Fly Away Page 40

She dug through her gritty pocket for the money she’d taken from Truc’s wallet. Maybe, if she let it go, just dropped it into the rain, it would be an untangling of some kind, a do-over.

But what she pulled out was a business card with a dog-eared edge.

Dr. Karen Moody [funny name for a shrink]

Occidental Rehab

Written across the bottom was: When you’re ready to make a change.

Cloud had heard these words a thousand times in her life from doctors and social workers. Even from her daughter. People pretended all the time that they could help, that they wanted to.

Cloud had never trusted them, not even back when she was Dorothy and young enough to believe in the kindness of strangers. She had thrown away dozens of cards and flyers and pamphlets like this over the years.

But now, this time, as she sat on the garbage-stinking stoop, with rain nipping at her heels, the word—change—filled her with longing. She glimpsed the pit of her own loneliness, saw how deep it ran, how dark it was.


The street was less than a block away. Was it a sign?

There had been a time when she lived her life believing in signs. The est and Unitarian years. She’d thrown herself into one belief system after another. The jumps into faith had always been followed by depression, moods so dark and low she could only belly-crawl her way out. Each time she had failed, and each failure had taken something from her.

The one god she’d never turned to was herself. Rehab. Sobriety. One day at a time. These words and phrases had always terrified her. What if she really tried to be better—saner—and she failed at that? Would there be enough of her left to save?

And yet here she was. Sixty-some years old, the girlfriend of a mean drunk, a punching bag, essentially homeless, unemployed, a drunk and a pothead. A mother and not a mother.

There already wasn’t enough of her to save. This was the rock bottom she’d feared all of her life. She was beaten and down. The only way she could stand was if someone helped her up.

She was so tired of this life … exhausted.

It was that, the exhaustion, that did it.

She grabbed hold of the wobbly handrail and hauled herself to a shaking, unsteady stand. Gritting her teeth, she limped out into the rain and kept going.

The rehab center was housed in a small, flat-roofed brick building that dated back to Seattle’s gritty pioneer beginning. The blackened concrete viaduct thundered with traffic nearby. She took a deep breath and reached for the door handle.

It was locked.

She sat down on the concrete stoop, this time unprotected by an overhang. Rain hammered her, drenched her. Her headache continued, and so did the pain in her neck and her ankle, and the shaking grew worse, but she didn’t move. She sat there, coiled up like a sword fern, shivering and cold and shaking, until a sound roused her. She looked up and saw Dr. Moody standing in front of the steps, beneath a blossoming umbrella.

“I’ll fail,” Cloud said dully, shivering hard.

Dr. Moody came up the steps and reached out. “Come on, Dorothy. Let’s go inside where it’s dry.”

“I guess dry is the point.”

Dr. Moody laughed. “A sense of humor. That’s good. You’ll need it.”

* * *

Cloud Hart went into rehab, and forty-five days later Dorothy Hart emerged. Now she stood in her small room and packed up her few belongings: a loosely-held-together macaroni necklace and a creased, slightly blurry photograph with the date October 1962 stamped on its scalloped white edge.

They had seemed like nothing when she walked into this building, these two small personal items. Trinkets, she would have said, but now she understood their value. They were her treasures; somehow, through all her years of alcoholism and addiction, she’d held on to them. Dr. Moody claimed that it was the Real Dorothy who’d kept them, the slivered, thin, healthy part of her who had somehow been strong enough to survive it all.

Dorothy didn’t know about that. Honestly, she tried never to think about the girl she’d once been, and her life in that tract house in Rancho Flamingo. Sobriety didn’t make it easier to look back. The opposite was true, in fact. Now she lived her life in moments, in breaths drawn and released, in drinks not sipped and bowls of pot not smoked. Every dry second was a triumph.

It had begun like all of her Hail Mary passes at normalcy—with a feeling of relief. Nothing was more comforting in the beginning than relinquishing control. She’d shuffled through the center and followed the rules. She’d had no mouthwash or other alcohols or drugs to give up, no bags to be searched. She’d let Dr. Moody lead her to a small room with barred windows that overlooked the gray concrete curl of the viaduct.

When the shaking started, and then the headaches intensified, she glimpsed the truth of the decision she’d made for the first time, and she’d gone crazy. There was no other word for it, although she hated the word. Her craziness had been epic—throwing chairs, pounding her head on the wall until she bled, screaming to be let go.

She’d ended up in a detox ward for seventy-two of the longest hours of her life. She remembered it in images that crawled over one another, pulled each other out of shape until nothing made sense. She remembered the smell of her own sweat, and the feel of bile rising in her throat. She’d cursed and writhed and puked and cried. She’d begged to be let out, to be given just one drink.

And then, miraculously, she’d fallen asleep and wakened in another world, washed ashore. Disorientated, still shaking, weak as a newborn puppy.


It was hard to describe how vulnerable she’d felt, how fragile and delicate. She sat in the group therapy sessions like a ghost day after day, listening to her neighbors start their whining speeches with, Hi, I’m Barb and I’m an alcoholic. Hi, Barb!

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It was like some horrible Kumbaya camp moment, and she’d zoned out, biting her nails until they bled, tapping her foot, thinking about how soon she could get drunk and that she didn’t belong here—these guys had had overdoses and killed people in cars and been fired from jobs. They were Big-Time drunks; she was just a loser who drank too much.

She remembered when it had changed for her. It had been in morning group, about three weeks after her detox. She’d been staring down at her ragged, bleeding thumbnail, listening—barely—to fat girl Gilda complain about the time she’d been raped at a fraternity party, crying hard, spewing snot, and Dr. Moody had looked right at Cloud.

“How does that make you feel, Cloud?”

She started to laugh at the idea that the story meant anything at all to her, and then a memory floated up, bobbing to the black surface of her thoughts like a dead body.

It’s dark. He’s smoking. The red tip is terrible-looking. I smell smoke. Why won’t you be good? You make me look bad. I’m not bad.

I know you’re not.


“I used to be Dorothy” was how she’d answered, even though it made no sense.

“You can be her again,” Dr. Moody had said.

“I want that,” she’d said, realizing right then how true it was, how long it had been true, and how scared she was that it couldn’t be.

“I know it’s scary,” Dr. Moody said. The bobbleheads in group nodded, murmured their agreement.

“I’m Dorothy,” she’d said slowly, “and I’m an addict…”

That had been the beginning, maybe the only real one ever. From then on, recovery had been her addiction; honesty her drug of choice. She talked and talked and talked, told anyone who would listen about her blackouts and her mistakes and the men she’d been with—they were all the same, she saw now, a string of mean drunks with something to prove. This pattern came as no surprise when she thought about it, which she did. Endlessly. But even with her new sober-zealotry, she never named her daughter or talked about her youth. Some pains ran too deep for sharing with strangers.

“Are you ready to leave us?”

She heard Dr. Moody’s kind voice and Dorothy turned.

Dr. Moody stood in the doorway. In her high-waisted, straight-legged jeans and ethnic-embroidered tunic top, she looked like exactly who she was—a woman who gave all her time and energy to helping others. Dorothy wished she had money to give to this woman who had saved her.

“I think I’m ready, but I don’t feel like I am. What if—”

“One day at a time,” Dr. Moody said.

It should have screamed cliché, like the words of the Serenity Prayer. Both had once made her roll her eyes. Now she knew that some things could be cliché and true at the same time.

“One day at a time,” Dorothy said, nodding. She could do it that way, she hoped. Break her life into bite-sized pieces.

Dr. Moody held out a small envelope. “This is for you.”

Dorothy took it, stared down at the picture of bright red cherry tomatoes on it. “Tomato seeds.”

“For your organic garden.”

Dorothy looked up. In the past weeks, this “plan” had come to her. She’d studied it, imagined it, dreamed it. But could she do it? Could she really move back into her parents’ old investment property on Firefly Lane and rip up the overgrown rhododendrons and junipers and till the small plat of land and grow things?

She’d never successfully cared for anything in her life. She’d never succeeded, period. Not at anything. Panic began its slow, popping bubbling up inside of her.

“I’ll come out on Friday,” Dr. Moody said. “I’ll bring my boys. We’ll help you start clearing.”


“You can do this, Dorothy. You’re stronger than you think.”

No. I’m not. But what choice did she have? She couldn’t go back again.

“Will you contact your daughter?”

Dorothy released a heavy sigh. A parade of memories sidled into the room. All the times “Cloud” had abandoned Tully. She could change her name back to Dorothy, but Cloud was still a part of her, and she had broken her daughter’s heart more times than she could count. “Not yet.”


“When I believe.”

“In what?”

Dorothy looked at her counselor and saw the sadness in her dark eyes. It was understandable. Dr. Moody wanted to cure Dorothy; that was her goal. In pursuit of that cure, the doctor had put Dorothy through detox, talked her through the worst of her withdrawal, and convinced her to go on medication for mood swings. All of it had helped.

But it wasn’t a cure for the past. There was no pill that offered redemption. All Dorothy could do was change and atone and hope that someday she would be strong enough to face her daughter and apologize. “In me,” she said at last, and Dr. Moody nodded. It was a good answer. Something they talked about in group all the time. Believing in yourself was important—and hard for people who’d perfected the art of disappointing their friends and family. Truthfully, Dorothy said the words and tried to sound sincere, but she didn’t believe in the possibility of redemption. Not for her.

* * *

One day at a time, one breath at a time, one moment at a time. That was how Dorothy learned to live this new life of hers. She didn’t lose her craving for drugs and alcohol and the forgetfulness they offered, nor did she forget the bad things she’d done or the hearts she’d broken. In fact, she made a point of remembering them. She became evangelical about her change. She reveled in her pain, swam in the icy waters of clarity.

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