Silent Witness

Karen was down to 100 pounds. She wore long sleeve shirts to work to hide the marks on her arms. It had gotten so bad that one day, her boss pulled her aside and said, “Karen, do we need to talk?”

Don’t, Ben. Life just sucks right now, you know? I’ll handle it.”

And life did suck. She was working a dead-end job with no real prospects. She had lost patience with men, starting with her father, and she loved getting high, which meant she always had money problems. She didn’t want to go back to school, either.

There was a time when she cared as much for others as she did for herself. Now she hardly cared about anyone, and she was deteriorating before everyone’s eyes. Each morning, she would stare at her hollow, craven face in the mirror and wonder what had happened.

That night, she and her friend Belinda decided to shoot up some coke. They were experienced users, but they were sloppy drunk and high, and a tiny piece of cotton got in the syringe and then into Karen’s bloodstream when she injected.

She knew something was wrong right away, but she didn’t mention it. She had been taught from the time she was a little girl to take responsibility for her actions and deal with life on her own terms. It’s what her father had always demanded of her. She was afraid to tell anyone anything, even Belinda.

“You should stay right here tonight,” Belinda said. “Be sensible, lady.”

”I can’t, Belinda. Nothing is sensible right now. I have to go. I don’t have a choice. Wish me luck.” Then she walked back to her apartment to weather the storm.

She spent most of the night shivering with fever, vomiting, and fading in and out of consciousness, alone, terrified, and confused. She didn’t call anyone, and she refused to go to the hospital. At one point, curled up in a fetal position on her bed, she visualized the one person she had always wanted in her life but could never find, the one who would never judge, and who would accept her for exactly who she was no matter what. She cluched her pillow and moaned over and over, “Please don’t let me die. Please, please, please protect me. I love you, I love you, I love you. Please don’t leave me. Please don’t let me die alone.”

Gradually, the pain she felt from a lifetime of crushing loneliness melted into warm waves of energy that flowed through her entire body, moving from the top of her head to the soles of her feet and back again in a continous cycle. She imagined the presence of someone sitting beside her, gently stroking her feverish brow and running a soft hand along her arm, shoulder, and back. She rolled over and shifted her body to the clean side of the bed, then whispered, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. . . .”

The morning found her sitting on the floor, drained and numb, her dried sweat cold against her luminous skin, her clothes soiled, and her arms wrapped limply around her knees. She gazed into the eye of the rising sun, her head still buzzing, thinking that the first light of day had never looked so beautiful.