When Group is over, everyone files out except for me. I’m alone with her and she stares at me hunched over and holding my side, the way a spider must look at a tasty bug, newly caught and flailing in its web.
She sits down, surprisingly graceful, next to me and shows me what’s on her secret clipboard. It’s a stapled stack of papers with my name on top: JANSEN, CHRIS. Physician: Dr. HARVARD. Case Manager: CUNTFACE. I’m preparing myself for her to blast me for everything that’s happened this morning.
“Chris, as you know I’m your case manager now, which means I’ll be overseeing the various aspects of your care while you’re here. The first thing I need to do is go over your treatment plan.”
She unfurls the sheaf of papers and shows me a list of assignments with a COMPLETION DATE next to each one and an empty checkbox. The assignments have names like “List 10 things that trigger your desire to use.”
“Most people complete about one assignment per week,” she says, as she flips through to the last page. “When you are done with everything, including attending lectures and participating in Group, I will sign this form to certify that you’ve satisfied all the requirements for discharge.”
Discharge. That’s the word I wanted to hear.
I notice her thumb is next to a box that says FINAL COMPLETION DATE and I start to panic. It’s six weeks from today. What in the holy fuck? I agreed to a few days here, maybe a week at most. I could survive that long like I did in Detox, but that’s it, I’m done. I don’t belong in this place with these people. I can’t even sleep at night for God’s sake! I just can’t—can’t even contemplate it. Surely this is just more bureaucratic bullshit. They probably find out what your insurance will pay for and say that’s how long you are staying.
She looks at me almost kindly. “Do you have any questions for me?” she asks.Yes, I have only one question: Is this bullshit for real? Because if it is, I’m fucking out of here. Instead I ask,
“If I complete these assignments early, do you think, I mean, can I finish earlier than this date?”
She doesn’t respond, just cocks her head to the side, like a dog trying to comprehend human speech. Or a human trying to comprehend dog speech. An amused smile plays at the corners of her mouth. It’s as if she refuses to dignify this stupid junkie question with a reply. She stares at me and I stare back for as long as I can, then drop my gaze back to the treatment plan (which thankfully obscures her shoes).
Before I can think of anything else to say the door cracks open and I hear a familiar voice.
“Chris! I’ve been looking for you!”
It’s my doctor, Dr. Harvard. She and her beautiful, ungainly brown self are flopping square in the middle of the doorway.
“We’re finished here anyway,” says the Cuntface.
“Great!” says Dr. Harvard. She always seems very enthusiastic and in a great hurry.
For a floppy little Indian woman, Dr. Harvard moves fast. I jog after her as she leads me to the doctor’s dictation room around the corner. She unlocks the door and flips the lights on as we both jump into the empty chairs like the music is about to stop. I’m still trying to mirror her demeanor and be as compliant as possible. She’s my last hope of getting out of here.
“How’s your first twenty-four hours in recovery been?” she asks, already making hurried notes in my chart. Her brain seems to only have one speed: faster.
“I hate it. I don’t know if I can stay here. I mean, I’m an introvert, Dr. Harvard, surely you must understand?” Right, fellow smart person?
“There are all these people. I just. This isn’t for me.” She writes and writes and says nothing. “And my case manager is saying I have to be here for six weeks??? Am I not eligible for outpatient treatment?”
She puts her pen down, suddenly unhurried, and looks deeply into my eyes while holding her hands up to her temples as if warding off a migraine.
“Listen to me! Chris, you need to be immersed in this healing. If you go home now you will go back to using.”
“I won’t! I promise!” I lie.
“Listen to what I’m telling you. Being here, dealing with all the bullshit that I know you hate—this is the way for you to get better. This is the only way.” Before I can respond she picks up her pen again to do some more manic scribbling. “Now,” she says, “do you have any other concerns about your health?”
“I’m feeling really nervous and getting chills again. I think I might be having Suboxone withdrawal.”
“I’ll increase your Catapres at bedtime,” she says, flipping back and forth through pages and scribbling. “If there’s nothing else, I’ll see you again in a few days.”
I sink back into my chair and look away, defeated again. No more Subs. No more Tranxene for Captain Danby’s cryo-chamber. No controlled substances of any kind. Nothing but shitty blood pressure meds. As she’s putting down some last little scribbles in my chart, I look around and note the computer sitting arrogantly on the other side of the room.
She gives my hand the obligatory shake, picks up my chart and her giant purse and flops off to somewhere. I make a motion of following but linger behind.
I stand in the doorway and look up and down the hall. There is a very serious-looking African-American woman sitting behind the desk next to Michelle, but she’s talking to Connor, the gray-hoodied gangster, so she doesn’t notice me staying behind. Addicts love to sneak around. We love to bend the rules. We love being exceptions. I don’t know if it’s my disease or my desperation or my loneliness—but I’m determined to fuck with that computer.
Smooth and quick as Oxycontin up my nose, I slip over to the computer and tap the keyboard. Password screen. Dammit. Okay, I’ve been hacking around since I was twelve. If I can’t crack the consult room computer I might as well hang it up. I look under the keyboard. I see a post-it note that reads: 1dayatatime. I glance over my shoulder at the door one more time and type with trembling fingers. As if the Suboxone withdrawal isn’t bad enough, I’ve had no computer access since I’ve been here. No Reddit drug forums. No 4chan. No Gmail. No Facebook. The last message I sent was a group text to the Love Defenders saying I was having personal problems.
My heart is pounding now, my body an anatomical chart of anxieties. I feel the cold shivers of withdrawal breaking through again, like microscopic centipedes marching up and down under my skin. Meanwhile my liver has gone from spasms to full-on epilepsy. The network connection light is blinking green. I open a browser to Facebook. It shows Michelle.Jones13 currently signed in. I guess I’m not the first inmate to have this idea. I sign Michelle.Jones13 out and don’t even read her private messages, my little obeisance to karma.
Now. Open an incognito tab and sign in. Username, password. My heart is pounding out of my chest with fear and anticipation. I keep peeking over my shoulder at the door waiting for the Cuntface or Emanuel or Dr. Harvard to appear. Waiting, waiting. The network activity light flickers. I’m expecting to see that familiar blue band of the Facebook notification bar light up screaming red with messages in the triple digits—Zing!
Zing. There are exactly three messages.
It seems like I’ve been away for months, so much has happened to me—despair, drugs, detox, withdrawal. Jonah. Jesus. the Tear Woman. Dr. Hush. And there’s three fucking messages?
The first one is from Kelli, my poet friend from St. Louis. “We missed you, hope things are okay, love you.” The next one’s from Tracy, another friend from the poetry conference. “Chris your wife said you are in the hospital. Here is some video of the Love Defenders reading!” I love Tracy. Through all my insanity she has always stuck by me. I have no idea why. I can’t bear to click on the video though. I can’t bear to see my absence acknowledged. I want to pretend the whole thing never happened.
The last message is from my friend Frank, who has been my friend since we were twelve. We met at the most underutilized public building in Albany, the library. I was so lonely I asked him if he wanted to see my house and told him I lived just around the corner, when my house was really miles away. But he walked all the way with me. He never turned around and went home and we’ve been friends ever since.
I stare at the screen. I scroll up and down and reload the page again and again and again. I need there to be a message from Ingrid. Concern. Forgiveness. Anger. Hatred. Absolution. Anything. But there is nothing. Maybe I missed it? Check again. No, nothing. I sign out of everything, close the connection and grab my folder. If I had tears I would cry, but I’m not alive enough to do that. I thought Detox was a low point, but with the Tranxene and Depakote and Suboxone, I was still under the care and supervision of drugs. Now I feel the last of the Suboxone being rinsed out of my body by my treacherous liver and know that I’m about to enter a new kind of hell.
I have given up so many times, thought I had hit absolute rock bottom, but after this morning I want only to cry, just cry, Lord please let me just cry. I want that great, cleansing, belly-shaking rain of tears that I had wished would come for depressed Cassie, but I can’t. I can’t cry. I try to bring something up from deep in my chest but nothing comes. I realize now that ghosts have no bodily fluids. Tears, blood, semen, sweat; these are the province of the living.
Standing in the doorway now with my blue ADDICT folder, between one nightmare and another, feeling totally abandoned, I finally know why the Tear Woman was saving her tears.
Cover image courtesy of tobakhopper via Flickr
Read part 1 here