Why I’m glad I came face-to-face with an ice addict
It wasn't until I came face-to-face with an ice user that I realised I had never before actually been face-to-face with an ice user.
I'd read about them of course, and I'd watched actors play them on TV and seen footage on the news, but it wasn't until I peeked through our shutters at 6am on a Saturday that I had an instant jolt of recognition for a situation that was actually completely foreign to me.
Thanks to TV, the news and books, the man pacing our veranda was familiar, even though he was a stranger. There was an unsettling manic quality to his movements, and even my toddler daughter would have known that only bad men pull their hoodies over their faces like that - as a way to hide from being recognised or identified in the future.
The subsequent minutes ticked by slowly.
While my husband and I quickly tried to get our bearings and make sense of paranoid ramblings that don't bear to be repeated, we also tried to silently secure the door, and I discreetly started taking photos on my phone.
After what felt like eons, but was actually probably only two or three minutes, our uninvited guest seemed to have a moment of clarity and, as he left to walk down our street in the warm post-sunrise glow, we stood stunned at this weird new world into which our relatively sheltered family had just been thrust.
That's when time started to speed up: I comforted our children while my husband checked our car for damage (it had been keyed along all the panels down the passenger side). We rang the police and then messaged friends and neighbours to let them know to keep their eyes open and their doors locked.
Kevin Bacon may only be six degrees of separation away from all of us, but in small towns such as ours, two degrees of separation seems to be the benchmark between the boring middle class and the town junkie.
And so it came to be that within the space of an hour I managed to compile an extensive dossier on our early morning visitor, which was full of evidence police would call "circumstantial" but was enough for me to be certain of his name, where he was living, and enough of his criminal history to realise I wasn't in Kansas anymore.
I thought I knew everyone in the town we'd sea-changed to from inner-Melbourne less than a year earlier. But this relatively minor, yet still unsettling, incident had exposed me to an underbelly that undoubtedly exists in every town and city across Australia.
No town, no matter how tiny or idyllic, is immune from this awful drug.
News reports tell us that use of ice, or methamphetamine, is on the rise and over chocolate Paddle Pops at the local caravan park kiosk I found out far more than I ever wanted to know about what I naively thought was our sleepy little home.
Over the following days our local police officer, who is based a 40-minute drive away, was sympathetic and helpful and true to his word to keep me in the loop with any developments but the harsh reality of our justice system is that the premise of innocent until proven guilty often means guilty and free if all you have is pesky "circumstantial" evidence.
So what next? Well, doors that we've always left swinging in the breeze and cars that are usually unlocked are now always secured. I've become an expert in home security systems and I now have a posse of neighbours on speed-dial. Two nights after the incident a poor feral cat causing a ruckus in our backyard got the fright of its life when it was confronted by my husband, a neighbour and two cricket bats.
But just as the ancient Chinese proverb goes, for every interaction with an ice user there's an equal and opposite interaction with the salt of the earth. And so this place where we now call home has gathered around us like a protective hug. We're all on high alert and the "R U OK?" messages have been swirling thick and fast. So while we feel vulnerable and scared, we also feel protected and supported, and there's nothing circumstantial about that.
Zoe Curtis is a freelance writer.