Danny walked slowly across campus to the Morrill Life Sciences building. He was very tired, almost listless, his breakfast just sitting in his stomach. Every breath seemed to take more effort than the energy it produced. He had barely slept, despite the four Lorazepam he took to sleep. All night long, Danny tossed and turned in a cold pool of sweat and tears, trying to look away from Chelsea’s face as she stood in the doorway of his room, her voice raised in anger and frustration against him.
How could he possibly face her parents? On top of all his fear and dread over what had happened and was about to, beyond the guilt and remorse, there was one feeling that stood out brightly through the darkness - he wanted, he needed, to use again, now, right now. The urge was so great that he could almost hear the sweet singing of relief coursing through his veins. It didn’t matter that his mother would be there soon, along with his Dad. He could get through all of this if he just got a little something to take the edge off.
Biology 401 was a large lecture class that met for two hours twice a week. It was a big class and Danny knew he’d have no trouble slipping in late without being noticed. He needed to find Brad. Brad could get him what he needed. The heat from an overhead vent blew hard on Danny as he entered the building knocking the breath out of him. The hallway smelt of salt, sand, and wet boots. He followed the long hallway around to the auditorium. As he slipped in, Professor Reynolds was writing on the board, his back to the nearly 70 or so students hunched over laptops or with pens poised to take notes. Danny looked around for Brad and found him in his usual spot along the back wall. Brad was a gangly boy, not quite a man. He took up two theater like seats, with his long legs slung over the chair to his left. He balanced a binder on his lap and appeared to be scrawling notes feverishly.
“Dude, where you been?” Brad said, looking up from his notebook.
“It's a long story.”
“So, is Biology 401. I got time. Sit down. Jesus, Danny you look like shit.”
Danny sat down in the seat beside Brad and pulled up the folding desk top so that he had something to hold on to. He should have stopped in the bathroom first, he felt like his bowels were in a knot. “Look I need to get some H.”
“Geez man, I thought you were done with that? “
“I know, and I was, but something’s happened.”
“What? No.” Brad felt like he knew what was coming but had to let Danny say it in order for it be real.
“What about Chelsea? I thought she didn't want you doing it anymore?”
“She doesn't, didn't. Brad, she's dead.”
“What the fuck, Danny? Chelsea’s the student that OD’d?” Brad had heard - the news was all over campus, he'd hoped it wasn't from something he'd sold. Obviously, the administration had done a good job of keeping Chelsea’s name out of it, at least so far. Brad couldn’t imagine beautiful red-haired Chelsea dead, not this way, not any way.
“Yes, she used the rest of the heroin I had the night before last.”
Brad motioned to his friend, who looked like he was about cry, to get up and move toward the door. They stepped quietly past other student's some of which were barely awake, and slipped out into the hall.
“Look, pull yourself together man." Brad buried his face in his hands and turned away. "Oh god, I’m so sorry, Fuck, fuck, fuck! I don't fuckin' believe this. She was such a lovely girl, such a great kid,” Brad paused, trying to take it all in. Then suddenly, “Christ, no, no, no fucking way. You must be out of your mind. Your girlfriends dead and you’re hitting me up for more of the drugs that killed her.”
“Jesus, Brad could you please keep your voice down.” Danny’s eyes were brimful of tears reflecting the overhead lights. His nose was running and Brad noticed that he was sweating profusely.
“No, I'm not keeping my voice down. You’re crazy if you think I'm selling you anything ever again. Now get lost – oh, and I’d advise you to forget my name when the cops start asking where she got it.”
“That’s the strange thing, no one's asking any questions, at least not yet.”
“Well, they will be, and soon I'm sure.”
“It was reported to the campus police, but the local cops aren't involved.”
“That is odd," Brad said, then quietly. What about her folks?”
“They're on their way here now from California. My parents are already here. Brad look I need…you've got to help me just get through this.”
“What did your dad say?”
"He's being very quiet, trying to be supportive. He knows it was my drugs. I guess he’s in shock right now. I expect he is pretty angry. Hell, I mean they loved Chels like a daughter.” Danny could feel the tears running down his cheeks now, though his eyes felt hard and dry.
“Well, You’re obviously in a lot of pain”, Brad said looking around as if suddenly remembering where they were. “Look come back to my room and I'll fix you up. But you can’t get too wasted, everyone's going to know, you’ll be falling asleep. What class do you have next?”
“This is it for me for the day.”
“Good, let’s go - there's about 90 minutes left to this one,” Brad said pointing at the door they’d just come through. Looking at the tears running down Danny’s face, Brad put both hands on his friends shoulders and turned him around. The two started walking the long corridor back to the exit.
“I have to meet my parents for lunch at 12:30,” Danny said between sniffles.
“That extra half hour should give us just enough time to get you calmed down, but I can’t guarantee you’re going to be very hungry.”
“Brad, I appreciate this.”
“Fuck you, Danny.”
The heat from the vent in the entry way beat down on the boys as the passed out into the cold December sunlight. They followed the circle in front of Morrill around to Campus Ave and crossed over to Barlow Hall. Brad's roommates would be in class. Both boys instinctively kept their heads down to avoid any chance encounters. The wind had picked up and Danny could feel the sweat freezing, making him wish he’d worn his leather jacket. He really needed to use the bathroom.
While Danny was in the bathroom, Brad grabbed some brown heroin from his desk drawer along with aluminum foil and a toilet paper tube. Under the circumstances it made the most sense for Danny to smoke. It would pick him up more quickly than a needle and give him a little time to chill out before he had to meet his parents. Brad would give him some white powder that he could snort or shoot later as needed.
“Jesus, man you look bad,” Brad said as Danny entered the room, turned and locked the door. “How are your hands?”
Danny held out both hands which shook badly.
“Forget it. Look, I’ll hold the tin foil and the lighter. You nod when you’ve had about enough,” Brad said, handing Danny the toilet paper tube. “I don’t want to waste it, and I don’t want the smell of it to leave this room.” With that, Brad grabbed two heavy bath towels from a shelf beside his bed and put them along the bottom of the door. He also cracked open both windows letting in a rush of cold air.
The two sat on the bed. Brad holding a lighter under the heroin until it boiled and smoked. Danny inhaled deeply.
“Take it slow there buddy,” Brad said, drawing the flame away from the foil. “Steady, too much and you’re gonna be throwing up. You just want enough to feel more like yourself.
Danny wasn’t thinking about anything besides the cool smoke on the back of his throat and how it expanded hot in his lungs. The last thing he wanted was to feel more like himself.
“One more hit and you’re done. You still taking Lorazapam to sleep?”
Danny nodded holding the smoke in as long as he could.
“I’m gonna give you some Adderall to keep you awake,” Brad said taking the toilet paper tube from Danny and tossing the charred tin foil into the waste basket by his desk. “Lie down, you still have more than an hour before you have to meet your folks.”
“Look, I got money for all this.” Danny was talking slowly working hard not to slur his words digging in his back pocket for his wallet. “I’m gonna need more. You know for later.” Dropping the wallet on the bed, Danny lowered himself down as the rush he’d been longing for rolled over him like a heavy wave. His mouth was dry, but he couldn’t speak to ask for water. Brad handed him a bottle of Aquafina and covered him with a heavy blue URI blanket. Danny took a sip of water and fell back on the bed as if suddenly his skinny body weighed a ton. He was out.
Brad put a handful of baby blue pills in an empty prescription bottle. He put the pills along with a small nickel bag of fine white powder on his desk. While Danny nodded off, Brad slipped on a pullover sweater and reached for his Political Science book.
Forty five minutes later Danny came to. Trying to sit up he felt like as if he was dragging his heavy body out of the earth itself. Brad gave him four Adderall to help him wake up. “Take more after lunch. As it is you won’t have much of an appetite, but maybe under the circumstances you shouldn’t have one. Listen, I gotta go. You can stay a few more minutes. Try to take it easy. I’m sorry about Chels, really man. Be sure the door is locked when you go.” Brad was out the door before the words that Danny wanted to say reached his mouth.
Danny took the Adderall and put the bottle, along with the heroin in his backpack. He lay there for another ten minutes or so trying to pull his thoughts together. He hadn’t seen his mother since school started. Now that his parents were divorced he tended to lean more on his dad. The truth was he knew he could get away with more than he ever could with his nurse mom. That’s what he was worrying about as he pushed open the door to the restaurant.
It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He felt suspended in a wash of cheerful voices, the scraping of silverware on plates and clinking glasses. Danny thought it must be the Adderall kicking in. He looked around for his parents and spotted them in a booth in the dark corner of the restaurant. Danny was grateful that they hadn’t sat near the windows. He paused for a moment before joining them. It was so rare to see them together. For just a second Danny forgot why they were here and all that had happened. He thought they looked good together.
Danny approached the table. Seeing his parents speaking so seriously in hushed voices, brought him right back into the moment. His father saw him first and started to stand. His mother followed quickly rushing to her son.
“Oh Danny,” she was crying, hard heavy sobs that shook him until he too was crying like a baby in his mother’s arms. His father held back, gently rubbing his son’s shoulders. Suddenly Danny felt so heavy he feared he’d fall over. It was becoming a struggle to hold himself up. He couldn’t imagine how he could cry anymore. His father was drumming on his back faster as if trying to keep time with his mother sobs. Both were repeating his name in unison. “Danny, Danny, Danny.” Danny felt himself start to sweat again. The room began to spin around him as all the blood left his head. He tried to pull away but he couldn’t. His knees were buckling. He was pulling his mother with him toward the floor which seemed a long way down. He was choking now, trying to cough out something in his throat. He thought for a minute that it was his heart.
When he came to he was afraid to open his eyes. He had no idea how long he’d been out. He was lying in something wet which he quickly realized from the smell was vomit. His Mother, red faced and still crying, was lying next to him, her hair having just missed landing in the corrugated puddle of puke.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” Danny said, although he wasn't sure he'd said it out loud. He tried to lift himself.
“Don’t get up too fast, Danny,” Bill said, reaching down to help Danny’s mother to her feet.
A waitress and the restaurant’s manager were standing together in a show of support as well as to block the scene from the other diners. Just then another waitress emerged from the kitchen with a bucket and a mop.
“Well, I can’t imagine anyone feels like eating now,” Bill said to his broken family. Then turning to the manager and the waitress, “we’re so sorry, my son has been through a very terrible thing and he’s very sick. Please accept our apologies. I’ll take the check and we’ll go.” The waitress went off to retrieve the check.
“Please, sir, we completely understand. I hope, young man, that you feel better soon.” Danny, who had managed to struggle to his knees, just nodded up at the man who smiled and turned away.
The three headed back to the Red Roof Inn in his mother’s car. On the way his dad explained that Chelsea’s parents’ flight from the coast had been delayed overnight in Chicago due to snow. Back in the room, Danny got cleaned up and his parents let him sleep for awhile. When he woke up the sun was coming in through the sliders at a low angle. Danny didn’t want it to get dark again. He repeated the story he'd told his father - the argument with Chelsea, the drugs she'd taken from his room. There was quiet yelling. What the hell was he thinking? Heroin? How could he have done this? How long had he been using? Was he still using? Although she couldn’t say when she had seen him look worse, Danny's mother seemed to believe him when he described how he'd gradually managed to wean himself from the drug. They ate take-out in the cramped hotel room and then Danny said he wanted to get back to his dorm.
“You can stay here son, I’ll get you a room,“ Bill said.
“No let him go” Caroline said. “He needs to take a real shower and get into some clean clothes. Do you need something to help you sleep? I have some Ambien,” she said reaching for her purse and taking two pills from a small metal box with a butterfly on it and handing them to Danny. Slipping the pills into the pocket of his jeans and pulling his back pack over his shoulders, he headed toward the door.
“You guys know how much I loved Chelsea. I want you both to know how very much I love you.”
Danny parents stood in silence as their son walked out the door.
If you missed the previous installment of Success Through Failure click here: