I met Curtis Greene in AA. He told me
hed gotten too fond of his Pouilly Fuisse despite his dry Southern Baptist
upbringing. He said hed started to drink socially after moving to California, and
then hed started to look forward to getting home at night for a glass or two every
day. He never wanted to go to restaurants that didnt have a good wine list. He
figured he had a problem, he said, and started to come to meetings.
We got friendly and I could tell
he liked me by the way hed look for me and save me a seat. Hed get red and
tongue-tied, talking to me. He told me he was a pharmacist and owned three drug stores in
the Los Angeles area, Greenes Pharmacies. He drove a new BMW the color of midnight
and he smelled good, like money. He was married, he said, and had a little boy named Alex.
I got caught stealing large
amounts of Vicodin from the hospital floor I worked on as a nurse. Id pop a few and
get to work, tending to my patients needs while loaded on their pain meds. I loved
my job when I was high. I felt connected. Actualized.
Things were great as long as a
couple of pills would get me loaded, but then I needed six, and then ten at a time, to get
the kind of buzz I needed. I started to wake up feeling like shit until I could get a few
Vicodin in me.
Nurses are in such short supply
they cant get rid of all us druggies or the patients would be wiping their own
asses; or worse yet, the supervisors and administrators would have to do it, so they send
us for our shot at redemption to a program called Diversion, a rehab for licensed health
professionals operated by the state of California. They assign you a color and make you
call a phone number every day, and if its your color you have to go piss in a jar
for random drug testing. You have to go to Diversion meetings once a week and AA or NA
meetings the other six nights, and every six months a committee of tight-asses evaluates
you to see how youre progressing with your little problem.
NA was full of street drug
addictsmeth freaks with open sores and junkies with the jitters. I found the AA
crowd more to my liking but I was desperate for a way out of this mess. I hated Diversion
and, without Vicodin, I hated nursing.
One night I walked to the
meeting about a mile from my apartment and then I asked Curtis for a ride home. I leaned
my head back against the leather headrest and laid my hand on his thigh. Fifteen minutes
later his cock was in my mouth and he was telling me that he thought about me night and
day. I saw possibilities.
We started an affair. He told me
about his wife, how he and she were high school sweethearts back in Benton, Arkansas,
where they grew up. His wife, the only woman hed been with before me, was prudish
and frigid, he said. I was forbidden fruit, a wild California girl, free-spirited and
comfortable with my body. After sex the first time, he asked me if Id felt
"Do you mean: did I
come?" I asked.
He winced. "Yes," he
whispered. I taught him the marvel of the clitoris and buried his face in it. Hed
bawl after sex with me, blubbering how much he loved me, how lucky he was to have found
me. He said he loved his wife too, and his son, and that he was just so torn up inside.
"If you love your wife so
much, why are you here?" I asked him. He blinked bewildered blue eyes. "Have you
ever thought about divorce?"
He startled. "I
couldnt divorce Susan," he said. "I could never leave my boy."
I laughed at him. "You
dont divorce your kids, silly."
I lied and told him that a
doctor at work had asked me out. I said he was cute and single and crazy about me, and
that I hoped everything would work out between us. Curtis didnt hide his emotions
I said, "Honey, youre
married. I cant put my life on hold for a married man."
He sat there with his head in
his hands. "I cant stand the thought of you with someone else," he said
looking like a dazed, sick cow.
"Im not going to sleep
with him," I said. "Not on our first date."
"I cant get a
divorce, I just cant." I had to keep boxes of Kleenex everywhere because Curtis
was always bursting into tears.
Later I got together with my
ex-boyfriend Artie. We were still good friends and still had an intense sexual
relationship even though he was living with an older, wealthy woman who supported him.
He lit up a joint.
"Get that stuff away from
me," I told him. "Youll contaminate my urine." It smelled so good. I
love drugs, to tell you the truth. I miss Vicodin, the stony bliss of it. If I could get
away with it Id be usingnot out of control like last time. Now and then. A
sensible habit. But I had five years of Big Brother in the form of Diversion in my future.
"So what do you get out of
torturing this guy?" Artie asked.
"I like him," I said.
"Plus, you never know."
"Right," Artie said.
"A hayseed from Podunk is right up your alley."
I waved my hand like a game show
hostess toward my new wide-screen TV and Bang & Olfson sound system. "He also
paid for my transmission."
"Any good in bed?"
Artie asked, stoned now, yanking at my sweatshirt.
"Hes sweet. And a
good learner," I said, mimicking Curtiss Arkansas lilt. "And extremely
grateful." I had to stop talking then, Artie had his fat tongue in my mouth and was
digging into my pants with his fingers. Artie kissed a lot of puckered, old-lady ass to
live like he liked, and when we got together, he took control and I submitted. I found
humiliation cleansing somehow, absolution for something blistered in me.
I got the box out from under the
bed and he trussed me up with leather straps. He put alligator clamps on my nipples and
gagged and blindfolded me. Artie was fun that way.
Curtis didnt look too
good. Hed lost fifteen pounds in the three months since our affair started, and bags
hung under his eyes. He said he couldnt stop thinking about me and that his wife
kept asking him whats wrong. She wanted to go to couples counseling. He told
me if it wasnt for his son he might consider getting a divorce. They were so young
when they got married, he said, and hed become a different man. His wife was still
the same Arkansas piano teacher who went to church every Sunday and Wednesday nights. Her
throat had never experienced a warming swallow of alcohol or the blunt thrust of a penis.
Alex was six. Curtis showed me
pictures of him, a towhead with Curtiss water-blue eyes and pouty red mouth. He
showed me pictures of his wife Susan, too, your basic Midwest Baptist, dressed in crisp,
buttoned-up pastel shirts and tailored slacks and loafers. I scanned through the photos, a
tic jerking my upper eyelid like a pulse.
He wanted me to meet Alex, so
one Saturday he took him to the mall and we staged a coincidental meeting. Alex was bored
and fidgety while Curtis and I drank coffee. At one point he looked at me with his crusty
little eyes and said, "My mom is prettier than you."
Curtis said, "Mommys
very pretty but thats not a nice thing to say. Ms. Nolan is very pretty too."
I smiled at the little prick.
"All good little boys think their mommy is the prettiest in the whole world."
Curtis beamed at me, and when Alex wasnt looking, he blew me a kiss. My eye was
twitching again. I craved a Vicodin.
Afterwards, he phoned me.
"See why I couldnt break up my family even though I love you so much I
I said, trying not to vomit. "Maybe its best if we stop seeing each
other." I hung up. I ignored his calls and didnt answer the door when he came
pounding on it. He left me notes in my mailbox, desperate missives that Artie and I
"So its over with the
hayseed?" Artie asked, flopping on my sofa.
"Hardly," I said.
"Youre not going to
break up his family are you?"
"Im not. He
might though. Hes not as happy as he thought he was."
"What about the brat?
Youre not exactly the mommy type."
"Hes a bit of a
"Itd be awful if
something happened to him," Artie said, undoing his belt and wrapping it around my
"Awful," I said. Artie
cinched the belt and I saw stars.
* * *
Now, Curtis is at my house. Hes weepy and
tiresome with his professions of love and angst over what to do about it.
"Life is short," I
tell him. "Im turning thirty-five next month. I cant be wasting my time
on dead ends."
"If it wasnt for
"Look, weve each got
to do whats right. I love you but youre taken." I let my voice break a
little. Im fond of Curtis, or maybe its his desperate adoration that appeals
to me. I offered to let him tie me up but he was shocked, wouldnt do it. He said he
couldnt enjoy degrading me that way. Artie would pistol-whip me unconscious if I let
"I cant live without
you," Curtis says. "Im going to ask Susan for a divorce. We can share
custody of Alex. Youd be such a good influence on him, I just know it."
"I love you Nina. I want to
marry you, take care of you. You could quit your job and we could have babies together,
little brothers and sisters for Alex." I feel a dark, thrilling victory. I hide my
face in his shoulder and cry real tears, not from happiness but for something I cant
name. My skin burns and itches like Id rolled in dried grass.
He tells Susan hes in love
with another woman and that he wants a divorce. She goes berserk in a quiet, Midwest way,
developing a taste for vodka and taking to her bed. He says that Alex has started to wet
Susan begs Curtis to reconsider.
She calls his mother in Arkansas who calls him and implores him to come to his senses.
"Im in love, Mother.
Life is short. Im divorcing Susan, not Alex. Ill always be his daddy and
hell spend half his time with me." Hes talking to her on his cell phone
in my apartment and I listen to the conversation with my head lying on his bare genitals.
I lick the head of his penis while he consoles his mother. "Susan will be fine.
Everyone in California gets divorced. Shell be financially secure and Alex will
still have both of his parents plus a wonderful new stepmother. Wait until you meet
her," he says, closing his eyes, his cock rigid against his belly.
After Curtiss lawyer
serves Susan divorce papers she takes Alex to a neighbors house. She fills her car
with gasoline and then drives into their snug, weather-stripped garage. She closes the
door and drinks a pint of vodka with the motor running, a photo of Curtis, Alex and her
laughing in front of a Christmas tree on the dash. When Curtis phones to tell me of her
suicide Im shocked, but then it occurs to me that he wont have to pay her
alimony or divide their assetswell have it all. And then it hits me that Alex
will be with Curtis twenty-four/seven now. Artie is rightIm not the
maternal type. I cant help wishing shed taken Alex with her.
Curtis flies to Little Rock with
Alex and Susans body to bury her there. He phones to tell me how awful and sad the
scene is there, how much he misses me, and how he wants to get married as soon as decently
possible, to create a stable family environment for Alex.
"I cant take care of
someone elses brat," I tell Artie.
"You are some piece of
work, girl," he says. "Do you have any guilt at all?"
Theres something in me
that cringes to think of Susan alone in her car, breathing in carbon monoxide and gulping
down vodka. And theres another part of me that revels in it; finds a black
satisfying thrill in her despair.
"The way I see it," I
tell Artie, "its dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest. Susan wasnt a
shivers. "I never want to get on your bad side," he says, getting undressed.
"Too late," I say,
reaching for the box under my bed.
* * *
Curtis wants Alex and me to get to know one another
slowly. We go to the zoo. We go to the beach. We rent Disney videos and watch them at
Curtiss five thousand square foot home in La Cañada-Flintridge, an affluent suburb
of Los Angeles. Its done in a kitschy country decor that makes me want to gag. I see
black granite and silk-covered walls. Chrome and nickel and sumptuous wool carpeting to
hide the cliché of peg and groove oak.
"Why dont you take
him out by yourself this Saturday," Curtis says. "I have to attend a
"Sure honey," I say.
Ive been having bad dreams
and sleeping poorly. I have a blotchy rash on my chin and my joints ache. Im getting
migraines. I dont feel like hanging out with Alex, who snivels all the time, but
Curtis doesnt want me to move in or get married until he feels Alex is comfortable
with me. I ask Alex what hed like to do and he shrugs. I get him into the car, the
Range Rover that Susan killed herself in, and buckle him into his seatbelt.
We head to a coffee shop to get
some breakfast. As were driving I look at Alex and see tears streaking his face.
"What now?" I ask.
"I miss my mother," he
says. All Alex knows is that his mother is dead.
A dazzling scotoma appears in my
field of vision, harbinger to a migraine. And me without a pain pill.
"Im sorry about your
mommy, honey," I say to him. The first throbs descend on my brain. "But
shes in heaven. With God. She must be happy there." My mouth has a metallic
taste, like Ive been sucking a lead pipe.
"Shes not happy, not
without me and Daddy," he says. "I hate you. I wish you were dead."
His small body convulses with sobs. My head hurts so bad I have to pull the car over.
Im nauseated and break into a sweat. Ive just enough time to open the car door
and vomit the coffee I had earlier, then bile. Im drenched, my shirt sticks to my
body and sweat streams from my armpits. I feel a tapping. I wipe my mouth on my sleeve and
turn to see Alex whos undone his seatbelt and is kneeling on the seat, rubbing my
back and shoulder with his hand, his face anxious and tear-stained.
"Im sorry," he
says. "I didnt mean it." He covers his face with his hands. I put my arms
around his sturdy little body and my nose fills with his boy smell. He hugs me, trembling.
Each beat of my heart is a wrenching explosion in my brain. I left some Excedrin Migraine
back at Curtiss house.
"I have to go back to the
house and get my headache medicine," I tell him. I cant see; the scotoma is
like a sizzling white starburst that takes more than half my field of vision from each
eye, leaving me with blind spots. I hang a U-turn, careening the car crazily. Despite the
headache it occurs to me that Alex has left his seatbelt unfastened. I imagine hurtling
into one of the thick, old elms that line the streeta horrible accident while crazed
with a migraine, and poor little Alex, his seatbelt undone, becomes a Scud missile. I
envision him shooting through the windshield, impacting the tree. A lightning storm of
pain blazes in my brain.
I pull the car over.
"Put your seatbelt on
Alex," I say, panting, leaning my head on the steering wheel. Snot streams from my
nose to my lap. "Safety first," I say. He nods and fastens it, and I manage to
get us back to Curtiss house.
"Im going to take my
medicine and rest," I tell Alex. I lie down on the living-room sofa and he goes to
watch television in the den. I fall asleep and wake to find him standing over me, pale and
"Im okay," I
"Do you want a drink of
"Thatd be nice."
He brings me water in a plastic Pokemon cup, arranges his blanket on my legs and puts his
hand on my forehead. I tell him again that Im fine and he goes back to watch TV. I
think of how his body felt in my arms, how it pulled at something in me. I wonder if I
could ever love him, if I could ever love anything. I vomit the water Ive just
swallowed and Alex brings paper towels and mops it up. I tell him again that Im
By the time Curtis gets home in
the afternoon my headache is gone and Alex and I have eaten pizza and watched cartoons. I
tell Curtis about the morning, how sick I was and how Alex took such good care of me. Alex
listens, pink with pleasure, his eyes downcast and shy. Curtis, of course, is crying.
Later Ill go home and
write Curtis a letter to tell him that its over. He wont recognize it as the
only decent thing Ive done for as long as I can remember. Ill call Artie and
tell him Ive gotten off the gravy train and hell come over. "So,"
hell say, "I guess were back in business."
Ill get the metal box from
the bottom of my closet, the one I keep locked up. Ill find the key in my jewelry
box and open it.
"Make it hurt,"
Ill tell him.