It’s Friday night, and instead of being out partying, here I sit absent-mindedly drumming my fingers on the only clear surface in my room, the desk my parents bought thinking that if I had somewhere to study I might actually do it. I smirk at the thought of their shocked faces if they knew I only kept this desk clear so I had somewhere to crush my Oxy, before I snorted it. I clench my fingers into a fist a few times before rapping my knuckles on the desk. If they want me to stay home then I’ll do it my way. I drop to my knees in front of the ugly antique desk with its ‘original brass handles’ and reach for the large economics book that sits on the floor all the way under the desk. I hold the heavy book in my hands staring at the dollar sign wrapped around the globe on the cover. I crack the book and smile at the hollowed pages that conceal the bag with my small stash of Oxycodone. Finally finding what I was looking for, I straighten up with the small bag of pale blue pills in my hand.
After I drop them on the desk, I reach into my wallet for a twenty and my credit card; Mommy dearest definitely wouldn’t approve of using my AmEx card for this. Shaking four pills from the bag I shove the rest in my pocket and begin crushing them with my card. When I’m done I make neat lines being sure to take my time. I find a certain level of peace in the process. When I have two small uniform lines of powder, I smirk as I roll the twenty between my fingers and press it to my nose; because I know that soon everything will be right in the world.
I run the back of my hand under my nose to make sure there isn’t any trace of what I just did. Then I kick my feet up and relax with my hands behind my head. I turn, in what feels like slow motion, when my phone beeps. I drop onto my bed to see who’s texting me.
The guys have found a killer party and are on their way. “Well fuck, it looks like I’m not staying in after all.” Checking my pockets for my wallet and party supplies, I swing open my door and practically glide down the hallway.
“Lucas, do… do you want to play Barbie’s with me?” Chelsea looks up at me with her big brown eyes and hopeful smile. Normally I wouldn’t think twice about playing Barbie’s with her. My dad calls her Princess Chelsea and I have to say, that’s the one thing we agree on. She’s only eight and has this wide-eyed innocence about her; I hope she never sees the dark side of my world.
“Not tonight princess, I’m going out. Tomorrow, okay?” The flash of disappointment in her eyes is almost enough to make me stay home. Almost. I ruffle her hair and continue walking toward the door when my dad comes out of nowhere with his arms crossed over his chest.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he asks, his normally deep voice an octave lower in an attempt to scare me. That voice used to put the fear of God into me when I was little, but now I know he’s all bark and no bite.
“Out.” I was about to cross my arms too, but I want to be nothing like him. So, instead I let them hang by my side. If he keeps this up he’s going to kill my buzz.
“Did it slip your mind that your mother and I told you that you were to stay home tonight?” He puffs up his chest a little, that’s not scary either Dad try again. “Where are you going?”
“Out, I just told you.”
When I attempt to walk around him to the door he grabs ahold of my arm and asks, “Why do you do this?”
Before I answer, a horn honks from outside, the guys are here. While I answer, I look down at his hand wrapped around my arm, “Because I can, that’s why.” Then I shrug my arm out of his grasp and walk out the door before he can say another word.
While I jog to Tanner’s silver BMW with a smashed headlight, I think about sweet Chelsea and hope that my parents don’t turn her into a mindless drone, just like them. When I climb into the back of Tanner’s car I take attendance: Tanner, Jake, and Steve. “Where’s Ashton?”
“His parents found his stash and shipped him off to some bullshit rehab place,” Jake says, just before he takes a bump of cocaine and hands me the bag.
“Score, thanks.” I hold the tiny bag in my hand, feeling the weight of it on my palm. Eyeing the bag I lick my finger and coat it in the white powder, rubbing it along my gums, waiting for them to go numb. Then I take the key Jake hands me and dip it in the bag. When I bring it to my nose the smell of diesel is strong. After I inhale it my throat goes numb and I know the party has already started.
“Wooo, hell yeah, hand that shit up here,” Steve says from the front seat. After we pass the blow around a couple more times, Tanner turns up the stereo and we all bounce in anticipation for one hell of a Friday night.
The car stops in front of a tiny red brick house. It’s the complete opposite of the mansions that we’ve just come from, so much so that it’s hard to believe we’re still in the same town. Bright lights shine from all the windows, and music vibrates through my bones-it’s so loud. When we get inside, the house is packed. Bodies crammed in like sardines, everyone bouncing in rhythm to the pounding music. Someone walks by and hands me a lit joint. I don’t have the slightest clue where it came from and I don’t care. After I take a few hits I hand it to some girl with purple hair and a fishnet shirt. I see Tanner from across the room close the bathroom door behind him. Wanting to be a part of whatever everyone is doing in there, I make a beeline for the bathroom.
There are at least ten people crammed inside this tiny bathroom. Tanner throws his hand up when he steps aside-making room for me. “Hey brother, come try this shit.”
I’m not sure what they’re doing, but I’m game to try whatever. I watch and learn as Tanner ties the shoelace around his bicep then holds a spoon over a lit candle. I’m not able to look away when he sucks the bubbling brown liquid into a syringe and finds a vein in his arm. Once he has the vein he’s looking for, he unties the lace from his arm and pushes the plunger on the syringe. He sighs as his pupils constrict and he gets a look of complete peace, instantly I know I need that feeling.
“You gotta try this Luke,” he mumbles.
“I..uhh…I don’t know man.”
“Dude, it’s practically the same thing as Oxy. Just… better, so much better.”
“It’s basically the same?” I ask, wanting to lose myself, but scared of not being able to find my way back.
“Yeah, pretty much it just goes in your arm instead of up your nose.” He laughs slightly almost like he doesn’t have a care in the world.
“Alright, I’ll try it, what’s the worst that could happen?”
Mimicking Tanner, I use the shoelace to tie a tourniquet on my arm with shaky fingers and hold my hands out for the spoon and candle. I wait for it to bubble just like Tanner did, before I set the candle down and grab the syringe. Unsure that I can steady my hands long enough to do this, I look up for Tanner, but find him nowhere; in his place is a girl with jet-black hair. “Need some help?” She asks.
For a moment, before I can answer, I think about what I’m doing locked in a bathroom with a bunch of strangers about to stick a dirty needle into my arm. This goes so far beyond the realm of teenage stupidity that even I know I’m in over my head. I try to tell myself it’s not too late, that I can just set the needle down and walk away, but before I can do that the girl grabs it from my hand. “Here, let me help you,” she offers, with a smile-either not seeing the fear in my eyes or choosing to ignore it.
I watch as she prepares the syringe the same way Tanner did, keeping my eyes glued to her chipped black nail polish as she palpates my arm, looking for the perfect vein. The second she sticks the needle in my arm I look up to her face, she lifts her eyes and gives me a kind smile as I feel her remove the shoe lace and push the brown liquid into my body.
Almost instantly my body begins to tingle, starting at the back of my head and working its way through my whole body. It’s like everything and nothing all at once. It reminds me of thick blankets in the winter, my whole body is warm and then nothing. I feel nothing as my vision starts to tunnel. I think about Chelsea, I should have played with her; I hope she doesn’t end up like me. When the nothingness takes over, I close my eyes and let myself fall into oblivion.
Being carried through the hospital in Daddy’s arms felt strange what with it being the middle of the night and Mommy, Daddy, and I still in our pajamas. Mommy tried to stop a doctor, “Excuse me, could you…” but he just rushed past without looking back. Mommy looked up to Daddy like she was going to cry, then I looked up at him too, already crying. I didn’t like being here, I wanted to go home back to my bed.
“Can we please get some help around here?” Daddy’s voice rumbled in his chest. I covered my ears to hide from his booming voice. The man that ignored Mommy asked Daddy what we needed help with. “I need to find my son, Lucas Redding, he’s sixteen. He was just brought in for an overdose.” While Daddy followed the doctor he stroked my hair like he always did when I was tired, but this time I couldn’t fall asleep.
When we reached the room, Daddy set me down and bent low so he could talk to me, “Princess, Mommy and Daddy need to go in here and take care of Lucas for a little bit, okay? There is a nice lady that is going to sit with you and watch some television. There’s no reason to be scared princess, we are just on the other side of that door.” He kissed my cheek and then put his arm around Mommy and walked with her into the room where Lucas was.
I looked up at the lady they said to stay with, she smiled at me and asked if I wanted to watch television or color. I picked coloring, I drew a picture for Lucas to help him feel better. It was a castle and Princess Chelsea was stuck in the tall tower because the evil dragon was going to get her, but Lucas the brave was going to rescue her on his horse. The lady sitting with me went to talk to someone while I colored. When I finished my picture I wanted to show it to Lucas; he loved when I drew him pictures. I pushed my chair back from the table and carried my picture to the room Mommy and Daddy were in.
The door was hard to open, but I got it. When I closed it behind me, Mommy and Daddy looked up from the bed they were sitting next to, but I couldn’t look at them, because Lucas was laid on the bed, and he looked like a ghost. His eyes were closed, but I don’t think he was sleeping because he complains if it’s too noisy or too light for him to sleep and all the lights in the room were on, the television was on, and the machines next to his bed kept beeping. I turned around to leave the room, but I couldn’t get the door open again, it was too heavy.
When I started to cry Daddy picked me up and carried me back to the bed, next to Lucas. “It’s alright Princess, what do you have there? A picture?” He pointed to the drawing.
“Yeah, I made it for Lucas. What’s wrong with him?” I couldn’t stop staring at the wires and tubes. I bet if he were awake he wouldn’t like all those wires and tubes. There was a tube in his mouth and a tube up his nose. He had a tube in his arm and wires on his fingers and under his shirt.
“He doesn’t feel very well, but the doctors are going to make him all better, don’t you worry.”
Mommy hadn’t spoken to me since they woke me up to come to the hospital, she just cried and cried. “Chelsea baby, my sweet girl, can I see your picture?” she asked in-between sniffles. I held my hand out for her to take the picture, scared to leave Daddy’s side. She studied it for a few seconds and smiled for the first time since we came to the hospital. “Baby, why don’t you show your picture to Lucas?”
After she handed it back to me I said, “But he’s asleep.”
She tried to answer me, but started to cry instead so I looked to Daddy. “You’re exactly right princess, he is sleeping right now, but hopefully he will wake up soon. You can still tell him all about it, maybe it will help him have nice dreams.”
I stared at my picture hard, wishing that I could be in it and not at the hospital. Then I stepped closer to Lucas and placed the picture on his tummy. “Lucas, I drew you a picture. This is better than the last one,” I whispered, afraid if I talked any louder he would wake up. “It’s a picture of you and me. I’m a princess, trapped in a castle, but I’m not scared, because I know you’ll save me; you always do.” I’d just finished telling Lucas about my picture when two things happened, first mommy cried louder and then the machines started to beep louder and louder. I was about to ask Daddy what was happening when lots of people ran in and started touching Lucas. One pushed a button on the wall that made really loud beeps and I had to cover my ears. The people pushed us to the corner of the room and they started yelling things to each other. Someone pushed on Lucas’s stomach while another touched the tube in his mouth.
Mommy started to shake and scream for Lucas so Daddy put his arm around her. I squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could, and when I did the beeping stopped. If I kept them closed, I could see Lucas, he was standing right next to me and I couldn’t hear Mommy cry anymore.
He smiled and told me, “It will be okay, don’t you worry.” He wasn’t asleep anymore, he was all better. I opened my eyes to tell Mommy it was going to be okay, but no one was in the room with me. Mommy, Daddy, the doctors, and nurses were all gone. The machines were gone too. When I looked to Lucas’s bed he wasn’t under the covers, instead he was inside a black plastic bag with my picture resting on top of the bag.
Just like every night for the past fifteen-years, I wake up screaming, covered in sweat, heart racing and my eyes wide. Pure panic. I tell myself, just as I do every night, “Lucas is alive, he’s okay. Breathe. Relax.” I drop back to my pillow while taking deep breaths trying to slow my heart. I think about his latest overdose and the fact that he’s tucked safely away in rehab right now. “Don’t you worry,” I remind myself, again. “He will be fine, we will get through this.” I never fall asleep after my nightmares, I just lay still, staring at the ceiling and waiting for the sun to rise.
After the first streaks of sunlight break through my curtains I waste no time getting up. Waking before the sun every day has very few perks so I make sure to take advantage of as many of them as I can. I start every morning doing my yoga DVD in the living room while Fergus, my giant white cat, rubs himself against my legs during Warrior Pose, letting me know he’s ready for breakfast.
“Alright, alright, I’m coming.” He hops up on the counter while I make my coffee, purring and rubbing himself against my arms. After feeding him and waiting for my cup to fill, I think about last night, checking Lucas into rehab, again. He was so out of it, I’m a little worried he won’t know where he is when he wakes up. I wish I could call to check on him, but I know they won’t let me speak to him until he finishes detoxing. Not being able to do anything about Lucas, I try to let it go and move on with my day. I carry my coffee through to my bedroom where I shower and get dressed for school.
While I stand on the sidewalk in front of the snow white BMW (my dad got me for my twenty-first birthday) I’m struck by how much it doesn’t fit this neighborhood. My small two-bedroom apartment might not be in a bad neighborhood, but it’s a far cry from the house I grew up in, with its sprawling acres, and heated indoor pool. I remember the day I’d told my parents that I didn’t want them to pay for my housing, that I would work my way through school, and that I needed to try to do it on my own. Of course they were hurt, but I think my mom understood. Dad still doesn’t understand, but knowing I’m safe has made it a little easier for him to deal.
I stop myself from going any further down memory lane before I’m late for class. I toss my purse onto the passenger seat and spend a few minutes searching for my sunglasses before driving into the morning sun.
I shoot up out of the bed, sweat pouring down my face, down the back of my neck drenching my shirt. Where am I? Frantically, I look for clues in the plain white room. As my brain catches up, I can feel my heartbeat start to slow. Rehab, right, I remember now. It’s strange that it was only yesterday when I woke up in a hospital with Chelsea silently weeping at my bedside. Mom and Dad had long since stopped coming to the hospital for me. Chelsea though, she showed up every time, without fail. No longer concerned with where I am, I drop back onto the bed, cringing at the hurt I saw in her eyes when she told me I’d overdosed again. I close my eyes and rub my temples, recalling what will be our last conversation for the next week
“Oh Luke, thank God you’re awake.”
“Hey, don’t cry, I’m fine see?” I held my arms up as if that would convince her I was actually okay.
Taking my hand she whispered, “You’re not fine Luke. You aren’t even in the same zip code as fine.”
“Chels, you say that every time.”
“And we keep ending up right back where we started. Luke, I want you to try again.”
“Oh no, we’ve been through this, rehab is a bunch of bullshit. They don’t do anything for me that I can’t do for myself.”
“But you aren’t doing it yourself, you’ve tried, I’ve tried. Please, just try rehab one more time?” Then she added what she knew I wouldn’t be able to deny, “For me?”
I look around the foreign white room again, I’m sure my cruise director will come in to check on me soon. Until then I try to just lay still and not think about the lack of drugs running through my system. I definitely don’t think about what I wouldn’t do to get my hands on some H right now.
“Damn it,” I mutter under my breath when I realize that by now, Chelsea has probably cleaned out my apartment. Inspecting every nook and cranny making sure she didn’t leave so much as an aspirin behind. Needing to do anything but lie still, I shove myself off the bed and pace the room until a short balding man who introduces himself as Dr. Natal, enters the room--without knocking I might add.
“Good morning, Mr. Redding, may I call you Lucas?” he asks, looking straight at me, with eyes that are almost black. It makes me a little uncomfortable to meet his eye contact, although I’m not sure why.
“You can call me whatever you want.” When he doesn’t say anything, but keeps staring I add, “Lucas is fine.”
“Alright then Lucas, care to tell me a bit about why you’re with us?” He invites himself to sit on the chair in the corner by the window. I can already picture myself curled into that chair, trying to ignoring the itching feeling that will soon overtake my body. I haven’t bothered to look out the window yet; somewhere in the back of my mind I hope that I have a decent view, something to distract me from being in this place.
“Well, I wanted to go to the happiest place on earth, but this was a close second.” Judging by the look in his eyes, he finds my joke funny, but refuses to laugh until I take this seriously. With a sigh, I resign myself to this temporary hell. “Can I call my sister? Let her know I’m okay?”
“I think that you already know you can’t do that, why did you ask?” He rests his ankle over his knee, placing his clipboard in his lap. I guess he wants to dive right into this therapy thing then.
For a second I debate which way to go with this, then I remember that I promised Chelsea I’d really try this time. “Because if you bent the rules I could have told my sister that I’m okay, that she doesn’t need to worry and that I really will try this time.” I turn my head toward the window, wishing I’d opened the blinds before he came in.
His eyebrows pull together as he scribbles something on his notepad, “You’ll try this time? You didn’t try last time?”
“Or the time before that,” I add so he knows I’ve done all of this before. The real question is will this be ‘three time’s the charm’ or ‘three strikes and you’re out.’ I haven’t decided which, yet.
“Do you have any theories on why your previous two visits didn’t help you?” He doesn’t bother to look up while he asks that, he just continues to scribble things on his notepad. The first time I was in here, things like that bothered me. I needed to know what they were writing, but this time I don’t care; I know that he won’t tell me, even if I ask.
“I have a lot of theories, but who knows if any of them are right.” I evade his question then get up and start making my bed. He doesn’t press me for an answer while I make it, he simply sits and watches as I smooth the covers and tuck the corners. After I fluff my pillow I look around the room, out of excuses I turn to him and say, “maybe because I didn’t want it to work,” I can’t bring myself to look him in the eye when I say it, but when he doesn’t respond I look up to see if he’s even listening. He’s paused with his pen an inch above the paper, staring at me. Can he see the shame in my eyes? Can he tell that this has beaten me or that I know I’ll never win? There’s only one ending left for me.
We continue to stare at each other for what feels like an eternity, but I won’t be the first one to break the silence. I know his trick; I’ve seen it before. If he just watches me and remains quiet, he’s hoping I’ll get uncomfortable and start to fill the silence, spilling my guts. Not this time, he’s gonna have to work for it.
When he opens his mouth to break the deafening silence, I internally sag with relief I was just about to break. “But you want it to work this time?” He taps the pen on the side of the clipboard before adjusting it in his grip.
I’ve never liked one-on-one conversations with authority figures. Not that I have a problem with authority; they just make me feel small and inferior. Even if I haven’t done anything wrong, I still feel like I have to defend myself. I lean on the end of the bed and twirl my thumbs around one another for a moment while I ask myself that same question. There’s only Chelsea left. Mom and Dad have washed their hands of me. My grandparents have passed away and Dad has poisoned any aunts and uncles against me. “Yeah, I do.” I decide to keep my answer short and simple.
“Why now?” I feel as if he asked that not as my doctor, but because he actually wants to know.
Leaving my feet on the ground I lay back on the bed and stare at the ceiling, “I guess, because I feel like this is my last shot. My family has given up on me, except for my sister. Maybe I’m just tired of letting her down.”
He makes a couple notes before he inquires, “Has she said you let her down?”
“No, she would never say that, but it’s pretty obvious isn’t it? She’s eight years younger than me, yet she has all of her shit together while I’m in and out of rehab.”
After I hear him set his pen down, I lift my head up to watch him clasp his hands over his shin. “I wouldn’t view that as you letting her down. Even though your past two stays didn’t work out, it showed her that you are trying and that you do want to get better.”
Before he can continue I interrupt him, “But that’s the thing, I didn’t want to get better. The first time, my parents forced me in here, because I was under eighteen. The second time, Chelsea begged and begged until I said I’d go, but I think I came in with the attitude that it wasn’t going to work.”
“Chelsea is your sister?”
“Did you come in with the attitude it will work this time?” I don’t feel any judgment in his voice, he’s simply asking. So far, he’s pretty good at this.
“Yeah, I think I did. I don’t think I’ll get another chance. I doubt I’ll live long enough to come back if this doesn’t work.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it’s true. I’m not wallowing or anything, it’s just… a fact, I won’t live to see thirty-two if this doesn’t work.”
“That’s a lot of weight to carry around.” He lets go of his shin and hugs his clipboard to his chest as he straightens out his legs. I can’t help but stare at his funny socks, that don’t fit with the black dress shoes, dark gray dress pants and the white button up shirt he’s wearing. His turquoise socks with orange polka dots definitely catch my attention.
“I don’t know if it’s a lot of weight.” I think about the guilt I feel every time I get high, but just like always, the guilt only lasts for a second, then I’m left with the intense need to get any drug I can get my hands on. I think of Chelsea’s face when she has to scrape me off a dingy bathroom floor. I think about all the places I have things stashed around my apartment and what she must have thought when she found them all. Oblivion is the only way to make the hurting stop. I’m so broken it’s not even funny anymore.
“Lucas?” Dr. Natal leans forward in his chair, setting the clipboard on the ground in front of him. “Can you tell me what you’re thinking about right now?”
As his words register through the fog that has settled in my brain, I try to shake free from it. I know it won’t do any good, I’ll be trapped in this fog and in this room, worse still, in my head for the foreseeable future and it makes me panic. I can feel my eyes dart around the room looking for an escape, but come up empty. When my eyes finally connect with his again, I’m surprised with how strangled my voice sounds when I force out, “Help me.”
In an instant he’s out of his chair and hitting a button on the wall shouting orders into the intercom. A moment later two nurses enter the room, one bringing the sweet relief of the Suboxone to help me get through detoxing and whatever else he requested. The very large male nurse assists me back into bed where I take my pills and hope for some sort of relief; if sobriety feels like this, I know I won’t survive.
It’s been about a week since Lucas went to rehab and I’m certain that I’m slowly going crazy with worry. In an attempt to head off a trip to the nut house, I try to focus on my professor and his beyond boring lecture. After I resolve to call Dr. Natal for an update later, I find it a little easier to concentrate.
“I want a ten-page paper on how family members are left to pick up the pieces of drug users,” Dr. Malcolm announced half-heartedly while shuffling through papers on his desk. When half the class is already out the door he looks up and yells, “Due next week.”
I sit frozen in my seat, until the room is empty of everyone except for Dr. Malcolm, thinking how the hell am I going to write this paper. Do I make it personal or do I go the route everyone else will and use strictly my research findings? Picturing the rest of my class, I bet none of them have a brother like mine. My classmates simply want to do well, they want to help people and make lives better, but I need it. I need to know that I can help people. That people know they aren’t alone when they have an addiction or their family knows they aren’t the only ones trying to hold everything together. If I can help just one person, turn one person’s life around… maybe I won’t feel like such a failure for not being able to help Lucas.
When I bring my attention back to the room and out of my head, I realize that Dr. Malcolm and I are the only ones left and he’s staring at me. I’ve never been alone with him before, I take a second to get a good look at him. I think the blue wool cardigan buttoned under his sport coat is meant to make him look older, but it just makes him look as though he was playing dress up in his dad’s closet. I chuckle a little at that random thought, but press my lips together when he asks, “What is so funny, Miss Redding?” I think he means to sound stern, but the slight smile playing on his lips and the sparkle in his bright blue eyes tells me he’s anything but angry.
Standing to gather my things I say while deliberately avoiding eye contact, “Oh, nothing sir.” When I look up from cramming my laptop into my bag he’s standing in front of me. He looks around the room while tucking one hand into his pocket as the other holds onto the strap of the messenger bag draped across his chest. I’m not sure why, but I have a hard time looking into his eyes so I let myself focus on his adam’s apple. I watch it bob up and down while he swallows before speaking to me again.
“You looked upset when I assigned that paper. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” Deciding what he said must have seemed inappropriate he adds, “I’m always available for my students if they need someone to talk to.” I lift my eyes to his and he smiles again. I try to think back over the whole semester, I’m not sure I’ve seen him smile once. He has a nice smile; he should do it more often. I mentally slap my forehead for thinking like that; he’s my teacher for God’s sake! But it’s a nice smile and his jet black hair looks so soft, I almost want to reach out and…“Miss Redding? Chelsea? Are you okay?”
Have I been having a conversation in my head while I stare at him, am I drooling? I shake my head trying to rid the budding dirty thoughts before they go too far. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”