A green light to greatness.®


By Christen Dennis

The sky gently weeps as I drive home from my shift at Starbucks, making the ten-minute commute to my cramped apartment. Something feels weird.

Just go check on him. It’s two minutes out of your way.

I look back now on this decision. At the time, I hated myself for being so weak.

He’s an adult, I thought. You’re not his mom. Stop caring so much. He had only ignored a few text messages. Just five. But when the man you love is a closet heroin addict, his decision to ignore a few texts sends chills up the back of my neck.

I call one last time. Another no answer. I try to shun the cold from creeping up my neck. Just go home, I tell myself. Maybe he’s already asleep.

Will’s addiction is a secret, even to his own family. It’s something that seems to always be stuffed under his shirt, plaguing him every day. It makes every room stiflingly hot. Will’s secret is mine as well, and it’s slowing destroying us both. I am addicted to a junkie, and I’m becoming a junkie myself. I am sharing a human with a drug. A sticky, black mess of heroin is our constant companion. I am unwilling to let go of one for the other.

I never really thought about heroin much before I met Will. His chocolate eyes and quick laughter captured my heart fast. His quirky humor and passion for the arts is something I love about him. He’s a terrible liar and can’t hide feelings from spilling all over his face. He often surprises me with flowers after work.

I was naïve. I believed I could free Will of his addiction by putting him in a different environment, with different friends and with my undivided attention. His addiction was a math problem I could calculate. I was wrong.

Will has two faces. The Will I love and the Will that scares me. Will is considerate and sincere. Heroin Will lies about where he was at 3 a.m. that morning. Will likes to dance with our 2-year-old kitty. Heroin Will makes me feel childish, and foolish, for worrying if he’ll make it home. Heroin Will is slowly killing himself.

Loving two different people in the same body changes you. You wonder which of his words actually hold meaning, and which words are empty promises. You learn to question everything Heroin Will says and does. You learn to accept they could never come home one day. You learn to accept that there’s nothing you can do about it.

Will and I have been together for two years, and even my parents don’t know he’s an addict. They probably wouldn’t believe it if Will confessed that he was. Will’s a hero. Heroin Will would have to be a fable. But for me the charade is difficult to bear. The silence is deafening. I am an island, and I’ve never felt so lonely.

I drive through the rain and pull up to Will’s whitewashed brick house off Welch Street in Denton. My feet feel heavy as I walk up the front steps and push the front door open. It’s never locked.

“Will, are you home?”

No answer. The house is quiet and dark. He never goes to sleep before midnight. Insomnia and paranoia haunt him like ghosts when he’s trying to wean himself off his beloved heroin. Two side-effects that follow Will’s regular attempts at “recovery.” But “recovery” is a word I don’t trust when it involves Heroin Will.

Will has tried recovery centers. None of them have worked. He’s read Alcoholics Anonymous. He has the “12 Steps” memorized. I feel shame for not knowing how to help, for not knowing how to solve this problem.

My watch screams 10:31 p.m. I dodge clothes, food wrappers, and make my way to his bedroom.


I nudge his bedroom door open with a strained creak. Silence.

And then I see a body slumped over his bed.

There’s nothing poetic about heroin. There’s nothing poetic about seeing your boyfriend’s face a sickly shade of gray. A dead shade of gray. That face stays with you. It bleeds into your skin and makes a home in your bones. I have nightmares about that gray face, those dead eyes.

There’s nothing tragically romantic about finding a needle in the arm of the man you love.

There’s nothing poetic about tears smearing your mascara as you try to shake your cold boyfriend back to life. There’s nothing romantic about calling 911 because he’s too heavy to carry to your car. I never thought about how my voice would sound, making that call. Shaky and disbelieving.
Frantically, I hide Will’s heroin in a suitcase in his closet. My fingers grab burnt spoons and dirty needles, wondering how the hell I ever got here. I untie his favorite blue bandanna from around his arm. I lie to paramedics about how it got there.

There are no beautiful suicides.

Hospitals are too white. Blinding blank walls of white that separate the sickly and the infirmed from everyone else, including me. I remember smelling latex and plastic. Seconds seem to move slower in waiting rooms. I can’t help but wonder if anyone else around me is also waiting on a relapsed boyfriend.

Before he overdosed, Will had fallen in his bathroom, giving him a sickly gash on the head and a nasty concussion before he passed out. The concussion meant he remembered nothing about “the accident.”

And a few hours later, we were driving home, pretending nothing happened.

But I remember everything. And something had happened that I could even smile about. I remember feeling almost angelic, that I had actually saved a life. Reassuring myself that I had done the right thing, that hiding Will’s heroin was the right thing to do.

I had been in the right place at the right time, I repeat to myself.

Falling in love with Will has been the best and worst decision of my life. Like the promise junkies make when they enter rehab, I’ve promised myself to take Will one day at a time. There is a very fragile trust that exists between us, something I have had to learn to live with and accept. Will takes every measure he can to hide his relapses.

But I can always tell when Will is high.

He becomes Heroin Will, the untouchable Will, who feels like doing anything and everything, all at once. The Will with bleached eyes and a hyper attitude. The Will who vomits out my car window if we go over a bump too fast. The Will who must sleep for a day to recover from a relapse.

Every time Will has a relapse, I have one of my own. I cry and crumble and feel like I’ve died for a day. Nothing feels good, and no amount of consolation really works. It just takes time. I can see how it hurts Will when he sees me like this. But sometimes I wonder if that’s the price he’s paying for what he puts me through.

I’ve lost my definition of trust. Even when Will is well, I second-guess everything he tells me.

And the pain of always questioning the one you love is often unbearable. I feel embarrassed for being so weak. For not trusting him. I constantly wonder how life would be like if I didn’t have to worry every time I let him borrow my car. Was he also buying dope? Will he blow all his savings? Is he going to get high and cause a wreck?

Carrying this secret, carrying this guilt, changes me. I’ve learned how to comfort myself when the secret becomes too heavy. Learned how to button my own dress. Learned how quickly plans and moods change.

I often can’t get his gray stare out of my head, even today, when he is rosy-cheeked with chestnut curls, still making me laugh every day. Despite his addiction, despite every lie and every relapse, despite every time we’ve had to start over, he still holds my heart.

By Christen Dennis
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