The Driftless Area

In mid January, she was hospitalized for a week and a half.  She was rushed by ambulance to Rochester, and then later again to a hospital in northern Pennsylvania.  When she was finally discharged, she left diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, but still the doctors weren’t entirely confident that was indeed what was going on.

She was never the same after.  At that point, she experienced a steep decline.

We all knew she had a history with drugs (she loved Pink Floyd and Jim Morrison), but I always assumed she was just a run of the mill stoner, weed.  Before we could do anything about it, we all learned it was much more.

The biggest changes when she got out of the hospital were psychological.  Always anxious, skittish, and difficult to follow (she had an usual understanding of English, verbal dyslexia or something), all of these traits become more extreme.  She also clearly cried for help and attention, but none of us understood what she needed (nor could we provide it), least of all herself.  Her confusion and pain were so much deeper than she – or any of us – could fathom.

She had a boyfriend, quite a bit older than her as I understood.  He worked for the school, but left during her last year.  He obviously encouraged her drug use on some level.  He came to visit that spring, and I had my first sign she was going over the edge.

She came to my house to talk about her photography.  There were something like leg-warmers over her forearms – fingerless gloves obviously knitted by hand that fit up to her elbows.  One of these sleeves slipped, and I saw what seemed obviously track marks; she covered up before I could be certain.  This was enough to amplify my concerns.

Not too long after that, she came by my office again.  I am really worried, she said.  They gave me medication for the pain and the problems with Crohn’s, but I am running out.  The health insurance through the school won’t pay for another, and can’t afford it otherwise. She’d found someplace in Canada to buy it online.  I am not sure it’ll get here before I run out.

She disappeared for a day or two, just about the time I knew she’d be running out of the medication, as far as I could discern from her broken description.  I was worried.  No one had seen her.  I scrounged around the halls at school, and found somebody with her cell number.  I called, and when she answered she sounded completely hollow, like just a shell.  Will you be around for a while? she asked.  I’ll come in.

I never thought of myself as a stranger to drugs (I read Burroughs for the first time at sixteen, drank for the first time at 13, and then of course there was my father), but nothing I’d experienced before prepared me for the state she appeared when she showed up in my office that night.

There weren’t many people in the studios when she arrived, just one other woman.  I heard her come in, and then the other woman asked, Are you alright? and I was struck by the tone of her voice.  She disappeared after asking, so just the two us were left.

She was a pale green color, and looked as though barely living.  She sat in the chair opposite mine, and I pulled my knees to my chest, knowing on a liminal level just how complicated the situation before me had become.

What’s goin’ on? I said.  She responed, I’m just in a lot of pain.  I ran out of my medication. Her words came out more like breathe than real words.

Do you need anything? I asked.  I’m gonna go home.  I need rest,  she whispered, got up and left.  Call me tomorrow, I said as she walked out the door. Promise.

Her reply was again just a breathe, Absolutely.  And then she was gone.

Before the night ended, I contacted the people on campus who actually might be able to help.  Regardless, I panicked when she didn’t show up for class the next morning.  Indeed, most of the day went by without her contacting me.  A number of people from the school tried phoning her all day – myself included – and couldn’t reach her.  I assumed the worst.  I finally heard back from her around 6pm.  She sounded shattered still, but more whole than the night before.

She and I were never the same after that night.  She went to the edge, and looked me in the eye.  It made for a unique bond.

Today, I don’t doubt the story about running out of medication, though I also feel that can’t be the whole story.  She must have run out of medication, and to combat the pain used her own medications.  Her body weakened by her disease was so much more vulnerable to the drugs.


One thought on “The Driftless Area

  1. impressive …just need a minute to let that sink in…
    very thought provoking.
    thank you for finding the right balance between words and images; still plenty of room left for imagination.

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