I laid there on the carpet. Alone. Radiating out from me were spent orange capped needles, 20oz. Coca Cola bottles half filled with unknown liquid and cigarette butts, weeks old dog shit enmeshed in the 15-year-old Berber carpet and numerous pizza boxes. My husband had gone out to cop more of what I had needed for the last 10 years.
I was laying on my left side. My elbow was tucked underneath. My body was on top of my elbow and part of my tricep. My forearm was upward and I stared at the piece of paper clutched in my hand. My God-fearing, very “AA-sober” work friend Ginger had handed it to me as I was walking out of my last job. Again, being fired for absenteeism, tardiness, erratic behavior and poor hygiene. She said, “Call him, if you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
The piece of paper is now dilapidated because I’ve been folding it and unfolding it to the point that it’s almost falling apart. But you can still make out the phone number on it. My body begins to shake yet again. I couldn’t feel myself “Jonesing” because I was experiencing full-on withdrawals. I had crapped my pants hours ago. I was sweating, I had extreme dry mouth. I hadn’t showered in five days and I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten. The middle of the month was difficult. Public benefits had become tiresome.
I truly wanted to get up and bolt for the door and run screaming down the street for what I truly wanted but I didn’t want to wake him up. He was the reason I needed to change. My beautiful baby boy. I know that I wasn’t going to be named Mother-of-the-Year anytime soon but at the age of 34 years old, I was failing at so many things and I didn’t want to lose him.
I had been the All-American girl. I was raised by great parents. I had piano lessons, spoke French and had my entire college paid for. If my checking account ever ran low, magically the next day there’d be another $500.00 dollars added to it.
But I came to the conclusion that the thing I needed to do with all that comfort was to destroy it. Every time, I’d come to a major faulty conclusion in my life, a man came right after to help me live it out.
I was 24 at the time, he was 42 years old. We were smitten in love and it was beautiful until he introduced me to some of his old friends and then they eventually introduced me to “Miss China White”.
So, curled up on my apartment floor, I decided in that moment to get clean. I was emaciated, covered in bruises, all my veins had collapsed except for the ones in my neck. All the doors in my life had closed. I was desperate. I became willing to punch the numbers into the telephone.
I heard a man say, “Hello.” I said, “Hey, Ginger gave me this number to call if I wanted to change.”
I could hear him shuffling around in bed. He was probably pulling some sheets around himself and sitting up. At first, I could hear the sound of a television that suddenly went silent. He became very present.
He said, “Yes, yes, what’s going on?”
I began to tell him how bad everything had gotten. I told him how bad my marriage was the last few years. I was being rigorously honest for the first time in many years.
He just answered, “Um ok. Wow. That must be painful. Tell me more.”
Before long, I admitted I probably had a drug problem. There wasn’t any judgement in his voice. He said, “Addiction is very hard to break. I am happy that you’ve made it this far.”
I had made the call at 1:30 in the morning. And he stayed up with me the whole night. Just me talking and he listening, until the morning sun began to break.
By then I was calm. My breathing had become normal. Everything around me was in focus. The raw panic had passed. I was ok.
I didn’t care if he was some “Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book thumping bleeding deacon”, I was grateful to him, and so I said, “Hey, I really, really appreciate you and what you’ve done for me tonight. Aren’t you supposed to give me something to read in the AA Big Book or tell me where the next meeting is? Because that’d be cool. I’ll do it, you know. It’s all right.”
He chuckled and said, “Well, I’m glad this was helpful to you.”
We talked some more and I brought it up again but this time I said, “You know you’re very good at these 12-step calls, how long have you been sober?”
This time there’s a very long pause. I hear him shifting in bed. “Please, don’t hang up,” he says. “I’ve been trying not to bring this up.”
“What?” I ask.
“You won’t hang up?”
“No.” I say.
“I’m so afraid to tell you this. But the number you called….” He pauses again. “You’ve got the wrong number.”
At first, I was taken back. I was embarrassed. I had just spilled my entire torrid life to a complete stranger but the wrong one. I wanted to quickly hang up the phone but something stopped me. He didn’t hang up, so neither would I.
I would never get his name or call him back but the next day and the day after that I began to experience true joy. I truly believed that there existed true random love in the universe. And that it was unconditional. And that some of it was for me.
If I told you I had gotten my life totally together that day, I’d be a complete liar.
Today, I practice honesty, open-mindedness and willingness in my everyday life. Because that’s “how” it works. I will always remember that one wrong number brought me out of the depths of hell.
Vincent Calvarese was born in Walnut Creek, California and has worn many hats in the Bay Area–barista, salesperson, journalist, graphic designer, union representative, deputy sheriff, homeless advocate and published writer and poet. After a long educational hiatus, he returned to City College of San Francisco in August 2017. He states he had become a lazy writer. His poetic work Grief was published in Forum in December 2017.