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Growing up, I can’t remember a time when Darron wasn’t a crackhead.

But now, as I sit under the massive oak tree in Mary’s front yard, chatting with my 47-year-old cousin, my eyes see him a little bit differently.

As a child, I didn’t understand what was wrong with my big cousin. And frankly, I didn’t care. He was more than 20 years my senior and, at nine years old, trying to figure out what was wrong with Darron was the last thing on my mind.

I was preoccupied with the carefree things of the world, as I should have been. Riding bikes down massive hills leading into Kenoman Park, catching fireflies late at night, and making up skits and plays with my favorite cousins.

For me, Mary’s house was the center of my universe and going there was the best part of my day.  Somehow all the kids in my family found themselves there, and my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, always found herself babysitting. But nobody complained. We all loved each other, and we loved to explore and be in her home.

Mary’s house was a mecca of creativity. It was there I discovered my ability to imagine the impossible.

But it was also there, in the shadows of those childhood memories, that Darron loomed. A big but seemingly harmless figure at times, he seemed to be present and absent at the same time.

Although I always remember him being polite, waving hello and goodbye with a beaming smile on his face, he seemed odd to me, and it was clear the adults didn’t respect him. You could sense the annoyance and distaste when they addressed him. Extreme disgust rang in the air whenever his name was mentioned.

I didn’t understand what was occurring as a kid. All I knew was that when Darron walked into a room, every woman clutched her pocketbook a little bit tighter.

What I didn’t know at that time was that my cousin stumbled into crack addiction long before I was born.

At 18, Darron started smoking primos while working as a cook at a local chicken joint. It was recreational. He would mix a little bit of crushed crack cocaine with cigarette guts or some weed, if he had the extra cash.

He’d never done drugs beforehand. Every blue moon he’d have a wine cooler, but nothing more than that. Smoking primos was a social gesture and, in the early ’90s, everybody seemed to be doing it. So he started doing it too.

After smoking primos for a few months, his mother started noticing something was wrong. All of a sudden, Darron was always broke. Once he shelled out a few dollars to his mom for rent, he’d blow his remaining money on crack and contraband.

But he didn’t believe he had a problem. It wasn’t until he bought his first car that he began the descent into an addicted lifestyle.

“When I first got my car I was introduced to the pipe, smoking it out of the pipe,” Darron said. “And I got addicted.”

For him, smoking primos was optional. It was something cool to do, a trend. But the crack pipe was next level. It eliminated all fillers; focused the lighter flame through the glass tube and set the rock ablaze, providing him with an extraordinary high like no other.

A high my cousin would chase for the rest of his life.

The crack pipe didn’t just open the door to a new high. It carved a path to a new game with new rules that Darron had to adapt to in order to maintain that feeling he obtained every time he lit the pipe.

His spending increased as he started getting his friends high and supplying the drugs. Whereas before he was spending $300 a month smoking primos, he now found himself spending over $250 a day on raw crack cocaine. He frequented crack houses, providing drugs for himself and his addict friends.

“I just wasn’t feeding myself. I was feeding other people,” he said. “I was going to crack houses and, of course when you go to people’s houses, you’ve got to give the house something. If you smoking, you’ve got to give them something. That’s how I remember.”

His addiction was spiraling out of control, and so were his finances.

When Darron was laid off from his job as a cafeteria worker, he found himself unable to feed his habit. So he amassed himself new title to go with crackhead.

Thief.

“When I got laid off, even though I was getting my unemployment, I still was stealing from the family,” Darron said. “I used to go in my mother’s purse. That was harsh.”

And this is what I remember most about my older cousin from childhood. Tales of him ransacking his mother’s purse and pawning family valuables. Growing up, it was a cardinal rule not to leave your pocketbook or expensive gifts around. We all expected Darron to snatch what he could.

Even family friends knew he was a thief and an addict. We all were just waiting on the next moment where he would steal again. And it always came.

From televisions to jewelry to designer clothing, Darron would steal it all, to the point where everyone who lived at Mary’s house had to hide their belongings from him, or they would be gone.

My older cousin, and Darron’s older sister, Deborah, 48, remembers every theft committed against her by her younger brother and the way his choices have impacted their relationship.

“He has stolen more than a TV,” she said. “My momma’s rings and jewelry, he’s stolen all that stuff; he has stolen some of everything, that boy.”

Although Deborah is aware of her brother’s addiction and thievery, she said their mother Mary spent 30 years in denial, despite what he’d done to her. Deborah even recalls times Darron stole from his little brother, Derrick, who has cerebral palsy.

“Derrick had a thousand dollars worth of clothes and hadn’t taken any of the tags off,” Deborah said. “We’d just got back from the Ozarks. They were in the room, and they just walked right on out of here. We had just got back, and that boy didn’t get a chance to wear any of that stuff.”

Decades of lies, theft and addiction has shattered the trust between Deborah and her younger brother, leading to fights, arguments, and constant chaos.

“I don’t trust Darron,” she said. “I mean, you know, I’ve gotten used to it. I love my brother, but you know how it is. Those drugs have taken over.”

His addiction is the reason there is a lack of respect for Darron that can be seen by the eldest in our family, and even from the youngest generations. I even admit to being less polite with him sometimes.

And while the drugs seem so much more important to him, Darron does love his family and knows the pain he has caused us all. He’s not entirely focused on getting his next high. He realizes the damage he’s done to the people who are the closest to him and knows that things will probably never be the same.

“What I’ve learned is that my family, the way they treat me and talk to me now, that’s karma,” he said. “You can forgive, but you can never forget.”

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