by Gina Warren
“I’m noticing some tension between us,” Mom tells me, leaning forward to look past Dad, cramped into the narrow airplane seat between us. “And I would like to clear the air before our trip.”
Ten minutes until take-off.
Eighteen hours since I found Mom’s stash of Vicodin in the top left bathroom drawer.
Two pieces of luggage under my feet.
Twenty days since Mom put her elbows on the counter after dinner and held her face in her hands. She stammered that she’d been thinking about using for four months, since her father had died suddenly. She told me that night, “I haven’t used because I know if I do I will lose you.” There are no numbers or fractions to make pain divisible by a common denominator, to make computation possible.
Two hours and seven minutes before we land in Texas for a layover.
Four days we are about to spend together in New Orleans for my cousin’s wedding.
Some things are calculable while others are not. Time and objects broken down into some small segments are understandable, yet the idea of “clearing the air” does compute.
I slept three and a half hours last night, drank one beer and three glasses of wine, worried out-loud to one friend for two-and-a-half hours about the time I was about to spend with my parents.
“I don’t think it’s that easy,” I tell her. “I’m really upset about this and I don’t know how long that will last. We can’t just clear the air.”
Her cheery demeanor switches suddenly. “Fine. Fine,” she says sharply before shoving a water bottle into the seat pocket in front of her. The plastic crunches and crinkles as it bends. “You can decide to be mad,” she snaps. “Would you be happier if I was sobbing constantly?”
Five alarms set to wake me up at 5:00 a.m. Two cups of coffee and three Excedrin in my system. One mild headache. One upset stomach.
“No.” Dad is still sitting between us, leaning back as if to avoid the crossfire that has been characteristic of my mother’s and my brief morning interactions.
Nine minutes until take-off.
“I think you would be. I think you want me to feel bad,” she says, and I can’t help but think that she should be sobbing, at least a little. “Well, I’m going to have a good time in New Orleans.”
Thirteen hours since my mother and I sat in the kitchen together on high bar stools, talking about what happened. Six oblong white pills imprinted with M365—the remainder of her stash, relinquished to a Ziploc bag—on the counter between us.
Three things opiates do: one) relieve anxiety, two) dull pain, three) physically addict you. Out of five Americans, one has misused prescription drugs. One out of ten high school students has tried Vicodin. Five to ten percent of the population walk through life carrying a brain predisposed to addictive tendencies.
Five days since we sat at the kitchen counter at six in the afternoon and I asked her if she was still thinking about using. She said no, asserted she was happier, promised she would ask me for help if she needed it.
Zero ways in which I know how to comfort my mother in the wake of her father’s sudden absence.
Zero minutes until take-off, the plane rattling cold and metal around us. I try to disappear into the mild, warm nausea in my stomach. Somehow, as if to defy physics and gravity and everything calculable, the metal bird inexplicably rises.