To Love and To Fall

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I arrive at my sister’s house ten minutes late, which is more because of a traffic jam than my hangover from my Ny-Quill binge. It took hitting the snooze button about fifteen times and a whole pot of coffee just to get myself out of bed, but I was fine once I got started.

When I reach Denise’s house, all seems the same as the last time I was here three months ago, except for the offending tan Maxima of my suspicions. And to think that all this time I suspected it had taken my Serena to a lover. I just begin to feel myself sinking into shame when Denise’s bounding out of her house prevents the downfall; her dark shoulder length hair flowing around her like a young girl’s. Only a blind person could not see we are related, we look so similar. We are almost like fraternal twins, except she showed up five years earlier than me.

I get out of the car and we face each other, awkward at what we should do. We settle on a handshake, and she bestows a quick kiss on my cheek. She leads me to her modular home, which is gently nestled into the landscape of the Adirondack foothills. At thirty-three, my sister has arrived.

Actually, in terms of the house, it was more like twenty-nine. This was Denise’s home from her second marriage, and though her ex would say otherwise, I knew she paid for it with her own money. Even the judge thought it that way. She was the one with the job, not him. If I have given the impression that Denise is a backwards drunk going from man to man just to survive, then I have given the wrong impression. My sister graduated from SUNY Albany with an MBA. She is has been a buyer for Sears for the last eight years (I am a poet and I do not know it). She is a genius, but unfortunately has a short span for work and men, hence six jobs in nine years and three marriages in six years. Poor Nigel. I suspect he is too infatuated to know he is doomed.

We drive immediately to the hospital. Neither of us say much. When Denise is dry, she talks less. It makes me wonder if underneath all her drama and wild antics she is really a shy person. Today I do not mind quiet. I am too nervous to really want to talk. The last thing I want to do was to see my girlfriend in a detox. But here I am.

Unfortunately, when we get there, reality meets my worst expectations. We are searched before we go in, forced to go through a metal detector and a barricaded door before we even get to the reception area. There we had to show proof of who we were. I hear the sound of a human hyena coming through the walls. I had no idea that this was a flight deck, that Serena would voluntarily lock herself in one, or that my sister would let her do so. I give her a dirty look. She shrugs her shoulders. “They haven’t constructed a separate facility for the detox. It’ll be ready next year. Besides, they considered her a suicide watch because she almost poisoned herself to death.” Now she tells me.

I am nauseous as we proceed down the hall. The antiseptic smell floods my brain. The hyena-like scream returns at a higher pitch. The puke blue walls made me feel like we are in a prison. Then I see bars on the windows, and I know I am in hell. How could Serena get well in something like this and not at our home?

The attendant gestures to a room adjacent to the reception area. At the doorway, my gaze confronts a wild eyed man with an IV. He stares me down, and bursts into laughter when he catches my eye. It chills me.

I barely escape past him without touching him, but I do. The crazy man is led away by the attendant who brought me here and the door is closed behind him. It is quiet here, and it is the most pleasantly laid out of all the rooms so far. It looks like a youth room in camp, with mismatched couches and pillows lined up against the room. There were many large windows, the curtains billowing with the summer breeze. And by the one in the corner stands my Serena.

She is dressed in sweats, smoking a cigarette. Immediately I panic, remembering that Serena quit two months earlier. I wonder what kind of sobriety this is that advocates dying of cancer over having a few drinks. I can’t believe my eyes. I want to yank her from here and take her home where I know she will be safe and not be brainwashed by psychobabble.

My anger is interrupted by the warmth of her embrace. It melts the anxieties I have had for the last few days. She is real, she is here. I have a flash of Carla’s body; and I pull away from Serena. She sheepishly smiles, and puts out her cigarette in a nearby ashtray.

“I thought you quit,” I couldn’t help commenting.

She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I lied.”

Denise jumps in, I suppose to fend off an argument. She asks of Serena’s progress, and they engage in a short conversation full of rehab lingo. I am anxious once again. I want to see Serena, yet I do not. She swears a lot as she speaks to my sister. Watching her light up her cigarette, I wonder who this woman is. She is a street tough unlike my girl. Sharp. Biting. One that has little qualms in lying to me. I suddenly regret coming here. It is at that instant that Denise decides to give us time together. I watch as the door closes behind her. Serena and I eye each other. She gestures to the couch behind her and we sit facing one another. I feel as though I am on a blind date.

“How are you feeling?” I ask politely.

She shrugs. “It’s a little crazy here. I’m looking forward to going to the rehab to get some real rest.”

“How much is it going to cost?” From what I heard, these rehabs could be a real rip-off.

“Oh, I’m not sure. It’s for six weeks. I checked it out on my Cobra, and they’ll cover it. So I’m paying only twenty percent. It’ll probably only be a couple of thousand dollars. It’ll be worth it. I’ll be a whole new woman.”

From what I could see it wasn’t worth it. Besides, we were in debt. Did she think– oh wait. A dark thought passes through my mind. Did she decide to pull this just as I was getting a real job? I wasn’t even married to her. They were ruining her here. Was her family paying for this? I sure didn’t want to. Not after all the years of hard work that it had taken for me to get where I was. I didn’t want to throw the first two months of my salary on this crap. An engagement ring sounded like a better investment to me.

“Tom, I’m leaving for the rehab on the first. Could you come with me? Having you there is very important to me.” I am warmed as I hear the voice I have come to love. I hope that the chain-smoking woman I see before is just a bad apparition as I reach out to kiss the woman whom I once loved.

She smiles at me nervously when we pull apart. I wonder if they have some kind of law that you’re not supposed to have physical contact here. I feel like I’m in high school.

“I guess you’re wondering, what happened. To get me here.”

I nod. Something crazy must have happened for her to want to stay at a place like this.

She must have sensed my thoughts. “Actually, nothing dramatic happened, at least to an outside eye. It’s almost funny when I think of it. I ran out of money for beer.”

I look at her, thinking I have heard wrong. “That’s it?”

Serena nods her head resignedly, the way she does when her mind is made up and not in the mood to fight. “Yep, that’s it.”

I sit, trying to figure this out. The girl had gone nuts calling my sister and landing herself in a psycho ward because she ran out of cash. I don’t understand. I feel like I’m in the middle of a bad joke. Maybe she did belong in a place like this. I wonder what that said about my integrity. Serena takes my hands in hers, and I look into her blue eyes. They show concern, compassion. I wonder why she thinks I need it.

“I don’t know how to really convey what I went through so you can understand it. I know it sounds weird. I don’t really understand what happened to me either,” she began. “All day Sunday when you were gone, I drank. And the more I drank, the more I wanted it. I was like a maniac, consuming all I could. It didn’t even feel real. I felt like I was watching myself do these crazy things, ripping through the house just to find any money and alcohol that I could. I couldn’t stop myself even though I wanted to. I even went next door and banged on the door just so I could borrow money from them. Luckily, they weren’t home, but I didn’t think I was so lucky then. I almost put my fist through their window, I was so pissed that I wasn’t going to get more fuel to feed my fix. Somehow I got home. And I sat on the couch crying, thinking I should go down to the bar and have some guy buy me drinks.” I cringe, thinking of what I personally did the last time I bought drinks for a woman, or more exactly, she bought for me. Serena is seemingly oblivious to my reaction, continuing her monologue. “Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the book I got from AA, and I began to cry. It wasn’t so bad when I was drinking and didn’t want to stop. Now I wanted to stop and I couldn’t. I picked up the book and began reading it from the beginning. They mentioned that there is the phenomenon of craving that only occurs in alcoholics. It was what I just experienced. They said that a spiritual experience has to take place in order for me to overcome the urge to take that first drink, because once I took that drink, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I suddenly understood what they meant about being powerless over alcohol. That’s when I decided to call your sister.”

“And when you decided to come here,” I finish. She nods in assent.

A pregnant pause sits between us. Serena breaks its waters. I am unable to think of what to say. “How did your interview go?” she asks.

Considering how anxious I was about this interview before it happened, I am really sick of everyone asking about it. “Good. I have the job if I want it.”

Serena smiles, but her eyes close infinitesimally, as they do when she is sad. “Good for you, sweetie. You’re so smart. Unlike me.” I do not know what to make of this statement. I regard the pale, wan chain-smoking figure of my lover. Every aspect of her life has been shattered by drinking. Every aspect, except for our love. I am still here. But there was nothing else for her, while I had a future before me. I feel a stab of guilt, self-effacing at my repulsion when she said she wanted to go to rehab. “Do you think going to a rehab is going to make you happy, Serena?” That is all I want for her. Happiness.

She sighs, a wry expression on her face. “I don’t know if happy has anything to do with it. I have no other choice. I can’t stop drinking.”

I am silent. My world is unfamiliar to me now. Just four days ago, everything was as it had been for years, and now everything was in complete turmoil. I feel unsure of what to do. I did not know what to do with a lover who was signing herself into a mental facility.

Serena puts her hand on my shoulder. “You look scared,” she says tenderly. “Are you?”

“I don’t know,” I answer truthfully. “This is all pretty sudden.”

“We’ll be all right,” she said confidently. “But I’m scared too. I’ve never been sober for any length of time, at least not since I was twelve. I don’t know what to expect out of a sober life. But it’s got to be better than how I have been living.” She pauses for a second as she turns her gaze to the window. “I don’t want to die,” she says quietly. She lights a cigarette as she muses.

There is nothing left for me to say, so I watch her as she smokes, wondering what will come of us. When she stubs her butt out, I embrace her, feeling that as long as I can touch her, she is not a dream; she is real. Much time passes until I hear the low sound of a door being gently shut, and reluctantly break with Serena. Denise is there, watching. She smiles at us.

“We have to go,” she quietly informs me. She goes to Serena, touching her hand. “We’ll see you soon.”

“Yes,” Serena concedes. They hug each other goodbye. I notice an affection between them that I never saw before. Over the last few days, Denise has struck something in Serena that I seem to have never reached with her. I feel a twinge of jealousy, wondering where in eleven years I have gone wrong. I feel desperation as I kiss her goodbye, feeling my life irrevocably changing as the flight attendant locks the door behind my sister and me and escorts us back to the real world.

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