a tragic character: part two.

Sorry for the delay.  I’m an overthinker.  A perfectionist.  A sometimes self-loather and a chronic worrier.  As a result, I like to revise.  I love nothing more than hemming-and-hawing over the placement of a comma.  And I swear I’m not blithely tossing ellipses around.

A writing professor (her hands covered with turquoise and silver rings) once told me “show, don’t tell.” And so, I’ve been struggling with that idea while working on this story.  There’s going to be a part 3…as this “little” story is evolving into a short, short novella.  Or a looooong story.  You pick.


Carrot doesn’t get the twelve step program. “I mean, I’ve never even seen you take anything stronger than an Advil.”

I can’t explain it to him. But the idea is very simple: I go to these meetings so that I won’t do drugs. I am trying to protect my present and my future. The past has been unpleasant. Shameful. Destructive.

And at these meetings, I have a rapt audience for my sad stories.
Hits like “that night I got so high that I fell and hit my head on the very same sink I had just been snorting heroin from, chipping a tooth and being dragged to the emergency room by my best friend.” The crowd loves any saga that involves a bloody face (check) and an exasperated lecture from a loved one (check).
And “that time I collapsed on the Max tracks, just before the train came and a wholesome young man with a degree in Chemistry saved me and my supposed gratitude forced me to go on three awkward dates with him.” Oh, yes, tales of obligation and guilt are welcomed with only the most open of arms. And it goes without saying that I was super high for the aforementioned dinner-and-a-movie appointments.

But wait! There’s more! Like that summer of slow suffocation from the fluid slowly filling my lungs (a common complaint for devoted heroin snorters). Or the number of times I woke up in places I did not recognize. The night I almost drowned in my own bathtub.

They are all glad to hear this. I am a beloved member of this family of fuck-ups and ne’er-do-wells.

Repeat, revise, revisit. “This is helping,” I tell myself.

I call Carrot from work to tell him that I am having dinner with my sponsor, Evan. “I am struggling with step two and he wants to discuss it again.”

Carrot’s scalding glare travels through the telephone wires, burning my cheek. “Well, whatever. I thought we were going to see a movie tonight. Are you sure you aren’t sleeping with this dude? Because YOU DON’T HAVE A DRUG PROBLEM.”

I laugh nervously and promise to take him to the movie tomorrow. “My treat, of course!”

For the past six months I have been stuck on Step Two: “Believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.”

“I’m sorry, Evan…but I can’t just turn into a Jesus freak,” I say over an iceberg lettuce salad at a diner in Center City.

He shakes his head. “It doesn’t have to be Christian. Have you tried other beliefs and religions? What about Buddhism? That was trendy with your people back in the 90s.”

It’s not that I don’t want to believe in something. I swear I’m an existentialist. I believe in myself and my power to overcome my problems. But that doesn’t fly in the 12-step world.

“I’m just not the sort of person who says Power with a capital P. Isn’t it enough that I have faced my problem? I’m coming to meetings. I haven’t done drugs in years. I’m not even drinking.”

A vague shrug from him. “I’m just telling you how it goes. This is what the program expects from you to indicate ‘success.’ Don’t forget that you go to these meetings for a reason.”

I do, I do. Here on the East Coast, I am a good, put-together person. I am no longer the sort of woman that drinks too much and sleeps with virtual strangers. I will never again pass out in public or eschew food and electricity for a tiny parcel of China White.

My co-workers think of me as a bastion of health and good reason. I complete my work in a timely manner, with occasional breaks to repair the printer. I make the appropriate small talk at the coffee machine.

My landlord appreciates my regular rent checks and my tidy apartment. The neighbors appreciate the quiet and lack of drama radiating from my walls.

The utility companies enjoy the on-time payments.

My student loan officer is thrilled by my ever-shrinking balance.

My liver enjoys a steady diet of vitamins and water.

I am new here.


Carrot and I are smoking on the roof of our building.

He’s telling me about an incident at work. The manager called a female employee a “stupid cunt.” The workers are going to put together a petition. They are going to call the president of the company. They are going to write a letter to the city newspaper. Things will happen. They will not stand for this!

I nod my head as if I’m paying attention. But really I’m telling myself–for the 100th time that day–that my grip on everything is not tenuous. It is real. I’m not about to overdraft my checking account. The bills are paid and the bathroom is clean. I’m not going to forget to go to work tomorrow. I won’t accidentally burn of my bangs. Nor will I lose my wallet in a public bathroom. No, no. It is all fine.

“I think I’m going to quit smoking,” I announce, laughing as I light up yet another cigarette.

Carrot rolls his eyes. “Sure, give up the one thing we have left in common.”

I laugh some more. “Oh, c’mon…we have tons of stuff in common. We like the same movies and music and books. And I always giggle at the funny things that you say…”

He wants be melodramatic. His face transforms to that of Stage Carrot, man of the impromptu theatre: wrinkled forehead, grand gestures, and a voice one octave lower than usual.

“You’re not the same. You sleep eight hours every night. You never go out. I never even hear you speak to anyone but me. You go to alleged meetings for your alleged drug problem. Where’s the fun?”

More laughter from me, but this time it’s staged. “Well, I guess it’s time to start dinner, right?” And with that, I barrel down the stairs to the kitchen. Escape!

Last night Evan asked me, “How about your boyfriend? Is he helping you through your steps?”

An acidic chuckle escaped from my lips. “No, he doesn’t understand why I go to these meetings.”

Evan’s forehead was filled with question marks.

“He doesn’t know anything about me. He just thinks I was once fun, and now I’m not. I mean, I’m sure he’s just teasing me. After all, he has to realize that I am doing so much better now.” Even I didn’t believe this as I said it.

“But how can that be a healthy relationship? How can that help you get better?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Having him around helps me. I mean, I love him.” Of course, I didn’t add that I’m not sure I am actually IN love with him. But what does that mean anyway?

Evan just shook his head.

Okay, okay. I felt compelled to defend Carrot. “I like having him around, I think. No, no…of course I LOVE having him in my life. We’re a team right? We moved here together. This is our new life, not just mine. And well, we complement one another.”

I wasn’t not sure what to say. My boyfriend is an occasionally good sidekick. Someone to keep my warm at night. A way to prove to myself that I am keeping my act together. I clean up after him and he gives me someone to clean up after. It’s perfect.

I allowed him to travel across the country because I knew that loving him was safe. My feelings for him were so calm, rational…ADULT, I liked to think. The simplicity of our relationship gave me the opportunity to become the person I always wanted to be.

But if I fell madly in love with him, he might break my heart. I would have to get wasted to cope with the pain. He would occupy all of my thoughts, forcing out important things like remembering to pay the electric bill and wash my hair. My work would suffer and surely I would lose my job. Back to the Northwest, where I would continue to get high and lose.

Jealousy, heartache, longing…these were not feelings experienced by successful people. They were the domain of flaky artsy types. The main ingredients in a self destruction cake.


Carrot doesn’t want to know that I was once a junkie. He could never imagine that I might trade my records and books for a taste of heroin. Certainly he wouldn’t want see the bones poking through the back of my dirty t-shirt as I stooped over to vomit on the street after buying something cut with poison. He is not strong enough.

If I were truly in love with him…if I fancied him “the one,” I would have to tell him all of these things and more. The sad stories would stream out of my mouth. And then he would leave me. And then more sad stories would be written.

I know this.


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