I’m pretty much out of tears. I spent them on Charlie Gard, the little British boy whose parents fought like the Spartans at Thermopylae to hold back the army of brutal utilitarians who came to steal their child away. It wasn’t a disease that robbed Chris Gard and Connie Yates of their baby. It was every person who, feigning compassion, argued for a swift and bloodless death. Tragic doesn’t begin to describe it.
But the one good thing that pushed itself out of this bitter mess, like a tiny, green shoot between the cracks of dirty concrete, was the example of parental love we saw in Charlie’s mum and dad. They were unstoppable, heroic and united in a fight that would have shattered the bodies and souls of lesser creatures. We will always have that memory of them, and of their son.
The Gards were still in my mind when, skimming through the news on Tuesday, I saw the story of a woman named Erica Avila-Lopez. According to the report, Avila had abandoned her 7-month-old baby in a motel room in Bensalem, Pa. The room was filled with narcotics and drug paraphernalia, and authorities estimate that the child had been left alone for at least 20 hours.
Court records show that Avila-Lopez has a long rap sheet, including convictions for aggravated assault against a police officer, another for assault, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct, and yet another for auto theft and DUI. In this case, she’s been charged with endangering the welfare of a child, possession of a controlled substance, and felony marijuana possession with intent to deliver.
When police finally caught up with her Monday, she was in a hospital. They wouldn’t release her condition or the details of how she got there.
And, frankly, that last part is irrelevant. I don’t really give a damn about Avila-Lopez’s health. What matters is that a mother abandoned her daughter in a drug-strewn motel room for almost an entire day, and had it not been for some conscientious motel staff, that child would have still been in that room. There is a description for the sort of person who does that sort of thing, and my editors won’t let me use it in this paper.
Had I not been through almost a month of watching, hoping and praying along with hundreds of thousands of people around the world for a miracle to happen in London, the story of Erica Avila-Lopez might not have produced such nausea. I might have flipped through to the next article talking about the opioid crisis and how tragic it is that we are losing so many people to drug overdoses. There have been so many of them, inviting us to feel anger at a system that forces people with drug addictions to limp along, hopelessly, along train tracks in Kensington and elsewhere in our godforsaken neighborhoods.
I’ll admit I’ve felt a twinge of compassion for those who found themselves addicted, without even seeing it coming, to painkillers. I’ve been educated by professionals about the powerful nature of drugs such as OxyContin and the insidious way they can grab hold of your soul while you’re not looking.
But I’m getting a little tired of being told that anyone who feels pity for the collateral damage caused by those with addictions is mean-spirited and cruel. Facebook is fertile ground for the do-gooders who see only one victim in this scenario: the junkie. Oh, and I’m not even supposed to use that word, because it’s dehumanizing. But when we mention the inhumane acts that these people commit against their parents, siblings, lovers, friends, employers and society at large, we’re told to shut up.
But this time, I don’t really give a damn. This mother, who apparently cared more about a fix than about her baby, has a history of doing bad things. She is probably addicted, definitely a convicted criminal and obviously a child abuser. If we’re going to go after pedophiles and rapists - and, of course, we should - we have to be honest enough to call this mother who left her baby in a veritable drug den an abuser, too.
When I posted these sentiments on social media, I was happy to see that most people agreed with me. I expected a flood of comments about how we need to sympathize with the agony of the addicted and try to help them come back to civilization. It’s the same story, repeated over and over again, about waiting for the prodigal sons and daughters to atone for their mistakes and come home.
The thing is, they rarely do. And if they do, it’s usually after they’ve destroyed the lives of everyone who loved them, fought for them, prayed for them and died a little inside for them.
After I saw what Baby Charlie’s parents did for him, I’m in no mood to feel anything but anger toward an addict who abandoned her baby in a motel room.
As I said before, my tears are all dried up.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.