[Metroactive Features]

[ Features Index | San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Shooting Straight

[whitespace] Elisa Zeniga Facing the Truth: Recovering crank addict Elisa Zeniga says she was up to slamming (injecting) half a gram of crank a day before deciding to quit. Above, she attends to her 5-year-old son, Isaiah.

Christopher Gardner



During 18 years of crank addiction, East San Jose resident Elisa Zeniga had tried to quit many times before. But it never mattered as much as now. Metro chronicles her hopeful and harrowing journey into sobriety.

By Michael Learmonth


Several months ago, reporter Michael Learmonth was contacted by an east San Jose resident who said she had been deeply affected by a Metro cover story published on Aug. 15, 1996, titled "Go Girls," about young women users of methamphetamine, commonly known as "crank."

"That story is my story," Elisa Zeniga said. "And now I'm 42 years old." After 18 years of addiction, Zeniga said, she was ready to kick, and she wanted Metro to document her journey into sobriety. Her hope: that it would inspire others--some of the crank users in the valley, or the mothers of crank babies born every year at local hospitals. Although her name has been altered to protect the privacy of her children and family, the story of Elisa Zeniga is very real.
--Editor


THE DAY I MEET 42-year-old Elisa Zeniga, she's dressed in a brown sweater and a short velour V-neck dress. Her long, thin, cola-colored hair is pulled back into a barrette. Her penciled eyes are a light grayish green that tend to take on whatever color she's wearing.

When she takes the time, she can still make herself look pretty. But it gets harder. There are the dark blotches on her face that need covering. In summer, she hides the marks on her left arm: the two raised scars on the soft underside of her elbow, the long dark furrow of a collapsed vein she calls "Ravenscourt" after the street she lived on when she was using it, and her newest mark, a short, swollen vessel with a healing scab on the side of her wrist.

It's been three days since she's used that vein--her longest spell without crank since Christmas. Before that, she'd kicked for a few weeks last summer. And then for seven months five years ago when she learned she was pregnant with her second child, Isaiah. Her life is marked by the times she's tried to quit. They are the dull, achey periods of consciousness that punctuate an 18-year blur of methamphetamine addiction.

"I think I've got it beat, then I feel weak and depressed," she says. "I'm trying to think back to when I didn't need drugs. I could get up. I had two jobs. I used to work, stay up, teach dance. I didn't need anything. I had high heels. My legs were strong. My body was strong. My eyelashes were strong. I had energy."

The first time she snorted a line of crank was on her 24th birthday on New Year's Eve in 1980, a gift from a friend of the family who was also known as "Crank Diane." Zeniga was a legal secretary at the time, making $3,000 a month and taking night classes at Evergreen Valley College.

"I used to do it on weekends; it was a weekend thing," she says. "Then it became an everyday thing."

The weekends crept up to Thursday and started stretching through Monday and into Tuesday. She started doing pick-me-up lines at work, using the porcelain tops of the toilet tanks. At first she snorted it through a straw off a mirror, or smoked it off a shard of aluminum foil. Five years ago she became a "slammer"--a person who cooks crank into a solution and injects it with a needle.

"First I remember a quarter [of a gram] would last a whole week," she says. "Now it takes about a half just to feel all right."

She became pregnant with her first child as an addict in her 20s. It was stillborn, suffocated in utero when the fetus stopped getting oxygen. At age 30 she got married and had her second child, Angelica, who is now 12 years old. Zeniga and Angelica's father divorced, and five years ago Zeniga hooked up with a new boyfriend and had her third child, Isaiah, who was born without the temporal lobe of his brain.

Speed Demons

AT THE TIME when she first calls Metro, Zeniga is living with Angelica, Isaiah and Isaiah's father, Luis, in a two-bedroom house with a landscaped front yard, a bay window and a garage near the end of Story Road in east San Jose. With a Section 8 certificate, she receives $1,075 per month in state and county aid for her children. Angelica's sixth-grade picture hangs on the wall, and Zeniga shows me a picture of Isaiah at school in a special harness used to prop him up.

She says this is her third day off crank, and her withdrawal symptoms are beginning to intensify. Her joints ache, she feels listless. And last night, she tells me, the nightmares started. She dreamed she was shooting up again with a huge syringe. Inside the barrel of the syringe, fish were swimming around.

Today Zeniga sits ashen-faced at the kitchen table overlooking her tidy front yard. The corners of her mouth are turned down and periodically she starts to cry. In the kitchen, dirty dishes sit in a pile alongside Isaiah's feeding tubes; the only way he can be fed is through a tube leading to his stomach.

Two weeks ago, she tells me tearfully, Angelica found a stash of needles in a drawer and demanded to go live with her grandmother (Zeniga's mother). Faced with losing her daughter for good and believing that Social Services or the police could take away her disabled son, she's trying, once again, to kick.

She decides to call Gateway, the first stop for county services for people needing help with drugs and alcohol. A counselor promptly answers the line, but presents Zeniga with a conundrum. She cannot be admitted to Mariposa, the county's only all-female rehabilitation center, because their policy requires that she has used drugs in the last 24 hours. In order to get a bed in Mariposa, Zeniga would have to use again.

photo Days of Future Past: Zeniga holds her high school graduation photo, taken in younger and healthier days before she began using crank. She says she snorted her first line when she was 24.

Christopher Gardner



Mother's Little Helper

IN ZENIGA'S LIFE AS AN addict, mornings are always the worst. They start with the pain of getting up and listening to every cell in her body scream out for the next fix. Then, after the injection, comes relief, along with feelings of disappointment, anger and guilt.

On some mornings, Zeniga and her live-in boyfriend, Luis, would fix together. On one such morning, a Monday morning in March six weeks before she went into rehab, Zeniga woke up immobilized by the dull ache in her bones.

"I couldn't even get up and iron Angelica's shirt," she remembers.

But then, she tells me, she heard the clink of the lock on the top drawer of her dresser and knew relief was on the way. Luis took their works out of the drawer, set up a syringe and let Zeniga shoot up first. After she gave herself a shot in the arm, she started writing in her diary while waiting for her bloodstream to carry the toxic brew of muriatic acid, ethyl ether, lye and ephedrine to her brain. It didn't take long.

"Repeated struggles," she wrote. "The addiction has won again. I've lost my self-respect. The addiction relieves me from anxiety, depression, emotional distress. But this is true agony instead of pleasure. I feel pain. I know, Lord, that you are mad at me because of the drug and because of my kids. I have not given my heart to them lately."

As the crank takes hold of her neurotransmitters, Zeniga's handwriting starts slanting off the page.

"I'm yearning for God's help now. I'm thinking if I write it down, He will hear it. Luis can help us both. If he quits, I quit."

That night, Zeniga writes another entry in her diary. Luis has returned from a nighttime drug-buying foray. And even though she wanted him to score, she confesses in her diary that she wishes he would pay more attention to her.

"Luis is back from getting more drugs. I feel like nobody to him, but he seems to think what he's doing is important. He has proven that no part of him cares. He does not want anything from me except when he gets lucky (when we have sex). That's the only time I feel close to him."

Throughout the years of her relationship and escalating drug use, Zeniga has often blamed Luis for her addiction. She once told me she even felt Luis was in control of both their addictions, that he could go cold turkey if he wanted to, while she needed help.

Her long-held resentments and beliefs finally bubbled to the surface the day after contacting Metro. She told Luis that he would have to clean up or leave.

"You're just pulling me down," she told him. "You're not helping me."

Luis, she says, flew into a rage and threatened to kill both Zeniga and their son with the 10-inch knife he was wielding. At one point, Luis shoved Zeniga and she fell against a television set, leaving a 4-inch purple-and-yellow bruise on her back. The police arrived, wrote a restraining order for Zeniga, and hauled Luis off to jail.

The next morning, Zeniga calls to tell me what happened. Luis is gone, she says, but she's suffering like never before.

"I have to have a little bit just to get me through this," she says, panic in her voice. "I don't need a lot. I just need a little bit. Just having that thought makes me crazy. The drug is talking to me!"

Elisa Zeniga Hugs, Not Drugs: At one point in her recovery journey, Zeniga entered the county's Mariposa treatment center for women, which she described as a 12-step slumber party.

Christopher Gardner



Lemon Drop

WHEN I ARRIVE THE following afternoon, the special-education school bus is dropping off Isaiah. The driver pushes Isaiah's souped-up wheelchair onto the lift and belts him in. Isaiah is 5, but he weighs only 30 pounds. He cannot walk, crawl or even sit up without help. Zeniga calls him her "disabled baby." He is barely sentient, but seems to respond to his mother's voice and sometimes smiles when she kisses him on the mouth. Isaiah's head and his thick shock of black hair jerk about as the creaky lift lowers him to the driveway. He's wearing a bib that says "Spit Happens."

I push him up the driveway to the house. Zeniga's 23-year-old niece, Jena, is there, a tall, bright San Jose State student and glass-blowing artisan who has been encouraging Zeniga to get into treatment. She is one of only a few relatives Zeniga has left who haven't given up on her, or who aren't using drugs themselves.

The pink copy of the restraining order sits on the kitchen table along with the knife with a carved wooden handle.

"Just get rid of that knife," Jena implores. "He loves that thing."

Isaiah's arrival temporarily distracts Zeniga from her predicament. We sit on the mauve carpet in the living room and Jena and Zeniga take turns fawning over Isaiah, kissing him, massaging his stiff limbs. He has periodic seizures that cause his body to shake like a Tickle Me Elmo doll with fresh batteries.

"That's just his pager going off," Zeniga says jokingly of this everyday occurrence.

But Zeniga's demeanor has changed since the morning. When we spoke on the phone just a few hours earlier, she was suffering. Now, despite the incident the night before and the horrible physical and emotional pains she was feeling this morning, the corners of her mouth are turned up and her eyes are darting about. She keeps complaining about her pains, but it doesn't quite seem genuine. She says she's straight, but her face is telling me a different story. I ask her straight out if she's used, and there's silence.

Then, quietly, she tells me a friend named "Sherry" visited today, and the happiness starts quickly draining out of her face. Sherry is a cousin who sells crank.

"She gave me a little bit and I did it," Zeniga sobs. "When I saw that big knife and I knew that I had to cope with today and cope with everything that's going on. I thought it was going to make me feel better, but it only made me feel worse. I feel so guilty, too. I feel so guilty and I don't want to be here!"

Zeniga says she relapsed with two quarters of yellowish crank called "Lemon Drop."

Baby Saint

IN PAST CONVERSATIONS, Zeniga has taken responsibility for her addiction and seems to talk honestly about the cravings that send her seeking comfort in a crank-infused high. But today she's telling me that her addiction is Sherry's fault.

"She's always here when I'm falling," she says. "I don't understand it. I'm not even close with her. It's like she's making a fool out of me."

Soon after Sherry arrived, Zeniga got high--but not too high, she says, to hear Sherry talk about her to a friend on the phone.

"She don't have nobody," Sherry had whispered. "Her family's not going to help her. She's going to need me."

"Sherry's not welcome here," Zeniga insists after recalling the conversation. "But what other friends do I have?"

As Zeniga tells me this, I glance at Jena to gauge her reaction. She was sitting here, after all, when Zeniga tried to tell us she was sober when clearly she was not. But it's as if she's tuned out the conversation, choosing instead to focus on Isaiah.

"At first I was an optimistic person," Jena says. "But then I got my heart broken. It's to the point where my brain won't even ask the question."

Jena and Zeniga hook Isaiah up to a feeding tube leading to a pump on a hospital I.V. stand which sends 33 measured drops a minute of liquid nutritional drink straight into his belly. A dream catcher and rosary also hang from the stand. Isaiah is fed either with the pump or with a bolis feeder, which is just a simple tube attached to a small vial which is held above his stomach and uses gravity to push the food through the tube. Zeniga uses another special pump to suck phlegm out of his mouth and throat.

Isaiah cannot communicate or understand what is going on around him, but he does seem to perceive distress in the room. When his mother cries and talks about drugs, he sometimes lets out a big sigh. But he never cries.

"He's a saint, Michael," she says. "He does nothing wrong, he never needs anything. You get a sense of peace around him. I wish I could be more like Isaiah."

Ironically, now there's nothing standing between Zeniga and a bed for the weekend at Mariposa. She makes the call to a counselor, who takes down her information.

"My name's Elisa and it's for methamphetamine," she says. "I feel like I need to go to a detox hospital and they told me I can't get into Mariposa or any hospital unless I had used within the last 48 hours. Well, I relapsed."

Isaiah
Christopher Gardner

He Never Cires: Zeniga said her main inspiration for quitting crank has been her children, including her middle-school-aged daughter and her 5 year-old son, Isaiah (above), who was born without the temporal lobe of his brain.

Shot in the Dark

ZENIGA ARRANGES to check in to Mariposa on Friday. A typical stay at the center is three to five days with an option to be assessed for a 40- to 60-day residential program. Jena has agreed to take care of Isaiah over the weekend, and Friday afternoon Zeniga is busy packing up her and Isaiah's things.

"I think the most important thing is to take myself and to take my toothbrush," she says. She's wearing comfy "recovery clothes," a long white cotton sweater over black leggings.

When she talks to Isaiah, she gently shakes his little body and answers for him in falsetto.

"Are you mad at me, 'Zaiah?"

"Yeah, Mommy, you'd better get your life right. I mean it!"

But Zeniga's getting nervous.

"They could take me right now, but I'm thinking about Isaiah being away from me. I'm nervous about going and withdrawing really bad."

Zeniga decides to call Mariposa to check to see if there's still a bed for her.

"So I can come anytime?" she asks. "Is there support there? My legs hurt and I have nightmares ... OK, so 7 or 8 would be good?"

She starts trying to pry information out of the person on the phone. They tell her it's a "social withdrawal"--that is, without medication or a hospital stay--with about six other people. But they won't tell her anything more.

"So I can come anytime soon? ... As soon as I'm ready? ... Save me a bed!" she says cheerfully before hanging up.

Jena shows up at about 6:30pm on Friday to take Isaiah. Another friend delivers Zeniga to Mariposa, an 80-bed facility off 101 in the south county. She spends Friday night, Saturday and Sunday in detox and checks out Sunday night.

It's midday Monday the next time I see her. She's wearing a long shirt and shorts, and she's lying on the couch in her den. Isaiah is lying next to her on a blanket. His contorted body is naked from the waist up, his black hair is pushed back and he has a dazed look on his face. He came down with a fever while Zeniga was away, and Jena took him to the hospital. Now his fever's down, but Zeniga mops his brow periodically with a wet cloth.

She catches me looking at the collection of junk food spread out on her coffee table.

"Candy," she says, reciting a recovery rule, "you can't be without it."

The feast includes a hamburger and fries, ketchup, Cheetos, a Bit O' Honey, Tootsie Rolls, Sweet Tarts, beef jerky, pistachios and a Pepsi.

That morning Jena and her boyfriend, a dreadlocked white guy named Red, stopped by. Zeniga and Red took all of her rigs out into the front yard and smashed them with a decorative orange sandstone next to a small bubbling fountain at Zeniga's door. They swept the shards into a sock and threw them away.

"I have no craving," Zeniga tells me. "No craving at all."

But as she's talking, the corners of her mouth turn down and she starts to cry.

"I wanna be a normal person, like you," she says. "Not everyone's a drug addict, you know. I gotta get rid of Sherry."

Isaiah's lying there, like he always does. Zeniga looks down on her cherubic son and then speaks for him in her little puppet falsetto.

"Don't be a drug addict, Mommy! That's why I got sick because you were gone. I gave myself a fever because I didn't know where you were!"

To hear Zeniga tell it, detox at Mariposa was something between a marathon 12-step meeting and a slumber party. It consisted mostly of eating, sleeping, drinking water and going to meetings and seminars with other women who had checked in when she did. The majority of the other women, she says, were there for crank and alcohol.

Pauline Casper is a counselor at Mariposa, short for Mariposa Lodge of ARH Recovery Homes. Casper tells me Mariposa is the only women-only detox center in the county.

"It makes a lot of sense because [when] women don't have the influence of men, they can focus better," she says. "Women get clean and sober with women, and you don't have that relationship stuff get in the way."

Casper says the main purpose of detox is for the women to get some rest and enough of their health back to face treatment. Women spend time in seminars focused on relapse prevention, anger management, sexuality, and grief and loss. There are cultural diversity groups, drug and alcohol education groups, GED classes and 12-step meetings.

The center gets three-quarters of its funding from Santa Clara County and its fee is based on the patients' ability to pay.

Zeniga kept her stay short at Mariposa. I ask her why she didn't stay longer or if she thinks she'll take advantage of any follow-up treatment. First, she explains, she doesn't have a car. Then, of course, Isaiah needs constant care. Then she says she worries that recovery might be harder on her kids than when she was fixing every day.

"What are you going to do, go cold turkey? Kick?" she asks rhetorically. "Then your kids have to put up with you kicking, crying."

Then, as if realizing her addiction had started to speak for her, she stiffens her resolve.

"I don't have to use," she says, as if trying to convince herself. "I'm straight and that's the God-honest truth."

wrist Where Scars Are Born: Zeniga's wrist shows the ravages of her 18-year swings between drug-induced highs and guilty, depressed lows.

Christopher Gardner



Family Ties

ELISA ZENIGA WAS BORN in Detroit on New Year's Eve, 1956, the third child of an eventual six. She has two older sisters and three younger brothers. When her mother became pregnant for the third time, her father started to pray, "Please, God, send me a boy."

He wagered 16 cases of beer that little Elisa would be a boy and was so furious when she was born that he refused to pick up Elisa or her mother at the hospital. Forty-two years later Zeniga's mother still cries about this. When his fourth child was born, a son, he was so relieved he named the child "Jesus."

Zeniga's mother, Olga, married her father, Gabriel Zeniga, when they were 17 and 19 respectively. Soon after they were married, they immigrated to the United States from Guerrero, Mexico, as farm workers and settled in Detroit. The family spent summers on various farms in Ohio picking tomatoes and other vegetables.

Zeniga's father was a heavy drinker and soon became involved in the drug trade. Olga remembers the marijuana plants in the backyard she watered because she thought they were tomatoes. One of Zeniga's earliest memories is of their home in Detroit being raided by police. Zeniga was in the bathtub with her sisters when the police found a bag of "weed" in the toilet tank.

Her father was sentenced to prison, but her mother told Zeniga and her siblings he had gone into the Army.

While the father was in prison, Olga decided to pack up the family Ford and drive Route 66 to California. She found a job on a farm in Santa Clara County and the family ended up in east San Jose. When her father arrived, Zeniga says, she knew he hadn't been in the service.

"Who would come back from the service without a suntan?" she says.

Zeniga's mother started working as a domestic, and on weekends the family would comb the dump for odds and ends to sell at the flea market. They bought a house on the east side for $16,000, which Zeniga's mother ultimately paid off all by herself.

After getting out of prison, her father became a high-roller in the South Bay drug trade. Zeniga remembers the garage behind the house was used to store bricks of marijuana, cocaine and pills of boundless variety. He had a movie screen in there where he and his associates watched pornographic films.

Despite his disappointment that Zeniga had been born a girl, he started to dote on his youngest daughter. Zeniga remembers asking him for some money to buy a pair of stylish bell-bottoms for school. He told her to take what she needed from a roll of bills stashed under the driver's seat of his pickup. Zeniga remembers they were all big bills, like twenties and hundreds. She took $20 for a pair of blue ones, $20 for a pair of brown ones and $20 for a pair of red bell-bottoms, knowing her father wouldn't notice, or if he did, he wouldn't care.

But he could be violent. Once, when Zeniga was about 12, he came home and saw her talking to a neighborhood boy on the corner. That night he came drunk into her bedroom and tore off her nightgown.

"Is that what you wanna be?" he screamed. "You wanna be a little whore?"

When she was in high school, Zeniga says, her three brothers started using drugs and beating her. Once, she ended up in the hospital, with San Jose police imploring her to testify against one of her brothers. When her mother arrived, she told Zeniga that if she told the police about the beating, the family would disown her.

After the beating she tried to commit suicide three times. She had her stomach pumped twice: once after taking an entire bottle of Dristan, and the second time after swallowing 12 codeine pills. Finally, she tried to hang herself with an extension cord in the backyard. A cousin managed to get her down after finding her, lips blue, foaming at the mouth and losing consciousness.

"I was just beginning to see the light," she remembers.

Through this, she managed to do well enough in school, graduated from Yerba Buena High and even took night classes at Evergreen Valley College. Within a few years, she had a flat in downtown San Jose and a car. She says she wore stylish short skirts and worked as a legal secretary.

But then came New Year's Eve 1980, when Crank Diane gave her a line for her 24th birthday.

list Write Stuff: Elisa's refrigerator reminder list.

Christopher Gardner



Big Chill

IT IS NOW 18 AND a one-half years later, May 26, 1999. Zeniga has gotten up and celebrated her 28th day clean. Initially, her goal was to count the days and then the years until she could say that she'd been clean for as long as she was a hardened crankster. If she sticks with it, that day will come soon after she turns 60. But today Zeniga got news that makes her wonder if she will live that long.

When I arrive unannounced at midmorning, Zeniga greets me at the door. She'd been walking on air since her 12-year-old daughter, Angelica, had visited her two weeks earlier on Mother's Day. Better still, Angelica had moved back home.

Now, both Angelica and Isaiah are at school, but Zeniga's mood is dark. She sits down at her kitchen table and starts wiping tears away with her long painted fingernails.

"I just found out I have hepatitis C," she says.

Just last summer, she had been hospitalized briefly at O'Connor Hospital for liver pains. A doctor said that her liver had been weakened from infectious agents, probably from dirty needles. She tested negative then for hepatitis C.

But last week she had seen a doctor again as part of her recovery aftercare. Her blood tests showed negative for HIV, but now her hepatitis C test had turned positive.

"I talked to the doctor this morning," she says. "I must have caught it recently. The only people I was using needles with was Monica and Luis. I'm going to have to tell them."

Just then, we spot Zeniga's best friend, Monica, walking up the street with her two children. Zeniga is like a mother figure to Monica, and they've known each other most of their lives. Now 24, Monica was just 6 when her mother, Crank Diane, gave Zeniga her first taste of crank. Zeniga returned the favor more than a decade later when she showed Monica how to stick a needle in her arm.

Now Monica lives in a group house full of addicts with her two children. The younger one is a precocious 4-year-old. The older boy is smaller than his brother and is almost completely deaf. He was born, Zeniga says, with his intestines on the outside of his belly.

Monica arrives at the screen door and comes in. Her boys are hungry and she's come to ask to borrow some cheese. Zeniga doesn't have any cheese but offers her six baking potatoes and half a box of Cheerios.

When Zeniga talks to Monica, or any younger female she cares about, she addresses them as "Mija," short for "mi hija" (my daughter).

"Monica, I tested positive for hep C," she says. "You have to get checked, Mija. Do you know what hep C is? Mija, we shared needles, this isn't a joke."

Monica has a distant, annoyed look on her face. She has big, wide-set brown eyes, petulant lips that she paints in two colors, and the beginning outline of a tattoo on her calf.

"Are you tweaking?" Zeniga asks, using the term for high on crank.

Monica makes a dismissive click with her mouth.

"I haven't did it since we did it last week."

"You mean you did it last week," Zeniga corrects.

Monica catches the drift and starts to leave.

The comment rattles me. I want to believe that Monica had misspoken, or that she had it wrong, but I'm just not certain. Throughout Elisa Zeniga's recovery, now at 28 days, I've dropped in on her, sometimes in the morning, sometimes at night. Throughout that time, Zeniga insisted that she hadn't relapsed. When she checked out of Mariposa early almost a month ago, bubbling over with recovery lingo, I had my doubts. It was the first of the month, her aid checks had arrived, and it just seemed too easy. But over the following days and months, Zeniga convinced me otherwise.

Luis was in jail. Angelica came home. Zeniga re-established ties with her mother. She started going to church, she volunteered at a festival and started filling her life with activities and diligently--obsessively--counting her days clean.

She had started to rebuild her relationship with her daughter.

"My daughter said 'I love you' this morning and she never says that," she told me at one point. "It felt so good. The other day she came up to me and was crying, 'Mom, you can never have another joint or another drink.' "

Jena believes in her aunt. She thinks the prospect of losing Angelica is the incentive that's making Zeniga's recovery work. Losing Angelica was one of the reasons Zeniga told me she'd come to despise the drug.

"I hate the drug," Zeniga had said to me in our first phone conversation. "My daughter won't talk to me. I was 13 when I found out about my father and now my daughter is doing the same thing."

But her relationship with her daughter has become increasingly rocky--almost worse with each day she stays clean. A day after the "I love you" comment, Angelica and Zeniga had a fight. Zeniga threw something in Angelica's direction and spilled a glass of milk on her yearbook, which she had just brought home from school. Angelica picked up the yearbook and started frantically ripping pages out, one by one. When Zeniga tried to stop her, Angelica screamed, "Hit me, dammit. Forget it!" and ran out of the house. Then she knocked on a neighbor's door and called the police.

"Take me to juvenile," she said.

When the police arrived, they sat down with Zeniga and Angelica. Zeniga told the officers she was now 46 days clean and was trying to be a better parent. One of the officers explained to Zeniga, "She's used to dealing with you when you're high." Another told Angelica, "You should listen to your mother. You don't want to go to juvenile. It's a bad place."

Zeniga desperately wants Angelica to choose a different path than she did. But Angelica is starting to make decisions for herself, and Zeniga is only just beginning to realize the impact of being a crank addict around her daughter for so many years. Angelica haunts her mother by repeating a new mantra: "Mom, I learned it from you!"

Gil Villagran, a lecturer at San Jose State's College of Social Work, says that sometimes having a parent who's an addict is tougher than having no parent at all.

"There's this emptiness," Villagran explains. "These kids grow up thinking they don't matter enough. They think, 'The crank is more important than I am.' "

Elisa Zeniga Road to Recovery: It's been 45 days since Zeniga checked into rehab and she says the changes have been hard on her home life.

Christopher Gardner



Straight Shot

ON MONDAY, JUNE 14, 45 days after going to Mariposa, I ask Zeniga if she'd like to take a drug test. She'd been bringing up the subject of a test for weeks, eager to prove to me and to her family that she was clean.

"Yeah, I want to take a drug test," she says, so I pick her up on the east side, and we drive to a private testing center near the corner of Meridian and San Carlos. We opt for the urine test. The hair analysis would show up positive, since it tests during the past three months, and the patch is notorious for false positives. The urine test is accurate, but can only screen for methamphetamine use during the previous four to five days. It would show, at least, if Zeniga had made it through the weekend.

The technician asks Zeniga for her purse and she goes to the bathroom and returns with a sample. The technician dips the test strip in a cup and we wait. The screening method, called an Immunochromatograph, screens for cocaine, methamphetamines, morphine, heroin, PCP and marijuana. One line shows a positive result, two lines is negative.

"Just like a pregnancy test," Zeniga observes.

The technician looks down at the strip, still submerged in the cup.

"I think I know what it's going to be, but if we wait five minutes I'll know for sure."

I look at Zeniga. She seems relaxed. I'm not. My heart starts racing and my fingers start to tingle. We had plans to go to lunch after the test. What would we talk about if it came up positive? What would she say to her mother, to Angelica? I thought about what it would feel like to have been lied to for weeks and to have believed the lies.

The technician breaks the silence.

"It's coming up, two lines."

We start smiling. Zeniga asks for a copy of the result to take home. When we walk out into the parking lot she's got a spring in her step and starts telling me about a dream she had a few nights ago.

"I had a dream Wednesday I had twins," she says. "They were beautiful twins, a boy and a girl."

She says she remembered the dream and knew that there would be two beautiful lines.

"I didn't think I was going to make it this far," she says. "I've never wanted it this much."

[ San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]


From the July 8-14, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate