"You do anything long enough to escape the habit of living until the escape becomes the habit." - David Ryan
You find her in the back alley behind the quickie food shop. A sense of mild surprise comes over you as you realize that you've found her in the first place that you decided to look. But then she twitches in the moonlight and anything you felt before is forgotten. You rush to her and lower yourself to the ground, not caring that you just kneeled in a puddle of who knows what. In the glimmer of the moon, she looks like a porcelain doll; her skin is almost glowing white, and her light brown hair, though matted and damp, is falling over her shoulders, a feeble attempt to keep her warm. You put your hand to her forehead, and the heat of it clashes with the chill of her skin. Quickly, you feel her wrist for a pulse and find a rather strong beat. You let out a breath of air that you didn't know you were holding. Suddenly, she opens her eyes despite how heavy they seem.
"Please...please don't...hurt...," she trails off. You close your eyes in silence. She doesn't recognize you.
"No, no, I'm not going to hurt you, Jenna. It's me," you say as calmly as you can manage. She slowly blinks up at you, straining to stay awake.
It's barely a word, more like a gargled cough, but you know that she knows. You nod your head, and she lets out a small sigh of relief. You gently wrap her arm around your shoulder, letting her small frame lean against yours.
"On the count of three. One, two, three!"
She stumbles over her own feet, but you quickly catch her before she falls. You lift her up, urging her to walk as best she can. It takes a few tries before she falls into a somewhat steady stride that matches your footsteps. Left, right, left, right. Slowly and carefully. As you come out of the alley, you realize that in your haste to find her, you didn't think to call anyone; you just ran. Luckily, there's a pay phone at the quickie food shop, and you can hear the jangling of coins in your pocket.
You let her slump against you as you slip the quarters into the slot of the pay phone, but you hesitate as your finger reaches the risen numbers. You could just take her home, take care of her yourself. She'd appreciate that. There are no itchy robes or rubber tubes at home. Plus, her chill is slowly disappearing. Perhaps it would be best if you just took her home. She vomits on your shoes. Perhaps not. You push the familiar numbers, feeling the braille translation under your fingertips. 9-1-1. After you make the call, you lead her over to a bench beside the pay phone. She seems to be coming out of her drug induced haze.
"What are we doing? Did you call a cab?" she asks, slurring most of the words. Even in her stupor, she recognizes what your silence means. She tries to shrink away from you, but ends up falling back against your side.
"I hate you, Chris."
The night is a long, exhausting one. You sit in the waiting room for hours on end without any word. As you allow your eyelids to rest, the events of the night rush past. It's been like this for too long. She uses, she is caught, she promises that she'll quit, and so on. Although, from what you can tell, it's never been this bad. Most of your time is filled with wondering why you stay with her. It can't be out of love; this just can't be what love is. You suddenly recall part of a Bible verse that you heard a lifetime ago. 'Love is patient, love is kind. It is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs....' That's all you can remember. You know that you're missing some stuff in the middle, but what gets you is the end. The part that always used to stick with you, the part of the verse that you thought you'd always know. How did it go? Love is...love is...is.... There's no point in it now. It will come to you when you least expect it. Or maybe it will disappear completely. Whichever comes first.
Being with her is like walking upside down. At first, everything is out of reach, and all you can do is try to keep from letting yourself fall. Every piece of the life that you've built together is falling all around you, papers flying from desks and sheets from beds and chairs from tables. Everything's a mess, and you never know how you're going to fix anything. But then, she meets you halfway across the ceiling, and you pick up the pieces together. Put the sheets back on the bed, organize the papers to your liking. And just when life seems to be a tad bit normal, an inch of regularity, she uses again, and there you go, spiralling out of control, losing any sense of order and peace, and you're not able to reach anything anymore. Not even her.
The voice surprises you, and you flinch a little.
"Sir, you can see her now."
Finally. You get up from the waiting room chair and follow the nurse to her room. The moment you see her, tubes in her arms, skin pasty and pale, the rest of the Bible verse comes rushing through your mind.
'Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perserveres.'
The next few weeks are filled with court dates. As she hasn't forgiven you for taking her to the hospital, she refuses to speak to you unless it is absolutely necessary. The court appointed attorney does his best to come to an agreement with the judge. Even though she's been using for a while, she's never been formally charged with any crime before. It is because of this that she gets off on a relatively lenient sentence: rehab. She stares daggers at you when you pull the car around, and it takes much convincing on her attorney's part to get her into the car. You know that it's the lack of the drug, but still, it gets to you.
The ride to the the rehab facility is quiet and strained. When you reach your destination, she doesn't even spare a look towards you before she is out of the car, bags in hand, and walking to the door which is held open by a young man in an off-white outfit. She doesn't look back.
It would be easy to say that the months flew by, that without her, things were easier and much more managable. That would be the easy thing to say. But you you never much cared for the easy way out. The truth is that it was as if you were the one in detox. You counted down the hours, minutes, seconds on the clock. You could barely sleep the whole night through knowing that only a pillow lay next to you. Every day seemed to blurr together into one long enternity, a six month eternity. You attempt visitation, but she doesn't want to see you. The nurse says it's because she only wants to see you when she is completely better, but sometimes you wonder.
You're there on the last day of her required rehab stay. They won't allow you inside; she wants to say her goodbyes to her fellow addicts alone. When almost an hour passes, you begin to wonder if they're putting you on, if all of this has been some sick, cruel joke. But then, there she is, running out of the double doors, her face glowing radiant. Her hair has filled in, and it's flying all over the place as she runs towards you. As she gets closer, you can see the unique blue of her eyes, a color you thought you'd never see again. Your smile is so big you can't even feel it anymore, but you know it's there. She drops her bags and jump through the air and into your arms. You grab her and wrap your arms around her waist, twirling her around in the process. This is good. This is right. This is what you've been waiting for, the day when the past can finally be put behind you both.
As she gets into the passenger side of the car, you see her wave goodbye to the people looking at you through the windows. You know that they're other addicts, but that they've grown to be her friends. But, then, she winks towards a blonde girl, a scrawny little thing, who simply winks back. You find it somewhat odd, but you put it out of your mind - you're too happy to notice much of anything right now. Like the way she clutches her backpack a little too tightly, the way her smile falters at the corners of her mouth. No, you don't notice any of it. Not even the pocket of her backpack where she keeps her hidden needles, a gift from her new friends.
It isn't long before you find them. It is a cold, windy day and you've just gotten home from work. She doesn't repond when you call her name, and though a part of you is immediately worried, you try to keep yoursel calm. It is then, however, that you see them. The long, glass tubes, the shiny, pointed tips, all of them spread across the floor. Your panic can't be measured. You call her name again and again, but only silence greets your ears. You look in every room, and you're afraid that she might have run away again when you hear a small moan. You rush to open the closet door, and there she is, among the coats and the broom, a needle still latched onto her arm.
This time, she is sent to a different rehabilitation center. She's lucky she avoided jail time, but she doesn't seem to see it that way. Once again, she doesn't want to see you, and once again, you're left to crawl along the ceiling alone.
But it's not as bad as all that. It's not as if you don't have a choice; you do, and you've made it. Why? Because love is patient, love is kind. It is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. But more importantly, love always protects. Always trusts. Always really do love her, don't you? And when she's better, truly better, she'll love you, too.
Love always perserveres.