Erika Perkinson has nightmares.
Sometimes she wonders if her son is safe, has a place to stay or how scared he must be. Mostly, she wonders if he is dead. Yesterday, after days without word from him, she saw 17-year-old Jesse Murray’s face staring back at her from the pages of a Sunday newspaper.
When he left her Auckland home two weeks ago, he told her he had a place to stay. Really, he had been sleeping on Christchurch’s streets, begging for money to buy synthetic cannabis.
Jesse, who does not have a phone and is unable be contacted, had joined a protest in Addington against legal highs. The drug had destroyed his life, he said. He had tried to quit more than a dozen times, but each time the pain was too great.
In January, when Jesse walked through her door, Perkinson had wanted to take him to hospital. He had lost 30kg since the last time she saw him.
He could not eat or take fluids without vomiting.
‘‘I thought he was going to die,’’ she said.
Within 24 hours, Jesse would start having withdrawals from the drug, convulsing and vomiting blood.
‘‘If people saw that there is no way it would still be legal,’’ Perkinson said. ‘‘It is a horrific drug.’’
Perkinson had weathered criticism from people who could not understand her son’s situation. She had tried everything to help him.
She had taken him to see psychologists, including calling television personality Nigel Latta for advice. She had taken him to drug rehabilitation centre Odyssey House twice. Each time he left.
‘‘He has fallen through the gaps,’’ she said.
Perkinson said he did not qualify for mental health help because of his drug habit.
‘‘He told me ‘there is no place in society for a person like me’. He just struggles so much with day-to-day life he can’t see there is anything for him in a normal world.’’
Jesse began smoking the drug when he was 14 after a traumatic family event. He went from being a personable, charming boy who could get along with anyone to moody and angry, Perkinson said. Soon things were going missing from the house. He would steal video games from his siblings and start selling items from around the house to fund his habit. You could not trust him, Perkinson said.
‘‘It was horrible to see. I just felt powerless. We tried so much.’’
His siblings did not ask where he was any more. There were many times when he would disappear, only to get in touch when he needed money from his already financially-stretched family.
Every time Perkinson sees a police car she thinks it is because of her son. ‘‘You fly between nervous and scared. There is never a relaxed time.’’
She was open to any help people could offer her son. But even if she could afford to come to Christchurch she would not know where to start looking for him.
When she saw him last, Jesse had told his mother that he had a place to stay in Christchurch. He was positive about moving on with his life. She was happy. For the first time in a long time she felt hopeful. She slept soundly.
‘‘Now I know what they mean when they say hope is a dangerous thing.’’
- The Press