Christmas spirit ‘conspired’ to give young Angeleno another chance

KCRW recently asked listeners to share their most unforgettable vacation memories. Here are two such stories, both about a parent, a child, and something special that happened over Christmas.

The following transcripts have been edited for clarity.

Decorate hallways with what you have

Peter Wittenberg remembers a time when he made the most of things and was rewarded.

Peter Wittenberg: I was a student and single father of an 8 year old little girl, Chloe, and it was Christmas. I decided we needed a… real Christmas tree with the scent… that would fill the room.

I went to the store and it was only $25 back then, and I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t have enough money.

… Back home, I found a bare spot on the living room wall and nailed Christmas lights to the wall. I made it in the form of a Christmas tree. The base of the tree touched the ground, so it looked like it was standing on the ground.

I pulled back and looked at him, and I thought I was the worst dad ever. I mean, I couldn’t even afford a real tree for my daughter.

I brought my daughter home from school and we walked into the living room. She looked up at the wall and saw her new electric tree. Then she fled through the front door. I stood there saying, “What the hell was that? What? Does she like it? Did I fail?

She comes running back with two of her friends and she says, “Hey, look at my Christmas tree!” And his friends say “Wow!”

I was so scared. I was so embarrassed about what I had done. But my daughter loved it. She didn’t care if it was real or not.

Grace Notes

Jeannette Elliott and her son Elliott Orion together reminisce about a life-changing Christmas Eve.

Jeannette Elliot: To this day, none of us know why or remember why, but he got it into his head that he wanted to play the violin. I retained. I kept saying, “Well, let’s wait, because he looks so young to start on an instrument, especially when it’s so difficult. But he wouldn’t let it pass. And he harassed me regularly. And I finally said, “Okay.”

Shortly after, maybe six months, he had his first recital. And I remember he came on stage, and his teacher and I looked at each other with this kind of look, ‘Well, we tried,’ because she wasn’t convinced that he was going to do well . She was very nice to him, very patient. His patience was incredible.

Then he started to play. And we were just [laugh]. When he was done, we were like, “Who was that?” No matter how mediocre he seemed at home, he would come on stage and blow us away.

So she entered him into a competition every year. And every year he got the highest possible score.

He continued to perform throughout high school. And then just before I moved here [to Los Angeles], his life has changed. You were 19, weren’t you honey?

You want to talk about this day?

Elliot Orion: I was with my girlfriend. We were moving in, away from my best friend. And a large glass table had a small crack. I was carrying it up the stairs and it broke. He severed three of my tendons in my arm.

My ex-girlfriend called my mom in a panic, telling them to meet me at the hospital.

They did surgery.

They reattached my tendons and I had a cast up to my elbow for almost a year. They also said, “You may or may not be able to play the violin or the guitar or any of the other instruments you play again, just to let you know. You may not be able to use these fingers.

It was just a moment of panic – this sinking feeling of your throat dropping into your stomach, dropping into your gut. It was probably the scariest thing I could imagine: not being able to do what I loved more than anything.

And they handed me a big prescription for oxycodone [with] seven months of refills on it.

And I got addicted to them. Plain and simple.

Jane: Elliott called me at one point – he was very open. He said, “Mom, I’m addicted to these pills and I can’t live without them. And I said, “Okay.” I am mom. Stock [was] needed. I called his dad and said, “Look, Elliott is addicted to those painkillers we put on him. And he’s really, really freaking out. Can you take her to rehab? He let her in right away.

Elliot: It was a very small 10 room property literally in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky. It was just based on detox. I was only at this establishment for six days. It should have been so much longer. It just wasn’t enough.

I was back to use as soon as I got out of there.

Jane: It was almost a year. One night one of our neighbors called me and said, “I’m really worried about Elliott. There is really something wrong. He denied when I asked him, so I brought him here.

I have to say, I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but when you got off that plane, that was all I could do to hold back the tears. I had never seen anyone so sick.

Elliot: I really cried when the plane landed. It was really powerful to have a chance. But it didn’t last. It didn’t last.

Came here, got my violin back doing violin stuff. I had a bunch of minor relapses where I would go back for a few days or a week and then get over it.

It was around this time that things got really bad. I’ve been attacked. I was mugged late at night in North Hollywood. A guy beat me almost to death with a hammer. He had chiseled one end into a blunt axe. My lungs were punctured and bleeding. Most of my ribs were broken.

I woke up three days later in a trauma unit with a morphine drip.

It’s like a death sentence for addicts. I think I said to my mother, I was crying – she didn’t even know where I was for three days – I was like, “I don’t want this disease.” I was just sobbing, “I don’t want this,” because I knew it.

It sent me to the darkest place, the kind of abandoned homelessness and addiction I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

I started renting a violin, and that’s the only thing, I think, that kept me from dying. And I would work. That random homeless guy you see playing an instrument on the street? I was one of them.

It kept clothes on me and the ability to wash them and it kept my drug addiction going.

What also gave me some hope in the darkest place was the fact that I was beginning to be able to move my hand and play the violin again.

Jane: The next two years were the most terrifying of my life. Elliott has two siblings, a father, cousins ​​and people who love him. But we watched him die.

It changed who he was. It changed his appearance, the way he spoke, the way he acted, the way he thought, his feelings. It was as if those drugs were bleeding him out of his soul. It’s terrifying for a parent, because there were times when I thought I would bury this child.

I would meet him from time to time on Victory Boulevard and we would talk.

Elliot: On Christmas Eve, my mom’s friend gave me an Airbnb voucher for Christmas so I wouldn’t be on the street, have a nice place to sleep and have some privacy, and don’t wash me in a Panda Express bathroom.

My mom and I were in the car and I was about to go. My mom got a call from this rehab, Tarzana Treatments, and they were like, ‘Oh, they’ve got the bed.

My mother said to me, “Okay, we have to go.” I was like, ‘No, please, I’m not ready. Just give me this night at this Airbnb to shower and have some privacy. I’m going through hell, just give me this remnant of peace before I go.

My mother was rightly scared. We had a big fight about it.

My mom said, “You’re not going.”

Jane: I really regretted it as soon as I said it, saying you were never going. [Those were] desperate words from a parent that shouldn’t have come out of my mouth, but they did. And he was so upset about it.

So we separated.

He spent the night there and I picked him up in the morning.

Elliot: Actually, my mom was supposed to pick me up. I didn’t have a phone. I had already left.

Jane: He was gone and I was devastated. [The rehab had] said the bed wasn’t going to be there until Christmas Eve. And now it was Christmas Day. And I thought, “That’s it. We missed it.

Coming home, I had one of those weird mommy feelings. I drove to the Target near my house, and there’s my son in the parking lot.

I stopped and couldn’t remember the last time you had such a big smile on your face. He looked so happy.

I rolled down the window and he said, “I’m ready mom. Let’s go, I’m ready to go.

He jumped into the car. And I was just praying, “Oh my god, do they even have a bed?” We called and they said, “Yeah, the bed is open. The person who was supposed to come did not come. So yes, come.

Elliott Orion (L) and his mother, Jeannette Elliott (R), appear in North Hollywood. “For the first time I saw the universe, the spirit of Christmas, whatever you want to call it, conspiring in my favor to give me another chance,” says Elliott Orion. Photo by Danielle Chiriguayo/KCRW.

Elliot: They asked me when I finished rehab, “Do you want to stay for the residential program?” And I don’t know what it was. The words that were supposed to come out of my mouth were, “No, I’m fine. And the words that came out of my mouth were, “Of course, why not?

And I think it’s because for the first time I saw the universe, the spirit of Christmas, whatever you want to call it, conspiring in my favor to give me another chance.

I got my violin back and started practicing again. I did a bunch of exercises with my hand to be able to use those tendons. And I started playing guitar and violin again.

Now the violin covers most of my expenses in my life and I am no longer homeless.

You know, it’s hard. I still struggle like everyone else. But I committed at the second chance I had. It will be three years, the day after Christmas, that I will have been sober.

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