Casey had been around alcohol for as long as she could remember. Her childhood had been spent in smoke-filled houses. She had promised herself as she grew up that she would never succumb to those pitiful things. She wanted to be better than her parents. She would move out, start a family, and get a nice job in a law firm somewhere. If only destiny was as kind.
Besides being a chain smoker, her mother was an abusive alcoholic often flying off at her for nothing at all. Her father wasn’t much better, often staying out with friends at night-clubs and street corners, injecting or snorting, or whatever it was he was doing that night. She had a few close friends who were always there for her, and she could talk about everything with them. Her best friend was Miranda, and the two promised that no matter what, they would be best friends. When they were eight, they made a blood pact that they would never smoke or drink or do any drugs like Casey's parents did.
It was during high school when her life fell apart. Her father got a new job as an insurance salesman, so her family had to move. She was taken away from her good friends to a new place. As she waved out of that rear window, the cool, clear drops of rain trickled down the windows, just like the tears that were falling freely down her cheeks. She knew then that the good days were over and gone forever.
Casey's new school was a rundown old dump. The dark blue walls were peeling, exposing the rust colored paint underneath. She wondered who would ever go to such a place. The teachers were vindictive, the buildings worn, and even the sky above always seemed to be a dark, eerie black color. Her classes were awful and difficult, and her teachers didn’t help at all. She smiled to the people in her classes, but they just scowled at her and joined their other friends to talk about her. She felt their eyes upon her as she walked past them and heard the cynical, sarcastic jeers that they said in murmured whispers as she tried to find her classroom. Some even had the nerve to say appalling things to her face. Twice they had told her that the classrooms had changed, so she had scurried over to room D4 to find that there was no such place.
During lunch, she would look around for a place to sit in the cafeteria, giving hopeful glances at a seat but it would always be ‘taken.’ Instead, she sat upon the school steps outside the school hall, leaning her head against the wall and wishing she were someplace else. She cried silently for someone to take her away from there.
She did not know why she started using drugs; she didn't care. Anything was better than the torment she suffered at home or the miserable loneliness she felt at school. It was wonderful being able to get herself away from everything: the hurt, the torment, and the pain. She could escape everything that had ever caused that hole within her to grow into a mass of anger and resentment towards everyone; her teachers for being so laid-back and so uncaring when they caught people smoking in front of the baseball field and at her classmates for not trying to be nice to her and hating. Most of all she hated her parents, for being irresponsible and imperfect, not caring if she arrived home at four o'clock in the morning with blood shot eyes, her face thin and worn, huge circles under her eyes, and barely being able to walk
Casey started hanging out with people along her street, the ones that stood on the corner snorting and smoking, shooting passing cars with paint-ball guns, and stealing from people they helped with shopping bags. It was a great game. On the street end, there was a large supermarket and frequently people came for their weekly shopping. She and her friends would offer to help the shopper with the large plastic bags. While one was taking the bag, the other would slide the target's money (and sometimes even a wallet) from the person's pocket. Usually Tommy would take the money; he was a large Hispanic boy with a braided hair, big eyes, and a head too small for his body. Casey would offer to help, as she looked the most innocent of the gang, her huge ocean green eyes shining with a childish innocence and her long golden hair hung around her heart shaped face; the adults idea of a ‘Perfect Child'.
She skipped school to hang out with the crew and they would go down to an old stream with a huge old bridge over it to get high or convince young children to have a smoke and laugh at the ones who wouldn't. Her parents knew what she was doing. They didn't care; they knew where she was going everyday and night. Once, her mother had struck her across the face for becoming as useless and as weak as she had been for giving in to drugs as she had. Then she started drinking again and forgot the conversation; Casey didn't care.
She started failing at school, her grades dropped, and she was sent to talk to the principal. She shouted at him and ran away from school to her place under the bridge. The next time she was sent to the principal’s office, she was so stoned she was sent back home again. From then on, her classmates talked about her even more, talking even worse about her than usual. They would call her a pot head, druggie, and crazy. This really made Casey upset.
She was seventeen when she saw Miranda again. Casey was drunk and high then, walking home from a party in the early hours of the morning. She reeked of smoke and marijuana, and the scent of alcohol hung heavily around her. Her party clothes were hanging loosely over her emaciated form as she walked down the road in the rain.
Miranda was driving home after her night shift at her part-time job in a boutique. She recognized her old friend just barely through the loose strands of hair that had fallen from her head. Miranda knew it was Casey and took her back to her house.
Miranda was renting an apartment in the nice, cozy area of town. She had a boyfriend, and the two were planning on moving in together as soon as they left for university. She was studying to become a nurse and heading off to medical school to get her degree. The girl was happy and healthy and looked with pity upon her friend.
“We promised, remember, ” she said quietly as Casey sat with a blanket around her swallowing an aspirin for her hangover. `“We promised we'd never do this stuff.”
Casey shrugged, “We were, like, eight.”
“And yet you had more sense when you were eight than you do now that you're seventeen? ” Miranda questioned. Casey didn't reply. “What happened to you Casey? Why did you do this? ” Miranda asked in her slow, quiet voice.
“I had to, ” she replied.
Miranda shook her head, “No you didn’t. You chose to.”
Casey left Miranda’s house after a few hours. Miranda had offered her to stay there if she got help, but until then she offered a business card for Dr. Rendell, a friend of hers. Casey took it and headed home. She looked at the little piece of paper, tore it in half, and threw it into the stream.
Miranda watched from her balcony and shook her head. “I'm sorry Casey, truly.”
Tommy had gone too far this time. His parents suspected him of being on drugs and sent him to rehab. He didn't want to go, so he didn't. He told his parents he was fine and that changed. They trusted him with his two and a half-year-old sister Veronica while they went out for their anniversary. He brought Veronica down to the crew’s hangout place by the bridge because he wanted to go for a swim. Veronica followed her big brother into the river. While he was in there he forgot who she was because he was on heroine at the time. Tommy thought she was a monster and drowned her.
It was when he was off his high, hours later, that he realized what he had done. He saw her lifeless little body lying on the bank, her beautiful brown eyes glossy and empty, and her face full of panic. She was so little and fragile compared to her large older brother. She didn't stand a chance even if she wanted too. Everyone at the bridge was stoned and didn’t realize what happened to Veronica.
The crew split up after the accident. A few went into rehab and managed to defeat their problems. The others just looked for another crew that would take them in. Casey tried to get a job. There was no point quitting. She would just go back to the drugs and alcohol when she got home and her mother started hitting her again.
She left school with no money, no scholarship, no friends, and no job. She was still at home with her parents who didn't care whether she stayed or left, ate or starved, lived or died. When she turned twenty, her father died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol. Her mother had her own issues. She was severely depressed for days before drinking her sorrows away or taking it all out on Casey.
Casey knew she ought to stop her addiction. She went to a rehab center to quit and heard of people like her. It worked for a while, until her mother went into a rage larger than usual, yelling how Casey was to blame for her father's death. She threw Casey out onto the street with a pillow and a pair of shoes. She told Casey never to come back or she would kill her with her own two hands.
She needed a job and money. She owed her dealer, and she had no friends. She stole, and she even reduced herself to prostitution, and worked at a strip joint. With nowhere else to go, Casey returned to Miranda’s house. She had moved, and the owners, taking pity on the woman, told her that she and her husband had moved into a house on the other side of the city.
It took her two tractor-trailers and four cars to get her there but Casey turned up on the doorstep of her old best-friend's house. A man answered the door.
“I'm looking for Miranda, ” Casey said.
The man beckoned her inside and disappeared off into a brightly lit room. He reappeared with Miranda.
“Casey! ” Miranda gasped, a long white apron smeared with some kind of sauce was tied over her polo shirt and expensive looking jeans.
“I need help, Miranda, ” Casey pleaded.
Miranda told her husband to finish making dinner and sat with Casey on the leather couch. She listened as Casey told her all about her problems, how rehab had done nothing for her, and about her mother kicking her out.
Some people would have left her on the street, but Miranda hugged her old friend and promised that she would do whatever it took to get her clean.
Casey tried. She really tried. She spent hours everyday in a rehab center. Miranda made it clear that if Casey missed one meeting, she would be back on the streets. That never happened. After a while, money had begun to disappear from the house. Money left on countertops in the mornings would be gone in the afternoon. It seemed very strange to Miranda.
It became obvious one day, after over two hundred dollars went missing, who was to blame. They waited for Casey to get home from her job in a boutique shop. She never showed up. They received a call from Casey’s boss to inquire about a large sum of money had been disappeared from the cash register during Casey’s shift.
Miranda saw Casey when she was on her way to work a few weeks later. She pulled over again and stepped out of the car. It looked as though she was going to hit Casey as she walked over to the sidewalk; she did not. She just looked sadly at the dirt-ridden woman and said in a heartrending voice;
“You've had all the chance in the world to change and now you never will. You made a promise years ago that you would never become your mother. Drugs don't make you happy. They make you delirious. You should get a high from life itself. Just being blessed to see and to hear, to touch and to smell, to breathe and to laugh; just too live should be enough. Do you know what life is? You didn't become your mother. You became much worse.”
Miranda drove to work that day, knowing that she would never see Casey again. She had done all she could to help. She knew that some people could never be helped because some people don’t want to be helped. She took one last look in her rear-view mirror at the girl she had once known, the girl that had been so consumed in finding a place that didn't exist that she had walked right past the paradise that she once had.
It was days later that Casey knew her life was worth nothing. The promise she had made to herself all those years ago, when her world had been an endless cloud of possibility, a place she could feel safe, secure, and loved was gone. She had lost it when she began the drugs, when they had altered her mind and took over her soul, taking her miles away from the innocent child she once was.
She thought of taking more then, to send her off to that place that she craved, that wonderful heaven that she knew could not exist. She looked off the bridge where she and the gang had spent long, endless days getting high and laughing at pointless things. She looked down at the inky waters far below. She heard the current as it flowed on through the place that she had thought to be home.
Drugs, booze, lust… was that all that she had lived for? Friends, home, family… was that what she was never to have? Miranda had a life. She had money, a career, family and a home. She had her high without touching a pill, a needle, or a cigarette.
All of this ran through her mind as she placed her feet up on the stone wall of the bridge. She wished she had never left her old home, left her friends who had deserted her like so many others. Her long blonde hair fanned out behind her, the moonlight making it glow like gold. Her dirty clothes, for a moment were fresh, and clean, and new.
The wind whipped past her with the ferociousness of a winter's storm with the force and freedom of a million wild horses. The wind carried Casey far away to where her drugs had taken her, to where she had allowed them to take her.
And as Miranda worked late that night, pouring over papers, not knowing that the next morning she would find that she was pregnant, she could have sworn that she heard the distant calling of a voice she heard long ago. A small cry of ‘I promise’ as it fluttered in through the open window. She knew it was just the wind.