Requiem for a Relapse

Submitted into Contest #126 in response to: Write about a character reflecting on the previous year.... view prompt


Contemporary Drama Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

{CW : Drug Use, Language }

The scintillating light bathed my irises. It was so bright I felt nauseous. My mind combed through the brightness, tongues of orange and red flickered and danced. I had read of the Ophanim in the bible during Sunday School; wheels of fiery spinning Cherubim and Seraphim, all seeing eyes that bore straight through the soul of humanity. The angels were coming into focus. Chills washed over me and vertigo gripped my body. Then the light disappeared. I sucked in a sudden ragged breath. The air was cold and stale.

“He's breathing.”

“Thank God. I thought we were going to lose another one tonight. Goddamn holidays.”

The light had pulled away and a woman's concerned face hovered into the afterglow of the luminescence. “His pupils look like pinheads. Probably Fentanyl.” The light poked back in my face, back and forth from eye to eye. “His eyeballs aren't even moving. Check his pulse before we bring over the gurney.”

“It's weak but it's there. Roll him over on his side.”

My vision stabilized and I was staring at an empty plastic soda bottle that had rolled under the dumpster. Was it my soda? My memory was a fog of fragments and pieces. I was picked up by my arms and legs and placed on something solid and cold. I tried to move my fingers. My body was frozen, yet my eyes were open and fixed, not moving.

“Where did that lady go that called?”

“She left after we got here.”

“I wanted to thank her for saving this young man's life.”

I could feel the gravel under me jostling the wheels as they rolled. Spinning me around the swirling red and blue lights of the ambulance lit up the brick walls like strobing Christmas lights. Was it Christmas? I had lost track of the days weeks ago. Seems like I remembered seeing lights and decorations. I tried to open my mouth.

My tongue wouldn't move. Trying to talk, all I could utter was a pained groan. A latex covered hand gripped my chin and turned my head. It was the woman again. I could see clearly now brass letters on her collar 'E-M-T' as she pulled the stethoscope out of her ears after listening to my chest.

“His lungs are not clear. Have him checked for pneumonia when they admit him.”

“Roger that. Should we take him to Mercy? It's the closest.”

“Get on the horn, we will probably have to take him wherever there is an open bed.”

My eyes started moving, though in slow motion. I peered down at my arm, strapped to my side. Seeing the little dark spots on my forearm and the crook of my elbow, shame flooded me. A memory surfaced. I asked mom for long sleeve shirts. She was puzzled. I hated sleeves as a kid. The feeling of something covering my arms scratched and bothered me. I closed my eyes and grasped at my memories. I tried to remember.

* * *

“Happy Birthday!” My mom smooched me on the cheek and squeezed me tight. I let out a slight cough and gave her a weak smile. “You look skinny. Are you eating a proper meal everyday?”

“Yah mom, everything is fine.” I looked away, staring at the grandfather clock that ticked away painful seconds.

“You are just going to have to get over that girl.” About the time I stop thinking about her or forget for a second, either my brain or my phone or someone reminded me about her. The leaving didn't hurt. It was the passive indifference and lack of emotion in her sky blue eyes that really stung. Her heart had left a long time before her body, I just couldn't bear to admit it to myself.

“I'm just not ready to date again.” I reached in my pocket for reassurance. The baggie of pills crinkled in my finger tips. Visiting my mom on my birthday and my only thought was my buzz was starting to wane. I wanted to slip in the bathroom and pop a few Vicodin, but knew I needed to wait until the nausea came or I would run out again.

“You should go back to church with me and your aunt. There are plenty of fine young christian girls that go every Sunday.” She folded her plump middle aged arms and stared at me like I was a broken doll. I was. I am. Yet I'm glad she doesn't know how broken or there might be an intervention.

“I can't go to church. That place makes me nervous.” I was lying. Being anywhere but my studio apartment, high as a kite, made me nervous and jumpy. My skin crawled and itched at the thought of being around other humans.

“Well it's an open offer. You are welcome anytime.” The brooding concern in her eyes was painful to me. I knew I was a disappointment. “Have you found another job?”

“I'm still looking.” I was lying again, I found my job. Devin showed me the syringes last night. I ruminated on what he said. 'This is the only thing that will stop the pins and needles and bugs crawling all over you. You move a little smack for me, keep some for yourself. Everyone is happy.' His words were like daggers. How had it come to this?

After leaving mom I went to Devin's to score. He had the heroin packaged up for sale, a nice little sack with needles and everything. I rushed back to my apartment. My dread was transforming into a gleeful anticipation. I winced as I punctured myself, a blossom of blood blooming inside the needle. An indescribable feeling came over me, like joy coursing through my veins, the pain was gone, the perpetual sickness floated away, eddies of pleasure buffeted me like a gentle breeze.

* * *

“When did you start using hun?”

“Huh?” Opening my eyes, my arms were free, I was no longer strapped down and my stiff body had come back to life.

“The drugs. When did it start?”

My memories were coming back. Weed. I smoked it in high school. “I started smoking when I was fourteen.” I looked up from the hospital bed. Tubes and wires were hanging off my arms, a machine chirped next to me with a screen displaying my vitals.

“You are lucky to be here. You were gone when they found you, turning blue is what the paramedic said. Now be honest with me. You didn't go from weed straight to the junk.”

“I think it was in the last year.” Thoughts were taking shape. “I dropped out of college last year and everything just went downhill from there. After that my girlfriend left me.” Her face appeared in my mind, eyes streaked with tears, pleading with me, holding my hands in hers. I couldn't remember what she was saying. “We were experimenting with various drugs before she left. She said I scared her one night. I don't remember what I did, but I recall her moving out.”

“Have you ever seen a psychiatrist? A lot of young men like you are self medicating cause somethin' just ain't right upstairs ya know.”

“No. I don't like doctors.”

“You may not like him, but Doc saved your life last night. You coded twice before you stabilized.”

I was at a loss for words. My thoughts were disconnected from each other. My mind was a puzzle that had been crumbled into a thousand pieces and I was desperately trying to fit some of them back together.

“We called your mom.”

“Is she coming to see me?”


* * *

“You are a fucking psycho!”

“You're calling me a psycho?”

“You were so drunk last night we couldn't even have sex.”

“You were being such a bitch I wanted to drink myself to death.”

“Don't call me a bitch.”

“I didn't say you were a bitch, I said you were being a bitch.”

“Didn't your mom tell you not to call people names.”

“Didn't yours tell you to keep your knees together.”

“Not that shit again. I never cheated on you.”

“Ya right, that's what they all say.”

“You need help.”

“I need someone who cares about other people besides themselves.”

“I care about you.”

“Then why were you in my face screaming at me and telling me to go to hell.”

“Because you don't know when to back off.”

“How am I supposed to back off when you are following me around tugging at me and crying hysterically?”

“I don't know.”

“Well I don't either.”

“Can we just call a truce?”

“Sure or we could call each other a hundred times a day at work, so we both lose our jobs.”

“I only did that once.”

“HA! You do it every week.”

“It's a good thing we don't have kids.”

“Finally something we can agree on. I need a cigarette.”

“I thought you quit.”

“I did, yesterday, but you are making me want to start again.”

“I hope you get cancer and die.”

“Didn't you just say you cared about me.”

“I want you to die because I care about you. You are such a miserable asshole, you would be better off dead.”

“That is quite possibly the craziest thing you have ever said.”

“You wanted crazy, you got it.”

“I don't know what I want.”

“At one time you wanted me. Now all you give a shit about is your drugs and alcohol.”

“I just need something to calm my nerves.”

“A whole bottle of booze, a handful of pills and three joints is a little more than calming your nerves.”

“You are probably right, but I've tried to quit and I can't.”

“Did you just admit I was right?”

“I said probably.”

* * *

“He's sleeping. We think he had been awake for a few days before the overdose. We aren't sure if it was accidental or not. He hasn't talked much since the first responders administered the Narcan and revived him.”

“Can you leave us alone? I just need to be with my baby.” The woman sat and pulled a chair up next to the hospital bed and gripped the bed rail. I rolled my head from the other side when I felt it and locked into my mother's troubled eyes.

“I'm sorry.” I wasn't sure what else to say.

“Why son? Why didn't you call me? Why?”

“I don't know. I wasn't sure you would understand.”

“You are right I don't. How could you do this? You are only twenty two years old. You have your whole life ahead of you.”

“Does dad know?”

“Yes. I called him. He said he was on his way back home.”

“I guess he is pretty disappointed.” My thoughts flashed back. I remembered tapping the powder into the spoon and cooking it with a lighter. The landlord had locked me out of my apartment for not paying so I stopped off in the alley to squat by a dumpster and shoot up. Devin said the stuff was fire, like china white. I couldn't wait to feel it pump through me.

“Were you trying to kill yourself?” Mom's eyes glassed over, tears were forming as she sniffed and reached into her purse for a tissue.

“I don't know. I was trying to kill the pain inside of me. If that is all that's left, maybe.” The emptiness consumed me. I looked at mom and barely felt anything. The numbness had sifted into my core. My memories drifted back to my childhood. Staying with other family members and babysitters seemed more real than any home. When dad left, I wandered around like a stray dog, living with anyone that would bother paying attention to me and feed me.

A gentle knock rapped at the heavy wooden door. “We need to chart his recovery.” The nurse shuffled into the room and punched some numbers into a screen on a tablet. She had enough compassion to squeeze my arm a bit. Mom seemed to wince at the show of affection.

I laid there as mom sobbed. A heavy selfish sob, a pain that was personal and I felt had nothing to do with me. I recalled our last meeting. I needed something; food, rent money, something.

Being denied and walking away empty I felt the pain again, the pain of abandonment, the warmth of her home was like acid in an open wound. As I left there was fresh food falling out of a trashcan at the edge of the road. A feral house cat was in the garbage eating better than me from her leftovers.

“I called the shelter. They said if you could stay clean, you could have a room for a few weeks.” Mom wrestled with the crumpled tissue between her hands.

Thoughts of bed bugs, lice and body odor flooded my mind. My old room at moms flashed into my mind's eye. It was full of the retail therapy overflow she engaged in after dad left. Books, crafts, and worthless thrift store crap was piled in stacks in front of a closet full of clothes my mom's portly frame could never fit into again. The thought of getting high again filtered into my mind. The nurse gave me a button to hit for a shot of methadone. Trying to be discreet, I grabbed the dongle and pressed the button.

“Are you going to consider a treatment program?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your dad said he would split the cost.”

Butterflies erupted in my stomach at the thought. Some dark recess of my spirit relished the vision of death and release. Fragments of shattered angel husks danced in my subconscious. Life. What an utterly painful existence. Misery, like a cake topped with icing of remorse and sprinkles of insanity. Did they want me to suffer more or were they just afraid of their own loss and failure.

“It's a three month in patient program. A glass house work release is followed by weekly monitoring and aftercare.” A single tear tore from her mascara as her lips quivered and she twisted the fragile paper in her hands.

My thoughtscape was a barren plain. I tried to imagine trees sprouting up, but they turned into syringes dripping blood, erupting from a cemetery littered with tombstones of despair. Dots of dead grass were track marks on the thin skin of my ego.

“Why can't I just stay with you mom?” I found the courage to ask it.

“So I can walk in on you dead with a needle hanging out of your arm? I'm sorry I wasn't always there for you son. I can't change the past. You are still here. You are a young man with your whole life ahead of you. I promise I will be there to support you through your recovery.” She reached out and rubbed my forearm, ignoring the ugly needle scars.

A hard swallow caught my swollen tongue in my dry throat and teeth that felt like they were coated in sand. My eyes drifted to a digital clock somewhere in the room. For thirty minutes the woman that claimed to love me yet abandoned me at every turn had sobbed and pleaded with me. Maybe she did care. I had stopped caring years ago, drowning the pain with alcohol and chemicals, a slow death by degrees, each dose a click like a shovel digging a grave one scoop at a time. Each hit and shot were sculpting my tomb.

“Hey son.” An aging man with a familiar receding hair line now dusted with silver edged into the room. The odd sight flipped my perspective. I had not seen them together in a dozen years. His worried smile seemed out of place. I only recalled him knocking me for bad grades and forgetting my chores. The years had softened him like a rock weathered by time and the elements. “You are going to be O.K.” My dad reached down and hugged me for the first time since I was a toddler, his eyes wet with concern.

Something stirred in my gut. Maybe it was hope. Such a long time had past since hope even crossed my mind I wasn't sure. A calm settled over me as I watched my parents looking over me. Thinking back to the angels I wondered if some things were meant to be. Was it possible I had some purpose in this world? Something else was beyond this year and I had to trust that this was going to lead to better times.

December 26, 2021 04:16

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Brenda W
02:22 Jan 02, 2022

What a powerful story.


Kevin Marlow
03:17 Jan 02, 2022

I hope it helps someone living on that knife edge.


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Giulia S.
08:11 Jan 06, 2022

A powerful story, full of deep emotions and meanings. Thank you for sharing it.


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Rajiv Iyer
02:11 Jan 03, 2022

Loved this story. Gut-wrenching in sections. With a much-needed uplifting ending! :) Addiction is a terrible condition. Many complex factors, but it mainly arises out of losing hope, feeling lonely in your pain, trapped & unable to reach out. Trying to find redemption at the end of a bottle or needle can be very tempting. And it then becomes a vicious cycle that's difficult to break out of. When someone's trapped deep down there, an empathetic helping hand, and people reaching out towards the person definitely goes a long way. But all sai...


Kevin Marlow
02:17 Jan 03, 2022

Wonderful insightful synopsis, thank you.


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10:56 Jan 01, 2022

I read your story with sadness Kevin. I’ve known and nursed more people addicted to drugs and alcohol than I’ve had hot dinners. I’ve seen people who, when correctly diagnosed with mental illness, turn their lives around forever. Doctors need to take more responsibility for correctly diagnosing patients if we want to stop addiction in its tracks. I felt compelled to read to the end to see if your character “turned the corner.” You have no idea how heartwarming that is to see, especially in a young person—nicely written. A little loose, in th...


Kevin Marlow
16:53 Jan 01, 2022

This is very personal to me. I've had my own struggles and turned my life around. My step brother unfortunately died at 52 from a lifetime of opioid abuse.


23:57 Jan 01, 2022

After 17 years of addiction my son turned his life around too. He’s been clean of all drugs for 4 years now though still struggles with alcohol issues. I wish you all the very best in your war against drugs. It’s a cruel life. Kind regards - Marie


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Graham Kinross
12:00 Jan 29, 2022

It’s hard to review this because it’s tough to read but gripping. Sorry to hear that this has been anything like your reality. Well done channeling that into evocative writing.


Kevin Marlow
16:19 Jan 29, 2022

Thankfully that part of me is way back in the rear view mirror. The story is a bit of a mashup of different people I've known. I've never used heroin, yet I've been close enough to people who did, I thought I could tell the story in a meaningful way.


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