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9781458204691

Starfish : A Memoir

by
  • ISBN13:

    9781458204691

  • ISBN10:

    1458204693

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2012-08-07
  • Publisher: Abbott Pr

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Summary

In 1982, Donna George is no longer a California free spirit; she's a hardcore heroin addict, incapable of mothering her two young daughters. When she's arrested for prescription forgery, she must choose between jail and Sunflower House, a mysterious long-term rehab that local addicts speak of with dread. Donna fears the confrontational program, but nothing else has worked. To make it through Sunflower House and get her children back, she will have to fight for her life. She has to allow Staff to break down her walls, so that she might become reachable. In STARFISH, Donna writes unflinchingly of her journey to recovery. She reveals how she abandoned her children in the pursuit of drugs, and shows how tough love broke through her denial. An intimate, gritty, and inspiring story. "A courageous, literary gift to the reader that provides an extraordinary look into pain, forgiveness and ultimately the kind of redemption that lifts the soul and saves us all from losing our compassion." -Stacey Remick-Simkins, English Department, George Mason University

Excerpts

1982, Santa Cruz, California I blew smoke into the wind while Roger reeled his Corvette along the cliffs. He was tall and blond, and would have been handsome if his bones didn't threaten to jump out of his skin. "Remember, if anything feels wrong, get out of there," he was saying. "Whatever you do, don't argue with the pharmacist." "I know." I'd heard it all before. The ocean flew past choppy and lonely. I thought of Layla and Tammy, and how we used to run in the waves. Roger squeezed my knee, his eyes glittering feverishly. His pupils were enormous, overpowering the blue around them. I knew mine were the same. I wished we were high, when our pupils were little pinpricks that protected us. But now they were sickly black holes that let in everything, especially pain. "It's been a while since we tried this pharmacy," I said. "It should be okay." "Just remember, it's a felony." The word flew right over my head. I didn't consider myself a criminal. I was an artist, a child of the universe. "I hope this works," I said. We needed these pills. When we couldn't get heroin, we took "loads." By taking the right combination of Doriden and #4 codeine, we achieved a high that felt almost like heroin. But this day we had hustled in vain, until now we were righteously sick. Getting well was our daily mission. We haunted emergency rooms, faking headaches and backaches. We lifted prescription pads from doctors' offices, and forged their signatures. We phoned dentists in their beds, claiming to be patients. Sometimes Roger phoned pharmacies and pretended to be a doctor, which never failed to impress me. On this day I carried a prescription written out for a fictitious person. Of our small group of conspirators, I was usually the one who wrote the scrips. I never thought of them as evidence that could be used against me. I just thought I was talented. It was raining, and I was already putting on my innocent act as we pulled into the parking lot. I had dressed carefully in my least-dirty jeans, and long sleeves to hide my tracks. With my flip-flops and sun-bleached hair, I looked like half the people in Santa Cruz. "I'll wait here," Roger said. He always sent me inside, because he already had a felony on his record. I went to the rear of the store and presented my prescription to the pharmacist. She took one look at it, and her mouth hardened. "I need some I.D," she said. I rifled through my purse. "I must have left it in the car." "I¬ can't fill this without I.D." I was supposed to leave at this point. But the cravings were clawing at my insides. "It's raining," I said. "Please." All she had to do was fill the prescription. I mean, we were going to pay for it. We weren't stealing it. I kept arguing until a blue uniform appeared on my right. I flew down the nearest aisle, but another cop blocked my way there, and the overhead mirror was filling up with blue. Shit. They handcuffed me outside in a glare of rain and red lights, while people gawked from under their umbrellas. This had to be a terrible mistake. I wasn't a criminal. I should be able to get drugs from a doctor, like in England. I heard myself sobbing. Somewhere in the parking lot, Roger watched from his ancient Corvette. At the Santa Cruz County Jail, I bypassed the women in orange hanging out by the television, and went straight to my bunk. I couldn't believe I was here again. Two weeks earlier I'd been busted in another pharmacy. I asked myself for the hundredth time why I was trapped in this hell. I'd tried everything to get clean. Last year I had checked myself into a ninety-day program in San Jose. "This time will be different, honest," I promised Layla and Tammy as we stuffed jeans into my backpack. They were tanned and barefoot, hair blond from the California sun. "I can't wait, Mommy." Little Tammy still believed in me. But Layla, two years older, was silent as she folded my T-shirts. "What about you, Layla? Aren't you excited?" "Yes, Mom." Her lower lip trembled, making me feel defensive. "I'll be my old self again, you'll see," I said, and left them with our friend Carol. Roger drove me over Highway 17. The program was dreary, as they all seemed to be, and Staff made the mistake of feeling sorry for me. On the third day I found myself on the stairs, arguing with a well-meaning counselor named Jake. I was toting a glass ashtray up to my room, to suffer alone. "You have to join us for House Meeting," Jake kept saying. "Everyone is waiting." "I said I'm sick!" I finally shouted, and hurled the ashtray at the wall, just missing his face. Staff came running. "You need to call someone to come and get you," they said. "Please," I said. "I didn't aim it at him. I wouldn't hurt anyone." But they had turned to stone. Then my hard self rose up, and I didn't care. I didn't want to be in that shithole anyway. Roger cackled as we pulled away. "I knew you couldn't do it." "Just get me well." He parked by a shady building and produced a loaded syringe. We tied off, and then nothing mattered. We slumped forward, scratching our noses. "They ... were ... assholes ..." I said, the words cotton in my mouth. He mumbled agreement. "I'm going to ... find ... the right program." "Knock your lights out." He never talked about quitting, but I had kids. I talked about quitting all the time. Any day I would do it. Any day now. I moaned in my bunk for forty-eight hours, until a guard came to my cell and barked, "Come on, George!" I jumped up and followed her through a series of doors. Someone gave me my purse. The last door gave way, and the sun dazzled my eyes. Roger stood there grinning. Grinning was good. Grinning meant he was holding. We hurried to his car and he shook out the white pills. "I got you out as soon as I could," he said. "How'd you do it?" I knew he had no money. He winked. "I went to see Joe." Every so often I made special after-hours visits to Joe in his pharmacy in exchange for drugs. I hoped Roger hadn't ruined that for me. But man, he got me out. I leaned back and savored the warmth spreading through me as we sailed past the ocean. Life was good again. My lawyer was not happy. "I told you to be careful. I told you to stay out of pharmacies." "I'm a junkie. I can't help it." He was cute and I hated to disappoint him, even if he was married and unattainable. He sighed. "I could have gotten you probation, but not now. This is your second prescription forgery charge. You're going to do time." "How much time?" This couldn't be happening to me. "I can get you a year in county. Or you can go to Sunflower House." "Not there," I said. "Somewhere else." "The prosecutor won't go for a shorter program. Sunflower House or jail, that's it. You should check in soon, before sentencing." Check in soon? I was hearing him through a fog of dope. He lit a cigarette. "I got a check from Mr. X. Is he good for the rest?" "Yeah, sure." Mr. X was my sugar daddy in Chicago. I had a couple of them around. I just couldn't go to Sunflower House. The program lasted between twelve and eighteen months, and I couldn't be away from my daughters that long. Besides, everyone said they brainwashed people there. Jail would be easier, and shorter. My mind churned. It seemed I was no good for my daughters anymore, not the way I was. And if I went to jail, I wouldn't change. Maybe the program could help me. Who was I kidding? I couldn't make it through a hard program. I couldn't even stay clean for a day. I should just take the easy way out and go to jail. If my fate was to die a j

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