This is something I've been thinking a lot about organizing lately. It's long, and I'm certain no one will enjoy reading it. That's fine. It's just something I needed to think about.
Her shirt is open in the back. Bruises on her lower back. Like the one on her arm that looks less and less like a bruise and more like a burn, the one that has been there for at least two weeks. Aren't those supposed to go away?
How are you?
Good, something. Generic. You?
There's something in my purse that will make me even more happy.
Can I see?
Look in the box.
She goes in the bathroom stall, hands me the big black tote with the silver cross and straps. I look in. iPod, half opened lipglosses. My hand comes out, covered in what I've begun to associate with her purse. The kind of grime that packs of cigarettes leave, although smoking is the one thing she doesn't dabble in. It's makeup, loose money, pills. My hand comes out, and it feels familiar. And yet-
There's one that I think will look good on you.
I noticed her red lipstick earlier, reach in. MAC, Matte. I press it on, dragging it across my chapped lips. Too dark. I smudge it, blurring over my lip line, tossing the lipstick back in. The box. Small, red, matchbox with Chinese symbols in gold. Inside, twenty-odd pills, small and white, smaller than a grain of rice. She's still peeing. I remember the cops outside, and ignoring the teenage employee cleaning out the bathroom stall down the hall, ask what it is.
She comes out. The automatic flush doesn't go off. She doesn't wash her hands. A flash of "The Great Gatsby," about how they were careless and left other people to clean up after their messes. It's Oxycotin.
Isn't that like totally illegal? How did you get it? She told me earlier, when I told her about my anxiety of flying, that no doctor would prescribe her anything. For good reason.
I stole it. From ********.
He's going to kill you. I'm only joking a little. You have to stop. But I know she won't. What would he report? The cops would find so much more illegal in his house. I don't know what she's looking for, or when this search for the next high will stop.
I am washing off the lipstick and trying again, this time lighter. I turn to grab a paper towel. We are alone in the bathroom. When I turn back, she has smashed some of the pills into a white powder. I don't even see how many, but there's a 1/4 tsp of powdered sugar, I can imagine, measuring it out onto a wet bathroom counter and rolling up my ticket, holding it to my nose, inhaling quickly. Do you have any more? It’s only sugar.
She hands me two. I stick them in my birth control, remembering to smash them up. I don't know why I am so reckless. It makes the points I try to make with her less valid.
I'm in a horrible mood during the movie. I'm jealous of my friend to the right, curled up with her boyfriend. I'm jealous of my friend to the left, able to leave when she wants. Start a new credit card, steal something valuable to sell or ingest, go to Massachusetts for a month and squat, go to Switzerland for a "language program" where she'll wander across Europe. And yet, I'm even more upset when, at the end of the movie, she asks me for the two pills back.
Are you serious? Is it that bad?
I just don't want to crash when I'm driving home.
I think of the pills in the box. They were small, there were at least twenty, maybe thirty. Meant for cancer patients. I mention this to her. She looks at me with a smile.
I open up my packet, give her the pills. Walk away. Ignore the call that her "car won't start," which is happening more and more now that her parents installed a breathalyzer ignition lock. Ignore the fact that the girl I was friends with in high school has been replaced by someone who is falling faster than I can chase after. To think about how I cannot reach that anymore without being branded a hypocrite, despite never trying a fraction of what she's doing. To think that, yelling, crying, chasing after her, is futile, and that maybe the best way is to cut ties completely like everyone says.
The trick will be to do this and convince myself that it is actually good.
(June 1st, 2008)
Four hours after leaving and I can still barely hear myself typing over the ringing in my ears. Went to a punk show in Bremerton. Got lost, three times, because I didn't print the entire directions off. Call V, and she says she's there. Then she says she has to go, but doesn't hang up before I hear the distinct sound of gagging, vomit.
Parked at Safeway, walked down a few blocks. Walked back to Safeway to park closer because I didn't feel safe amongst the two Mexican resturants with bars on their windows, the three pawn shops, and Ernie's Adult Video and Novelties, where you can buy a blow-up sheep that bleats. Looking at the people smoking in tight jeans and tshirts and my black skirt and sweater, thought I'd be overdressed. Saw V teeter down the street, black stilettos, tight lace skirt. Band of fabric barely passing for a shirt, open white jacket. Asked if I liked it. Lied.
Opening band's lead singer looked like my 13-year old brother, and didn't seem much older. Very loud. Wore a big pink t-shirt. I really want a cupcake, she says.
Sitting outside Safeway, I have my chow mein and cookie, she has her rice crispie treat and soymilk. Are you feeling ok?
Yea. I thought I had mono and was going to curse you. But I think it's just a cold.
Ok. Her color is fading.
If I tell you something, will you get mad at me?
Yesterday we had a long talk. For us. Which meant a five minute phone conversation, prefaced by two angry drunk emails. I told her nothing that she hasn't already heard from me. She accused me of having as much of a problem as herself. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. I worry that what I see is just the eyes of the crocodile (or do alligators live there, too?) gazing above the water, and not just the fangs of her addictions sinking into her.
I know what's coming. What did you take?
I don't even get the name of it. There's a pile of vomit in my passenger seat
Doesn't that sound a little more than the required dosage?
She looks at me. Yea. But I made myself throw up, and I think I'm feeling better. I don't even want to do anything again.
Really? I wonder why this is different from any other time that has threatened to bring about change. Weighing what's worse, vomit in your passenger seat, or being homeless. My nagging, or a DUI. Bremerton, or Gig Harbor, or LA, or Michigan, or Italy, or
We walk back to the concert. Cars honk at her too-high heels, the rolled up shirt, the white jacket with a makeup stain on the front. We sit and hardly talk on the sticky vinyl bench. There's a puddle of something beneath my feet. She goes to her bathroom, leaving her purse. It takes me a full minute to work up the courage. And despite that familiar feel of her purse, the open makeup, the loose bills, an eyelash curler, a hairbrush, nothing new. The pillbox is still empty. No bottles with eyedroppers.
I see the white jacket walking across the mosh pit, and put her bag down. Return my gaze to the young lead singer with the baby face and bob length hair. When he smiles at the boys in tight pants waving their fingers like flames licking the hem of his pink shirt, there's something girlish about him. Oh please, you, well, if you say so, hands flung back in mock surprise. V leaves to get some fresh air. When I follow her, she leaves, promising to call when she's made it home safely. My friend's band's set begins, ends. I talk to him for a minute, a quick compliment, and run, tripping over the boy in the pink shirt curled up in the dark corner. He's just looking for attention, his friend says. I leave, and do my best to think nothing else about it.
I'm embarassed by her. I'm jealous of her. There's nothing more I'd like to do than keep her away from the life I have here, with the exception of having her freedom. To have no problem leaving the country, no regard to hurting people even if it is hurting them back.
It's almost a year ago. I get a phone call telling me to cancel my plans, I am needed for the fourth wheel of a double blind date. I know that nothing will come from it, but despite it being a Monday I am intrigued.
She drives over, drunk. I bought you this!
I take the half empty bottle from her and put it in the fridge.
Wait, I want to make a drink.
No, let me. She pees, and I only wet the edge of her bottle with liquor.
Oh my god, you had SEX in this shower, right? She shouts from the cavernous bathroom as my roomates look up from their homework.
Are you sure you still want to do this?
Of course. Can you drive?
The waitress brings her drink after drink. I refuse, although I know I wouldn't be carded. The men show up. A tray comes, somehow, with one iced tea (me), two long necked bottles of beer (men), three shots of top shelf tequila, a marguarita, and something called a Blue Lagoon (her).
My date ends in a handshake. V goes home with hers. I take her car, tell her to call me to get the keys. She can make her own decisions.
I get calls, but not from her. One is from V's mother, asking if I've heard from her. I go to class and an hour later have four messages on my machine, each more worried than the last. "Erin. I am so sorry to keep on bothering you, I just can't get a hold of her and she said she was staying at your place but I don't think she did, do you know anything? I'm so sorry."
Standing outside, I get a call from her date. She went home with him, continued to drink, blacked out unconscious, woke up and started drinking again. She’s driving, somewhere. We can’t find her.
She calls me that evening, after a concert. I meet her in the stairwell of the music building.
You know what I'm going to say, don’t you.
She’s crying. Are you mad at me?
No. Well, kind of.
I can’t stand you being mad at me.
Then make good decisions.
She stares at me, unblinking. Then runs, through the parking lot, past the football field. I chase her, long enough to end up in front of her car, her silhouette barely visible behind headlights. I think of that iconic photo. Shaking, put up my hand. She stops, swerves around me, and I lose her.
I should just save her number in my phone. She calls more than her daughter. I know the number, one digit from V's old one. Answer as I walk outside.
"Erin, I need to tell you something." Her voice breaks.
She's in the hospital. She's OD'd. She's missing, for good. She's stolen their money and ran off to Ireland or Zaire or Sydney or Rio. She's dead.
"John passed away last night." Her father. That can't be. Her father, the chaplain, who worked out. He had just started treatment, just been diagnosed. I hadn't talked to her since then.
"V needs you to be there." She's crying. I'm crying, although I hardly knew him.
Two Saturdays from now
Every day I check the obituaries for three counties, Pierce, Kitsap, Mason. For a week, I wonder if I imagined the phone call. I've called our high school friends, who don't know how to react, how to support this friend who was their lost cause years ago. A week before his memorial service, his obituary shows up. This is real.
The service is the worst service I have ever been to. The congregation is elderly. I recognize a few faces. My high school choir teacher. The girl whose sandwich we ate, the boy who taught us to box, my friend wearing a jean skirt. I can’t stop adjusting my dress. V is wearing a cocktail dress. Her shoulderblades are visible from the back row, the only seats left when I came in. We sing “Let it Be” in a very straight rhythm, “When-I-Find-My-Self-In-Times-Of-Trou-Ble-Mo-Ther-Ma-Ry-Comes-To-Me.” Deli platters and rolls are served. V makes sure to ask each one of us how we are doing, if I can help her with music theory, before she thinks about her dad again and cries. It’s primal, scary coming from a human. Us four girls stand out back and talk about college. Move to the front and smoke menthols, each inhale deep, as if the nicotine rested in the fog.
I leave when everyone else leaves, but I don't go home. I drive around Mason county for an hour, maybe two. I find a road I've been on before, park. Climb down to the water in black pumps and a dress and stay there for a long time.
I wasn't expecting a response. Four months is not unusual. But I sent it anyways.
"Hey, I'm in town. Can I see you?" Simple loaded question. Will you be high, or drinking cocktails and shots of tequila while saying that rehab taught you how to drink safely, or disappearing off to the bathroom throughout the one dinner a season I can put myself through, a drastic change from spending every day at your parent's modern glass palace, an Escheresque amount of stairs in all directions that I never quite mastered.
No response. I try and suppress my worries. Then. Unexpected, between two long group emails from Vienna friends about Asian massage parlours and summer addresses, "RE: No Subject."
"im in anaheim. I guess I should tell you that Im in rehab.Im actually in a mental institution/dual diagnosis clinic. im in the last stage...so im leaving soon..proably to newport beach where ill live for the summer and work. Ive been for 60 days. I sort of had a melt down. I was stealing drugs. and blacking out.and supressing feelings from my childhood. things that happend to me when I was four. I was fucked up.I was going to kill myself. im still fucked up. but im doing better. how are you? how was austria? did anything exciting happen?
love you much miss the fuck out of you"
She quotes Matisyahu. The Bible. Her dead father. Jerusalem, if I forget thee, let my right hand become useless and a horrible friend, for thine is the Kingdom and the huge house where we made angel food cakes and stayed up all night talking about vampires, we were the salt of the earth and thought nothing could destroy us. And then nothing. Emails go unanswered, phones are disconnected.
Now. I go towards her house often. I know she doesn’t live there. I’m not sure if anyone does anymore. But it takes all of my energy to not turn left, drive up the hill where I share the road with no one, rolling down my windows, making two left turns, and finding myself there again. But I don’t. I never do.
My hands have no memory of what to do now.