"Her Rocky Nirvana"

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A New Game

A bunch of fire crackers send bursts of light and ear-ringing blasts tearing through Hank Garrett’s back yard. His startled parents and adult guests grimace and hold their ears for protection. However, Hank’s little boy Matt and a group of his friends squeal with delight at the explosive sight and sound. Today is Matt’s tenth birthday and the detonations officially start family festivities in this pleasant middleclass suburban home. Bearing clenched teeth, Tina comes running up – “Hank, what on earth are you doing?”

“It’s the kid’s birthday.” He says. “I let him have some firecrackers.”

Tina’s arms swing out. “Are you nuts?”

“What? It’s not like I let him set ’em off.” He points behind Tina. “Oh, look at that –“As soon as she turns, Hank abruptly snatches the remaining fire crackers and lighter from Matt, displaying a stern “keep your mouth shut” gesture.

Tina turns back with an empty stare. “What?”

“Hmmm…is that?”

She looks over her shoulder again. “What am I …what are you looking at?”

Fortuitous timing brings Greg and Amy walking up the driveway. “Yeah, over there, it’s my long lost sis and Greg –“ Hank quickly moves toward them. “Hey, ’bout time you guys got here.” Hugs and greetings are exchanged. “How are you two?”

“Good.” Amy says.

Greg uses the hand-waffle. “Well...”

“What?” Hank inquires.

“She was threatening me all the way over here.” Greg shakes his head saying. “Just because I wouldn’t have sex with her in the car.”

Hank follows suit with his own head shake, saying. “That’s all these women think about!” The guys laugh, Tina rolls her eyes and Matt comes running up.

“Dad, Uncle Greg, will you guys play football with us?”

“Sure.” Greg replies.

“Good idea Hank, play with some people your own age.” Tina says.

Hank and Greg jog off with the kids, but are quickly replaced, when Al and Evy mosey up by the women. “There’s my girl.” Al says, with a toothy smile.

“Hi Dad, hi Mom.” Amy replies.

“How are you?” Evy asks.

In a casual tone, Amy responds. “Fine.” This is the first family reunion since Amy’s sabbatical and everyone is just a little uncomfortable. Tina turns her attention to the football game.

“Look at the big lunk.” Tina says.

Hank runs out for a pass in the rather moderate sized backyard. “Hit me, HIT ME!” He shouts. As soon as those words leave his lips, Hank runs smack-dab into the jungle gym. He recoils awkwardly off the metal frame, stumbling backwards until gravity plants him squarely on his butt. Greg and the kids start laughing. Hank, undamaged, but looking more than a little embarrassed says. “Who put that there?”

“Maybe you have gremlins.” Greg snickers.

“Men, do you think they’ll ever grow up?” Tina says, shaking her head.

“I hope not... I like mine playful.” Amy replies.

“Wait until you and Greg have kids.” Tina adds. “I don’t think you’ll feel that way when you’re picking up their messes and washing their muddy clothes all the time.”

“It’s just dirt, Tina…” Amy says. “Be thankful you’re not married to a drug addict.” And now Tina, Al and Evy are looking even more uncomfortable. “Excuse me.” Amy heads off into the house.

From within the sanctum of the guest bathroom, Amy splashes water on her face, dries off, and looks at herself in the mirror. She closes her eyes for a moment before pulling a bottle of Oxycodone from her purse. As she’s shaking some pills into her hand, she is startled by a knock at the door, dropping all the pills into the toilet. “I’m in here –“With a panicked face, cursing under her breath. “Shit, shit, shit, shit...” She kneels over the toilet bowl.

From the hallway Evy says. “It’s mom. Are you all right?”

“Yeah, just a little tired.” Amy answers.

“Is there anything –“

Amy’s arm desperately fishes around in the toilet bowl -- the pills are dissolving. “I’m fine.” The sound of Evy’s footsteps fade away as Amy continues her frantic one armed salvage dive in the toilet bowl. Within a minute her dripping hand surfaces with a disgusting paste of melted pills. She doesn’t know what to do. She catches sight of herself in the mirror: on her knees, hands dripping from the toilet. She stares at herself. Hard. She gets up, moves to the faucet, turns it on, disgusted with herself. She starts to bring her hands under the water -- stops -- she can’t help it -- she lowers her head to her hands and licks the paste.

From the confines of Hank’s backyard, a vibrant scarlet sunset competes with the glow of Matt’s ten flickering birthday candles. All of the family and guests look on; as Matt’s puffed cheeks suddenly expel all that pent-up air: extinguishing every candle on his birthday cake. An eruption of applause and cheers quickly follow. It’s about then Greg notices a little pasty residue on the side of Amy’s mouth. “You’ve got a little...” He touches his mouth.

“Oh, you caught me.” She wipes her mouth. “I snuck some frosting.” In a flash, she moves toward Matt. “Happy birthday, kiddo.” She grabs him by the arms and spins him round and round. He screams with delight.

Matt says. “I’m flying! I’m flying!” Greg watches, as Amy continues spinning and spinning.

Amy parks her partially repaired Vette in the parking lot of the local post office. Once a source of pride and a vital component of her thrilling adventures the classic automobile is merely transportation these days. It’s been unceremoniously demoted from its starring role to that of a bit player; the new competition is tough. Greg has offered more than once to complete the restoration, but the down time is unacceptable to Amy: job hunting and all--wink, wink. Stepping lively through the lot, Amy enters the building and treks immediately to a long wall of P.O. boxes. Opening one of the boxes, Amy retrieves the contents and does a quick sort. After tossing the unsolicited ads and flyers, three envelopes remain in her hand. She promptly leaves the building, ripping all three of the envelopes open on her walk back to the car. A smile of gratification forms across her lips as she examines three new credit cards. “Sweeet... what a country.”

Not much more than a week later, Amy stands in front of an ATM, trying to make a withdrawal, but the card is rejected: already maxed-out. Undaunted she pulls out another magical piece of plastic and completes a sizeable transaction. Stashing the wad of bills into her purse, Amy hops right back to her car and zips away.

Amy exits a CVS Drug Store, holding a small white bag in her hand. Moving briskly back to her car, she slides in behind the wheel and immediately removes the new vial of Oxycodone from the sack. Opening her purse, Amy removes the mojo infused electronic day planner and starts entering data. She records the time, date, quantity, milligrams, the fake name on the bottle, Rx number; pretty much everything in print. After completing the data entry, Amy changes screens to review her ever growing list of potential drug stores. Nervously tapping a finger to her chin, she thinks. “La Jolla... haven’t been there in weeks...”

Cruising along Torrey Pines Road, the picturesque La Jolla shore line graces the right side of Amy’s car. She used to visit this area, most summers, when she was a kid. She loved hiking the shoreline trails that are laced with Torrey pines and searching for crabs and anemone down at Shell Beach. The seascape in this area can be stunning. And today ,with a mere twist of her head, she could enjoy the sight of Brown pelicans skimming across a calm sapphire cove, sea lions lounging on the gold sandy beach and slender palm blades fluttering with the tempo of a gentle on-shore breeze. But that isn’t going to happen today. None of those sights will calm her hunger or provide the gratification she so desperately seeks. There is only one objective for this trip, and it has nothing to do with the sightings or pleasantries of nature.

Amy walks directly to the pharmacist’s counter. The only other customer is starting to walk away so the pharmacist greets Amy immediately. “May I help you?”

“Yes, I need this prescription filled please.” Amy slides over her bogus form. The pharmacist looks it over, eyes Amy.

The pharmacist’s suspicious eyes peer over his glasses. “You look so familiar, do you come here often?”

“I’ve been here a few times. I pick up medication for some of the shut-ins around my neighborhood.”

“Ahh, that must be it.” He says. “I have a few other folks in front of you, shouldn’t be too long.” Amy smiles and starts to roam the aisles. The pharmacist walks back to his desk with the script and makes a phone call. “Hello, could I speak with Dr. Wallace please?”

Within the campus botanical lab, Carla is positioning a plant for Greg. An array of lab benches host a vast variety of future subjects: mosses, liverworts, ferns, angiosperms and gymnosperms. Greg is literally surrounded by living specimens and he enjoys it immensely--this is his realm. Through the lens of his tripod-mounted Nikon, he is meticulously sighting one specimen with bluish-purple flowers. The pricey telephoto lens lets Greg focus on the plants in great detail; enlarging their complex cell structure for the benefit of his students. “Rotate it...” Greg says. Carla spins the sample slightly. “Good...Say cheese, S. Angustifolium Lucerne...” He snaps the photo.

With amusement in her voice, Carla says. “So you talk to flowers.”

Glancing over at Carla, he starts wiggling his eyebrows. “And sometimes I make love to them.”

Carla wrinkles her nose. “Wow. If I wasn’t gay before...”

With another random and nonsensical comment perched on the tip of his tongue, the cellphone, in his hip pocket, starts ringing. “Hold that thought”. Greg answers the call. “Yo...Al, how ya doin’? ...No, I’m at school. Amy? She’s subbing downtown, you have her cell number, right?... Oh...” Greg looks puzzled, holds the cell out, studies it, then: “You did call her cell. I must have picked hers up this morning by mistake. Yeah, try my number. Talk to you later, bye.” Greg hits ‘end’ on Amy’s cell. “Maybe I should give her a heads-up...” Greg hits ‘contacts’ on Amy’s cell, scrolling through a list of numbers, his expression darkens. “What the...?”

Intrigued, Carla asks. “What’s wrong?”

“She’s got... like over a hundred pharmacies in here…”

Her eyes widen. “Oh...”

Greg’s mind is racing, trying desperately to rationalize this discovery. But there’s no denying it. They both know what it means. The gravity of the situation pushes Greg’s anger and frustration to the point of critical mass. Without warning and using all of his considerable strength: he hurls the bearer of bad news against the wall. The device explodes, creating a shower of fragmented glass, plastic and integrated circuits that spread across the floor in a wide swath.

Still at the La Jolla pharmacy, Amy sits on a chair near the counter, thumbing through a magazine; trying to appear normal. She checks her watch for the fourth time. Something seems amiss: she gets up, moves to the counter. She can see the Pharmacist in the back, he looks busy. “Is it going to be long?” She asks. He looks up but doesn’t answer. Thinking that’s odd, she glances around: sees two uniformed cops. There’s a tall guy with sergeant stripes and another resembling a linebacker, heading up the long aisle towards the pharmacist’s counter. Amy immediately heads down another aisle, but the pharmacist - points her out to the cops. The sergeant follows after her while the big guy tries to out flank her. Amy looks back, sees the sergeant closing in.

“Hold it right there.” He commands. Never stopping, Amy collides with a confused shopper, does a quick cart-jacking and shoves it into the officer’s path. For good measure, she swipes her arms across the well-stocked shelving: causing boxes of cold & flu medication to scatter across the floor. Nearing the exit, the glass doors slide open with Amy in full stride. But without ever seeing him, the big cop hits her from the side, taking her to the ground.

“Let me go you asshole!” Amy screams. “Let me go!”

The cop grabs Amy’s arms while sticking a knee on her back. “Calm down. Hold still.”

“Get off me!” She fights with everything she’s got, twisting, squirming and legs flying. Just as Amy is able to spin onto her back the sergeant joins the fray.

Suddenly the big cop’s hand recoils. “Ow, shit! She bit me!” The sergeant backhands her and she cries out. Acting a little more subdued, they roughly spin Amy around and cuff her.

“You’re under arrest.” The sergeant says. “Let’s go.” They each take an arm and drag her to the patrol car. A small crowd of onlookers has formed near the storefront: to check out the action. Amy’s face is streaked and her hair is a mess, as she looks up at the disapproving faces all around her. She drops her head and allows herself to be shoved inside the patrol car.

Greg sits with a stoic face, watching police officers answer phones, stare at computer screens and escort offenders to somewhere beyond his line of sight. A nervous index finger repeatedly taps his jean-clad thigh as he silently waits, wondering how he’ll react when he finally sees his wife. Then the moment he’s been both awaiting and dreading arrives: the sound of a buzzer precedes the opening of a gray door that allows Amy to step out. The sight of Amy’s messy hair, tired eyes and bruised cheek alarm Greg, but they all remain unmentioned. She moves forward, looks at Greg and her lips part, but no words escape. They continue to stare at one another for a moment before heading out, without speaking or touching.

The long ride home was tortuous for the lovers who, at one time, had no secrets, told no lies and hung to each other like Spanish moss on Cypress. The anguished journey featured no shared feelings, zero conversation and few shared glances. But that was all to end, once inside the house. Greg walks directly toward the dining table. “I’d like to show you something.” He says, removing a couple of papers from a manila folder and handing them to Amy. As she reads them, her face starts reflecting all her torment. “Yeah, that’s our credit report… Not a pretty picture, is it? Six major credit cards, almost all of them maxed…Six cards I never even knew I had.”

Amy looks up with tears rolling across her cheeks. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?... Sorry doesn’t cut it. We’re way beyond sorry… I won’t live like this -- I can’t live like this.” Amy’s head sinks lower and the tears begin to strike the quivering report. “I never thought I’d do this, Amy, not coming from a screwed-up home like mine, but –

Amy looks up. “No—“

“-- it’s over. You go right ahead and lie, cheat and steal all you want -- I’m done.”

Her eyes stare deep into his. “Please, I need help.”

“You had help! You didn’t take it. Instead you came home and scammed me. That’s what you’ve been doing every goddam day since you came back. Isn’t it.” (nothing from Amy) “ISN’T IT?!”

“Yes! I tried Greg, I really tried. But...”

“But what?”

Now Amy’s eyes track to the floor. “He talked me out of it.”

Greg’s eyes narrow. “Who? “ (nothing from Amy) “Who talked you out of it?”

“... Manny.”

“Manny?... the creep who called you darlin’?”

“I was so sick... I thought I was going to die... and he said I didn’t have to go through that, not if I didn’t want to...”

“What are saying, he gave you drugs, while you were in rehab? “She nods, crying. “Why? What did he want? What did you give him?”(nothing from Amy) “Money?” Amy shakes her head, Then:

“Sex.”

Greg’s expression slides from dim to profoundly dark. “You fucked him?”

“I had to, I’d already violated the rules. If I went back into withdrawal they would have kicked me out...” Greg is beside himself, staring at Amy in disbelief. “I was afraid of losing you Greg.”

Greg almost laughs at that. “Yeah... that makes sense... you didn’t wanna’ lose me, so you sleep with some scumbag! “

“I know how it sounds... but... I needed it... you don’t know what it’s like... I needed it...” She falls to her knees, utterly defeated...

“Yeah. I guess you needed it more than me...” Greg picks up a jacket. “Well, here’s a news flash for yuh. You better start looking for a new place to live. We’ve got eighty thousand dollars of credit card debt; this house goes on the market tomorrow.” Greg walks out the door, leaving Amy alone and utterly bereft on the floor.

A firm on-shore breeze keeps a white and red ‘For Sale’ sign swaying from its resting position. The metal screw hooks slide back and forth across mated eyelets, filling the air with eerie rhythmic squeaks. Greg passes the sign without a glance as he puts the last of his boxes into the black SUV. Closing the hatch he walks back to the front door and pensively re-enters his former home. Slowly looking about the empty rooms, he can see depressions in the carpet, all marking the spots once occupied by his furniture. He gazes at the long narrow furrows where his bookcase, loaded with publications related to plants and classic cars, used to stand. Greg was certain that collection would be the envy of any gear-head with a green thumb; how could it not? Then his eyes track to four deep squares molded by the wooden feet of his couch; the very place he first made love with Amy. Each location in his line of sight holds a fond memory, and that is upsetting to Greg. His head starts to spin as the reality, that his life has been horribly altered, is sinking in. He forces himself to move along and wanders to the kitchen sink. Leaning over the sink he splashes a little cold water on his face, wiping it away with the sleeve of his flannel shirt. Backing away from the sink he spots something behind the fridge: an old Rx bottle of Oxycodone. He scoops it up, blows off some dust and studies the plastic vessel. When he opens it, he discovers there are still a couple of pills inside. Emotions begin churning and suddenly he pockets the vial, walking out with some dark purpose on his mind.

As the sun lazily descends behind the glowing western peaks, Greg enters the lobby of the Desert Valley Clinic. A few patients and a couple of staff members share a conversation with Jan, who is behind the front desk. Noticing Greg as he approaches, Jan says. “Hi. Can I help you?”

“Looking for a friend.” Is the response, as he keeps moving along.

“I’m sorry, you have to check in...” Then recognizing him: “Aren’t you... you’re Amy’s guy, right.” Greg ignores her, spotting Manny and a couple of other orderlies walking out of the locked patients’ ward.

“Yo, Manny!” Manny and his buddies turn. Greg moves right up next to them. “How ya doin’?” Manny looks back to his buddies, shrugs, turns back to Greg. “What, you don’t remember me, bro’?” Then with a friendly grin and tone Greg looks at Manny’s buddies. “After all we’ve been through.” Greg holds out his hand to shake; Manny looks puzzled but reciprocates.

“Yeah, just remind me again...?”

“I’m Greg Kingsley... Amy’s husband.” He says. “You remember Amy, don’t yuh? Good lookin’ blond, you gave her drugs, fucked her?”

Well within earshot, Jan’s jaw drops a couple of inches before uttering. “Oh shit...” Manny’s eyes appear to be on the verge of bursting, when he tries to pull his hand away. But it ain’t happnin’; Greg’s got him in a vice-like grip. Jerking Manny forward, Greg embeds his left forearm into the center of Manny’s face. Manny’s work-buds quickly spring backward; dodging a rain of blood that’s spraying from their co-worker’s crushed nose. As Manny stumbles backward (dazed and bloodied) Greg grabs the orderly around the shoulders. Far from satisfied, Greg violently yanks those shoulders toward his own body before depositing a knee-drop to the gut. Jan yells excitedly. “Do something!” The other orderlies look at Jan and they do: they step back even farther. Jan grabs a phone and punches 911. Manny’s knees are starting to falter now, but Greg holds him upright by his blood stained shirt. Watching Manny’s body sway like a tree in a storm, Greg plants a solid right cross to the scumbag’s hemorrhaging grill. In the following moments, Greg continues to scowl intently at the limp wretch. Then: he releases his grip and Manny collapses into a heap on the floor. Still at the front desk, Jan speaks into the phone. “We need the police.” The room becomes oddly quiet as Greg hovers over Manny, staring unsympathetically at his semi-conscious victim. He squats down close to Manny’s face, observing crimson tinged snot bubbles burst in their struggle to exit a set of constricted nostrils. The sluggish stream of blood, escaping Manny’s flattened nose, finds its way across a slackened face, creating a small but expanding pool of red on the floor. Cocking his head and looking harder, Greg also notices that Manny’s left front tooth is pushed inward about forty-five degrees. Maybe you can place it beneath your pillow tonight. Appearing content with the damage inflicted, Greg nods his head while digging into his pants pocket. He pulls out the bottle of Oxycodone, pops it open and drops the two remaining pills into Manny’s open palm.

“You might want these later… you know, for the pain, darlin’.” Greg stands, and as he walks away, bounces the empty vial off of Manny’s motionless form.

When Greg passes the front desk, Jan says. “The police are on their way.” He nods and surprises everyone in the room by sitting down peacefully to wait. Greg understands this escapade doesn’t end Amy’s addiction or restore the world’s ‘natural order’, but it was a good start. Low volume chatter floats through the air as the lobby becomes the location of a very weird tableau.

Hours later, Greg accepts his belongings from a Deputy situated behind a caged desk. No words are exchanged as he simply drops his keys into his front pants pocket, slips the wallet in one on the hip, signs a release form and heads for the exit. Wearing the look of person whose thoughts are far away, Greg strides toward the front door. Exiting the station house, he instinctively holds the front door open for a couple of approaching Deputies. They acknowledge his manners with (”thanks”), but Greg remains silent. When he turns back toward the street he catches sight of someone unexpected. Standing only a few feet away from the door, wearing a smile, Amy says. “You shouldn’t a done that.”

“No?”

“But... I’m sorta’ glad you did.”

“Me too…” A skinny grin forms. “So, this is our life now, bailing each other out of jail.”

“Some people play bridge...” They both smile a little, like war-weary veterans. Then:

“Amy... don’t you want to try again?”

Amy’s eyes brighten. “Yes -- I miss you so much.”

“I miss you too, but I meant getting clean.”

Her head drops a little. “Oh. Right…I do...”

“... but?”

With pained eyes she says. “I’m too scared I won’t make it...again...”

Greg nods. Taking that in. “Wish there was something I could do.”

“As hard as you try, you can’t fix everything, Greg.”

“Startin’ to get that.”

“You want a lift back to your car?”

“I don’t think so. Take care, Amy.” He walks off down the street, struggling not to look back.

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