I returned to Allie’s side, coffee in hand, fear in breath and vomit still lodged in my nostrils. She looked like the porcelain swans my grandmother had on her whatnot, except horizontal and I worried that I might break her if I said the wrong thing.
“Y’know what I realized? This was all a set-up,” Allie coughed. “Love is a set-up. Every romantic comedy we watched growing up, we mapped it out perfectly.” The lovers were never meant for each other. There was always some big division that should’ve been the hint that they should’ve ignored each other.”
“Do you want any water, honey?” I asked.
“Then one of them, the dumber one, they’re just so dedicated. They don’t care that the other person is black in the 1940s. They don’t care that they prefer watching the Dallas Stars over Star Trek. They don’t care that the other person is a lowlife loser. ‘We can make it work!’” Allie mocked.
“So the lowlife loser is the smarter one?”
“Weren’t you the one who chased me?”
“Doctors are sexy, John.”
Doctors are not sexy. They are the most emotionally closed-off people one could meet, especially surgeons. A general practitioner at least has enough distance from a patient before they throw up at the carcinogens trapped in a black coffin that is supposed to be one’s lung.
Everything is mechanical with a surgeon. Saving life, losing life; you have to shrug at the transience of it all. They look at a lung of cancer like a horoscope. You think it matters but they figured out it’s just an illusion.
The hospital was the last place I’d think I’d be after pulling a twelve-hour shift. But there she was on the bedroom floor, face-down in vomit that probably discolored the carpet, not breathing, body as limp as a depressed dong.
I’m not even sure doctors are smart. How many times had I heard of a colleague’s spouse getting into their drugs? Heroin though… I had to give it to Allie. I didn’t think she had it in her.
“How long have you been taking that stuff?” I asked.
“Long enough that I’d gotten sloppy.”
“Were you on it when we started dating?”
“John, I’ve lost enough brain cells to not remember our wedding. I can’t answer your question. The point is I’ve been on them for a long time. We’ve been together for ten years. You figure it out,” Allie spat.
I think the greatest problem in life is intimacy. Once you’ve gone that route, you’re dead on arrival. It’s like I said before. A regular family doctor doesn’t lose his humanity like one who snaps sinews and sutures wounds, who inadvertently murders and cracks open a body like a light beer. Intimacy is the death of interest. Once a human knows everything, the beauty and the ugly, they’re devoid of opinion. The two cancel each other out. You can’t embrace but you aren’t repelled. Is that enlightenment? God, I hope not.
I asked her, “Is there something I did wrong? What made you want to do drugs? Why not just drink red wine like a normal housewife?”
Allie smiled. “But I did drink wine, dear. I had to wash the heroin down with something, didn’t I?”
“Are you unhappy?”
“When you met me at twenty, wasn’t I unhappy then? You know why you wanted to be with me? Because I had a bad attitude. Don’t get why guys like that, but it worked for me. Just look at me now.”
Allie began to cough. I reached for the cup of water and offered it to her.
“I didn’t ask for water, John. By the way, where are the children?”
I was surprised she remembered them. “Next door at the Smiths,” I replied.
“I’m so sorry that you had to wake up Charlotte. She works all day. What did you tell her?”
“We have an emergency. Please watch the kids for us.”
“Oh, that’s good. Concise. The next time I see her she’ll be sure to ask me if everything’s ‘hunky-dory.’ Unless Alexis blabs, that is. She’s as sharp as a whip. Nothing misses her. Did she see me, John? Did Brandon?”
I walked out of the room, down the corridor, rode the elevator to the ground floor, exited the building into the parking lot and screamed. I wished I’d never found her. I wished I never saved her. I wished I could choke her out and get away with it. But as detached as I had become as a husband and a human, I was a surgeon. I was too practised at promoting life.
After a few moments to myself, I returned to Allie’s side, stunned that I saw no one stare at me, the screaming doctor, when leaving the parking lot.
As I entered, she began, “You must hate me. Your semi-charmed life is a lie and it’s all because of me.”
When I got closer to her, I realized her eyes were closed. She must’ve sensed me.
“I don’t hate you, Allie,” I contended. “You just want everything to explode around you so that you don’t have to. Nothing’s familiar if everything’s okay. And if it’s not familiar, it’s not safe.”
She chuckled and sputtered a cough. “I wouldn’t mind if the next time this happens that you let me die. But I don’t know if you have that in you.”
“You just need to plan better, dear. Get back to the organized junkie that pulls a fast one over her husband that she knows and sometimes loves,” I half-joked.
Her eyes opened and she turned to me. “You’re telling me. I really got sloppy, John.”
After a moment of silence, Allie confided that she really wanted to die. She believed she was too far gone and knew that she could never be a good example to the kids.
I didn’t know what the loving thing to do here would be. Let my wife trip out to the point she dies and live my life as a struggling single parent for someone who never was up for the challenge, or beg her to stay and probably lose her anyway as the kids watch her deteriorate like rotting fruit.
“No therapy? We have a great support group here on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We co-”
“No. I know I’m taking the coward’s way out. I know. But the fact that I don’t care should tell you that I’m not fit for the kids, or you.”
“Why does my opinion matter then?” I shot at her. “If you’re gonna do it, then just do it! Why the hell do you care what I think? Why does my opinion matter?”
“It doesn’t. But it would be nice if you could support me.”
“Support your addiction? Support death?”
“Support your freedom and a better life without me, John.”
I just shook my head until it felt like I tore my brain stem.
“I’ll think about it,” I concluded.