We had spent a few days in Kentucky and I thought that since we were there, it’d be neat to stop and visit the city I used to live in after college and grab some lunch on our way home. We pulled off of the old, familiar exit and stopped at a gas station to fill up before we ate. I looked across the street and saw a hotel. Nothing terribly unusual about it - just your average 2 star budget hotel that you’d find off of any major interstate. But as I stood there in the heat by the gas pump, staring across the busy road in between me and it, I almost lost my breath when the magnitude of what had happened there (and what could have happened but didn’t) hit me like a ton of bricks.
For the past twenty years I’d believed that in my young and stupid days I had some friends that were nice people who were mixed up with some minor things. Some drugs, some minor fighting, some illegal gambling…but nothing that (at least legally) would add up to much. I’d believed that because we were all such a tight knit group that they trusted me enough to, on occasion, be “allowed” to help them with things. In return they’d pay me a little here and there. Nothing regular. Nothing major. Just an occasional “thanks for your help, here - take this for your troubles” type of thing.
But as I stood there looking at the cars pulling in and out of the hotel, everything suddenly became crystal clear to me as to the truth behind what REALLY was going on back then. I hadn’t worked my way into the inner circle of a group of people and been a part of their small time, neighborhood game. I had been recruited into something much more dangerous and serious, not as a trusted woman who had proven herself cool enough to be accepted by them, but as a young, naïve girl who was dumb enough to be used by them.
With no knowledge of what I was really into at the time, I had taken two large brown grocery bags full of bricks of some drug (which at the time I just assumed was marijuana but now have no idea) to a strange man in that hotel late one night. I drove several miles from the dealer’s home on one side of town to the hotel by the interstate on the other side of town with the drugs in my trunk. I had no insurance and expired tags. On the way I got pulled over and didn’t have my driver’s license on me. The cop let me go with a warning. I continued driving to the hotel, got the bags out, walked up to the strange door and knocked - having no idea what would be waiting on the other side of the door but not feeling nervous at all because my friend said I was just dropping something off. I was so unconcerned that I didn’t even actively try to conceal what I was doing. When the large man opened the door and motioned for me to just set the bags down on the far bed, I did feel a little nervous but did it anyway. He was on the phone and told the person on the other end that I had arrived and things looked ok. He hung up and he asked if I wanted to stay and smoke some weed with him and I told him no, that I should get going. He smiled and asked me if I was sure as he stood in between me and the door but did move aside when I assured him that I had to leave. I walked out the door, to my car, got back in and drove home. The whole time having no knowledge of what I could have likely been charged with had the cop been at all suspicious, had it been a set up at the hotel, or had it somehow gotten violent.
Then I started thinking about other events that had happened with these “friends” during my time with them and the pieces just started falling together in ways that had previously been obscured. These were not innocent, dumb young people nickel and diming their way through. They had a dedicated room in their house where at least 2-3 people were (almost) always there weighing and packaging drugs. There were multiple tables, scales, cash, and guns.
One evening I was in the living room with an adorable little two year old girl who everyone just called Sissy. Her dad came in with his brothers discussing in detail about how they had just gotten back from robbing their own father for several thousand dollars worth of cocaine that they could turn into several MORE thousands worth of crack. The youngest (and craziest) brother was saying that once the dad “came to,” he probably wouldn’t be able to ID them as the ones who robbed him.
The same crazy brother came in one night bragging about how he had just used his gun to pistol whip a campus cop. The next day I remember hearing on the news that a campus cop was attacked and was hospitalized and in stable condition.
They all had jobs even though they made more money than most people I’ve known. When I asked about why, one person said it was so that it didn’t look suspicious for them to drive nice cars and have nice houses. Once I had just cashed my entire 80 hour paycheck and had all of the money stolen from my purse. One of the guys there reached in his wallet and handed me enough cash to cover it like he was handing me a $5 bill. Another man lived in the nicest neighborhood in town in a beautiful house with his wife who was the head of some department at the local hospital. But selling drugs was the major income coming out of his home.
In one of the two dice houses that one particular family ran, I remember a local cop stopping by while on duty, grabbing some free beers and getting money from the armed guy who would take the payments. At the time I thought nothing of it. Now I see that this cop was taking money to turn a blind eye to an operation that was housing illegal gambling, selling drugs and liquor (often to minors), and what I now think was most likely prostitution as well. It was a well oiled machine that generated enough money that at the end of the night it was divided up and put into bags…not wallets.
I don’t say all of this to revel in the dangerous excitement of it all (because looking back it wasn't exciting. It was a life filled with darkness and people who had no real hope). I say it because as I sat there at the gas station looking over at my two amazing sons and I thought about the Godly husband I had waiting at home and I thought about the amazing church family I was a part of, I got that “I almost got hit by a car but didn’t” feeling. One small step and my life could have been hell. One step away from addiction. A small step away from prison. Potential homelessness. I could have very easily been a victim of rape or even death. I was so blind to reality and oh so clueless as to the potential consequences of my choices.
Back at the gas station, after my heart stopped racing and I hugged my boys, I was overwhelmed with thanks to God. Because I saw clearly how during those dark days when I had turned my back on Him and spit on everything that I had been taught about what was right and wrong, and I was so embarrassingly dumb that I thought I was actually in control, He still shielded me from a fate that could have been irreversible. And not only did he shield me, He proceeded to bless me with a life that I don’t deserve.
You can allow yourself to become blind to the truth all around you. I had people along the way trying to tell me. Some were more timid and tried to politely imply that they were worried. Others were screaming at me from the rooftops to stop being a moron. I thought all of them were judgmental and overreacting.
So that was a whole lot of story and background to basically just tell you that when you are involved in things that are shady or against God’s will, you can’t always see things clearly. Don’t be dumb. Because later on, if you are fortunate enough to not have major life consequences, you will look back at your younger self and feel embarrassed over how foolish you were.