All the way up Rte 4, Bill kept going over the conversation. After he hung up the phone, he called Caroline. She said she couldn’t possibly leave her work at the hospital until later this evening, but would drive down first thing in the morning. Caroline was speechless when Bill asked, if even for a moment, that she might somehow have known that their son’s drug problem had gone this far. That he was now shooting up, or speed balling, or snorting, or whatever it was you did with heroin. Caroline said nothing, but Bill knew she was most likely standing in the nurses’ station at RI Hospital trying very hard to hold it together.
Bill turned onto Rte 138. Traffic was heavier than he expected and as usual there was construction. The winter sun hung in the air, right at eye level. Bill dropped, and then lifted the visor, all the time watching the brake lights of the car just ahead of him.
It was dark when he got to North Kingstown.
“Arrived.” Bill had programmed his phone with the address of his son’s dorm. He parked across the street, switched off the engine. He checked his phone for messages, email, and then turned it off, slipping it into his jacket pocket. A group of young people were coming out of the building as Bill was going in. He half expected to hear them talking about the girl on campus who’d overdosed. About her boyfriend that lived here, on the third floor. Bill had kept the radio off in the car all the way up. He didn’t want to hear if the story had made the news yet. He thought if he didn’t hear it, it might not really have happened to his son, to this beautiful 19 year old girl who, until this morning, had her whole life ahead of her.
Bill wasn’t sure what to expect. What condition would he find his son in? He tapped on the door of room 319. He heard the sound of a chair slide across the floor and then Danny unlocked the door. The two hugged for a long moment saying nothing. Danny went back to the desk where he was working at his laptop, writing something. Bill took his jacket off and dropped it on the bed. Next to the bed there was a picture of Chelsea and Danny taken at a family barbecue in Newport. They were both smiling, their young faces, side by side, the sun reflecting off Chelsea’s auburn hair.
“Are you ok?” This wasn’t really the question Bill wanted to ask, but he wasn’t sure where to start.
“I guess. I don’t know.”
“What happened, how did this happen?” he paused. “When the hell did you start using heroin? Where do you even get it?”
“It’s everywhere Dad.” Danny was staring into his computer screen as if he were looking for something important. Bill went over and closed the lid hard, nearly catching his son’s fingers.
“You need to tell me exactly what happened.”
Danny sat silently. His hands appeared lost without the keyboard. The hum of the fluorescent light over the desk was the only sound for what seemed a long time to Bill. It was dinnertime, the other students would be at the dining hall.
“When’s mom coming?” Danny asked, his voice cracking.
“She’ll be here in the morning.”
Bill didn’t get to the hotel until after 11:00. Danny insisted on staying in his dorm room. They would meet in the morning for breakfast. Bill went over the things his son had told him. How he had started using “H”, as he kept calling it, at the beginning of the semester. Chelsea hadn’t known about it until just recently. He said that they had tried some different drugs together, coke, ecstasy, but he was pretty sure she wouldn’t approve of “H”, even as an experiment. When she confirmed that Danny was using through a mutual friend of theirs, she was angry and confronted him, grabbing his arm and pushing up his sleeves. She said she wanted him to stop immediately. That if he needed to get help or whatever, she would go with him to the infirmary on campus.
Bill could picture all of this. He’d seen Chelsea angry with Danny before. She had a temper, and it was generally well directed. Danny refused her help, insisting he wasn’t addicted and that it wasn’t a real problem. He told her he’d stop cold turkey and that would be the end of it. This was about a month ago, just before mid-terms. A couple of nights ago she was staying in his dorm. Danny had gone to use the bathroom and when he came back he found Chelsea going through his desk drawer. She found the “H” and blew up. That was it. As far as she was concerned they were through. She wasn’t going out with a heroin addict. He needed to make a choice right now. He could choose her, or the drug. Bill held his son as the tears came again when he said that he'd made the wrong choice.
Danny hadn’t noticed that when Chelsea bolted out of the room she had taken the small packet of powder and a syringe with her. Danny was angry that she hadn’t trusted him. He figured she’d cool down by the next morning and they’d work it out. Hell, he would even quit - he’d been trying to taper off. He’d go get help at the infirmary like she wanted him to. Whatever it took. He knew he should probably call and tell her all this, but it was late, and they would probably end up on the phone half the night. Besides, he felt foolish knowing she had every right not to trust him. He thought it could wait until morning. But it couldn’t. What was she thinking? What was she hoping to prove by using the drug herself? Danny’s grief had exhausted him. Bill had put his son to bed, kissing him on the forehead, as he had so many nights when he was a child. Now his son was a man and his whole life was coming apart around him.
Caroline left the hospital just before 11:00 pm. She had a small apartment just a few blocks away. To her surprise there were no messages when she arrived. She had hoped Bill might call and give her some insight into the situation. She passed a picture of Chelsea and Danny taken the previous summer. Caroline had seen her share of drug overdoses and couldn’t picture Chelsea that way, couldn’t believe that she was gone. Caroline imagined herself in Chelsea’s mother’s place. The parents of the two had met a couple of times. Although they seemed to like one another well enough, with Bill and Caroline divorced there was always something awkward, as if the fact of separation made the assumed ease seem forced. She thought of calling Bill, but went to bed instead. She was worried about her son, but Bill could handle it until she got there.
Bill got to the diner on Main Street ahead of his son. He hadn’t slept well and needed his Americano. No barista’s here, just plain old coffee. He was on his second cup when his son walked in. Danny was tall and with the pale light behind him he looked skinnier than Bill remembered. He was dressed in jeans and a URI hoodie. Not enough considering how cold it was outside. Bill imagined his son was feeling way too much to even notice the cold.
“Morning,” Danny said pulling the chair out from under the table and dropping his backpack to the floor.
“Were you able to sleep?”
“Not really, how about you?”
“About the same I suppose.”
“Chelsea’s mom called me this morning.”
“How is she?”
“How do you think she is Dad?” Danny said raising his voice.
“Are they on their way here?” Bill said slowly and quietly.
“Yes, they arrive in Providence late this afternoon.”
“Danny, what did you tell her.”
“I told her the truth - that her daughter OD’d on my drugs.”
“Did you tell her how it happened?” Bill was struggling to imagine Deanna’s reaction. She had always struck him as strong, stronger than her husband Kurt. Kurt, who must be devastated at losing his little girl this way.
“Not really, not over the phone. Besides the police had already spoken with her and Kurt. Truth was, she was more angry than sad. Oh, I mean, I’m sure she’s sad. How could she be anything but? The police didn’t know the drugs were mine. Now that Deanna does…”
Bill could hear the tears welling up again. The diner was getting crowded. A waitress was hovering. In the brief pause she saw her chance.
“Are you two ready to order?” She held a small pad of paper and pen ready to write.
“I’ll have a couple of eggs over easy with rye toast, dry, and more coffee when you get a chance. Danny, know what you want?”
“I wish I was dead.”
Bill looked uncomfortably at the waitress. She was in her late thirties, maybe forties. Bill imagined she’d heard her share of college kids belly aching to their parents.
“Not on the menu there mister,” she said staring at her pad of paper, waiting.
“Just cinnamon toast and coffee.”
“Right.” She was gone as quickly as she’d appeared.
Bill wasn’t sure what to say next. Looking around at all the college students he was reminded of how at that age he always knew exactly what to say. He thought again of losing April. Feeling the little tug of oblivion that came with his memories of her was like standing on the brink of a great abyss. There was the sense of a thrill from the view, but terror at the height. He couldn’t imagine how Danny was feeling at the loss of his young love, with all the guilt he was carrying.
“Your mother should be here by noon.”
“I’m going to class - it’s the last one before the final.”
“You sure you want to do that? I mean under the circumstances.”
“Me not going isn’t going to bring her back.”
Bill searched his son’s brown eyes for something to hold on to. His son looked away.
Outside the diner the two went their separate ways. Danny to class, Bill back to the hotel to meet Caroline.
“In local news a freshman at the University of Rhode Island was found dead yesterday morning in her dorm room of what appears to be a heroin overdose. The name, age and exact cause of death are not being disclosed at this time pending notification of the victims’ parents.” Caroline switched off the radio. She had just passed the entrance to the University. It was cold and the bright sunlight seemed out of place - it should be cloudy, Caroline thought, or raining. It had been raining when she brought Danny up in September. Chelsea met them at the car and helped carry things in. They were both so excited to be away at College together. Caroline thought of her own mother and how she would never have let her and Bill go off to school together. She pulled her car into the parking lot of the Red Roof Inn and turned off the engine.
If you missed the previous installment of Success Through Failure click here: