Belinda was one of those kids from Dan’s Lakewood café. I had met her when I was dating Zach and after a while, she was part of the reason I broke it off with Zach. Zach was polyamorous but had stopped returning my phone calls and stood me up one too many times.

Zach had given me a box of my stuff, but it included a pair of shoes that weren’t mine. These were, like, size six…and I wear an eleven in women’s and a nine in men’s so there was no way these were my shoes. I asked Belinda if maybe they were hers.

“No, those aren’t my shoes.”

So the two of us went over to Zach’s and banged on the door. He answered looking like he had just woken up.

“These aren’t our shoes!” we chanted.

“Well, they’re not mine and they’re not Mona’s, so I don’t know whose they are,” Zach tried to explain.

“I’ll tell ya what,” said Belinda. “We’ll just leave them here,” and she gently set the shoes down on the floor. “And whatever girl DOES own them will at least get her shoes back.”

“Yeah,” I added. “And you still have MY shoes in there somewhere, so I need those back.”

One night, I was sitting down at Dan’s with Otto and David Daniel. I was wearing a skirt that day because no one believed that I owned one, but I had made up for the lack of pockets by wearing my lab coat over it. David Daniel was boasting about how he was going to score with some chick and get it on tape. Otto was betting that the chick wouldn’t go for it and they were working out the details of the wager when Belinda came in looking like crap and running a fever.

“Hey, you. Where have you been? You look like death warmed over.”

“I just spent ten hours at Parkland,” she said. “And they said it was going to be another seven, so I left.”

“Parkland? What the hell for?”

At which point, Belinda rolled up her sleeve to reveal a half-inch abscess on her lower arm. It was red and pussy looking and she had some discoloration on the veins running to and from it.

“Get in the car, Belinda. We’re going to Baylor.”

“But I don’t have any money…”

“It’s a hospital; they have to help you. Get in the damn car.”

Belinda got in my car and I drove her over to Baylor Hospital. David Daniel and Otto followed behind—still outlining the wager about the girl.

I walked into the emergency room first. The admitting nurse looked up and asked if he could help.

“I’ve got an abscess on the lower left arm with discoloration of veins and fever.”

Belinda walked in after me and rolled up her sleeve to reveal the abscess and hospital bracelet from Parkland.

The nurse asked, “You have her transfer papers?”

“Oh, I’m not a doctor…” he was looking at my lab coat.

Belinda sat down and the nurse asked her what she was cutting it with.

“Nothing,” she answered.

And that’s when I realized that Belinda was on heroin.

The reason Belinda had an abscess on her arm was because she had broken a needle off in her arm and then dug it out with a pair of scissors (at least, that’s what she told me).

Later, after they had put her on a drip, I went in to talk with her about it.

“What the hell? Why are you doing this to yourself?”

“I was bored.”

“With what? Living?”

She explained that a boyfriend had started her on it and she hadn’t been able to shake the habit. Her car payments were behind, she was worried about rent. She was spending $20 a day and she wasn’t doing it for the effects anymore but “just to feel like a regular person.”

“Why don’t you ask your parents for help?”

Belinda sort of laughed at that. “I haven’t talked to them since they threw me out at 17 because I was pregnant.”

“Where’s the kid now?”

“His father’s sister adopted him.”

Afterwards, I drove Belinda back to her car and she told me how she was going to kick. I couldn’t help but think of “Jane Says” by Jane’s Addiction, but that’s beside the point.

A week later, on a Sunday night, Kristin and I ran into Belinda at the local Denny’s. She rolled up her sleeve to show the mark from the abscess. It was gray and looked like a cigarette burn.

“Jesus Christ, Belinda. Did spiders crawl out of that?”

“Oh, you should have seen it three days ago.”

The three of us went back to my apartment later to smoke out. I don’t care what anyone says about giving weed to a heroin addict. She’s not shooting up, right? At least you can’t OD on weed.

Belinda started talking about how she was going into rehab the next Wednesday. “I’m going to be normal again.”

“Maybe you can start talking to your parents again,” I joked.

I leant her my soft copy of “Trainspotting” and wished her well.

The next Saturday, I went down to Dan’s Lakewood. David Daniel and Otto were arguing about the bet they had made. Otto had screwed it up by telling the chick in question about the bet and David Daniel was explaining how he did NOT owe Otto $50 because of it.

Jonnie, our waitress, met me at the door with, “Hey Mila, did ya hear about Belinda?”

“No, Jonnie. Haven’t heard a thing.”

“She died.”

“She what?”

Apparently, rehab was too rough for Belinda. She had left the clinic Friday night and shot a full gram.

I asked Belinda’s friends about funeral arrangements and e-mailed them to Zach. He shot back with some very angry remarks about how I had called Belinda a talking-monkey. I’m sorry, but OD-ing on heroin is a pretty talking-monkey way to go.

So, the day of the funeral. I dressed up in my most conservative black and drove over to Restland. I screwed up by going to the main funeral building rather than the little chapel out in the cemetery, but it did offer me an opportunity to meet Belinda’s parents.

But damn.

Her father was just crushed. The man sobbed and fingered his hat and it looked like the weight of the world was on him.

“I just wish she had talked to us. I don’t know why she didn’t call us for help or something.”

Somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Well, it’s because you threw her out at 17 when she was pregnant…” but saying something like that wasn’t going to help anyone. He was crushed enough as is. That would have just been unnecessarily cruel of me.

We walked up to the chapel and he cried the whole way. It bothers me to see preventable grief like this. There’s no real words of comfort I can offer; but by the same respect, I don’t want to rag on someone who is suffering for a lesson learned. It’s like how it was with Cris and Big Dave Smith. Why make it worse?

So, at the chapel, the crowd had split into two distinct groups: Belinda’s family (in flower print dresses!) and Belinda’s friends (who were probably still on heroin). It was tough deciding where to sit—should I sit with well dressed people or people dressing in torn-up black….hum…

And the funeral itself…what a joke. It could have been for anyone! The preacher just went on and on about the loss of a child and god giving up his only child and blah blah blah. It pissed me off. I wanted to walk out or stand up and say, “Belinda didn’t believe this crap!” but who would that have helped? Really? Funerals are for the living. Let them have what makes them comfortable.

It was an open casket funeral. At the end, all of Belinda’s friends walked up and said their good-byes and places various objects in the casket for the cremation later.

Cremation? Oh, sweet Jesus. I had leant Belinda a book before she passed. Oh Christ. Was it in there? Were they going to burn my book along with her? It was a first edition copy of “Trainspotting”—I didn’t want to loose that. How exactly does one go about saving a book from cremation? Had someone assumed it was her copy? How do I tastefully ask someone, “Uh, look, I’m really sorry for your loss and all, but I need to pick this book out of the casket because I leant it. I mean…It wasn’t a gift…”

Thankfully, I didn’t have to. It wasn’t in the casket. Belinda’s friend Divina got it back to me several months later.

The temperature dropped 30 degrees during the funeral. We had started on a sunny April morning, but by the time it was over, it was cold and raining.

I went to Dan’s later that week. Someone had written Belinda’s name on the bathroom wall with birth and death dates. I wrote underneath it, “Those who have forgotten their dreams will only discourage yours.” Later, someone drew a heart around it.

Belinda’s boyfriend Chris died from overdose a year later, almost to the day. I guess no one really learned anything.

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