More pacing. The VCR clock said 5:31. Of course, his lateness didn't surprise her at this point in the relationship. Her anxiety was catching up with her, however, and she was impatient. Another check. The dishes were done, the bed made, the obvious areas of living-room carpet vacuumed. As she paced through the hall to the bathroom, the ammonia in the cat box wafted through her rather insensitive nostrils. Slight panic. "If I can smell it, he will for sure." She wiped the bathroom sink with her wet rag. Impatiently picking up shaving cream, toothbrush, the two decorative fish from his mother, to wipe under them. Feeling the dirt on her feet, she thought about washing the floor. Her depression hadn't allowed for such an arduous task in months.
Picking up a cigarette and making another cup of coffee, she remembered both her doctors' warnings about caffeine. She felt sorry for her digestive system as if it weren't a part of herself. She coughed and felt guilty about her lungs.
She was tired. Last night had been the habitual Seinfeld and Frazier hour, followed by Roseanne's tribute to the 1950s and Star Trek: The New Generation, featuring her favorite character, Data. It was a good TV night for her, but she'd still woken with uneasiness at 7:30, two full hours before her psych-rehab group. Group had gone well (people laughed), but the rest of the day she'd been pacing. Too confused to pinpoint the cause, she decided to let it continue until Judge Judy came on. Her recent paralysis (strictly emotional) bewildered her.
Judge Judy came and went. 6:31. It amazed her that the TV icon could discriminate (supposedly, she thought) when people were lying to her. The judge was discerning, decisive: she seemed to be right all the time. It made her feel relieved to think there was still a right and wrong, like they had promised her in Catholic school. 6:45. Her anxiety escalated. She didn't mind pacing through the Judge's commercials, but she couldn't really tolerate the news. �Where is he?� Another check. What did she do today? Trying to remember: She was proud of having been able to encourage herself through her shower this morning. �All I'm doing is taking a shower... I do it all the time... Turn on the water... Get in the tub... The water will feel good.� She even remembered to wash her hair, brush her teeth, put medicine on her face. Another seemingly simple task accomplished.
6:47. Why all this pacing? Had she remembered her medicine last night? Yes, she always remembered her medicine now that she finally accepted her illness. This pacing was not a side effect either. Why couldn't she read? Why couldn't she get out of her own head? Pointless questions. He'll be here soon, she thought; or eventually, she knew. But why did he have to torture her like this? Peeking out the window, no car. Every car that went by began to sound like his.
She remembered quite a bit of the last time, actually: She opened the door to the basement. The neighbors� emaciated and frenzied pit bull straggled up the stairs. Shocked and infuriated, she pulled him by the collar into her apartment. They were starving him to death! This cruelty could not be tolerated. When the boys came up to explain she shot an angry �I�m taking care of him tonight� and slammed the door in their faces.
Cajun�s fur was flea-bitten, and the tip of his tail sprayed her sewing room with blood. Trying to organize her thoughts, she looked at the dog. Water. Food. Blankets. In her determination she forgot all she'd learned about starvation. Nurses know that patients must be gradually reintroduced to food. She found her salad bow, filled it with water. She gave him her old comforter to lie on, something cushy. After locking her cats in another room she gave him all the catfood.
Frenzied--lapping up water--Cajun, whom she loved, guzzled down the catfood then danced in front of her, gulping air: �More, more, more!� She took him to the refrigerator and gave him a half-pound of ground beef. One gulp: "more!" She emptied the refrigerator: Mayonnaise, celery, broccoli, on the kitchen floor.
Later that night... with urine, feces, and vomit everywhere, all she could remember was pacing back and forth. �I didn't deserve this� while her right shoulder began contracting, stiffer and stiffer until, for no apparent reason, it became a painful useless limb. Back to the hospital.
7:09. "I've got the butter, baby!" he said, and her craving made her decision for her. She didn't actually crave the butter. Her medicine seemed to block the euphoric feeling she'd heard about. Euphoria: that would be a strong pull, she knew. She, however, craved his company; she didn't want him to leave her.
He took the chipped china salad plate and the blue-handled steak knife he'd given her. Tearing the baggy open with his teeth, he squeezed out a small portion of the coveted rock, emptying the bag. �Geez, that's small.� �Yeah, these are babies,� he said. �Give me the thing.� She opened the drug box and retrieved the glass pipe, jagged and burnt at one end, and the pusher, a straight metal tool, fashioned from a coat hanger. He picked up the pipe greedily, loaded it, and surfed in the air for her lighter. He lit the pipe, heating the glass for a second, then raising it to his lips. His hit took several seconds, while she rocked impatiently on the couch, waiting her turn.
He filled the pipe for her, and the evening took a downhill turn. He knew he shouldn't bring the drugs to her, but he could no longer help himself. She would have been happier with dinner and a movie, but would do anything to hold him there with her. She didn't think about the butter much except when it was there, right in front of her.
She inhaled, taking the smoke deeply into her lungs; holding the pipe while waiting for another hit. �Why do you have to do that?� — he asked his usual question. �Take one hit and relax.� Ignoring him, she hit the pipe one more time before putting it down. It was a compulsion for her. �How much do we have?� �Three bags and no money.� Ah well, she thought. At least we have two more.
She had taught him gin-rummy. This was part of their ritual. Hit the pipe, hide the evidence, play cards. His paranoia began to set in; he kept leaving the game to peer out the windows. �It's your turn, honey.� �My shot?� he would ask. Typically she'd be on pins and needles by the end of the game, waiting for her next hit. How could he remain so calm? she wondered. But she did wait. And he always went first. She preferred going last anyway.
He opened the baggy and handed it to her. Part of her ritual was opening the baggy and licking it out. She felt she got an extra taste of the drug this way, and it also gave her something to do with her hands. It was her turn again. She loaded up the pipe and drew in the heavy smoke. After the first hit the compulsion to do it again was so strong that she would almost cry if he did not let her. She took a second hit and then dealt the cards. When there was only one bag left, it was good to make yourself wait as long as possible for the last one. He began looking out the windows again, so she settled down to solitaire. She didn't feel settled though; she was barely restrained. What's more, he seemed fairly relaxed after they ran out, resigned to the fact that they had no more money. She went into the bathroom and cried. Racking her brain for a way to get some more, knowing all the while she'd go through these same emotions any time they'd run out. At these times she felt she cared more for the butter than for him and the guilt weighed on her. Why couldn't they do something normal people did?
�Are you ready for bed, Buttergirl?� Grudgingly, she was. There was nothing to do but lie down and feel awful. They would usually have sex on these occasions, but she was convinced it was mostly to take their minds off the drugs than any real desire to be together.
As she lay in bed all her worries flooded her head. They were supposed to have moved out of this depressing apartment by now. They were supposed to be living together. Lately, though, all his money was going to drugs and she no longer knew how to stop it. Eventually something bad would happen, she knew. He'd declare bankruptcy and wind up in rehab or she would find herself on another mental ward. She needed to summon the strength to stop smoking for both their sakes, but then she feared she wouldn't see him at all. She couldn't bear the thought of being alone, but she also knew she'd have to try to be the strong one. As she wrestled with sleep she knew one thing more. �This shit ain't nobody's butter.�
Write "Ellavon" at email@example.com.
Released: Sept. 21, 1998