The drive up to the center is long. I watch, as the ocean fades away and the scenery changes to that similar of the Wilderness of Judea, I experienced during my visit to Israel. I am forced to laugh at California’s idea of what a mountain is. Being from Washington state, these appear to be what we would describe as hills.
The climate is desert and there are only sporadic placings of avocado trees, within these boring, desolate hills. My trip to the center was delayed by about four hours; the evening has happened upon us. There is an intern, Johnny, who had some legal issue that didn’t resolve until much later than anticipated. He is noticeably upset and concerned about whatever he was at the courthouse about.
It is obvious he knows our driver, Pedro. They speak back and forth about Johnny’s issue. I am overzealous about arriving at the center and try hard not to interrupt them with questions concerning what the center has in store for me.
“Do you mind if I ask what you are so upset about?” I ask Johnny.
He explains the details of his past legal upsets and the concerns he has regarding their outcomes.
“Would you mind if I prayed for you?” I ask.
“That is very sweet of you. No, I don’t mind, but I should warn you, I am not a very religious person,” he informs me.
“That’s okay,” I assure him. “I am not a very religious person myself.”
“Are you excited to go to the center?” He asks.
“Yes!” I exclaim. “I can hardly contain myself. I can’t wait to kick back with a flat screen TV and a can of ice cold Coca Cola.”
Johnny and Pedro find this declaration most amusing, as together, they erupt with laughter.
“Hmm.. I am not sure you know exactly what you are in for,” Johnny confesses.
“They have been pretty secretive about the center,” I concur. “Would you care to clue me in?” I ask.
“Your first night is going to be at the ranch. It is a 24 hour withdrawal observation. There is no television or soda,” he informs me.
“But, don’t let it get you down. The center is nothing like the ranch and once you are surrounded by people, it gets easier,” he confides.
What? What the hell is the ranch and why do they need to observe me for 24 hours, I wonder. Also, they better have soda at the center! I need caffeine, damn it!
Once we arrive at the ranch, Pedro helps to unload my bags. There are two staff members here to check me in and to rifle through my belongings, yet again. There is also an intern here to run more light objectives with me. Fuck me. I thought I was done with that bullshit.
Johnny wishes me luck, “I will see you at the center tomorrow and hey, thanks for the prayer.”
The two staff members, engage in playful banter with one another. The woman, Mackenzie, carries a loud voice with a deep, southern accent. Everyone at the center calls her Kentucky, but for now, I know her as Mackenzie.
She is short, with big, beautiful eyes and a petite frame. The gentleman staff member is named Aiden. He is tall, very attractive and hard to get a read on. He is an Ethics Officer, there to assist with searching my belongings.
While the two of them begin their search, I am followed into the bathroom by the intern, Linnea, and a plastic cup. Apparently, she needs to be present while I provide urine for a drug test. It is extremely awkward to have to pee in front of a complete stranger. However, the squatting, coughing and removal of my underwear, so that she can ensure I don’t have any drugs or paraphernalia in my cooter (vagina) or rectum, is a tad bit more uncomfortable!
“I’m sorry. I know this is awkward, but we have to be cautious about drugs getting into the facility. It’s as much for our protection as it it is yours,” she informs me.
Linnea appears to be European. She has a slight accent, though I can’t place from where. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say Sweden. She is tall with blond hair and her demeanor emanates a shy and quiet like nature. She guides me out of the bathroom.
“There are some books on the shelf and we have snacks here if you’re hungry,” she says.
My eyes quickly scan the books, hoping to stumble upon the Twilight series (the one aspect of my Twilight obsession I have yet to embrace). Sadly, most of these books are old and outdated.
“Who the hell is Louis L’amour and why do his books smell like mold?” I ask, jokingly.
Aiden laughs, but Mackenzie does not appear amused.
“Where’s the cool books, like Twilight and Hunger Games?” I ask.
“You like Twilight?” Aiden inquires. He wears this silly smirk that has yet to leave his face since I’ve met him.
“I love Twilight,” I confirm. “I am team Jacob all the way. Oh my Gawd, isn’t he sooooo hot?” I ask in a high school girl’s way with a giggle and a hop in my step.
“Well, you probably don’t think so. Unless you’re gay. I’m not saying that you’re gay, but if you were, you would think he was hot when he is shirtless. I have gay friends,” I ramble on.
What the hell? Why can’t I shut up. I have managed to incessantly spit political incorrectness and speculations at a complete stranger, in nothing short of five minutes.
Mackenzie and Linnea laugh.
“Oh, he is gay alright, he’s as gay as they come” Mackenzie chuckles. “Boy, she’s got you pegged.”
He could be gay. He’s most certainly good looking enough to wear that title. I’m almost hoping he is gay, so that I don’t sound like a complete and utter moron.
“Yes, I’m gay,” Aiden says, matter of fact.
Mackenzie giggles before drawing out Aiden’s name, “Aaidddennn.”
Her accent causes me to chuckle under my breath.
“What?” He asks her. His eyes still sizing me up.
“Are you gonna just stand there looking dumb, or are you going to bring that suitcase over here and help me go through it?” She asks, in a southern, sarcastic drawl. “I want to go home at some point tonight, gawd.” Her eyes roll.
He opens my suitcase. The outer pocket is filled with my undergarments and is the first thing he sees,
“You’re going through this pocket. Underwear is all you,” he responds.
“Well, then bring, the gall darn suitcase over here then,” she says, while giving him a look suggesting, duh.
I am not sure what to make of Mackenzie at this point. She is definitely bossy and loud for such a petite girl, but I can absolutely relate to both of those characteristics. The one thing I am certain of, is that I would not let her pint size fool you. She looks like one of those, don’t fuck with me in a dark alley types, oh, and p.s. they’ll never find the body.
Mackenzie and Aiden are engrossed in playful banter. It is entertaining to watch them interact with each other. They have completed their search of my belongings and allow for me to take my things into the back bedroom.
This house is as deserted as the desolate mountains around us. There is no artwork on the walls. There are no knick knacks or items on the tables. It is old and rustic, only, without the rustic decor. The only item in the entire house that provides even an illusion of decorum, is a metal, towel rack in the bathroom, resembling the outline of the Marlboro men cowboys. I noticed it when I was being instructed to squat and cough.
Aiden and Mackenzie have left and Linnea and I are left to our own devices.
“Are you excited to be here?” Linnea asks.
“I wouldn’t go as far as saying I am excited,” I laugh. “But, considering where I was, yeah, I am happy to be here.”
“Can I smoke a cigarette?” I ask.
“Of course, but I have to follow you,” she replies.
Once outside, I light up my cigarette and she begins puffing away on a metal contraption.
“What is that?” I ask.
“It’s a Vapor,” she answers. “It’s like a beefed up electronic cigarette. They are wildly popular in California. Once you get to the center, ask about Gavrill. He builds them and is known as, “The Vape Guy” around here.”
“I’ve met Gavrill,” I admit. “He was driving some students to the doctor when I went to get my vitamin drip.”
Oh God, he probably thinks I am a complete nut job!
Linnea, is difficult to talk to. She is very quiet and reserved. It is nearing 9:00 p.m., and that means it is shift change between interns that are going to care for me.
“Bye, it was nice to meet you Liz and I will be your withdrawal specialist tomorrow,” Linnea calls out, as she makes her way out the door.
Another day of awkward communication and silence with her? How am I going to survive that, I wonder?
“Hi! I’m Violet!’ A new voice exclaims.
Violet is a tall, thin girl who looks like she is barely 18. Turns out, that is an accurate assessment.
“I’m going to be your withdrawal specialist tonight. Is there anything I can get for you? Do you have any questions? This house sucks, doesn’t it? Are you excited to go to the center?” She asks in a flood of excited questioning.
“Yes. This house sucks ass compared to Huntington Beach,” I admit.
“Oh, yeah! I love Huntington. At least you didn’t have to do your withdrawal here,” she suggests.
“What?” I ask. “People do their entire withdrawal in this house?”
Violet giggles. “Oh, yeah and it sucks,” she draws the vowel in the word sucks out in an elongated fashion (suuuucks).
“Wow, I might literally hang myself if I had to do my full withdrawal here!” I exclaim.
“How the hell do they run light objectives here when there is nothing to touch or notice?” I ask.
We both erupt with laughter.
“Exactly,” she confirms.
“So, are you ready to run a light objective?” She asks.
I look at her with a concerned face.
“Sike, I’m just kidding girl. We can relax with that shit for now. It’s after 9:00 p.m., so technically you are supposed to be getting ready for bed,” she explains.
“Thank God!” I exclaim. “I totally thought you were serious and I was like, look, I just said there ain’t shit to notice around here.”
I like Violet. She is young, which was a little off putting at first. I mean, she is half my age. But, after talking more with her, we share similar interests musically and experiences with the Rave scene. Plus, she isn’t making me run any light objectives, so that is a huge plus already.
Like Linnea, she, too, is puffing on a vapor. I giggle inside at the ridiculous pun running through my head, “I guess they really are all the rave.” My gawd, I’m a nerd.
Violet and I visit for a while.
“I think I offended the ethics guy that was here earlier,” I say with legitimate concern. I replay the dialogue between us concerning his Twilight references and overall gayness.
Violet bursts into a fit of hyena like laughter, “Ha ha, that is hilarious Liz. No, he is not gay. He is with Mackenzie. They are a couple!” She exclaims.
“What? But he said he was gay. Like, complete straight face, he said he was,” I explain.
“Oh, that’s just his dry sense of humor,” she suggests.
“Now, it makes sense,” I giggle. The banter between Aiden and Mackenzie was playful and flirtatious. “I feel like a complete idiot!” I exclaim.
“Don’t worry about it,” she says. “It takes a while to get to know everyone’s personalities and senses of humor. But hey, don’t say anything about them being a couple. We are not supposed to let people know who we are with. You will see. All the staff is paired up, but it’s an unspoken thing,” she explains.
“I won’t. I got you girl,” I wink.
“I know you’re excited and it’s hard to sleep, but I have to fill in paperwork saying that you got good sleep, or you will be stuck here for another night,” she admits. “If you don’t sleep, they will attribute that to you still being in withdrawals.”
‘Well, that’s my cue to go to sleep,” I chuckle, before standing up and heading to my room. “Lord knows, I can’t spend another day in this house!”
“Promise that you are not a runner?” Violet asks. “I don’t think you are, but I have had to chase people before,” she admits.
“No, I am not going to run, I promise.”
There is no concept of time, as I toss and turn for what feels like hours. Violet was nice enough to turn up her portable DVD player in the living room, after I explained how I am accustom to sleeping with the TV on and how difficult it is in this quiet house to sleep.
Though I have never seen Harry Potter, I am pretty sure that is what she is watching by the sounds of it. I can’t sleep! This is not good. There is no clock for me to see how long I have been lying in this bed, plagued with an active mind.
I get up to go get a snack and smoke a cigarette. Violet has passed out on the couch. The house is eerily quiet and I feel like there is some supernatural, ghost like activity brewing.
The door creaks, as I attempt to open it slowly. I sit down on the bench and light up a cigarette. Suddenly, the door flings open and Violet is standing in the frame.
“Oh my gawd, phew, I thought you were running on me!” She exclaims.
“I am so sorry,” I apologize. “I was trying not to wake you up and hell no girl, I have a daughter depending on me to get my shit together. I am not going anywhere,” I reassure her.
I feel bad that she is forced to sit up with me. She admits she isn’t allowed to sleep on her shift and is sorry that she nodded off.
“I am not going to tell anyone Violet. After all, you let me listen to your DVD player so I could try to get some sleep. I am just worried that you are going to put this in my paperwork and I won’t be able to move up to the center tomorrow. I am not withdrawing, I am just anxious,” I explain.
Violet assures me, “Don’t worry. I won’t put this 3:00 a.m. rendezvous in the paperwork.”
After my smoke, I head back to bed. Truth is, I am still in withdrawal. It’s been nine days, and my body is still twitching for opiates. My head is still pounding every morning and all of my joints are aching. But, I can’t let them know that. I just want to get to the center and start my one on one counseling to work through my issues.
My mind ponders upon many things. Lastly, before sleep finally consumes me, I find myself thinking about my first love, Darnell. We dated off and on for 12 years. He proposed and I accepted. As my ring was being sized and set, I felt God call me back to church. Darnell didn’t go with me. The sermon pertained to marriage and sacrifices that come along with it.
Darnell had become increasingly violent, our last year together. He is an alcoholic and things were escalating out of control. After that sermon, I knew it would be foolish for me to marry him. It didn’t matter that we had a history. It didn’t matter that he didn’t use to hit me, he was hitting me now. As much as we fought about his drinking, in an ironic twist of fate, after we split up, I began drinking heavily.
He really hurt me. He was my best friend in life and I trusted him. Of course, I wasn’t perfect in the relationship. I wonder if I have been numbing this break up. Is he one of my underlying conditions? Alicia Keys sings me to sleep, as I sing one of my favorite songs by her to myself quietly in the corner of my mind….