I-4, Eastbound and Down




 

How long she had been in Orlando, she honestly couldn't say.  She had arrived in April or May, now it was June.  Her birthday had come and gone and she was thirty- or forty-something days sober, clean.  She carried a brass coin in her pocket that said, “CareUnit” which had been passed around the room during group that morning.  It was worth about twenty thousand dollars, or her life, and it wasn’t going to make a damn bit of difference when the weather hit.  She was out of cigarettes. She was far from home.  She prayed, not because she believed in anything but because it's what you do when you run out of answers.
 
 
Driving away from a month of undoing, she was heading directly into a wall of black, fractured with lightning and bellowing thunder.  There was no visibility, just the sound of water pouring off the car.  She pulled over and called on the prayers she’d learned during her most recent inpatient stint.  She tried the Serenity Prayer and the prayers from the first and third steps, then chanted all twelve steps over and over again.  Finally, she simply said, “Help,” and smoked every cigarette butt in the Honda’s ashtray. 

 

She decided to make a run for it.  Unable to see if anything was coming, she palmed the wheel and pulled out onto the highway, made it past the truck she had been parked behind then buckled, quit, slid back onto the shoulder.  There was no way to see, the weather was roaring.  She was afraid and alone and desperately in need of a smoke.  Her body was shaking in little fits.  The sky was slate green.  Pulling the lever on the side of seat, she reclined.  Wind rocked the car as she turned onto her right side and pulled her knees to her chest. 

 

Her breath was erratic as she ran through more prayers, this time without words.  Florida was supposed to be a fresh start, another chance, but she ended up working behind the bar at a biker club in New Smyrna.  No matter where you go, there you are.  Within a month of her arrival she signed into rehab. 

 

It took a while to notice the black wad of cloth wedged into the corner of the back seat.  She reached for it.  The blazer wasn’t hers; it was a remnant from her last night out.  When she unfolded it she felt something in the breast pocket, small and hard and square: a box of Marlboro Lights, intact and uncomplicated.   The cellophane came off easily, she turned the box upside down and tapped it against the heel of her hand.  The first deep draw off that cigarette nailed it.  She was exactly where she was supposed to be and she was being taken care of.   Torrential rain and the smell of ground strikes, a funnel cloud and nothing to do but chain smoke and ride the storm out.