by James McAdams
When Keeli’s sister died, her parents started confusing the two of them. Her sister died of a heroin overdose, but technically from an IMF overdose—illicitly manufactured fentanyl. This is common in Orlando, four miles from Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter: we’re all dying from opiates here.
“It’s not like they confuse us all the time, James,” she says. “More like they’ll say Hey, Remember Rory? Rory was my sister’s service dog. I don’t remember Rory because I wasn’t allowed to play with him. Or Dad will roast venison and serve it, saying Your Favorite, Sweetheart! and I just look at him like You Know I’ve Been a Veggie Since I was 15, right?”
About a month after her sister’s death, she had her wisdom teeth removed and was prescribed Percocet. This is another common thing around here, in the heart of the heart of the Opioid Epidemic, receiving gateway drugs from dentists.
Six months after, Keeli was spending $400 a month on Vikes and Ox. I said, “Don’t you think it’s ironic?”
“Irony is boring,” she said. We were playing Mario Kart. It was one of those weeks where neither one of us left the house except when we ran out. We were on the dry part of the futon away from the hole in the ceiling, leaning towards the Netbook on the floor.
“Maybe you have a predisposition to those pills cuz of your sister,” I said.
“She did heroin, not this stuff.”
“They’re both opiates.”
“This is prescription.”
“Whatever.” My own high was kicking in, she could have ripped her heart out and I wouldn’t have blinked.
“Oxytocin has nothing to do with heroin,” she added, passing me with her little red car and then crashing into a wall. She flung her controller at the TV.
“Oxycontin, you mean.”
“Yes, Mr. Grammar.”
“You said Oxytocin.”
“Oxytocin is good too. Did I ever tell about when we were kids, when my sister got Rory?”
She had no memory these days so I was accustomed to hearing the same stories over and over.
“Mom said it would be a family dog. But when Rory came the trainer guy said none of us could play with him but her because they needed to form a bond. So the dog was right there but I couldn’t even pet him. It was torture.” She turned the game off and leaned into me with a sad sigh, tucking her head into my chest. She talked more about Rory again.
I listened without feeling, my jaw numb, my eyes feeling like they were leaking.
“Petting a dog produces oxytocin,” she murmured. “For the dog it’s like love.”
She sniffled. Her nostrils were abraded. “Anyway, laying here with you now, I can feel oxytocin streaming through me. I always come out on top, James, I’m not worried.”
I rubbed her lower back and looked at the ceiling. I wondered what it meant that I didn’t feel anything, if it were the drugs or something more, and I abstractly considered when I would hit my rock bottom: everyone else I knew had. Hit it, that is. When would my time come? Keeli yawned and exclaimed, “I yawned 22 times today!” I remember that was a cute thing about her, that she counted yawns.
I don’t know where she is now. I’m used to people disappearing on me these days. Ave. Chloe. Alex. Keeli. Tara, Krin, Sara. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I drive down the Atlantic coast through Rehab Alley: Jupiter, West Palm, Delray. Walking among the rusted bungalows calling their names—I hear figures in the shadows, calling out the names of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, partners, ex-partners, colleagues, neighbors, babysitters, nurses, surgeons, bankers, bus drivers, all of them God’s children, the names wailing through the night, rising and falling like a natural thing, the sun, the moon, the tide coming in and out, washing our love away.
About the photographer: Decades ago, autodidact & bloody-minded optimist kerry rawlinson gravitated from sunny Zambian skies to solid Canadian soil. Fast-forward: she follows Literature & Art’s muses around the Okanagan, barefoot, her patient husband ensuring she’s fed. She’s won contests, e.g. Geist, CAGO; and features lately in Dual Coast, Painted Bride, Connecticut River Review, Pedestal, Prelude, RiddledwArrows, ArcPoetry, among others. Find her on Tumblr and at Twitter @kerryrawli.