By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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He is also remarkably sociable. Sitting with a visitor, he busts dance moves to music from his mom's cell phone, picks it up when it rings and admonishes callers from her drug counseling group. Riffing on a familiar tune, he sings: "We are gay-amily!" Family for many meth kids is often haphazard, making it hard for them to know whom to heed or trust. "Just saying you only need to go with safe people, they don't know what that means," Gomez says, "because the person in their lives who was supposed to be the safest never was."
Yet as far as Seth was concerned, Olivia was his safest option. Released from jail, and then a detox program, he finally drove to Houston early this summer. Olivia was clean again and ready to help him. Soon after he moved into her apartment, he left a seven-page letter on her pillow detailing his life on drugs. She found a job for him in the Galleria at Abercrombie Kids. Her dream of wrapping her arms around both Seth and Scout had come true.
One night in July, Seth told her a story about a teenage friend in Houston. A gay man invited the teenager and a group of young guys to his house. The man gave them meth and encouraged them to have sex with one another. The man took pictures. The straight guys could bang a prostitute who lived there. Olivia said, "Really?" Seth enrolled in her drug treatment group a few days later. He told her that evening that the teenager had been him. And the gay photographer knew her. He'd been part of her scene.
About a week later, Olivia attended her last rehab meeting. She'd been clean 65 days and was graduating that night. Everybody in the program stood in a circle, passed around a keychain and told her something inspirational. At the end of the circle, the keychain came to Seth. He gave it to her. "You've shown me the way," he said. "You've shown me that people can change."
But Seth was going down a different path. He came home late at night, breaking Olivia's curfew. "I knew immediately that he had started doing crystal," she says. It was late July. She confronted him. And he threatened to move out.
After his own rehab meeting about a week later, Olivia says, her son's mind was made up. He would drive south with her sister and walk out into life on his own. He would stay with no one in particular. He would wander. "I live my life moment by moment," he told her. "I really don't know where I'm going."
Olivia said she would hold on to his stuff. That he could always call her. That she loved him very much. That she'd be here for him when he was ready to come home.
And she let him go.
Sitting beneath a tree in Hermann Park, Olivia clutches a towel and speaks firmly. "I know he will make the right decision," she says. "And he just needs to hit rock bottom. He's not ready to get clean and sober. I think he thought he was, but he's not. He's 17 years old."
Olivia and Scout squeeze into a front row at Lakewood Church and sit with ten gay men, most of them recovering meth addicts. They're here early. The stage lights are still dark. Background singers in the shadows slip in sound checks. "We've got the glory," they sing tentatively.
Olivia is also testing out her faith, feeling out the idea that her life is destiny. During her drug rehab, counselors had brought her back to that day her life faded to black. She and Seth were in the mangled car. Her heart was frozen. Olivia doesn't think God saved it just to break it again. He wanted to make it stronger.
And so Olivia swallows her sadness. She will help the people who want her help. "I'm here for a reason," she says of her life on meth, "and I totally believe it's to reach out to people about this stuff."
The stage comes to life, purple, white and yellow. Olivia swings her hands to the music in wide claps. The pastor says he believes sick minds can be healed. Bodies can be replenished. "We believe that when we leave here," he says, "we'll be better than when we came in."
Scout is standing among the trunks of legs, struggling to see through the crowd. He trips and falls. Bending down, Olivia brings him toward her and tightly hugs him to her chest.