He could be considerate, loving, and sweet. The morning I suggested therapy, he was none of those things. He went stalking down to the basement without a word of farewell. A minute later, the treadmill whirred to life. Dave was training for his first marathon, a goal I’d encouraged before I realized that the long runs each weekend meant I wouldn’t see him for four or five hours at a time on a Saturday or Sunday, and would have the pleasure of Ellie all to myself. While the treadmill churned away in the basement, I got to my feet, sighing, as the weight of the day settled around my shoulders.
“Ellie,” I said. Ellie was still standing at the sink, dreamily rubbing liquid soap into her hands. “You need to clear your plate and your glass.”
“But they’re too HEAVY! And the plate is all STICKY! And maybe it will DROP!” she complained, still in her Ariel nightgown, dragging her bare feet along the terra-cotta tiled floor until finally I snapped, “Ellie, just give me the plate and stop making such a production!”
Inevitably, she’d started to cry, dashing upstairs to her room, leaving soapy handprints along the banister. I loaded the dishwasher, wiped down the counters, and swept the kitchen floor. I put the milk and juice and butter back in the fridge and the flour and sugar back in the pantry. Then, before I went to Ellie to apologize and tell her that we should both try to use our inside voices, I’d taken a pill, my second Vicodin since I’d gotten up. The day had stretched endlessly before me—weepy daughter, angry husband, piles of laundry, messy bedroom, a blog post to write, and probably dozens of angry commenters lined up to tell me I was a no-talent hack and a fat, stupid whore. I need this, I thought, letting the bitterness dissolve on my tongue. It had been, I remembered, not even nine a.m.
Have you ever felt like you should cut down on your drinking or drug use?
Feeling suddenly queasy, I lifted my head and looked around the waiting room again to see if anyone had noticed that I was taking this quiz seriously. Did I think about cutting down? Sure. Sometimes. More and more often I had the nagging feeling that things were getting out of control. Then I’d think, Oh, please. I had prescriptions for everything I took (and if Doctor A didn’t know what Doctor B was giving me, well, that wasn’t necessarily a problem—if it was, pharmacies would be set up to flag it, right?). The pills helped me manage everything I needed to manage.
Have other people criticized your drinking or drug use, or been annoyed by it?
I checked “No,” fast and emphatically, trying not to think about how nobody criticized my use because nobody knew about it. Dave knew I had a prescription for Vicodin—he’d been there the night I’d come hobbling home from the gym—but he had no idea how many times I’d gotten that prescription refilled, telling my doctor that I was doing my physical-therapy-prescribed exercises religiously (I wasn’t), but that I still needed something for the pain. Dave didn’t know how easy it was, if you were a woman with health insurance and an education, a woman who spoke and dressed and presented herself a certain way. Good manners and good grammar, in addition to an MRI that showed bulging discs or an x-ray with impacted molars, could get you pretty much anything you wanted. With refills. Pain was impossible to see, hard to quantify, and I knew the words to use, the gestures to make, how to sit and stand as if every breath was agony. It was my little secret, and I intended to keep it that way.
“Eloise Weiss?” I looked up. A nurse stood in the doorway with Ellie’s chart in his hands.
Startled, I half jumped to my feet, and felt my back give a warning twinge, as if to remind me how I’d gotten into this mess. I wanted a pill. I’d had only one, that morning, six hours ago, and I wanted something, a dam against the rising anxiety about whether my marriage was foundering and if I was a good parent and when I’d find the time to finish the blog post that was due at six o’clock. I wanted to feel good, centered and calm and happy, able to appreciate what I had—my sunny kitchen, with orchids blooming on the windowsill; Ellie’s bedroom, for which I’d finally found the perfect pink chandelier. I wanted to slip into my medicated bubble, where I was safe, where I was happy, where nothing could hurt me. As soon as this is over, I told myself, and imagined sitting behind the wheel once the doctor had let us go and swallowing a white oval-shaped pill while Ellie fussed with her seat belt. With that picture firmly in mind, I reached out my hand for my daughter.
“No shots,” she said, her lower lip already starting to tremble.
“I don’t think so.”
“No SHOTS! You SAID! You PROMISED!” Heads turned in judgment, mothers probably thinking, Thank God mine’s not like that. Ellie crossed her arms over her chest and stood there, forty-three pounds of fury in a flowered Hanna Andersson dress, matching socks and cardigan, and zip-up leopard-print high-top sneakers. Her fine brown hair hung in braided pigtails, tied with purple elastic bands, and she had a stretchy flowered headband wrapped, hippie-style, around her forehead.