I ran across the floor, picking up pill bottles, frantically trying to read the labels and figure out what Chelsea was overdosing on. Typically I feel like an expert in these types of situations, but I quickly remembered it was useless here. Pills were never a part of my addiction story: I had no idea what these four syllable drugs actually were. They sounded like Benzos. I have no idea what a Benzo is, but the names sounded like a Benzo would sound.
Chelsea looked up and cheerfully said “Heyyy, I’m fine, I’m just going be groggy when I wake up. Don’t worry about it.”
I wasn’t convinced.
We got her to her feet, threw her arm around my neck and walked her to the front door. Her level of consciousness was comparable to a strong buzz but seemed to enter a new degree of inebriation with every step we took, getting heavier and less helpful. I was so focused on keeping her steady that I had completely forgotten about the stairs when we got to them.
You’d have to visit San Francisco to truly appreciate how shitty, narrow, and winding our old apartment building staircases are.
I bear hugged her so we were chest to chest, and slowly walked backward down the stairs. She had her footing on some stairs, and could help carry her weight, while on others her feet floated across like a ballerina. I staggered a little on a step, and she looked at me sternly, like my son looks at me when I accidentally wake him up while pulling him out of the car.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I assured her, but truthfully I was assuring myself.
We got to the bottom of the step, a major victory. Soon we’d be in the truck and heading to the hospital, which is conveniently a half mile away. I’d be in bed, and get to feel sorry for myself again. But, as we neared the glass front door, I could see Jeff, her abusive ex-boyfriend and his girls hanging out at the old station wagon.
The codependent in me didn’t want Jeff and his harem to see Chelsea like this, stemming from my own deathbed wishes. I don’t care how seriously I need medical attention; I do not want my enemies ever to see me in a weakened state. If you are reading this, you are now promising to protect my image over my life if ever given the chance.
I propped her limp body as upright as possible and walked her out as her puppet master, like a scene from the movie Weekend at Bernie’s. We headed around the corner and as her puppeteer I waved her hand in an expressive gesture, like Italian guys do while telling stories, and chuckled as if she had just told me an embarrassing story about him.
The cold foggy wind hit her face, and she opened her eyes and asked why we were on the wrong street.
“I didn’t want Jeff to see you like this.”
“Oh, well thanks for thinking of me, but I think we should get to the hospital as fast as possible.”
That’s right; ordinary people care more about their life than their image. Noted. Good to know.
We turned back around. Again, when we walked passed Jeff, I threw my head back and laughed out loud this time. Chelsea, you are a riot!
I’m not sure what’s wrong with me, but I can’t help myself.
The truck was in sight now despite the slight detour. Chelsea turned to me and said we probably should have called an ambulance. She may have been right, but it was too late now.
I unlocked the door and walked her around to her side.
“Here we go, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
I peacefully placed her in her seat, buckled her up, and closed the door. As soon as the door shut, I reverted to terror and panic and ran around to my side like a getaway driver. I called the hospital on the way. A friendly man answered and politely listened to me explain the situation.
I may have already said this, but medical workers are always too calm for my liking. Their level heads and calm, reassuring voices always freak me out and enrage me.
He instructed me to the ambulance entrance. I imagined pulling in to a team of doctors and nurses who would load her into a gurney like in the movies.
Instead, we pulled up, parked in the middle of the lane, and stumbled in to meet the man who had talked to me on the phone. He had heavy shaggy curls and looked like one of the muppets distant relatives. The muppet man took her name, medical numbers and sat us down. I tapped my toes impatiently— where the fuck is that gurney?
Three minutes passed, a lifetime in might-be-dying time. Two nurses came out and loaded her into a chair and took her away. I parked the truck, grabbed my backpack, and headed back to the ER.
Her room was filled with hustle and bustle while they set her up with IV tubes, oxygen sensors and other medical equipment I’m unfamiliar with. Chelsea was undisturbed and out like a rock. They worked around her like cleaning women working around a sofa, moving it as needed.
A doctor tried to get information from me. He kept stoping me, uninterested in the details of the drama to remind me they just wanted the facts, not my opinion.
I was only mildly offended.
They rather violently woke her up to ask what she had taken, she slurred the names, coherent enough for the nurses to understand, but it was gibberish to me.
The storm of medical workers cleared out. Everyone was gone. Chelsea and I were now alone, under the fluorescent lights surrounded by the beeps of the machines.
Chelsea was peaceful, her head delicately turned to one side with a small smile. You would never know the pain that was inside her if you walked by.
I took a moment to send a message to Justine, letting her know what had happened and where we were in case she wanted to spend the night with us in the ER room. She politely passed on the offer. Not even a friend in extreme pain was enough to bring us together.
Hours passed. I journaled, meditated, and got to know the night staff, who kept politely reminding me I could go home and rest.
“I’m okay, I don’t want her to wake up alone,” I’d say. Of course, I was the one who didn’t want to wake up alone.
There wasn’t an easy way to explain the actual truth, that there was no better place for me tonight. I was sitting with one of my favorite humans, getting to be useful in a small way. I was her greeter, welcoming her back when she would wake up for a few seconds and look around.
I got up and held Chelsea’s hand and pet her hair, then She looked up and squeezed my hand and smiled, an unspoken thank you. It was hard to imagine that the same week my girlfriend left and I thought about suicide, I’d be moving someone else’s boyfriend out and keeping a friendcompany because she tried to commit suicide. We were opposite sides of the same coin: I have a disease called more, she has a disease called not enough, and together we are family, members of a tribe called still alive.
The sun would be rising soon, the doctor would be coming to clear her to leave the ER and be transferred to a Psych hospital. I was overcome with a euphoria and feeling of peace, what I’m sure some would call God. I’d have to go back into my own scary and painful world again. But the wind was at my back, suddenly everything made sense: The interconnectedness of all things, The resilience of the human spirit, The inevitability of Justine running back into my arms after her therapy appointment this week.
I just had to make it through the next two days.