Writers In The Mountains
THIRST by Rebecca Perrin
“What are are you doing?”
That little fucker. I had $30 in the front left pocket of the jeans I left hanging over the screen my husband, Jim, and I sleep behind.
“Chay,” I say firmly, “Give me the money back.”
“I didn’t take any money.”
“Yes you did. Give it back.”
“Yes you did! Give it back.”
“I didn’t take anything. You’re crazy.”
“I’m not crazy. I saw you putting my jeans back over the screen!”
“Fine. Here.” He shoves $10 at me.
“Give me the rest,” I demand, holding my palm out.
“No!” he yells and turns, walking jerkily towards his bedroom.
It’s barely light out and my twenty-one year old son is jonesing. He started taking methadone recently, an opioid used to replace more harmful opioids. His dose isn’t strong enough, yet, to last an entire day. Shooting heroin gets him through the final hours of the morning before the clinic opens. This morning he doesn’t have any. Withdrawal is kicking in. I feel no compassion—only betrayal, violation and anger. I thought the stealing and lying were over.
I pursue him into his room, where he’s lying in bed under the comforter with a pillow over his face.
“Give the $20 back, Chay.”
“I didn’t take any money.”
“You just gave me $10! Give me the rest of it.”
“I didn’t take any money!”
Floating above, a patient on an operating table deciding whether to return to her body or follow the light, I wonder if it’s worth the energy it takes to argue? This has happened so many times. I’ve lost thousands of dollars already, in myriad ways: forged checks, stolen credit cards, cash from every purse and pocket, belongings ransacked and fenced. Walk away, I tell myself. Accept what’s happened and keep your sanity intact.
“You know what, Chay? Forget it. If you want to steal money from me that’s on you.”
I console myself by vowing not to acknowledge his existence until he apologizes or reimburses me. It turns out to be harder than I thought. After a few attempts to catch my attention, he begins to ignore me. Three days go by. I’m in bed, reading, when he appears. We lock eyes for a few moments, gunslingers across a saloon. He’s unsure, waiting for me to make the first move. I soften my expression. Immediately, he sits next to me on the edge of the bed. I open my arms. He leans into them. Of their own volition, they envelop him. His skin on mine, the weight of his body, are a long drink of water in a desert of marital intimacy. I overestimated how long I could go without holding him. He burrows into my neck.
The argument has been made that we are too affectionate. If I held back, he would seek recovery. Yet. Factor in that he was never in my belly, never in my womb. I would have talked to him, dreamed of him, protected him with my palms, sung him songs. He would have heard my heart beat. Only loss was inside of me, all the unborn, the un-carried. Factor in that he was from another mother. He had no language for her unmooring from him, only emptiness, sounds and senses, a gaping hole. Meeting halfway around the world, our bodies soothed and warmed the other’s, staunching the blood of loss. Factor in that Jim and I sent him away from home from the age of fifteen: outdoor expeditions for teens at risk, therapeutic schools, rehabs, sleeping in subways, years of addiction. Where there should have been a family there were three people with tin cans to their ears, connected by string across state lines and mountains, unable to hear one another.
There was another time we locked eyes. I was sitting on the bed holding him in my arms, nursing him with formula from a bottle. We were in Southeast Asia, in Cambodia, his side of the world. The hotel room was cool. A promise passed between us. And we were changed.
“I’m sorry, mom. I really needed the money and I didn’t want to ask you.”
“Tell me when you’re in withdrawals next time instead of stealing from me.”
He pays back the twenty dollars and asks to borrow ten.
From Fiction Writing class with Thaddeus Rutkowski