An excerpt from “I Only Said” I could handle it, but I was wrong.
(Simon is about to experience detoxification)
“Why don’t you go and take a shower. It’s almost bedtime. Are you hungry?”
I shake my head. “I feel sick. My stomach hurts.”
Miss Tina hands me some towels. “I know, my love. It’s the withdrawal starting. Take a shower and then get into bed. The doctor has prescribed some medication that will help calm you down, though it’s not going to make all the symptoms of withdrawal go away. But hopefully it’ll help.”
I take a shower and I tremble beneath the jets of water. I feel so bad that I wish I were dead. When I come out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, I see some sleep pants with Sponge Bob all over them on my bed. I put them on and feel stupid. Even though I’ve just come out of the hot shower, I’m shivering. My body is covered with goose bumps and my teeth are chattering. Miss Tina comes back into the room, pulls the bed covers back, and tells me to get into bed. She takes my temperature, my pulse and my blood pressure, and then hands me a small white pill and a cup of water.
“There will be someone here in the office the whole night, so you won’t be alone, okay?”
She puts a jug of lemonade by the side of my bed and pours some into a glass.
“Try to get some sleep, if you can,” she says, patting my arm.
I turn away from the door as she leaves the room to go and sit at her desk, and my longing for Anna is unbearable. As images of her blue, lifeless face seep into my mind, I feel overwhelmed with emptiness, and I cry and cry until my pillow is soaked.
I toss and turn until my cheeks get used to my wet pillow. Occasionally a sob stirs my breathing. I’m locked into a place where I drift in and out of sleep, never quite sure what’s real and what isn’t. Anna stands by the side of my bed and she smiles at me. My heart races as I’m filled with hope. Perhaps it was all an awful nightmare. She’s alive and I’m in my bed at home coming down from a vicious hit. But then I’m confused, because I know from somewhere deep inside me that she wouldn’t be standing in my bedroom at home. The smile slides off Anna’s face and her color fades until she’s blue and blotchy. She starts to fade away. I call her name, and stretch out my hand to try to stop her. Her smile gapes into a leer as her eyes roll back and her lifeless mouth moves. “Why didn’t you save me?”
“Arrrrhhhh.” The scream that comes out of my mouth awakens me and I sit up and look around, sweating and trembling. I’m afraid and I burst into tears. My heart races as I realize that I was dreaming.
A lady bursts through the door and tells me I’m safe, but that doesn’t help because my mind isn’t safe.
“It’s okay, Simon. You’re okay. I’m Miss Pearl, by the way.”
She grabs my hand, and she takes my pulse. I know it’s high because my heart is pounding. I’m panting and I’m afraid. Anna was so real.
I stare around the room at the other three beds, fearful that I’ll find Anna lying on one. I must have lost my mind because I know that can’t happen. I saw her dead. I know she’s dead. I can’t bear it. I feel so guilty. If only I’d had money, she wouldn’t have had sex with Ranch, and I would have been with her to make sure she wouldn’t stop breathing after injecting heroin.
My body hurts so badly, but that’s nothing compared to the pain I feel in my heart. I howl. I don’t mean to but it just happens – I can’t stop it. I hurt so badly that all I want to do is die. As Miss Pearl holds my hand, I lean into her, feeling hopeless, and I sob.
“Honey,” she cries, holding me close to her. I don’t know her. I’ve never met her, yet she holds me as if I’m her own until my sobs subside.
Miss Pearl plumps up my pillows and hands me a cool washcloth. I try to shift around in the bed, but every position I move into hurts even more. My body’s screaming for a fix. My stomach’s killing me and my legs hurt so badly that I don’t know what to do with them.
“Hush, honey,” Miss Pearl croons. “It’ll be okay. Bear with it for another hour. I can’t give you anything for another hour. Try to be strong.”
I grab her hand. “Please, make it go away,” I sob.
“Baby, I can’t. You have to cope for another hour. Then I can give you something.”
I writhe on my bed as Miss Pearl stands helplessly by, trying to reassure me, but I can’t hear a word she says over my groaning. My nose is running and I’m sweating like a pig. My sheets are drenched. I strip my clothes off, until I’m just wearing my boxers, but as soon as my clothes are off, I start shivering. I’m freezing cold. She covers me up with the comforter and for a moment I feel relief, but then, without warning, I’m burning up and I push it away from me.
“Get it off!” I yell. Her face swims before my eyes. I kick the comforter away with my legs and the pain in them intensifies.
“Arrrhhh,” I moan. “I can’t stand it. I’m in agony. I need a fix. It’ll make the pain go away.” I turn towards her and grab at her clothes. I’m so desperate. “Please, help me,” I beg.
“Yes, it’ll make the pain go away but it’ll only come back. You have to do this. I know it’s hard, but you’ll be okay in the end.”
I lie on the bed curled up in a ball, trying to stop the pain in my stomach, but it does no good. I shift about trying to get comfortable. I’m crying like a baby but I don’t care. I want to die.
“Help me,” I cry, over and over.
“He’s in there,” I hear a man say.
Mom stands in the doorway, and she clamps her hand over her mouth.
“Oh, Simon,” she cries, tears pouring down her face.
Miss Pearl turns around and says, “You must be Mom. Come and sit with him. He needs you.”
I cry out in shame and I grab Mom’s hand.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I thought I could handle it, but I was wrong.”
Mom’s crying really badly, and so am I.
Miss Pearl puts her arm around Mom and says, “It’s pretty awful to see your baby in such pain, isn’t it. I watched my daughter go through this. She detoxed three times in all, but she just couldn’t kick it. She overdosed soon after she left the hospital the last time. I decided at her funeral that I was going to do anything and everything I could to save kids from being addicted to drugs.”
Mom stares at her.
“I’m sorry,” Miss Pearl says. “I get a bit carried away when I remember the pain and helplessness I felt watching my baby in such agony.” She pats Mom’s shoulders and says, “I know how you’re feeling. Be strong. He needs you. Stay with him and help him. I can’t give him anything for another hour.”
My head is filled with conflicting thoughts. Pain is blaring in every recess of my mind. My brain feels as if it’s short-circuited and is on fire, as the agony shoots through my body. Yet as I yell out, I’m consumed with shame that my mom should see me this way and learn about what I’ve been doing all summer. But even as those thoughts flash through me, I drown in despair and longing for Anna.
Mom takes my hand and leans over me. She places a kiss on my clammy cheek.
“Oh, baby, what have you done?”
I hear Miss Pearl tell her off. “This isn’t the time for recriminations,” she says kindly. “You can look at why this has happened later. Right now, you have to be there for your child. He needs you.”
Mom’s crying, and even though my eyes are wide with pain, I can tell that she’s hurting, too. She doesn’t make any effort to stop her mascara smudging, and she never does that unless she’s too upset to care what she looks like.
“I’m sorry,” she sniffs at Miss Pearl. “I’ll do anything I can to help. What d’you want me to do?”
“Just be there and try to soothe him. Let him know you’re there, and that you’re real and not a hallucination.”
I hear her whisper in Mom’s ear, “It can get very bad, and he may start seeing things. But you can help anchor him – to be real when everything in his head is going crazy.”
Mom cries, “You make it sound as if he’s going insane.”
“It can feel like that when you’re withdrawing from drugs,” Miss Pearl says quietly.
I don’t think they mean for me to hear, but my brain seems to have been rewired, because they sound like they’re shouting. I feel even more scared and I grab Mom’s hand.
“Mom! Don’t leave me.”
“Honey, I won’t, I promise.”
She sits on my bed, up by my pillows, and puts an arm around me. I groan in agony as I shift up the bed and allow myself to nestle into her. I can’t help myself, I cry as I feel consumed by the pain in my stomach and legs, but worse than that is the agony I feel as images of Anna, lying dead, flood my mind.
She strokes my hair, and even though every sob jars my body and causes me more pain, I cry until I can’t cry anymore. She croons in my ear as my breathing slows, and I can feel the vibrations in her chest as she starts humming.
Something very weird happens to me. I wonder if I’ve died and slipped into some afterlife, because I can’t put my finger on what I’m thinking or feeling. There aren’t any words in my brain to describe it. Goosebumps pop up all over my body and my hair stands on end. Mom holds me and strokes my hair as she starts to sing in my ear.
“Little Simon, meek and mild. Do not stir, we will get you some toys of fur. We will rock you, rock you, rock you. We will rock you, rock you, rock you. See that teddy bear keeping you warm, snugly around your tiny form.”
I hear Mom say, “I used to sing this to him when he was a baby. It always calmed him down. He was such a beautiful baby – my first.” She sings it again and again, and I cling to her as if I’m drowning in a sea of despair.
I hover in and out of a world that’s full of agony and loss. Images and thoughts swim around in my mind, and all the time I feel Mom’s arms around me as I cling to her.
I feel Mom shift and instantly I’m awake.
Miss Pearl says, “You did an awesome job at keeping him calm. He can have a shot now. It’ll help him.”
Miss Pearl pats my hip and tells me to stay over on my side. The sharp jab as she sinks a needle into my ass is nothing compared to the agony in my stomach and legs. As my head starts to go all woozy, I feel some relief. I’m only vaguely aware of Miss Pearl and Mom pulling a sheet over me and fixing my pillows beneath my head.
Mom whispers in my ear. “I’m here, Simon. I’m not going anywhere. Try and sleep and I’ll be in the next bed.”
I hear her voice but don’t understand what she’s trying to tell me.
I awaken as talons of pain claw at my stomach again. I groan and turn over, realizing where I am. I long for Anna all over again. I try desperately to go back to sleep, but there’s a light in the corner of the room.
I sit up and gasp. Anna smiles at me from the bed opposite. She gives me one of her cute little waves and I wave back before I realize that she can’t be here. The moment the thought strikes me, her face dissolves into the huge, grotesque head of a wasp and she glides towards me with her arms outstretched.
Panic courses through me as her face changes into a pale, lifeless corpse whose mouth works in slow motion as it hisses, “Why… didn’t… you… save… me?”
The silence in the room is broken by a piercing scream, which I only realize comes from me when my throat starts to sting. Despite the pain in my body demanding that I keep still, I thrash my arms about, desperate to keep Anna away from me. She hovers over me, laughing. I’m terrified and I scream over and over.
The room is suddenly bathed in light as Miss Pearl and a man I haven’t seen before run through the door.
The man standing by my bed speaks.
“Hey, Simon, my name’s Ken. I’m a counselor here. Are you okay? Bad dream? Open your eyes and see where you are. I’m going to pinch your finger. Sorry, man. It’ll help you realize where you are.”
He takes my finger and squeezes really hard and I yell. He looks into my face and says, “You are at Beach Haven. You are in your bed and the only people in this room are your mom, Miss Pearl and myself. No matter what you see, trust me, there’s no one else in this room.”
Mom’s standing by the side of my bed, looking shaken and scared. “She’s here.” I cry, trembling like a leaf. “Anna’s here.” “No one’s here, honey,” Miss Pearl says gently. “You’ve been dreaming.” “No, no. She was here.”
I look around the room searching for her, but she disappeared the moment the light was turned on. My heart is hammering in my chest.
Ken says, “Take my hand, man. Connect with me if you can. I’m here for you.”
He holds out his hand and I catch his eye. There’s something in his gaze that holds me. He’s a man. Not like my dad, who’s a bully, and not like Ranch, who’s the scum that would use my girlfriend and not care if she overdosed. This man is different, and suddenly I’m desperate to hold his hand. I’m desperate for him to throw me a lifeline. I’m drowning and I’m terrified. I grab his hand, and even though the tension in my wrist causes me more pain, I hang on to him like my life depends upon it.
I can’t remember sliding back down the bed and having my comforter spread over my shivery body, but that’s how I wake up. My body is itching like crazy and I start to scratch. I feel a momentary sense of relief, but as I gouge at myself, it brings my skin alive with a hopeless longing to be satisfied. I feel as if there are bugs crawling under my skin and I understand what Anna meant by “crank bugs.” I scratch and I scratch, crying out when the pain becomes worse than the itching. There’s blood all over my body as my nails gouge at my flesh.
“Simon, stop,” Ken orders me, as he comes through the door.
“Ken, grab his hands,” Miss Pearl says.
“What can I do?” Mom asks tearfully.
I scream and scream. I can’t bear it. The pain was bad enough, but now my body feels as if it’s on fire with intense itching. It’s so bad that I wish my nails were like eagle talons so that I could rip out the bugs that are crawling beneath my skin. I can see them, and my eyes ache as they widen with horror, watching the bugs scurrying about under my skin.
“Get them out of me,” I scream.
“There’s nothing there,” Miss Pearl says, trying to sound calm and in control.
I glance at Mom’s face and I can see that I’m right. There have to be creatures crawling all over me, because Mom looks terrified. I go to gouge my skin again but Ken grabs my hands, immobilizing me. I scream and scream, feeling cornered and hopeless. I just want to die. I want this hell to end. If I could just gouge at my skin so that all the bugs could escape, then I could bleed to death.
I feel tied up like a Thanksgiving turkey as Ken, Miss Pearl and Mom all hang on to my arms so that I can’t scratch myself. I struggle to free myself so that I can bleed to death. I have to die. I can’t take any more.
Ken and Miss Pearl exert pressure onto my arms and Mom talks over them, telling me to be still, and she says, shakily, that it’ll be okay if I can just calm down. I can’t calm down. How can anyone calm down when they’re being eaten alive? I thrash about my bed, feeling strong arms trying to hold me down. They make me thrash harder, but then a voice calls me. I sit up, instantly alert, and I’m only vaguely aware that Mom, Ken and Miss Pearl have loosened their grip on me. I look towards where I heard the voice. It’s a spot in the middle of the floor. I frown and shake my head in an attempt to clear it. But I wish I hadn’t bothered. I scoot up my bed, pushing my pillows back and drawing my knees under my chin. A wild, crazy, frightened cry seeps out of me. Willie is crawling along the floor, his face grey and his eyes lifeless. I hear laughter and I glance up. Anna’s sitting crossed-legged on the bed opposite and she beckons me menacingly. A strangled scream escapes my throat as Willie gets to my bed and hauls himself up so that he’s looking straight at me.
“Look at my face. Why did you give me cotton candy?”
His swollen face dissolves as wasps crawl through open patches of skin, and his head is alive with buzzing wasps. I can’t push back into my pillows any further. They offer no comfort and, not knowing what to do, I give free reign to my terror – I scream and scream and pray that my heart will give out with fear.
Time loses all meaning to me and I have no idea how many hours go by. Sometimes Mom’s there, sometimes she isn’t, but she seems to be there every night. Miss Tina stays with me during the day. She asks me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten, and I never go below eight.
I hear music a lot of the time, or at least I think I do, because I’m not sure of anything anymore. I saw Dad standing in the doorway last night, and when I asked Miss Tina what he’d said, she told me that he hadn’t been to visit. I told her that I’d seen him, and she said I was still hallucinating. It frightens me really badly. Sometimes those hallucinations are worse than the terrifying ones. Although seeing dead people speaking to me and changing shape terrifies me, there’s a small voice deep inside my head that tells me what I’m seeing can’t be real, and in a strange way that helps. But when I see things that could be real but aren’t, that scares me more, because I think I may be losing my mind. Ken regularly pinches me and tells me that he’s trying to help anchor me to the “here and now.”
Miss Tina tells me that the music I can hear is real and that the other kids are hanging out and having fun. I can’t ever imagine having fun again. I feel so bad. Although the pain in my body isn’t as bad as the first few days, it still gnaws away at me. I throw up a lot and can’t eat a thing. Miss Pearl has to put an IV in my hand so that I don’t get dehydrated, and so my heart won’t give out on me because of electrolyte imbalances, or something like that – I hear her tell Mom. I want my heart to give out, though, because I don’t want to live. It’s all too hard.
I’m plagued by cravings for meth. It consumes me. There’s not one minute when I’m not longing for it to sweep through my body and release me from this hell.
I even try to make plans to escape, so that I can find Ranch and he can put an end to my misery, but I’m too weak, and I don’t have any clothes. I realize it’s hopeless because I don’t even know where I am, so I wouldn’t know how to get back to our town. I know there’s no point, though, because I can never go anywhere near Ranch again. He’s bound to know that it was me who told the police Anna had overdosed. I feel totally hopeless.
I welcome the shots Miss Pearl gives me, for they take the edge off the pain and the terrible depression as I drift away for a while, but the hopelessness is always there, waiting to drag me back down when I surface. Sometimes I feel so down that I turn my face to the wall and sob quietly. I miss Anna so much, even though I’m too scared to think about her in case she starts to visit me again. I don’t think I could stand that. Yet as I think it, I realize how weird that is. I long for her, but I’m scared of her. It makes me feel even more empty.