A Disastrous Account of Addiction
Based on Many Truths, But a Work of Fiction
Kate drove like a madwoman in her usual way, weaving her old vehicle through rush hour traffic, speeding up to the next vehicle’s bumper, slamming on the brakes, and narrowly filling in the gap between the cars in the neighboring lane. With each jerking maneuver, this junkyard ready vehicle from the last century would scream, whine, and squeal. Kate was really pushing it this time. She realized her exit was coming up and immediately clicked on her indicator to let others know she intended to depart the highway. Once the blinker was on, she proceeded to navigate her rusted, shaking, bumbling box of mechanical mystery behind the pick up truck in the right lane, clearing his bumper by an entire inch. The truck driver slammed on his horn and pointed fingers while swearing loudly enough for Kate to hear him through the crack she left in the window for her cigarette smoke to clear. The truck driver called out “crazy bitch!” and proceeded to drive on. Kate exited the highway without flinching at his remark. She glanced at the broken digital clock in her car’s dashboard and determined it was five o’clock. Gram would be home in a half-hour.
Kate was in a rush, there was no time to lose. She ran to the backyard and grabbed the spare key that was stashed under a terracotta pot in her Gram’s garden. She let herself into the most well-organized basement in the history of home ownership. Her Gram didn’t save everything, but everything she did save was stored inside a plastic bin, each bin adorned with a detailed label of bin contents. Kate glanced across her Gram’s basement to see the variety of plastic storage containers her Gram had collected over the years. Some were a half-century old, some had been purchased last week at the local department store. An empty one sat at the base of the stairs and Kate noted that her Gram had already made a space for it to reside next to the other ones. Kate shook her head thinking that she would never be so organized. She walked up the basement stairs and pushed the door open into the kitchen. A waft of the morning’s coffee and a sweet scent of dish soap filled Kate’s nostrils.
“Hello? Anyone home?” Kate asked with anticipation. No one answered. No one was home.
Relieved to be alone in the house, Kate swiveled her head around. She was looking for something, anything. It had to be valuable. And it had to be easily missed, not obvious. This process was getting more difficult. But Kate was not one to give up, so she took to the stairs and headed toward the bedrooms. She knew there would be something there.
But first, Kate thought to check the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Kate wasn’t in the habit of looking in the mirror these days. Mainly because the young woman who looked back was underweight with ghostly white skin and large dark circles accenting her brown eyes. She tried to smooth her brown hair without much success. With a groan, she dismissed the diminished reflection as she opened the medicine cabinet. A bottle of Tylenol, bandaids, a jar of petroleum jelly from 1952. Kate quickly moved out of the bathroom into the room her mother and she had shared when Kate was very young. She opened the closet where her old school uniforms, a few costumes from dance recitals, and a plastic container labeled “Sara’s Toys – 1970” stared back at her. Kate tore the plastic lid off and peered inside – there were a few Barbies, a small bag of homemade doll clothes, and an old Mystery Date game. Kate took out the Mystery Date game and set it on her old bed. That might fetch a few bucks on Ebay, but wouldn’t help her now. With a grunt, she stormed across the hall into her Gram’s bedroom.
Kate literally and figuratively hadn’t crossed this threshold before. She had come to her Gram’s house to “borrow” things before, but she hadn’t actually entered her Gram’s room. She was in new territory, a fact that bothered her for all of a thirty seconds. She scanned Gram’s dresser for a jewelry box, but there wasn’t one. She turned around and noticed the quilt that Gram was using on her bed – it was the one she had made with her Mom and Gram when she was in the second grade. Her first time sewing on a machine. Kate patted the bright yellow quilt and reached out to open the closet. Inside, she eyed an old cigar box stashed on top of a stack of shoe boxes and pulled it off the shelf. She lifted the lid and peered inside – an old tobacco smell emanated from the box. She found a gold pocket watch that needed to be repaired, a crumpled up letter that had been smoothed out, a broken brass lighter that needed to be cleaned. Kate quickly replaced the lid and shut the closet door. She had what she needed. She quickly ran out of her Grandmother’s house, got back in her car and drove to her next stop.
“Hi – You’ve reached Kate. I’m not able to answer your call. Leave a message.” Beep.
“Hi Katie. It’s your Gram. I was just wondering if you stopped by today. The basement door was left open and the key is gone. Call me back sweetie. Okay, bye bye.” Beep.
“Hi, You’ve reached Kate. I’m not able to answer your call. Leave a message.” Beep
“Hi Katelyn. It’s your Grandmother again. I need to ask you a question. Call me back as soon as you can.” Beep.
Kate watched her phone ring over and over. She silenced her phone so she wouldn’t have to listen to the voicemails as they were left, one after the other. Averaging six minutes apart. All from her Gram. This was the only time she felt any remorse for her actions.
She was starting to get cold, her car was without heat and it was getting late. She had to figure out her evening. She pulled off the road into a small dilapidated shopping plaza where only a laundromat and a pawn shop remained open for business. She took the cigar box in her clutches and walked up to the pawn shop.
Kate’s nostrils receded as she entered the pawn shop which wreaked of tuna fish, moth balls, and possibly mold. She looked across the small, crowded shop and saw a very large man in a ripped t-shirt with a tattooed head and thick, hairy arms. She meandered over to where the man was sitting and placed the box on the glass case he was sitting behind.
“Yeah, do you want something?” the man garbled over a mouthful of tuna salad sandwich.
Kate slid the cigar box closer to pawn shop man in response. He flipped the lid onto the floor and started digging through the box with his filthy, fish-stinky hands.
“The watch is worth $60,” said the pawn shop man, “it needs to be cleaned and I have to call a guy to get it working again.”
“It’s gold! No, I need more than that. Damnit,” Kate balled her fist up and gritted her teeth, “I need more than that for this. It’s a family heirloom. What about the lighter?”
“I can give you a few bucks for that, but again. It’s old, it doesn’t work. I need to put money into that to sell it.” The pawn shop owner wasn’t about to start negotiating and Kate knew it.
Kate looked around the pawn shop for a minute and tried her best to muster a counter-offer that the owner would agree to – “Give me $80 for the watch and the lighter and I’ll get out of your hair,” Kate said in her toughest negotiation voice.
The completely bald pawn shop rubbed his tattooed head and chuckled, “Ain’t got no hair. I’ll give you $70 for both. That’s it. You’ll have to leave my shop if that doesn’t work for you.”
Kate nodded and agreed to the $70. The pawn shop owner counted out the bills on a glass case and scribbled some illegible words on a receipt pad. He ripped off the top receipt and handed it over to Kate with the money.
“Thanks,’ Kate said as she pocketed the money and the receipt. She noticed there was something occupying her pocket. She removed the brass key for her Gram’s basement door.
“Damnit,” Kate said as she turned the key over in her hands.
“You keep saying that,” remarked pawn shop man.
Kate looked up at the shop owner, nodded her head, and started to push her way out of the musty store.
“Hey lady!” pawn shop man called out, “Take your cigar box. I don’t want your trash!”
Kate stepped over to the counter and took the box from pawn shop man’s grimy, stinky hands. She pushed her way out of the musty pawn shop and got into her car. One try, two tries, three tries – Kate fought to get her clunker started. The engine finally turned and Kate’s mind moved onto the next step in her evening’s plan. The same plan she had every night for the last few years. Kate pulled her car into a fast-food restaurant parking lot, haphazardly rolled it into two spaces, and threw the car into park. She thought it best to keep the engine running. She lit a cigarette and rolled down her window. She mindlessly grabbed her phone and reviewed the screen – eight voicemails sat waiting to be heard. All from her Gram. Kate didn’t bother listening to any of the messages. She instead started scrolling her contact list so she could call Becks.
“Yeah,” Becks always answered in a way that conveyed his apathy and lack of concern for human beings.
“Hi Becks. It’s Kate. I have $70. I was wondering if I could do five tonight?” Kate took a deep breath and tried to get her hand to stop shaking. She was starting to feel sick, sweaty and nauseous.
Becks responded by screaming, “For fucking $70 you can have three and I’ll throw you a fourth one since you’re desperate as usual. What happened to everything you bought yesterday?”
Kate’s lower lip started to quiver, tears streamed down her cheeks. She responded, “I…ah…I used them already. I need more. I’ll take the four,” she took the phone away from her face so she could catch her breath. An anxiety attack was starting to ensue, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Becks hung up without responding. He didn’t give any confirmation that he’d be available. He never did.
Kate put her car in reverse, pulled out of the two parking spaces her beat up car was occupying and proceeded to drive like a bat out of hell to her dealer’s apartment. As she was driving, she realized that her car needed gas. She would only make it to get her drugs tonight. She’d have to sleep in her car. Again. Hot tears formed into rivers that flowed off of her face. Kate pulled over, opened her car door to vomit, and quickly closed the door. She screamed at the top of her lungs. She was freezing. She hated herself. She hated her life.
Her cell phone lit up – another call from Gram. Four rings, five rings, six rings. “Gram?? Gram??” Kate’s terrified voice penetrated the call, “Gram! I’m so sorry!”
“Katelynn! Oh Katelynn. Look – I need that box back! The cigar box belonged to your Grandfather. The watch belonged to his Grandfather. The lighter was my wedding gift to your Grandfather. The letter was the first letter I received after not hearing from him for over six months during the war,” Gram expressed herself in a rapid fire fashion. Every bit of her fear, frustration, and absolute anger was dispatched, “Katelynn – I can’t let you do this to me. And I can’t allow you into my home any longer.”
Kate started to shake and weep. She couldn’t handle hearing her Gram convey such distress. She could barely muster a response. She especially couldn’t handle her Gram calling her Katelynn. Her name was Kate.
“KATELYNN! ARE YOU THERE???” Gram screamed through the phone, “Katelynn! Please! What is going on? I know why you keep stealing from me. We’ve been through this before. You and me. I don’t know why you would make these same choices!”
She had done it again. She had hurt her Grandmother. This time hitting really deep. Because of her addiction to pills – opiates.
“So what happened? Did she die?” I looked up from the podium to figure out where the query had come from.
“I’m sorry. Who asked those questions?” I scanned the room, but no one moved.
“Did she die?” inquired a young woman standing in the back corner of the room, “I mean, how does this end? This is just another stupid, sad story about an addict who fucked up her life. It doesn’t help us.”
I gathered my papers into a pile and placed them back into a manilla folder. I cleared my throat and responded, “Yes, you’re right. I know how often you’ve heard these stories before and…”
“Yeah, it’s just more depressing crap. Doesn’t help us. Doesn’t help us with our problems,” the young woman interrupted.
I placed the folder in my shoulder bag and set it aside on an old wooden school desk. I glanced around the space. We were collected in the basement of a Catholic church. Seven of us. Most were seated wherever they wanted to sit. A couple of the attendees were standing.
I walked over to a stack of chairs and lifted one off so that I could place it on the floor. I sat down with the other support group attendees as the young woman in the back continued with her tirade. Audibly upset, she was nearly shouting now, “So what? You’re done talking? You’re not going to tell us what happened to Kate? She died of a horrible drug overdose and killed everyone who cared about her. Right? Did Grammy die of a broken heart?”
I simply sat in my plastic chair, knitted my hands together, and placed them in my lap. I didn’t want to interrupt this young woman who clearly needed to be heard. By someone, by anyone. She proceeded to get closer to the front of the room where I sat. I could see her young face, anguished in misery, rage, and pain. An older man who was seated near the back of the room grabbed his jacket and left.
The young woman watched as he left the room. Through clenched teeth and fresh tears, she asked “How does this help me? How does hearing this story of another tragedy help me?”
I got up from my seat and gestured for this young woman to sit down. She couldn’t have been 25-years-old. Her jeans were faded, stained, and ripped. She wore a men’s hooded sweatshirt that swam on her lean and lanky frame. She agreed with a nod and walked by me. I could smell cigarette smoke waft over as she removed the hair tie from her long, black hair. She tried to casually wipe the tears and knotted her hair into a bun before she sat down in the seat I offered her. Her stained tennis shoes had holes around the toes, one was held together by five or six safety pins.
She was me, ten years ago.
I grabbed another chair off the stack and brought it over to sit next to my new friend. I sat down and cleared my throat again, “This story has a happy ending. It’s not a tragedy, although it has its tragic moments. Gram did pass away a few years ago. She passed peacefully, in her sleep, in her own bed. I spent the evening previous to her death with her – we were rummaging through her plastic bins, pulling out old photo albums, and reminiscing about my Mom…”
“We?” the young woman’s eyebrows nearly leaped off of her forehead.
A young man and an older woman glanced at each other from across the room and took their seats to the front where myself and the young woman were seated. Both sat down so that a small circle had formed among the four of us. Everyone else had left.
The young man asked, “How do you kick this?”
The older woman nodded and said, “Yes, I have been addicted to these pills since my knee surgeries two years ago. I can’t get off!”
Gulping back tears, remembering where I was just a few years ago, I responded, “I kicked this with my loved ones holding my hands and never giving up on me. More than anything else though, I didn’t give up on me. I wanted better for me than my own Mom wanted. She died of this addiction. I chose not to die. That’s how you kick this. You decide to live every day. For yourself first, and then your loved ones.”
The young woman mumbled and shook her head, “No one cares about me. I don’t have anyone to hold my hand.” The young woman started sobbing. I reached out for her hand and held it while she cried.
“I am holding your hand now. I will continue to do so if you decide to live. I have walked in your shoes. I absolutely care. My name is Kate.”
Featured Photo Credit: Pixabay