Weeks had gone by, and I’d called every shelter in town. Although many knew Amy, none had seen her. I wondered if she were even in San Francisco anymore. I missed her greatly. I missed our mornings together at the kitchen table sipping coffee and reading the paper when she would sometimes pull a part of me out, examine it coarsely, and give it back to me with the hands of a child whose innocence had been taken by a man’s brutal hand. I missed having a purpose in sheltering her from whatever storms were chasing her.
Christmas was bearing down on me, and I could scarcely handle the weight of it. Every holiday jingle, Christmas light, and decorated tree reminded me that I would never wake up early on Christmas morning to fix Laura a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint stick and that somewhere Amy might be alone, in danger, or hungry.
I’d managed to get a refill on my pain meds, and I started my days with a breakfast of pills and whiskey. I had foregone my upscale booze and was drinking Evan Williams Black out of a square bottle for $15.99. I was going through a bottle every two days or so. Its rough sting did not cause me to wince anymore as I poured it down. I ate little and remained intoxicated throughout the day until I passed out in my chair at night.
I had cut everyone out of my life, Heath, Farid, and Kyra, rarely leaving the apartment. The only relationship I had was with Li at the corner store in my neighborhood who I visited almost daily for booze and cigarettes. My loneliness was my only true friend.
It was Christmas Eve day, and I put on Damien’s Rice’s 9 album which I had listened to every night for a week now. Its sadness and beauty helped me nurse myself into darker places. There came a knock at my door. I jumped up out of my stupor, thinking it could be Amy, my heart had not pumped that hard in weeks. I opened the door, and it was Kyra. She had dyed her hair purple, but I did not have it in me to form much of an opinion of it. She was carrying a large brown paper bag folded and neatly stapled on top.
“Brought you dinner,” she said.
“How did you find me?” I asked.
“You’re not hard to find. I know a guy. Are you going to invite me in?” she said.
I opened the door wide and sat back down in my chair. “What are you doing here, Kyra?”
“I was worried about you. You haven’t returned my texts. I thought maybe you could use some TLC.” She began unpacking the bag on my kitchen counter. “I brought chicken noodle from Miller’s. It’s the best,” she said brightly.
“I’m not hungry,” I said, staring blankly, her cheeriness drifting passed me.
“I’m not leaving here until you eat something, James. You look like shit. You’ve lost weight. Have you been going to work?”
“Didn’t you have something else lined up?”
“Starts in January,” I said, but it was a lie. They had passed me over for the job.
“Let’s change the music, James. How about some Bing Crosby White Christmas?”
“I’m not doing Christmas,” I said.
“Ok,” she said, pouring me a bowl of soup and pulling up a chair in front of me.
“Open up,” she said, offering me a spoonful of steaming, hot soup.
My stomach did not respond, but I ate it anyway.
“I think you need help, James. When was the last time you left here for any reason other than buying booze?”
I shrugged as she put another spoonful in my mouth. The soup warmed my belly, but I found no nourishment in it.
“Have you heard from Amy at all?”
I shook my head. “It’s been almost a month. I think she must have left town or something. I’ve called everywhere. I’ve looked everywhere I could think. I even called her dad. He hasn’t heard from her either.”
“Have you considered that she’s not your problem anymore?” she said, putting down the soup and sitting down on her knees in front of me, placing her hands on my knees. “I mean, maybe you’ve done everything you can do for her. Maybe you just need to move on.”
I had considered this. In the greater scheme of my life, what was she to me? Someone I had known for only a few weeks of my life. We had helped each other out. Now that appeared to be over. Had I expected her to be a part of my life forever? I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but it hadn’t been this.
“Come on. It’s late,” she said. “Let’s get you to bed.”
“This is where I sleep.”
“Then at least let’s get you to the couch. Sleeping in chairs is not good for you.”
I got up and moved to the couch. Kyra laid me down, put the blanket on me, and sat next to me. She began to rub my legs just like my mother had done when I had growing pains as a child. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.
I dreamed of tornadoes again. They were coming for me, but I did not take shelter. I stood out on a long, twisted road and waited for it to take me, but it didn’t. Instead, it withered away to nothing, and I woke up to the smell of coffee.
I sat up, and my stomach lurched a little.
“Lay down, James. I’ll bring you some coffee,” said Kyra.
“You don’t have to do this, Kyra,” I said, feeling like a drain on her. Feeling like any efforts to care for me were wasteful and useless.
She didn’t say anything. She handed me a mug of coffee and scooted my legs over so that she could sit down next to me. I was still adjusting to her purple hair.
“That’s quite a change to your hair,” I said, sitting up a little bit.
She put her fingers through it and said, “Yeah. I like to shake things up once in awhile. Helps me feel more alive. You should try it,” she said, smiling and squeezing my foot.
“I somehow don’t think I can pull off purple hair.”
“You know what I mean. You need a change. It could be anything, ya know? You could start by shaving. Your hot guy scruff is growing into Unibomber shag.”
I felt my very unkempt beard with my fingers. It was thicker than it had ever been.
“You think you can eat some food?” she asked.
“Maybe some dry toast?” I said, weakly.
“That’s the spirit! We’ll get you feeling better before you know it.”
After I’d eaten as much of the toast as I could bear, she took the plate from me and set it on the coffee table. She put the blanket over the two of us and put her feet up on the table.
“You know,” she said. “My father was a drinker.”
I didn’t respond. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what she had to say.
“Yeah, I didn’t think it was weird or a problem or anything; it seemed normal. Every day, he would come home from his job on whatever street or building he was doing construction on, and my mom would fix him a gin and tonic. I didn’t realize until I was older that my dad’s smell was really just the booze. I just thought that’s what dads smelled like.”
She pulled her feet up under the blanket.
“Then one day, I was sitting in front of the TV waiting for him to come home, and when he did, my mom didn’t have a drink ready for him. He got up and went into the kitchen where she was cooking dinner. I’d never heard him raise her voice to her until then. I don’t know what he said to her, but when he was good and done, she came out of the kitchen crying and locked herself in the bathroom. I was fourteen.”
“Is that when you ran away?” I said.
“I packed my school backpack with some clothes, a few dollars, and a toothbrush,” she said, flashing a perfect smile. “Gotta keep those teeth white. Then I snuck out of the apartment. I didn’t stay away long. I walked up to the McDonalds and bought myself some fries then walked home to more yelling. They never knew I was gone. Over the next few months, it got worse. One day, I was called to the office. It was my mom. Her eyes were puffy and red. She told me we were leaving.”
I didn’t know what to say. My childhood had been so idyllic. My parents argued, but they were gentle with each other even when they did. It usually ended up with laughing. They couldn’t stay mad.
“Babe,” she said. “Alcohol changes people. You may be the sweetest guy in the world right now, but honey, you might not be so nice in a couple of years, if you even survive. My dad was dead by the time I graduate high school.”
She nursed me for a few hours until she had to go to work.
“Will you be ok? I’ll be back after work. Is there anything special you’d like me to bring you for dinner?”
“Don’t make a fuss over me, Kyra. I’ll be fine.”
“No, no. I insist. I’ll be by around nine. Sorry, that’s the earliest I can come.”
I resigned myself to this and said, “Thank you, Kyra. You’ve been more than kind.”
She put her hand on my cheek and kissed my forehead. “See you later, sweetie. Ok?” Then she left.
I know that some part of me must have been feeling her kindness, but it wasn’t reaching my mind, yet. I felt so detached from her and anything and anyone. I felt as if I were in a dark hole impenetrable by light with nothing but the pain in my heart throbbing and dull and aching. I didn’t want to be like Kyra’s dad, but I felt helpless to stop it.
I must have dozed because when I opened my eyes, the light coming through the shutters had become muted and dim. I checked my watch. I’d slept the entire day. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, and I was hungry.
Kyra had put the soup in the refrigerator. I pulled it out and found a spoon. I ate a few bites cold, and it woke me a little. I decided to heat up a bowl in the microwave. While it was heating, I poured a cold cup of coffee and swigged it down with a couple of pills.
After I had filled my belly with the soup, I poured a glass of whiskey and settled down in my chair with the blanket and immediately began thinking of Amy; wondering where she could be on this Christmas Eve.
We had been runaways together. She from a grieving, abusive father, me from a wife, and the demons which followed me no matter where I seemed to go.
I poured another glass of whiskey and popped a few more pills. It was taking the edge off the feelings welling up inside of me–the loss, the regrets, the guilt. The overwhelming guilt.
I just wanted oblivion. I wanted not to matter anymore, not to anyone. I did not wish to die, but I did not wish to live–not like this. I just wanted to be unconscious, and if I never woke up, that wouldn’t have been so bad. I drank more whiskey and took more pills until I could feel my consciousness and struggles begin to fade.
For a while, I was no more. I drifted into something deeper than sleep, for how long I did not know. But eventually, there were signs that I was somewhere. There were occasional beeps. A bad taste in my mouth. A firm bed under me. And then I felt something so slight and warm in my hand. It squeezed me, and I squeezed back. Then I heard a voice which said, “Nurse! Nurse! Come in here!”
A cool hand touched my forehead, and an unfamiliar voice of a man said, “Mr. Roberts? Can you hear me?”
I tried to open my eyes, but I couldn’t seem to get them opened. I reached out, at least I thought I was for the hand, and it found me. I squeezed it again.
“Mr. Roberts. Do you know where you are?” the man’s voice said.
I took in a deep breath, let out a breath and tried to open my eyes again. This time I could see a faint light, and I tried to speak, but little came from my throat.
“It’s ok. You’re in the hospital. Your daughter is here with you. We want you to know that you are going to be ok and that you are in a safe place.”
“My daughter?” I said with much effort.
“I’m here dad,” and she squeezed my hand.
I became aware that someone was sitting next to me in bed. I managed to open my eyes. Slowly, a face came into focus.
It was Amy. She touched my face, which was clean-shaven now.
“Amy,” I said.
She shushed me and said, “Don’t try to speak. You’ve been through a lot.”
Then the man spoke, his voice was sweet and rough at the same time, “Mr. Roberts, you’ve had an overdose, and in a few minutes, the doctor is going to come in and talk to you about it.”
I was confused. I tried to remember something–anything–but the last thing I could remember was chicken soup.
“Kyra,” I said. “Is Kyra here?”
“She had to go to work. She is the one who found you. If she hadn’t of–” Amy began, but she broke off and swallowed big.
“I’ll let you have a minute or two with your daughter before the doctor comes in, ok?” said the nurse. He left and shut the door quietly.
“How did they find you?” I asked groggily.
“Remember when you got hit by the car? They put me down as your emergency contact. They called me last night when they brought you in,” she said. Then she stood up, and with some force, said, “God DAMMIT, James. What were you thinking? What the fuck were you thinking? You almost died. You almost fucking died,” she said, and she began to cry.
She sat down again and held my face in her small hands and began to kiss me through the tears, on the cheeks and forehead and mouth. “God damn it,” she said.
“What do you care about me?” I said, turning away.
“I fucking love you, James. Can’t you see that? I’m in love with you.”
I began to speak, but she stopped me.
“Just—shut the fuck up, ok?”
“You’re just a kid,” I said.
“I can love whoever the fuck I want.”
I took a deep breath. I wasn’t sure what to say. I wasn’t really even fully aware of what was going on, yet.
“I can’t–” I began.
“Please just shut up.”
Then a soft knock came at the door, and a young man in a white coat and stethoscope entered.
“Yes,” he said softly and sympathetically. He had a subtle Chineses accent. “I’m Doctor Chang. How are you feeling? You’ve been through quite an ordeal.” His tone was soothing.
“Get back to me later on that.”
He chuckled lightly and said, “I understand. I need to ask you a few questions, though. Can you do that?”
“Miss, I’m going to need to ask you to leave for just a few minutes,” he said to Amy.
“I’m not fucking leaving. I’m the only family he’s got, and I’m not fucking leaving,” she said.
The doctor let out a slow, soft breath and said, “Well if it’s ok with you, Mr. Roberts.” I nodded. I wanted her to stay.
“May I call you James?” he said with calm politeness.
My head was still not very clear, and so everyone’s words were filtered through a fuzzy sort of gloom.
“Yes, James is fine,” I said.
“James, you were brought in unconscious and barely breathing. We pumped your stomach and tested your blood. Your blood alcohol level was 0.25, and a large amount of oxycodone was in your bloodstream. If you had not been found and brought to us as quickly as you were, you might not have survived your overdose. Do you understand this?”
“I must ask you some questions, James. Have you been having thoughts of suicide?”
“Not really,” I said.
“Have you been depressed?”
“Yes. For a few weeks.”
“Did you take these drugs with alcohol with the intent of ending your life?”
I thought for a moment. It seemed so long ago. Had I intended to end my life?
“I don’t think so. I just didn’t want to feel anything anymore. I just needed relief.”
Amy put her hand on my foot over the covers and squeezed it. Tears began to well up in me.
“What do you feel that you needed relief from?”
Images of Laura came to mind–images that I did not want to see, the weight of which was causing me to feel crushed in the chest. It wasn’t something I had said out loud to anybody, and I couldn’t talk about it.
“I’m just dealing with some stuff.”
“Can I ask you a few more questions?”
“Do you consider yourself a heavy drinker?”
“Yes,” I said. There was no denying it.
“How much would you say you drink a day?
“Maybe a couple of pints.”
“Would you say you have a problem with alcohol?”
“Have you ever tried to stop?”
“A few times.”
“We’ve given you Librium. It’s a drug that will help you through detox. I’m going to recommend you stay with us a little while longer to get you through your first day or two of detox, which can be accompanied by life-threatening seizures. We have a treatment program to offer you, but many of our patients have found success with Alcoholics Anonymous. Are you familiar with that?”
I’d seen it in movies and on TV. It looked like so much bullshit to me, but something was shifting in me. I remembered what Heath’s guru had predicted.
“What day is it?” I asked.
“It is December 25th, Christmas Day.”
I did some quick math. It was precisely thirty days from the night I ate dinner at Heath’s. Without thinking, I said, “I don’t want to drink again. I will do whatever it takes.”