My hands are sweating and my heart races as we pulled into the driveway of the addiction recovery home. My brother sits in the driver’s seat and I in the passenger’s. As he puts our mom’s 2011 Jeep Compass in park, I make a lame joke about the rain messing up my hair to stall long enough to gather my courage to get out of the car and approach the door. My brother glances knowingly at me and asks, “You going or not?” I feel my face turn warm. I take a deep breath, get out of the car, and head toward the house.
The house is in a small town just outside of Spartanburg, South Carolina called Cowpens. On the outside it is a typical, two-story house with a small porch in front and a garage to the side. The garage is full of various lawn care tools: rakes, mowers, weed-eaters, and the like. The yard is about one acre, which is much larger than the yards of the surrounding homes and businesses. It looks just like any other home. The exception being the tall, wooden sign at the edge of the front yard, near the road, that reads: LFH Recovery Home for Men.
I climb the brick stairs that lead to a small, wooden porch. The overhang blocks the rain from hitting me, not that the rain is cold considering it is the middle of July. Still, I can feel my hands shake as I reach up to ring the doorbell. I wait. Nobody comes to the door. My pulse quickens. He knew I would be here at 10:00 a.m. It was only 10:03, and I had sent him a text when we were fifteen minutes away. I look around. Should I ring the bell again? There are at least four other men living here; I met them just a month ago on my last visit. I hesitantly raise my hand toward the doorbell, but before I press the small, circular button, a black Ford Explorer pulls into the drive and parks in front of the porch.
A short, thin man, probably in his mid fifties judging by the lines on his face and color of his hair, gets out of the Explorer. “You must be Paul’s girlfriend,” he states rather than asks. I know who he is, even though I’ve never actually met him. John – the man who runs the home.
“Hey. Yes, I am. It’s nice to finally meet you,” I say. “Have you heard from Paul? I’ve rang the bell, but there’s no answer.”
Naturally, the door opens just as I say it. But, it isn’t Paul. It’s one of the other occupants; I’ve clearly woken him from a nap.
“Oh, hey,” he says as he rubs his eyes, “Paul said to tell you he’d be right back. He just walked down to the Family Dollar real quick.” I relax a little, but am frustrated at Paul’s thoughtlessness. So is John.
“That boy,” he says while shaking his head. “He is making progress, but he has a lot of growing up to do. Thinks everyone should pity him but he never thinks of anyone else.”
I don’t like hearing him talk about my boyfriend like that, but I can’t deny the truth behind the words. Paul is selfish. He doesn’t show a lot of concern for anyone but himself, and he does tend to play the victim card quite a bit. But the guy went through two months of rehab and has lived here for nearly two more, so I figure he’s entitled to a little self pity. After all, he calls me every single night and texts me to say he appreciates and values me. Nobody has ever valued me like that. Well, nobody that isn’t related to me that is. On top of his addiction and having to deal with John, Paul is only 22. He is eight years younger than me. I think back to when I was 22 and how much I thought I knew then, but in reality I didn’t know much. I didn’t have an addiction to marijuana and pain pills like Paul, but I wasn’t exactly the most thoughtful person either. I refuse to lose someone like Paul because of attitudes like the one John has. He is just as thoughtless as Paul if he can’t see the goodness beneath the behavior of someone in Paul’s position.
I nod and force a smile. “Yeah,” is all I can say as I look up to see Paul turn the corner. He looks thinner than he did a month ago. I feel a rush of anxiety because he had gained a fair amount of weight when he was in the rehab program where he had no contact with anyone. He had lived there for two months; I couldn’t even go visit him because only immediate family was allowed. But, why is he so thin now? I watch him as he walks up, waving. I smile. John and Paul’s mom refuse to let him have a car here; they say it allows “too much temptation.” Having to walk everywhere in the middle of summer would make anyone lose weight in a hurry. I can’t stay mad at him.
Paul walks up to me and gives me a hug. He always hugs tightly. It feels a little awkward, but that is par for the course when people are watching and John is standing right behind Paul throwing some sarcastic remarks his way.
“Nice of you to keep her waiting,” John says. I really hate that guy.
Paul just rolls his eyes and says, “Let me get my bag and we can get out of here.” It is going to be a great weekend. We will head to the beach for a weekend, on his weekend pass, and spend time relaxing and letting him meet my family. I know they are going to love him as much as I do.
The trip to Myrtle Beach went better than I expected. My brother and Paul seemed to hit it off; although, I think my brother can see Paul’s lack of maturity. He hasn’t said anything yet, and my brother usually makes it known in not so subtle ways what he thinks. But, he also knows how much I want my family to like Paul. I don’t date much at all. I don’t trust people and, most of the time, it seems like I’m not good enough for anyone. I am slightly over-weight, which nobody, including myself, finds attractive. Paul is with me regardless of my weight. He sees the person inside the shell. I’ve lost a lot of weight since meeting him, though, and I’m trying really hard to lose more. At least I know he doesn’t need me to be that pretty, petite little piece of arm candy it seems guys want. Paul is attracted to my heart. He has sent me texts saying as much. So, I’m glad he made a good first impression yesterday on my brother and later on my parents when we arrived at the beach house. Today is going to be great!
I get up around 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning to take a shower. As women do, I make sure to shave all the right places just right. I put every strand of hair exactly where I want it, and I put on my make-up. I gently apply my earth tone eye shadow to the top of my eyelids, making sure to stay inside the lines. I top it off with a brush of mascara over each set of eyelashes, and a dab of soft pink lipstick. I want to make sure I look good for Paul. Thankfully, this beach house is owned by one of my dad’s more wealthy friends and it sits just one block off the beach and is two stories high with three bedrooms and four bathrooms. Each bedroom has its own full bathroom. I can do everything before I ever set foot out the bedroom door. Every girl’s dream.
I settle on wearing my white shorts with a pink, short-sleeve top. I hate shorts because I feel like I’m too fat for them. But, I don’t want Paul to think I’m some weird chick who wears long pants and long sleeves in the middle of summer either. Of course I’m not satisfied with anything about the way I look because I never am, but I eventually resign myself to leaving the room. My room is directly across from the room Paul is in. I roll my eyes at the thought. Never-mind I’m 30-years old and my brother is 28; if my parents are the ones who obtain the house or rooms to be used, we are forbidden to sleep in a room with anyone of the opposite sex who isn’t related by blood or marriage. Apparently, thou shalt not have premarital sex under your parents’ roof or the roofs of their rich friends.
I open the door and look across the very small hall. His door is shut. I stare at it and wonder if I should knock. Maybe he’s already up? Probably not, though. He’s spent months waking up early. Let him sleep, I tell myself. I am determined to make this the best weekend he has had in a long time. There is very little I wouldn’t do for Paul. Having him in my life has given me a confidence I’ve never possessed. I’m actually worth someone’s attention. He is going to have all of mine.
I quietly walk downstairs to avoid waking him up. My parents, brother, and nephew are already awake. The living room is open and connects to the dining room and kitchen with only a chest high bar separating the dining room table from the kitchen counter.
“We like him,” my mom says, not even offering a good morning. “He seems like a nice boy.” The word boy makes me cringe a bit. For the most part, I don’t care about our age difference. He’s kind to me. He appreciates the months of dedication I’ve shown as he tries to overcome his addiction. Still, there are the occasional struggles with his maturity. Nothing I can’t handle, though.
“I’m glad,” is all I can think to say. Really, what else is there to say?
My parents watch television while my brother and I play with his 1-year old son. It’s about an hour before I hear the bath water running in the room above us. Paul’s room. I can feel my pulse quickening again. Is it ever going to stop doing that before I see him? I ask myself, but secretly hope it never stops.
Thirty minutes later, he comes down the stairs dressed in jeans and a long sleeve button up shirt over a white tee. I stare at him. That’s odd. Who wears jeans and long sleeves at the beach in July?
“Good Morning,” he says to my family. He walks to the kitchen and grabs a Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème cake, then another, and then another. He eats quite a few, actually. That’s odd too. Paul hates junk food. He’s a freaking nut about eating healthy. I remember all the conversations we’ve had about eating healthy and taking care of our bodies. I think about all the times he’s encouraged me to eat healthier to lose weight. At first this conversation hurt, but he completely explained it saying, “I want to be proud to be seen with you. And, your health is important, too.” I never thought anything of it, of course. He deserves to be proud of his girlfriend after all.
“What are we doing today?” Paul asks.
“Whatever you want,” I answer. “This weekend is about letting you relax and have fun.”
“Okay. I’ll be right back,” he says before heading back upstairs to his room.
My parents and brother take my nephew downstairs to the car, and I help clean up the morning mess before we leave as I wait for Paul to come back down. I think about the late start, the long jeans and shirt, and the Little Debbie cakes again. It’s not that weird, really, I reason with myself. He just wanted to sleep in for the first time in months, and he’s living in a house where he has to eat what is provided. So, maybe he’s just splurging a bit. It’s out of character, but not unreasonable. Even the clothes make sense when I think about it; He doesn’t have a steady job yet, so maybe these are the only clothes he has. I decide that I will buy him some clothes later if I can find a way to do it without embarrassing him. It all makes sense…to me.
Twenty minutes later, Paul comes down the stairs smiling and ready to go. His shirt is rolled up to just below his elbow. I glance at the underside of his arm, but I can’t give words to what I’m looking for. So I stop looking. We decide to go to Denny’s for brunch, and then to Barefoot Landing to do some shopping. I’m going to spoil him today.
Yesterday was pretty good, I think. Paul and I stayed up talking last night, and he says he’s having a great time. We took a walk on the beach last night. It was nice, but not what I expected. Is it weird my boyfriend of nearly six months never once held my hand? I wonder. Isn’t that kind of the whole ‘romantic’ part of a romantic walk on the beach?
As we walked, I remembered a conversation I’d had months ago with his mom, and her saying, “Paul has trouble with intimacy. He’s not good at showing his emotions. Protect yourself, girl, and don’t expect too much. Don’t let your love goggles blind you.” She is just like John. She doesn’t give him a chance to change. But, I guess it sort of explains his lack of open affection. I can deal with that. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t have been with me this long. My “love goggles” are perfectly fine. He is wearing a matching pair for me, I’m sure. He just shows it differently. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I lie here in my full sized bed, staring at the ceiling. I can hear my parents downstairs walking around. It is only 7:30 on Sunday morning, so they don’t expect me to be up yet. I have the thick, blue-green comforter pulled up to my chin. My brother and I are leaving to take Paul back to the recovery home in Spartanburg at noon, so I lay here thinking about the day before, playing the events over in my mind. It was a good day, right? Of course it was. I asked him and he said so. That’s another thing I love about him, he’s open with me. Honesty is so important to a relationship. I can ask him anything and he tells me the truth. Sometimes I don’t like the answer, like when he told me he sees nothing wrong with smoking marijuana and injecting the drugs he was using expect for that fact that other people didn’t like it. If he wanted to lie to me, he certainly would have lied about that. I can trust him, no doubt. He says he isn’t using and never will again. That’s enough for me. It makes me happy to know I actually have someone to love me, to want to be with me, and that will be honest and open with me. Before I’d met Paul, I was starting to think this would never happen.
Still, there were some pretty strange things that happened yesterday. At first, there were constant trips to the bathroom. Later, when we had come back to the house, he watched as my mom checked her sugar and excused herself to the restroom to take her insulin shot. When she came back, he asked, “So, where do you have to put your shot?” She explained that it can go in the arm, leg, or stomach, but that the stomach was the least painful option to her.
“So,” he began, “you don’t have to put it into the vein?” He asked. It was an odd question. I mean, who asks that? My family ignored it, so maybe it wasn’t as odd as I thought.
Then, there were constant phone calls and texts. He said those were for jobs, I reasoned with myself. Without a steady job, he had to do odd jobs here and there. So, that made sense. It would be irresponsible of him to ignore those calls. I’m proud of him. He is trying so hard.
I tell myself to stop worrying about things that don’t matter. He isn’t doing anything he shouldn’t be doing. It is probably just the incessant warnings from his mom messing with my head. I know I need to trust him. He trusts me. He relies on me. He needs me. I need him to need me.
I finally get up and take a shower. That will get me refreshed and ready to go. Once I’m out of the shower, I still feel a little weird, but I’m certain it is just because I have to say goodbye today. I don’t want to say goodbye.
Around 8:30 a.m. I go into Paul’s room to wake him up. I really hate that we had to spend all weekend in separate rooms. Next time, it’ll just be the two of us taking a weekend getaway.
I’m waking him up 30 minutes early just to have some time with him, away from everyone. I’m sure he will like at least a few minutes alone together. I whisper, “Paul…Paul…” But he just stays asleep. What courage I had mustered to come in here for a few romantic moments is quickly fading as I nudge him. “Paul, wake up.”
He groans as he turns his head and slightly opens his eyes, “Hey…” he says in a groggy voice. I sigh quietly and smile.
“I thought we could spend a few minutes alone together before we have to get ready to leave,” I say as I sit on the bed next to him. I feel a liberating defiance as I can still hear my parents moving around downstairs.
Paul looks up at me and asks, “What time is it?”
“8:30” I say, wanting him to at least ask me to lie with him for a little while until we have to get up.
“I thought you said I didn’t have to get up before 9:00,” he says as he rubs his eyes.
I feel my face flush and my pulse quicken as water fills my eyes. I’m so embarrassed now.
“Well, I thought…” I don’t know what I thought anymore. “I mean, you can sleep a little longer if you prefer. It’s cool.”
He just nods and pulls the covers back over his head. I walk quietly back to my room across the hall. I climb back into my bed and curl up under the covers. My mind is going faster than I can really follow, He doesn’t like me. Yes he does. No he doesn’t. You’re too fat and ugly why would he? No, he’s not like everyone else. You’re so stupid to think someone wanted you. no…No…NO…he is just sleepy. He isn’t thinking clearly. He probably barely knew I was there. It’s my fault; I shouldn’t have expected him to wake up all hugs and kisses. It’ll be fine once he fully wakes up. It’ll be fine.
I go to the bathroom in my room and make sure all the tears are gong and that my face isn’t red before I go downstairs and wait another hour and a half before Paul comes down. Long sleeves rolled to the bottom of his elbow, again. I wasn’t able to get him new clothes yesterday. We were with my family pretty much all the time, and I would never embarrass him. Poor guy, I think. I’m buying him new clothes when I go to visit the next time. I smile at him as he comes down the stairs and says, “Good morning. Sleep well?” He doesn’t mention the morning’s events. I knew he just wasn’t awake enough.
He polishes off the Little Debbie cakes, this time Suzy-Q’s and Pecan Swirls, then excuses himself before heading back upstairs. I stare as he disappears around the wall that starts half-way up the staircase. He had brought down his bag when he came down the first time. Why was he going back up now?
The thought nags at me, but my family and I fall into our normal routine for when we are about to leave the beach house. We get things cleaned and put back in their proper places. About forty minutes later, Paul comes down sits on one of the chairs across the room from me.
“Don’t worry about my room, “he tells my mom. “ I cleaned it and made the bed.”
That’s so thoughtful of him. He really is making progress. I smile at him.
We leave shortly after the cleaning is done. It’s roughly a three hour trip back to Cowpens and the recovery home. Paul fidgets more than usual in the passenger seat. I’m sitting behind him while my brother does the driving. He complains about the recovery home a lot. I can’t blame him, I think. John is a bit of an arrogant jerk.
“So, what did you have to do in the military?” Paul asks my brother, making conversation. I’m so glad they get along. I sit silently and listen.
“A lot of things. What do you want to know?” My brother responds.
“Did you have to learn a lot of first aid? Like how to fix wounds and stuff?”
“Did you ever have to put in an I.V.?”
“Oh, yeah. We had to know how to do that in emergency situations,” my brother explains.
“I like having an I.V.” Paul says. “I think they feel good.”
My brother laughs uncomfortably. My heart speeds up, but not in the good way it had every time I was looking forward to seeing Paul. Nobody speaks. In the silence every unexplainable moment from the weekend bombards my memory. I can feel tears in my eyes. Why am I upset? My mind starts racing for an explanation, any explanation other than the one that is threatening everything I want from this relationship. He’s just nervous, I tell myself. He doesn’t want to be left alone at that home again, away from people he loves. It’s normal.
Three hours later, we pull into the yard at the home. I had remained quiet much of the ride. My brother stays in the car as Paul and I get out and get his suitcase out the back of the Jeep.
“I’ll call you tonight, at our normal time.” He says as he hugs me. The hug feels different this time. I can’t look at him. I don’t like it. I’m afraid this time. I’ve waited so long to meet him, someone who thinks I’m worthy of attention. It is Paul who has given me confidence. No matter how many men I’ve gone on dates with, Paul is still here. I won’t lose this. I can’t. In the past I’ve been known to latch on to a single flaw in men and run away. It has always been easier to run away than be told, yet again, that I’m not good enough. I make them not good enough first. I won’t do that this time. I won’t let my paranoia ruin this. He loves me. I love him.
Paul doesn’t notice the tears in my eyes. I’m glad. I watch as he walks up the steps of the recovery home and walks through the door, never looking back. My brother moves to the passenger’s seat so I can drive home. We leave as I listen to him tell me what he really thinks of Paul. He doesn’t approve. “He’s a kid. He is the most immature person I’ve met in a while,” my brother says. I’m not really listening. I’m just staring straight ahead. He’s just like everyone else.
We have been on the road for an hour when my text tone sounds. It’s from Paul.
Paul: John just called. I’ve been kicked out the house.
I don’t say anything to my brother as I read the text, in shock. I text back. Yes, while driving.
Me: What happened? Do you need me to come get you? Call me, please!
He doesn’t call. He doesn’t text. Ever again.
I get home and immediately e-mail John, demanding to know what happened. He’s such a jerk. I’m sure he’s being unreasonable about something. Yes, Paul can be irresponsible. But people don’t change overnight. I send the e-mail and immediately call John’s mom. She knows nothing.
“I haven’t spoken to Paul in weeks, hun. What’s going on?”
I tell her about the text.
“Did anything happen this weekend?” she asks.
“No, it was perfect” I answer, but the pain shooting through my chest tells me I’m lying.
“Let me know what you find out,” she says. “I doubt he will call me. I’m not surprised, honestly.” I hang up, angry at her lack of concern for her son.
A few hours later, after texting and calling Paul nearly nonstop with no response, I check my e-mail again. John’s reply is waiting for me. He isn’t rude. He isn’t a jerk. His reply is sympathetic and to the point. My heart shatters as I read:
I have learned that Paul has not only been in contact with his old suppliers…he has been using again…shooting Oxycontin specifically…for the past two weeks. I’m sorry. – John
I can’t even cry. I can’t do anything. Every moment at the beach – the long disappearances, the excessive eating, the phone calls and texts, and the long sleeves – begins to make sense. I can’t deny anything. I realize that I knew the entire time. I think back to the moments I’d been waiting for him to come out of his room. The thoughts were there, then. Is he using? He wouldn’t do that would he? I see now, the answer was yes. He would. He didn’t want me. He didn’t love me. It took drugs for someone to be with me. I was just stupid enough to believe otherwise. I’d put the love goggles on because I didn’t want to see. I wanted them to blind me because I wanted to believe in him so I could believe in me. But the love goggles are gone, stripped away by a single e-mail. I sit in my computer chair, staring at the computer screen of my desktop and I read John’s e-mail over and over again until the tears finally start to fall.
Jenifer Butler is a senior English major at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC. She is a member of the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society and is graduating Summa Cum Laude. Jenifer currently lives in Florence, SC with her family and works at Florence-Darlington Technical College as the English tutor for Project R.I.S.E. Her future plans include attending graduate school to obtain her Masters of Arts in English.