A mother traces her daughter’s years-long battle with addiction in this compelling memoir that opens a raw and honest dialogue about substance abuse.
The phone rings. I check the caller ID and realize it is rehab. Natalie has been there for three weeks. My heart skips a beat. I answer.
“Mommy?” It is Natalie’s voice. She sounds like she is ten years old. She sounds eager but not desperate, and because of the number, I at least know where she is. In the milliseconds in between the time when I first hear her voice and I greet her back, my mind races with a thousand horrible scenarios that explain this phone call. She is usually permitted to call only at six o’clock on Tuesday and Thursday. It is a Monday afternoon.
“What’s wrong, baby?” I ask, wondering if this is a poor choice of words. I have been told, by my children, that it is slightly insulting that this is always my first question, that I assume something must be wrong.
“Nothing,” she tells me. This is always how my kids first respond to my initial question whether this is fact or not.
“It’s good to hear your voice,” I tell her.
“Thanks,” she chirps. “Mommy (I love when she calls me this; she sounds youthful and sweet), I don’t have a lot of time. I’m in my therapy. But I wanted you to do me a favor.”
I realize then that the counselor is listening in on the line as well. No worries. I really don’t mind. “Anything,” I tell her and visualize the therapist jotting down the words “supportive mother” on Natalie’s chart and adding a few points to my score.
“Could you go up into my room?”
“Sure,” I tell her and move from the kitchen toward her bedroom. To fill the time while I am hurrying up the stairs, I ask, “How are you?” even though I’m not sure if small talk is encouraged or permitted during such an obviously purposeful call.
“Good,” she tells me, her voice sounding a little weak and thin.
“I’m proud of you!” I tell her (more points), a little out of breath. I am out of shape and shouldn’t be. It is only a few steps.
“I’m in your room. What do you need?” I cleaned the room from top to bottom while Natalie was gone and had tried to make it warm and welcoming, adding some “mom” touches: a new heart-shaped pillow, a new bulb for the lava lamp, and a “welcome back” sticky note on the mirror. I am pleased with how it looks.
“There’s shit in my room,” Natalie tells me through the phone. “Censor yourself; language,” I hear the therapist instruct.
“There’s stuff in my room,” Natalie amends. “And I need you to get it out so that it’s not there when I get home.”
“Oh, okay,” I say, wanting to cooperate but thinking this is unnecessary.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, I had found plenty of “stuff ” in Natalie’s room. Some in plain sight, other stuff hidden. I found and stepped on syringes on the floor. There were pills strewn all over the bottom of the closet and empty stamp bags, spoons, and lighters everywhere—out in the open as well as hidden behind her bed and in her pillowcase. And then there were more of all of the above secretly stashed in purses, backpacks, books, pillows, stuffed animals, and jewelry boxes.
“I’ve cleaned pretty well in here, honey,” I tell her. “And I did find some things (an understatement). So, we might be okay.”
“We’re not, and you didn’t find it all,” she tells me flatly. “Okay,” I agree, noting that now she sounds older and worn.
“I need you to go to the air vent,” she tells me. “Crouch down and pull the metal part off.”
“Daddy…” I am about to tell her that Peter and I had checked in there, but I let my voice trail off and don’t finish. Peter had seen on a movie or read somewhere that this was a common place for addicts to hide drugs so we, being “on it” parents, had already looked there. But we hadn’t found anything.
Natalie tells me to stretch my arm deeper into the vent, “around the corner and reach,” and I pull out a bag full of syringes and pills.
Next, she instructs me to take off Miss Lizzy’s head. Nooo! Not Miss Lizzy! I whine in my head, devastated that Miss Lizzy is involved in all this horribleness. She has always been so innocent. Enough pills to medicate an elephant fall from Miss Lizzy’s pretty blond, smiling head.
I need to run back down to the kitchen to retrieve a screwdriver to take off the light switch cover in order to get the stamp bags of heroin out of the crevasses between the wires.
“I am proud of you, honey,” I say when Natalie tells me this is all of it.
“Natalie, are you sure that’s all of it?” the therapist asks, breaking into the conversation.
“It is,” Natalie tells her. The way she says it, I believe her.
The therapist announces that the allotted time for this phone call is up. We exchange quick “I love yous,” and the line goes dead.
I am sure I have done a poor job of hiding my devastation and the fact that I have aged ten years since we began this phone call ten minutes earlier. I visualize the therapist deducting all of my previously given bonus points and marking “exhausted” and “running out of steam” in the chart. I’m not sure I care anymore. Not at the moment anyway. I think I couldn’t love Natalie more. Which is true and will always continue to be. But I am tired. Exhausted, actually, so I lie down on the bed to rest.
Miss Lizzy is in my arms; she and I go way back. I lie there for a few moments, wondering how in the world we ended up in this horrible, godforsaken place. I realize that no matter how long I lie there, I am not going to get any less tired, so I begin to get up.
But just before I do, still on my back, I catch a glimpse of something above me in the overhead light fixture. I squint to see what it is but cannot tell for sure. I get up and pull the desk chair to the middle of the room beneath the light. I carefully unscrew the center anchor screw and pull down the glass shield covering the bulbs. When I do, a flurry of stamp packets fall on top of my head.
This excerpt is from Christine Pisera Naman’s new book, About Natalie: A Daughter’s Addiction. A Mother’s Love. Finding Their Way Back to Each Other. Reprinted with permission from Health Communications, Inc. Available at Amazon and elsewhere.