Love You Endlessly | By Lauren Roach
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
The room smelled like a mixture of piss, vomit, and sweat. As soon as my eyes opened and my vision cleared, I took in my surroundings. I don't remember how I got here. I just remember needing to get high. That was it. That's always it. Every time I wake up in unfamiliar surroundings with people I've never seen before, with no idea how I got here, it was always drugs. I sat up and pulled my knees to my chest. The dried vomit caked on my shirt cracked and chipped away with my movements. Was this my vomit? Or someone else's? A lone chair sat in the corner of the room. Someone I had never seen before was sitting slumped over in the chair. I couldn't tell if they were dead or alive at this point. I felt sticky and heavy. Like my bones were mixed with molasses and lead. My head throbbed. It felt like someone was repeatedly popping me in the back of the skull with a hammer.
The woman next to me was slumped over, drooling on herself. A needle still stuck in her outstretched arm. There were other people scattered around the room in similar positions. Dirty needles in their arms, the floor around them dirty and stained with expelled bodily fluids. I dragged myself to my feet, legs wobbly and unsteady. I just needed to make it outside and away from this place. Maybe I could find something to drink. My mouth felt as if it were full of sand, making swallowing more difficult than it should be.
The sunlight was too much. Too bright. Too intense. Too painful. I shielded my eyes in a feeble attempt to block out some of the sun, but it was no use. I stumbled forward, desperate to get as far away from that house as I could before the need to get high overtook me again. Who knew where I would end up then? The streets bustled with people, all hurrying to get somewhere far away from this side of town. I couldn't blame them. I'd be hurrying to get away too if my feet would move faster. One step forward felt like a million to my exhausted body. My fingernails were caked with dirt and blood. I'm sure I looked horrific. Let's not even talk about the smell. Couldn't remember the last time I had taken a shower.
These were the moments I got high to avoid. The pain and the humiliation that came from withdrawal. When I was high, I didn't care where I was or who I was around. I didn't care if the needles I had used were clean or dirty. Didn't care whose floor I slept on or where I went to the bathroom. Heroin was my only focus in those moments and the intense, mind altering calm that overtook me when the drugs flooded my system. My body craved that feeling constantly, searching for ways to recreate it. I shuffled as best as I could down the street, in the direction of the homeless shelter. They were getting ready to kick people out for the day, but maybe I could get a quick meal and something to drink before they closed the doors.
"Dad?" the voice made me freeze in my tracks. I had been hoping to be cleaned up the next time she saw me. I turned slowly, embarrassment and shame mixing together and coursing through me like fire. My daughter stood in front of me, beautifully dressed and put together. The intense pain in my head made it hard to focus on her face, but the disappointment emanating from her was obvious. I didn't need to see it to know it was there. "Hey Ladybug". My voice sounded hoarse and foreign even to my own ears. I tried to smile, but the muscles in my face betrayed me.
"Let's get you cleaned up and then get something to eat, okay?" why was she being nice to me? I didn't deserve it. As many times as I'd hurt her and her mother, I didn't deserve an ounce of grace from either of them. I felt ashamed to be near her. My dirty, ugly appearance was no match for her beautiful blue dress and her gorgeous curls. The one thing I got right in my life, was her. My daughter. My baby. My heart. She was the only thing I didn't regret. "You don't have to do that. I'm fine, I-"
"Dad, please. Just let me get you something to eat." There was a desperation in her voice that I didn't understand. Why would she want to be near me? After what I'd done? After how I looked? I wanted to say no. I wanted to put as much distance between the two of us as I could, to save her from this. From me. But she was my daughter and as much as I knew I shouldn't, I wanted to spend time with her. To be near her. To feel normal without the drugs, just for a second. I swallowed, even though it hurt. "Okay."
I hadn't seen him in a few months so it was a long shot going to the shelter where he used to sleep. I didn't expect to find him. Honestly, when I saw that frail and dirty man in front of me, pitifully shuffling down the street like his entire body hurt, I almost didn't recognize him. My heart broke into a million pieces seeing him so bad off. My dad was strong. Growing up, he was easily the strongest man I knew, but then my twin brothers were killed in a car accident just hours after they had the biggest argument I'd ever heard and the pain became too much for him to hang on to. He needed something to block it off for a while. He'd go out with his friends every night and leave mom and I at home. When he came back, he would be drunk and inconsolable. As the months passed, the drinking got worse and eventually progressed to something stronger. Now here we are, 15 years later, with this broken shell of a man standing in front of me.
My mother had given up on him years ago. As did the rest of the family, but for some reason I just couldn't. No matter how many times he hurt me to fund his addiction or made promises he could never keep, I kept trying. Even on the days where I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him while I screamed. Something in me couldn't let go. I think he knew this, and as a result, he would try to distance himself from me or hide in the shadows of those awful houses but I would always find him. Every time, I would reach into the darkness and pull him out.
"How's your mom?" He couldn't even look me in the eye while he spoke, just kept his gaze fixed on his hands in front of him as they rested on the table. I had allowed him to come to my home, long enough to shower and borrow some of my fiancé's clothes. Every few minutes his body would jerk in unnatural movements. He legs would shake and he would wring his hands. He had told me once that when he was coming down, his body would twitch and jerk uncontrollably, making him feel like the inflatable man that bends and wiggles in front of cellphone stores. "She's fine. She finally started that bakery she's been going on and on about." he smiled at that. Mom had been talking about opening a bakery since I was a little girl. When his addiction was first starting to get bad, he had emptied the savings she had put aside for her business to get high. I remember her crying for months about that. That was the last time they had spoken. "Good for her." he whispered. His teeth were broken and jagged, hiding behind his dry, cracked lips.
"Daddy...? I'm getting married." I held out my hand to show him the ring that Raymond had proposed to me with almost 6 months ago. He leaned forward slightly, to get a closer look at it. I could see the smile spreading across his face even though he kept his head down. His smile made me smile, just for a second we felt normal. Like a regular daughter and her father, eating breakfast and catching up. My heart longed for the days when he would sing to himself as he ate his cereal. He would be so animated that the cereal and the milk would slosh around on the table making a huge mess. Mom would fuss, but he would just smile and wink at me. Where had that man gone? Was he still in there?
"It's in another 6 months. I want you to come." His head shot up and he stared me. The muscles in his face moved back and forth as he flexed his jaw. I held my breath, hoping that he would come. I understood his aversion to the rest of the family. So much damage had been done to permanently sever those relationships, but this was my daddy. I needed him there. Tears welled in his eyes. "I...of course...I would love to be there. I wouldn't miss it."
It's been 5 months since that conversation with my daughter in that restaurant and I checked myself into rehab 2 months ago. Detox was rough. It started off like a nervous tick. I would sneeze, I would yawn, I would scratch or some combination of all three. Anything to keep my body moving. Then when the constipation that comes with heroin use wore off, the diarrhea started and it felt like it didn't stop for days at a time. There were cold sweats followed by hot sweats, the aches, and the vomit. So much vomit. I couldn't keep anything down for the longest. I felt like I was dying. There were moments that I was confident that I was dying, laying there staring at the ceiling, waiting for the darkness to swallow me up.
But I made it. And I'm still here.
My daughter is getting married in less than a month and I promised her I would be there. I packed up the few belongings I had into the trash bag I brought them in and headed to the front desk. The receptionist looked at me, confusion in her eyes. I smiled politely. "I'm discharging today." I tell her.
"Mr. Atwood, you've only been here for a few months. Your treatment isn't complete. It's dangerous to reintegrate this soon after becoming clean." she spoke with a condescending tone that I didn't appreciate. I was aware of the risks, but I'd made it through the worst part of it. I could make it through the rest. I had one month left to get myself completely together before the wedding. My daughter Jericka had been up here a few times to see me. I could see how proud of me she was every time she looked at me. It was no longer that stare full of pity and sadness. I wouldn't dare do anything to ruin that. Not when I had come so far. "This is voluntary commitment, is it not?"
"Yes but it's considered AMA at this point, so early into your recovery."
"Against medical advice, sir."
"Understood. I'd like to check myself out anyway, please." reluctantly, she handed me the papers. Once I had signed what was needed, I grabbed my stuff, hoisted it over my shoulder, and walked out. It was the first time I had been out on the street since entering the facility and it felt good to be out in the fresh air once again. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the cellphone my daughter had given me as a present. We weren't supposed to have cellphones in the facility, but we used it to communicate back and fourth. Aside from those first few days of detox, this has been the best few months I'd experienced in a long time. My daughter and I had gotten to know each other again. She would always end each call with "Love you endlessly, but I gotta run." It would always make me smile. Getting clean had not been easy, but I wouldn't have made it without her love and her support. I had no one else. I dialed Jericka's number and waited for her to pick up. She answered on the third ring.
"Hey Daddy. I was just getting ready for work. What's up?" I smiled at the casualness of her voice. It felt good to have my daughter back. My mind filled with the possibilities. I know her mother still hated me, but eventually maybe I could win her over. We could be a family again. I would prove to them that I was worth it. I just needed a chance. "I'm out, ladybug! Can you come get me?" the line went quiet for a second. I almost thought she had hung up.
"Out?" there was caution in her voice. Caution that I didn't understand. Things were going so well. What did she have to be cautious about? We had talked so many times about me coming to stay with her when I got clean. Just long enough to get me back on my feet. Once I had started working and saved up enough, I would move out. "Yes. I discharged myself today. I figured I would need some time to find a job before the wedding."
"You were supposed to be in there for much longer than just two months, dad. You're not ready yet. I'm not ready yet, there is still so much left for me to do. I haven't even spoken to Raymond yet and-"
"I don't understand. Jericka you said you would be here for me when I was out. I'm out. What's the problem?" Anger bubbled up in my throat, threatening to spill out onto the pavement in front of me. I felt like I was being abandoned. Maybe things were happening sooner than we had planned, but so what?
"...Dad...It's too soon." her voice was barely above a whisper but I heard it all the same. It was too soon for me to come. She hadn't meant it when she said she would be here for me. I had no one. "You are absolutely useless." I spat, hanging up the phone. I looked back at the building behind me, tempted to just check myself back in and wait until treatment was truly over, but no. I didn't need them. I'd made it this far. I would be fine. I'd beaten the addiction. I won.
With a sigh, I headed in the direction of the shelter. My joyous mood had been sucked from my body, replaced with anger and hurt. I had done the work. I was clean, but that still didn't seem good enough. No matter what I did, they would only see my addiction. They wouldn't see me. Now that I didn't have heroin to lean on to dull my senses, emotions seemed more intense than I remembered. When I was angry, I was furious but on the same token, when I was sad, I was full on depressed.
By the time I had reached the shelter, the line for the night had already started. Hundreds of homeless people stood outside in their tattered and dirty clothes, hoping to get a bed for the night. As I stood and waited, I tried to form a plan to get my daughter to believe that I wasn't such a risk to take in. The walk had cleared my head a little and after the shock of the rejection had worn off, I understood why she did it. She had a family to protect. I regretted the way I had ended the phone call. It wasn't fair to her. I pulled out my phone and sent her a quick text.
"No matter what, I love you endlessly, Ladybug🐞...I'm sorry."
I put my phone back in my pocket. She was at work so she probably wouldn't answer until later. That's okay. We would talk it out. Everything would be fine. Fathers and daughters fought all the time. They fought, they made up, they moved on. That would be us. We just needed time.
"Walter! Where have you been?" I looked up at the sound of my name. An old buddy of mine shuffled over to me. We got high together all the time before the rehab. He looked terrible. His eyes were swollen and his cheeks looked sunken into his face. He was boney with clothes that barely fit. I'm sure I had looked similar before the rehab. I smiled at my old friend. It was good to see him. "I've been around." I replied. He draped a dirty arm over my shoulder.
"You want to get out of here? The line isn't going to move for another hour. We can come back." Everything in my body told me to decline. He was already high and hanging with him never meant anything good, but I was lonely and really could use a friend to talk to. I had no one else at the moment. Plus, I knew how to kick the addiction now. I knew how to beat it. I could be around the drugs and not feel tempted to do them. I was stronger now.
"Good morning, Is this Jericka?" A voice I didn't recognize greeted me over the phone. I sat up in the bed, struggling to find the light switch. Raymond and I had just reached our honeymoon and the jetlag was a beast. We had closed all of the blinds and doors in the hotel room to block out the light so we could sleep. Raymond groaned and turned over to face away from the lamp. "Yes, this is Jericka. Who is this?"
"Sorry for the intrusion, I know it's super early in the morning, but you're the emergency contact and I wasn't sure who else to call about this matter." I was completely awake now. Whatever this was, it couldn't be good. I got out of the bed and headed to the bathroom so I wouldn't disturb Raymond.
"What is it?" I asked, but I already knew. I could feel it in my gut. He hadn't come to the wedding like he promised and the last text from him had been apology. Later on that night when I had called the phone, someone had answered but it wasn't him. "Well...when a patient discharges from us too soon, we try to keep tabs on them for a little while since the first time being back in society after rehab can be pretty intense and-"
"Is he dead?" I didn't mean to interrupt her, but I just needed to know. The line went silent for a moment. I could tell she was trying to figure out the best way to say it. "He overdosed the same day he got out. He'd had a phone, but I think he had traded it for his next fix. Since he had been off the drug for a few months his tolerance was lower than before and the same dose that he used to take before rehab caused a fatal overdose. I'm so sorry." I ended the call and sank to the floor in the bathroom. The cold tiles offered little comfort in the moment. I pulled out my phone and scrolled through my messages, tears rolled down my face making it hard for me to see.
"No matter what, I love you endlessly, Ladybug🐞...I'm sorry." I smiled and wiped my eyes. He had tried his best, but in the end, the addiction had won.
"I love you too, Daddy."
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