By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
January 22, 1990, was the day Olivia died. She was sitting in an idling Nissan Sentra at a traffic light, next to her toddler son. A car hit her going 80. It crushed her ribs and pierced her lungs. "Dead," the medics said. Even so, the doctors cracked open her chest and massaged her heart. They kneaded all of her back to life -- except for her memory, which stayed dead. Everything before the accident was erased. Olivia was freed from her old life the day the new one began.
From the start, it was a bigger, flashier, better life. After the accident, the small-town single mom grabbed her son, Seth, and headed for Houston, where she found a job at Anthony's restaurant, a haven for vogue socialites. The pretty, redheaded reservationist met Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and an affable wine dealer, whom she married in the Napa Valley in 1996 wearing a dress designed by Vera Wang. Houston Chronicle gossip columnist Maxine Mesinger mentioned it twice.
Two years later, Olivia gave birth to Scout. She could have become a full-time mom, but she wanted a career. She earned a real estate license and began selling $400,000 houses. "I worked with big-time socialites," she says, "big snooty women who were in the Junior League and stuff." She wanted to be in the Junior League, too.
But her family life was falling apart. Her wine-dealing husband swilled bottles at work and often chugged another two at home, passing out on the floor of her son's playroom. Although she was still in love with him, she moved out in 2002 and in with a friend. A gay man invited her one night to a party. She smoked something out of a glass pipe and felt an intense, euphoric rush, couldn't sit still and was a little paranoid. "And I was up for a couple of days after that," says Olivia, whose name has been changed, along with others in this story. "And I was like, 'What is this stuff?' "
" 'That's crystal, girl.' "
All of a sudden, Olivia couldn't get enough of it. She and four-year-old Scout moved that summer into the gay man's apartment, where she smoked crystal meth with him constantly, rarely slept and hit every after-party she could find, wearing a Prada backpack full of drugs. "I lost myself," she says. Care of Scout fell to whoever was around: friends, family, sometimes near-strangers. Methamphetamine erased her thoughts and worries. For the second time in her life, she felt like she was starting fresh.
Three years later, Olivia is leaning over a table at a Montrose cafe, her hair prematurely gray, her hands twitchy. She stopped using meth less than three months ago and ran headlong into a past that hadn't gone away, that had instead sprouted into a two-headed monster. Seth, her 17-year-old elder son, recently told her that he's a meth addict, too. He wants to move to Beaumont and go on a drug binge. Olivia fears she'll relapse if she struggles too hard to keep him at home. So she's left the job of swaying Seth up to his drug counseling group, which is meeting with him right now a few blocks away.
"Hopefully they're going to talk him out of going back to Beaumont," she says, "because I can't do anything."
Only a few years ago, meth was a scary drug injected by burly, tattooed men in motorcycle gangs. Truckers called it speed and crank and downed it on red-eyed coast-to-coast hauls. They still do, but the typical meth user is now almost as likely to be a soccer mom. Beginning in California, the meth trend has swept eastward. And it's increasingly wreaking havoc on regular families and their children.
"It's just everywhere," says Investigator Robert DiMambro of the Houston Police Department's Methamphetamine Initiative Group. "And I think the mind-set of the public now is that they're not scared of it. They are not scared at all."
In fact, busy moms often feel like meth makes them sexier wives and better parents. It suppresses their appetites and helps them stay up for weeks. They can party at night and focus with tireless obsession during the day on whatever chore comes to mind. "There's nothing you couldn't do," says Sarah, a New Caney mother of three. She once stayed up three days straight on meth, making uniforms for her son's Little League team.
But just as easily, meth moms slip up. Sarah lay down for a quick nap just before the game, slept ten hours and left the team stranded. Meth users can crash for days, forcing their kids to fend for themselves. Paranoid, irritable and ultimately obsessed with getting a fix, they can forget to make meals or fly into a sudden, abusive rage. "Meth addicts don't care about their children," says Rusty Smith, manager of the Montgomery County Drug Court, where meth abusers dominate the rolls. "They don't care about anything. They just care about meth."
In a recent survey by the National Association of Counties, two in five child caseworkers reported that meth had led to a rise in the number of children taken from homes. Maria Mejorado, a Montgomery County Child Protective Services officer, has visited meth houses where parents long ago stopped paying for electricity, gas or water. Dishes are piled high in the sink. She estimates that 30 percent of the children she takes in come from families wracked by meth.