Word Count: 1265
Summary: It's always there, that little orange bottle; on the edge of the bathroom sink, maybe, or when it's really bad you leave it on your nightstand for easy reach in the night. Like a shadow, like a memory that's always just out of reach.
Author's Notes: Well. I don't know exactly what I started out to write, today, but I do know that this little vignette sure as hell wasn't it. It's written in the second-person... I think this may be the first second-person story I've ever written, and it just seemed, when I sat down, to be the way to do it. I have to warn you, though, this isn't pretty: it's a nasty little snapshot of addiction. And yeah, before anyone comments or asks: write what you know. So.
Let me know what you think. This one leaves me feeling... a little uneasy.
Written for the 100 situations challenge on LJ, and the prompt "Haunted".
It starts with Vicodin.
Seven and a half milligrams of hydrocodone, seven hundred and fifty milligrams of acetaminophen at the full additive strength. Nearly twenty tons manufactured annually. Small little pill, neat little pill, and when you first left the hospital in a tired squeaky wheelchair, the pills were still your friend.
It's easy to forget about the things that make you function, as long as you can; easier to concentrate on the anger, to focus on the limp. And every four hours, every six, when the sharp red burst of pain begins to gnaw at healing flesh and cratered, blasted muscle, you swallow a pill and you're done. After a while, you come to associate the pills with the all-too-infrequent cessation of pain; the dizziness, the giddiness, are just the price you pay for relief.
It's a small price, you think then.
It's always there, that little orange bottle; on the edge of the bathroom sink, maybe, or when it's really bad you leave it on your nightstand for easy reach in the night. Like a shadow, like a memory that's always just out of reach. In the beginning she brings them to you, little white pill and half a glass of water, smooths back your hair and whispers meaningless comforts that both of you know mean a little less than nothing. Because it's already there: the chasm, the frayed strand between you that used to be trust and now is anything but.
How could you, after that?
And you find yourself appreciating more and more the detachment that comes with the pills; not simply the empty absence of pain but the distance inherent in the sensation, like you're watching everything that happens from somewhere outside yourself. The mornings she leaves earlier, the nights she works later, the time you screamed Look what you've done to me and threw the crutches across the room to shatter her mother's crystal vase, and by the time she's packing dog-eared hardbacks and trinkets in an unsteady cardboard box you're too busy focusing on the pain to care.
The pain is there long after the scent of her morning body spray has faded from the house; a deep devouring bite that never ceases, only eases like a cease-fire in the middle of a war that neither side believes in. Sometimes, lying awake and staring at the ceiling with tears of rage burning in your tired eyes you think Forever, and it's a comfort to know that at least the pills still work.
Until they don't.
There are good days and bad days, and on a good day you carry the rattle of the vial in a pocket like a rosary, a familiar, taking perverse pleasure in knowing that you've learned to get the jump on the pain, to head it off before it leaves you doubled up and groaning, hands clenched to the leg in an ecstasy of agony. No one understands that the bad days are endless, that on days like that the whole world is pure pain, white-hot and murderous, and that what most people think of as normal is not even approachable for you. You are forever beyond them, outside them, and when they notice that you're taking twice as many pills now with that look on their faces you want to reach out and impale them on your cane, you want them to suffer one moment, just one moment, the way you suffer every day.
No one understands.
And every time you take the pills, you only ever tell yourself: They let me do my job.
They did this: the two of them. And if the look on Cuddy's face makes something inside you die a little then well, it serves her right. Sometimes, you pause outside her office and deliberately swallow the pills, grand gestures and dramatic faces, and it's a bitter throb of pleasure to know that you are too good for her to lose. She can only stand there and press her lips into that thin bloodless line, and if the walls between you are made of more than glass by now it's nothing that you bother to care about.
Whether you're punishing her or yourself, you never take the time to wonder.
And then one day you open your eyes to the glaze of rain across your windows, your bedroom silent as only yours could ever be – untouched by anyone's hand, no warm affection in a curtain, perhaps, or a certain shade of light – and forty minutes after you've choked down the pills the writhing screaming pain in your leg is still too desperate to let you function at all.
One day, you simply crack beneath the constant ache and to your tired angry mind it's only a natural progression: when the medication stops working, you look for one that does, and it's easy not to think as you tie off the vein, blue rubber that always smells like carnival balloons and unboxed latex gloves. Easy not to think as you uncap a syringe, purely professional hands and drawing out a vial, easy to tap out the small frothing bubbles and slide the small thin pain into the blue line beneath your elbow.
Easy not to think as the warmth starts in the back of your thighs and hammer-slams you in the chest, as every muscle liquefies and relaxes and finally, finally, there is something in your screaming world besides the leg. And as you lie back on the sofa, taking in slow and steady breaths, you tell yourself again: I need to do my job.
And you do. You do it well. They can't complain.
Until you find yourself more and more impatient with the pills, not as willing to suffer while they work, until you find yourself thinking more and more of the syringes while you're finishing up your paperwork, maybe, or washing up outside Exam Three. Until you wonder if maybe with less pain you'd want Cuddy less, stop seeing her face projected on the silhouette of every broken dream. Until you hate them all, all of them, hate the way they look at you and hate their perfect lives, hate the way everyone thinks they're perfect little specimens when you know damn well they're all just as flawed inside as you. Just as damaged.
Just as haunted.
You've seen it.
Until you find yourself in your tiny little bathroom at three a.m., purple welts rising up both elbows like the lesions of the damned, swelling and bruising and even though you're a doctor it's been getting harder to find a vein and you know better, could recite the risks like a ceremony from abscess to thrombosis but the relief is too tender a lover. Until you pour alcohol over the holes and hiss through your teeth in slow shameful tears, white soap foam to your shoulders and when you splash your face and rub the water away you imagine what it would be like.
Lisa, I'm an addict.
If only they'd listen, you tell yourself again, if only they understood. If only they weren't so quick to pass judgment, to decide that your pain is worth so much less than theirs. And right now, all you've got is the old mantra: you don't have her, you don't even have your own respect.
At least I do my job.