I met Jen in rehab in 1995. She was trying to kick a methadone habit and I was in an ugly battle with the bottle. She’d been in treatment a few weeks before I arrived. And when I did arrive I was running on a two-week binge that had me buckled over and racked with blurred vision. I could hardly move except for my hands that wouldn’t stop rattling. I showed up at their door with a duffle bag full of clothes and a couple of books. One of them being Camus’ Exile and the Kingdom.

They immediately put me in detox. In the bed next to me was this young dude who was hooked on speed. On the other side of me was a middle-aged man whose drug of choice (DOC) was morphine.

“I got addicted after a car accident,” he told me, his eyes pale and gone. He lost two fingers in the accident. “That was the first time I tried morphine. In a hospital of all places.”

When I was in the clear they put me through an assessment and found that I was highly depressed, was loaded with anxiety, suffered from sleeping disorders, and had a problem with alcohol.

I was a walking time bomb.

I was lethal.

I already knew this.

One of the first things they tell you when you enter rehab is that it’s not a place to find romance. Don’t look for a boyfriend or a girlfriend in rehab. That’s not what you’re there for. You’re there to rewire your brain. You’re there to get clean. You’re there to fix yourself. You’re not there to get fucked. You’re already fucked. That’s why you’re in rehab.

But when I met Jen there was an instant attraction between us. She was pretty, had beautiful green eyes, fair skin, and short brown hair. Over the next week I’d see her around the facility. We’d stop and chat, talk about our treatment and whatnot. Small talk. But there was something else going on. One night after a group session I was walking out to my car and she stopped me.

“So, what are you doing tonight, Reno?”

“Try not to walk into a bar and get shellacked,” I said, laughing.

“Sounds like a good plan. How about some coffee? Want to join me?”

That night over coffee and her burning cigarettes we told each other’s story. She came from a wealthy family, was born and raised in Miami. Two brothers, one sister. Mom was a materialistic pill-popping bitch and dad was a functioning drunk who owned a Budweiser distribution center that allowed him to fill up his houses with kitschy shit and wrap his neck and fingers in diamonds and gold. Her brothers were alcoholics and her sister, who owned a successful talent agency, was addicted to everything. Coke, booze, opiates. She was a professional addict who never missed a day of work, never lost control, never went to rehab.

“She has her addictions under control,” Jen said. “If there’s even such a thing.”

Jen worked as a graphic designer and was heavy in the Miami art scene. That’s where she was introduced to methadone. Like many addicts, she experimented with all kinds of drugs including alcohol. But it was methadone that did her in. Her story was the typical drug tale: at first her using was recreational, a weekend thing. And then quietly and suddenly she was in the throes of full-blown addiction: methadone was running her life, waking her up, putting her to bed, and calling all the shots in between.

She avoided friends and family. Her work started to suffer and then disappeared all together. She lost self-respect, her dignity. And then she didn’t care. Didn’t care what happened to her. She packed up and drove across the states to Vegas not remembering much of the drive. I knew the story all too well. I lost my fiancé over alcohol. I disconnected from friends, family, and eventually myself. I told her that when my addiction was at its worse I knew damn well I was killing myself but didn’t care. The pleading voices over the phone didn’t mean a fucking thing. The concerned faces of those who loved me were featureless, blank, nothing.

The bottle won and was eating me alive.

We started to see each other a lot. We’d go to the movies, have dinner. We’d jog the Vegas Strip, hike Mount Charleston. We flew to California and sipped lemonade on the Santa Monica Pier. We watched the sunset and held each other. We couldn’t change the past. What the future held in store for us was a mystery. There were no guarantees—our promises just fragile utterances that could be snapped by the deceitful, cunning, and destructive voice of the addictive mind. But we were sober today. That was our mantra.

Today.

Today.

Today.

On the night that it happened we were walking in Sunset Park and I reached for her hand. We walked for quite a while without saying a word. But there really wasn’t much to say. Our hands weaved together said all there was to say.

“Want to go to my place?” she asked.

We sat at her kitchen table listening to Derek and the Dominos and talked long into the night. We wondered and worried if we were ever going to kick our habits. We knew we were in trouble, that our addictions had a stranglehold on us. We knew that if we continued to use then the end result would be the grave. There was no doubt about it. Two months before I lost a dear friend to heroin. A year before that another friend lost his fight with alcohol. One dead at forty-one, the other at twenty-seven. Good men. Funny, intelligent, gentle. But sick and damaged beyond repair. I was right behind them. So was Jen.

We knew we were in control of this.

We knew we were out of control.

“Reno, I know you don’t love me,” Jen said, looking through me. “But will you make love to me?”

My ex-girlfriend’s face flashed in front of me. Her telling me to wait, to not sleep with anyone, love anyone, that it will only complicate matters, not yet, get clean, please, I’ll wait. I shut off my picture-making machine, pushed away her words, and followed Jen to her bedroom as the opening lead to “Layla” slurred behind us.

Let’s make the best of the situation/Before I finally go insane/Please don’t say we’ll never find a way/And tell me all my love’s in vain

I woke up to Jen sitting on the bed Indian-style reading a book of poems I bought her. She looked beautiful, peaceful, her green eyes bright and clear.

“Hey,” she said, in a soft voice.

“Good morning.”

We stared at each other, examining each other’s face looking for something. I finally sat up, held her face in my hands, and kissed her. Tears rushed down her face. And then I started crying. We crossed over. We broke the rules of rehab. We cared for each other now. We wanted each other to get well, to be happy. We wanted the best for one another. We wanted each other to be clean and sober. We held each other thinking the same thing: please don’t use, don’t drink.

* * *

After three months we completed the program. Jen finished before me, but continued her treatment at another facility. We continued to see each other, but as time passed we saw less and less of each other. We were in love, but knew that because of our addictions a serious long-term relationship would be a precarious situation. We were dangerous for each other and didn’t want to bring the other down if our addictions surfaced again. The statistics said there was a high probability they would. This terrified us and eventually broke us up. We cared for each other too much to take the chance.

I remember our last phone call which would be the last time I’d hear her voice. We thanked each other, wished each other good luck, said that we’ll always love one another, but that it just couldn’t be. It was devastating. I hung up the phone empty, crying, lost, but sober. To this day I can still hear her voice coming over the wire.

“We’ll be all right, Reno. We’ll be O.K.”

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RENO J. ROMERO was born in the badlands of El Sereno, California. A bona fide Las Vegan, he also lived in the dirty South for three miserable years, where he was introduced to depression, grits, humidity, and sweet tea. A graduate of UNLV, the Southern Nevada Writing Project, and seedy bars, he enjoys Chinese food, Tamron Hall, the Trickster, and football. He currently writes poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction from the California desert, living among rattlesnakes, old bones, and biker speed. He's been published in various publications including Falling From the Sky (short story anthology), Celebrity Poets, and Central Speak. He can be reached at [email protected]

71 responses to “Jen; or Hooked”

  1. Gloria says:

    God, this is beautiful. And sad, sad, sad.

    Gorgeous writing, Reno.

    • reno says:

      hey gloria! thanks a lot for the comment. yeah, very sad. but all is a-ok. take care my friend.

      always,
      reno

  2. Cindy says:

    Your words are so poetic and always capture me so intensely. Thank you for sharing yourself and your deepest feelings with us…. you have such a gift.

  3. reno says:

    cindy-
    hey. well, i’m very pleased that the story worked for you. wild trying times to say the least. but hey: i got a story out of it. and it’s ALL about getting the story, right? well…

    anyhow, thanks for taking out the time to read the post. there are GOBS of talented writers on this website. poke around. good stuff. take care, cindy.

    hesperia rules,
    reno jess romero

  4. TammyAllen says:

    You almost made me cry. BUT. You didn’t.

    Beautiful Reno, I’m glad you are my texting friend.

    Just knowing someone loves with out even seeing them is powerful.

    XO

    TA

    • reno says:

      tammy-

      i heart our texting sessions. anytime. anyday. glad you didn’t cry. all is well. bye, sis. text you tonight before i hit the sack.

      always,
      r

  5. TammyAllen says:

    loves you. ah. Nobody loves me. JK

  6. Zara Potts says:

    Dimples,
    This made me bite my nails just a little bit. It hurts me to think that you were in this spot.
    I’m glad you made it through – I’m glad you found Jen and that you both had a long moment of loving each other. Love can heal. Whatever its form.
    Beautiful piece, my friend.
    You are alright. You are definitely ok.
    xx

    • reno says:

      z-

      thank you very much for reading. that was a long time ago. old days. but i guess one is never really out of the woods when it comes to matters such as these. but you dig in.

      today.

      today.

      today.

      that’s all i have. writing this reminded me of those late night chats we used to have (btw: i’ll be getting the internet at my pad and we can pick up where we left off). but first: we chat in the flesh. hollywood in my sights. can’t fucking wait. we carry on, z. it’s a must.

      see you in two weeks. lip balm out and applied.

      pucker up,
      reno

  7. angela says:

    this brought a tear to my eye. deceptively simple yet powerful story.

    • reno says:

      hey, angela-

      how are you? it’s a beautiful day in the CA desert. just got back from a four mile bike ride. fun, fun. well, i’d like to thank you reading the tale of me and jen. trying, crazy, times. sometimes you have to go through the fire, i guess. i did. and it still lingers. some things will simply not disappear. cards delt. anyhow, do take care, angela, and thanks again. have a great night.

      always,
      r

  8. Jim Lyons says:

    Thank you for sharing this story Jess. I’m ALWAYS looking forward to your texts each morning, to know you still have an abundance of wit and charm to share with us from that brain and heart of yours.

    • reno says:

      lyons-

      there you are. you will ALWAYS get my silly morning texts. tomorrow guess what will happen? yep, you guessed it: yet another lame note, definition, song lyric, maxim, etc. gotta keep the levity floating right? you are a brother for life. thank you, thank you, thank you. love you for years and years good sir.

      go vikings,
      reno

  9. Sweet Donna says:

    WOW!!! I loved this, it is so powerful and moving! You are awesome my friend and I like how you portray the loving moment’s between Jen and yourself. That was so beautiful and at the same time “priceless”. Baby You Rock!!!

    • reno says:

      sweet donna-

      hello, sis. muchos gracias for reading the post. nice to see you on these boards. i’ll be in vegas next month and we’ll get together for tamales, arroz con pollo, al green, and SPRITE. eerrrr. it’s a date. tell cook to clear out the living room because we’re gonna break off some fucking dancing with the chicanos and sheeit. you betcha. bye, DB, you lucious thang you.

      pootie tang,
      reno romero

  10. Judy Prince says:

    A beautifully smooth ride/read, reno.

    You two were sooooo wise—-at every step on the path.

    keep up the love in your travels.

    al green most definitely

    judy

    • reno says:

      judy!

      hey there. crazy times, judy. crazy times. i think that when you get through stuff like that you come out of it with something. hopefully that something is positive. hopefully. the potential is there at least. it’s fertile ground for good things–life changing things. thanks for reading, judy. you’re the best.

      seared jalapenos and virgin margaritas (ah, to the hell with it! tequila!),
      reno romero

      • Judy Prince says:

        reno!!! My mouth would be just as seared as the jalapenos!

        full moon, happy nights,

        Judy your seared but soaring friend

        • reno says:

          judy!

          good morning. you know i frickin’ LOVE jalapenos. i put them on everything: pizza, salads, hot dogs (in my case turkey dogs), tacos, turkey burgers, etc. maybe one day we’ll meet up, buy a jug of those delicious babies and tear into them. why not? take care, judy…

          wait!

          did i tell you that my high school sweetheart was named judy? yeah, no fibs. but she spelled it judi. she was a neat gal. pretty green eyeballs. long hair. ahh, women…

          lipstick and oregano,
          reno jalapeno

        • Judy Prince says:

          reno, my heart would cease to beat, despite all my protests, if I ate jalapenos! I can barely manage to eat raw onions on a lamburger!

          I think, though, my fave guacamole recipe has jalapenos in it.

          Help me out here, I’m not the sharpest bulb in the drawer when it comes to recipes, which I never follow anyway.

          So do you first soak the jalapenos in like brine or lye in order to draw out some of its heat?

          Dude—–Judi was your girlfriend?! Oh man, you know she had some major attribute missing if she couldn’t find the “y” on her keyboard insteada that final “i”. She might have *looked* hot, reno, but she fer sher had that hidden terror-of-y-syndrome; and that’s a killer, ya know. And she might’ve taken you down with her. See how fortunate you are?

          chicken thighs and cilantro,

          Judy

  11. Laura Bogart says:

    Really stirring, powerful post.

  12. thank you for this. stay blessed.

    RMcK

  13. Matt says:

    Brother Reno-

    I read this, and just sat there and stared at the screen for a while. Went back and read it again. And again. Trying to find the right words.

    This is elegant in its simplicity and devastating in its impact. Well done all around, sir. I doff my cap to your skill, and that you’ve managed to hold the beast at bay for the last 15 years, and are still with it. My life would be diminished for the lack of your words here.

    • reno says:

      matt-

      ‘sup, man! thanks for the kind words. those were black days. can’t say i haven’t stumbled, but i have the tools to not go THERE ever again. footwork, we call it. today, we say. we also say grateful and know the bounty of good that comes out of going through the fire and coming out the other end with a better outlook, a greater understanding of self, those around you, etc. see you in hollywood. thanks again.

      today,
      reno romero

  14. Marni Grossman says:

    Reno-

    Thanks so much for sharing. This was beautiful and heartbreaking and- though it’s probably an inappropriate sentiment given that we’ve never met in person- I’m so proud of you.

    • reno says:

      hey marni-

      how are you doing? doing good here in the CA desert. no wind (which is rare), and the sky is desert blue. good stuff. good things. thanks for reading. sure, it is a sad one, but it’s hopeful in a odd way. take care and i’ll do the same.

      yup,
      reno romero

  15. Elaine Cramer says:

    Gloria pointed me to this. I really like it. Great voice, so real and yes, gorgeous. Well done. FWIW

    • reno says:

      elaine-

      good morning. wow. very kind of gloria. and very kind of you for reading and leaving a comment. much appreciation. have a great day, elaine. ciao.

      always,
      reno romero

  16. Carl D'Agostino says:

    Got 8 years and change clean/sober. Several “dont’s” in sobriety: Ya don’t hang at Miami Art scene or South Beach or Key West(lived Miami since’54). Ya don’t read Sartre or Camus or any existentialism or anything by a Russian author. Every word on every page has a vodka magnet with your(and my) name on it. Ya can’t get clean “together.” You have to have something to live for. If you don’t manufacture something. You are a creative writer, right?
    And you must learn to hang up the phone, say goodbye and divorce at lot more than just Jen.

    • reno says:

      carl-

      oooh. nice words. i understand COMPLETELY where you’re coming from. you nailed it. what can i say that you haven’t already said? camus is a bastard, but the first time i came across his writing/suffering i fell in love w/ it. sartre not so much. but depressing nonetheless. camus a far better writer and his essays are a SHOT in the arm, uh, if you will. thanks for reading, carl. and thanks for chiming in. too cool.

      wild turkey (less),
      reno

  17. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Reno,

    How hard all of this is, but how perfectly you frame the story and fill it in with all the pain and the love and the loss.
    Be well, my friend.

  18. Simon Smithson says:

    Ahhhh…. man.

    Why do the right choices have to be so hard so often?

    Sorry to hear, brother.

    • reno says:

      simon-

      hey, you’re right. but you have to do what you have to do. that’s what i hear. see you in UNDER two weeks, sir. thanks.

      okay,
      reno

  19. JM Blaine says:

    Reno –

    I worked at rehabs all through college.
    Some of the most wonderful
    people I’ve ever had the privilege
    to spend time with.

    To me it seemed a lot of
    addicts were really deep and sensitive people
    and if you are that way life
    can be so damned hard
    & overwhelming
    that eventually
    choice & circumstance will
    lead you to
    anesthesia.

    This was good good good
    stuff Reno.
    Reno book stuff.

    • reno says:

      11-
      i can’t say that i’m the sensitive type. maybe. but i can’t say for sure. but i came off a terrible year (not making excuses, but…), hung around a bad crowd, wanted that bad crowd, bought into my own misery, and in turn got my ass kicked. i deserved it. remember, 11(and you know this): there are many factors that cause addiction. good and bad addictions. but at the end of the day you have to own up to your actions. i wasn’t a victim. i was a volunteer. i bought a ticket and strolled in like an asshole. lesson learned. like i heard the other day: “if you don’t like the shit you’re getting, then you might want to think about the shit you’re giving.”

      sure, cliche. but it’s a keeper and pretty funny as well. thanks, 11.

      powerslave,
      reno romero

      • J.M. Blaine says:

        Not the sensitive type?
        C’mon Reno
        Tell that to people who haven’t
        been reading your stories
        for a few years now.
        Your a regular
        rainbow in the dark
        my brother.

        Now give me a hug.

        • reno says:

          11-
          heh. ur funny. sensitive? ok, sensitive it is. here’s the deal: i will ALWAYS give you a hug. on this plane or any other.

  20. Tawni says:

    This one really moved me, Reno. Beautiful, powerful and sad. But happy too, because look at you. Look how amazing and strong you are. Thanks for sharing this bittersweet story with us. xoxo.

    • reno says:

      hey tawni-

      thank you so much. really. but all is well. life can be so beautiful and at the same time a rough ride. but hey: that’s how it works. can’t bitch. today is a good day. today. i hope this note finds you and your family doing swell. take care, sis.

      guitars,
      reno romero

  21. Meg says:

    I need to hug you right now. This was beautiful and sad and broken and wonderous all at the same time. It just made me miss you more. 🙂

    • reno says:

      sister meg-

      i’ll take a hug from you any day. ANY DAY. next time you come out to vegas i’ll make the trek up there. wait! where have you been hiding? hmmm? well, i’m sure you’re fine. nice to see you hanging around the old gang. now: write me a story. but not about addiction. what about chocolate? reno loves himself some chocolate. kisses and more kisses.

      your west coast brother,
      reno

  22. Dana says:

    Absolutely beautiful Reno. And how funny that like Tammy I teared, but didn’t let them fall.
    I probably would have been ashamed if I had, in such contrast to your strength.

    • reno says:

      dana-
      say. good, don’t cry! it’s a GORGE desert day and hopefully it’s the same where you rest your head. thank you for the kind comments. we carry on.

      let the music play,
      reno

  23. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Reno, you broke my heart with this one. You know you’ve done the right thing when you feel like shit and want to put your fist through a wall. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Today is a good day, friend, no matter what.

    • reno says:

      andrew-
      good morning, sir. didn’t mean to break your heart. not cool. please forgive. you know, oddly enough, this was easy to write. didn’t break down, nothing. perhaps, it’s a purging of sorts. something that simply needed to be let OUT. i dunno. what i do know is what you know: today.

      thanks.

      alright,
      reno

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        Hey, man, totally cool and nothing to forgive. Did you read Slade’s piece? The advice that not hearing the boom is bad because that means it hit you? Sometimes, feeling heartbreak reminds you that you’ve got one. Better than not feeling it.

  24. Slade Ham says:

    Damn, man. Damn.

    I started reading this yesterday and quit because I was distracted by a thousand things. I knew pretty quickly that I didn’t want to simply gloss over it. Separation is awful. It is a skill I do not possess. At all.

    It made me sad to read this.

    Good for you though. I don’t know that I’m grown up enough to make a decision like that. Honestly.

    Oh, and this: “You’re not there to get fucked. You’re already fucked. That’s why you’re in rehab. ”

    Hahahahahahaha 🙂

    • reno says:

      slade-

      thanks for reading, slade. too cool of you. i’m about to finish these kind replies and get to your story. seems like there’s a party going on over there. i want in. with a sprite in hand of course. take care, sir.

      lush,
      reno

      • Richard Cox says:

        I laughed that the sames lines that made Slade laugh. Hilarious. You’re hilarious.

        Man, Reno, you are an amazing writer. I stand in awe of your ability to extract real emotion and human truth from these experiences of yours. Top notch. You seriously rock.

        Thank you.

        • reno says:

          richard-

          hey. and wow. very kind of you. thanks for your comment. crazy drunken days. they loom. but today is the answer. today. i’m SO glad that there was something funny in the post. gotta have some light, eh? anyhow, thnks again, man. YOU rock.

          all right,
          r

  25. Greg Olear says:

    I’m a bit leery of complimenting anyone this week, what with my niceness post, but for real, this was fantastic. Really heartbreaking and moving. Well done.

    • reno says:

      thanks, greg. i’m gonna read your stuff pronto. have a delicious week. wait! and like many folk have said: i fuckeen love your picture. brilliant.

      smoke it,
      reno romero

  26. sheree says:

    Your writing skills never let me down. Thanks for the read.

    • reno says:

      sheree-

      hey. how are you? doing well over here. well, i’d like to thank you for the comment. so: thank you! it’s always a pleasure to see your name on the boards. have a dandy wednesday, sheree. cheers.

      always,
      reno j. romero

  27. chris says:

    Very nice, Jess. Touching. It is amazing where our heart will take us. The face of addiction is bitter and devastating at times. I understand the loss and the pain.

    Wishing you all the best and a life full of love and peace. Your heart is a special one. The woman who sits with you and captures your heart in this lifetime is blessed.

    Ciao
    Chris

    • reno says:

      chris-
      hi. thanks for reading. i’m sure you know the insanity alcohol can bring to one’s life (and those around them) and heart. it’s not pleasant, very sad, and dangerous. you lose things. you also gain things. but at the price of what? i think the answer is to carry on, find anew, paint over the past. because the past is, well, the past.

      thanks for your good wishes. i remember the days we shared and “jen” in many ways is you. hard stuff indeed–a pinching in the middle of the night, a song over the radio. hey. hey. hey. it’s about today.

      see you around, chris. see you around.

      always,
      reno JESS romero

      • chris says:

        Jess,

        I will always read your work. You interest me. You touch my heart. And yes it is about today and moving forward. Always staying to the right! It must be done. And good will come from it. But I have to say that i will not paint over my past because of where it has brought me. If we forget where we come from we run the risk of returning. We are who we are today because of where we have been. If we do the work, the past is no longer a threat. But very hard indeed.

        Be safe, Jess. Be good. And keep your heart open.

        I love you baby
        Chris

        • reno says:

          chris-

          hmm. well, here we are talking about, our, our, past. on these boards of all places! but i get it. and i’m fine with it. you’re right about not painting over the past. i understand your stance. to clarify, i was speaking to the situations that NEED to be painted over. brooding over my crimes is not healthy. now, can i learn from these mistakes? no doubt. painful, sure. i guess there is no right answer. i guess there has to be a balance. some of this and a little of that. again thanks for your kind words. means so much to me. we carry on, chris. and i love you.

          to the right,
          reno romero

  28. Jordan Ancel says:

    Reno, this post, for me, shows how much hope and love and compassion there is in people, even when they are their nadir. That you can be supportive and loving (although against the rules) and really help each other through what were difficult times for you individually, shows tremendous strength.

    You both exhibited a huge amount of bravery. Letting go of each other because you knew it was best, even though you loved each other, and the amount of pain that goes with the act of saying goodbye, is incredibly honorable. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for you both not to give into your addictions after to numb that pain. Again, very strong of you, and brave.

    • reno says:

      jordan-

      wow. hey, sir, thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. what can i say? letting go is always hard. throw in the insane narrative of addiction and that takes the situation to a whole new level. but in the end it was needed. it was a must. some things are simply not meant to be. sad. sad indeed. okay, jordan, have a great day and thanks again.

      today,
      reno romero

  29. I’m glad I caught this before it fell off the front page. So many posts these days…

    Anyway, the writing is beautiful and the story sad. I see a few other people have said that already, but I don’t mind repeating it.

  30. Tom Hansen says:

    Nice piece. I can relate

    • reno says:

      tom-

      i see. so you’ve been there. crazy, indeed. real crazy. but we pull through. at least those of us that are lucky enough. thanks for reading.

  31. […] …tells a story about addiction, love, and rehab. […]

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