Long Bright River



—They told me I was eleven weeks along, says Kacey. That was in September. They asked me if I’d been drinking or using any substances. I was honest with them. I told them yes, I’d been using heroin, I’d been using pills. I’d been drinking. Yes to all of it.

So the nurse, really nice nurse, says to me that she’s going to refer me to a methadone clinic, that the recommended course of action was to get on methadone, because if I quit cold turkey that could have a really bad effect on the baby. You know. I’d heard that before. I have other friends on the Ave who’ve gotten pregnant while they were still using, so this wasn’t news to me. But I still felt, I felt awful, Mick, because I just, if I ever got pregnant again I wanted to do it the right way. It’s something Connor and I used to talk about sometimes, having a baby after we got clean. It was a nice thing to think about. But I never wanted another baby taken away, says Kacey, looking at me.

I knew it would kill me, she says.



* * *





—I told Connor the news, says Kacey. He was happy, really happy. I started going to the clinic and he came with me. The two of us were really motivated for the first time.

For two weeks, I went to the clinic every day. So did Connor. We found a decent place to stay, it was abandoned but it was clean, and it was still warm enough out so it wasn’t a problem to sleep there at night. We knew we had to find something better when it got cold, but for the time being we were happy.

One day I went to the clinic at our regular time, and Connor was supposed to meet me, but he wasn’t there. So I get my dose, and I go back to where we were living, and I find him high.

That’s when I knew I had to make a change. I prayed, she says. I’m not religious but that night I prayed to God for help.



* * *





—The next day, she says, Dad showed up at the door. Like a sign, she says. Or an answer. Crazy, right? Connor was out. Dad offered to take me to Wilmington right then and there, no questions asked, but I couldn’t do that to Connor. He was the best guy I’d ever known. I know you think I’m crazy, but at the time, I thought that it was true.

I told Dad I needed a day. Just a day. I told him to come back to get me tomorrow, and I’d be ready. I could tell he didn’t believe me.



* * *





—Connor got back from wherever he was, says Kacey. I waited until he was awake enough to talk to me, and I told him I was leaving for a while, that I needed to leave him so I could get better, stay clean for the baby. I didn’t tell him where I was going. He didn’t take it well. We got into a terrible fight. He hit me, strangled me, said he was going to kill me. He pushed me down so hard I broke my wrist.

I walked out. I slept in a park that night, and the night after. I didn’t meet Dad.

I missed two doses. I was too embarrassed to show up at the clinic looking beat-up. They ask you questions, make you talk to a social worker.

I started getting shaky. Feeling bad. I know I’m withdrawing. So I figure, if I can just find subs on the street, I can treat myself for a while and taper off.



* * *





She pauses for a long time. She is looking at the ground. She’s quiet for so long that I wonder if she’s sleeping. Then she begins again.



* * *





    —I went right back to it, says Kacey. Right back in, like I never stopped. I was sleeping outside the whole time, sleeping on the street, going on a bender. I was picking up clients on the Ave.

After a few days, says Kacey, I’d had enough. I came to my senses.



* * *





Again, she goes quiet.

—What did you do, I say. Where did you go?



* * *





—I’ve never stopped being in touch with Ashley, says Kacey. I think you know that. She’s always asking after me, always checking in. Sometimes she even gives me money, Kacey says.

So I found her. I showed up at her house, and she took me in.



* * *





I shake my head. Incredulous.

—Ashley knew? I say. She saw you? She knew you were alive? She didn’t tell me?

But Kacey is frowning.

—It’s my fault, she says. I made her swear. I told her the one person she could never tell was you.

—So she lied to me too, I say.

—She saved me, Mickey, says Kacey. She fed me and gave me a shower. She gave me a bed in her house. She or Ron drove me down to the methadone clinic twice a day. They watched out for me. She talked to me about the pregnancy all the time, got me excited about meeting the baby.

You know she’s religious now, goes to church, her and Ron. They’re raising their kids in the church. And she was so supportive of me, brought me to church with them on Sundays. They even gave me work there, like cleaning the basement and the bathrooms. They paid me in food that I brought home to Ashley. Everyone was nice there. I felt really at home. Everyone there knew about the baby, too, and they were always telling me they were proud of me, that I was doing the right thing. I felt like they respected me. When I was there, in the church, it was nice. I felt almost like a hero to them.

But I was scared, Mick. Every night that I went to sleep I thought about the baby, and what I had done to the baby already. I was scared I had hurt it. I was ashamed. I hated myself. Every dose of methadone I took, I hated myself more. I know what it feels like to withdraw. I’ve had fifteen years of knowing that, and I’m grown.



* * *





She takes a quick breath.

—I thought of Thomas, she said. I couldn’t stop thinking of Thomas.

It’s the first time, in my memory, that she has ever used the name I gave him.



* * *





Kacey is crying hard now, her voice cracking and high. I stay where I am, watching my sister.

Finally, Kacey calms down a little. Continues.



* * *





—Aunt Lynn’s birthday party was at the beginning of November, says Kacey.



* * *





—Don’t tell me you were there, I say.



* * *





Kacey looks confused. She furrows her brow. Why? she says.



* * *





    —I saw them two weeks after that, I say. At Thanksgiving. They all knew I was looking for you, I say. All the O’Briens knew it. Why did they lie to me?



* * *





Kacey inhales, deeply. She is measuring her words. Deciding whether or not to say something. I can still read her face.



* * *





—Look, she says, they don’t trust you.



* * *





I laugh, once, harshly.



* * *





—Me? I say. It’s me they don’t trust? That’s the most backward thing I’ve ever heard.



* * *





—You never come around, says Kacey. You’re a cop. And, she says, but she stops. Pulls her punch.



* * *





—And what, I say.



* * *





—Say it, I say.



* * *





—And everyone knows you took Thomas.



* * *





I laugh.

—Is that what they say?



* * *





    —That’s the truth, says Kacey. Whatever the circumstances. They know you took Thomas.



* * *





I think of the looks on their faces, that day at Ashley’s. All the O’Briens. Shifting and formal and strange. Stiff when I approached them. All of them knew about Kacey. None of them let on. A slow humiliation spreads from the center of my chest outward, a sensation I recognize from childhood, so potent that it almost makes me cry. This is the feeling that being around the O’Briens has always given me. That I’m an outsider, a foundling, someone who doesn’t belong.

I stand up, abruptly, and walk to the edge of the room. I face away from my sister.



* * *





—I’m their family too, I say at last.



* * *





I hear Kacey breathing. Considering what to say next. When she speaks, her voice is delicate.



* * *





—I don’t think any of them knew you cared, she says.



* * *





I clear my throat. Enough of this, I think. Enough.



* * *





—Was Bobby there, I say.



* * *





—Where?



* * *





    —At Lynn’s party.



* * *





I turn to face her. She nods.



* * *





—Bobby was there, she says.



* * *





—And what did your face look like?



* * *





She winces. Perhaps I was too blunt.



* * *





—You mean, she says. You mean was I still beat-up-looking? Yeah. I was. I told him it was an ex. I didn’t say who.



* * *





—That explains it, I say.



* * *





—What?



* * *





—I told Bobby you’d been dating someone named Dock. He must have put two and two together. Because apparently Bobby took matters into his own hands after that.



* * *





Kacey fights a smile. You’re kidding, she says. Bobby did that for me?



* * *





    I shrug. I don’t approve of her reaction, of her satisfaction.



* * *





—I’ve always liked Bobby, says Kacey.



* * *