Forty-Two Minutes

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Chapter Twenty-Three

VICTORIA

I don’t want to come back. I want to stay at the bottom of the sea where everything is murky and silent and dark. Where there is no accusation or memories or the consequences of an addiction to face.

I thought I had died. I'm not sure how I got pulled out of the hole I tried to bury myself in. I hoped I had dug myself so deep down underneath the earth that my father could never find me again. But, he still won, even in death.

I drift in and out of consciousness. The sounds and images that seep through are a distorted blur of colors and shapes and hushed voices, and I wonder if I'm hallucinating. Muted, secret conversations with words like close call and lucky to be alive hover above me in the atmosphere.

My husband, daughter, and sister flood my dreams. Even from so far below the surface, I feel their eyes boring down on me, never looking away, as they desperately watch and wait and plead and pray for me to come back to them. Their expectations are unbearably heavy, and almost like another person in the room.

Memories and nightmares from childhood torment me and I writhe and restlessly toss and turn as my body sweats and purges out the toxins from years of pouring poison into my blood. I even think I hear singing. The voice is pure and sweet and strangely familiar. I let it wash over me and soothe away the bad dreams.

I desperately try to cling to the nothingness of sedation, but I keep drifting up towards the surface, my body resisting total surrender. Air blows into my nostrils from the oxygen tubes, forcing me to breathe whether I want to or not. Beep. Beep. Beep. The machines are a constant intrusion that penetrate through the fog and keep my heart beating. I hate the sound, resenting it for deciding for me that I'm going to live. And that I want to.

Blearily, I squint at the wall, and through my lashes, I notice the clock reads 12:42. The time my new life will start. The first day of the rest of my life, I think bleakly, as if I still have a chance at redemption.

My skin hurts. Even the hairs on my arms seem to be screaming, itching, and burning as if the air itself is on fire. There are little purple bugs crawling up and down my body, biting, pinching, sucking, and devouring me. I want to shrug and swat them away, but more just keep coming. The cloth of the hospital gown feels like sandpaper, chafing against me with the slightest movement. My stomach shudders as if my tissues and muscles and intestines have been twisted up and tied into a thousand knots.

I feel a sense of panic that with every drip of the IV seeping through me, I'm losing more and more of who I used to be. I'm being hollowed out against my will. How much have I lost already? Is the last drop already gone? Is the old me flushed away? No one even asked if I wanted to be saved.

I want to shout that it won't matter. I won't ever be clean. Even if every drop of vodka is drained from me, I will still be his daughter. How can I make everyone understand that the addiction wasn't what I was running from? He is still waiting for me no matter how sober I am. And what's worse, is now, I'll be forced to feel every scalding slap and scar he left on me without the protection of a bottle.

This whole thing is a joke. They think they'll be able to change me. Everyone thought being free from alcohol was the answer. They have no idea what I was up against once I am bled dry.

The first thing I see when I fully open my eyes is my daughter asleep next to me on the bed, her head buried in her arms. Her hair looks so dark against the sterile white of the blankets. It's been so long since I've seen her. I stare at her, absorbing being near her again. The relief at having her close is as euphoric as a drug itself.

Her hand is next to mine. Almost afraid to believe she's real, I slide my fingers over and grit my teeth as hot coals erupt up my arms and scorch down my shoulder blades. But I have to get to her and push through the pain to finally reach where she is. I lightly brush her and she stirs.

Lexy lifts her head and looks at me. I brace myself for her resentment and anger, the blame and accusations I'm certain will come hurling at me from a daughter I've lied to all her life. I watch her eyes widen and come into focus when she realizes I'm alive. I must look terrible because she looks much too worried. She sits up quickly, almost apologetically, as if feeling guilty for falling asleep.

"Mom," she says breathlessly, sounding painfully young, and piercing my heart. I've never deserved for her to call me that. I've never been a mother to her. "You're awake." She pulls her chair closer to the bed. "How are you feeling?"

I desperately want to feel nothing but, my entire system feels as if it's on overdrive, revving and churning and vibrating, like an engine about to explode. Every inch of me is magnified as if I'm looking at myself from underneath a microscope. My pores seem too close in focus. All my flaws, mistakes, offenses, and sins are glaringly in the open under the harsh fluorescent lights. I have nothing to help hide me from the aftermath I now have to face.

It's the first time we've seen each other since she left, and I hungrily drink in every detail of her face. I don't know how I ever thought it wouldn't matter if I never saw her again. Can I change my mind after I've already jumped off the bridge and am in mid-air?

She looks too much like me, and I pray to God that is where our resemblance ends. How is it possible to love someone this much? How can I ever make her understand that everything I did was to protect her from my past?

She'd gotten some sun, I think absently, noticing how her cheeks and arms were brown and bronzed. Her eyes seemed to glow. The southern summers can be brutally hot out on the ranch. Even a breeze could barely blow under it. I thought she might look different, that she'd be stained or tainted, bruised and beaten down. Ugly somehow. I know what that land did to me, how it destroyed everything good in me from the inside out. But, Lexy looks beautiful and healthy and strong, and more alive than I have ever seen her. I wonder how she had managed to survive there when that place had almost killed me.

I guess I was right. Being away from me has been better for her.

"I'm thirsty." My insides are screaming from the vicious craving. My voice is raspy and hoarse. My lips feel cracked and chapped, my tongue too thick for my mouth. I try to swallow and wince at the effort. Every breath feels like thorns are stuck in my throat.

Lexy looks around and finds a Dixie cup of water on the bedside table. "Here." She brings the cup to my lips and I drink through the straw. It's not the taste I wanted. My throat is raw and swollen from the tubes they had shoved down and intubated me with when they pumped my stomach. Swallowing is difficult and painful and I am only able to take a small sip before violently coughing and choking, water spurting up and spattering over my chin. Pain screams through my abdomen and I cry out as my entire body is wracked with agony.

Alarmed, Lexy starts to get to her feet. "I'll call the nurse."

"No," I wheeze out. I blindly reach for her, manage to grasp onto her wrist. I can't let her leave yet. I just got her back. I don't let go until she sits back down next to me. "Is Becca really here?"

"Yes. She went down to the cafeteria to get us some lunch. Dad is talking to the doctor. Do you want me to get them?" She starts to pull her phone out of her pocket.

Richard. My entire body jolts. He must have saved me. He was the only one there. I can't imagine how terrifying it must have been for him to find me. I'm stunned he's still here. Why? After all I've done to him. Guilt smothers me and I fiercely shake my head. I can't face my sister or my husband yet.

It's afternoon, I think, dully. As if the hour made a difference. All I can see are the days stretching endlessly ahead of me, sober and unprotected to who I really am.

I seem to have no control over my emotions and my body flushes feverishly hot, making my skin clammy and damp. I can't stop shaking. My eyes flood with tears. I don't know if it's from seeing her, from the detox, the trauma of almost dying. Or maybe it's from finally being able to tell my daughter the truth. My heartbeat sounds so loud in my ears. I'm surprised it's still beating. I thought I had finally figured out a way to stop it. Lexy looks panicked.

"I'm sorry," I manage. For everything, for yesterday and today and tomorrow, for all the years and years and years I've hurt her. It's not enough. How do I ever make it up to her? I hate that I'm aware enough to actually feel. The small cup of water is a worthless weapon against my shame. I feel naked and much too vulnerable. "I'm so sorry." I can't seem to say anything else.

"I know." Lexy holds my hand tight in hers. Her touch hurts me, prickles and singes, but I don't dare let her go. Tears are in her eyes. I've made her cry far more than I should have in her young life. "I'm sorry I left you. I wanted to know what happened."

"I couldn't tell you. I swear I was trying to protect you. I didn't know how to face it." My words come out in a rush, sloppy and stilted and slurred but I seem to have no control over anything anymore. I need to tell her everything before I can't, before the sedation sucks me back under. I need her to forgive me. I realize it's unfair and much too soon and she probably won't believe me, but I have to make her understand. I feel a frantic urgency to everything.

"I'm sorry for what he did to you. I'm so sorry he hurt you so much."

"I just wanted to forget it all, but no matter what I do, I can't ever get away from him." The regret is searing and so familiar. Sometimes it feels like my past knows me better than I knew myself. I stare dully up at the ceiling. I can feel the tears and sweat on my face, trickling down and soaking into my hair, my ears, down my chin, and neck. Is it possible to hate your own skin?

This wasn't even the hard part, I realize, swallowing down the urge to vomit. Once I was thrust back into real life, I would have to constantly face my demons without the bottle. I would have to face myself. I wish more than ever I had never woken up.

We both look over as a nurse comes in. Feeling intensely exposed, I weakly wipe my arm over my face trying to rub away the tears, but they won't stop coming, and I give up and can only lay there, blubbering pitifully. I can't help it. It's like I've broken something so deep within me there is no end to it. Through the misty haze, I hear my daughter anxiously ask the nurse if I'm alright. I almost burst out laughing. When have I ever been?

"This is normal, sweetheart," the nurse reassures Lexy. "Her entire body is in a state of shock right now. We're giving her something to take the edge off the withdrawals, and to help with her pain. She'll sleep soon."

I want Lexy to stay but can't open my mouth to speak. I'm so tired. All I can do is stare dully at the clock. 12:56. Only fourteen minutes have passed, I realize, wearily. Is this what it's always going to feel like to be alive? This is recovery? Is this the one day at a time they talk about? It's excruciating and awful.

The nurse fusses around me, watching the monitor, checking my heart rate and vitals. Her touch is soothing and gentle and competent. She doesn't wipe away my tears. I think it's because there are too many. Or maybe she's just used to seeing addicts fall apart. As she leans over me to adjust my oxygen tubes, I notice the ID tag clipped to the pocket of her blue scrubs and see that her name is Sarah. What a pretty name. I wonder if her mama is proud of her.

Beep. Beep. Beep. I internally swear and want to throw something. That stupid machine is going to drive me mad. The sound is like nails on a chalkboard.

Nurse Sarah injects my veins with drugs that will somehow trick my body into thinking it's getting what it craves. A fake rush. The illusion of being drunk. Everything about me is pretend. Soon they will have stripped it all away until the real me is left. And then what?

Lexy blurs and shimmers out of focus. I don't want her to disappear again. I can't tell if she's holding my hand or I just dreamt she's here. If this whole thing is a nightmare. Maybe I really am dead and this is the purgatory I'm stuck in. I still have so much I want to tell her but my mind has glazed over.

Beginning to float, I watch the drugs go through the tube of my IV. I notice some of the purple bugs that have been crawling on me, have forged a trail across the floor, and are climbing up the wall. I don't know how they got over there. Someone needs to get rid of them.

I feel the heat penetrate my skin, and slowly trickle into my veins, taking me back under the surface, letting me escape myself, and everyone else, for a little while longer.
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