In October, the masks come off, not on, for Halloween.
The month begins in a flurry of missed meetings, missed calls, and short e-mails. “Days have been long and tiring, but I’m still standing,” Gemini writes early in the month. She’s planning her youngest son’s birthday, has started a book, and is gearing up for her internship. On Day 1 of her internship, I receive an e-mail filled with exclamation marks and details on her work station and badge.
Little D and I talk even less, but midmonth she calls and asks me to join her for a college open house on an upcoming Saturday morning. This invitation, she reads aloud, can be shared with one guest. She has chosen me, a person who treasures sleeping in on Saturdays. But we make a plan to go, to learn about culinary studies and grill an admissions officer who doesn’t know what’s coming.
Two days before Halloween, Gemini and Kevin finally sit down with me at the ECC. Throughout October, Kevin and I have continued our conversation about natural good versus evil. I’ve told him about Crime and Punishment, one of my favorite novels, and he wants to take a crack at Dostoyevsky. The day we’re to meet, he reminds me to bring the book. When he actually holds it in his hands, though, his eyes widen.
“I don’t think I can finish the whole book,” Kevin says. “How many pages?”
“We’ll read it together,” I say quickly before he can find the total page count.
“John Grisham,” Gemini says. “I want John Grisham.”
“You couldn’t find some other book on good and evil?” he asks.
“This is better than John Grisham,” I say.
“Don’t talk about my man like that.” She cracks a smile, but it drops away fast and her head falls back into her arms. Something is wrong, but she’s not yet telling me.
Kevin reads the back cover as I tell them the plot. One of their supervisors comes by and says she’s read it as well. He nods, going along with her encouragement, until she says, “If it starts to drive you crazy, just keep going. I wanted to bash my head in when I was reading it, but … just keep going.”
On that note, she leaves. Kevin again tries to determine the page count, and this time succeeds: 542 pages. He casts a dubious glance my way. Now he’s thinking of John Grisham novels, too.
Early in the month, Kevin got arrested for the fourth time, with his friends, for possession of an open container. I ask why he still drinks outside when he knows the police patrol the area and that they know him by name. He tells me it’s where he and his friends hang out, and that the police just seem to come out of nowhere. During the September bike outing, he laughed along with his friends as they cut up, but he never interrupted the guide or trashed the bike tires like they did. I next ask how much bail costs. Twenty-five dollars. For Kevin, who saves every week and lives at home, this would be a small price to pay for going along with his friends.
Some of this same crowd calls him stingy for not sharing what he’s got. They approach him on the days he gets paid, and he even calls himself stingy for not buying them anything. But what counts as stingy in Navy Yard counts as smart otherwise. Kevin saves a good chunk of each paycheck. He has no particular plans for the money. He just knows he should save, and has done so since getting hired to his first job.
After he leaves us, Gemini raises her head and tells a story that’s been a long time in the making. She’s flunked her urine test by a wide margin and has been sent for an assessment. The findings: PCP addiction, depression, and anxiety, among other challenges. The suggested plan: a 28-day detox program in an area clinic.
“This month, I don’t know what the heck’s been goin’ on. Things have been good. Things have been bad. I just can’t focus,” she tells me. But she is focused on one fact: spending 28 days away from her sons and her job is not an option.
Outpatient rehabilitation is an option, but Gemini’s tried this before and quit after two days. A cigarette dipped in formaldehyde cut with ether to make PCP costs $20 and, whether taken with friends or alone late at night, airlifts her to a calmer space she craves. It also corrodes the brain and sends kids down a one-way street to nowhere faster than she’s acknowledging. I remember Charles, an eight-year user, and can’t imagine Gemini falling as low as he did. But she could, despite being the superstar corps member and latest internship awardee. I press for a 28-day detox program.
“But what if I can’t get a job?” she says. “And then there’s my son’s birthday … I want to show them [the internship-granting company] I can do this. I know I can. I don’t even know why I do it, but I’m going to stop.”
I’ve heard this before. I watch her chuckle as she tells me, “That shit is so expensive—$20 a cigarette!” How will outpatient treatment ever compete with the friends who enable drugs, the circumstances that make smoking so compelling an escape, and a craving that’s had years to form?
The next day, Little D and I meet Gemini downtown. She’s dressed in slacks, a blouse, and pumps. A bag as large as the “house” Elaya used to carry around is slung over her shoulder.
“Now I see why government workers always have tennis shoes on,” Gemini says. “Socks and tennis shoes … That’s why they bring that extra bag.” She insists her feet don’t hurt, but changes shoes quickly. Once she’s comfortable, I raise the topic of rehab again.
“They might put me on medication. I ain’t going to take that shit,” she says. “If they give me depression medication, that makes my bipolar worse.”
“Oh, yeah, I need treatment for bipolar,” Little D says. This is the first I’ve ever heard her mention being bipolar. Carl also says he’s bipolar. It may be going around.
“It makes my bipolar worse,” Gemini repeats.
“How do I go about getting treatment?” Little D asks.
“Everyone thinks they’re bipolar,” I say.
“I know I have bipolar for real. I really do,” Little D says.
“Since they’ve already diagnosed me with bipolar and …” Gemini lets her voice trail off, hoping Little D will interrupt again. She doesn’t.
“All the more reason to do the 28-day program,” I say.
“I can’t afford it now. Maybe after December.”
A lot could change by then, though. If Gemini gets a paying job, the odds of her checking into a 28-day program will approach zero. Little D could be in school. With each job fair and interview she attends, she’s leaning further toward college.
“I don’t think people at job fairs really get hired, anyway,” she tells us. “There were too many people there. There was a line to wait to get in and then another and then another line. They messed everything up. Then I went to an orientation at Au Bon Pain. I think they just wanted foreigners. Not to say I have anything against them, but if that’s all they wanted they should have just put it out there. We had to stand up and tell them why we want to work there and how we can help Au Bon Pain. Then, the ones they felt had done a good job when they stood up, they kept their résumés. I tried to give the man my résumé and he said no. He said, ‘Thanks for coming. We’re going to see if your number works in 48 hours.’ I started laughing and just walked out. I can see that with my cell-phone number, but not my home phone. It was kinda funny. But that’s why I’m just going to go to school.”
Gemini has dialed out of this conversation and is texting with a rediscovered male friend she recently called at 2 a.m. when she was high. I ask what triggers the smoking. I’ve asked before and the answer shifts. Sometimes it’s the friends around her smoking. Sometimes it’s the being at home, without friends, and bored.
“At least it isn’t crack,” Little D reminds us. “Or heroin or crystal meth or coke.”
“It’s all forms of addition,” Gemini says. “But that heroin shit … I had an uncle who died off that. I don’t like needles or shots. Tattoos, OK. But not shots.”
The conversation then moves to thoughts on Halloween. Gemini’s son has a skeleton costume he’s dying to wear. Little D still goes trick-or-treating every year. Her favorite costume growing up was a pink pirate. Gemini says hers was an Indian costume, because it’s the only one she can remember.
Before we part, Gemini assures me that she’ll start the 28-day program in January if the outpatient program doesn’t work. She sounds convincing, but I can’t help but worry that her mind will change shortly after we say goodbye, as she tries to fend off a habit that masks itself as a friend.