Monday, March 21, 2016

Roamin' Roma

Continued from Roma's lonely journey 


The plan, according to the experts, was for Roma to move to a halfway house after his thirty days of treatment, where he would live for four to six months. He would get a job and pay his own rent. Roma had given his permission for his therapist to share all information with me. Drugs in his system when he entered detox were alcohol, marijuana, and this time he had added meth.  

Fortunately his use of meth had immediately scared him into urgently seeking help and checking himself into rehab. His counselor said he was a model patient, truly eager to get clean.  She felt he had a great chance of succeeding.  


He confessed to me that the meth had been a bad mistake, "I don't know why I tried meth, mom."


"Roma, did you NOT watch the films in health class? Meth rots your teeth!" I tried to appeal to his considerable vanity.


Even though I had resolved to let Roma have his way (as if I had a choice) and not interject my will into his prodigal experience, I intervened when Fred recommended a Christian-run halfway house after Roma's thirty day treatment. Even though I have never met Fred, I trusted him completely, as I had trusted Nancy long before I met her. There could be no doubt that God had brought both of them into our story for a reason. 

Fred was totally bonded with Roma after God connected him twice by astounding "chance meetings” on a sidewalk in Delray Beach and at a Celebrate Recovery meeting a year later. Roma asked him to be his sponsor in CR. Fred told me that these God experiences with Roma had changed his life. I understood, because God had transformed my own life by this precious, yet frustrating boy. Fred wasn't the first, or last, person to acknowledge that they had seen God work powerfully in Roma's life.  Fred took his God-given ministry of Roma's spiritual protection very seriously, inviting him for dinner with his family, spending time with him,  and in the process, falling under Roma's spell.


Fred was fascinated by this young man who God had Called him to love. He would call me occasionally to update me on progress. "I just love this kid," he would tell me, surprised by the development.  "He's so interesting and smart. He can talk about anything. He seems very educated. Did he go to college?" When I didn't answer right away, he asked, "Is he well educated?"


"Well. . . he did spend five years in high school," I couldn't resist. 

Roma's extra year of high school had nothing to do with him being a slow learner. He emphatically was not. It was a strategy to give him more time to get ready for life, whether college was the next step, or training for a job. It was a holding tank to keep him busy and safe, and not foster boredom. Early trauma in children's lives can stunt their emotional growth. And Roma didn't have the maturity of most kids his age. Three years of public high school revealed that a fourth would not be sufficient for him.  Two more years at a military academy with the structure, the camaraderie of the boys and men, and the sports program Fork Union offered was a perfect fit for Roma. He thrived there and enjoyed his experience immensely. One of his teachers, a retired Army officer, as most teachers were, sent me a note saying, "Roma is a diamond in the rough." I was thankful he was getting the polishing done where his value was appreciated


The same way Roma had ingratiated himself into life at Fork Union, and life at our house and community, for that matter, he embraced all the halfway house had to offer. He befriended and endeared himself to all members of his new (group) home, from the directors and counselors to the other residents.


In fact, Roma's ability to endear himself to people was in his hard-wiring. I couldn't miss it at first sight when I picked him up in a church basement for our hosting experience in Novermber of 2001, when he was seven. That personality was an enviable asset.  He always put himself out there, with everyone he met, whether he was inviting his new elementary teachers to his little league baseball games, to knocking on his new neighbors' doors, just to say hi, to inviting a neighborhood bully to be his friend. He was always cultivating relationships. He held nothing back. I had two nicknames for him when he was little, Roamin' Roma, and, when he was playing sports, the Rushin' Russian. (Wasn't I clever?)  


I am far more reserved than Mr. Personality. I don't want to bother people. I often thought over the years that Roma shouldn't bother people either, and that he didn't read social cues, that he might not recognize when to pull back, and give a needed respite from that intense personality.  

"Don't always be in your friend's house, or they will hate you," I would only half tease, paraphrasing Proverb 25:17. I tried to give him gentle warnings.
Roamin' Roma, off to embrace the world


"Oh, mom, they love me," was always his perspective and answer. I wasn't so sure. I have come to discover in the past fifteen weeks that he was mostly right. Roma was Roma, unapologetically. He often got a pass that other kids were denied. One of his early principals wrote during this hard time of grief, "Roma was so special, we didn't mind any of his mischief." There was no denying, the boy had "gifts"!


That open, inviting personality continued to be an asset for him in his halfway house. He had made friends, and everyone was working with him to find a job, to maybe go to college when they recognized his intellectual abilities. His counselor called be about helping him apply for financial aid. He wanted to be an EMT, that week, and they had training in the area he was where he was living. I told him to start saving his money to make it happen. We would help him, if he first helped himself. I was still trying to not be a safety net for him, and to allow him to make good decisions so his success could breed more success. To let it be his decision. Or at least let him to think it was his decision.

The middle of August, 2015, just days after he announced on Facebook that he "never thought he would be sober on his twenty-first birthday," he texted me to tell me he was leaving Florida and coming back to Maryland. He wasn't planning to come home, he had plans, and told me not to worry.


Then the director of the halfway house called me to explain that Roma's leaving wasn't their wish, he was doing exceptionally well with their program, and they loved him. He said Roma was discouraged because his job wasn't working out. He was a telemarketer for reducing interest rates on student loans, and they had a quota to fill. The job was not a good match for Roma's outgoing and connecting personality. He wasn't used to annoyed people's reaction to him.


I called Roma back and tried to talk to him, against my determination to let him fail.  He said determinedly that he had a plan that was all worked out. When I tried to learn more, Roma shut me down when he said, "Don't worry about it."


I sent Fred a text to see if he knew about Roma's impulsive plan. He called immediately, sickened by the unexpected news. I felt like the rug had been yanked out from under me. 


As usual, I had no power to change Roma's stubborn recklessness. 


Continue with Return of the Prodigal