by Tamuira Reid
I get the call in the middle of night. Calls that come in the middle of the night can never be good. And it isn't.
It's about Amy, the voice on the other end says. It's a voice I don't know. Someone who calls himself her friend, a friend of the family. I wonder where this guy was when Amy was at her worst. I don't remember anyone but me ever sticking around.
The bottom line is she's dead. Gone. Not ever coming back.
Our strip of photo booth pictures are still tucked into my mirror. Happy faces, the newly sober glow. Back when there was still a chance of something good happening.
A year before those photos were taken, Amy left her kids to almost fry to death in her Subaru while she shot dope in a nearby apartment complex. When the judge offered her treatment instead of jail, she cried. She'd rather be high for the rest of her life than constantly replay the moment the ambulance drove off with her two little girls in the back. Two little girls, locked for two hours in a hot car.
I should have just killed myself on the spot, she told me.
And now she's gone, too.
The night before I enter rehab, I throw everything I can into a duffle bag. Amazed by how little space I actually need to fit what is left of my life. Everything reduced to a few pounds of crap.
You're going to rehab, my best friend reminds me. Those places are like spas. You'll be tan and well rested when you get back.
You're free to take my place.
Don't tempt me, he smiles, and gives me a hug goodbye.
I quickly learn that rehab is not a spa. No massage therapy. No midnight yoga. No steel cut oats with locally grown berries for breakfast. It's a salad bar with wilting lettuce. A basketball court without a hoop. A swimming pool covered with shit and debris that only the crazies go in. The ones with nothing to lose because they've lost everything already.
It's just thirty days, I remind myself. Thirty days, thirty days. Like a chant.
The amazing thing about rehab is it gets you sober. The tricky thing about rehab is it's your job to stay that way.
When I graduate – yes, graduate – the counselors tell me I probably won't make it. That only one or two of us out of fifty will remain clean long enough to make a real go at life.
Fuck, I think. And I'm paying you for this?
I meet Amy at an AA meeting in Brooklyn. I've only been out in the world without alcohol for a few months but I feel strong. At least this is what I tell myself. Most meetings I breeze through on cruise control, making sure to wear my sunglasses so I can half-sleep until it's over.
Then I hear Amy's story. It's the kind of story that you want to forget as soon as you hear it, the kind that stays with you like it was your own.
A few days later, we get bodega snacks and sit in the park on top of our jackets. I tell her to forgive herself, she's sober now, it's like a clean slate. She chain smokes and shakes and looks far away.
It's so much.
I cut her turkey sandwich in half because that is what friends do and I'm learning how to be a better friend. Alcohol apparently made me selfish.
Why did you quit drinking? I think she wants me to say something horrible to make her feel better about almost killing her kids.
I didn't want to quit. I was good at drinking. Like, really fucking committed.
She nods her head and looks me in the eyes, pointing a finger in my face like she knows something I don't. Just like music made sense to Beethoven, vodka made sense to you. You are an artist. People just don't get it.
I don't think there was anything artistic about my drinking but I nod my head and decide to cut her sandwich into quarters instead.
We talk on the phone almost every day. I go with her to adopt a puppy, a tiny terrier with a fucked up tail. Someone dumped her in a trash bin behind a restaurant on the Lower East Side. Can you imagine?
Sometimes we take walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. The sunsets are the prettiest from there.
Sometimes we watch TV and drink coffee in her tiny Bushwick studio for hours on end, pretending the silence isn't killing both of us.
I miss my kids, she'll eventually say.
They hate me.
They're too little to hate you. They probably just miss you.
Should I call them?
No. Give it time.
After the incident, the children's father was awarded full custody and promised the court he would keep them safe. An aging electrician with a pick-up truck and a heart of gold, he cried his way through the legal proceedings, hating himself for ever letting them out of his sight.
Don't know what he ever saw in me, Amy says, and lights another cigarette by the kitchen window. Such a headcase.
Nobody's perfect, I tell her.
Hey, put on something funny will you? And I change it to the news.
My therapist tells me I'm co-dependent. That my friendship with Amy is really a relationship. And I'm not supposed to be in a relationship for at least a year after treatment.
But I'm straight. We don't sleep together. I mean, we do, but not like that. She's my friend.
Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. Let me ask you this: if Amy started using, would you find it difficult not to?
The truth is: I can't ever drink again.
The truth is: I have to remember this.
The truth is: I will never leave Amy.
The truth is: Amy leaves me.
For a little town in New England. The kind that has one gas station and brick buildings and driveways that people actually shovel in the winter.
She's starting over. Needs to figure out who she is. I tell her I know who she is and she smiles that sad smile and kisses me on the cheek.
New England is cold.
New York is cold, she argues.
She won't call me for two weeks.
She's been working at a horse stable. Cleaning, grooming. Brooklyn girl turned ranch hand.
Horses smell, I tell her. I think I'm jealous of the horses.
Since she left, I've been working again. A teaching job at a state school. My apartment is covered in student essays.
She tells me she's proud of me and she misses me and I don't want her to hang up the phone. There is nothing lonelier than early sobriety. It's the kind of lonely that makes you do things like walk around the block a million times just so you can see people and they can see you. To make sure you still exist.
I'll come visit soon, she promises.
This is the last time I hear her voice.
My therapist tells me I couldn't have seen it coming. It wasn't my fault.
But she seemed so happy. Like she seemed good.
The kind of story that you want to forget as soon as you hear it.
She will jump from a covered bridge in that same New England town. It's the kind of bridge people photograph and hang on the wall. A real wall-hanger, my mom would say. There wasn't much water below, just sharp rocks to end her life on.
I decide to write her girls an email, an email I will send to their father and that maybe when the time is right he will show them.
Your mother didn't mean to hurt you.
Your mother was sorry for everything she did.
Everyone deserves a second chance.
I loved your mother very much.