a seat in group

It’s early fall. There’s a new girl in our group. White, like the others. Not like me. Her shoulders curve in – no longer from the weight of the world, but now to shield her core. I want to tell her to straighten up. Tell her that her heart is already exposed. She speaks of her addiction. We all pause to welcome her. We use the same drug of choice. Opioids. The ones that allow you to sleep while awake. Same substance. Different day. I want to say this, but I’ll have to wait ‘til the words come to me. Timing is everything. She is white like the others. Not like me. She says the opioids were first offered for body pain. She’s a gymnast and was told that she was in pain. Her heart believed it before her spine did. And so, she swallowed. ‘Cause that’s what addicts do…take charge of the pain, take charge of the ruining. When the docs finally pinpointed that the pain was coming from nerves, not muscle, and switched her meds, she tried to swallow those too. But her heart screamed and her mind came to the rescue. The abusive boyfriend could bear it no longer. Who wants to beat a numb horse? He left and took the money, the degrees, the 12 years, the house, with him. And the universe sent her a heart that matched her own. She is white like the others. Not like me. The new pair began to numb their bruised hearts, this time together, this time with cheaper drugs that docs don’t prescribe. Dispersed by a majority of hands the same color as mine. Heroine. Heroin. Can’t mistake the similarities of those two words. Drug is Queen. Drug is sacrificial right hand of King. Drug is savior, gone too sweet…rotten sweet. What do you call an overly ripe queen? You don’t. She calls you. She is white like the others. Not like me. She speaks of her new legal issues – a drug deal gone wrong (do they ever go right?). Wrong place, wrong time. Wrong side of town. My side of town. She speaks of a white girl, on the wrong side of town handing money over to brown masculine hands in exchange for heart-mind-muscle relief. Trailed by the police. Found with both drug and gun in car – both belonging to the new boyfriend with the matching skin that covers up a matching heart. She speaks of privilege that allowed her to snitch on hands the same color as mine to save her own purple heart. She speaks but her words do not connect to the triangle turned square of events – white man, white woman, black felon, single black mother. She speaks more and more of a road to recovery that leads back to a nuclear home, classic family. I look down at my naked left hand. It is only her first day. I chuckle, because on her last day she will choose to sit in the same place. I know this, but she is blissfully unaware. There are no empty seats on her side of the room. I sit alone on my side. Empty seats galore. I think, I am the same color as these seats. She speaks like the others. Not like me.