"Her Rocky Nirvana"

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Walking the busy streets of Los Angeles, Greg approaches a downtown office building that’s forty stories of gleaming steel and glass. He cranes his neck upward, taking in its enormous size when, by chance, he spots a pair of doves flying in perfect unison. Each change of direction and altitude appears to be performed simultaneously, as if choreographed by the ‘Blue Angels’. But as they rapidly approach the monstrous building, one bird veers left and the other inexplicably swerves right. The bird that went right misinterprets the reflective images, resulting in a collision with a glass panel. Stunned, but alive, the bird spirals to earth in a semi-controlled crash landing. The dazed bird flops around for a few moments trying to right itself, as passing pedestrians point and giggle. At first it appears the bird has sustained irreparable damage; flopping and spinning in a tight circular pattern. But time proves the dove to be both determined and resilient, as its continued efforts eventually bear desired results. The feathery critter finally stands on both feet, looks around for a moment, then starts to test its wings once more. After spreading its feathers and energetically fanning the air, the dove seems to have regained its strength and composure. Greg can’t help but smile when that wayward dove lifts off, heading full speed for the clouds. Watching the recovered bird continue to gain speed and altitude, he begins to wonder if it will ever find its distant mate…will they ever fly as one again?

From the office of Dick Webber, Attorney at Law, clients can enjoy an unbridled view of the L.A. skyline. From the eighteenth floor of this downtown skyscraper the vistas offered to them, smog permitting of course, extend for miles and miles. But that little perk is lost on his two clients today. And it has nothing to do with Greg’s fear of heights. Greg and Amy stare at the documents placed on the desk in front of them, painfully contemplating the meaning. Across the desk is Dick Webber, a truly nice guy, in his mid-forties, with a lot of experience handling divorce cases. Next to Dick is Liz Mullan, another smart and experienced divorce lawyer. The two of them have handled hundreds of cases, most of them contentious and some down-right volatile. Dick still bears a scar, on his forehead, from the impact of a Grammy thrown by an angry rock-star. The aging guitarist blew a circuit trying to wrap his mind around the inevitability of sharing rights (to his latest song) with wife number three. But Dick always says: that stuff comes with the territory. Dick and Liz glance at the divorce documents on the desk top, then Dick looks anxiously over at Greg and Amy. “Um... I just wanted to say...” Dick motions to Liz. “...we just wanted to say, we never handled an easier divorce. Nobody fought over anything, nobody backstabbed, I’m not sure we’ve earned our respective fees...”

“Christ, you get along better than any couple I know.” Liz adds.” Are you sure you’re doin’ the right thing?” Amy and Greg don’t reply, they just pick up pens and start signing. Moments later the pens are back on the desk, inciting Dick and Liz to share an anguished look. When the large office door closes behind the newly divorced couple, Dick and Liz can only shake their heads and sigh.

Out in the spacious hallway, Amy and Greg walk slowly toward the elevator lobby. They both reflect gloom and despair, having in no way lightened their emotional load. Amy stops mid-stride. “Well...”


Amy takes off her wedding rings. “I want you to have these.”

Shaking his head. “They’re yours, Amy.”

“No they’re not. They were your mother’s and...” Eyes glassy, but she somehow manages not to cry. “We’re not married anymore and...”

“It’s not like I’m gonna’ give ’em to anyone else.”

Suddenly she grabs his hand with surprising force. “Take ’em, Greg -- I’ll only end up selling them.” She holds on real hard for a long minute, then moves off down the hall. Clutching the rings in his palm, Greg can only watch her go.

When a body is in free fall, gravity will increase its rate of descent at approximately 9.8 meters per second, every second until it reaches terminal velocity: approximately 195 kilometers per hour. So if you know the altitude you started from, it’s easy to calculate the time you have before you’ll come to a very abrupt stop. Unfortunately calculating any individual’s rate and duration of descent, when addicted to opioids, is not so straight forward. You have those like Amy’s old roommate Laura, who had the misfortune of being raised in a household with two addicted parents; hard times were waiting for her the moment she left the maternity ward. And then there are those like Amy, who come from loving, caring and nurturing homes, but unforeseen circumstances push them off the so-called path of the straight and narrow. Although each individual may start their decent from different heights, the damage incurred can prove to be equally as devastating. The lucky ones will open their chute, have a successful stint in rehab and float back into a sober life. But others just continue to fall and fall until that inevitable impact with an irreversible tragedy. As for Amy, after the divorce, her rate of free fall increased and her hand was still nowhere near the ripcord.

After her arrest and subsequent divorce from Greg, Amy’s parents reluctantly let her move back home. Al and Evy were severely conflicted with the heartbreaking choice dropped in front of them. It’s one of those nightmarish scenarios that no parent ever wants to experience. Do you let your adult child back into your home and risk enabling destructive behavior or do you let your little girl fend for herself on the streets? What’s the right choice? Who the fuck knows? But Al and Evy had confidence that they could help steer Amy back onto the right path. They were her parents and Amy had always respected their authority and tried to do as they wished. So using that logic, Al and Evy allowed Amy to move back into her old bedroom. Unfortunately though, the young lady who moved in was not their old Amy. The new resident was an individual who currently serves a different and extremely dominant master. Soon after moving back home, Amy’s day in court arrived. A combination of her previously pristine record and Daddy’s legal connections resulted in a weak slap on the wrist for Amy. Six months on probation and completion of rehab, in a state approved facility, was the extent of her sentence. To the pleasant surprise of her family, Amy entered the rehab facility only a week after being sentenced. If you’re thinking, as her parents did: “wow” she’s learned her lesson and that girl is really going to get sober this time--sorry, think again. Amy’s calculating mind had already developed a plan that would scrape the court ordered requirement right off her plate, while still satisfying her relentless cravings. When Amy was at the Desert Valley Clinic, she heard people tell stories of all the different rehab facilities they had been to. Some sounded good and some not so much, but one place in particular stuck in her mind. More than one person had talked about a place that was so loosely operated that if you wanted to score some drugs and had the cash: it would be ‘no problema’. Sitting high atop a hill, in a suburb of northern Los Angeles, ‘New Start Gardens’ has a picturesque view of the city lights below. The single story building is surrounded by green lawn, mature Eucalyptus and Jacaranda trees. A walking path that meanders around the perimeter of the building, usually sees several residents in the mid- morning hours. It provides a great opportunity to get some fresh air, stretch your legs and escape the view of closed circuit cameras. Amy ‘learned the ropes’, regarding how to get what you wanted here, very quickly. She discovered which staff members would look the other way, for a small donation: there were many. She also found out who could arrange a delivery: there were a few choices. And, not to be overlooked; where the best pick-up points were: varied in exact location, but almost always somewhere just off the walking path. By the time Amy’s thirty day rehab stint was completed she had almost exhausted her substantial cash supply; buying numerous Oxy tabs and clean urine samples. But, she walked out clean and free of that incumbency, in the state’s eye. The extent of her legal sentence was now nearly complete, but the extent of her punishment was still a work in process. Amy arrived home to a little family celebration for her accomplishment. Everyone was there except for Greg. Although he wished her well on the phone, at this point in time, the divorce and the escapades leading up to it, were still too fresh in his mind to celebrate or trust again. Life seemed good again for Al and Evy though. Now, with rehab in the rear view mirror, they were genuinely happy to have their girl back at home…for about three weeks. It didn’t take long for the combination of incessant cravings, no job and a lack of money to strain the family unit. At first, Amy was just selling her own stuff to get cash: designer clothes, her skis, Buffy memorabilia and a bunch of climbing gear. But when that ran out, she got desperate. Nobody seemed to notice when the case of Neiman Marcus silverware left the house; after all, it was only used on very special occasions. But, Al got more than a little suspicious when a humidor full of ‘Cohiba Behike 56’ cigars disappeared from his home office. And when a couple of Evy’s cocktail rings walked away, it was ‘game over’. More than a few tears were shed (by all) the day Amy packed her Vette: with what little she had left and drove away with no known destination.

Tony Chalala straightens his paisley print tie, smooths out his bushy moustache then walks out of a smallish aging stucco covered structure. Standing on a concrete landing, a large banner that stretches across the entire length of a warped and tattered roof flutters just above his head. ‘WE BUY AND SELL! INSTANT CREDIT, INSTANT CASH!’ is the message displayed in bold red letters. Tony gazes out across the modest car lot at an assortment of ‘past their prime’ cars and trucks. The selection of vehicles here would not impress most car shoppers, but in this sleazy part of town, where Tony can prey on the desperate, business is good. Tony throws on a pair knock-off Versace shades and an equally bogus smile when he sees Amy’s beloved Corvette pull into his lot. Within half an hour Tony is placing five thousand dollars in Amy’s sweaty hand. She’s well aware that the car is worth that amount several times over, even with the unfinished body work. But she needs cash now, so expediency, convenience and a replacement vehicle all in one stop; seal the deal. Stashing the cash in her purse, Amy climbs into an ancient piece o’ shit Corolla that Tony’s kept on life support for just such an occasion. The interior is sun-shot with multiple stains and tears scattered about the seats and the San Andreas runs through the center of the dashboard. The back floor is playing host to a few mouse turds, candy wrappers and a half dozen cigarette butts. The exterior is rust free, but it prominently displays a pattern of small primer spots along the rear fenders, making the small car look akin to an Appaloosa. But on the plus side; the engine turns over and the wheels roll. So Amy drives away, leaving her Vette and a little more of her self-respect behind.

Chuck leans over the fender of a white Lexus sedan. The accumulating veins of silver streaming through his hair are set aglow from a portable light, dangling from the car’s raised hood. His hands are smudged with engine grime and the knuckles have numerous abrasions, but those hands are skillful and they’re sober. The vehicle is about seven years old, but looks well cared for, both inside and out. The owner of this particular car has been bringing all of the family vehicles to Chuck for a couple of years. By performing repairs and standard maintenance they’ve come to trust, Chuck has earned respect and loyalty from several repeat customers over the past few years. Now that his inner demons are in a state of restraint, Chuck’s new, and this time reputable, business looks bright. Chuck currently has his head down in the engine-well mindfully installing some fresh spark plugs. With each twist of the wrist the torque wrench produces a shrill (click, click, click) that resonates in the tight engine compartment. But the current noise producing task doesn’t prevent him from detecting the approach of a powerful throaty engine. The engine sounds very close when it abruptly fades out, being replaced by footsteps. The footsteps are slow and soft, but they continue to grow closer. “I’ll be right with yuh” Chuck says without looking up. “Just a couple more turns.” There is no response, but Chuck can see the toes from a pair of size twelve gray Nikes slide into his limited view. He raises his head and is greeted by a pair of saddened green eyes. The eyes belong to Greg, as does the pain and heartache they project. He stands nearly motionless with his mother’s and Amy’s wedding rings resting on his palm. It takes but only a brief moment for Chuck to correctly interpret the despondent scene. “I’m so sorry, son.”

Once again, up in Chuck’s small overhead apartment, father and son convene around the dinette table. Their somber faces look beyond the untouched glasses of water; staring only at the rings, resting upon the table. Each man has associated those rings with the love of his life, the woman of his dreams, but the pain currently in their hearts suggest they actually symbolize an incongruity. “I know you still love her and I know you want her back…” Chuck says …but you gotta’ realize, this is gonna’ be a tough fight… That opioid shit, is real nasty. I’ve heard it can actually change your brain…like maybe forever.”

Nodding, Greg says. “Neurotransmitters can be altered…I’ve read all that scary stuff too.” All those negative thoughts and concerns start to churn and swell in Greg’s mind. His head slumps, almost hitting the table top, before abruptly standing. “This is fucked up! It can’t be hopeless, people do recover …I just have to figure a way…a legitimate way to make her really try… again.”

Chuck knows the ball is really in Amy’s court. No one will make her stay sober, except her. But those aren’t his words today; now’s the time for compassion and support. “Well you’re a smart guy. If anyone can it’s you.” Chuck walks over and puts a hand on Greg’s shoulder. “If I can help in any way…I’m here for yuh.” Greg manages a mild grin while nodding his head.

“When, and I hate to say if, that elusive day comes… I’d like to have something special ready for the occasion.”

Chuck throws a curious gaze. “You have somethin’ in mind?”

“Yeah, I’d like to show you that something.” Greg leads his father to the window, overlooking the street. “It still needs a fair amount of work, but I think it’s worth it. Whatta’ yuh think? Can help me out with that?”

Peering through the window glass, Chuck slowly nods, casting a toothy smile. “Oh yeah.”

Amy walks the aisles of yet another unsuspecting drug store with the tendrils of addiction having become firmly anchored in her brain. The cravings for more opiates are now an almost continuous thought. Not unlike a mature trumpet vine wound through lattice over the years, the hold is tight and secure. The unyielding desire controls her daily activities, twisting rational reasoning and blurring ethical behavior. She slyly slips a few candy bars into her pocket while pretending to agonize over which birthday card to choose. Snickers and Milky Way may not be the most nutritious meal, but hey, this girl would trade a steak dinner at Spago for a few Oxy tabs. Although her stolen script from Dr. Wallace is long gone, Amy can still dance: she’s cultivated new sources. During her stay at ‘New Start Gardens’ she was exposed to some seasoned pros at acquiring opioids. Amy’s little organizer doesn’t only contain a list of pharmacy contacts anymore, now it also contains a list of shady doctors; all willing to write script for the right price. The Pharmacist walks to his counter and calls out. “Lorraine Shavelson?” Amy immediately moves to the pharmacy counter, scoops up the prescription and leaves the building.

The packed lecture hall is full of fresh-faced undergraduates, staring and intently listening to Professor Kingsley deliver a lecture related to biodiversity. Greg is standing near a large computer monitor which currently displays photos of indigenous flora within the Canadian Boreal Forest. This particular lecture has traditionally been one of Greg’s most beloved and finest of the semester. Having spent the best part of two years doing graduate research above the 50th parallel, Greg has intimate knowledge of and fondness for the biodiversity within this pristine region. He could go on for hours about the species of flora, fungi, conifer and deciduous trees that spread across the multiple ecozones. The benefits of natural disturbances; such as forest fires, insect and disease outbreaks, drought and windthrow can really get him going too. And he does it all with convincing enthusiasm, painting a picture of intricate symbiotic beauty. But today Greg’s paramount lesson, the sharpest and shiniest arrow in his quiver, is delivered with tired eyes and spoken in a distracted and lethargic manner. The stress from worry and the volume of sleepless nights are starting to inflict a toll on Greg. “…the practice of fire suppression in this region is … can lead to changes in…changes in biodiversity…” Greg’s mind seems to wander away from the topic as the words cease to flow from his pinched lips. I wonder what she’s doing now. Is she safe or in a gutter. There must be some way I can help… Come on smart guy, what’s the fucking answer. Javi and Chalise , grad students, who routinely assist Greg with some of his lesson plans and lab projects, observe with a look of concern. They don’t know what or why, but they do know very well that something is amiss today. This isn’t the professor they’ve come to admire and emulate, or the orator that can make the life cycle of lichen sound riveting. No, this can’t be the accomplished Greg Kingsley …this is some sort of an avatar with aberrant qualities.

“Professor” Chalise whispers.

Blinking a couple of times Greg responds. “Huh?”

Chalise prompts him.” Changes in biodiversity…”

“Yeah, unintended changes occur when natural burn cycles are interrupted...” Again Greg’s eyes grow distant as his mind floats off. Yeah, this is an unintended change alright, but what can I do about it?... Not a fucking thing kiddo. ..or is there?

“Professor?” Chalise says.

Greg snaps back to reality, but not back to normal. “You can read all about it in chapter eleven.” Greg says. Then he simply walks out of the crammed lecture hall, leaving everyone a little stunned.

In a loyal attempt to sway future student reviews; Javi stands up and applauds. “Great lecture... let’s hear it for Professor Kingsley...” Beyond a low rumbling, no one else does anything.

Amy’s dappled junker squeals its way to a stop within the sparse parking lot of a seedy motel. The structure has all the charm and appeal of Norman Bates’ establishment, except this place boasts of having a condom dispenser and hourly rates. A few cars that look like they may have come from Tony Chalala’s place occupy slots along a retaining wall, as do some local riff-raff. Amy slides out of the car, toting a bag of McDonald’s chicken nuggets and fries. Her Dodger cap and oversized dark glasses hide most of her face, but the tight jeans and t-shirt accentuate her still shapely body. The low-life that routinely congregate in this neighborhood, are squatting in the lot drinking wine. None of these scraggly characters know her name, but oh boy would they like to. One scuzzy bum whistles loudly, inviting Amy to have a drink while another, peeing on a parked vehicle’s tire, suggests she come on over and give him a hand. Amy ignores all of the unsavory taunts, moving quickly to her front door and then safely disappears inside.

From across the street, having seen Amy enter her room without any real harm, Greg gets back into his car. His emotions are swirling in a sea of confliction as he sits behind the wheel of his SUV. Possessing a natural inclination to fix: sitting there (just staring at Amy’s squalid accommodations) is tortuous. What the hell are you doing here Greg? He thought. You’re divorced from this woman. You have no business following her around… What are you? A fucking stalker now? He considered it a legitimate question for a moment. Am I a stalker?... Shit, you were only two seconds away from darting across the street, to pummel a couple of big mouth winos…Stalker?…

With his eyes fixated upon an ornamental jade fish hook, the notion of being a stalker starts Greg’s thoughts wandering again. The shiny greenstone dangling from his rear view mirror sends him all the way back to day three of their honeymoon. That was the only previous time and place he could recall happily observing Amy from afar. On that warm December morning in New Zealand, three bright yellow kayaks glide across a bay of glassy aqua blue. Maintaining a near perfect triangular formation, Amy and Greg paddle side by side, easily keeping pace with their guide, Reed Wainui. Reed points out a small sandy beach, about 50 meters away, saying. “That’s our spot folks.” They all angle for the white spit of land, contrasting with the deep green forested slopes behind it. Within a few minutes the vessels are slowing against the sandy bottom, prompting the trio to hop from their seats and haul the kayaks onto the shore. Reed, a large middle-aged man of Maori descent, throws a backpack over his shoulder, gazing at the forested ridges before them.” That Tortara tree is over the next slope Professor.”

Grabbing his pack, Greg sprouts a smile, saying. “Awesome, ready for a little hike Amy?”

Amy walks over to Greg, placing both hands around his waist. “Would you mind if I pass on this one?...I really wanna’ just cruise around this cove some more.” Turning her head toward the beckoning waters, she continues. “It’s just so beautiful out there.”

Placing his nose to Amy’s, Greg says. “Sooo, checkin’ out thousand year old trees, isn’t exactly stokin’ your fire, ay.”

Forcing a sad face, Amy says. “Are you mad?”

Greg gives a subtle shake of his head. “No… Just be careful out there.” He looks to their Maori guide. “Is this a bad idea, Reed?”

Reed stares cautiously at the couple for a moment. “You a strong swimmer?”

Amy nods, as Greg replies. “She’s a fish.”

Reed walks over to Amy’s beached kayak, waving her over. “Come on, wahine ataahua.”

Wearing that million dollar smile, Amy says. “Thanks sweetie?” She gives Greg a quick kiss on the lips before returning to her vessel.

Reed holds the kayak steady with a foot while removing a jade pendant from his neck. As Amy approaches, he lets the fish hook shaped trinket dangle from a length of twine around his fingers. Just before she steps into the craft, Reed slips the offering over Amy’s head, saying. “For safe travel over water.”

Amy pulls the charm away from her chest, setting it on her open palm. Taking a good look, she says. “Its beautiful Reed.” Then: with a sincere smile she squeezes his arm, letting the greenstone fall back against her chest. As she climbs back into her seat, Amy examines it one more time before adding. “Thank you so much.”

After shooting a quick grin, Reed responds. “E pai ana.” Then: pushing her little yellow boat away from the beach, he adds. “Stay close to the shore line. The winds can make trouble out there.”

Amy follows with a thumbs-up and another smile. “Gotcha’.” And she’s off.

A short time later, Greg is trailing Reed over a densely forested ridge and down into the sprawling lowland. Species of plants that have never touched Greg’s eyes before now abound in every direction. He spots the slender black trunks of New Zealand tree ferns, feathery lime-green fronds on Gulley ferns, Kanuka shrubs covered in creamy flowers and naturally, there are tons of liverworts--so much to absorb and admire. But the main prize towered nearly ninety feet above his hiking boots: the massive Tortara tree. Walking to the base of the giant, Greg places a hand upon its brownish bark, tilting his head straight back. “It’s gorgeous.”

Reed smiles at that, saying. “You have a healthy respect for nature. That’s a good trait.”

Tracking his eyes toward Reed, Greg says. “How could someone not be in awe of such beauty and endurance…”He cranes his head upward again, this time with a subtle shake. “This guy’s been here for over 1200 years…do you realize how many civilizations have come and gone in that time?”

“The Maori have a phrase: Whatungarongaro te tangata toitu te whenua…As a man disappears from sight, the land remains.”

“Yeah, what we don’t destroy.”

An affirmative nod comes from Reed before he says. “That grove of old Beech you’re interested in, are back over this ridge… Ready?”

“Yeah, let’s do it.”

Reaching the top of the ridge, Reed points off to the north, saying. “There about one more kilometer. Close to the mouth of the bay.”

Greg, only a couple of yards behind, responds. “Sounds good.” From their vantage point on the ridge, most of the bay’s crystal blue waters have come back in sight. In mid-stride, Greg throws on the brakes. Gazing through the tree line, he’s caught a glimpse of traveling yellow. Scooting down the hill a few more yards, he finds the perfect look-out spot. From this location he has an unimpeded view of his wife, stroking her way across calm waters. Taking a seat on the ground with his back resting against an adolescent Beech, Greg seems mesmerized at the sight. All aglow in the bright sunshine, Amy’s chiseled arms row with an even and powerful rhythm. Each time she digs a paddle into the bay she draws closer and closer to Greg’s position. Even after having drawn easily within earshot, he remains silent, wearing a look of pure admiration. Realizing his client was no longer following, Reed has backtracked to Greg’s deviation point. With Greg in a near trance, Reed easily approaches undetected. Squatting down near Greg’s tree of choice, Reed notices the object of his attention. Greg considers calling out to Amy and starts to rise, but then slides back down; more than content to just observe his vision of love.

“Now I see why you slipped away.” Reed says.

Surprised, Greg snaps his head around. “Oh, sorry about that, Reed.”

Patting Greg’s shoulder. “No worries, Professor. She’s a beautiful distraction.”

Greg smiles, looking back toward Amy. “Yeah, I haven’t the words that do her justice.”

“Mehemea ko kopu e rere ana I te pae.” Greg asks for translation with his eyes. “Like Venus appearing over the horizon in the morning.” Reed adds.

Greg’s face shows he has thoroughly absorbed the phrase. “Yup, you nailed it Reed.” Thirty feet above their heads, perched upon an overhanging branch, two Bellbirds chirp a stirring song while the two men quietly watch a woman of beauty and grace sail on by.

Still clutching the greenstone, reality abruptly returns Greg to his SUV and his current dilemma. Stalker?...I think not. I’m someone who cares… cares too much to give up on the person I love. Yeah, the drugs have changed her…boy-oh-boy, don’t I know that. But my old Amy is still in there… and by god I’m gonna’ get her back... I don’t know how, but it’s gonna’ happen. Releasing the jade fish hook, Greg slowly drives away, resolute about his feelings for Amy. But his overworked mind remains clueless as to how he can jettison the person in that motel room and recover the woman he married.

Greg sits in his office, staring at nothing. For the past several days that’s been part of the common theme; deliver an apathetic lecture, followed by the assistant’s cover-up, chased with go to my office and pathetically stare holes in the wall. Greg hates himself for doing it, but Amy’s plight just won’t let him go. Carla knows the whole story and has tried to be supportive and motivational, but the current trend shows no sign of abating and that’s disconcerting. Poking her head into Greg’s office Carla says. “Um... it’s been such a fun fest around here lately, I was wondering if I could go home early and shoot myself?” Greg looks up; having heard, but not actually absorbed what Carla had said. Before he can reply, the office phone starts ringing. Carla quickly ducks out, answering it from the outer office. A beat later, she’s back. “There’s a Jan Hoffman on the phone for you. She said she’s from the Desert Valley Clinic.” Greg picks up the phone, curious of the purpose.

“This is Greg Kingsley.”

“Hi, it’s Jan, do you know who I am?”

“Amy’s drug counselor, you called the police on me.” Intrigued, Carla plants her body in the office threshold, blatantly eavesdropping on the conversation. “I’m sorry ’bout all that.” Greg says.

“I’m not. This is a good clinic, I got sober here myself. Manny was a scumbag and he hurt a lot of innocent people. Including your wife.”

“We’re not married anymore.”

“Oh, I’m real sorry to hear that.” She says.

Greg looks up at Carla. “Would you like me to put her on speaker?”

“Okay.” Carla replies. He glares, so she retreats to the outer office, but just out of Greg’s line of sight.

“Reason I’m callin’ the clinic’s not pressing charges, you did us a favor.” Jan continues. “Manny’s been indicted for dealing and pandering, he’s gonna get a lot of years, I’m glad to say…So, how’s Amy? You ever see her?”

“Well…not really...” Jan senses his hesitation to reveal everything.


“I see her sometimes... I follow her, try and keep an eye... I know I shouldn’t, I’m supposed to let go and all. Isn’t that what you people say?”

“It is.”

“It’s up to her -- she’s gotta bottom -- one fucking day at a time-” Greg furiously hurls a heavy book across the room. “Why don’t you get a goddam formula that works!” Greg is almost in tears. Jan listens calmly. “I’m sorry, I apologize...”

“Don’t.” She says. “This disease is hard on everyone -- especially the spouse.”


“Look, it’s true, Amy’s gotta make the decision herself... but if someone she loved happened to give her a little kick in the ass, get her closer to that decision... I don’t know if it would be such a bad thing...” Greg sits up a little.

“You think?”

“There’s no guarantee, but I was her counselor and I know two things; she had a real shot at gettin’ better and she loved you more than anyone else in the world.” Greg begins tapping his free hand on his desk, some of the old light and energy coming to his eyes.

“Thanks, Jan. Thanks a lot.” He hangs up and he just sits there for a few moments, formulating a plan. The veil of sudden and complete silence really peaks Carla’s imagination. She feels both intrigue and concern as she inches closer to the doorway of a man who seemed on the verge of breaking. But from her vantage point she can’t currently see the transformation; the concentration on his face. All the gears are spinning in his mind and a concept is forming for the ‘fix-it man’ to execute. Suddenly the plan is clear to Greg and he releases an excited thunderous shout. “Carla!” Standing just outside his doorway, Carla is startled by the sudden verbal outburst. A jolt of adrenaline rushes through her body, causing her to jump backward, subsequently tripping over a small waste basket. On her way to the floor her flailing arms knock over a mug, a framed picture and a stack of binders. Although a considerable amount of noise was created from the tumble, Greg ignores the commotion as he shoves aside some plants and flowers, reaching for his shelved camera. Carla quickly springs to her feet and walks into the office, brushing a few dust bunnies off her clothes.

“I wasn’t listening...” She says. “I mean I was, but I couldn’t really hear that much through the wall...”

Greg looks Carla in the eyes with renewed energy. “We’re gonna go take some pictures.” He says.

Carla’s brow dips. “Pictures--?” Greg’s got the camera in one hand, grabs Carla with the other, hustling her out of the office. “-- of what?”

Sam’s Diner is located about one block and usually three winos away from Amy’s current place of residence. The stucco structure doesn’t possess much curb appeal, but for its age the interior is well maintained and Sam has the reputation of making the best breakfast burritos within miles. Most of the booths and bar stools attempt to establish a vintage sixties décor, however when the joint’s busy the extreme prevalence of cell phones invoke more of ‘Back to the Future’ feel. Sam bought out the previous owner, Roland Hollister, a couple years back for dirt cheap. Apparently Roland had landed on the health departments naughty list too many times and was about to be red-tagged, again. Somehow Sam managed to get the place ship-shape in short order, please the health department and keep most of the staff. These days, for being in a sketchy part of town, business is good and you no longer have to worry about your shoes sticking to the floor. Amy, currently sitting alone in a window booth, has become a regular here for dinner--on the days she isn’t scouting out new pharmacies that is. And with enough Oxy tucked away in her purse to last her, probably a couple more days, the evening has found her at Sam’s one more time. Jenny, an unenthusiastic middle-aged waitress has worked here for many years…well before Sam took over. A relic of the bad ole days when the establishment was called ‘Rolly’s’( a.k.a. ‘The E.coli Café’) Jenny knows the preferences of all the regulars. Her lack of personality and vigor is made up for by her surprising gift of recall. She sluggishly moves next to Amy’s table without offering a menu. “Hi.” Amy says. “Coffee please–“

The knowing eyes of the waitress bear down at Amy. The server’s only words are really more of an affirmation than a question. “-- jello, and egg salad on toast.” Amy just nods. As the waitress heads off Amy stares out the window. The casualties sustained by this sordid life she feels compelled to pursue float to the surface for another haunting. She recalls the faces of so many loved ones not seen for months. She remembers the happy times at her family’s home where humor and love were provided frequently and in large equal portions. She recalls her students and the young minds she had the opportunity to influence in a positive and lasting fashion. Then suddenly she’s on the parquet dance floor under a spectacular star filled canopy. In Greg’s gentle embrace once again, her flowing wedding gown glides across the glossy wooden floor. Closing her eyes for a moment the memory feels so real. She can hear the melodious sound of the string quartet, feel the warmth of Greg’s body pressed against hers, she sees the love in his eyes and the joy in his smile. When her eyes open once again the misty orbs still see Greg’s face. But this time it’s a reflection in the diner window. Amy’s head quickly spins around, looking up at her most significant loss. The tux has been replaced by Levi’s and a flannel shirt she gave him before they were married, but the eyes are very much the same. In spite of the betrayal and in spite of the hurt she inflicted, Amy can see the love that still lives within those sexy green peepers. Without hesitating Greg slides into the seat directly across from Amy, while simultaneously placing some photos on the table in front of her.

“I want you to see something...” Greg explains. “This is me, at the foot of ‘Condor Peak’, breathing into a paper bag... this is me twenty-three feet, six and one quarter inches up the face, clinging for dear life... this is me moments later with the paper bag again... sure there are others that show me throwing up, changing my underwear -- but who needs to see that?”

Amy pushes some loose hair behind her ears as her eyes travel from the photos to Greg. “You climbed ‘Condor Peak’?”

Shaking his head, Greg says. “No, no, no. Not yet. I went part way up -- and you know how I feel about heights.”


“Well, this woman I love -- full of life, passion, never did anything halfway -- told me the view from the top was incredible. She also told me there’s only one way to get there: you gotta keep climbin’.”

A thin smile forms on Amy’s lips. “You’re gonna’ do this?”

“Trust me, I really don’t want to, but I will -- if you’ll do something for me. ”Greg slides a brochure (familiar photo of the Desert Valley Clinic on the cover) across the table to her. “Actually, it’s for yourself. Go back, try again.” Amy looks at the brochure, moved, but her face shows that she’s obviously scared. ”All right, I didn’t want to bring out the big guns, but you forced me...” Greg produces a smartphone, flips the screen towards Amy, hits ‘play’. On the phone’s display screen is the entire Garrett clan. Al, Evy, Hank, Tina and Matt are huddled together, forming a smiling human mass. Al leans in too close to the lens. “Do I just look right here?”

“Uh uh, that’s good.” Responds Greg.

“Right in there?” Al asks.

In unison everyone else in the room says “Yes!”

“Hi Amy.” Al continues. “ It’s Mom and Dad...”

“And Hank and Tina...” Hank adds.

Then Matt. “And me!”

“We want you to know we love you—“ Says Evy.

Hank jumps in with. “And we don’t care about all the dumb shit you’ve done –“

Matt’s jaw drops a little. “Dad said shit!”

“Matt!” Tina scolds.

“We just want you to get better.” Al says. “Hell, ask your mom, I don’t get everything right the first time.”

“Or the fifth.” Evy snorts.

“You can do this –“Hank adds. “no matter how much dumb shit –“

“Hank!” The remaining collective yell.

“What?...she knows what I mean…Slay it, Buffy!”

“We love you.” Evy says.

Everyone follows with. “WE LOVE YOU!” With that parting sentiment Greg freezes the video for Amy’s streaming eyes. As her gaze flows from the video screen, to the pamphlet, to Greg’s caring face; she is torn mightily between her insidious obsession for opioids and a breaking heart. The choice she must make may sound like a ‘no brainer’ to most, but she is possessed by the cravings. Even though she may want to do the right thing, actually executing that want, is not easy. Especially for someone like Amy, who has tried before and failed. Greg realizes this and pleads one more time. “What do you say?”

Three days later Amy sits behind the wheel of her mottled Corolla, trying to take deep breaths as she contemplates her next decision. Sitting all alone in a familiar parking lot, she knows that once she leaves the car there will be no going back. Fear has gripped her chest like an anaconda coiled around its prey, squeezing tighter with each breath she takes. In Amy’s anxiety ridden mind the next choice determines her fate, what she does tomorrow and the many tomorrows that follow. After an agonizing period of fifteen minutes, that felt more like fifteen years, Amy makes her choice, stepping wobbly-legged from the vehicle. The warm desert sun falls upon her face as she strolls, with garment bag in hand, toward the front desk of the Desert Valley Clinic. Her ability to breathe improves with each stride and her lips even manage to turn upward at the corners when she sees Jan waiting at the door. The fear and anxiety that are still within her, and the omnipresent cravings for another fix, tell her to stop and turn around--but she doesn’t. The old Amy is pushing back; the old Amy that had been dormant for so long is trying to emerge once again. She’s desperately trying to suppress drug induced despotic powers for another chance at an awakening--a chance to finally end this sadistic incubus.

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