Maggie progressed well at the treatment center. When the insurance coverage on inpatient treatment ran out for the year, she was transferred to a “partial house” where she and other women slept at night then were returned by van to the facility for full days of recovery sessions, meals, volleyball games, counseling, and horticultural therapy. This daughter who once stayed as far away from my garden as possible lest I catch a whiff of my stolen whiskey on her breath was now planting a garden herself, arranging painted rocks around an angel statue donated by a counselor, carrying buckets of water to nurture impatiens, petunia, delphinium, and geranium.
Friends talk about cancer and other physical maladies more easily than about psychological afflictions. Breasts might draw blushes, but brains are unmentionable. These questions are rarely heard: “How’s your depression these days?” “What improvements do you notice now that you have treatment for your ADD?” “Do you find your manic episodes are less intense now that you are on medication?” “What does depression feel like?” “Is the counseling helpful?” A much smaller circle of friends than those who’d fed us during cancer now asked guarded questions. No one ever showed up at our door with a meal.
We drove nearly five hours round trip each Sunday for our one weekly visiting hour. The sustenance of food, candy, and fiction were forbidden as gifts to patients at the treatment center. Instead, we brought Maggie cigarettes, sketchbooks, colored pencils, and phone cards. Any beef roasts or spaghetti dinners we ate were ones we’d prepared ourselves or bought in a restaurant on the long road to the center.
Then, late one night in June, Maggie and another patient were riding in the treatment center’s van on the way back to their house after a full day of the hard work of addiction recovery. The number of patients in the partial house had diminished from six a few days before, after a scandal involving small bags of ground coffee some smuggled from the house to the center and sold as though it were cocaine to addicts craving real coffee. (The center, like many, served only decaf.) Dozing off and comfortable in the seat behind the driver, Maggie might have been thinking of those coffee dealers who had been returned to the main facility or dismissed. Or maybe she was thinking about the upcoming wedding of her brother, Nick. A light pink bridesmaid’s dress waited in her closet at our house. Her release from the center was scheduled for two days before she and Mary Beth were to fly to Wisconsin for the wedding.
That night, an oncoming speeding car hit the van head-on.
The medics radioed for helicopters, and soon the air over Chester County, Pa., was full of them, four coming from Philadelphia, Coatesville, and Wilmington, one for each patient. The accident site was soon a garish roadside attraction of backboards, neck braces, IV tubes, oxygen tanks, gurneys, strobing lights, the deep thumping of helicopter blades, and the whine of turbines.
A newspaper picture later showed five firefighters, all in full gear, lifting a woman from a van—only her feet and an edge of the backboard visible. The van’s roof, dark and torn and jagged in the picture, had been removed by hydraulic cutters while the huddled victims, Maggie unconscious among them, were carefully covered with blankets. One of her front teeth lay in a puddle of blood on the ground.
When we saw her in the hospital, her face was a swollen mass of stitches, bruises, and torn flesh. Brown dried blood was still caked in her ears. Mary Beth carefully cleaned it with a licked paper towel, as if she were gently wiping Maggie’s face of grape jelly smudges or white donut powder just before Sunday school. At first, Maggie only remembered headlights, but soon she would mention “a cute EMS tech waking me up,” and the muffled chattering of helicopters.
The day she was released from the hospital, Maggie insisted on returning to the rehab center to complete her program, a heroine in a wheelchair among heroin addicts and alcoholics. On the way there, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch, where Maggie ate mashed potatoes, a little soup, and sucked a mango smoothie through a straw held carefully where her tooth was missing. Back at the center, we rolled her out to see her garden.
While Maggie was in the hospital, cards and letters filled our mailbox at home. For the two weeks that Maggie remained in rehab, and even while she flew to the Midwest, then wore her pink dress at Nick’s wedding and danced triumphantly with her cousins, offers of food crackled from our answering machine and scrolled out on email: “If there’s anything I can do ... ”