‘I had no choice but to be home.’

Sharon, 21 | Santa Fe, NM




We met Sharon while she was working at a restaurant in downtown Sante Fe. She lives in the city’s Southside with her parents, grandmother, two little sisters, and her brother’s child. Her brother and his girlfriend live in a detached structure outside their trailer.

After attending community college for two years, Sharon transferred to University of New Mexico (UNM). Classes are virtual, but she prefers spending time on campus. “I drive over to UNM and just stay in a computer lab, an empty computer lab. And that's what I do all day just to be away from town.” Sharon wants to work in addiction treatment when she’s older. “I want my career to be anything that has to do with helping people. I feel like it's part of my heart, what my journey here is: to help people that need it. The best thing would be seeing families come together again.” She took a break from schoolwork on a Monday afternoon to meet us at a coffee shop.

____

They had a baby in the middle of the pandemic. My mom was livid because she knew that technically it meant that she was having the baby. Who's going to keep the baby, you know? She was upset. We were all upset, like, why do you want to bring a child into this world? Why do you want to do this to the child?

My brother and his girlfriend were using drugs throughout the pregnancy. And their baby was born addicted too. He was born shaking and having withdrawals. He’s about four months old, so now he’s looking better but when he was born he was really small. He's kind of a special kid since he was addicted. He needs extra support when he eats. He has a sensitive stomach. I think he's lactose intolerant. And he likes to be carried all the time. He needs emotional support.

My brother’s been dealing with addiction since he was my age. And it's just hard to be in that environment, you know? I don’t know who he is anymore. He lost so much weight. It’s like he’s a zombie. He would steal from us and get into trouble with the police. I had these really cool retro Jordans, the 10s. I don't know if you guys know those, but he stole them. They were a gift from my boyfriend back then. So it was special, you know? My brother left the box, trying to pretend like they were still there. And then I opened the box and they were gone. He sold them probably for like $10. They're replaceable but I was so hurt. I think it was the first thing he stole from me. I was 16.

Then it started becoming worse. Pretty much all of my belongings went missing: my phone, laptop, money, jewelry, everything you can imagine. Even from my mom. From all of us. I felt like he became a monster. We lock everything up. We made him a room outside of the house so he can just come inside to use the bathroom. He started doing meth during the pandemic. I just found out about that like two weeks ago. I heard my brother and his girlfriend arguing about a pipe and I was like, “Are you talking about a crack pipe?” That's how I found out. His skin is changing now. His teeth are, too. They're rotting.

Before the pandemic, I was living at home but I was rarely there. I always stayed busy instead of confronting reality. I would work two jobs and go to school, and when I wasn’t in school, I was at the library doing homework. That was my place to go, because there's no sound, nothing. It was just me, myself, and my homework. But when the pandemic started, I had no choice but to be home.

I live in a trailer, so it's small and I have no space. It was uncomfortable being so close to my family all the time. It's not easy for anybody. My mom's always screaming at my brother. And if I'm in class online, I have to participate and I can't unmute if there’s chaos. It's embarrassing, you know? I was doing an internship and I had to Zoom every Saturday for the clinic. That was so hard. I remember people yelling in the background, and the clinics were three hours long. It was horrible. That moment made me realize I can't stay here. I was like, I need to move out.

The night the baby was born, my brother’s girlfriend was already trying to find a ride home. She wanted to go anywhere instead of dealing with the baby. And since it was COVID, nobody but the parents could visit the baby in the hospital. But they would never go. So nobody saw the child.

We didn't know who was going to take him, either us or the government. My mom had to fight for custody, which was hard. The courts didn't want to give him to my mom because my brother was still living with us. But you know how moms are — they don't want to kick out their own child, especially since he’s addicted. My brother would become homeless.

The custody battle was all through Zoom. There were people from the hospital, the court, my parents, and translators. It was a mess. And it had to be divided into different sessions because Zoom only lets you do 40 minutes at a time. So instead of knowing the information we needed to know, we had to wait like two months for the next court date to be scheduled.

The court would call, and my mom would answer on her phone, but she was working full time since the bills had to get paid. The hardest part was that she doesn’t speak an ounce of English — she’s from Mexico. It was also hard for her to not be physically present. She's new to technology like Zoom. It’s all new to her. I’d have to answer through my phone, just to make sure somebody responded for her in case she couldn’t. I was there for one of the Zoom sessions when my mom was at work. The people from the court were like, “Hello? Hello?” And my mom was the only person in the kitchen at the restaurant where she works, so she wasn’t able to respond. And they were getting so upset. I had to jump in and say, “I'm going to talk for her.”

My brother’s drug addiction ruined everything. We tried everything: loaning money, trying to get him resources. We tried taking him to rehab a few times, but since he's an adult he can just walk out. He's not willing to take it. So it's either death or… it's gonna be death. I was just talking about this with my dad today. I was asking him, “why our family? Why us?”



Sharon and her siblings as kids

I feel like I absorbed it more than anyone because he’s my brother, you know? We were close growing up. He was so bubbly and happy. We would watch movies together and go on hikes.  He was awesome. He would come in and be the light of the room. I miss that part of him. And his jokes. I kind of lost somebody, you know? He’s still there, but he’s not there anymore. I try to ask God for guidance, but sometimes I don't hear back from him.

I would love to move away. There's got to be somewhere else. I feel like if I'm away from it, it can't affect me as much. I just feel bad leaving my mom. I have some family in Arkansas and California. We keep in touch occasionally but not enough to be like, “Hey, can I move in with you guys?” I wish… I wish. Someone told me you have to have a job before you go but I don't know how I would find one.

I do have money saved up, but I'm just scared. I have nowhere to go, you know? What state is best? Or what state is worth going to? Or moving for? I’d have to do it by myself. I've read on Reddit and stuff that people can do it, you know? People sometimes move out with no money and stuff, but it's just like, I don't know how you do it. I don't know how. How do you move away?



Santa Fe, New Mexico
Interview Date: April 26, 2021