Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hold, please

I found this today. I wrote it years ago. It'll go up on my website (www.markvertreese.com) later, but this just hit me in the mouth. And I wanted to make sure I shared it. Now.

"Hold Please"

Khalindra Burton stared at herself in the mirror. Forty-two days ago, she didn’t recognize herself. The counselor told her she should be proud of herself; that so many people who come through the doors of a rehab clinic either leave because they can’t handle the pain of detox, or get kicked out for using. But she was different. She had made it through twenty-eight days of hell. She was clean and sober. And she was a success story.

Khalindra was a far cry from her former self. Once a promising news anchor at a major station in Charlotte, she’d been introduced to drugs at a friend’s party. It was Ecstasy, and although she had reservations about trying it, the peer pressure and pure curiosity got the better of her. She told herself that the habit was harmless, that the E just put a little more pep in her step. What she didn’t know then was that her problems had only just begun. From the occasional Ecstasy tablet, she very rapidly progressed to crack cocaine and then to heroin – the one that completely destroyed her life.

If you paid close enough attention to her on screen, you could tell that something was off. Even though you couldn’t put your finger on it, you knew a monster was hiding deep within her. Once bright and vivacious, her demeanor was slightly altered. Not one to be tardy, Khalindra began missing her early morning call times and wasn’t fully prepared for her production meetings. Heavy makeup was used to disguise her sallowing skin and the wardrobe department was taking in her outfits more and more. She shot up between her toes because that was the easiest place to hide the needle marks. It hurt like hell, but the reward was worth it. The talk of the set, and even amongst some of her peers, it was becoming clear that this wasn’t the same person they used to know. Just four months after that first, fateful hit of Ecstasy, she’d lost her job and was trying desperately to hold on to what was left of her marriage.

Never, ever did she do drugs in front of her kids, she’d told the doctor during a grueling orientation meeting and her first one-on-one. Khalindra trembled as she rocked back and forth, pawing slowly at her skin to stop whatever it was she imagined was crawling on her. If she’d only had one more hit, she said to herself while at the same time promising the doctor that she wanted to be clean. Her husband had discovered her secret after finding a baggie of something off-white and a needle she’d stashed amongst the seldom-used stuffed animals in her oldest girl’s room. They were fighting more and more about why she lost her job and how she was taking care of the kids and the house. He knew there was something she wasn’t telling him – and that it was destroying them. But drugs? And hidden in the playthings of his child? Hell no. Crumpled onto the floor and crying through her tears, she promised that she’d stop, that she would never do drugs again. He picked his wife up off the ground and dragged her around their room, forcing her to pack her own bags. He put her in the car and drove directly to a rehab. Get clean or we’re finished was the last thing he said to her. Not I love you. Not even good-bye.

Fourteen days clean, Khalindra stood in the mirror of her bedroom and silently battled the monster. It was 2 a.m. and her husband and children were fast asleep. They couldn’t hear the screams in her head and couldn’t feel the cold, drenching sweat that woke her up from a dead sleep. Before she knew it, she’d found herself sneaking out of the house, driving to the wrong part of town, and walking to the corner, waiting for someone she recognized. In a moment of clear thought, she turned around and walked back toward her car and pulled out her cell phone. She tightly gripped the card of the rehab clinic – the one she’d been given and told to call if she ever found herself wanting to use again. Khalindra saw her usual dealer walking toward her and she dialed quickly. The young woman who answered the night watch crisis line hadn’t heard the terrified begging in Khalindra’s voice. She hadn’t heard the words I think I’m in trouble and I need help. She hadn’t listened to a woman in crisis, sobbing from fear and pleading for someone to rescue her. Trying not to laugh into the phone at a joke she’d read online right before she picked up the line, she blurted out, “Hold, please,” and forever erased the hope of a young wife and mother and addict when a man half her age tenderly and knowingly smiled as he curled the monster back into Khalindra’s open hand.

Standing in the kitchen of their home that bright and sunny morning after she’d snuck out, he slowly shook his head and wept as he let what the police officer just said to him sink in. How was he going to explain this to their daughters? They didn’t even know what the word overdose meant. Jesus, they were only five and nine years old. They knew mommie had a problem, but he’d told them two weeks ago when they picked her up from the special hospital that she was fixed. He told them that she was going to be their mommie forever. And now she was gone. Without saying I love you. Not even good-bye.

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