Voices on Addiction: War Hero

By

On April 20, 2010 at 9:56 p.m., the day my husband’s body was found, an explosion occurred on the Deep Water Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, killing eleven crew members and injuring seventeen more. A well cracked, spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico for eighty-seven days. He was in a pool of his own blood and, just out of reach of his lifeless hand, lay a pipe with black residue.

*

Fentanyl, like heroine, can be smoked. I imagine the moment he gave in to addiction’s draw, to the promise of escape from his broken body for the last time, my childhood friend, my first middle-school crush, on the bed of his hotel room, sucking the aluminum foil pipe-thing, the vapor rushing to his lungs, his eyes going white for the last time.

*

The war hero had been inpatient for PTSD when he died. Though the war hero was addicted to the pain medications he was given for his amputated leg, he was still left alone in a hotel room across the street from the hospital. What I’m saying is, the war hero survived war then died alone in a hotel room doctors left him in from medicine doctors gave him. His nurse wanted to know where to send the war hero’s wife flowers.

*

Just before the funeral began, I overheard talk of the spill. I hadn’t heard of it yet, and I asked them to please stop, because Cleve’s body was in the other room, because I was about to bury his body and today was supposed to be about him. It was the biggest oil spill in history and I found myself at the center of the universe. Why me? No pain in the universe was worse than mine and I kept asking God, why me?

*

I search the Internet for an answer to the question “Why?” It tells me America’s veterans are particularly prone to what’s become a national epidemic of addiction to prescription medications. It tells me The amount of chronic pain and mental-health problems they report upon coming home from combat zones has led to the combination of high prescription levels and greater likelihood of overdose. It tells me The number of veterans with an opioid-use disorder dramatically spiked between 2010 and 2015. It tells me my husband is a statistic.

*

The oil was expected to hit the coast of Alabama in June, only minutes away from our hometown, only days before Cleve’s twenty-sixth birthday. I made it to the sand by sunrise. The cool water lapped against my feet and, in a wave reaching toward crest, I noticed a shadow. A ghost of black globules. A seagull plummeted into the wounded water.

*

On the news, fire blazed on the Gulf, an attempt to reduce the amount of oil, to reduce its adverse effects.

*

I lay on the sand watching water ghosts, the sun lashing, my skin tightening around my bones.

*

Soon, eight thousand animals would be dead.

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Rumpus original art by Leesa Travis.

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Sources:

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/fentanyl-treatment/similarities/

https://response.restoration.noaa.gov/insituburning

https://response.restoration.noaa.gov/oil-and-chemical-spills/significant-incidents/deepwater-horizon-oil-spill

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill

https://oceanbreezerecovery.org/blog/veteran-addiction-part-1/

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/military/veterans/sd-me-va-painkillers-20170302-story.html

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Voices on Addiction is a column devoted to true personal narratives of addiction, curated by Kelly Thompson, and authored by the spectrum of individuals affected by this illness. Through these essays, interviews, and book reviews we hope—in the words of Rebecca Solnit—to break the story by breaking the status quo of addiction: the shame, stigma, and hopelessness, and the lies and myths that surround it. Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, adult children, extended family members, spouses, friends, employers or employees, boyfriends, girlfriends, neighbors, victims of crimes, and those who’ve committed crimes as addicts, and the personnel who often serve them, nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists, prison guards, police officers, policy makers and, of course, addicts themselves: Voices on Addiction will feature your stories. Because the story of addiction impacts us all. It’s time we break it. Submit here.


Karie Fugett holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Oregon State University. Her work can be found in Cosmonauts Avenue, Deep South Magazine, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a memoir about how the Iraq war made her a widow at the age of 24. You can find her on Twitter @KarieWrites. More from this author →