I was around 11 when my father and stepmother separated. This is when things really started spiraling out of control for him.
He was selling weed and methamphetamine and had developed a serious meth addiction. We were renting a house at the time, but he couldn’t keep up the with bills and it was all just too much for him. I remember one time where I watched my father lock up, as if he was having a seizure. Whatever it was, it scared the shit out of me. He had a hard time keeping food in the house; I guessed he was experiencing the effects of malnutrition or sleep deprivation. On one occasion, he said he was going to the store…and didn’t return until the next day. I found out later that he’d been arrested for trying to steal a roast from the store.
Eventually we were evicted, and my father found another job as a mechanic, or so he told us. But I knew he was just using it as a front to sell drugs. He made some sort of trade for a 5th-wheel trailer that he put by the shop for us to live in. This thing was a real piece of shit. The rear wall wasn’t even attached to the floor. I was living there with my brother, my father, and whatever crackhead girlfriend he happened to have around. We had an extension cord that supplied us with a little bit of electricity, but we had no toilet or running water. We had to cross the parking lot to use the bathroom at the shop. The trailer was always loud and people were always around doing drugs and talking nonsense. It was so hard to get to sleep at night, and I was always tired in school. One time I walked into the trailer and there was meth on the coffee table, all divided up into ounces, and cash everywhere that my father and others were trying to count but failing miserably because they were all whacked out of their minds. I couldn't understand why we were always so broke with all that money around, and why if my father was a mechanic did he have a piece of shit car that hardly even ran.
That life lasted a couple years, until my father’s place got raided by the police. I was walking home from school and I saw the cops and SWAT team everywhere, searching the shop and the trailer. I decided to turn around and I slept at a friend’s house that night. When I went back in the morning, the place had been destroyed, which wasn’t really that much different from how it was before. My father was arrested and sent to prison, and my brother and I went to live with my mom.
She’d since remarried to a man with two kids of his own. My new stepfather was a decent man who worked for the electric company. He was a positive role model in my life at that time and to this day I am grateful for that. I learned from him a different way of conducting myself. I was somewhat of a problem child at the time, drinking and smoking and fighting, hanging out with a rough crowd. My stepfather told me something once that stuck with me, and was so opposite the message I’d received from my father. He said Trenton, I know you think I’m just being a hardass, but you don’t think that I’d like to sit back and smoke a joint and go party? I’d love to do this, but the reality is that I have a good job, a nice car and house, all you kids and your mother to look after. I’ve worked so hard for all this and for me to lose focus and risk throwing it all away is crazy. When he put it like that, it made a lot of sense to me.
When I was in 10th grade, my stepfather got a better job and we moved to a little town called Manton, in Northern Michigan. I was the new kid in a school in a new state. I got into a few fights at first, but eventually settled in and started playing sports. I wrestled, ran track, and played football. It was a great time in my young life, and seemed like things were finally beginning to turn around. But my time in Michigan ended at the beginning of my senior year, when my stepfather secured a CEO position of an electric company in Sundance, Wyoming. So we moved again, making this my third high school. Wyoming was difficult for me, but I made it through and graduated with my high school diploma. My mother was so proud of me.
I hadn’t given much thought to life after high school. It had taken so much for me to get to that point, and just graduating was overwhelming enough for me at the time. I ended up getting a job working on a coal bed methane drill rig in Wyoming. It was a tough job, but it was fun, and I was making decent money for an 18-year-old. But it gets cold in Wyoming, just like in Alaska, and the work doesn’t stop. I was working the derricks, which is about 40 feet up in the air. The wind was blowing hard and it was miserably cold, and right before freezing to death one day I quit right there on the job.
Now I was out of a job in Gillete, Wyoming. I’d learned that meth was quite popular in the drilling industry, and throughout that small town. I started selling it, and was soon hanging with the wrong crowd again. I was selling the drug I hated the most, mostly for what I saw it do to my father. Was I slowly becoming him? I got myself into lots of fights in that town and beat up a lot of people. I was angry, always looking over my shoulder, increasingly paranoid about being chased by the police. I had to get out of there.
Around this time I thought I was in love with a girl who’d been with me in Wyoming but recently moved home to Oklahoma. I figured maybe I’d join her there. I told a friend one day about my idea and he looked at me sort of crazy, told me he was moving there with his girlfriend in a few days, said I should go with them and be their roommate. So that’s what I did: I packed up what little I had and moved to Oklahoma in hopes I’d get together with this girl and live happily ever after. Well, it didn’t quite work out like that. I was just 19, young and naive, and wanted to believe in something that could make me happy, even if it could break my heart. The girl I’d been in love with wasn’t interested anymore, wouldn’t return my calls. My friend and his girlfriend decided to move back after a few months, so there I was in a new town again, not knowing a soul. I started working at K-Mart, stocking the shelves. I hated it, so I quit and got a job at Taco Bell. I liked the food, but I didn’t care much for the fast-food industry. I was renting a little studio apartment in a sketchy neighborhood, living next to some crack dealers, and thought I’d start selling a little on the side for some extra cash.
It was my father coming out in me again. Things were going alright for a while, until I started using. Never in my life had I experienced something with the ability to take such control of me. I was helpless; it was so fucking bad. I was only strung out for a few months, but in that time I lost my great job at Taco Bell and was evicted from my apartment.
I started breaking into houses and robbing people. I would just kick in the door. Thinking back on it now, I’m really lucky to still be alive: when you break into someone’s home, they have every right to protect themselves and just kill you right there. I’d done it a couple times before I decided to try a house I thought had some dope in it. I talked this kid into going with me. We didn’t know that the dude was home, and after we kicked in the door, he jumped out of bed and tackled my friend, who fell into a glass coffee table, shattering it to pieces. I started fighting the guy, got him off my friend, and we managed to get the fuck out of there. My friend was cut badly and had blood all over him. We hid out in his mom’s apartment across the street. A couple hours later, I looked out the window to see the cops in the parking lot. I even ended up being questioned by an officer who came to the door, but I managed to make up a story and they just left. To this day I don’t get how that worked, how we didn’t get arrested right there. They took our information and said a detective would be in touch with us. Later on in life, I’d hit some lows, but I think this was my rock bottom: I was homeless with a serious crack addiction. I’d tried unsuccessfully to rob a crack dealer, and now both the dealer and the cops were looking for me. I had to do something. I found a free adult rehabilitation program run by the Salvation Army. I forced myself to check in; I needed something to save me before it was too late.
The Salvation Army program was mostly full of homeless drug addicts who had nowhere else to go. I was one of them. At the time, I was still 19, and the youngest person there. I saw a bunch of characters I didn’t want to end up like; a lot of them had been through the program three or four times, in and out of jail and prison, living on the street their whole lives. The rehabilitation program basically consisted of a drug addiction class once a week and working eight to ten hours a day, six days a week. I was also required to go to church and bible study. I was given a bed and paid about $25 per week. I worked in the warehouse, sorting through donations. It gave me a chance to settle down and get my addiction under control, and if it didn’t quite help me figure out what I wanted to do, it definitely helped me figure out what I didn’t want to do. I stuck it out and completed the program nine months later.
Trenton Grant works as an offshore commercial diver in the southern United States. His autobiography Sink or Swim is being edited and published here for the first time by the raffish.