“So what do you do here? Are you just a support system somehow?” I asked Mark once we sat down in the scorching hot sauna. “I’m actually a counselor. But I don’t like to call myself that, because when people think of a counselor they think ‘shrink’ automatically thinking they’re crazy. People here aren’t crazy, they just have addictions and we’re here to help you cease those addictions.” I leaned back on the hot wood and closed my eyes, allowing my body to do what it needed to do. “So tell me about yourself. I know you have a supportive boyfriend, looks like you’re in to tattoos. What else is there behind Lillianah?” I opened my eyes and looked over at him, he wasn’t even sweating, and I could feel my head begin to perspire. “I have a dog. I got him the first time I sobered up. He use to be the only man in my life. The only man I thought I would ever have, but he’s great. He’s eighty pounds of lazy dog.” “What kind of dog is he?” I smiled just thinking about King. My baby boy. “English Bulldog, his name is King.”
We sat in silence for a moment and I could feel the sweat begin to drip down my face. “So you said you’ve sobered up before. How did you do it the first time?” I bit my lip thinking back to the two months of hell I went through. “Cold turkey. I hit a point in my life where I actually wanted to start enjoying my life, and you can’t exactly do that when you’re high 24/7. So I removed the people who did drugs around me out of my life, and suffered some of the worst nightmares ever, but in the end it was worth it.” “Why did you go back?” I could feel myself start to tear up. I just met this guy, yeah sure he was my ‘shrink’ but did I really want to jump in head first right off the bat? I looked over at him and he was looking at me expectantly, looks like he was waiting for me to jump in. “I heard voices,” I whispered as the first tears fell. “They’re like demons in my head. When I first got into drugs they basically told me I was a fuck up and that if I couldn’t be good at anything in life, I might as well enjoy it with what the drugs brought me. I remember walking in on my boss with a few of his friends, doing a few lines. My boyfriend and his two brothers were waiting for me in the VIP area of the club. He offered some coke to me, and I heard the voices for the first time in over a year. All I heard was ‘it’s just one hit, no harm, no foul’. That couldn’t be the furthest from the truth.” There was no point in wiping my tears away as they were now mixed in with all of the sweat. “Where has your family been in all of this?” I took a deep breath and collected myself. “I grew up in Philadelphia with a white-collar family. Very prim and proper and I was just the exact opposite. I didn’t want to go to college, I didn’t want to get married, so when I was out of high school I moved to Pittsburgh. I didn’t want to be that black cloud over my family anymore. They’re only back in my life because of Max.” “And he’s your boyfriend?” I nodded my head and smiled thinking about Max. My savior.
Once twenty minutes had past, my whole body was covered in sweat, but it felt good. It actually felt really good. All of the stress and tension that was building up was being released. “So tell me about Max.” What exactly do I tell him? Do I just come out and say he plays for the Penguins? “He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me that’s for sure.” “What does he do?” I wiped the sweat off of my neck and bit the inside of my cheek. “He plays hockey.” “Oh yeah? Like in an adult league?” I couldn’t help but laugh, I felt rude doing so though. It was a legitimate question, and who would think that a professional athlete would date a drug addict? “No actually, he plays for the Penguins.” “Max . . . Max Talbot?” “That’d be him.” I could see the wheels in his head turning as he nodded his head. “I always thought he was an ass, obviously I was wrong.” I laughed at this and looked over at him. “On the ice he does have a certain way about him, but he’s just amazing off the ice. One of the nicest guy’s I’ve ever met.” “That’s really good that you have that, and that you will have that when you get out of here.” I looked over at him and sucked in my bottom lip. “I’m worried he won’t be there. I’m worried that he might find another girl without any problems and just leave me.” “I don’t know him at all as a person, but from what you’ve told me, he’ll be there. I know you don’t want to hear this, but a common side effect of cocaine withdrawal is paranoia. I have a feeling you might just be paranoid, it’s okay though. Let’s sweat it all out.”
We spent the rest of our time in the sauna in silence and I would feel myself cry occasionally, but for the most part, I just allowed my body to sweat out all of the toxins my skin was holding. A timer went off and Mark stood up from the bench and opened the door. I followed him out and he handed me a towel. “So we go in the sauna every day while you’re here. Tonight you’ll meet with a group, and then tomorrow morning you’ll have a more conventional appointment with me in my office. Sound good?” I nodded my head and wiped myself down with the towel. “All right, see you in an hour, Clarissa comes to, so you can just come with her.” “Okay see you then.” I saw a hamper in the corner of the room and tossed my towel into it before leaving the room all together. I tried my best to remember the way back to my room, and after only getting lost once, I found it. I grabbed a change of clothes and asked Clarissa where the showers were. She pointed me in the direction and I headed down the hall, already feeling better by just sweating everything out.
I took a seat in the large circle next to Clarissa and it felt like all eyes were on me. “Hey everyone, I want to welcome Lillianah, today is her first day,” Mark smiled as he stepped in to the circle and I gave out a small wave. “Hi Lillianah,” everyone said at once, and for a moment I thought they might all be robots. Is that how I will be in a few days time? A robot? “So how about we start with you,” Mark smiled before sending a wink my way. On our walk over Clarissa gave me the simple script everyone says in the group. I stood up and cleared my throat, “hi, I’m Lillianah and I’m an addict. I’ve been sober for six days now.” Everyone clapped and congratulated me. I looked around the circle like a scared sheep and my eyes settled on Mark’s. ‘Tell them’ he mouthed to me and I nodded my head. “I overdosed on cocaine six days ago, and had a chunk of my skull extracted due to severe swelling. I was in the hospital up until yesterday, and now I’m here,” I slowly smiled all while pointing to the bandage on my head. Everyone clapped once again and Mark continued to smile at me. I slowly sat back down and Clarissa jumped up next to me. “Hi, I’m Clarissa and I’m also an addict. I’ve been sober for twenty-four days.” This continued all the way around the circle until it was back at me. I looked at Mark not knowing what to do now, but he took over the circle. “Let’s talk about our biggest obstacle to overcome on our road to recovery,” he started and I listen intently to everyone around me. They’ve been through what I’ve gone through. They know. Suddenly I wasn’t so scared, I was relieved. I actually wanted to speak. I held my hand up and Mark pointed to me. “My biggest obstacle is the acceptance of responsibility. Sure I have the typical bills, and job, or at least had a job, but it was the full blown growing up part I was running away from. My boyfriend wants to get married. In my mind marriage screams responsibility and it scares the crap out of me.” Hearing the words come out of my mouth lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders. This wasn’t something I could talk to Max about, and I felt like I was in a place where I can share these things, and the people around me would understand.
I didn’t want to be bothered by anyone, so Sidney, Flower and I sat upstairs at the brewery sharing a pitcher. My phone began vibrating on the table and I saw ‘Maman’ appear on the screen. I knew I needed to answer it, I had been ignoring her calls all week. “Hello?” I answered looking over at Flower, he just gave me an amused look. “You are alive! Maxime Talbot! What the hell is your problem!?” She basically screamed and I was shocked to hear her curse like that. “Sorry mom, it’s been a rough week, I’m okay though, physically that is.” I took a deep breath and waited for the conversation that was about to take place. I just didn’t want to talk about it, but I knew it was something I had to do. It was my mother after all. I could always hand the phone over to Flower and have him explain, but I know my mom would want to hear it from me. “What happened Maxime? You haven’t played, you’re not answering our calls, we’re worried sick.” I took a deep breath and just jumped right in. I told her the whole story, from proposing to getting the call from Molly to earlier in the day dropping her off at the rehab facility. “You had no idea she had a problem?” She asked after a few moments of silence. “No, I had no idea. I knew she had a problem in the past, but I didn’t think she did now. She’s getting help though, that’s all that matters.” I could hear my mom sniffle her nose and I bit my lip hard, not wanting to start crying again myself.
“Flower!” I yelled from the couch I was currently laying on. I had spent the last twenty minutes starring up at the ceiling, sipping on my beer through a straw. “Yeah Talbo?” He asked as he walked up to me, pool stick in hand. “I need to get fitted for a tuxedo. My best friend is getting married, I have to look excellent.” He began to laugh and I brought my eyes away from the ceiling to look at him. “We’ll go tomorrow after practice yeah? You are coming to practice right?” I nodded my head before shoving the straw back in to my mouth. I sucked some beer down and held it above me to see how much I had left. My glass was half empty. “Yeah, gotta go back at some point. Got a cup to win. Got goals to score.” “Fuck Max, you sound like Geno when you talk like that,” he laughed as he walked away. “I score goal! We win! I happy!” I yelled back as I laughed to myself. The poor Russian, he hated giving interviews, yet he was media gold. Everyone wanted to know what three word sentence he would come up with next.
I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket and pulled it out, flipping it open and shoving it to my ear. “Maxime Talbot, how many I pleasure you today?” “What if it was your mother calling Max? Are you drunk? It’s 3 PM!” I pulled my cell phone away from my ear and checked the called ID. “Hey Patty, just a few beers, what’s up?” I’d been lecture hundreds upon thousands of times from my agent about drinking, but this beer, these beers were needed. I wanted to laugh and let loose. I needed to be with my boys and just release all of the stress and tension the week had put upon me. “The media is getting restless, we have got to issue a statement. Mario has been handling most of it himself, but he doesn’t even know what to say anymore.” I pinched my eyes shut nice and tight, hoping when I opened them my cell phone was back in my pocket and this conversation never took place. “I’ll do it myself, I’ll just say I had a family crisis and for people to respect my privacy, isn’t that what everyone else does?” I asked hoping he would agree and it would be clean cut and simple. “It could, but what happens when playoffs roll around and Lil is at the games . . . bald?” “No one knows about Lil and I,” I countered as I sat up and pulled the straw in to my mouth with my tongue. “People that don’t read newspapers or blogs, like you, don’t know about Lillianah and you. It’s out there Max. Everyone knows you’re off the market and they know her name, what she looks like and what she does.” I was shocked by this piece of information. I knew we weren’t quiet about our relationship, there was no need to be, but I didn’t know it was newsworthy that I had a girlfriend. “Can we lie?” I whispered before biting on my straw and pulling it out of my glass. “You lie, the truth will come out, you’ll be the most hated man in Pittsburgh. No one likes a liar.” I downed the rest of my beer and set the empty glass on the ground next to the couch. “I’m drunk Pat, can we discuss this later when I can think with a straight mind?” “Yeah sure, I'll be in town on Wednesday, we'll talk then.”
The next day, I stood in front of a mirror in a tuxedo and did my best James Bond pose, failing miserably at it. “I look fucking amazing. When I get married, I want this tux, but with a ruffled white shirt.” Flower raised an eyebrow at me before shaking his head all together. “Hey come sit down real quick, I wanted to talk to you about something.” I jumped down from the stand I was on and took the seat next to Flower, automatically crossing my legs, because that’s what you do when you’re wearing a tux. “You okay?” He asked with concern washed over his face. “Yeah of course, why do you ask?” He took a deep breath and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. “Your girlfriend is in rehab, for a drug problem, and you’re acting like nothing happened. You’re holding it all inside Max.” He was right, he was absolutely right. But what was the problem with acting like nothing was wrong? I was sick of the questions and the media, the only thing I could think of was just acting like nothing happened at all, and just go on with my life for these next two weeks in my usual chipper mood. I took a deep breath before leaning forward myself and looking over at him. “For a few days, just for a few, can I please put on this act? I break down in bed every night, I miss her like hell and it’s only been 24 hours. Let me act like nothing is wrong okay?” “Alright, as long as you know it’s not healthy to keep emotions bottled up, we’ll be okay. I’m just looking out for your Max.” I bit my bottom lip and nodded my head. “And I appreciate that, thanks Flower. Okay, so back to how amazing I look in this tux. I can’t look better than you though. Can I wear a fedora?” He rolled his eyes at me and laughed as I walked back in to the dressing room.
When I got home that night, I did exactly what I told Flower I do. I sprayed her perfume on her pillow and crawled in, holding it close to me. I thought hard about what he said, hiding my emotions. If I did let my emotions show, I don’t know which ones would come out the strongest. The fact that I was pissed, devastated, numb . . .. I was confused. How was I suppose to feel? I wish someone could just tell me. ‘Maxime, you’re girlfriend overdosed on cocaine, you should feel disappointment. Of all the girls in all of the world, you chose the one with a defect.’ I shook my head back and forth trying to get the thought out of my mind. I picked the right girl! I know I did! She just has a glitch, right? Fuck she’s not a computer! I pulled the pillow closer to me inhaled deeply. Strawberries. The smell of strawberries took me back to our first date. She’s the right girl, the one that makes me nervous as hell and makes me stutter over my words. I’d rather stutter for the rest of my life with her, than not with someone else.