my drug of choice
It’s Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. I’m in the emergency room of St. Mary’s hospital between a guy coughing his lungs out and my Mom who can’t stop tapping her foot. Her hand and arm are swollen like a balloon. This is her third time back in the hospital.
Between Mom’s dumb jokes I hear the groans of a heavy-set lady gripping at her chest.
“You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. But you can’t pick your friend’s nose.”
Mom can barely finish the end of the joke because she’s laughing so hard.
Across from me is a little boy with a black eye sitting on his mama’s lap and a skinny blonde guy with a face full of meth sores.
I’m wearing a hospital mask over my nose and mouth because my immune system is weak and I can’t afford to catch anything. You can’t tell but I’m frowning. Or maybe you can. I don’t care.
My jeans are ripped, my denim jacket is stained with motor oil, and I have “Beautiful Boy” by David Sheff in my lap.
“That book sounds dumb,” Mom said.
“Do you know what it’s about?” I replied.
“It’s about a father spending his life trying to save his meth-addicted son.”
“Oh. Well, the name is dumb. I’m cold. I’m going outside.”
Mom makes her way through the maze of sad and sick people. The automatic doors open to the desert wind. I can see her out the window sitting on the curb in the sun. She’s wearing all black from head to toe and her hair, long and ironed straight, blends into the back of her shirt.
“Tammy!” A nurse yells from the vitals room.
With “Beautiful Boy” in my hand I go outside to yell for Mom.
“Hey! They’re calling for you.”
Her hair is whipping around like a tornado in the hot wind. She struggles to get up from the curb because she can’t use her arm to brace herself. The left over glitter from yesterday’s makeup is shining on her high cheekbones in the sun.
She disappears behind a heavy door with a code lock and a sign that says “Authorized Personnel Only”. I sit back down and wait. Before a full minute goes by I can hear her laugh.
The door opens. I can see Mom through the crack in the door, behind the nurse standing in the threshold.
“Weight?” I hear the nurse ask Mom.
“I’ll never tell.” Mom laughs again.
I roll my eyes and shake my head but behind my mask the corners of my mouth slowly rise into a tired smile.
It’s 4:05. I haven’t eaten. Perry texts or calls every ten minutes to see if I need anything. He’s so attentive. “No,” I tell him. I feel guilty he’s stuck in Grandma’s meth house.
The next time the door opens, it’s Mom and she’s waving me over. The nurse that took her vitals is crying. She said she was part of the team that revived Mom 45 days ago. It took nine shocks to revive Mom. She thought she wasn’t going to be able to bring her back.
Another nurse comes over and asks Mom a bunch of questions. Her name. Her address. Her social security number. Mom replies to all of it with a smile. Then she says, “If someone steals my identity they’ll bring it back right away, trust me.” The nurse laughs.
The crying nurse comes back over. She’s not crying anymore but she’s staring. Her wet eyes are blinking hard and slow. She speaks again.
“I’m so sorry I keep staring at you. I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking to you. And you look so beautiful. I was sure that you died and I prayed that you went to heaven.”
Mom’s eyes well up with tears but they never fall. She says, “Well, it didn’t work. I’m still here in hell.” Both Mom and the nurse bust up laughing. I laugh too.
A male nurse comes up and says, “Welcome back” and gives Mom a head nod. Most of the nurses know her by first name. They all say she’s a miracle.
The nurse sends us back into the waiting room. Mom needs a blood test, EKG, X-ray, and a Cat Scan. We’re going to be here awhile. It’s freezing and my nose is running. I’m so thirsty but I don’t want to take my mask off to drink.
The guy with the meth face holds his side and yells to the waiting room full of people, “It fucking hurts real fucking bad.”
Mom looks over at him and says, “Cry baby.”
He doesn’t hear her because he’s too busy shouting like a crazy person.
His mom is with him and she looks scared. The security guard comes over and tries to calm him down. The mom says he has mental issues and he’s been off his meds for five days.
I lean into Mom and say, “This guy is going to lose it.”
“If he touches you I’ll fucking kill him.”
She makes me switch seats with her so she can sit between me and the door where he is pacing. Every time he paces in front of her she puts her leg out and stiffens up like a board.
“If he even looks at you I will kick him into that wall.”
“Mom, relax. You’re going to make your blood pressure go up.”
Mom goes up to the security guard and says, “I’m just telling you man, if that guy comes within one foot of my daughter, I’m going to lay his ass out.”
His face goes wide with shock.
“Mam, please come to me first,” he tells her.
Mom sits back down and keeps watch. Her arms are covered with goosebumps. We get a blanket from a nurse. She wraps it around her shoulders. She’s still tapping her foot.
“Tammy!” The nurse yells again.
They take us to a hallway lined with chairs with tiny rooms splitting from it. Mom’s anxious and pulls beads off her sandals.
Finally. They call her.
EKG. X-Ray. Cat Scan.
I wait for her to come out of the tiny rooms. A guy next to me is wheezing and gurgling because he’s trying to throw up into a bag.
I immerse myself further into “Beautiful Boy” to drown out the sounds of suffering.
Mom comes out and we wait again.
“Did you hear about the two peanuts walking down the street?”
I roll my eyes.
“One was assaulted.” She explodes with laughter and the whole waiting room is looking at her. She’s covering her mouth and her face is turning red. Her shoulders are shaking with the rhythm of her laugh.
Two hours pass.
“Tammy!” They yell again.
Mom disappears for ten minutes. It’s now 7:45. When she comes back she kisses me on the cheek and says, “They’re admitting me. My blood pressure is 225/132. Go home, moo moo.”
Home is over 2,000 miles away. I can’t go home.
I go back to Grandma’s meth house and wait with knots in my stomach to hear from her.
She texts me at 8:40.
“My blood pressure just went down to 138/92. Who's your daddy motherfucker?”
I laughed so hard I just about cried.
Man, I love her.
I hope her arm is okay.
I hope she can come home tonight.
Hope, my drug of choice.