Craig walked into the conference room on the top floor of the rehab center. He had just taken a break and smoked a vape on the outside patio, which was strongly discouraged by the Center. He was stressed and preoccupied today. His wife Sarah had just suffered her fourth miscarriage in one year. When he left for work earlier that day she was sitting on the sofa wrapped in a soft purple blanket and blankly staring at the TV that wasn’t turned on.
Craig was a substance abuse counselor not a bereavement expert. He knew from the literature she was grieving the same way a woman would who lost a live baby. Four deaths though was a lot for his lovely wife to handle – for any woman to handle. When he looked at her she seemed so frail and lost. Her soft blue eyes darkened, her elegant long hands resting in her lap, her light-brown hair disheveled and tangled. She barely looked at him when he left for work. He had kissed her cheek and gently suggested she go for a jog, which she used to do every morning to keep her perfect figure. Sarah was silent.
The first miscarriage she had dealt with like a champ. She was only six weeks along, and one day she just started bleeding. While she was upset she just felt they should power through it. “It happened” she had heroically declared. But by the third she wasn’t as strong. They had lost their baby girl in the fifth month. No one knew why, but the baby just died. She had to deliver a stillborn, and that was more than almost anyone could bare. But this last one just destroyed Sarah. This time she was 10 weeks along and like the others just started bleeding. To rub salt in the already raw and open wound, they had to do a DNC.
Craig sat in the hallway and could hear Sarah’s sobs from the other room. They wouldn’t let him go in during the procedure. By the time it was over they had to sedate Sarah and she was out of it. The OBGYN Dr. Anderson had pulled him aside that day.
“Craig, I think your wife needs to take a break from all of this,” he said with a concerned look on his face. “She’s hormonally alone been all over the place. I am concerned she’s close to some kind of breakdown.”
They were standing in the corridor. Craig sighed and nodded. “What can I do?”
“Not get her pregnant again.”
“I’m not sure she’s going to accept that solution. She wants a baby awfully bad, doc.”
“I’m sorry to share this with you, but generally after the third miscarriage a very high percentage of women will never carry a baby to term. We don’t always know why. In your wife’s case we haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact problem. But given her emotional state and the odds of success, I urge you to take a long break before you try again.”
Craig reflected on that conversation. When he had explained to Sarah later on that they needed to put their family plans on hold, she hadn’t taken it well. She had cried and sobbed and eventually gone numb. Craig worried when he had come home the other day and found a Seagram’s vodka bottle in the trashcan along with a bottle of Merlot. He didn’t want to have to check his beautiful wife into rehab.
When he spoke to her about the liquor she only shrugged and said, “What do you expect?”
He didn’t know what to say. What did he expect? She had been through so much pain in the last few months. He encouraged her to attend some grief support groups in town. They lived in a quaint log cabin deep in the redwoods, and Craig worried the isolation wasn’t good for her either. Sarah didn’t drive and used that excuse to decline the suggestion. Craig said he would drive her and go with her since he had his own grief over their lost babies. Sarah still refused.
As Craig sat down at the mahogany conference room table he was the first one in the room. Sandra Fisher walked in and sat down. She could see Craig was preoccupied as he tended to be lately. She knew about his situation at home.
“Things still difficult?” she asked and reached out and touched his hand.
Craig looked up and gave her a half-hearted smile. “Yeah,” he shrugged. “You know I deal with emotional issues all day long. I think I’m a pretty good counselor. People tell me that anyway. But when it comes to this … well …”
Sandra who wore her usual pink scrubs, put her hand in her pocket and pulled out bubbles. She handed the bubbles to him and smiled. “Next time blow these than do vape on the patio. Merry catches you again and her ‘Uptightness’ is going to put you on suspension.”
Craig looked at the little yellow bubble bottle. Sandra had a stash of them she gave to the patients to discourage bad habits and encourage laughter and childish optimism. It was a sweet technique Craig had always appreciated. He glanced briefly at Sandra. She was attractive when she wasn’t in her stern counselor mode. Her medium length brown hair hung just past her shoulders but she always kept it in a low ponytail. She wore little if any makeup, and she didn’t seem to care about outer stuff anyway. She emphasized being happy with yourself.
She was athletic and fit. He saw her in the Center gym on the treadmill every morning with her ear buds tucked in her ears and her iPod secured with velcro to her wrist. She had tremendous focus. While she ran on the treadmill she kept her stare straight ahead and just ran. He admired her ability to handle the patients under stress. She always kept her cool. It didn’t matter how crazy the madness or mayhem. Patients could yell right in her face and yet Sandra Fisher barely blinked. She understood what all the counselors knew – their pain and frustration had absolutely nothing to do with you. She felt it was her job to maintain the calm and redirect their anger to solving their problems.
In Sandra’s office she had various posters with simple platitudes. Things like “Smile and the Whole World Smiles with You.” Craig hated that shit. It was so banal and in his opinion much too hokey for patients who faced some serious issues like their Uncle Bo molested them in the doll house and used a wooden spoon to stick up their vaginas. Craig didn’t feel confident that stupid sayings like King Solomon’s quote, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider” did anything to help a patient kick heroine. Sandra on the other hand felt these inspirational thoughts made people feel better.
Craig’s own embittered thought was “Yeah, well trying telling a woman who lost four babies to smile she’ll feel better.” But that was just his bitterness and feelings of helplessness coming out. “God I need a real smoke,” he thought to himself.
Merry and Stanley Lentwood entered about the same time. They were both cheerful. With all four of them in the room that made quorum. They were the Center’s key executives and directors. The nurses and assistants worked for this group. Craig’s seniority was lowest on the list since he was a lowly MFA while they were all Ph.D’s and carried the doctor title before their names. The qualifications in that room were impressive. This made Craig snicker. His peers were probably more fucked up then some of the patients, but don’t tell them that. They would refute their own neurosis without hesitation.
Sandra was probably the sanest person there, while Craig speculated Merry was most likely a borderline personality with a heavy dash of narcissism. Not that Craig had any room to talk. He was a combination of OCD and a hint of bi-polar depression, which he managed very well with Seroquel. The OCD only meant a lot of hand washing and an immaculate office with everything neatly in its place. The only problem was when people moved stuff his panic attacks was near epic. He would tighten up and just move it right back again.
Stanley Lentwood though was the real piece of work. He was a serial “marrying kind”. No exaggeration – eight wives later he was easy competition for Elizabeth Taylor style living. In-between marriages there were of course the various girlfriends who if he didn’t marry he dumped just as rapidly. It didn’t matter ethnicity or social status. If you were female and reasonably attractive you could qualify for Stanley’s new wife. What amazed Craig was that Stanley didn’t seem to recognize he had a detachment disorder and was in Craig’s estimation a low-level sociopath.
Craig just laughed. In his experience there wasn’t a single mental health specialist he had ever met who didn’t have demons they were battling. Craig figured it was why so many of them went into the profession – to figure out their own problems. It was only the hypocrisy that drove him to distraction. He didn’t think someone with eight wives made a good relationship counselor yet at one time Stanley had been the executive director of the Marriage and Family Center in Portland. Craig didn’t think Stanley had any business telling anyone how to be in a relationship since he was an abysmal failure in the area.
As Merry started talking it brought Craig back to the present.
“So Craig I would like your intake on the latest batch.”
“Um, yeah okay … by …”
“I’m not finished.”
“Too bad. Finish. The Board of Directors meeting is tomorrow and they want an assessment of the current batch.”
“Fine, but if it’s slopped together…”
“Whatever Craig,” said Merry with annoyance.
Sandra touched Craig’s hand, “How about I come down and help.”
“That would be great,” replied Craig as he noticed all this hand-touching from her. He wondered if Sandra was growing a little attached. A quick blink of bending her over his desk flashed through his mind. After all he wasn’t getting laid at home.
“Can you give me a quick rundown of your thoughts on the new ones?” asked Merry.
“Hmm… well, I have the most concern about Kendra. Did you read her background?”
Merry nodded and looked sad, “Yes, poor thing.”
“She’s severely depressed. We might want to put her on suicide watch.”
“Yes, I agree,” added Sandra. “I saw her in the garden and she wasn’t doing anything but stand there almost catatonic. I’m afraid when she gets her energy back she might try something.”
“Deacon Curio is another one. He won’t stop talking about Violet. It’s slightly autistic the way he won’t stop and keeps obsessing,” said Stanley.
“Clomipramine?” said Merry.
“Maybe or Anafranil,” added Craig.
“Stanley, figure it out.”
“Who else…” continued Merry.
“Frank Haley’s not doing so good either,” said Craig.
“He’s actually a pretty level guy just down about his buddies’ death. I’m going to say let him ride with talk therapy and see how that goes,” said Stanley.
“Anyone got the scoop on our MIA?” asked Sandra.
“Apparently he missed the bus,” answered Craig.
“Well … the guy stands us up we’re going to have to call the authorities,” advised Merry.
“Yup,” said Stanley. “I’m on it.”
“Good,” said Merry.
The rest of the staff meeting was about administration and general business. Craig found that part boring. When they wrapped up he was still thinking about a smoke. He figured he couldn’t sneak in another patio visit so maybe it was time for the nicotine patch. Anything that would stop the cravings. He briefly thought about why people used. He knew why. They didn’t want to have to feel as shitty as he was feeling on this day. A nice euphoric visit to “Vicodin-ville” sounded pretty good to him about now.