“Circles” by Rebecca Khera


“Many Moons Ago” by Jane Cornish Smith, encaustic on board, 2014.

  1. The West Porch

We chain smoke and tell stories about what it was like outside. Sometimes, Tammy, an older woman with deep wrinkles, whose feet don’t touch the concrete when she sits in the plastic folding chair, yells at us.

“No war stories, or I’ll send you inside.” Her voice is rough, like she has been smoking that cigarette in her hand since she was 14.

“What the fuck? You spend all day trying to get us to talk about this shit, and then we get in trouble when we do?” John stands up, he’s from Nebraska or Minnesota, or somewhere else that has more cornfields than people. He has been wearing the same red, Family Guy pajama pants since I met him, with an oversized black hoodie, and a baseball cap for a sports team he doesn’t like. He takes one last drag from his Newport, throws it on the ground—right next to the large outdoor ashtray—and walks inside. I can hear him screaming even after the door closes. No one says anything about screaming in the hallways when you’re a red band[1].

“GROUP TIME!” Tammy draws out the vowels, as she herds us off the porch.

 

  1. The Front Entrance

“Rebecca K.” A familiar voice called to me with way too much excitement. “I saw your name on our admit list this morning, and thought, ‘this cannot be her—one of my favorite patients!’ When they called your name over the walkie, I knew I had to come get you!”

Hallie hasn’t changed much since I last saw her three years ago. Same blue staff shirt, same optimistic smile, only her hair has changed. It’s a bit lighter than before, from a deep mocha to a light caramel. I feel okay for a minute; maybe it’s the lingering taste of cheap red wine, or the Xanax, but it’s nice to see someone I know.

“Man, it’s good to see you. Is Lori still here too?”

“Yeah, she just had a baby, gets back from maternity leave next week.” Her voice oozed positivity, like syrup dripping from her lips. “How have you been?”

“Well, I’m back here…” it hurt to say out loud. “But I stayed clean for a year before relapsing.”

Not even a month. I lie so I don’t look so pathetic.

“That’s okay,” her voice is like a long hug, “you’re here now. Second time’s the charm.”

I take one last long drag of my cigarette, letting it fill my lungs before I follow her inside.

 

  1. Cafeteria

Dave and Corey are brothers from Ohio. They both shoot heroin. Dave is 23 and can’t swallow pills so they always get him yogurt or applesauce to eat with it. Corey is 24 and terrified of putting a needle in his arm, so Dave always shoots him up. They are both very nice; at night when we can’t sleep they come to the cafeteria and make me Sleepytime tea. We listen to Ben Howard on my iPod while they eat snacks. Dave always makes toast with honey and butter; Corey makes grilled cheese. When I imagine rehab, I don’t think all-you-can-eat Activia and a panini press.

 

  1. Primary Group

Dan is my counselor. I hate him.

He wears sweater vests, and talks about how we need to pray more. His hair is meticulously gelled across his head, and he can’t be older than 25. At some point during our intake they asked us all if we were Christian, and if we wanted to speak with a Christian counselor. We all said yes, and that’s how we were placed with Dan. I suspect no more than two of us have been to a church in the past year. Our primary group is made up of:

Jenny: alcohol

Alex: opiates

Sal: benzos

Danny: opiates

Erica: heroin

Matt: heroin

And me.

Dan has never done drugs before; I wonder why he’s here. Why is he a substance abuse counselor? We all think Dan is a tight-ass; he has a very calm demeanor, and yet somehow he manages to piss someone off every day by treating us like we are lesser than him. Joe and Mike storm out of the room on a regular basis. The rest of us would do that, but we have to be good if we want phone privileges. Dan won’t let me call my friends, because he thinks I need to resolve issues with my mother. I refuse to call her, and write letters to my friends instead.

 

  1. Community Group

Community Group is MANDATORY twice a day. Once at 9am, and once at 8pm. The exceptions are as follows:

  1. If you are a red band.
  2. If you are going to an outside AA or NA meeting.
  3. If you just don’t want to go.

Alyssa and I walk into community group late, our hands stained bright pink from hair dye. Carla is leading group tonight.

“So … no AA tonight, because of a scheduling conflict.”

The door swings open and the latest Drake album blasts at full volume. Most of us have borrowed a CD player from Gary, the meditation guy. We all think he’s full of shit, but he gives us meditation CDs and a CD player, and we pretend we care. There are dozens of CDs circling between patients. Only the popular CDs we can buy from Walmart through commissary; Drake, Beyonce, and Metallica. Carla is still explaining group to us while she walks over to the red band blasting Drake and pulls his CD player from his hoodie.

“We are all going to go around the room and name the animal we think embodies us when we are in active addiction, and the animal we want to be in recovery.”

Alyssa rolls her eyes and I start braiding her still wet, bubblegum pink hair.

Everyone is a vulture or a wolf; they all want to be dolphins and golden retrievers.

“Next.”

“My name is Alyssa, and I’m an addict.” She clears her voice and in the most serious way, “I’m like a bird. I’ll only fly away, I don’t know where my soul is, I don’t know where my home is, and baby all—.”

“—Okay,” Carla stops her from finishing the song. “Rebecca, you always have something good to say?”

I don’t have anything good to say.

 

  1. Pastor Phil’s Office

Pastor Phil and Pastor Jay give me a recovery bible; I use it to press flowers and leaves I pick from the serenity garden—they are mostly flowers you’d find in the garden section of a Home Depot.

Once a week we have Drunk Church[2]. It’s very popular because if you go to church regularly, you can sign up to get baptized and spend your Saturday at the beach. Everyone goes to real church on Sundays once they’re orange/blue/purple band. We only go for the coffee. Alyssa always flirts with boys to buy us frappuccinos from the Starbucks next door. Sometimes it works.

 

  1. The Octagon

I sit here writing letters and talking to Jared who became addicted to painkillers after a terrible car accident. He’s rich, southern, and young. He always wears these Adidas pants with a highlighter green stripe down the sides and gels his hair upward, like the Italian boys from my elementary school in New York. He’s one of the very few people who don’t smoke.

He watches me as I decorate plain white envelopes, addressing them to my best friend and tucking our schedule inside. I always write my letters on the back of our group schedule, partly to save paper, partly to show what my day is like here. I circle the groups I go to.

 

10AM-11:15AM          Anxiety Group in the Serenity Room

Codependency Group in the Media Room

Anger Management[3] in the Community Room

Book Study in the Tiki Hut

 

  1. Media Room

People crowd in here during mealtimes and we watch Lock Up. In the evening they watch Swamp Wars, or Swamp Monsters–something with alligators and a lot of mud. There used to be couches, but they traded them out with these ugly cream colors chairs to deter people from having sex. It didn’t stop anyone.

 

  1. The Serenity Room

People think the serenity room is a waste of a space. Other than groups, no one really hangs out in here. I tend to spend my time here because there is a keyboard. Sometimes Kenny and Mark bring their guitars and we play Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sublime. Kenny and Mark were Behavioral Health Technicians[4]. This time around, they’re Patient Advocates and they let me sit in their office instead of going to group. We listen to my favorite bands, and they print me off sheet music. But more often than not, I’m alone and I play the piano warm-ups I learned in 11th grade–all in a minor key of course.

 

10.1 Room 18

Debra is my roommate. She is in her late forties and wears signature mom jeans. We go to prayer group together in the morning. She is kind and always invites me to play cards with the rest of the over-forty group. Alcoholism has a hold on her; she’s been trying to get sober for so long, but it’s doesn’t matter. Addictions don’t play favorites.

Her husband, Alan, is patient and kind; I wish they were my parents. During family weekend we were in a small group together. He stood up for me. When my grandma began yelling at me during our small group he told her to stop and to start treating me like a real person. No one has ever been on my side when it comes to the way my family treats me. When we were saying our goodbyes, my mom asked if I needed anything. I told her I needed money for cigarettes and she said no. Alan gave me $20 and told me to buy some cigarettes—he told me I deserved better. I will always be grateful. Cigarettes are a powerful thing in rehab. So is kindness.

When our third roommate Shannon turned up, we knew there’d be trouble. She’s in her sixties and not all there. Her first night on detox she left her designer luggage in front of the heater and turned it up all the way. The smoke alarm went off and we all had to evacuate.

Shannon is an interesting lady; when it was time to get off detox and move to orange band she refused. I think she’s secretly smart, and played dumb and angry to keep getting suboxone. She staged a little protest outside of the detox window so she could get her drugs. It didn’t work, but she did get on 1-to-1’s[5] for a week.

Our sink is full of her high end make-up, and I strongly debated stealing her Hoola Bronzer and Coralista Blush. But by the time week four rolled around I had grown rather fond of Shannon. She has some crazy stories about her children and her husband who she hates. She’s a nurse; one day she hurt her back at work, they gave her suboxone, and she’s been addicted ever since. She said she would steal drugs from the hospital to get high; it was years before her husband or kids suspected anything. I don’t know how you could miss your mother nodding off into her dinner. She protects me like she’s my mom, and always shares her drawer full of food that she steals from the cafeteria. It’s piled high with cookies, apples, blow pops, and jolly ranchers.

Her last night, she cried and gave me a note. She told me I am always welcome to visit for the holidays and that I’m now a part of her family. Then she gave me a dish towel. I still don’t know what the significance of it is, but I still have it.

 

10.2 The Bathroom (Room 18)

Alyssa talked to Katie, who talked to her brother, whose roommate has ink. He gave us a small capful and we give each other stick-and-pokes in my bathroom. We both make three X’s on our middle fingers. Jails, Institutions, or Death. This is what they tell us here, you get clean or those are your three options. Katie and her brother both get out weeks before me, they go to Good Decisions[6]. Katie’s brother relapses hours later and dies. Katie dies two weeks later. I feel sad for her parents.

 

  1. Patient Care

The Patient Care window is where we order cigarettes and anything sold at Walmart. This is also where they keep anything we can’t have in your rooms. There is a cubby system, everyone has a number. Mine is 2365.1, the “.1” means I’m here for the second time around. I’ve seen numbers up to “.7”; I don’t know why they don’t try going somewhere else.

Sometimes Carla lets me sit in the office and use the scissors for arts and crafts projects. My first night I cried and asked if I could make a phone call. We aren’t supposed to talk to anyone on the outside for at least a week, and then only at our therapist’s approval. They let me call my mom, because I forgot to unplug my hot glue gun.

Carla has a rule that I can only craft if I shower, put makeup on, and wear real clothes. Most people wear sweatpants every day, but Carla thinks I’ll be less depressed if I make an effort. I don’t know why she only picks on me, but it’s probably because I let her.

 

  1. The Garden

It is warm outside and the backs of my thighs stick to the plastic Adirondack chairs. I enjoy being outside chain smoking cigarettes and listening to everyone talk. The fan is set to a low murmur and blows right against my cheeks. You can hear the cars driving past, and every so often, a police siren.

Twice a week, an activities coordinator plans something. Usually it’s tie dye, but today we are painting stones. I swirl the colors together, mixing deep purples with cerulean and sky blues. It takes a while, but I finally come up with something I don’t entirely hate. I am too impatient to let it dry before adding words. I search my mind for the perfect song lyrics to add to my ocean.

I think about my friends who I’ve left behind. My roommates threw the best party before I left. It was Miley Cyrus themed, and we laughed so much that night. I danced around with a cigarette in one hand, and a bottle of wine in the other, and only took two little blue pills. Church kids really do throw the best parties.

 

  1. The North Porch

Every night at 11pm, we have lights out. We have to stay in our room from 11 to 11:30pm. I think this is in the hopes that we will fall asleep. When 11:30pm finally rolls around, the night owls make their way to the Tiki Hut. We aren’t allowed in the group rooms or the hallways. The rule is that we can have two cigarettes in the hut, make a cup of Sleepytime tea in the cafeteria, and then we have to go to bed. The Techs on the night shift are fun though, so at midnight everything becomes more relaxed.

We all sit in a circle, there are a dozen of us, and we play a game. We go around the circle naming celebrities that start with the letter M. If you say a name that has a double M, the train reverses. M is the best letter because there are so many. Marilyn Manson, Marilyn Monroe, Marshal Mathers; two alcoholics keep reversing back and forth until one of them gets out.

There are a dozen of us sitting outside. Statistically 90% of us will relapse.

We go around the circle.

Katie: Dead.

Jared: Still alive, still sends me Facebook messages twice a year about wanting to hook up.

Tim: Katie’s brother and the sweetest EMT. Dead.

Alyssa: Drinks and smokes weed, but doesn’t shoot up. Now a very successful store manager.

Jenny: Still clean, married with twins.

Alex: Relapsed.

Sal: Went back to South Jersey and relapsed. Now dead.

Erica: Still clean, married with a daughter.

Danny: Still clean, married to Ashley.

Matt: Went to Good Decisions. Dead.

John: Relapsed.

“Mandy Moore” I say, and reverse the circle.

 

[1] Red bands are what we call people who are in their first week of detox. We all have medical bands, red, orange, blue, or purple. Red bands can’t leave the facility, they can’t work out, they can’t go to church, and they don’t have to go to group if they don’t feel well. Mostly because they’re all freezing, or sweating, or screaming, or vomiting.

[2] Drunk Church is the weekly service held in the community room. It’s on a Wednesday during group time. It’s nice because they turn the lights off and a man with a guitar plays worship music. The loud, dark room is a wonderful place to hide.

[3] The Anger Management group is awful and we all know better than to go to it. I’m pretty sure the class just makes everyone angrier. Last week the group facilitator made all the boys sit in the front row and the girls in the back row. There were five rows in between genders. That really pissed off some people, because most addicts don’t like to be told what to do.

[4] In 2010 we called them Techs, now everyone just calls them Blue Shirts. I don’t like the switch. Techs are always the best people. Most of them are in recovery themselves. They’re much better to talk to than any therapist.

[5] 1-to-1’s is when a Tech has to follow you around everywhere you go. They watch you pee, watch you sleep, sit with you at lunch. No one ever wants to talk to you when you have a follower, they all make up rumors. I’m always on 1-to-1’s for about half of my stay, they think I’m going to kill myself. I don’t, but something about seeing scars all over my body makes them think otherwise. At some point I make a game out of it.

[6] Good Decisions (GD) is a halfway house. They have a pool and a gym and they take you to meetings and the beach and the mall. Everyone goes there, they almost always come back. It’s the place to relapse.

 

 

Rebecca Khera graduated from Florida State University in 2014 with a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. When not working, reading, or writing, she watches every season of Survivor, scours the internet for cheap flights abroad, and invents new popsicle flavors. This is her first published essay.

 

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