A Detox Romance
How one woman found the man of her dreams in a nightmare.
“So, how’d you guys meet?”
When my husband and I are asked this question, we have a rehearsed series of responses that are based almost entirely on you, the person asking the question. If you’re, say, a co-worker or a friend of my parents (or grandparents), or a religious aunt, you’re told that my mother introduced me to my husband. Which is true. Ish.
This is the part I leave out: Outside of a Narcotics Anonymous meeting at the local hospital, my mother swears she witnessed the first (and last?) polite handshake and half hug Peter and I ever shared. Neither Peter nor I can recall the meeting. I was visiting from New York City. This was 1995. He was no longer my type. Tan, cutoff shorts, hard bodied, bandanna worn “Let’s get physical” style in his longish blond brown hair. My 80s hair metal ideal. Pale, apathetic women and men are my preference, so Peter didn’t rate.
Later, we’ll go in the galley kitchen, away from the cameras, and masturbate each other, leaning against boxes of fruit cups.
In any case, my mother says she muttered to me “he’s an athlete” and let it go at that. As a two-pack-a-day smoker with three years clean, I hated athletes. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t remember him.
If you’re in recovery and you ask us how we met you will get the full version. The where we met, which answers the how. We met in detox. We fell in lust in detox, we moved in to his parents’ house after detox, and of course we didn’t stay clean.
When I got to detox that time I had my usual nagging problem: I kept running out of money, and I liked shooting dope. And coke. I kept running out of dope and coke–that was my problem. I was living on Long Island with a burnout boozer friend of my father’s. My life being cute and rock n’ roll in New York City had died long before, when I started relapsing. Between 1996 and 2002 I would get time clean; a few years or months or weeks here and there. And then a joint and a glass of bubbly would sail down out of nowhere and come fluttering to my lips. And then whoops! The needle.
July, 2002. A perfect New England July–cerulean skies, stinging hot clear air, sparkling lakes. Or so they tell me. I was too blasted to notice any kind of weather. After a trip to Puerto Rico with my drug dealer (where he told me he was firing me as a customer) I took a side trip to Massachusetts. My grandparents saw my track marks and took me to the hospital the day after I got there. The denial thing, which had kept so many parental mouths shut for so many years, stopped working on this particular July afternoon. Off I went again to the hospital.
My memory of the exact beginning of our first date is kind of fuzzy. I started banging my head against the wall of the intake room and a nurse gave me a Seroquel. Now I’m parked in the cafeteria thinking syrup thoughts and a brown torso is in my face. Stuffing coffee packets down the front of its shorts. It backs up and becomes a very tan Jewish-Italian looking guy with long brown blond hair and a beautiful face. Peter now swears that Alf, another patient on the unit, introduced us moments after the coffee stealing incident. Alf was my former halfway house roommate’s husband. Peter knew Alf from the burgeoning local NA scene.
And so it began. We’re sitting on the detox hallway floor, legs outstretched, our feet almost touching. Peter has beautiful, tan feet. He’s in detox because his mom had him “sectioned”–Massachusetts parlance for a 30-day commitment to a critical care facility. Evidently Peter had been eating Fentanyl patches stolen from some junkie nurse on the Cape. Boozing, too. Wait, you used to live in South Florida? I used to go down there all the time with my grandparents! You know Susie _______. from NA? That’s my mom! Later, we’ll go in the galley kitchen, away from the cameras, and masturbate each other, leaning against boxes of fruit cups.
Peter got out of the hospital a few days before I did. I was released on a Friday, and I picked him up from his parents’ house and we went to my grandparents’ place, where we made out slurpily at dinner and my grandmother tried to smooth my hair. The next 43 days were idyllic. We lived in his parents’ basement. I had time to notice the glorious remains of the summer and how it surrounded the beautiful man who was fucking me five times a day. I worked hard with my sponsor, went to meetings, wrote Step One and tried to stay in touch with recovering women as much as possible. The women were kind about my love affair with Peter. No warnings, no finger waggings, no “two dead batteries can’t start an engine” talks.
On day 44, Peter started drinking again. He wandered drunkenly into his parents’ kitchen and when I realized he was drunk something inside me fell. “Please don’t turn your back on me,” he sobbed one day. He was a drowning man. I didn’t leave. Did I really love him or was I just a sick newcomer? I didn’t want to answer that question.
The summer faded away. Mornings were cold. Peter got clean; a few weeks later he used again. This cycle repeated until mid-November, when I let him take my new car out on an errand and he got drunk and backed into a parked car. He had a revoked driver’s license and the charge may or may not have meant some jail time. In any case, we weren’t going to stick around to find out. Peter posted bail and 36 hours later we were on a flight to Fort Lauderdale.
Which is where our life as a couple truly began. South Florida was the perfect place for us to dump the past and become new people. We got a little apartment. We were happy. Yet Peter kept relapsing every 90 days; in early 2003 a dentist gave me Percocet and I joined him. I wound up back in Massachusetts with some old friends and an old habit. Maybe I wasn’t so happy after all …
Already dopesick and beaten after a week of chasing shit in Boston, I came back to the apartment in Florida and found Peter passed out and soaked in piss. Rage heaved up in me and I wound his filthy long hair around my fist, pulling his head off the couch. I cocked my arm back, ready to crush his nose.
And then. And then. I had that thing. That moment. This is what it is now? This is what we are? I can’t live like this! My hand came down and I let the waves of sickness and grief flood over me.
A few days later I would get my first day clean. That was 10 years ago. Six years ago, Peter and I got married. A year or so into our marriage, Peter used again and went to jail. Then he got out and started using again. Then he got clean.
How do you explain a marriage that started in the worst possible circumstances? We did the very thing the old timers tell you to never do. The detox romance? Bah! The things they said would happen happened. The July of our crazy love lust became something else. I don’t know what to call it except that it’s a marriage, where two very different people, two sick strangers, stayed together.
Jaime Neptune is a pseudonym. She is a writer from Pittsfield, Massachusetts.