Post Card from Cape Cod (Falmouth, MA)

Almost twenty years we’ve been going to Falmouth, MA, lucky enough to have a summer home there. What a beautiful place, in terms of nature –land, sea and marshes; and so many charming homes and shops, a quaint downtown. Cod fish and seagulls; Quakers and whaling ships; Wampanoags and quahogs; cranberry bogs and lighthouses. All that good stuff. Plus, time to slow down, enjoy the sunset, and have “visits” with friends and neighbors. But this year, more than other years, something is not right in paradise. This year, folks on the Cape are suffering, in crisis, in danger of losing themselves, quite literally, to drugs, alcohol, violence and injury.

Summer brings all kinds of folks to Falmouth, and not surprisingly, an uptick in crime, injury and accidents. The ER can be pretty busy from fish hooks in thumbs to accidents on the bike trail to tick bites and allergic reactions. And this year, heroin and opiate overdoses, sometimes fatal. In one week, five drug overdoses were reported in the Police log: two were revived with Narcan on the spot, two hospitalized, and one dead at home. There was an obituary for the 19 year old who died, with a picture, listing friends, family, hobbies. Looked like a nice middle-class white kid — with issues, no doubt. Two OD’s were in cars, one parked at Walmart; one at Christmas Tree Shops. Where we shop.

This week, my husband left Stop N Shop at four in the afternoon with his cart full. A group of people were staring at man hanging onto a light post; no one knew what to do. Another day, another man sat down in the street, unable to stir himself. Another was walking along the sidewalk, shirtless, missing a shoe, incoherent, without direction. There are flyers up around town about a man who has gone missing, middle-aged, with perhaps some mental issues. Like a dog or a cat. “Have you seen this man?” Along with the drug use, there have been a lot of cases of theft and break-ins, not a few in our part of town, uncomfortably close to our idyllic little corner of the Cape. On my solitary walk around the bog, I came across two men, meeting briefly and then parting; I kept my distance, feeling fairly certain it was a drug deal.

Besides the summer visitors, Falmouth has a sturdy year round population of people from all walks of life, including the Woods Hole scientists, the artisans, old Yankees, lively Irish, and the descendents of Portuguese and Cape Verde sailing and farm immigrants. It’s a changeable life, and yet, sometimes remote and even boring in the off-season, providing few jobs more than building, landscaping or services. The allure of drugs is widespread, but some areas seem more vulnerable, no matter how beautiful. Perhaps it’s the contrast of the wealthy who come and go to those who are stuck and struggling.

I’ve been aware of recreational drugs for most of my life, on some level. But this, what I’m seeing in Falmouth, is different. They are falling fast, these casualties of the drug war, bringing the battleground to us. My mother has said, “No one chooses to grow up to be a drunk or a drug addict; something has happened along the way.” It’s one thing to waste time, money, health, over time. But another to lose yourself completely, to lose your life, just like that. I wonder how these Cape Cod folk are any less victims than the Central American children being brought across the border, moved by terrible forces to places they never wanted to be due to their weakness and someone else’s greed.

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