“Long way down, I don’t think I’ll make it on my own
Long way down, I don’t want to live in here alone”
Goo Goo Dolls
The red Corvette roars around a blind corner. Amy’s behind the wheel with music blasting and Greg hanging on for dear life. The sports car is once again snaking its way up into the San Gabriel Mountains. But the beauty and serenity of the pine forest escapes Greg’s concerned eyes this morning. This trip, he’s too busy struggling to remain upright in an incessantly swaying vehicle.
“Are you trying to get us killed?” Greg asks.
“No. I’m trying to keep your mind on other things.”
“Other things?” Greg turns off the radio. “Other than what?”
“Your fear of heights.”
“Well, mission accomplished. My mind is completely consumed by the fear of your driving…” Soon a look of concern morphs to bewilderment. “Why would I be thinking about heights right now anyway?”
Amy guides the Vette onto a dirt shoulder, kicking up a cloud of dust with a sliding stop. As the brownish swirl starts its descent toward earth, Greg finds his eyes looking at an old familiar sign. Amy has brought him to the trailhead of ‘Condor Peak’; the location of their first conversation. Maybe confrontation is a better word.
“We’re going climbing.” Amy says.
Greg’s face contorts. “Maybe you are...”
Amy looks at her hubby with a sweet and consoling face, saying. “Greg, this is the third time I’ve come here, since we’ve been married…” She grabs hold of his arm. ”…but the first time with you.” She slides closer, wrapping her arm around Greg. “If there was something you loved almost more than anything, wouldn’t you want me to learn how to do it, so we could share it?”
“All right, if you wanna’ bring a super model into the bedroom, who am I to say –“(she swats him) “- ow.”
“Sweetie, I know what your father did to you. I also know you’ve gotten over a mountain of other crappy things in your life, this is just one more…We’re gonna get over this together -- one step at a time.”
Greg kicks the idea of climbing around in his head. The thought of ascending that mountain remains absolutely frightening, but an opportunity to experience the abundance of natural beauty, awaiting those who conquer the trek is alluring. Looking into his wife’s inspiring eyes, Greg feels that calming affect once more; and surprisingly, finds himself following her lead. Heading toward the trailhead, Greg says. “Anyone ever tell you, you’re a pushy woman?” Amy only smiles.
The first mile was easy enough, but having reached the end of the flat section, the tension builds. Greg is carefully sliding his fingers across a narrow rock shelf, while simultaneously side stepping along a granite outcropping. Amy has the lead, right next to him. “See?” Amy says. “Not so bad, is it?” Greg stops moving, looks down, and his heart rate jumps. Even though he is only three feet off solid ground, his mind registers eight stories above hardened concrete. “Come on, there’s an incredible view up there and only one way to see it…” Amy continues. “You gotta climb to the top.” Amy gives his arm a gentle tug. “I’ve got a little surprise waiting for you up top.” Greg casts a grave look, bites his lip and takes a few more steps. He’s now about five feet off solid ground and his thoughts render the harrowing moments he was in the clutches of a lunatic, swaying back and forth in a darkened sky, only seconds from imminent death. “Good, that’s really –“
Greg, ashen face, drops to the ground, bent at the waist and breathing very hard. “I can’t... I can’t do it.”
Maintaining her optimistic tone, Amy says. “All right, all right, it’s a beginning. Look at me, look how easy it is.” He looks up. She quickly scampers up another twenty feet, just as easily as a Gecko on a wooden fence. “See? Piece of cake.”
Greg stares dejectedly up at his wife, saying. “Yeah, yeah. Okay spider woman, why don’t you text me when you get to the top.” He turns back toward the trailhead. “I’m gonna take a nice little stroll through these conifers…where there’s no sheer-drops.”
“Greg, wait. I’m coming down.” Amy starts bouncing back down the rocky face when a chunk of granite breaks loose from under her foot. She starts falling, but with cat-like reflexes she spins around, catching hold of an outcropping with one hand. She’s strong enough to hold on, but the inertia from the fall sends her body swinging forcefully into the mountain side…Greg can hear a dreadful crack.
“Amy, you okay?”
“My back... I can’t move... catch...”
“What? Catch what?”
She lets go, dropping twelve feet into Greg’s waiting arms. The force of the collision knocks them both to the ground.
Doctor Herman Gage uses a quivering pen to tap certain dark areas on an illuminated x-ray. Self-conscious of his Parkinson tremors the elderly doctor doesn’t let the pen linger in any one spot too long. He finds each new workday is becoming a little more problematic, but having taken a beating in the financial melt-down of 2008 (two years after retiring) Doctor Gage is hoping to prolong this HMO gig a couple more years. Assuming he’s still vertical. “You have a hairline fracture here and here...” Amy, frozen in pain, stands rigidly next to Greg, listening to the doctor’s weakened voice explain. “You pulled the lateral and arterial muscles here, here and here. We may have to go in and operate on the disc, but we can’t do anything until the muscles heal…” Still unable to steady his hands, Doctor Gage buries both of them deep inside his lab coat, before adding. “I’m afraid you’re going to be in a lot of pain.”
Amy responds with clenched teeth. “More... than... now...?”
Doctor Gage gives an affirmative nod.” I’ll give you script for Oxycodone. I think I’ve also got some samples somewhere...” Digging through one of his exam room drawers, he retrieves a vial. The pills within the plastic vessel start to chatter like a Maraca, as he extends his hand toward Amy. “Here, take these.” Amy doesn’t move. The doctor looks at his hand with a thin smile. “Too much espresso.”
“No…I... don’t...” She stops. Even talking is painful and laborious.
“She doesn’t take drugs.” Greg replies.
Doctor Gage asks. “Can you try and touch your toes?”
Amy extends her pointer finger, three feet above her toes. Using every ounce of her strength, she tries to bend and with excruciating effort, she manages to bend maybe an inch.
Greg(taking the drug samples) “Thank you, Doctor.”
Amy sits at the kitchen table, trying desperately to grade some papers. Her hair is a total mess, she’s wearing a bathrobe and back brace and her rigid face is an exhibit of agony. Five days after her mishap, she is still attempting to cope with severe pain and has become frustrated and housebound. It takes her forever just to write the letter ’B-’on a student’s paper. She drops the pen, feeling exhausted. She looks at the tiny pile of corrected papers and the large pile still to be corrected. The mental frustration and sense of hopelessness has finally built to a crescendo that sends Amy reaching for a stapled pharmacy bag. She slowly opens it, clearly for the first time. Removing a bottle of Oxycodone, Amy stares at it for a long moment, letting her thoughts slip back to the time her wisdom teeth were removed. She vividly recalls never taking any pain medication after that procedure; eating sucked for a while, but she got through it. And her senior year, she dislocated an ankle, sliding into second base; again she took nothing for pain. But this injury seems to have a whole new dynamic; for the first time in her life she’s encountering a sense of helplessness, and that is truly frightening. Amy drops a pill into her hand, wondering if this is the right choice; again her mind flashes on the past. This time she revisits the tragic loss of Heather, noting these are the same meds that took her. She feels unsettled, staring at that stack of papers once again, (what’s the right move here?) and then she laboriously swallows her first opioid.
Amy has always taken pride in being a good steward of her body. She eats healthy food, she exercises regularly, she doesn’t smoke and she stays away from drugs. She knows opioids can be bad; shit, they killed her best friend. But what she didn’t know, until now, is how they make you feel so goddam good. She found out that they not only take away the physical pain, they take away all the pain. You can breathe, from somewhere deep in your soul. Words like serenity and peace are no longer just words -- they’re blissful and actual experiences. Your heart overflows with love for everyone.
In a matter of days the bottle is empty and a new one takes its place. The pills that sat dormant for so long now fall easily and frequently into Amy’s palm. They have generated a welcome liberation of sorts for Amy. Her desire to be free from the pain, free from the confines of her home and free to return to her students now seems achievable. But, her chosen method of realizing those desires comes with risk. Her path to so-called freedom has left her vulnerable to seductive powers that few humans ever possess. Powers that may free you from one undesirable condition, but can eventually entangle you in a near unbreakable web of their own.
Two more weeks roll by and Amy is still at home. She’s still in a bathrobe and her hair is indescribably wild, but no more back brace. Sitting at the kitchen table, she stares at her vial of Oxycodone. She’s starting to realize the opiates are creating a mental dependency within her. She’s thinking, maybe it’s time to call it quits…but if I do, can I handle the pain? Can I deal with this? … Comon’, suck it up girl, you’re an All-star, you can handle it… Okay, this will be the last one. After a moment or two she opens the bottle and gingerly takes the last pill. Amy’s eyes start to moisten with emotion as she experiences a rapturous (albeit drug-induced) joy. She’s noticed something on the table in between a bowl of soggy granola and a half eaten muffin. “I... love... you...” Amy sets her chin on the table and blissfully watches a cockroach nibble at muffin crumbs on the table.
The end of another work day sees Greg pull into the driveway and park his SUV next to Amy’s Corvette. With backpack in-hand he empties the mailbox, picks up the newspaper and heads up the walk. Shuffling and glancing at envelopes as he approaches the front door, Greg shakes his head. “Pre-approved, pre-approved, no interest for the first year...wow, free money”! Tearing the envelopes in half. “I don’t think so.”
Letting himself in, Greg is immediately taken aback at the sight of his teary-eyed, wild-haired wife. He dumps the junk mail into the trash as Amy continues to observe her new invertebrate friend. She throws Greg a quick glance. “Ohhhh... it’s you...” Then her attention is returned to the cockroach. “...it’s Greg...” Amy sits back in her chair and looks longingly at Greg. “You’re so beautiful... I’ve never wanted you more.”
Immediately realizing the circumstances, Greg’s response lacks enthusiasm. “Oh goody.”
“Greg I have to go back to school... otherwise Mssszzz. Berkafeeerrrdddlllee will steal my kids.”
“Who’s Msszz Berkafeeer –“ With thinned eyes. “What you said.”
“She’s everyman -- every substitute teacher who wants my job. I can’t be gone this long, they’ll let me go.”
Greg eyes the cockroach on the table. “You have to get better first.” WHAM! Greg splatters the cockroach across the obituary page, startling the hell out of Amy.
The next morning, Greg enters the living room dressed for work, finding Amy already dressed, showered, hair done and packing her things for school. With a grave tone, he asks. ”What are you doing?”
“I’m going to school.”
“Seriously?” A subtle shake of his head is followed by. “How do you feel?”
“I feel like rats are gnawing on my spine -- but I have to do this. The kids need me.”
“I don’t know about this, Amy”
She smiles. “No worries.” Amy plants a kiss on Greg’s concerned lips and heads for the door. “I’ll see you this evening.”
Greg remains very apprehensive about Amy’s decision, but realizes there’s little he can do. Her mind is made up and that means: she will not be denied.
Mr. Canfield is a pencil thin authoritarian who doesn’t care much for kids, but does enjoy grooming the bulbous white mane protruding from his head. He’s been Amy’s sub for the last three weeks and the kids have not engaged well with his teaching style. His lessons are typically poorly prepared and delivered in a sullen and tedious fashion. Standing before a colorful map of the Louisiana Purchase he eventually stops brushing the top of his head. While studying the map, the brush comes to rest by his side and his free hand begins to properly scratch the snowy beard about his cheeks. All the kids, including Silvio and Rita, are slumped in their chairs. They’re all disappointed and depressed, having to endure this rather mean spirited substitute another day. The detachment and boredom have lead the students to routinely spend class time doodling or inventing monikers for their substitute--the most popular one being Q-tip.
With bright rays of morning sun resting upon the map, Mr. Canfield repurposes his brush by sliding it along the Mississippi River as he begins to spew his lesson. “The Louisiana Purchase is an important part of American history.” He believes that his laborious regurgitation of the obvious is in need of some enhancement. And he’s not wrong. But his idea of enhancement consists of smacking the grooming brush/pointer against each letter printed along the map’s top margin. You know, for emphasis. “That’s L…O…U…I…S…” Upon striking the letter S, a couple of hairs are freed from the disturbed bristles. Illuminated in beams of brilliant sun, the white follicles start their gleaming decent from around Fort Mandan. The children watch them float along the outline of the Missouri River, down into Louisiana. Soon they make a brief incursion into Spanish territory before skipping across the Gulf of Mexico and ultimately sinking to the depths of a gray linoleum floor. Even though the journey of those two rogue hairs will probably be the most interesting part of Mr. Canfield’s presentation, the kids can’t help but share scrunched faces.
In a state of physical discomfort, Amy shuffles down the empty school hallway. She opens her purse, shakes out a couple of Ibuprofen tablets, swallowing them at the drinking fountain. They’re not nearly as effective at blocking pain as Oxycodone, but she’s hoping they get her through the school day. She knows it’s best to stop using an opioid sooner rather than later and she’s plum out of the stuff anyway. Continuing down the hall, Amy stops at her classroom door. She peers through the window as Mr. Canfield prepares to make an announcement. “Now listen up! I expect two double spaced pages -- no more, no less -- detailing Louis and Clarke’s journey on my desk –“
The door opens. Amy, a spring in her step, walks in. “Thank you. You can leave” The kids cheer as Amy grabs Canfield’s briefcase and hustles him out the door.
With a slack jaw, Mr. Canfield, tries to respond from the threshold. “But I’m supposed to...”
“Keep in touch; let us know how things are going. Bye now.” Amy shuts the door, turns around and looks at her kids triumphantly. “I’m back.” Another cheer goes up.
About an hour later the kids listen, riveted to Amy’s vibrant recount of Louis and Clarke’s journey. Using several colorful posters as visual aids, Amy has them all reliving the many adventures: canoe rides on the Columbia River, finding animals and plants new to science, meeting new Indian tribes and hunting for food. “Just imagine, Louis and Clarke, with only forty-five men, hauling their enormous keel boat up the Missouri... and on July 8, 1804, what do you think they came upon?
“Gold?” Silvio says.
Rita adds. “The Nez Pearce?”
Amy dramatically pulls down a poster of a huge grizzly bear. “The biggest bear any of them had ever seen. Four of the explorers lined up with their guns... come here, line up...” Amy hustles four kids out of their seats (including Silvio and Rita), has them point imaginary rifles at the bear poster.”...and all four shot the bear! What do you think happened?”
“They killed him?” Silvio replies.
“No, but they sure made him mad. The bear reared up...” (she rears up) “This is a true story, kids... and came after them!” Amy, arms raised, chases the kids around the room. “ARRRGHHHHH!” After returning to the front of the classroom, Amy continues. “Then they ran for their lives, until they came to a huge cliff! Behind them, one angry grizzly, below them, the mighty Missouri. What did they do? They jumped!” Some of the kids are all ears and some wear big smiles, but one thing they all share is engagement. “And what did the bear do?” Amy continues. “Jumped in after them!”
Amy’s first day back passes by quickly. The day’s final bell chimes loudly, in what seems like only a few minutes. As all the kids head for the door, happy and energized, Amy pulls her purse from a desk drawer. She’s needs another dose of Ibuprofen to dull the pain. That animated presentation was great for the students, but tough on her sore back. Just as Amy wraps her hand around the bottle, in walks the principle--Mrs. Wagner. Amy lets the medication fall back into her purse as Mrs. Wagner, wearing a toothy grin, quickly approaches. Giving Amy a big hug, she says. “Amy, it’s so good to see you back.”
“Thank you. Sorry it took so long”
“Oh nonsense! How are you feeling?”
“Pretty sore, but I am improving.”
Mrs. Wagner nods as she replies. “It’ll take a while… Well I won’t hold you up. You should get home and rest. I don’t want to lose my most popular teacher again.” She cocks her head toward the door. “Come on, I’ll walk you out.”
Amy exits the building with Mrs. Wagner and sees kids running, throwing balls and conversing with their friends. At that very moment a smile sprouts upon her face, realizing just how much she enjoys this profession. The opportunity to inspire young minds, feels like an extraordinary gift and she’s grateful to be back at it. After saying goodbye to Mrs. Wagner, she walks to her car, painfully lowers herself into the Vette and starts it up. Rita (acting out the bear story) moves past Amy with some other kids.
“No, the bear jumped too, right in the river, still chasing ’em...” Then Rita sees Amy. “Bye Mrs. Kingsley, thank God you came back!”
“Thanks, Rita, see you tomorrow.”
Amy pulls out of the parking lot and starts driving down the street with her mind focused on that ibuprofen again. She stretches her right arm across the passenger seat and begins fishing around in her purse, for the pill bottle. She turns her head away from the street, just as a kid hurls a football high and far. Silvio, eyeing the errant pass, runs unimpeded into the street intent on catching it. Amy finds her pills, looks up and sees Silvio in the street, right in front of her. She instinctively wrenches the wheel hard and fast to the left.
The Vette misses Silvio, but slams squarely into a fire hydrant. In an instant, water is exploding skyward. The car’s hood crumbles, Amy’s chest hits the steering wheel and her head meets the windshield. The scene blends shocking with mesmerizing: a vicious shaft of liquid (rushing for the clouds) easily parts a canopy of mature oak trees, while spinning a loose hydrant across the sidewalk like a crazed yellow saw blade. The deluge mixed with twigs and leaves, blown from their branches, rapidly returns from the sky, landing heavily across the damaged vehicle. The children stare helplessly at streams of water (mingling with blood) that flow steadily across Amy’s face. Their rigid posture and shocked expressions make them appear statuesque; glistening as an incessant geyser completely saturates their clothing. Despite the chilling waters, not a soul moves: their only concern is the condition of Mrs. Kingsley.
The hospital hallway is sparsely populated as Greg jogs all the way to Amy’s room. When he enters, he finds Amy unconscious, in bed with the colorful display of a vitals monitor keeping watch. She has a multitude of visible cuts and bruises on her face and arms, but most of her body is hidden by her bedding and gown. Greg reaches out to touch her when he suddenly hears a voice from behind. “Mr. Kingsley?” Greg turns around to see a Doctor in scrubs, motioning for him to come into the hallway. A middle-aged man with intelligent eyes and a caring demeanor offers Greg his hand. “I’m Jon Wallace your wife’s physician.”
“How’s she doing?” Greg asks.
“Better than she looks. She has a concussion, multiple contusions and a lot of cuts, but they’ll heal. The worst of it is a badly fractured ankle. We’re going to need to keep her for a couple of days.”
With hopeful eyes, Greg says. “But she’s going to be all right...” Doctor Wallace nods. “... why isn’t she awake?”
“We’ve administered some meds for the discomfort -- which will be significant for some time. But we’ll get her through it.”
Greg nods and slowly slips back into Amy’s room. Amy mostly just breathes and sleeps as Greg sits by her side for the next two days.
Beautiful sunny skies extend as far as the eye can see in Greg and Amy’s neighborhood. A light breeze moves Greg’s hair as he retrieves the day’s mail and heads back toward the front door. To the uninformed observer, all looks well at the Kingsley home.
Once inside, Greg places the pile of envelopes next to Amy. She’s sitting on the couch with her cast-encrusted leg resting upon the coffee table. “Here yuh go…mails in.”
Amy throws a smile and immediately starts tearing open envelopes. “Thanks sweetie”. There are several ‘Get Well’ cards from Amy’s students and faculty, already propped open on the coffee table, along with a few photos of the kids waving. Those cards and photos have provided inspiration and meaning to Amy’s many days of recovery, so Greg lets her open all the mail; knowing she will be the first to see them. Greg leaves the front room for a moment and when he returns he notices Amy’s facial expression has turned sullen. She’s holding an official looking letter, embossed with the school districts seal.
“What is it?” Greg asks. She hands him the letter. He scans it. “The school’s letting you go for the rest of the year...” He sits next to her and puts an arm around her shoulder. “Sorry.” Amy just nods, obviously very depressed.
A few weeks later Amy’s crutches have given way to a walking cast and her physical pain is effectively subdued with the renewed use of prescription opioids. But she still feels the pain of defeat. The loss of her students was monumental. Since the ‘Sorry Slip’ arrived, her days seem to pass with the same splendor and quickness as a golf ball sized kidney stone. When Greg is around, her outward demeanor is pleasant and nothing seems to be seriously amiss. Each new morning she brushes her hair, makes her breakfast, and limps to the door to kiss him goodbye. But this second injury, incurred so soon after the first, has created a new complication. The medication she was so reluctant to initially consume is imposing an ever increasing force upon her. The force is difficult to resist and it’s having an affect she feels she must hide from the outside world. It’s not so much the physical pain anymore, but the mental dependence: its undeniably assuming control. Not even Greg, especially Greg, can ever see her consuming multiple pills on a daily basis.
From within Doctor Wallace’s exam room a little buzz saw creates a wake of plaster as it travels up Amy’s cast. Setting down the saw, Doctor Wallace proceeds to crack open the cast; freeing Amy’s entombed leg. Greg and Amy watch intently as he lightly squeezes her ankle and manipulates her foot in various directions. “Feels good, Amy...” Doctor Wallace says. “You’ll need to start stretching your tendons and working these muscles again. Okay?”
Amy says. “Okay.” Adding a nod.
“Now I need you to stand.” Greg and the doctor give Amy some support as she applies weight to her weakened ankle. “How’s that feel?” Dr. Wallace asks.
Amy’s face scrunches up. “Weak and sore.”
“Well that’s to be expected. Take a few steps.”
Although she has a noticeable limp, Amy is able to walk. “Good. Now when you go home I want you to start out slow and don’t spend too much time on your feet for a while. That ankle is going to rebel if you do.”
“That reminds me, I’m out of pain killers.” Amy says. “Do you think I could have a refill, just in case?”
Taking a quick look at Amy’s chart, the doctor says. “Mmmm, I think Ibuprofen should suffice. You don’t want to get dependent on the stronger stuff.”
Those words ring with a certain hollowness and irony down deep in Amy’s core. She nods, but Amy isn’t giving up that easily...the wheels are turning. “Right, thanks.” Looking over to Greg. “Okay then, let’s go.” When Greg offers her a helping hand she says. “I can do it.”
Greg looks over at the doctor who nods his approval. They exit the examination room and walk (Amy limps) to the reception desk. Dr. Wallace reaches across the desk, grabbing one of several Rx pads. As he fills out and signs the form he says. “This is for some 800 milligram Ibuprofen.” With an encouraging grin he adds. “Remember, don’t be too ambitious. And I’d like to see you again in about a week.” Turning to his receptionist, Dr. Wallace says. “Claire, can you work out an appointment time with Mrs. Kingsley?”
Claire responds. “Sure.” Dr. Wallace moves off as Claire studies the scheduling app. on her computer screen. Amy’s eyes stay glued to the Rx pads. “So, will next Wednesday at 9:30 work for you?” Claire asks.
From inside the confines of the clinic elevator, Amy rummages franticly through her purse. Her hand, slides quickly from one end of the leather bag to the other. Keys start to jingle, lipstick tubes clatter and escaping tissues flutter and spin to the floor. The overly aggressive search procedure inspires Greg to ask. “Did you lose something?”
“My wallet’s missing.” The elevator doors open and they both exit into the lobby. “It must have fallen out in the exam room.” Amy says.
“Have a seat, I’ll go back and check.” Greg says.
“I should do it.”
Greg throws a curious look. “Why?”
“You heard what the doctor said about working my ankle.”
“Yeah, he said to start out slow.”
“Which is why I want you, to walk all the way to the car and have it waiting curb side when I come back down.”
Greg nods with a grin. “Ahhh, the woman has a master plan.”
Amy returns the nod, adding a smile while hitting the ‘up’ button on the elevator.
Upon entering, Dr. Wallace’s waiting room, Amy limps over to the reception desk. “Hi Claire, could you do me a big favor? I think I dropped my wallet in the exam room.” Amy pauses for moment, looking a bit embarrassed, then asks. “Would you mind checking for me?”
“Of course not, I’ll be right back.”
As soon as Claire moves off toward the exam room, Amy takes a quick look over her shoulder. She spots a couple of women, with thumbs dancing across their phones and a little boy, rolling his toy car along the arm of a chair. No one appears to be a threat, as the adult eyes never drift from the glowing screens. Amy hesitates for just a moment then snatches an Rx pad off the desk. She immediately buries it deep inside her open purse. And her theft was none too soon; Claire suddenly reappears.
“Sorry Mrs. Kingsley, but I didn’t see a wallet anywhere.”
Wearing her best mystified gaze, Amy says. “Hmmm, probably fell out in the car. Thanks so much for looking.”
Amy turns about and heads as quickly as her sore ankle will allow to the exit.
Once outside of the medical building, Amy spots Greg waiting curb side in the Corvette. The once pristine vehicle sounds as good as ever. But (like Amy) stills bears evidence of physical damage. The front end has several unpainted primer spots and there’s some missing chrome along the doors and fenders. The old classic is like its owner: wounded but functional. Amy works her damaged body back into the car and throws a blank look at Greg.
“Any luck?” Greg asks.
Flashing a big grin, Amy slips her hand into the purse, returning with the subject wallet. Greg’s face brightens, as he says. “All right!...You buy lunch.” Quickly maneuvering the car back onto the street, he shifts the vehicle into second and his mind to the thought of a savory gourmet burger with fries. But Amy is stuck in neutral, reflecting only upon her new unscrupulous behavior.
Amy sits alone, contemplating within the silence of her Vette. Parked at the local pharmacy, she nervously bounces her gaze from the doors of the pharmacy to the bogus prescription in her hand. Back and forth her head swivels as she ponders the serious decision she is about to make. Even as strong as this woman’s ethics have always been, there is a foreign yet overwhelming need that just seems relentless. And it isn’t long before that unyielding force within, pushes her from the car and through the pharmacy doors. Amy apprehensively limps to the counter and hands the pharmacist her forged Rx script. When the pharmacist moves away from the counter, Amy starts pacing the glossy floor. The wait feels like an eternity to Amy, as anxiety builds. Her pulse quickens with each passing minute and beads of sweat start forming on her face. She’s seriously considering bolting for the door, when the pharmacist, who was actually away for only a few minutes, returns to the counter. Handing Amy her pills, he says. “If you need a refill, we can call your doctor.”
With big eyes, Amy says. “Thanks, this is way more than I’ll need.”
Amy manages a sliver of a smile then turns and limps toward the exit, toting her pills in a little white bag. With her intended mission successfully accomplished, Amy quickly and nervously pulls out of the parking lot. During the drive back home, conflicted feelings start to collide in her head. The moral and respectable Amy tries to resurface; she visualizes, flushing her ill-gotten pills down the toilet. What have you done? This isn’t you…you need to stop this nonsense now. But the spellbound Amy has a different perspective. You went through a lot of trouble for these pills, plus you want them and you need them…they make you feel good... Everyone deserves to feel good. Unfortunately the latter argument seems more convincing and the moral version of Amy is pushed back into submission before she even rolls into the driveway. Now, little does she know that today, after this event, this rationalized success, the real metamorphosis has begun. Blinded by a perceived victory, Amy doesn’t realize this is a war she cannot win.
Two days later Amy is parked in the lot of a different pharmacy. She has a newly acquired and neatly stapled paper bag, setting in her lap, containing yet another bottle of Oxycodone. After pulling the new bottle from the sack, Amy retrieves a dated electronic organizer from her purse. She begins to carefully enter all the data from this purchase into the little machine. Store name, location, medication name, patient name, Rx number and quantity are all recorded onto the daily calendar. Amy has come to the realization that these activities are not going away in the foreseeable future, and there is risk. This hand-me-down gift from Greg, she once considered odd at best, may actually come in handy after all. As she reviews the latest entries, her thoughts wander away from the data, and back to the day she received the little gadget. She recalls the big chocolate cake, adorned with twenty-odd candles, sitting atop the largest wooden table within ‘Mario’s Italiano Ristorante’. A favorite eatery of the family for many years, Mario’s was always the ‘go to’ place for most of their very special occasions. And on this special night, the entire family was gathered near the back wall. The amber glow of candle flames reflect off Amy’s excited eyes, as she lowers her head toward the beckoning sweet. Pushing aside a few opened gifts, she pulls in a deep breath and with one mighty puff, extinguishes every one of those flickering sticks of wax. Greg, along with the entire Garrett family, applauds the feat of the pleased birthday girl. Amy runs a finger across the cake, scooping up a huge dollop of chocolate frosting.
“Hey, no fair!” Matt says.
“It is if you help me.” Amy responds.
Following Amy’s lead, Matt reaches in, but he’s stopped by Tina. “Honey, that’s not very polite –“
“Your mother’s right.” Hank says. “You should let us go first.” Hank scoops up some frosting, then Al and then Greg -- soon everyone is scooping up frosting and licking their fingers. With so many finger furrows, the cake is starting to take on the appearance of a freshly plowed corn field--but no one’s complaining.
“God is there anything better than chocolate?” Amy says.
As Matt licks the sweet chocolate topping from his fingers, he visually inventories all of Amy’s many presents. He’s quick to verbalize an observation. “How come Greg didn’t get you a birthday present?” Everyone looks mildly embarrassed.
“No no, it’s fine, I don’t need a present from Greg” Amy says. “Just having him in my life is present enough.”
“You really mean that?” Greg replies.
“No! I want my present.” Amy’s arms flare out. “Where the heck is it?”
Greg pats his pockets, seems to come up empty. “Hmmm, where did I...”
He reaches under his chair and comes up with three neatly wrapped gift boxes. “I figured anyone could get you a bracelet...” He tosses the first box to Amy. “...or a necklace...” A second box lands in front of her. She wastes no time ripping off the wrapping paper, opening the boxes and exposing the matching gold bracelet and necklace.
“Beautiful...oh, they’re gorgeous –“ Amy says, quickly showing the glistening jewelry to her family. “-- aren’t they gorgeous?—“ Then, she’s right back, looking impatiently at Greg. “-- what’s in the third box?”
He slides the third and slightly larger box over to her. Excitedly, Amy opens it and removes a small, gently used, high tech electronic organizer. She isn’t quite sure how to respond to this unique, maybe even odd, choice of gifts. Actually everyone around the table, except Greg, share the same dilemma.
“What is it?” Amy asks.
“An electronic organizer.” Greg says. “You just enter your schedule...” He flicks the device on for her. “...and it tells you what you have to do every day. It even has audible tones to remind you.”
“Wow. I’m getting organized.” Amy replies. “Isn’t that great?”
Hank’s eyes narrow as he studies and digests Greg’s gift selection. “Dude...aren’t you familiar with smartphones?” Tina promptly launches a subtle elbow to Hanks ribs. “What?...just sayin’.”
“This organizer is special.” Greg says. “It’s the same one I used in school - and it has...” His eyebrows start bouncing wildly. “The Kingsley mojo...” Amy has no idea what that means and her vacant face, shows it. “That’s the mystical ability to keep the most willful individual focused on their daily tasks. With this in your possession, you’ll never miss an appointment or be late to an event again.” Hank rolls his eyes.
Amy stares a little harder at the device. “Well, if you say so”
Glancing at his watch, Greg starts to smile with anticipation, while throwing a cryptic wink toward Matt and Hank. Matt smiles back, but Hank just looks confused. Then the electronic organizer starts to BEEP.
“Uh oh, what’s happening?” Amy asks.
“It’s your first reminder.” Greg responds, reaching over her shoulder. “You just click here on ‘today’.”
She pushes the button and something only visible to her is displayed on the screen. Amy’s filling eyes track toward Greg’s anticipating face.
“What?” Hank says. “What is it?”
Without taking her eyes off Greg, she passes the organizer to her mom. Evy looks, smiles and passes the device down the Garrett chain. Each family member examines the display and in-turn becomes a delighted witness to the unique use of that special organizer. It reads: Saturday 8:48 PM - “TELL GREG, YES, I’LL MARRY YOU”. Al, Evy, Hank, Tina, and Matt all lean in, waiting to hear what she’s going to say, but for the longest of moments there is no reply. Amy just continues to gaze up into Greg’s hopeful verdant eyes.
“For godsakes.” Al says. “Amy you’re never gonna find a better one than him!”
‘Al!’ Evy snaps.
“Well what’s she waiting for?” Al responds.
“I’m savoring the moment.” Amy says. Then the answer they were all hoping for is released with affectionate enthusiasm. “Yes. Oh yes-yes-yes!!” An emotional Amy stands, wraps both arms around Greg’s neck and the newly engaged couple share a long passionate kiss. The scene of palatable adoration creates an eruption of cheers and applause from the Garrett table that floods through the entire establishment. Soon, the joyous moment spreads like an invading tsunami; enveloping all the other patrons and staff; vastly increasing the celebratory ovation… once again Al breaks down.
Wiping an eye, Al says. “I love this guy...”
Hank stares at his father with a collapsed brow and leans into Tina’s ear. “He didn’t cry when I got engaged.”
Amy swipes a rolling tear from her cheek, as her mind pulls her away from the sublime and back into present day. She’s always been a smart individual and now, after Greg’s tutorage, she’s become a focused and organized one as well. She starts the car and zips away.
Three months pass in a blur and Amy, starting to look a little haggard, pulls into a Mac Donald’s drive-thru. “Large diet Coke, that’s all.” She slides the Vette into a parking space, pops a couple Oxys in her mouth and chases them with the Coke. Her car is now full of trash. An assortment of fast food wrappers, paper cups and plastic water bottles cover the floor. Amy starts typing into the organizer once again; compiling all the data she’ll need to keep her acquisitions straight. Her life has become dull and routine as acquiring opioids has become her full time job. She’s traveled and purchased at pharmacies from Santa Barbara to San Diego, all in an effort to avoid suspicion. She’s been very careful that way and feels that she has this game wired. Everywhere she goes and everything she does is thought out in advance. She predetermines a safe quantity to buy, where to get it and how long it will take; every step is carefully choreographed...it’s like a delicate dance. But this is a dance where even one misstep can be costly; one that sends the clumsy to jail. Amy checks the clock and realizes she needs to get back home; it’s time to play another role.
The sun is starting to dip below the horizon when Greg heads up the walk way of his home. He lets himself in, finding Amy at the dining room table paying bills. She’s transformed herself into a different person in only about an hour. Her long hair is neatly brushed, her eyes and lips have been enhanced with cosmetics and she’s wearing a smart looking pants suit. “Hey honey.” Greg says. “How goes the job search?” He gives her a kiss at the table.
Amy shrugs. “I met with the principal of Madison, but I’m not holding my breath.”
After parking his backpack on the floor, he replies. “At least you’re subbing here and there.”
Amy nods at that lie and then stands and stretches. “I’m exhausted. I need to get out of these clothes.”
Then she heads down the hall and as Greg watches her go. “You need a hand with that?” Greg responds. Amy stops, looks back and manages to cast a sultry smile at her husband.
They make love as they have so many times before; it was tender, it was sincere and very passionate. But as they both lay on the bed, their energy spent, sorrow and disconnection show upon Amy’s face. “I love you...” Greg says.
Trying not to cry, “I love you too...” Amy replies.
Later that night, Greg wakes up in bed alone. Sitting up and looking around the room he picks up on a disturbing noise escaping from the bathroom. Shuffling down the hall, Greg enters the bathroom finding Amy on her knees, vomiting into the toilet. “Amy, what’s the matter?”
Amy looks over her shoulder and dabs her mouth. “Must be something I ate.”
Greg kneels next to her, shaking his head. “This is the third time in what... the last few weeks? You need to see a doctor.”
“No, I don’t...” They stand up together, Amy placing her head on his chest. “I didn’t want to say anything yet because I’m not sure...”
“Not sure about what?”
“Honey, you can have morning sickness at night.”
Greg’s face lights up like the Vegas strip and his voice jumps three octaves. “Oh my god, oh my god! We’re havin’ a baby!”
Amy puts her hands up. “Calm down. I told you I’m not sure.”
“We’ll do one of those test things. I’ll go out right now and get one.”
“I don’t trust them. If I don’t get my period, I’ll go to the doctor in a few days.”
Greg squeezes Amy tightly and says. “Oh, I want a baby -- Amy if it’s a boy, Greg if it’s a girl!” He laughs and she does her best to join him.