Sara stared across the darkened motel room at Andy, the man she loved with all of her heart, sleeping peacefully in the room’s worn and stained bed. She could not help but laugh at herself for only noticing the room’s sad condition after going twenty-four hours without using heroin. When she was high, she had only two concerns about motel rooms: that they were cheap in cost and safe for her to get high in, a place where she could safely enjoy her opium dreams without fear of being interrupted by the police. But now that she was going without heroin, and was unable to sleep because of it, she could not help but study the many stains and scars as they shimmered and danced in the sickening green glow of the motel’s neon vacancy sign, a sick green light that had no trouble seeping into the room through gaps in the window blinds no matter how tightly they were closed.
Without Sara making a conscious decision to do so, her mind drifted back to playing a game. Trying to guess what had caused each glimmering stain, a game that she had been playing most of the night while trying to forget her desperate need for a shot of dope. In the far corner, she could easily see where someone had thrown a used condom at the wall – it had stuck there as its contents had spilled out, racing down the wall and leaving trails behind, trails that under this type of light looked like tiny green rivers. And just across the table from her was a large shadow on the wall, the remains of a large bloodstain spreading out over the wall in the same pattern that a water balloon would make when thrown. Only a short distance above this stain was a dent that Sara was certain was a bullet hole, it had been as poorly repaired, as poorly filled in, as the blood splatter had been cleaned off the wall. The motel owners had not even cared enough to repaint the room.
Sara could not help but wonder about every other room that she had gotten high in and the many hidden secrets they held too – how many beds had she slept in where someone had died, or been raped, or a person was so depressed that putting a bullet through their own head became an option? Sara could not help but shiver each time she looked over at the room’s other chairs that sat only inches away from her and directly below both the bloodstain and its cause, the bullet hole. The idea that someone had sat in that very chair and killed themself shook her to her core. Had it not been for Sara wanting to watch Andy sleeping as she fought her body’s growing pain from withdrawals, she was sure that she would have chosen that chair instead of this one.
The dead man’s chair offered a view of the room’s only window with its busy sidewalk outside. Through a gap in the blinds she could watch the people outside as they went about finding drugs to get high on, turning tricks to earn money to get high on, and all of the many other pointless motions of lives being lived with only one purpose: to get high.
“It’s all pointless!” Sara whispered to her unborn child as her hands instinctively moved down to rest on her small but growing mother’s paunch, the only outward sign that Sara was pregnant. Looking once again at the stained wall, she wondered if the person whose death had created that odd work of art had found peace in death, or was the stain on the wall the only thing gained out of that poor soul’s lost life and one well-placed bullet? Does the stain artist have a tombstone? Would Andy or Sara have a tombstone to mark their passing? If she gave in and aborted their child, as Andy wanted her to do, would the child have a tombstone, even one as faint as a poorly washed bloodstain on the wall of a cheap motel?
Sara’s body began to shiver as she wondered exactly what they did with the aborted fetuses. Did they call them children, or did they have some cute way of referring to this waste product that did not remind people that it was a human or at least the makings of a human? She could search for the answer to that question on the computer but to do so she would have to wade through far too many political and religious opinions about abortion and an equal amount of hateful rhetoric about abortion. Andy had told her not to think of it as a child, or as a baby at all, but while some pieces of Sara’s upbringing were easy for her to forget, others were almost impossible to forget or to vanquish from her heart, and her child’s fate was one of those that would not go away.
Her parents had raised her to believe that abortion was there to be used for medical reasons or in cases of rape. Her family believed in responsible people using protection. To emphasize this, they stressed the fact that it was a child, a living being, that should be aborted only as an act of mercy for the child or mother and not because of a foolish night of sex. She had been taught that yes, she had control over her mind and body, but that control did not begin after she became pregnant, but when she decided to lie with a man. She had been taught that abortion was not a safety net to be used to save her from responsibilities that she accepted the moment she chose to have unprotected sex. Yet what her parents had failed to teach her was what she should do or could do in the event that Sara’s drug addiction, her own foolishness, led to her getting pregnant with a baby that, as Andy said, was already “Fucked up from the neck up!” Already an addict. Yes, Sara’s heart and mind were free to abort her child to save it from a lifetime of being subject to becoming addicted, or of being born somehow damaged, crippled by her drug use, but her parents had simply not told her what was morally the right thing to do in the event that Sara’s own self-hate was the reason for her to have medical concerns for the health of her unborn child. So now Sara felt lost and very alone.
The motel room’s sick green tint was starting to bother Sara, and she tried to push her chair back deeper into the darkness of a corner, but the green neon light was like the truth – it was always there, reminding her that the world was nothing like she wanted it to be. For her, this cheap motel room was a cocoon, a safe place to curl up and float in the warmth of her high, but for the maker of the bloodstain that painted the other wall, the room must have been a torture chamber, a place of despair. And tonight, for Sara’s own child, it was going to be either the room where its life began or the room where its death sentence was decided. And Sara hated her parents for not being clearer in their moral views on abortion. She wished that they had taught her what to do when your own bad acts were the cause of your child’s pain and medical risk. If she chose to have her child and it was damaged by her addiction, she would hate herself even more than she did now, or worse, by then Andy would be long gone from her life. Sara did not try and fool herself, Andy loved her, Andy needed her, but Andy wanted her to be a certain way, and she could never be what he wanted her to be while raising a child. Especially not if she were saddled with a disabled child! Andy needed her to be free to hustle. It cost money, a lot of money, to get high every day, money that a disabled child’s needs would not allow. It would be so much easier to blame the failings of society for the decision that she was being forced to make tonight, Sara thought, as she remembered her father’s opinions on abortion.
Sara’s father accepted the abortion issue as it was, but he swore that money, in the form of political donations, had destroyed the courts’ plans and goals in the case that allowed legal abortion. ‘Roe vs Wade’ as Sara remembered her father calling it. He was also sure that the courts used a woman’s right to privacy only as a legal starting point for legal abortion, and that they hoped that someone would then ask the courts to rule on the medical age that a girl changed into a woman; not the age that she was wise enough to give her consent to have sex, but a standard age that her biological needs commanded her the right to privacy. Her father swore that once that age was legally set in stone, girls could get birth control without their parents’ consent, thus ending almost all nonmedical abortions, forcing girls to become responsible for their own bodies.
Sara was certain this was true because of all the girls in her high school who had gotten pregnant that Sara knew, not one of them had planned to do so, and all would have gladly asked for birth control if that choice did not involve their parents. Sara’s father had explained it to her, saying that people will pay to win any fight no matter how stupid it is. As stupid as Sara knew that she would be for thinking this, she began to daydream about placing the blame over her child’s fate on political donations instead of on her own foolishness, and she laughed at how insane it was for her to be so desperate to find someone or something to blame for an abortion that she was sure she wouldn’t end up having if Andy would simply share in the responsibility, take his part in the blame instead of laying all fault at Sara’s feet.
Prostitution and expensive drug addiction are major pieces of the same puzzle. There are no women or men, girls or boys, selling their bodies for Marijuana, it’s just too cheap and the high lasts too long. But heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and prescription drugs are so expensive that prostitution is the only way to stay high. Sara remembered how hard it was to stay high before she gave in to Andy’s arguments and started turning tricks to help them earn money. Before that day they seldom had the money for a motel room, a good high, some food, and a morning shot of dope to start the next day with; they would flop where they could, sleeping in places where others like them were living, never alone, so never able to lie down and enjoy their high in peace, never able to make love in private, but above all never able to feel truly safe.
Andy had a few good days hustling addicted housewives and upper-class white kids, and they were able to stay high, fed, clean, and in their own motel room, their own cocoon of dreams and love, but dreams end quickly, and soon they were back to couch surfing with meth heads, crack monsters, and anyone else too poor to get high and take care of themselves at the same time.
Andy had started pointing out the merits of Sara selling her body early in their relationship, not long after she had quit going to college, ruined her credit cards, bounced checks, and lost her car after the insurance lapsed from her not having the money to pay for it. The loss of her car still stung. Had she sold the car, she could have kept them high for weeks, but instead, the police had pulled her over and impounded it until she could show proof of insurance and pay the release fees, something that Sara knew they could never do while at the same time maintaining their addictions. Soon after this, Andy convinced her to allow an old man to watch them make love. He paid them well, even bought them a nice meal, rented the motel room, and provided a few shots of dope apiece. But soon the old man wanted to see more of Sara’s actions and less of Andy’s. In one sense, Sara enjoyed the old man’s attention. It felt good to be the center of attention after being nearly invisible all of her childhood. In school, she always said or did things that made her feel stupid, ugly, and less wanted than the other girls, but in front of the old man, she became a star and would do things to Andy that the other girls at school would never dream of doing to the boys who would run past Sara on their way to get a kiss from her sisters or pretty classmates.
But the old man did not seek them out every day as their growing need of heroin did. Moreover, he wanted to pay Andy to allow him to watch Sara having sex with a man other than Andy. She assumed that Andy would get mad at the old man for even suggesting something like that; Andy had been Sara’s first and only lover and the idea of being with anyone besides Andy was almost stomach-turning to her.
“Sara, we make love, it’s not the same as having sex. Hell, you have sex with me when the old man is watching you, you begin to get into it and put on a show for him,” Andy said with a laugh that shocked Sara. She had no idea that Andy knew that she secretly enjoyed performing for the old man.
“It’s all cool,” Andy said, “we’ve all got our freaky side and sometimes it’s nice to see you give in to your freaky side and enjoy that part of yourself. Besides, it’s not what you or I do with our bodies that matters, it’s why we do it that counts – this old freak wants to pay you five hundred dollars to get down with some guy other than me. It’s five hundred dollars Sara, it’s not making love.” So she gave in to Andy’s wishes, but soon she was sleeping with men for far less than five hundred dollars. It took time to set up online ads in each new town they moved to, and being an escort was only a small part of the prostitution trade. Andy pointed out that sometimes it seemed like every woman in town was online claiming to be an escort and it drove the prices down, so Andy would take her to a truck stop, where Sara learned quickly that there is a vast difference between making love and Having Sex, Sleeping with Men for Money and Turning a Trick, and all the while, her need for heroin was growing, and the price for her sexual favors was lowering until they both levelled off at twenty dollars. Now Sara could count the daily price of their addiction in men serviced; they would laugh and joke about the number of Weenies it would take to get them high today if Andy failed to come up with money or dope on his own.
Moving from town to town did not help Sara to find the type of men who would pay her a high price for sex. Real pimps saw Sara as a potential money earner for themselves and they were not above setting Andy up to go to jail in order to get to Sara. Andy explained that truck stop security guards needed to bust pimps or hoes every now and then, and Andy was not a real pimp so he didn’t have the money to tip the guards to keep them on his side, plus Sara’s looks were beginning to be obscured by her addiction, and Andy could easily be sacrificed to the police in place of a real pimp.
Jail was not part of Andy’s life plan, so they often moved on to a new town as quickly as they had arrived in the previous one. The travel was fun, learning the many different ways to ask for a glass of coke or Mountain Dew, depending on where you were in the United States, was fun as it could be a soda, or a soda pop, or just plain pop, and the waitresses were quick to correct you if you said it wrong or placed too much emphasis on the wrong vowel sound. They would laugh at the many different slang languages and terms used in the world of vice and then marvel at the terms that seemed universal. Sleeping on beaches was Sara’s favorite though, hearing the waves as they gently rolled up the sands, lying in Andy’s arms, waiting on tomorrow to tell them how they were to go about earning the money to stay high for that day. Sara took pride in the fact that Andy would try to get the cash together some other way before he would send her off to work the streets or parking lots, and that he was always near her watching to make sure that no one hurt her. Ever since returning to Nashville, Sara’s hometown, he had refused to allow her to work Trinity Boulevard or Old Hickory Road – he did not want to embarrass her by her ending up in a car with someone she had known in her life before, though he did send her on a couple of escort calls, but these were before Sara’s world fell apart and she found out that she was pregnant.
Morals and upbringing play a large part in all of our life choices, and Sara’s morals and upbringing caused her to refuse to allow any other man to touch her beside Andy as long as she was pregnant, and she would have to stop using any and all drugs for the sake of her child’s future. It was fun to be a rebel, to be everything that her family would dislike, to pretend to be a porn star in an old man’s fantasy, to travel the world with the man she loved all the while claiming to be Bonnie and Clyde, but parenthood meant that it was time to grow up and face their child’s needs. Sara still hated the shy girl that she saw in the mirror, the fool who could not hold a conversation unless she was high, the girl whose arms instantly wrapped around her body if someone looked her in the eyes. That girl, with all of her faults, was still there inside of her, all the drugs and prostitution had not made up for her lack of self-confidence, or self-worth, but Sara’s child did not deserve to be punished because of that. In fact, the child might just be something Sara could hold on to, that she valued more than she hated herself, but Andy simply did not see it that way and he was adamant that the child was not his and that it was ruined and should be aborted. It was an easy argument for Sara to accept – abortion would mean that they could carry on with their life as it was, but it was Andy’s refusal to believe that she was carrying his child that caused Sara to cling so tightly to the hope the child offered her as the baby’s DNA would prove to Andy that she had been faithful to him by the rules as Andy had explained them to her: she had been faithful in using a condom with every other man she had been with; only Andy’s seed had run free inside of her body. For Sara, it was proof that the act of making love was far removed from the act of sex or of turning tricks to support them.
The early light of morning was starting to overpower the green of the motel’s neon sign and Sara could hear cars and trucks beginning their day on the street in front of their motel as the city tried to slowly awaken. But dawn offered Sara no comforts or rewards; it was easy to sit in a dark room and debate the question of their child’s life with a sleeping man, but Sara knew that she could not argue with Andy other than silently in her mind. Andy knew her too well; he could make her bloom like a flower or wilt and retreat within herself as she had always done when confronted by conflict or any potential failure. She began to wonder again if the creator of the blood-stained wall art had found peace in their death or not, as her death over the child’s parentage would prove to Andy that she loved him, it would save her from deciding her child’s fate, as well as it would save her the embarrassment that she faced when she went home to her family as she knew that she would have to do if she chose to keep her child and to remain clean of drugs as a parent should. Death was an option, Sara thought, but she knew that it was not something that she could ever find the courage to do to herself. It was then that Sara accepted that she could not save her child from a fate that she was not strong enough to change: heroin, Andy, the sure loss of Andy, and returning home a pregnant heroin addict, without a father for her child, were each insurmountable obstacles on their own, and monstrous when combined. “Andy will be happy,” Sara mumbled in self-defeat, as she heard a child begin to cry.
In almost every motel that they had stayed in during their travels, there was an addicted mother and her child, and the day always began with the pleading cries of a hungry wet child. At times, it reminded Sara of a long-lost call to prayer as the sun climbed in the dawn sky, but Sara knew that this was not a call to kneel before God, thankful for a new day. No, this was the child of an addict who had not learned to avoid her instinct to rise with the sun, and Sara knew that soon she would hear the child’s mother screaming for the child to be quiet and that those screams would end only after the child had been beaten into silence again. Each terrible smack caused Sara to flinch in pain as the child’s cries turned to sobs of pain muffled by a bottle being pushed into the child’s mouth.
The room exploded in orange light and went dark again before the sound of Andy’s cigarette lighter striking and lighting could reach her ears, shocking Sara to be caught off guard, lost in her own thoughts as she had been.
“That’s going to be you, Sara, you and that thing you call a baby,” Andy said as he laughed. “Trust me, if you have that nigger’s baby, you’ll beat it every day to get even with it for making me leave you, Sara. You know that kid isn’t mine, you’re a whore, a hooker, no way you know for sure who the father is!” Andy said, trying to hurt Sara to convince her to abort their child. His words left her unable to speak as her arms instinctively began to wrap around her body, her hands clenched into tight balls and her eyes looked for safety on the floor at her feet. She was broken, completely unable to tell Andy that she agreed with him, that she would get an abortion, that she wanted to take a shot of dope, and that Andy did not need to be mean to her anymore, that he could love her again.
“Hell, you went a whole day without a shot of dope, but trust me that isn’t shit, wait till later today, then you’ll beg me for a shot,” Andy said as tossed his dope kit on the bed beside him and began to ready his morning shot. “You need to let them vacuum that trick’s baby out of you. I knew that you were a whore by the way you acted when that old man would watch you. You can’t tell me that’s my kid – a whore is a whore. I knew that you agreed to fuck truckers way too fast, Sara, you didn’t even argue about only earning twenty dollars a trick.” Andy laughed again as he made the sound of a vacuum roaring and moved his hand back and forth as if sweeping the floor. “Fuck it, Sara, I don’t need to argue about it anymore. Watch me take a shot, whore, you’ll get on your knees and beg to get high as long as it’s been since you used any dope,” Andy said as he pulled their dope spoon out and poured two papers of heroin into it and then tossed two papers of dope to Sara. “You’ll need them soon Sara, trust me,” Andy said as Sara’s eyes began to focus only on Andy’s syringe.
A needle for a dope fiend is like a Crucifix to a Catholic nun: the addict can’t help but to pray when they see a syringe, and for Sara it was even worse. She had met Andy only a few days before taking her first shot of heroin. She had seen the ugly marks on his arms the first night they met at a campus party. Andy was there to help his friend’s band set up to play and Sara had fooled herself into believing that she had left at home the shy sad girl she had been while growing up. Her whole childhood, Sara swore that it was somehow her sisters’ fault that she always embarrassed herself in front of boys and she was sure that now she was away at college, she would be able to be herself, the real Sara, and not the shy ugly girl that she saw herself as when she fumbled like a retarded animal in front of boys. But she had been wrong. Within moments of arriving at her first college party, she found herself staring down at the floor, unable to speak, wanting to run away, but frozen in place. Andy rescued her – he saw her fear and lovingly took her hands as he unwrapped her arms from around her body and pulled her away from the center of the room to a quiet corner and softly assured her that she was going to be alright and that as high as everyone was, no one had noticed her standing as she had been.
This had been Andy’s first act of love, the gallant way that he had acted to save her upon seeing her standing there, frozen with fear, only to then reach out to save her. He didn’t ask her if she needed help nor if she was alright, he simply took command of the situation, rescuing her like the prince in a fairy tale would save a peasant girl from a dragon. They spoke all night, actually, Andy spoke, huddled together in the corner of a busy room, yet very much alone, as if in a bubble. Andy was honest about his heroin use, he told her about it at the beginning of that first night as a way of allowing Sara to decide if his drug use was something that she could accept or not. She loved his honesty. He said that he did not wish to start their friendship by lying to her, this meant that he respected her, something Sara had never felt before. In the days after the party, she began buying him shots of heroin. If she didn’t, Andy didn’t have the time to spend with her. The doctors had known that Andy’s mother had been addicted to opiates at the time of her pregnancy with Andy, it was there in the computer records, and it popped up anytime Andy’s name went into a medical database. Andy had even told the doctors that he couldn’t use any type of opiates because of this, but they really didn’t care and gave him opiates after a car crash that Andy had been in. And now Andy was an addict, forced to roam the streets each day searching for ways to feed his habit.
In high school, Sara had learned about an American opiate epidemic that had occurred at the turn of the last century after several powerful opiate pain medications were allowed to be prescribed to almost anyone for any type of pain, from a hangnail to a brain tumor. This opiate epidemic spurred a new economic class in America. The nation had long ago learned that by labelling people mentally or physically disabled, they could remove these same people from the unemployment records, causing it to appear that there were more jobs than people seeking or needing work, thus, it appeared to be a far more robust economy than it really was. Yet the addicted class became a far better tool for balancing the unemployment rates. First, they labelled addiction as a medical issue, allowing the treatment of addiction to be paid for by the government, and creating jobs in addiction treatment. Second, they removed the criminal aspects and punishments for using drugs, and this led to a steady death rate for addicts. Prisons and jails had been a backstop in addiction, you would slam into this backstop, go to jail and dry out. When your addiction became out of control, by going to jail the addict would not die from an ever-increasing use of heroin. Some addicts would seek help in recovery programs for addiction after jail, others would use again and return to jail many times. Once the prospect of going to jail was removed, the government started new programs, one that paid for the cremation of the remains of addicts and another that paid for addicts to receive free abortions, but never a program that promoted the idea of free birth control while in recovery or while still using. Without jails there to stop the addicts when their addiction made them reckless, addicts died within months of becoming addicted and not in the years it had taken with jail and prison standing in the way.
Death due to addiction was killing off working-age, physically fit people, and was, thus, very effective at lowering the unemployment rates. As the years went by, presidents and other leaders would try new things, including the reinstitution of prison and jail time for repeated long-term addicts like Andy who had been in and out of every kind of treatment program that they offered, and were too smart to chase the dragon of heroin until it killed them. But Sara knew that if he was caught again, he would be sent to prison for years for an addiction that government doctors had saddled him with, and Sara saw this as unfair. The creation of the addicted class of Americans was too profitable, it employed far too many people to be changed without a civil war, and heroin addiction, as Sara soon found out, does not lend itself to the notion of a civil war – hell, addicts can’t keep a job so there was no way of rallying a group of addicts to any cause other than getting high. Andy had told her about a book called ‘Brave New World’, written years ago. Its author, a man named Huxley, a drug user himself, created a fictional world where a class of people was addicted to pills provided by the government powers. But these people worked and benefited the world around them, whereas the only contribution the addicted class of today made to society was to first become addicted and then to die quickly after a failed attempt at recovery, allowing government money to flow first through rehabilitation and treatment programs and then out through the towns these centers were located in and eventually to the undertakers’ hands. Society had realized that it was too expensive to feed and house families and their children who did not have a work ethic for their entire life, like welfare, free school lunches, and prisons did. So everyone closed their eyes to the truth about America’s addiction problem, the government had found a way to turn Lemons into Lemonade, if it cost a few families with good work ethics and morals a son or a daughter every now and then, so be it – no one was forcing people to use drugs, everyone had a choice. America’s other option, a military draft, the forced enlistment into the military, only worked if there was a long-term war to fight, wars that cost far too much money in military funerals versus cheap addiction cremations, not even to mention the price of treating wounded soldiers after a war. America had decided that Andy did not matter, and Sara had decided that she did matter without Andy.
Andy laid out his shot kit as if the things contained inside of it were sacred, and to Sara, they were: her love of the Sacred Needle was abutted to the joy she felt as she gave her body to Andy the first time. She had been a virgin, never having been high, nor touched by a man before. First, Andy had her snort a small line of heroin, this instantly made her sick causing her to vomit into a trash can that sat beside her bed in her college dorm room. They were alone, and would be the whole night as Sara’s roommate did not understand Andy, and she would not make any attempt to like him, nor did she understand Sara’s growing need to be with him. Shortly after being sick, a warmth raced through Sara: it felt good, she felt lighter, with no conscious fear of the world around her or of people’s views of her. Only after he had helped her to clean herself up did Andy allow her to feel the loving bite of the syringe’s needle. “You won’t get sick this time, I promise,” Andy had said as he convinced her to lay on her bed naked before him, as he heated a spoonful of water and dope until the room smelled of the sweet musky smell of warm heroin. Then he gently tied a shoestring around her extended arm, the pressure from the tie forcing her veins to rise to meet Andy’s needle exactly like Sara would soon rise her pelvis begging Andy to enter her just as the needle had done. Both offered a small sharp pain that would become enjoyable shortly after the pain of penetration.
“Watch,” Andy had told her as she bit her lower lip and watched the needle easily slide into her arm; then she saw her blood spin up into the syringe, proving that heaven was very near, and she watched as the blood rose grew, bloomed, and died as Andy depressed the plunger of the syringe, causing the bed, the room’s floor and the world around Sara to drop from beneath her as she fell into a mist of heroin bliss. Only then did Andy undress, exposing himself for Sara as she had exposed her body and love to Andy. He then prepared his own shot of heaven, giving equal concern to its blessing as he had to her shot just moments before.
Sara realized that she was daydreaming when she saw Andy smile at her from across the room while tying his arm off and making his veins ready to receive the needle. Andy knew that Sara could not turn away, she could not stop herself from staring at anyone preparing to take a shot of heroin in front of her; he had seamlessly melded the act of injecting heroin with the act of making love and by virtue of this association and the fact that before Andy, before heroin, and before making love, Sara had been terribly alone even when surrounded by people.
Andy saw the blood rose grow and bloom in his morning shot just as Sara could see it from across the room. He smiled at her as heaven entered his veins, his heart, his world, as he softly mumbled “I love You”, then pulled the needle from his arm, allowing a tear of blood to form just like Sara’s own blood had formed on the bed beneath her when he had entered her the first time they had made love. Andy was right, sex was an act performed by two bodies, but making love as she and Andy made love was not a physical act as much as it was a meshing of their souls in a way that only true lovers could understand.
Andy’s smile softened as his eyes glazed over and he allowed himself to fall into the bliss of his true love’s gentle touch, then he nodded off. Sara stood up from her chair, easily forgetting the blood-stained wall, the crying baby’s suffering under the abusive hands of his addicted mother, her family’s opinions about abortion, and the future of the child she grew in her womb: she simply could not live without Andy’s love, Sara told herself as she stepped to the bed to ready her own shot and to join Andy in heaven. Andy was probably right, she told herself: the child was not his and he was most certainly right in saying that no matter who the real father was, the child was conceived by a mother addicted to opiates. Abortion was her only option – she could not saddle their child with the monster that she had faced every day since she decided to leave college and follow Andy.
As she began to ready her shot, the room exploded with the sound of someone forcefully knocking on the cheap motel door. The sound both shocked and stunned Sara at the same time. Only bad news knocked on the anonymous doors of drug motels. Sara knew not to make a noise, and she knew to grab all of Andy’s dope kit so that she would be in possession of it if the police decided to enter the room. But Sara had been raised in a world where it was rude to ignore someone knocking at your door, she had grown up believing that the police were not her enemies but instead they were her friends. So she looked at Andy, passed out, the bloody tear on his arm the only visible sign of his recent drug use, and felt safe in giving in to her parents’ teachings and opening the door for whoever was so intent on getting her attention, the complete shot kit in her hand ready to turn in to the police to protect Andy from the prison cell he would face if caught in possession of it.
“Who is it?” Sara asked, opening the door at the same time. A postman stood there staring at her, smiling at the syringes, spoons, lighter, and shoestring in her hand with a look of pure amusement in his eyes that Sara was sure came as much from her caring enough to open the door and greet him as from the drug paraphernalia in her hand.
“Sara Anne Austin?” the smiling postman asked. “I have a package for Sara Anne Austin,” he stated as Sara saw the return address and, like a child at Christmas, snatched the package from the man’s hand at the same time saying, “Yes sir, I’m Sara Austin.” The postman simply rolled his eyes and laughed, then gave Sara a look that told her that he would like to come back to turn a trick with her someday before turning to walk away.
Sara quickly shut the door of the room and became lost in the smell of the small package. Just knowing that it had been mailed to her from her home on Dogwood Mountain brought tears to her eyes and she could not help but look at the name of her Great Aunt Page Anne Austin, written in the shaky hand of an aging woman who Sara remembered cleaning the graves on Cemetery Ridge as she spoke to the many people buried there. Sometimes Sara would see Aunt Page at church on Sundays, but the old woman seemed to have given up on the world of the living to spend her time with her memories instead of with her living family. Seeing the old woman’s shaky handwriting reminded Sara of early mornings waiting for the school bus, hearing the other kids trying to interrupt Aunt Page’s conversations with people that only she could see or hear. Aunt Page could cuss like a sailor and would do so if interrupted by the children. Sara had been sure that Aunt Page enjoyed her morning interactions with her many nieces and nephews living on Dogwood Mountain because she would grin a cute little grin and begin to talk louder the closer she came to the playful children, as if she craved their attention.
Smiling at the memory of her aunt cussing in the early morning sun, Sara sat down and opened the package that the crazy old woman had cared enough to send her. Inside of the package was a handwritten notebook, and a letter addressed to her. Sara laid one hand on her mother’s paunch, looked over at Andy as he floated in and out of his dreams, then opened the letter to face her mounting fears of what it would say and why it had been sent to Sara here at an address that Aunt Page simply could not know.
“Dear Sara, Girl, you always were an odd one!” Aunt Page’s letter began. This caused Sara’s heart to sting in pain – the idea of an odd if not crazy old woman calling Sara odd was all the proof she needed to know that she would never return to her home and family.
“But you were always my favorite of all of the babies born on Dogwood Mountain,” the letter continued. “I could see that you were hurting and very lonely, but what could I say that you would want to hear? How could I help you to see yourself as a beautiful person and worth the sacrifice I made when I decided to never love anyone or to have a family of my own. I thought that if I refused to have children, the mental illnesses and drug addictions that haunted both of my parents would die with me and not be passed on to your generation, but Sara, you taught me that Bobby, my father, was right and that by hiding our family story, I was sentencing you to a life of addiction and all that comes along with the lifestyle of an addict. Sara, you may believe that you are living a life that no one in your family will understand, but you are wrong, and the child you are carrying deserves a chance to live and grow up as you did, here in the safety of your family and not in the hell that I grew up in.
“Yes, Sara, we know that you are pregnant. When you went to the hospital seeking pain medications, the blood test showed that you are carrying a child, a child that I sacrificed my life for. Most mail, as you know, first stops at the tombstone shop where I sort it and then give it to the home it belongs to, but where does a letter addressed to you belong? You went off in search of peace in a way of life that is honestly a family tradition – getting high and selling yourself in the hope of being loved by a man and that his love will give you a sense of self-worth. But you are wrong girl – you are worth more than you can ever understand; you are a mother, and you owe it to your child to come home to us. If you won’t do that, then at the very least read the book that I have included with this letter. This is your home, girl, you have done nothing that you should be embarrassed over yet! But if you harm that baby because I failed to teach you about the life you are living, then my time alone upon this mountain was pointless. Please read our story, and please come home. We love you, no matter what you have allowed yourself to do. Love Aunt Page. PS I am only a phone call away girl. I love you and the baby growing in your womb.”
“Any money come in that box, Sara?” Andy asked from the bathroom where he had managed to get up and go to without Sara noticing as she concentrated on her aunt’s confused letter. Who else had been a drug addict in Sara’s family she did not know, nor did Sara understand exactly what Page meant about giving up her life for her family’s children.
“No Andy, no money, just a letter, and a book – see Andy,” Sara said as she tried to show Andy the gift that she had received from home.
“Next time you call home crying, remember you’re a whore and an addict, and that you don’t know who the daddy really is of that thing growing inside of you. Also, face it, you ain’t going to make it the rest of the day without getting high Sara. Ask for money next time, and stop fooling yourself – you almost took a shot this morning!” Andy said as he walked to the door to leave.
“There are a couple of papers of dope, it’s good. When you stop trying to fool yourself, use it to get right and come to the park to help me hustle up enough money to get by on today. It’s about time to hit the highway again, I don’t like people mailing stuff here that ain’t got money in it – next thing you know, your mommy and daddy will be stopping by to read your little dope fiend baby bedtime stories!” Andy stated as he walked out of their room, slamming the door behind him.
Fighting not to cry or to run after Andy and assure him of her love, Sara rubbed her stomach and said: “I guess it’s just us, honey.” Although in her heart Sara knew that going home was not something she could bring herself to do, no matter what Crazy Aunt Page said, Sara opened her aunt’s book and forced herself to read.