Marcy Thomas sat for a moment staring at a ceiling fan above her chair. A tear was streaking down her cheek as she fought to regain her voice.
Midway through a story about her battle with homelessness and drugs, that lonely tear was symbolic of the emptiness she felt in her life at her lowest point, she said.
Thomas starts her story again.
"I remember being at a friend's house on the Fourth of July in 2007, I think. I was sitting in this cozy little lawn chair, a cocktail in the cupholder of the arm rest. As I sat there, I heard kids laughing in the yard, the sweet smell of barbecue coming from the grill, my left hand cradled in my boyfriend's hand, and the smiles on the faces of my best friends," she recalled, now with a smile.
"At that moment I had it all and I knew it. It was definitely one of those 'smell the roses' kind of moments," Thomas, 44, said. "I was loved and happy and everything was wonderful."
At the time, Thomas was a financial analyst for a bank with corporate offices in downtown Minneapolis. She was unwilling to share which one, because it doesn't matter, she says. "It's not important to the story."
A year later, in 2008, Thomas had been with the bank for 14 years. She had been loyal and they had rewarded her and her talents, she said. With a $100,000-a-year job, a house in Burnsville, and a loving boyfriend, she said she had everything she wanted.
"It was the high-water mark," Thomas said. "It's surprising to look back and see how fast it dissolved. Just three years later I was sitting in jail, staring at the ceiling of a dirty cell when I had another 'smell the roses' moment. Homeless. No job. No boyfriend. Sitting in jail because I was arrested outside a crack dealer's house."
Journey to Homelessness
How did Thomas go from successful professional to homeless and in jail?
She says it was incredible naiveté and an inability to deal with personal tragedy that led her down a path to homelessness and drugs.
"In August of 2008 I was let go from my job and I was totally unprepared. I should have been—it was a recession for crying out loud—but I didn't think it would happen," Thomas said. "And I had never really had to deal with anything like that before. You can tell me I'm taking it too seriously, but for me, losing my job was the first personal tragedy I ever had to deal with. I wasn't equipped."
By December, unemployment had kicked in, she said, but it was clear she wasn't going to make ends meet. Thomas became depressed after losing her job and failing to find part-time employment—not even holiday work—to pay all her bills.
"I was really unhappy. Just so unhappy," Thomas said.
That unhappiness eventually led Thomas to a party in Richfield, where she was introduced to crack cocaine.
"I'm sitting on a couch at a party and someone slides it in front of me," she said. "This guy asked me if I knew what it was, and instinctively I did, but ... it was so surreal, I said no. He told me, and asked me if I wanted to try it. You have to understand that I was so depressed—I knew I was going to lose my house and all that—and I said yes. It was an out-of-body experience. I didn't want to try it but I did at the same time."
Thomas said the first hit was all it took.
"For the first time in what felt like so long, I felt happy. It's indescribable how everything bad just melts away," she said. "Until everything's gone, I guess."
Soon, much of her money was going to feed her new habit, and when her boyfriend found out, Thomas said he left her. She spent much of the next two years on friends' couches and spare beds. She tried treatment a couple times, but nothing stuck.
"I had some furniture at my mom's house, but other than that, it was gone," she said. "I lost everything. Well, maybe not everything ... I didn't lose Cynthia."
Hope for More
Cynthia Williams has been Thomas' friend for 30 years—since the two met in high school.
Williams, 43, said she had no idea Thomas was addicted to crack cocaine until she got a collect call from her one morning late in 2010.
"She called me from jail. She needed to be bailed out," Williams said. "I was shocked."
Later that day, after posting bail, Thomas opened up to her friend, explaining the gory details and truth.
"I was afraid she'd leave me like my ex did," Thomas said. "I got the opposite."
Williams, who lives in Savage, offered to let Thomas stay at her home to help her get back on her feet with one condition: Treatment first and no drugs when she was out.
"I'm a stay-at-home mom and I thought maybe I could help her—keep an eye on her," Williams said. "My family agreed. The kids wanted to see Aunt Marcy get better."
Thomas acknowledges she's lucky.
"I'm fortunate. I went to treatment a couple times in 2009 and 2010, but unless you want it, there's no hope," Thomas said. "But this time—this time I wanted it."
Thomas went to a treatment center for 28 days as part of a diversion program and when she came out, she moved in with Williams. Today, her record has been expunged—part of the diversion program she was in for people with clean criminal records.
"For those first 30 or so days with Cynthia, I was locked in my bedroom. I knew if I could go 60 days without it, I could beat it. It was hard, but I had so much support," she said.
That was early in 2011. Today, Thomas says she's working on nearly two years of being clean. She is working again, has an apartment in Eagan and has a new boyfriend.
While she acknowledged she doesn't have a lot of wisdom to share with people facing homelessness, Thomas did want to tell people to lean on their family and friends in times of need.
"They'll understand," Thomas said. "Life happens and don't let ego or embarrassment stop you. It's better than my way.
"That said, I've learned more over the past four years than I did in the first 40," Thomas joked. "I've been lucky. That's all I can say."
Editor's Note: Homelessness rates in Dakota County and other suburban communities in Minnesota have risen substantially in the last five years. This article is part of a Patch series exploring that trend. Click on the links below to read other articles on the topic.