You stand in a class full of high school students who think you’re a joke, but you can relate to them because you used to mock the man who dressed up as a clown every year and preached to your high school about the dangers of drugs, using his own life as an example. Now you envy that clown because he could hide behind his makeup and costume, whereas you – with your professional attire and exposed face – might as well be naked. Plus your lower back hurts like hell, a constant burn that radiates down your legs.
Despite this, you continue talking about how your daughter made excellent grades, received a music scholarship, and smiled more than anyone you’ve ever known, how you drained your savings account in an effort to save her life, all of the money on rehab facilities, psychiatrists, psychologists, and gurus of every kind, and how – as you saw her body in a coffin, several days after the Fentanyl-laced heroin had raced through her system and killed her in seconds – you remembered the person she had been before the addiction and imagined the person she could have become. Some of the students in front of you roll their eyes and exchange smirks. Others look bored.
Your hands slap the podium. The students flinch and stare at you with ballooning eyes. Your palms sting. The ticking of the clock on the wall interrupts the silence.
“Pay attention for a couple of minutes, please, then I’ll leave. I promise.”
They study your face and wait for the next words.
“Close your eyes and listen to this story.”
One by one, they do as you requested, some more willingly than others. In this miracle of silence, you say:
Imagine sitting on your back porch, with the back door cracked open so you can hear inside the house. The wind has stopped and the trees and bushes stand perfectly still. Even the birds and insects have fallen silent. The blades of grass, the leaves, the brown fence around the yard—all glowing in sunlight. It’s a rare moment of calm. Just as you dose off to sleep, you hear a familiar sound. A thud. It’s the sound of her body collapsing in her bedroom. You want to leap up and run, but can’t move fast enough, like one of those dreams where you try to hurry although you can hardly lift a foot. When you finally stand over her, you suspect it’s too late. Her lips are purple. Her face is pale. An eternity passes between each motion, between each bend of your knee or ankle or finger. After you remove the Naloxone from a drawer, you kneel next to her, the Naloxone not reviving her, so you lean over the body and feel its warmth. You pray. A whimper crawls out of your throat. You want to administer CPR, but her jaw is clamped shut and her chest is concrete. Your hands shake so violently that you keep pressing the wrong buttons as you try to dial 911. You blame yourself.
The students open their eyes and watch as you grab your lower back and hobble towards the door. You glance at a boy. His lanky arms tremble and the expression of pity and fear on his face makes you hopeful that perhaps you saved at least one.
Mr. Armstrong, the vice principal, accompanies you down the halls, past classrooms with closed doors, a labyrinth of gray halls. Through the small, square windows on the doors, teachers pace back and forth, scribble on whiteboards, gesture with their hands and arms. You wonder, How do they do it?
“Thanks for coming,” Mr. Armstrong says, looking at his watch, the pace of his walk quickening. “I’m sorry you’re lost.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
You labor to keep up. Sweat meanders down your forehead. The pain in your back unleashes waves of nausea. Mr. Armstrong swings open the door that leads to the parking lot, a strained smile contorting his face. “Take care of yourself,” he says, and the building swallows him.
You stagger through the parking lot to an empty garden tucked away at the back of the property, a garden maintained by teachers and students, where you sit on a bench underneath a wooden terrace. You open a bottle of water and swallow three Oxycodone pills, two more than you’re supposed to swallow. You light a cigarette and watch the smoke curl upwards from your nose and mouth. Tobacco is killing you, but you find a strange comfort in knowing that at least it’s killing you slowly, by degrees your senses fail to detect.
You sit alone in the garden, smoking another cigarette, the Oxycodone coursing through your body and the uncomfortable presentation to the students an afterthought because God this medication feels so good, the euphoric rush, the sensation of floating without pain, not just the physical pain, but the pain you’ve carried inside, the trauma of losing her, of knowing that her addiction started with Oxycodone pills she snuck out of your medicine cabinet.
There you sit, the wisteria flowers dangling from the terrace and swaying like wind chimes, dangling and swaying all around you, purple and white flowers, the colors of her face when you found her dead. Spots of sunlight jump across the grass, still wet with the memory of rain. You understand the power of these chemicals, their crippling and awesome power.
You close your eyes and see her standing in front of you. She’s a young woman, the woman you remember on her seventeenth birthday, the day before your back injury. That smile! She hugs you and you smell her hair, feel her skin. You want to hold and protect her. You want to save her from the addicts you both became.