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LAST CHANCE AT NORMAL is the true story of my descent into the underworld of Los Angeles, journeying among drug lords and gang members as I attempt to ’save’ my heroin addict husband. Among the proliferation of addiction memoirs, what makes the story unusual is the juxtaposition of our two worlds: he was an illegal Mexican career-addict, I was a naïve, Cambridge-educated Brit who had volunteered at a Skid Row homeless shelter in a bid to find meaning in my life, which my job in the movie industry and an engagement to a wealthy British industrialist did not provide.
When I met Francisco he was in recovery and the poster-boy for the Mission, appearing on radio and regularly reducing people to tears at Christian meetings. After a speedy marriage (spurred on as much by everyone’s opposition as anything else), my romantic notions were quickly dispelled when six weeks after the wedding I discovered his stash of needles.
What followed was a wild rollercoaster ride, struggling to keep up with Francisco’s lies, his piteous appeals for help, brushes with the Law and the landlord, not to mention sundry episodes of kidnapping and unwanted attention from Sinaloan drug lords. All this, while holding down a job as an HIV outreach worker. Daily, I interacted with gang-members, pimps, prostitutes and junkies in the parks and motels of the barrio… and then came home to more of the same. Just when I finally decided to abandon my husband, I discovered I was pregnant.
The book begins with the birth of my son (who has never known his father) and works backwards. This was a partly an experiment with dramatic form, but also a necessary device to get back into the head of my younger self – someone who now appears impossibly credulous and idealistic.
LAST CHANCE AT NORMAL is a story of faith and despair, of exorcisms and drug deals, of sex-workers who became my friends and chaplains who became my enemies, but most of all, it is a story that tries to chronicle with compassion and humor my own precipitous decline and subsequent resurgence, as well as the lives of those who will never escape the cheap motels and streets of the barrio.