned house. Otherwise, she’s made do in various places. She’s reticent to reveal where else she currently sleeps, but she says it’s “on the cement,” exposed to the elements.
Drug addiction and instances of separation from Bill leave her vulnerable to rape on the streets. “I’d say I’ve been raped four, or five, or six times,” she recites matter-of-factly.
She attempted suicide in 2003.
Besides panhandling for coffee, Lucy said she scrapes together some money on the streets, “but not legal money.” While denying any prostitution or drug dealing, she says she “hustles” to earn money. Other than to acknowledge the fact that illicit means are involved, she does not care to elaborate.
Drug use has intensified since she landed on the streets, but she’s sworn off one drug. “I don’t drink now because I drank so much as a youngster that I burned out on alcohol at a young age. We were drinking table wine at five years old.”
In terms of getting off the streets, Lucy plans to gain admittance into the downtown Salvation Army. There she hopes to enroll in a job-placement program.
Set Free is an East County resource she says she has utilized twice. It’s a ministry that offers a yearlong religious program. Lucy wants to rehabilitate, but said she cannot abide the stricture of coffee and cigarette restrictions.
At a public park she frequents, church staff brings meals twice a week and serves sack lunches as well. She also relies on food stamps.
One day she wishes to reunite with her children. “I don’t really have any good news to report, so I’ve avoided them.” The last time she saw her youngest daughter was about six weeks ago. “She is beautiful—white hair and green eyes. I don’t really want her around this place to see how I’m living.” Today, her children are 24, 22 and 17. Her youngest child lives in Eastlake with her paternal grandmother. The grandparent has full guardianship.
When asked if there’s a history of substance abuse in her family, Lucy is disinclined to blame her vices to genetics. “Everyone needs to own their own stuff.”
The core reason for her downward spiral into addiction and homelessness she attributes to bad associations. “I hang out with hard people.”
“Hot, angry, embarrassed and ashamed, that’s how I feel.”