Billie Workman, already high from a crack pipe, had a pregnancy test in her right hand and $200 worth of dope in her left.
She was hiding under the Great Miami River bridge that connects Middletown to Madison Twp., a popular place for the homeless. More than anything — even more than popping those pills — Workman asked God for her to be pregnant, a second chance at motherhood.
The test was positive.
Sixteen years ago, she dropped those pills and smashed them “like a roach on the floor,” much to the dismay of those around her, she said.
“Never looked back,” she said of her decision to be clean.
While there is plenty to celebrate here — a Middletown woman remains sober for 16 years after a life on the streets where she says she survived drug addiction and sexual assault — Billie Workman’s R-rated life also shows the fragility of any good times.
There are two Billie Crabtrees: The addict and the asset. The addict left a special-needs daughter to return to a dangerous life on Middletown’s streets. The asset works on several area committees to help those who are fighting the battle she once did. Her story shows that any life can turn in multiple directions.
“It’s totally two different people,” she said.
On Nov. 4, 2018, Workman, 45, twice divorced, married Ron Crabtree, whom she had known since high school. It was a beautiful ceremony, she said. The new Mrs. Crabtree couldn’t have been happier.
Then, just like that — in the snap of a finger — she was mourning the loss of her special needs and oldest daughter, Ciara Ruth Ann Egelston, who died Jan. 10, 2019. She was 25.
Some parents never recover from the loss of a child.
“I don’t feel beautiful any more,” Crabtree said of her emotions following her daughter’s death. “I felt like our family, that chain was finally connected. We were all anxious to be a family. Now that chain has been broken again.”
It’s been two weeks since her daughter’s death, and the pain remains evident in her eyes as they fill with tears when she talks about Ciara, affectionately called “CC.”
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Billie and Ciara certainly didn’t have a traditional relationship. When Ciara was 3, her mother was introduced to crack cocaine, and the next seven years were a buzzed blur.
“I was hooked,” she said of her addiction. “I was off and running.”
She moved to Florida, eventually spent 62 days in recovery, then flew back to Middletown in hopes of reconnecting with her daughter, who was being raised by her maternal grandmother.
When that relationship remained strained, and Billie said she was not permitted to be a mother to her daughter, she returned to her comfort zone: life on the Middletown streets.
She said she once was robbed, gang raped by men and left for dead in a Middletown alley. After that incident, Crabtree said she got “right back up and was running again.”
She was with James Lawson hours after he murdered Cheryl Durkin in 1998 and cut up her body in the basement of the Garfield Street house. Crabtree, who said she was high at the time, said she remembers nearly being knocked over by the smell of bleach in the house and how it felt “so cold in there.”
Once out of that relationship, she lived under bridges and loved any man — she called them “so-called boyfriends” — who would feed her addiction.
She was homeless, and worse yet, hopeless.
But for the last several years, Crabtree has turned her attention to the less fortunate in the Middletown community. She serves on several committees and works closely with Jeri Lewis, community relations director at Kingswell Seminary. Lewis was Crabtree’s matron of honor.
“It’s the same person with two different lifestyles,” she said. “I like who I am today. But I don’t forget who was I and how I lived. The people I help today used to be me. The girls on the streets, the ones who are missing, that affects me. I have been there.”
Plus, she must care for her husband and two teen daughters, 14 and 15 years old. She wants to be a better mother to them than she was to Ciara.
She has learned her lessons, she said. She ticked them off: “Life can be evil. Our days are numbered. Our tomorrows are never promised. Always love one another and be kind. Say nice things to people. Ciara’s last words were, ‘Good night mommy, I love you.’”
The next day, Ciara Egelston was dead.