Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

The drear gray of another rainy April morning

Almost made me long for February when darkness

At least had the decency to hang around awhile.

The back bar was full of loud nurses off the night shift

At the hospital up the street.

Front bar was us, the shiftless,

Remembering when a morning’s drinking felt earned

By a hard night’s work.

A familiar face at the end of the bar,

I raise a glass, he nods a lifted eyebrow.

Dated his sister years ago.

City detective; don’t know if he’s

coming off or going on.

Vodka and OJ-perfect cover.

Used to call them screwdrivers,

Don’t know if they still do.

This isn’t the kind of place where drinks have names.

There was an empty stool beside me but he stood

Leaning-here but not here-eyes covering the door.

Don’t ask how I know, but he keeps a boyfriend

In an apartment a few blocks up the hill.

Cute kid. College student.

Too young for him but who am I to say?

Both TV’s were muted against the chatter

But you could see they were talking about drugs;

The words OPIOID EPIDEMIC slid across the screen

Like a banner pulled behind a plane.

There were pictures of pills and flashing red lights

And serious faces trying to explain the scourge.

Don’t know what’s so hard, he said.

You feel shitty.

You take a pill.

You feel better.

How tough is that?

The drugs ain’t the problem, he said.

It’s the feeling shitty.

That’s what we gotta get a handle on.

Outside you could reach up and touch the dark, pressing clouds.

It might snow yet, the fucker.

He Remembered to Eat

He remembered to eat, at least.

Two rice cakes with peanut butter.

He did it in front of her as she was leaving for the gym

So she could see.

She kissed him on the cheek and he’d playfully grumble.

Once gone, he would swallow the pills that she didn’t know about

Nor what he did to get them.

They would make

The day tolerable.

No, that was wrong…

They would make the day livable.

No, that’s the same thing.

They would make the day…enjoyable.

He would be right with the world by the time she got home.

She would sometimes mention his good moods

As if complimenting a puppy for not shitting on the rug.

How happy she was to have him back she’d say

Though he never remembered being anywhere.

He’d watch the clock and with every blink of the passing morning feel the

Darkness begin to lift, the grays become tie-dyed.

Feel yesterday’s regrets dissolve and tomorrow become nothing.

He would try to remember the feeling. This fearless thisness, and try to

Recapture it later, without the pills.

He tried that always.

It never worked.

The darkness always lurked, like a thief hiding

Until everyone was asleep.

Those times when she lay her head on his chest as she once had

With no direction, meaning or pretense and he could

Smell her sweet scalp through the shampoo.

Those times he wondered why it wasn’t enough.

Why nothing was ever enough.