Her dreadful secret was out! Even the man she loved knew – and knowing, despised her. What could she possibly do?
She had a terrible, dark secret — she was a prescription drug addict. It was a long time ago and she has completely turned her life around, but her past threatens to ruin her future. In love and engaged to be married to a wonderful man, Margerie struggles with her conscience. Should she tell her fiance the truth? What if he rejects her as all the others did? How can she risk losing everything?
This story from the 1930’s is remarkably current and universal in so many ways. Problems with addiction, secrets that can’t be buried. Who doesn’t have a secret or two? And, who doesn’t yearn to be loved for who they truly are — flaws and all.
The suddenness of the question threw me off my guard. I began to lie shamelessly
Her dreadful secret was out! Even the man she loved knew— and knowing, despised her. What could she possibly do?
My father is a good-natured, absent-minded teacher of mathematics. He favors the great Einstein a little, and my mother has always looked after his comfort just as Mrs. Einstein looks after the comfort of her famous husband. I have known mother to follow father clear to the classroom with his collar and tie! He taught for twenty years in a small college in a town of thirty thousand people, the town where I was born. He is not a rich man, and never will be, but we always had most of the comforts of life, with a few of its luxuries.
My two sisters and I were given thorough musical educations. My oldest sister, Eileen, is a really fine pianist; Doris plays the violin quite well, and I began taking lessons on the cello when I was six years old. We were always a happy, congenial family, and although my sisters and I had our little spats now and then, we got along together much better than the majority of sisters do. When I was ten years old we began to play as a trio; and I think this made us feel a little nearer to each other than we might have felt otherwise—without this common bond.
I graduated from high school when I was sixteen. Father had decided that my sisters had entered college too young, and he said that I must not enter until I was eighteen. This suited me very well, for I didn’t really care to go to college. I wanted to do things with my hands, to sew and cook, and I wanted to devote a great deal of time to studying the cello. Remaining at home for two years would give me the opportunity to do this.
When the fall of that year came I begged to be allowed to spend a few months in Chicago with my aunt and cousin, the Gilmours. Aunt Clara Gilmour was my father’s sister-in-law, and we had never seen a great deal of her and Cousin Jane. It seemed to me it would be wonderful to take a short course in cello at one of the big conservatories. Then, too, I had never been in a really large city for any length of time, and I wanted to attend opera, to take in the theaters, and really to feel the hustle and bustle of a great city.
After a long family discussion and an exchange of letters with my aunt, father and mother decided that I might go to Chicago for three months. I went the last of October, with permission to remain until the middle of February.
Most of the incidents of that visit have become blurred in my memory. As I recall it now, we were to have six weeks of opera, and my cousin and I were to, attend it at least once each week, although we really went oftener than that.
I shall always look upon my first opera with bitter sorrow; for, as it turned out, that day was truly an evil day in my life. It was a Friday, and we had tickets to hear Mary Garden in Thais. To see Thais, and to hear Mary Garden would be, it seemed to me, the very peak of enjoyment.
The Gilmours’ social life was far more strenuous and gay than the life I had been used to living. There were dinners and teas and dances. There were late hours constantly, followed by morning drives through the parks. Even though everything was covered with snow and ice, and there was really no pleasure in driving, the Gilmours had to go, for they were keyed up to such a high pitch that they didn’t seem to be able to stay in the house long at a time during their waking hours. I couldn’t take a nap after luncheon, as my aunt and cousin did, for that was the only time in the twenty-four hours I could find to practice on my cello.
I was eating food that was different from the plain food I had been used to, and I was eating it at any and all hours. Even now, when I think of the quantities of meat and rich pastries that were put on my aunt’s table every day, I shudder. The result of all this, to me, was an upset stomach, and on the day of this first opera I was really quite ill. I didn’t want to tell my aunt that I was ill, for fear she might say I couldn’t go to hear Garden. It was my Cousin Jane who suggested that I take a dose of paregoric.
“You simply mustn’t miss Garden,” she exclaimed sympathetically. “Dr. Van Meter gave paregoric to Josie, to take when she has pains in her stomach, and it’s really amazing how it helps her.” Josie was the parlor maid.
“I’ve never taken any,” went on Jane, “because I’ve got a stomach that can digest nails. But if I ever do have a pain, I know what to do. Josie keeps it on hand all the time.”
Under Josie’s direction, I took paregoric every few hours that day, and went to the opera that night in comfort. The next morning, however, I awoke in pain and started with the paregoric again, for there was the drive in the park, a half hour of shopping just before luncheon, and a hard lesson to practice on the cello afterward.
I had never heard that paregoric was a habit-forming drug and, as I learned afterward, my family was just as ignorant as I. In fact, my father and mother had always tried to keep us away from drugs as much as possible, and with the outdoor life that we led and the plain, wholesome food that my mother served us, we had little or no occasion for medicine of any kind.
The pains that I thought came from a stomach disorder I —and which, no doubt, did, at first—soon showed themselves to be intestinal pains. As I learned later, what I really had was an attack of colitis, acute at first, but which became chronic. The probabilities are that if I had gone to a reputable doctor for treatment, one who would have put me on a routine of proper diet, exercise and rest, I should have got over the trouble very quickly.
Being only a child in years, with very little experience in life, and dazed with the social life of a big city, I hugged my pains, took paregoric until the middle of the following February, thus building, unconsciously but none the less surely, the foundation for that most terrible of all scourges, the dope habit!
When I returned home in February, my family was appalled at the change in my appearance.
“Little mouse,” cried my father, “what has happened to you?”
I knew that I had lost fourteen pounds, but I didn’t realize how bad I looked. Hadn’t Aunt Clara and Cousin Jane both said the loss of weight was becoming —that I really had been too fat?
Mother took me to a physician immediately. Dr. Wells gave me a rigid diet list that I was to follow, prescribed long hours of rest each day, and gave me two prescriptions to have filled. I said nothing to Dr. Wells about my having taken paregoric for the past three months or more. Something told me not to.
Even at that early period I was so much under the influence of the narcotic that I was developing a cunning subtlety that was totally foreign to my disposition. When I say that I had always been considered truthful and kind, I am only recording what all my close friends and my family had always said.
I had the two prescriptions that Dr. Wells gave me filled immediately. One was a white powder, bismuth, that I was to take after meals, and the other was a liquid, the directions for which were, “A teaspoonful every four hours when necessary.” When I opened the bottle I knew, from the odor, that it was paregoric!
“When necessary,” meant, of course, when I was in pain. But already, the paregoric was making its own pains!
Under the proper diet and the forced rest I improved, although secretly I was taking more and more of the paregoric. Many days I took it every few hours. For a long time I didn’t realize that I was craving paregoric in the sense that I couldn’t let it alone; I didn’t know that I was becoming a dope addict. I positively did not know, until I was told long afterward, that paregoric was camphorated tincture of opium. I had persuaded myself that only paregoric would stop the pain, and that I was the only one who knew how often the pain came. But there came a day, by and by, when I was terror-stricken by the knowledge that I could no longer do without paregoric, that I must have it—or die!
By this time I was using it secretly. From now on, I exercised every precaution to keep the bottle hidden, so that none of my family would suspect that I was taking it too much. In fact, I seemed no longer a single individual. There seemed to be two persons occupying my body; one a very much frightened girl who wanted to be happy and to make others happy, the other a scheming creature who really cared nothing about anybody’s happiness. I soon learned to call this second creature, in my prayers, the “devil,” and I prayed to be delivered from this devil.
And this was not all. I had come to the shocking realization that not only was I steadily losing my self-control, but my memory as well. Sometimes, before I could complete a sentence, I would forget what I had started out to say.
It was toward the middle of the second winter that I began to see that my family suspected that something was wrong with me. I could see their looks of puzzled astonishment at first, and later on, of open embarrassment. I became so unreliable in temperament that my sisters would no longer practice with me, and the trio, which I had enjoyed so much, ceased to exist. The specific thing that caused the trio to be disbanded was the fact that I had made some devastating mistakes in the score of a “Venetian Trio” one Saturday afternoon when we were playing at Dean Morgan’s tea. I had known the piece for several years, but my memory failed me that day in the middle of it.
I began to realize now that my girlfriends no longer came to see me. I was no longer invited to places. Many times, when I crossed the campus, I noticed that both girls and boys changed their routes, as if to avoid meeting me. As so often happens, our neighbors and friends suspected the truth long before my family did.
The bitterest experience of all was John’s reaction. This happened in the late spring of that year. John Tarbull and I had been friends since our first year in high school, now more than five years before. John was a big, strapping boy, with sandy hair and fine blue eyes.
Our love, of course, was only “puppy love,” as father called it. But it didn’t seem so at the time. It seemed terribly serious. We had graduated together and John was at the train to tell me good-by when I left forChicagothat fateful October. We had written to each other several times a week, and he had met me at the train upon my arrival home. It was all very thrilling at the time. During my long rest period that Dr. Wells had prescribed, I used to lie on the lounge in the music room, and John would read to me, or sing, for he had a very beautiful tenor voice.
Suddenly his calls stopped—dead! He came one day as usual, and then he didn’t come again. I waited, in fear and trembling, for two weeks. I knew that he had a ten o’clock class and one morning I went over to the campus and sat on a bench where I could watch the door of Miles Hall. I sat there until I saw him come out. Then I got up and went over to meet him. I could see that he was startled when he saw me. There was something in his eyes as he looked at me that made my heart leap painfully.
“Where have you been, John?” I said, trying to smile my prettiest smile. “I’ve missed you terribly.”
“Oh, I—” he began, then broke off, biting his lip. Then his eyes dilated, and catching his breath, he demanded, “Look here, what’s this I hear about your being a dope fiend?” He looked at my face, scarlet with shame, for a long moment. Then he added, with a short laugh, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”
I forgot myself for a moment and tried to catch hold of his hand. But he shrank back, raised his cap and walked away.
So, that was it, I thought, my heart pounding and throbbing as I stumbled along the path alone. So that was what I was—a dope fiend! And John despised me! John was right, of course. I acknowledged it freely, even then. What boy would want to love a creature who drank paregoric every day? I still didn’t know that paregoric was opium.
I have never seen John since that day. If, by one of those strange tricks of Fate, John should read this story, I hope that he will realize that I never blamed him for his actions, either then or now. While I didn’t blame him, it seemed to me that the end of the world had come; there was no use trying to go on. I must give up
There was an old private Chautauqua site just south of town, that had been abandoned some years before. The gates were kept closed. That afternoon I rode to the end of the south bound carline, and walking the remaining mile to the old grounds, I pried the gates open and slipped in. On the grounds was a long, deep lake. I had made up my mind to drown myself!
It was a beautiful day, with the bluest skies I had ever seen. Trees lined the shores of the lake, and the twigs shook and swayed and rustled as birds hopped about, singing gayly. Misty blue violets were blooming in clumps about the trees. The world about me seemed very lovely as I stood on the banks looking down at the murky waters. I was terribly afraid, not only of the feel of the water and of the physical aspect of death, but I was afraid of what might happen to me after death if I took my own life. But I was terribly serious, and felt that, I must go on with it, at all costs, so I took, off my shoes and stockings, for I had an idea that I must partially disrobe. Just as I took off my second shoe, a voice called behind me.
“Hey, Missy, what’s you gwine do?” said the voice. “You ain’t gwine try to swim, is you? Ain’t no swimmin’ lowed here, Missy.”
It was a Negro caretaker, a tall, thin old man with white temple locks and long, slim, black hands—kind hands, I found them to be now—for when I burst into tears he came over to me and drew on my stockings and shoes for me.
“Now, you fasten dem stockin’s up, little missy,” he said kindly. “I’ll fasten de shoes. Den you go over dere and sit on de rock by de cabin, an’ I’ll fetch you some tea I done got some hot tea in de cabin, already steepin’. You gotta have something hot, for you shore is cold!”
I was in the throes of a nervous chill, as the old Negro knew. I drank the cup of hot tea he brought me, and went home, sadder and wiser, for I knew then that I could never take my own life, no matter what came. It was too dreadful ever again to contemplate!
Then came a morning when my mother came into my room and took me seriously to task This morning I felt more than usually tired—tired of my struggle, my cello, my life, myself. So tired was I that I was thinking again of the murky waters in the old Chautauqua grounds.
There was a little baby living next door to us who I loved; a fat little fellow with such a friendly smile. Eddie had always loved me, but twice lately, when I had stopped to play with him, the nurse had looked at me queerly and had made an excuse to take Eddie into the house. It had cut me to the quick! I was thinking of Eddie when mother came in that morning.
“Margerie, I’ve been terribly worried about you for sometime,” she began in her sweet, gentle way. “You seem to he entirely well in some ways, yet something seems wrong. I know something is worrying you now, darling, I want you to forget you are a big girl, ready for college, and I want you to tell mother what is wrong, just as you used to do when you were a little girl.”
For an instant a great pang shot through my heart. That blessed time—when I was a little girl! Then my hand slipped under my pillow and closed over the bottle of
paregoric that was hidden there. I laughed now, or rather the devil-creature in my body laughed, for it was not I.
“Don’t be absurd!” said this devil-creature. “I’m not only perfectly well, but I’m quite old enough to take care of myself. What do you think is wrong? Think I’m going to have a baby or something?”
If I live to be a thousand, I shall never forget poor mother’s face. The memory of it stings like fire, even now. Mother was a wonderfully pretty woman then—she is pretty yet, for that matter. Her creamy white skin, her big brown eyes and lovely, tawny hair made people turn to look at her a second time.
She cried with sudden passion now. “Margerie, don’t ever speak to me like that again, please!” She was struggling to keep from weeping, but two big tears welled from the corners of her eyes and ran down her cheeks.
“Won’t you talk to me now like a good girl, dear?”
“What do you want me to say, mother?” I cried, tortured, wishing that she would take me in her arms and hold me. “What seems to be wrong?”
She said quickly, dabbing freely at her tears now, “These terrible spells of depression that everybody is noticing, my darling. You won’t talk for hours. Then, suddenly, you go to the very opposite extreme. You chatter and laugh as if you were—drunk!”
Ah, I thought, perhaps that was what had happened to Josie; for Aunt Clara had written that Josie, whom she had had for so many years, had been discharged because the girl was drunk half the time!
“Last night you embarrassed us all terribly when Dean and Mrs. Morgan were here,” mother went on. “And Dean Morgan is the head of your father’s department! Your poor father was hurt cruelly. Eileen and Doris cried themselves to sleep over it. You see, you laughed so much when there was nothing to laugh about, that it was frightful!”
“If I don’t laugh there’s a row,” said the devil-creature that was in me. “And if I do laugh there’s a row! You can see how impossible things are for me here. You and the girls are simply driving me insane. You are enough to drive anybody insane!”
“How can you say that, when you are the one!” exclaimed my mother. “You humiliate the girls terribly!”
I started to say something, and lost it.
“I suppose there’s no use to try to talk to you,” said poor mother, at her wits’ end. “Your father has decided that I must take you to a specialist. You know how your father is when he makes up his mind. He has already telephoned Dr. Strong, atFairfield. He will cut his afternoon classes and take us down. He is coming home at eleven so jump into your bath and get ready.”
“Oh, but I’ll not go,” I cried. “I simply will not go!”
There was a scene that lasted an hour, but finally I took my bath and dressed After all, I thought, perhaps the doctor would help me.
Our appointment was for four o’clock. It seemed an eternity before the hour came. Father did not go to the doctor’s office with me, as mother had asked him not to. And not even mother went with me into the doctor’s private office She pressed my hand, though, as I left her side.
Dr. Strong was a thin, tall man with snow-white hair and the keenest gray eyes I have ever seen in any man’s head. He asked me to tell him about all the illnesses I had ever had, from childhood up.
Then he talked to me a little about my work during the four years of high school. Then about my cello playing, and asked about my trip to Chicago. Finally he flung a question at me with startling suddenness: “What drug is it that you are using?”
The suddenness of the question threw me off my guard for a moment, and stammering, I began to lie shamelessly, or rather the devil-creature that was inside my body did. But Dr. Strong held up his hand.
“It is utterly futile for you to deny it,” he said quietly. “I am a physician, remember. The signs are infallible to one who knows them. And I know every sign.”
He walked over to the window and stood with his back to me, as if to give me time to collect myself. When he turned round, he began where he had left off.
“Please don’t think I blame you. I blame the prescription that put you where you are! I know without being told that, in some way, it came through a prescription. Now if you will tell me, as your friend and physician, what the drug is, it will expedite my work in diagnosing and prescribing for your case. Of course, I can find out what drug it is without your telling me. But it would take a little time, and I prefer to have you tell me.”
“I will tell you,” I said, with despair in my heart, “but don’t tell mother!” And bursting into tears, I told him the whole miserable tale of the paregoric “It sounds terrible to say it,” I sobbed “but I don’t seem able to do without it.”
Dr. Strong sat with his temple resting on one hand, and he sat like this, in silence, for a long moment after I had said all that I could say.
“I am sure you can be cured,” he said at last. “You must take regular exercise in the air, and you must eat plenty of wholesome food. I will have the nurse give you a diet and exercise list before you leave the office. I will also give you a prescription that will help kill the desire for the narcotic. But the main thing will have to be your own will power. You must overcome the temptation to swallow even one drop of paregoric except the little bit that I shall permit you to have each day, for a few weeks. And your mother must be the one to give you that. You are not, under any circumstances, to touch the bottle.
“Now, don’t think of paregoric as medicine that will ease pain. Think of it as poison that has caused you more pain and sorrow already than the normal person should have in a lifetime. I blush with shame at the thought that there are men in my profession who will expose innocent and ignorant persons to such frightful danger!”
He disregarded my pleadings and called mother into the room to tell her the sad, miserable truth. I had wept until my eyes were red, and once when I stole a glance at mother’s face, I saw the tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Her father said it was a narcotic,” she sobbed. “But I couldn’t believe it, for we have never given our children such things. I went into her room last night after she was asleep and looked at her arms to see if there were needle pricks. There weren’t any, so I thought father was mistaken. I didn’t know about paregoric! I hadn’t thought of such a thing!”
If the devil-creature that seemed to be in my body had been a real entity and had actually battered my body against the walls of my room, or had beaten me with sticks, I could not have been more tortured or sick than I was for the next few weeks. In the end I lost all sense of compassion for myself or for my family. I became wholly a cunning, scheming creature whose only object in life, seemingly, was to get possession of paregoric. A shadow seemed to rest on the entire household.
There is no use to give the details of how many times I climbed out of my window, by means of the kitchen roof and the elm tree that grew at the south end of the house, after the others thought I had retired for the night. Once out, I could always get what I wanted. Neither is it any use to tell of the innumerable lies I told, or the subterfuges I resorted to in order to gain the thing I craved. I seemed to have lost all sense of honor, although this was not wholly true, for the knowledge that I was deceiving those I loved best on earth made me suffer untold tortures. The life I was leading was a veritable hell on earth.
At the end of two months Dr. Strong sized up the situation correctly. He didn’t mince words.
“She is getting the dope in large amounts,” he told father in my presence. “As long as the law is as it is, and as long as there are unethical druggists and doctors—and all professions have their unethical followers—you cannot control her in your own home. She cannot control herself. And I can do nothing for her. You must send her to Green Valley for the cure.”
Sobbing, I threw myself into my father’s arms, my better nature asserting itself for the moment, and begged him to do anything that he thought would save me. My father took me toGreenValleythe next day. I couldn’t have felt more wretched and shamed if he had been taking me to the state penitentiary!
When I came home, many months later, it was believed that I was cured. Dr. Thorndyke’s parting words, however, warned me never to take a drop of paregoric as long as I lived. He said if I did, I would be as bad as, if not worse than I had been in the beginning. He warned me against even the odor of it, which, he said, had often awakened all the old cravings in apparently cured patients.
“Remember,” he said, “paregoric is camphorated tincture of opium. Don’t think of it as a medicine that mitigates pain. Think of it as deadly poison!”
I was twenty years old now, and four years of my life, at its most beautiful period, had been wasted and embittered. I had lost any little desire I might once have had for college. My high school classmates had graduated and had gone on their way. A new class was in college.
Above all, I faced life in secret humiliation, for I knew that I was scorned by my old friends almost as an outcast. I knew quite well that everybody in the town was aware of the fact that I had been a dope addict; although everybody, including the members of my own family, avoided the subject as carefully as if it had been the plague. My family life was not what it had been in the old days. Either I wasn’t able to pick life up now, or life was not able to pick me up. I was oppressed constantly with a feeling that I didn’t belong.
Then, quite unexpectedly one day, father announced that he had accepted a position for the next year at theUniversityofIllinois. The next fall he went toUrbanato teach. I knew, secretly, that he had brought about this change on my account, and I was deeply grateful. Eileen and Doris were to be married in late October with a double wedding, and for this reason mother and I didn’t join father until after the Christmas holidays.
I seemed so well that father wished me to enter college the coming fall, and I agreed. There was nobody here who knew of my unhappy past, and I felt I must do something to while away the hours, for I still became terribly nervous and depressed at times.
In late April of that year I met Tom. Tom is an architect, and he was atUrbanaat the time to get his Master’s degree. We came face to face one day as I was walking along the campus. Tom says, and I believe him, that it was a case of love at first sight with both of us. I shall never forget that day, for I was looking at Tom so hard, and he was looking at me so hard, that we both blushed and smiled.
Then Tom said, “Hello,” and we stopped and began to talk about something trivial. A red bird—a cardinal with a cunning topknot—was whistling gayly in a maple tree. An omen of happiness! A month later, Tom and I were engaged.
“I really don’t want to go to college,” I said. “Maybe I’ll take a lecture course now and then, but I don’t care anything about a degree. I’ve been out of school too long, I suppose. Anyhow, I’ve always loved to do things with my hands, and I love my cello too well to give up four years to the hard grind of college.”
“Suits me, Margerie,” said Tom. “When can we be married? How about June? Isn’t that the month of brides and roses? I’ll have my Master’s degree by then, and we can start real life together. I have three thousand dollars in bonds, and a good job waiting for me. I worked four years before coming here. And I thought I was having a great time, too. But, gosh, I’ve never lived until now!”
It is impossible to tell how happy I was. I had thought, in those miserable days now past, that love and marriage and children and home were never to be mine. And now I loved, and was loved! I was to have a home—and children, maybe! Tom was not only young and handsome, but he was clearly a man of brains and talent. My father thought so, and all our new campus friends thought he was wonderful.
And above all, I thought I was normal. But now I know that a person who would walk any number of blocks just to keep from passing a drugstore wasn’t quite normal, and I did that nearly every day. The very sight of a drugstore made me tremble.
The next morning after my engagement to Tom was announced to the family, mother came into my room for a private talk.
“Margerie dear,” she said, “I wouldn’t mention this very painful subject to you if I didn’t feel compelled to do so.” My heart began to pound. “Your father and I both feel that it would be very wrong for you to marry Tom unless he is first told that you went toSpring Valleyfor the cure. Tom has a right to know that. Your father thinks that I have more tact for things of that sort, and that I should be the one to tell him.
But I wanted to speak to you first. You must look at this courageously. If
Tom doesn’t love you well enough to forgive and overlook that sad experience, then he doesn’t love you well enough to marry you. If he does love you that well, then he will not blame you at all, but will be all the more tender and careful of you.”
For a moment I felt as if death had struck me. It had never occurred to me that I should have to tell Torn of the dreadful experience. How could I have thought so with the memory of John’s cruel words—just but terribly cruel? It seemed to be the one thing in life that I should keep from Tom’s knowledge. In the shock of the moment, the old cunning and deceit seized me again and I lied to my mother, not glibly, I am sure, but at least cleverly enough to deceive her. At the time the lie seemed to be the straw that would save me from sinking under the waves of despair.
“I’ve told Tom,” I said. “He understands. But he doesn’t want it ever mentioned again. He doesn’t want to talk about it to anybody.”
“Good!” exclaimed my mother, plainly relieved. “I’ll see, my dear, that no one ever mentions it to him.”
I wept over that lie until I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion that night, but for all my tears, I let the lie stand. I prayed for courage to tell Tom the truth, to justify the lie I had told; but the days went by and I lacked the courage to say anything. By the time the wedding day came, I had persuaded myself that I had done the wisest thing under the circumstances, and that there was really no more necessity for telling Tom of that experience than there was for telling him about John, or about a dozen other foolish little things I might have done in my early girlhood days.
Tom and I were married in the quietest way possible. Secretly I yearned to wear white satin and a bridal veil, and go down a church aisle garlanded with flowers, as Eileen and Doris had done, but mother thought I should be married quietly at home—because of the past! My sisters did not come to the wedding, which showed me how wide the breach in our lives really was.
Tom’s position was waiting for him with a firm of architects in a city of some eighty thousand, and we went there immediately after our wedding. We felt that the happy experience of finding and furnishing an apartment in a strange, new city would be enough of a honeymoon for us, as we were both thrifty young souls. We really considered ourselves the two happiest persons on earth.
I remember that it had been a very dry spring and early summer, and about the time we got settled in our apartment, it began to rain. It rained for the greater part of ten days, and everybody said it was the rain that drove ants into the houses. I found them in our refrigerator one morning when I was preparing breakfast.
Neither Tom nor I knew what to do to get rid of ants. Somebody told him to find the place where they came in and to draw a chalk circle round the place. He spent about an hour one evening tracing the ants up the pantry wall into the ceiling. He drew his chalk mark round the place, but the next day the ants were crawling round in the refrigerator.
“Gosh, I forgot!” said Tom that night when I mentioned they were in again. “One of the fellows in the office told me what to get. Said to pour some of the stuff in a saucer and they’d hump out in a hurry.”
At the moment I was putting the dishes on the table in the breakfast nook so that everything would be ready for a quick breakfast the next morning. I had just laid the silver when I heard Tom get a saucer out of the cupboard, and heard him run some water from the faucet. Suddenly an odor reached me, bringing a fear that made me tremble from head to foot. For a moment I stood rooted to the spot; then I managed to look around. Tom was putting the saucer on the top shelf in the refrigerator. Then he put the bottle containing the “stuff” on top of the refrigerator. It was a bottle of paregoric! This is bad luck. Paregoric used to kill ants?!
I seemed completely paralyzed for the moment. I, who had avoided passing drugstores so long, so that I would not be tempted, to find the stuff here before me! In my own kitchen! I couldn’t speak, but a groan forced itself out of my lips—and heart. Tom looked round with a startled face.
“What’s the matter, Margerie?” he cried, springing to my side. “You are white as a ghost! Are you ill?”
I nodded helplessly, and let him lead me from the room. To all his questions I could only say that I had a pain—and I did have one, the old pain that called for paregoric, which was neither a stomach nor an intestinal pain in its true sense, but a sort of reflex pain.
Once in bed, although I assured Tom that I was better, I was beset with a
thousand emotions, for I realized now that the desire for paregoric was still in me. Perhaps the desire would never die, I thought, and this filled me with terror at the thought of what it meant to my life and to Tom’s, if I yielded to the craving again.
All my dreams fell with a crash! Then, too, I was in an agony of fear now as to what Tom would think of me if he found that I had married him, refusing deliberately to let him know the truth. I realized now that mother and father had been right. He should have been told! Now he would find it out, sooner or later, and he would consider that he had been tricked, deceived.
I could not go to sleep, but lay with my nerves as taut as if they were tied in a knot. After the clock struck one I decided to sneak out to the kitchen and throw the paregoric bottle out of the window. I planned in detail, each move to make. I must first open the screen in the kitchen window. Then I must, take the bottle, hold it as far away from my face as possible and remove the cork, so that in case the bottle didn’t break when it landed in the laundry yard, the liquid would spill anyway. For it was quite possible that I would go out into the laundry yard the next morning and get the bottle.
There was a street light on the corner that lighted the whole of our apartment, and I was able to get out of my bed, which was only about a foot from Tom’s bed, without making the slightest noise. I went through the dining room and into the kitchen so quietly that I thought he had not heard. It was a warm August night, but I was so cold that I shook from head to foot. Just as I removed the cork from the bottle I heard Tom coming through the dining room, calling me.
I think if nothing had happened to distract me at that moment, I might have been able to carry out my intention of throwing the bottle out the window. But I was ten feet from the window and when I heard Tom coming I instinctively did the thing that I had always done when mother or the girls had come upon me suddenly in the dark; a reflex action, I suppose. I swallowed some of the stuff. Then, appalled by what I had done, I ran to the window and threw the bottle as far out the window as I could throw it.
Tom opened the door. “What’s the matter, darling?” he asked, a worried look on his face.
“I had a pain and came in to get something for it,” I answered. “I’m better now. Let’s go back.”
“I won’t wake you when I get up in the morning,” said Tom, as he drew the sheet up round me. “I’ll telephone about eleven to see how you are. If you’re not better I’ll send a doctor out.”
I went to sleep at once now, for I had swallowed a big dose of the paregoric, and I slept like a log. I heard not a sound when Tom got up and left the house at breakfast time.
It was fifteen minutes to eleven when I finally awoke, and with the awakening came the horror of the paregoric, and what I had done. When Tom telephoned, I told him I was much better, but asked him to stay downtown for luncheon. I felt as if I could not face Tom just yet.
I would like to draw a veil over the mental and physical agony of that morning. Never had I felt more the need of outside help.
Tom and I had been going to church regularly, and I wished now that .I might go to the minister of the church we had been attending and ask his advice, for somehow it came to me that my hope lay in spiritual help rather than in medicine and doctors. But, I didn’t know the minister personally and I shrank from taking such a step.
Shortly after the luncheon hour I put on my hat and went down to the little church where Tom and I had been going. But the church doors were locked. Dazed and miserable, I walked about for an hour. On my way back home I passed another church. The doors of this church were open, and, although I was of a different denomination, I wanted to be in a church of some sort, to be as near to God as possible, and I went in to pray. My one prayer was, “God, save me from this terrible curse!”
I think I must have knelt on the little kneeling bench in the pew for nearly an hour, praying as I had never prayed before. I thought I was alone in the church, but when at last I stumbled out through the middle vestibule someone spoke to me. I looked round, startled. It was the minister, an elderly man with a shock of white hair that framed a kind, shrewd face.
“You are weeping, my child,” the minister said. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Weeping? I hadn’t known I was weeping. I remember I put up my hand and felt my wet face, much as a child might have done. Then I shook my head, but a moment later I was sitting on a bench in a secluded corner of the west vestibule, sobbing out my miserable story to Reverend Lavere.
“God has sent you here,” the kind old minister said. “There is but one thing to do, and you will do it because you want to do what is right. You must tell your husband the whole truth at once. You must tell him this very evening when he comes home to dinner. It will not be nearly so hard as you think, once you get started. If you had consciously done evil, then you might shrink. Now go home and rest. Your husband will help you. I feel it. And God will help you. Will you promise to tell him?”
I promised, with all the fullness and sincerity of my heart, for, somehow the way Reverend Lavere put it made it seem much, much easier than it had ever seemed before. I went home feeling infinitely better, but Tom would not be home for two hours and two hours is a long time to wait when one is in a state of nervous collapse. As the hour neared for his return, my courage failed utterly. I roughed my cheeks heavily and put on a gay dress, so that he might not see how pale I was.
He came; the dinner hour passed and I said nothing. Whenever I tried to open the subject, my tongue became glued to the roof of my mouth. I simply could not get it out, and by the time we got up from the table I had made the cowardly decision to try to fight the thing out alone. And at the same moment, something was urging me to go out into the laundry yard and get the bottle I had thrown out as there might be enough unspilled to stop my pounding nerves. It was the old, old argument!
As I wheeled my little tea wagon back to the kitchen with its load of dishes, struggling against that vision of the bottle in the laundry yard, the door bell rang. Tom went to the door. I hastily threw a tea cloth over the wagon of dishes and hurried back, for I thought it was the Calhouns, some very pleasant new friends we had made, who lived in the apartment above ours. But when I came in, Reverend Lavere was entering the room with Tom.
“I was just telling your husband that you and I met this afternoon,” the minister said, holding out his hand to me. “I was out for my little after-dinner walk, and I just dropped by, Mrs. Dearman, to see if you had succeeded in telling your good husband the secret trouble that you wish so much to tell him?”
The only reason I didn’t die on the spot at that moment is because it is not easy to die; not nearly so easy, I had found, as people believe. But I did go as blind and as deaf for a moment as if a bomb had exploded at my feet. At last, it seemed, Fate had utterly broken me. Something was being said, but I couldn’t hear what it was. Then, my vision clearing, I could see Tom’s pale face. He was looking at me in open-mouthed astonishment, in complete bewilderment.
“What does he mean, Margerie?” he was repeating. “What trouble is it that you haven’t told me? You needn’t be afraid—nothing could come between us!”
I still couldn’t speak, and sinking down in a chair by the table, I buried my face on my arms. It was Reverend Lavere–kind, good Reverend Lavere–who had known quite well that my courage would die before dinner—who told Tom the story. He repeated, almost word for word, the story that I had told him in the afternoon.
“She is an innocent victim of circumstances,” he said finally.
A moment later I heard the front door close behind him.
Then Tom picked me up, sat down in the big wing chair and rocked me as gently and as tenderly as if I had been a baby. He was silent for a long while. By and by he suddenly ceased to rock.
“It’s the unscrupulous idiots they let hang out doctors’ shingles and the secrecy of the thing that makes it a losing fight!” he exploded. “Nobody to talk it over with. Shut up tight! Honey, from now on you and I are going to fight this thing out in the open! I can just see you, poor little thing, trying to do it all by yourself! After those two idiots’ prescriptions got you started —for the maid wasn’t to blame, in the first place. It was the doctor who got her started. And that Dr. Wells! And society in general. Scorned and afraid!”
He was silent again for a long moment.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he began again “This thing’s a disease that you took as innocently as a child takes whooping cough. Yes, sir, next to doctors who prescribe such stuff with a free hand, it’s society that’s to blame —making it impossible for you to talk it over with others. That’s the trouble. Of course, I understand why you didn’t tell me! You thought you were cured, and dollars to doughnuts you will be cured before we’re through with it. And honey, it wouldn’t have made any difference if you had told me. I’d have married you just the same.”
I tried to speak, but my heart was too full.
“Yes, it’s the darn secrecy that kills,” he went on, as if talking to himself. “Remember what I told you about the awful time I had a few years back with those carbuncles on my neck? What if I couldn’t have told everybody I met about the things? Why, I’d have gone batty, of course. People have just got to tell what hurts ‘em, or they’ll die. It’s human nature.
“Well, we’re going to reform our immediate little society right here. You’re not going to be afraid to look a drugstore window in the face any more. We’ll go by the drugstores every day, and you’re going to talk about this thing to me, and I’m going to talk about it to you as freely as if it were a splinter in your finger or a sore tonsil. From now on, there’s nothing to hide. Nothing to worry about. We’re going to open the windows and let the sunshine in. How about it?”
How about it! It seemed to me that I must slip down on my knees, but as Tom’s arms were holding me, I put mine about his neck and almost choked him with the hug of gratitude that I gave him, I was so encouraged and hopeful, so happy to find at last a refuge! Millstones by the score seemed to roll off my neck at that moment, for here was not only proof that I would have understood. Getting help from the dearest person on earth, but proof that my husband loved me with a great love, and that he was as wise as he was loving. I was still little more than a girl, but I believe if I had been wrinkled with age this love of Tom’s would have given me back my youth, just as it now gave me back my hope in life, my courage, my strength.
Tom talked a long time that evening about our plans, immediate and for the future. We had already decided that we would have four children, and even more if the first four didn’t bring a boy. But Tom said now that the children must wait until we had proved the thing thoroughly, and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I would never be tempted again.
The immediate plans, of course, occupied our minds for the moment. Tom made the plans, and together, the next day, we began carrying them out. He telephoned his office that he was taking a day off, and we went to every drugstore in the city. At each place Tom introduced himself and me to the proprietor, and asked to meet all the clerks. Then he told them, briefly, that I had taken too much paregoric during a long illness and was fighting the habit, and asked them to promise not to sell me paregoric under any circumstances if, in a moment of weakness, I came to them for it. All but one promised readily. Nobody could have been kinder than were those druggists and their clerks, with the exception of this one.
“We always have anybody who asks for paregoric without a prescription sign our books kept for that purpose, Mr. Dearman,” this man said suavely, He was an over-fat, porcine creature, and seemed to be puffing with vexation at the idea of Tom’s audacity in asking a favor of him.
“Beyond that,” he added, “we cannot take responsibility. We will, of course, not give it if we can remember Mrs. Dearman. But there are a number of Dearmans in the city, and thousands of women come in here during the course of a few weeks and we may not remember her.”
“I’d advise you to make it a point to remember her, Mr. Hubert,” Tom replied. “For if my wife ever does get paregoric here—mind what I’m telling you—you’ll be given the nicest pair of black eyes any man ever carried round. Besides that, I’ll tell the story from one end of the town to the other. Don’t think there’s any secrecy here, for there isn’t. We’re out in the sunshine with this thing. We don’t care who knows it. And it’ll be to your interest to see that neither you nor your clerks forget her!”
That afternoon we began the round of the doctors’ offices. This was a somewhat longer and more embarrassing task. And now began our fight in earnest. Tom wrote to Dr. Thorndyke, atGreenValley, who gave us directions for the medical and dietary program. That and Tom’s love for me, and mine for him, brought us through the ordeal successfully.
There were a few times when I canvassed the drugstores for the poison that would, in time, have killed me; but I got it only twice. Even then I did not succeed in taking it all, for Tom, seeing the bright glitter of my eyes, suspected, asked for the bottle and got it. Nothing could escape him. He sold our roadster because I used it once to get the dope in a nearby town.
“We don’t need a car while we’re fighting this thing anyway, honey,” he said.
“It really costs a lot to run a car. We’ll save the money for that house we’re going to build some day. I’m going to bring the plans home some bright day! “It’s going to be a hillside house, with vistas and things like that from the windows. And don’t worry—you’re doing fine! I got a letter from Dr. Thorndyke today. He says in a few months you’ll forget the thing.
“He’s a prince of a man, and a good doctor, but his psychology is all wrong. He thinks you can never safely look paregoric in the face again, but I say you can. The day will come when we can park a bottle on our ice box and you won’t care a hang how long it stays there. That’s got to be the test, honey. As long as you can’t stand to see or to smell the stuff, you’re not entirely cured.”
It was two years before that day came; before I could rid myself of fear enough
to let Tom leave me and the stuff alone in the house. The first day that I actually did this was a day of jubilation!
Then one day Tom came home with good news.
“I’ve had an offer from one of the biggest architects on thePacificCoast,” he
said. “He saw my Western home design and liked it. He offers an interest in the firm after one year, if everything works out agreeably. I’ve wired him we would come!”
It has been five years since I tasted paregoric. I have no more fear of it now than I have of water, but of course I shall never taste it again.
And here I am, at the little house that seems to have grown out of the hill like a tree. We are working on the attic now, every day it’s flooded with light from six dormer windows, and there’s a place for a sandbox for rainy winter days, and Mother Goose paper is plastered on the sloping walls. The little furniture isn’t in yet, but it is planned—for the baby is coming in June. By then the trailing roses that have already reached the high end windows will be blooming.
So this is the end of my bitterly true story of bondage to dope. In the state in which I now live one cannot get paregoric without a doctor’s prescription. That should be the law in every state. But one has only to look in the newspapers to see that the bondage to opium, in some form, goes on. Even in states where laws are strict, lovely, talented girls get habit-forming drugs in some way. Let this true story be a warning to them! I took a trip East eight months ago, for a short visit, and on the way home there was a woman on the train from a Southeastern state. She had a tiny tot of four years, and she was dosing the child with paregoric. I could not help suggesting, almost begging her, not to give the little thing remedies of that type. The woman looked at me in polite surprise.
“Why, how foolish!” she said. “It is perfectly harmless.”
“It’s camphorated tincture of opium,” I replied.
“Well, maybe,” the woman said indifferently. “But my doctor said that one would have to swallow about an ounce to get much opium. I guess there’s not nearly so much harm from medicines of this sort, as some people think.”
I went back to my seat, wondering what I could do to let others know what a “perfectly harmless” remedy had done to me. And as I sat gazing out the window at the flying landscape, the way came—to tell the true, unvarnished story!
Copyright © 1933, 2012 by BroadLit