Green Haven Rehab facility
“Susan! Open the door!”
A thick, guttural beat stuttered into her head, followed by a quick, sharp pain that pierced her right eyebrow and imbedded itself in the base of her skull. Groaning, Susan tried to raise her arm to shield her eyes from the bright, metallic ache of daylight. The thumping continued, louder now. Her lips cracked when she opened her mouth and she winced at the pain. Rolling to her side, she struggled to push herself up to a sitting position.
Her hair hurt.
For a short time, the painful pressure of too much blood surging through the tiny capillaries in her temples beat in time with the pounding.
Which became even more insistent. If that was possible.
“Susan! Susan can you hear me? If you don’t open the door in five seconds, I’m coming in.”
“I’m coming,” she croaked. She reached for a thin wooden cane propped against the couch and knocked it to the floor.
Bending forward to retrieve the thing was going to hurt like hell. Instead, she tried to wedge her bare foot beneath it and flip it up. On the second try, she managed to nudge it close enough to grab it. She took a deep breath and pushed herself to her feet.
The room dipped and spun as if she were standing on the floor of a fun house. She was sweating. She was cold. Her skin felt like it was being pinched by thousands of tweezers.
And she’d slept in her clothes again.
She glared at the door and decided that it was too far away. She sat back down. “You know there are no locks on these doors. You can enter on your own.”
The door swung open.
He stepped inside. “Did I wake you? Are you alright?”
She rubbed her neck. “I wasn’t expecting you,” she said hoarsely.
Her husband walked in to the room. “You look like hell. Did someone put your clothes through the spin cycle and forget to take you out of them first?”
She glared at him while he moved around the room straightening cushions and moving her shoes off the coffee table.
“Why don’t you ask the good doctor in charge, or any one of the other sadists who work in this prison? They apparently believe that I can be put through hours of grueling physical abuse for days at a time, without a single thing for the pain.” She pulled her feet up underneath her, grimacing.
He watched her, and let out a long breath of air before he answered. “Susan, this is not a prison. It is a rehab center. The whole point of you being here is to avoid taking drugs for anything, including, and especially pain.” He walked into the small kitchenette, removed a glass from a cabinet and filled it with water. “The professionals who work here specialize in treating people with addictions and those with physical impairments. You qualify on all counts.” He walked back to the couch and handed the glass to her.
“I am not a drug addict, David!” she snapped, scowling at the man who was once the light and love of her life. Her rock. Her partner. But now… her Judas.
He’s been turned to the dark side.
Susan’s hand shook slightly as she took the glass he offered. Trying to drink from a moving target took a lot more coordination than she had right now. She set it on the coffee table and eyed it with resentment.
David placed his hands on his hips and stared down at her a moment before answering. “Susan, think back a month, before I brought you here. How long would you go without popping a pain pill? Honestly, how long? One hour? Maybe two, tops? When the prescription clearly states ‘one every four to six hours for pain,’ how many did you actually take? Three? Four? Do you even remember?”
“I am in excruciating pain!” she snapped. “Have you forgotten that fifty percent of the material in my hip and pelvis is man-made? I have four herniated discs in my back and three bulging discs in my neck. Between those two places are countless nerves being pinched, frayed and basically shredded.” She spread her hands wide. “I’m in pain every minute of every day, and the last four weeks have been nothing short of malicious torture!” Susan leaned forward and cradled her head in her hands. Her hair spilled forward around her forearms. The ends, she noticed, hung dull, dry and stringy like a frayed rope.
It looked like she felt.
She peered at her husband and released a weary breath. “It’s like there’s a jet-propelled pinball trapped inside my head, and it just keeps randomly slamming into my skull.” She rubbed her temples. “There’s nothing I can do to make it stop, so I just lay here and pray that one day, my cranium will finally give way, and the thing will burst out. Until then, I need something to make the pain go away, at least for a little while.”
Her husband sighed and sat down on the coffee table, directly across from her. His knees gently brushed hers. She stared at them. Even his knees were muscular and virile.
He spoke slowly.
“Suze, you took my Rx pad and wrote yourself prescriptions for pain killers. Do you realize that you could have gone to jail for that? Do you have any idea what that would have done to my career as a doctor?”
She fidgeted with her I.D. bracelet. He reached over and took her trembling hands in his.
“It’s just the pain, David,” she finally whispered. “I can’t stand the pain.”
It’s the guilt, David…I can’t live with the guilt.
“I know,” he answered softly. “This hasn’t been easy on any of us. Susan…we are all in pain, of some sort. I think about Katie every day. In the morning, when I’m making breakfast for the twins, I have to force myself to concentrate so I remember to take out just two bowls and two spoons. In the evening, when I go up to kiss the girls goodnight, my stomach drops to the floor every time I pass Katie’s room.” his voice cracked.
Susan recoiled at the anguish she heard her husband’s words, which gouged at the scabs barely covering her own wounds.
David continued, “…But I can’t help thinking that maybe if I open her door and look inside, she’ll be there… curled up… asleep in her bed.”
Her teardrops fell and blended with his on their entwined hands.
David took a ragged breath. “The twins lost their big sister. I do my best to comfort them, but they need their mother too.”
“I want to be there for them, David, really I do.”
But I’m afraid I’ll fail them, too.
“We need you, Susan. And we need Susan the mother and wife, not Susan the drug addict.”
His words stung. “You talk as if I’m some junkie looking for a fix,” her voice trembled with emotion. “Don’t you understand that this pain is real? I’m not making this up!”
He looked at her and squeezed her hands between his. “Susan, this is not who you really are.”
She stared at their fingers, his nimble and strong, hers twitching and pale. “I’m not the same person I was a year ago.”
“Perhaps not, but the real you—the person I fell in love with—is still in there.”
His voice dropped to the comforting tone of a doctor explaining to a patient that the brain tumor is malignant, that the transplant list is too long, or that the baby isn’t moving inside the womb.
“Susan…think for a minute. What is a junkie, really? Besides an addict, I mean.”
When she didn’t answer, he said, “They lie, cheat and steal for a fix, right?”
At her ashamed nod, David continued. “You are here, because I can’t trust you in our house. I have retrieved your grandmother’s pearls from that East Thirtieth pawn broker you visited, but the silver is gone and …”
His anger, hurt and frustration churned together with compassion and strength. He still cared, and she was still hurting him. She felt like an ogre. At the same time, she was angry at him for being a martyr. He was the strong, supportive husband, trying to hold his entire family together while she couldn’t even keep herself from falling apart.
“Stop!” she cried. “Just stop!” Her shoulders shook with sobs.
But, David did not stop.
He did not stop and he did not change his tone.
“Suze, those things are just things. I don’t care about them. But, what if you were so out of it that you couldn’t take care of the twins? What if something happened to one of them, and you were too loopy to help, or even notice?”
When she finally had the courage to look into his face, her heart lurched at the sight of the steady stream of tears dripping from his jaw. She reached out and brushed them away with her fingertips.
He took another deep breath and finally continued. “The pain is your body’s way of trying to bully you in to thinking that you need a pain killer. It’s the pain of withdrawal. It’ll get worse, but believe me, eventually, it will get better.” His gaze bore into hers. “Susan, you can’t give in. You need to be stronger than the addiction. You must fight to deny it the power to control you.”
“I’m trying, David.” She felt her own eyes well up again. “I miss my little girls. I miss you. I want to come home.” She clenched her fingers until her nails dug into her palms. “It’s just so hard…”
…to live with the fact that I should have been the one killed in the crash, not my little girl…My Katie.
He splayed his hand across his chest. “I love Susan Barnes, the wife and Susan Barnes the mother and Susan Barnes, my best friend. I want her back. That’s why you’re here.”
David reached out, smoothed her hair and brushed her cheek with his fingers. The sadness in his eyes made her throat tighten. “Suze, I feel so helpless, because the only thing I can do to try and save you… is to give you a choice. I can’t force you to stay here. I can’t force you to clean up your life and kick the pain killers, but I can divorce you and move our daughters far away, where your lifestyle can’t affect them.”
Her heart collided with her stomach. No! Is that why he came here today? To tell her that he was divorcing her? She wanted to argue with him, beg him to not do it, but she couldn’t.
I deserve this.
He cupped her chin in his hand. “I don’t want to do that, Susan. I love you. I want you to accept help so you can recover from all this. If you can’t do that, then I can’t stay.”
For a second, she forgot to breathe.
He continued, “You’ve got to be the one to choose to live your life with us, not take it from us.”
She squeezed her eyes closed, the shame as overpowering as spilled ammonia in a tiny closet.
“That was an accidental overdose,” She argued weakly. He was telling her things she didn’t want to hear, raking to the surface feelings she was trying to keep buried. It left her tender and vulnerable, like a reopened wound.
He stared at her. “Yes, it was accidental. The first time.”
That one made her flinch.
“Susan, listen…to what… I am saying. I have already lost Katie. I don’t want to lose you too.”
She looked away. How could he possibly understand? Everything around her was infused with pain. Certain memories of Katie tortured her waking moments… scenes where she’s dancing, laughing…that impish wrinkling of her nose…the smell of her shampoo. Nightmares of the accident haunt her in her sleep. Noises from hell…she can’t silence the sound of the impact…Katie’s scream. The medication was the only thing that made them go silent, at least for a while. She wasn’t in denial; she knew the truth. And hated it.
“I’m responsible for her death,” she whispered bitterly.
David shook his head. “You’re the only one who believes that.” He gently placed his hands on her shoulders. “Susan, you are a psychiatrist, you know that it would help if you would talk…”
“NO!” Jerking herself free, she struggled to her feet. “No, no, no…no.” She leaned her hip against the couch for support. Crossing her arms, she hugged her stomach against the waves of nausea that assailed her. “I’ve tried. It makes everything worse.”
David looked at his knees and sighed. “Well, then, I guess it’s time for plan B. Let’s go pack a suitcase.”
“Pack?” Susan turned and nearly lost her balance. She eyed him curiously while he rose from his seat on the coffee table. “You mean I’m out of here for good?”
“It’s more like a mini-vacation.” He reached into his breast pocket and removed an envelope, and handed it to her.
“It’s a plane ticket to Raleigh.” He shrugged. “It’s time for your annual girls’ week at the lake with your college roommates. I have already handled the paperwork here, so you won’t be listed as AWOL or discharged. You have a seven day pass, and with one small exception, you are free and clear.”
“A nurse has been assigned to accompany you and keep you focused on your recovery.”
“No!” She covered her face with her hands. “Please, David, no! I can’t go this year…not like this…and with a nurse… No!” She thrust the ticket back to him, and said something she never thought she’d say, “I’d rather stay here!”
It was humiliating enough to be in this condition. She had witnessed the looks of both pity and then condemnation from neighbors and church members…people she thought were her friends. To see the same reaction from the three women who meant so much to her would be unbearable. “They’ll know something is wrong.”
David expelled a breath before he took the ticket from her trembling hands and tucked it back into his pocket. “I’m banking on that. Maybe they can talk some sense into you.”
Susan widened her eyes in panic. “They won’t understand.” She began wringing her hands.
He gave her a sad smile. “Susan, they’re your friends. You have known each other for nearly twenty years. In all that time, have they ever abandoned you? Have they ever judged you?”
Numbly, she shook her head.
“Well, they’re not going to start now.” He steered her toward the bathroom. “I’ll start packing while you shower. The plane leaves in less than two hours.”