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Suzie sat alone in her room at the half-way house. Getting clean was a significant accomplishment, but she couldn’t help but think about all the things she ruined while she was in the grips of her addiction.
Thankful that her hands didn’t shake anymore, she picked up a pencil and grabbed the
journal given to her by the therapist. She pushed a hank of her dark hair behind her shoulder and bit her lip. Her mind that had just been full a moment ago went blank as she stared at the lined paper.
Why is this so hard? The therapist simply asked me to jot down the names of the three people I’d hurt the most with my addiction.
Her rail-thin body moved freely inside the sweatshirt they gave her during intake. Jeremy, the nurse on duty that night, apologized, saying, ‘I’m sorry, but we only have l
arges right now. I’ll get you an extra small as soon as some come in.’
That was two months ago, and here I am, still swimming in this shirt. Good thing that the pants have a drawstring. Still, have to tug at the waistband whenever I
Suzie was thankful for the program. For the first time in years, she could concentrate. For some reason, she couldn’t sort the people she’d hurt. It didn’t help that the floor nurse was doing her ‘checks.’ Every fifteen minutes, a head-count was completed. Suzie guessed it was necessary, but it was a pain in the ass. Nothing like trying to sleep at night with the door opening and someone was aiming a flashlight at your face.
She closed her eyes. The door to her memory finally opened, and she saw Michael’s face. He broke up with her when he realized she was shooting heroin. After being together since high school and the promise ring on her finger, he was just done. He cried when he said goodbye. He wished her well and left.
Her mother told her he was married now, and his wife was pregnant. Good for him. He should’ve tried to help me. If he’d really loved me, he would’ve.
Suzie took the pencil and pressed as hard as she could. She wrote,
Makes sense. I’ve suffered the most. Had a pretty face, but now it’s pitted from zits and constant picking at it. My arms are disgusting, and I’m all alone.
She let herself have a pity party. She cried until her nose was running so bad, she had to wipe her face with her sleeve. Tears still filled her eyes when she looked up to see
someone standing at the foot of her bed.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“I’m here to give you a gift.” The swarthy man with a meticulously tailored suit and
shiny shoes looked straight into her eyes.
Suzie knew she looked a wreck. After crying, her face was always blotchy and swollen. How can this guy stand to look at me?
“Oh, my dear. Don’t worry about what you look like. I don’t care about things like that. Instead, I simply want to help you.”
“Help me? How the hell can you help me? If you haven’t noticed, I’m in a rehab facility. I’m wearing clothes that don’t fit, and I just realized I’m all alone.”
“Yes, my dear. I came to help you just because you feel all alone. Don’t you want to know what gift I bring you?”
“Frankly, I think you’re a leftover hallucination. You aren’t real, and the only thing you
could want to give me is a way to get high, right?”
“Absolutely not.” The man sat on the edge of her bed. He smoothed the covers in an effort to make a flat surface.
Suzie’s eyes were drawn to his hands. They were remarkable. His fingers were long and lean. He wore a simple gold band on the middle finger of his right hand.
When she looked up, she saw he was staring at her askance.
“Okay. I’ll bite. What’s this gift you have for me?”
“It’s quite simple. I’ll give you the chance to go back to one point in time of your past life. I don’t care which point you pick, but you do.
“I suggest you pick a time where you made the wrong choice. A choice that set you down the path that led you here.”
“That’s impossible. No one gets to do that. Why would you give me that, anyway?”
“Let’s call it altruism. Or maybe not.”
“You use pretty big words, but I know what that means. So, what’s in this for you?”
“I will let you go back in time to fix whatever wrong you feel you did. And in return, you will die when time brings you back to this day and hour.”
Suzie was shocked. Did she really want to die at just thirty-two? Maybe. Maybe if she could make those thirty-two years count, it would be worth it.
“How long do I have to think about this?”
An elegant arm belonging to his left hand peeked out from the suit. He tapped the face of a gold watch and said, “When the nurse has made her rounds three times, I will return. You can then tell me your answer and wherein time you’d like to go back to.”
Before Suzie could finish nodding her head, he was gone.
Suzie held her breath. Isn’t there something in the law of physics that says matter can’t disappear without something filling the space they leave? Why didn’t I hear a popping sound or something?
Gotta be a hallucination. I was daydreaming, that’s all.
Her laugh was bordering on hysteria, and when the nurse stuck her head in to say,
“Checks,” she paused at the door.
“Suzie, is everything okay?”
“Sure, Caryn. I'm okay. Just doing my homework and thinking, you know."
Caryn stepped into the room and went to Suzie's side. "You're doing great, Suzie. Some days can be harder than others. That's all.
“Do you want me to look at what you’ve got? We can talk about it.”
“No…you’ve gotta finish checks, and I’m not ready to show it to anyone, yet.”
“Alright, dear. Oh, I almost forgot. A new order of sweats came in. There’s a set of extra-smalls with your name on them. Just come up to the desk when you’re ready.”
Suzie watched Caryn walk out of the room and felt the same way she did when the stranger left a bit ago. The room was like a vacuum. She knew she needed to make herself move, so she stood up.
With a firm grip on the waistband of her sweatpants, Suzie made her way to the nurse’s station in the middle of the floor. She tried to catch the eye of one of the nurses, so she wouldn’t have to raise her voice, but it was impossible.
“Excuse me. Um, excuse me. EXCUSE ME!”
All the nurses stopped, and six eyes lasered Suzie’s face.
“You didn’t have to yell. I’m going to have to put a five-point demerit in your chart.”
Suzie knew better than to argue. Is she did, the demerits would go higher, and she’d spend the next three days scrubbing toilets.
Inwardly screaming, Suzie took a deep breath, and using her sweetest voice, she said, “I’m sorry, ladies. I’m just excited. There’s a pair of extra-small sweats up here. I would love to wear something that’s my size.”
Apparently, that wasn’t the right thing to say, either. All three of the nurses probably wore at least a size eighteen or twenty. The lasers were back.
“Here they are.” A strong push across the desk made Suzie scramble to catch them before they fell on the floor. “Can we help your highness to anything else?”
“No, thank you.”
Suzie rushed back to her room and made a beeline for the bathroom. Knowing she couldn’t be watched here, she quickly changed her clothes, and it was amazing how much better she felt.
She took a minute to look in the mirror. She didn’t look nearly as thin, and without her hand to her waist, she didn’t resemble a degenerate, either.
She stuck out her tongue at the girl in the mirror, and the reflection did it back. All was right with the world.
Her head was clear, and now she knew for sure that the man in her room wasn’t real.
He’d never been there, and there was no deal on the table.
She looked at the clock and subconsciously counted the minutes until the mystery man was supposed to show up.
Who am I kidding? He’s not coming. And neither is anyone else.
Chuckling to herself, she grabbed her notepad from the bed and prepared to continue working on the list of people she’d hurt.
Only now, there were two lines filled in.
#2 Your parents
Oh, crap. I didn’t write that, but I know who did. He’s real, and he’s coming back. And now, I have just forty minutes to make a decision.
Suzie wasn’t freaked out anymore. In the past two minutes, and eerie calm came over her. She held the pencil firmly and began to list the watershed moments of her life.
It’s probably easier to go backwardchronologically. There’s the day I switched from smoking crack cocaine to shooting heroin. Things went downhill pretty fast from there.
No. My life was already in free fall. I’d lost the only decent job I’d ever had. What happened there? Oh, yeah. I started hanging out with Crissy and Jennifer. Man, they knew how to party. We went out every single Friday and Saturday night. Michael beganto get really pissed then.
If I go all the way back to grad school, I can remember such a feeling of accomplishment. It took me a year longer than most of my classmates, but I really knew my stuff. Professor Mundorff was the one who got me the job.
Better than the job was how proud my parents looked that day. Sure they were there with their new spouses, and my dad brought his new daughter, but it was a beautiful day. They didn’t fight, and when we all went out to dinner,my dad gave me that gorgeous Pandora bracelet.
Well, the bracelet was a casualty. I can’t even tell you what pawn shop I took it to. They gave me a whopping twenty bucks for it. I didn’t care, and yet I know my dad spent way more on it.
Okay, I’ve got thirty-five minutes left. What about my undergrad years?
No, I won’t think about that.
Before that happened, I’d never done anything more than share a joint with six other people at the end of a semester.
Before that, I didn’t have nightmares.
Before that, I cared about myself and life.
Hot tears spilled down her cheeks. The flow wasn’t going to be stopped with the back of her hand. This was a cry she’d held in for years.
These tears were all about the night she’d been raped at the frat house.
Suzie couldn’t shake the aftermath of the rape. With that memory out of its box, every emotion she’d felt that day hit her hard.
She stood up and pulled the blanket from the bed. She held it around her and let everything that happened flow over her. The rape was horrible, and thankfully, she was too drunk to remember all the details.
But I remember saying “No,” over and over. I remember him pushing me down and crushing me so hard I could barely breathe. I remember him grabbing everywhere. I remember…
Her roommate, Ellen, insisted she go to the campus dispensary the next morning. An ambulance was called to take her to the local ER from there.
Those doctors were kind, and so were most of the nurses. It was that one nurse who made me feel like it was all my fault.
Suzie could remember overhearing them in the hall. “These college girls just don’t realize that if they didn't get so drunk at the parties, this wouldn’t happen. I know I’m not going to send my daughter away to school. She doesn’t need me to pay forty-thousand dollars a year so she can learn to party.”
I wonder if my mother and father felt that way. They found out about it, of course. As soon as I reported the incident to the school, everyone found out.
Somehow, it became worse. I was in counseling for the rape, but I wasn’t prepared for anything else.
It was what happened after. How on earth could the college administrators have been so cruel? Why was I made the bad guy?
When the campus discipline board met, she and the boy each told their stories. It was his word against hers.
That’s when I became the bad guy…
He was the President of Student Affairs. As a senior, he had more friends, and his entire fraternity supported him. The college Alum Board had more members of that fraternity than any other.
She was nothing. A nobody, and worse, she was a freshman on a scholarship.
“Checks.” A different nurse this time. She just looked in the door and went on to the rest of her rounds.
I’m down to thirty minutes. I need to process this stuff faster.
I tried to go on after the decision. They called the thing a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that left me bruised and bleeding and scared of men?
Thank God for my parents. My dad found me a different school, and it took five years, but I finished my degree in International Business.
What would she do differently if she went back to her high school graduation?
No. I need to go back to when I met Michael. I need never to getinvolved with someone who was so selfish. Giving him my virginity at sixteen was a mistake.
Think that’s when I lost me. The Suzie who loved life. The Suzie who had big plans to change the world. If I could go back there, I could change everything.
Maybe it was Michael who made me afraid of men. He never made sure I was happy. Once we started having sex, that was all he wanted to do. Our so-called dates were just going somewhere to do the deed.
The sudden realization about Michael shook Suzie to her core. This new perspective crystallized into a new framework for her life over the past sixteen years.
Why didn’t we get married when we were twenty-five or twenty-six? Why was I still wearing the promise ring he gave me on Prom night?
Did he ever love me?
Those words became a thought bubble. Suzie watched it float above her. Each letter in the phrase was puffy. When she thought harder, the word ‘Love’ changed. The puffiness went away, and the images turned into bones. They now resembled the long bones of a skeleton.
And then the word ‘Me,’ grew bigger and bigger.
Did I ever love myself?
I don’t know. I don’t think I ever had the chance to get to know me. I was always something else. I was a daughter, and then I was Michael’s girl.
So, who am I now? How far do I have to go back to discover me?
Suzie stood again and threw the blanket from her shoulders. Anger spurred her into action.
She had to dig around in the discarded blanket, but she finally found the pad and pencil.
This deal could work. If he can answer some questions for me…I’ll do it.
The door creaked open again. “Checks…uh, what happened to your bed?”
“I got cold for a minute. I’m okay now.”
“Well, please make up your bed. You know you girls aren’t allowed to sleep during the day.”
Down to thirty minutes. Need to list my questions.
Will I retain the knowledge I have now?
Can I tell anyone about our deal?
If I make a difference in the world…
Do I still have to die?
Part Four – Drugs for Love
Suzie could feel the hands of the clock move. Her heart told her she was down to thirteen minutes until the stranger would be back. She wanted to ask him for more time, but she knew that was impossible.
She read over the list she’d created and crossed out, ‘Can I tell anyone about our deal?’and ‘Do I still have to die?’
The stranger didn’t look like someone who would negotiate. Suzie’s addled brain called out for relief. The stab in her belly she used to call ‘dope sick,’ made itself known. For the first time in weeks, her arms felt itchy. Within moments, her entire body felt itchy.
Oh, no. I’m exhibiting withdrawal symptoms. How can that be? I finished detoxing. Is this a mental withdrawal?
Remember last week when we talked about this in the group? If you’ve used drugs for so long to ‘stuff’ your emotions, you could experience symptoms when you’re going through feelings you’ve usually pushed away and medicated.
That’s what I’m doing. I know it is. Can I remember what I’m supposed to do to stop it?
Her journal, which she’d gotten on Day Two, lay on the bed in front of her. Ignoring the clock, she turned back to the first few pages.
My handwriting was horrible. I had the shakes, and my words are all disjointed. I don’t think I’ll find any help here.
She flipped the pages faster, and the words on one page seemed to be in darker ink. They were practically glowing.
“Acknowledge you are NOT able to do this on your own. Acknowledge ‘The One’ who can help you. Get on your knees and pray.”
Tears welled up, and Suzie felt a shudder pass across her heart. I guess I haven’t really given Him a chance here. I stopped praying years ago.
Where was He that night?
Where was He the first time I used?
Where was He every time I used?
Resentment and anger overwhelmed her, and Suzie began to sob. She remembered herself as a little girl who sang about how much Jesus loved her. She recalled how excited she was when she knew the Bible verses her Sunday School teacher asked them to recite.
What happened to that Suzie?
She slid off the bed and folded her hands together as her knees hit the floor. For the first time in years, she brought her broken heart to Him.
Images flashed through her mind. Happy pictures and finally, she saw the beautiful light shining through the stained-glass windows of the church she attended as a child.
The feelings of ‘dope sick’ left. She felt strong. She felt another emotion, too. She wasn’t sure what it was, and then she realized she was happy.
When the clock reached the appointed time, she heard the nurse say, “Checks,” and move on. She opened her eyes, and sure enough, there was a shadow across her bed.
She looked up into the eyes of an entirely different man.
Part Five – Real Love
Suzie was afraid to make a sound. The man’s eyes were closed as if he were in prayer with her. The face of this man was much kinder than the other had been.
This isn’t the same man. I’m not afraid.
This man wasn’t wearing an expensive, tailored suit. Instead, he wore old, faded Levi’s. His denim shirt was frayed at the collar, and yet, he looked regal.
No longer feeling any fear, Suzie allowed herself to observe this man from his head down to his hands—the hands were still fascinating. This man had remarkably, long fingers. The nails looked as though he must have worked in some type of construction. His thumb was even bruised under the nail as if he’d hit it with a hammer.
He’s probably a carpenter or something. I’m so drawn to him. The other man repulsed me and made me all jittery inside. And now…
She continued to study this man. Suzie’s felt intrigued by his hands. She kept returning to them like a man dying of thirst would continue to grab at a water bottle. Her study stumbled when she noticed the large scar in the middle of this otherwise beautiful skin. Suzie gasped when the identity of this man finally dawned.
It’s Him. He heard my prayer. He’s heard all my prayers. Oh, my.
He took her hands in His and pulled Suzie to her feet. Suzie looked up into the kindest eyes she’d ever seen. When He smiled, Suzie felt everything else leave her.
Time stopped. The room went away. There was only her and Him.
Without any fear, Suzie continued to hold His hand and pray. And then, He spoke.
“Yes, Suzie, it is me. Your fervent prayer summoned me to your side. I’m the same Jesus you used to sing of when you were a child. I’m the same Jesus who called you to be saved. I was with you when you were baptized in the river.”
“Oh, Jesus. I know it’s you. I can feel the love coming from you. It’s the kind of love I’ve looked for in everyone else. It’s the same wonderful feeling I had when I figured out why you had to die when you came to earth.”
“Let’s sit. I’d like you to tell me how you got lost.”
“I’m not sure. I guess I stopped going to church, and I stopped praying. I got busy with everything else, and I forgot about you.
“I’m so sorry.”Tears began to flow, and Suzie felt them on her cheeks. She didn’t feel condemnation from Him. Instead, the love intensified.
“Suzie, it isn’t uncommon for the children who loved me with all their hearts to lose touch when they grow. The ways of this world are designed to do that. I’ve been beside you all the time. I was there through everything.”
“But then, why didn’t you protect me? Why did you let the rape happen?”
“Suzie, I’m sure you’re aware of the concept of free will.”
“It was the free will of the other person, combined with the evil of this world that caused you pain. I was with you. I listened to you cry. I held your hand. You didn’t feel my love because you didn’t acknowledge me in your life.”
Suzie was quiet. Her mind was processing everything He said. She reflected on the time after the rape and it occurred to her that she felt alone, but she didn’t speak to a pastor or open her Bible. She wallowed in her pain.
The limited drug use of smoking some pot and drinking on the weekends escalated with each year. She graduated from college and finished her Masters, but she didn’t do that on her own.
“You have been with me. You’ve saved me from me so many times. I never once thought about you. How can you ever forgive me?”
“I always forgive. I am love.”
“Will that other man come back?”
“Do you want him to? Are you considering taking the offer he made?”
“I was. I thought that if I went back to the time, I felt you in my life, then I would make all my choices based on my belief in you. That way when I had to die at thirty-two, I would go to Heaven.”
“And now? What do you think now?”
Suzie searched in her heart to identify how she felt and what she thought. I think I’m fine. I don’t have to do drugs to stop the pain. All I need is to believe in Him.
“I think I can start over now. I can live the life I thought I needed to go back in time to create. I can overcome my past because I know you now.”
“Yes, you can, Suzie. Just remember, I am always at your side. Let us pray together.”
Suzie closed her eyes. She slid to the floor once more and let her knees touch the floor while she prayed on the edge of her bed. Her eyes were closed, and she continued to feel His hands on hers.
Suzie opened her eyes. He was gone, but the peace he’d brought to her was not.
Her journal lay open on the bed. She looked at the page it was opened to and something she’d written on the first day of treatment.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life.