“Are you sure you don’t want me to come?” Steve asked quietly as he parked the car by the curb.
He glanced over at MJ, who was nervous but trying to hide it. Her hands were fiddling with the straps of her purse and her eyes had this slight glaze over them, something that happened when she was thinking.
“Well, Steve, only one of us was previously addicted to opiates, so I think only one of us needs to go to the meeting”, MJ replied with a slight smile, though her eyes stayed locked on the nothingness in front of her.
Steve chuckled. “Well, I don’t really know what to say to that, but you should probably head in. Unless you want to skip and try again next-”
MJ cut him off. “Nope, I’m going. I’ve been putting it off long enough.”
And she had been putting it off. This was not the first time Steve had driven her to the church on the other side of town for a meeting. Her therapist had suggested it, thought it might be good for MJ to be around people who were going through the same thing. MJ thought it was a good idea too, but for some reason, she could never bring herself to leave the car. It just seemed like too much for her to handle.
But today was going to be different. She was going to walk into that church and sit through the damn meeting.
She looked over at Steve, who was staring back at her with concern written on his face.
“You just… you’ll call, if you need me? I’ll be at home but I can be here in five minutes.”
With that, MJ stepped out of the car and walked toward the front door of the church. Steve sat and watched her walk in, noting how she almost turned around to face him, but then stopped herself.
She had really grown in the last few months. Through their entire relationship, Steve could probably count on one hand the number of times MJ’s had needed him for something. She had always just been so independent, so strong willed. And she still was, but Steve knew that she was finally beginning to understand that asking for help wasn’t a weakness.
And she needed help now. She spent minutes at a time staring at the wall, completely detached from whatever she had been doing. Her hands twitched nervously when she sat still. Her midday naps were often interuppted by nightmares. She would return home from therapy sessions at the rehab center completely exhausted and in pieces.
But now, instead of MJ putting herself back together, Steve was picking up the pieces of MJ’s life and helping her stick them back together. It hadn’t been easy, for either of them- the first time Steve had tried to help MJ while she was having a panic attack, she lashed out and pushed him away, locking herself in the bathroom until Steve had Nick come and break down the door. Steve had found her fetal on the tile floor, so tired that she couldn’t walk down the hall to their bedroom.
The moment that followed, where Steve had picked up MJ’s body and carried her to bed, was the turning point for them. MJ realized that she couldn’t do this alone, and Steve realized that MJ probably needed a lot more help than she would ever let on.
Steve shook his thoughts away and drove the few miles home, parking the car and heading inside. It was quiet tonight- Frankie was with Bella and Nick was at a friend’s house working on a project. Steve turned on the TV to try and distract himself, but found that even his latest episode of a Cold War documentary couldn’t keep him from staring at his phone, worrying about MJ.
Across town, MJ entered the double doors of the church and stepped inside. She looked around nervously before seeing a sign pointing her in direction of the basement. After she made her way down the stairs, she found a half filled room with a circle of chairs in the middle. Some had people in them, while others roamed around, chatting with each other. Trying not to draw attention to herself, MJ hurried to the chairs and took a seat. Across from her, an older man gave her a sympathetic smile, which MJ couldn’t bring herself to return. She sat browsing through her phone until a woman with glasses began talking to the group.
“Hi, I’m Maggie, and I’m an addict. I’ve been sober for 4 years and 292 days. I see we have a new member here tonight, would you care to introduce yourself to the group?” She looked pointedly at MJ, whose heart was beginning to race. She shifted uncomfortably, then spoke. “Um, I’m MJ, and I’m… 113 days sober”.
As the words left her mouth, she didn’t recognize her own voice. It was still so hard for her to acknowledge her addiction, and now here she was, sharing it with a room full of strangers. Even in her worst moments, she had never truly thought of herself as an addict. She had a perscription. She was getting better.
Until she wasn’t.
MJ stopped herself from going down that spiral and tried to focus on what was being discussed by the people around her. A young man was speaking- he couldn’t have been that much older than Nick.
“And I hate that I let myself get to this point. My mom found me in my room, and I was passed out on the floor. And she had to call 911 and everything, and I was like… kind of concious enough to hear her, I guess? She just sounded so scared. And then I was really scared too, because like….”
He took a deep breath, then continued. “I don’t know if my overdose was an accident or not. Like, I don’t think I wanted to die but what if part of me did, like, subconciously? I guess it doesn’t really matter, because I didn’t die, but… just makes you think”.
With that, the man sat down while MJ stared at him. His words were ringing in her ears.
Was my overdose an accident? She thought to herself.
On the surface level, of course it was an accident. The pills were laced with fentanyl. It wasn’t her fault. It shouldn’t have happened.
But… she had taken a few more than she normally would have. She blamed it on the stress of Frankie running away but…
But what if there was more?
MJ thought back to the moments before her overdose. Everything had this fog over it, and her memories of that day were hazy. She knew she was upset, though, and that everything she had built for herself had come crashing down around her.
So maybe it wasn’t fully an accident. Maybe part of MJ wanted to overdose. Wanted to disappear.
And she was damn close to dying that day. The doctors had told her that if Steve hadn’t found her when he did, she very well would have died.
Even though she was unconscious when he found her, she could kind of hear his voice as he tried to get her to wake up. He was yelling, and then he was crying, and then he was just kind of holding on to her, willing her to open her eyes.
But MJ didn’t. She didn’t want to open her eyes, she didn’t want to wake up.
Maybe part of her was wishing she would just die.
As much as her overdose had ruled the next few months of her life, MJ had never really stopped to think about it. She had never thought about her intentions that afternoon, until right now.
Suddenly, her chest tightened and her hands began to shake. She quickly grabbed her purse and walked out of the basement, sprinting up the stairs to find the nearest bathroom. It was a single stall, so she ran in and locked the door behind her, sinking to the ground with her head between her knees. She gripped the back of her head in her hands, willing herself to slow down. Her mouth was dry and her heart was racing so fast, part of her was convinced she was having a heart attack. Her thoughts were spiraling. She had wanted to die that day. She was going to leave her family behind and take her own life without thinking about how they would be affected.
That thought brought on a wave of nausea, and she threw up into the toilet before leaning against the wall. Now she was crying and hyperventilating, clutching her hands into fists so tight that her nails were digging into her palms. Hands shaking, she fumbled through her purse before finding her phone. It took her seven tries to put the passcode in correctly, but once it was unlocked, she called Steve.
Steve picked up before the phone even had the chance to ring.
“MJ, are you okay? What happened?”
MJ tried to speak, tried to tell him what happened, but all she could do was cry into the phone.
“MJ, I’m coming to get you, alright? Stay on the phone with me until I get there. Okay?” Steve said.
MJ nodded, even though she knew Steve couldn’t see her. Across town, Steve was running out the back door, not even bothering to put on a jacket. His heart was racing- he knew the meeting would be a lot for MJ, but he didn’t expect it to disolve into this.
“MJ, honey, are you still there?” he asked into the phone while pulling out of the driveway.
All he heard in response was whimpering.
“Okay, can you try and take a deep breath? Try and slow your heart rate down a little”.
He heard MJ take a shaky breath, then start crying once more.
“Are you in the building still? I’m almost there” Steve said.
He barely heard MJ’s whispered response: “Bathroom”.
“I’m here, I’m coming”.
Steve parked haphazardly in front of the church and ran inside, pausing when he got through the front door. Suddenly, he heard a strangled cry from behind a closed door, and approached it.
He knocked gently. “MJ, it’s Steve. Can you open the door?”
He heard shuffling, and more crying, and then the sound of the bathroom door unlocking. Pushing it open, he saw MJ, his Mary Jane, on the floor, red in the face, her entire body shaking.
Closing the door behind him, Steve sat on the floor in front of MJ, so close that their knees were touching. He slowly reached out for her hand, grasping it gently and beginning to trace circles on the back of it. He didn’t know why, but that was something that always calmed her down.
“You’re okay, MJ. You’re alright. Just breathe, it’s passing” he whispered.
Her breathing was slowing, and her body was beginning to still. She looked absolutely exhausted, leaning against the bathroom wall, eyes half shut.
They sat like that for a few minutes, Steve holding MJ’s hand while she closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. When she seemed calm enough, Steve said, “MJ, I’m going to pick you up and put you in the car, okay?”
MJ just nodded, and Steve scooped her up, pulling open the bathroom door and leaving the church. Somehow, he opened the car door with her in his arms, and lightly placed her in the passenger seat, buckling her seatbelt.
The drive home was silent, save for MJ’s occasional sniffles and the low voice of the radio. Once Steve had parked in the driveway, he got out and opened MJ’s door, helping her step out of the car and up the stairs into their house.
The stairs to their bedroom looked like a mountain that MJ knew she wouldn’t be able to climb, so she opted for the couch instead, shuffling to the family room and falling back against the cushions. She hugged a throw pillow to her chest as Steve brought her a glass of water and sat next to her, placing a hand on her knee.
“What happened?” he asked simply.
MJ didn’t respond right away. She didn’t know what to say, or how to say it.
Eyes closed, she started speaking, her voice shaking.
“This guy, at the meeting, he was talking about how… how he had overdosed.
Beside her, she felt Steve tense.
“And he was saying how he did his on purpose, like he took all those pills knowing that it would kill him. And I was just sitting there, and....” her voice trailed off.
“That’s what happened with you, isn’t it, MJ?” he said.
MJ kept her eyes closed as a tear slipped out, followed by another.
Steve knew that meant yes.
He pulled MJ’s body close to his, holding her against his chest as she cried silently.
“Oh, Mary Jane, honey” he whispered into her hair.
“I’m so sorry” she sobbed into his shirt.
“I know you are, MJ. I know. It wasn’t your fault”.
Once her tears had subsided, MJ pulled herself away from Steve, wiping her eyes.
“MJ, look at me” Steve said quietly.
When MJ looked at him, his eyes were filled with so much sympathy, she wanted to start crying again.
“I’m not mad, that you… that you did that. I’m mad at myself for not realizing you needed help. Do you understand?”
MJ nodded silently.
“And you have to promise me that if you ever feel like that again, you have to tell me, okay? You have to tell me, MJ. I…” Steve trailed off before continuing, his voice starting to break: “I can’t lose you”.
MJ nodded again, wrapping her arms around him and leaning into his chest. They stayed like that for a long time, just feeling each other breathe. It was as if both of them were finally realizing what they could have lost that day.
When Nick came home from his study group an hour later, his parents were asleep on the couch- MJ laying next to Steve with her head on his chest. Steve had a protective arm slung around MJ, making sure she was safe from whatever was coming their way. Nick smiled softly at the sight, covered both of them with a blanket, and headed upstairs. MJ woke up slightly, felt the steady rise and fall of Steve’s chest, and immediately fell back asleep, knowing she was safe in his arms.