My worn out Converse tapped to the beat of “No Sleep til Brooklyn” as 180 milligrams of methadone calmly washed over me, relaxing the muscles in my face, adorning it with an artificial look of momentary peace. A loud car horn startled me, forcing me to jerk my back away from the bus stop wall where it casually rested.
“What the fuck? I paid Carlos last week!”
I pushed myself slowly off the glass partition, flinched in pain briefly as the edge of my tee shirt grazed the fresh abscess on the bruised crease of my right arm, and walked towards the blaring honking. As I got closer, I noticed it wasn't my coke dealer and my heart began to beat erratically. My mind raced with a million paranoid scenarios. Did someone see me buying those Xanax at the clinic? Fuck, did I miss my appointment with my probation officer this week? I took one long drag off my Marlboro and let the thick cloud enshroud me like a weak attempt at assembling a smoke screen around my identity. I flicked the spent cigarette butt to the ground and pushed my recently purchased pills to the bottom of the crushed red and white pack with my Bic.
I was now about fifty feet from the car and I still did not recognize whose it was, but the fuzzy silhouette of a woman became slightly visible through my drug-induced haze. Her long, greasy, gray-streaked brown hair falls haphazardly over the rims of her large sunglasses. I can't believe it – my best friend Patricia from my last rehab stint actually managed to track me down. I leaned into the window of the rusted gold Ford Mustang, my eyes scouring the contents of the mobile garbage dump.
“Jesus, who the hell let you out?” I said, half-jokingly.
“Hey, Cat, I am so glad to see you. I need your help with something. I'm fucking dying.” Patricia looked like shit. The odor of unbathed flesh raped my nostrils as the stench escaped through her car window. I could tell that she had been using. Her arms were just bone draped with a thin coating of goose-pimpled flesh and her cheekbones were so sharp they could inflict paper cuts.
“Yeah, nice to see you too. Ah, man, Pat, you messed up again, didn't ya? Damn it. I know I ain't one to talk, but I thought this last time in really worked for you.” “You know me, Cat. Can't teach an old dog new tricks. Yeah, my kid is fed up. She threw me out last night when she found some shit in my room. Oh yeah. I never told you. Well, it's been awhile, but I got a new grandson now. I understand that she don't want me around with him being there and all.” “Jesus. Sorry, but congrats on becoming a grandmother,” I lowered my head and began kicking at the gravel on the ground, not really knowing what to say. Patricia grips the steering wheel and I could see that her whole body is cramping. Beads of sweat were collecting on her wrinkled forehead and her skin was a sickly shade of green. “So, how long you been without now?” “Since last night. That's kinda why I was looking for ya.” “Well, I am back on the Methadone Program and it takes way too many bags for me to even get a buzz. I got some Xanax, but they won't help with what you need. Fuck, lemme think. Umm...David had some stuff, but I think he caught the last bus outta here already.”
I noticed Patricia growing more anxious and ill by the second. So, I began flipping through the Rolodex of dealers I know, but since my last treatment program I have steered clear of opiates. I felt horrible seeing her like this and I was kind of torn, because I didn't know if I wanted to be responsible for getting her messed up again, especially since she is a grandmother now and she is basically homeless. Within a fraction of a second Patricia flings open her door, stumbles out of her car and starts throwing up on the sidewalk. I know what it's like to withdraw from opiates, but I also know what it's like to have your entire family disown you because you would rather put a needle in your arm, a line up your nose, or a pill down your throat. I stood there and watched my friend hunched over in agony, dope sickness coursing through her veins. I walked around the side of the car, pulled her hair out of her face, looked into her sunken, empty eyes, and helped her to her feet. “Can you drive, Pat?” “Depends on where we are headed.” “You know I can't take seeing you like this. I will help you. Just promise me that you will get back in somewhere. You got a grandkid to get clean for now. You got something to hold onto.” “I will. I swear. I just wanna sleep. I just want this fucking aching to go away.” She looks at me and I believe her. I believe she just wants the pain to stop, because I know how it feels when you are so sick from withdrawal that your bones are like shattered shards of glass piercing your skin, you can't control your bodily fluids from seeping out of every orifice in your body, and all you want to do is just die. We get in the car and after searching for over an hour, she is able to score some shit. She hasn't eaten in a few days, so before we go back to my room we stop at a local grocery store to pick up something that she may be able to keep down after she gets straight.
We walked up and down each aisle looking for something bland and tasteless that she can eat. She stopped in her tracks, staring at a little blue teddy bear dangling from a white metal hook next to stacks of Huggies and boxes of baby wipes. I put my hand on her shoulder and as she turns to me, her blood shot eyes begin brimming with tears. I know that underneath the fear of withdrawal and the daily struggle to maintain her drug habit she wants to be a grandmother. I imagine that she dreams of placing this tiny stuffed bear in her grandson's crib. Her emaciated arms probably long to rock him to sleep at night, singing him soft lullabies, believing that she can protect him from the darkness which now saturates her own existence. “Cat, you got five bucks? I need to get this for my baby. I am tapped out. Please. I will pay you back. Promise.” “Sure, Pat. Throw it in the basket.”
The sun crept through the broken shades in my rented room and painted warm, white lines across my already pale face. I wasn't sure when I passed out or even for how long I had been unconscious. The combination of Xanax and Methadone must have really knocked me on my ass. The bed was still and I got up slowly, so I would not disturb Patricia. I glanced over at her to make sure she had not fallen asleep with a cigarette and realized that her eyes were half open. Her corneas were clouded and her blueish skin was pulled back away from her bone, taut like a snare drum. I could feel my heart pounding in my temples and nausea began in the pit of my acid-riddled stomach and washed up over my entire body in horrific waves.
My hands trembled as I brought them towards her and when my fingers reached her partially opened lips, I felt no air escaping. White foam had puddled in the corners of her mouth and I knew then that she was dead. The coroner said that I was lying in bed with a corpse for approximately eight hours. The police questioned me for half the day and I was finally released after they realized it was an accidental overdose. For a week her gold Mustang sat in my driveway like an eroded metal tombstone, with a blue teddy bear on the dash board, reminding me of Patricia's grandson and how he would never get to know his grandmother.
I found out I was pregnant exactly a month after Patricia overdosed in my bed. As the nurse pointed to a tiny dot no larger than a pea on a small black and white monitor, my heart settled in the pit of my stomach. Fear consumed every inch of me, but I knew I had to make a choice right then and there, lying on that gurney, shivering from the onset of withdrawal and the realization that this child did not ask to be born to a junkie. I laid back, staring at yellowed ceiling tiles, running my dirty finger tips over my fresh track marks and decided this child would be born to a sober mother. On February 3, 2006, my little girl arrived. We were both conceived on the day I saw her for the first time on that ultra sound machine. I walked into the nursery and just stared at her delicate body through the glass for a moment. I couldn't believe that I had created something so beautiful. I was now responsible for another life. I gripped a purple stuffed bear tightly in my hands as I approached her crib. For a moment I was overcome by sadness, knowing that I was about to do what Pat had never gotten the chance to. I placed the bear alongside of my daughter with tears teasing the corners of my eyes. I picked her up and began rocking her gently, humming a soft melody in her ear.