As we motored north on Route 7 toward Burlington, I respected the silence of Karen McCoy, the customer sitting beside me in my taxi. A short, wiry woman, maybe 40 years old, she appeared to be deep in her thoughts, as if harnessing and focusing her energy.
Karen had just completed a month's stay at an Addison County rehab facility, so either her life was about to change fundamentally or it wasn't. I had the sense she was aiming for the change with all her heart, and I honor any person with the courage to confront their personal demons.
"Well, first thing, I'm gonna have to find some new friends," Karen said spontaneously. "Pretty much all of my old ones are alcoholics or drug addicts. I hope the meetings will help out with that."
On this arctic-cold February morning, the sun was dazzling my eyes — an atypical winter day that had me reaching into the glove box for my sunglasses. If my vehicle's temperature gauge was to be trusted, it was two degrees below zero. I had the car heater set at 70, so we were toasty.
"Yes, I bet the meetings will help," I said, presuming she was referring to the cornerstone activity of the 12-step program. "Do you have a job lined up or something?"
"Nope, not right off. I'll be staying at a halfway house in Burlington. I haven't worked much since I left the military. I'm a Marine, and I did four tours in Iraq. I got wounded twice and have pretty severe PTSD."
"Thanks for fighting for our country, Karen," I said.
Whatever misgivings I harbored about the Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation, those who fought there did so for all of us American citizens. To me, that's a core principle of a democracy. At least, while we still live in one.
"Was this your first try at rehab?" I asked.
"Nope, it's my second. I had three years sober until last July, when my 16-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. I just couldn't cope, and I've pretty much been a raging alcoholic since then. Well, until the last month — I shouldn't forget that."
"Oh, jeez, Karen — I'm so sorry for your loss. What a blow."
"My husband and I both went in for treatment at the same time. Charlie served in the Air Force, so he's a vet, too. He's staying at the rehab in ... I think it's Bradford? I know it's a town on the Connecticut River. We've been able to talk on the phone, thank goodness. I miss him terrible, but he's doing good in his recovery, and that's all that matters."
"Do ya have any other children?"
"Yeah — Jimmy, my son. He's a great kid. Somehow, he's managed to avoid the substance issues we all deal with. He's 23 now and has steady work as a welder. And he's about to have a second baby with the same woman. She's a great girl, and we all love her."
"Is marriage in the cards?"
"Funny you should ask that," Karen replied. It was great to hear her chuckle, which came out as more of a whimsical cackle. "'Cause I've been nagging him to put a ring on it, but he's proceeding, well, 'cautiously' is how he says it. Now, I can appreciate that — what with everyone getting divorced left and right — but there's such a thing as overcautious."
Talking about rings, when we arrived at Karen's temporary home in Burlington, I noticed the ring finger on her right hand appeared to be set in a splint and bandaged. She caught me looking and said, "Can you believe it? I fell on the ice yesterday and broke my finger. It still hurts like hell."
"Didn't they offer you any pain meds?"
"Sure, but I didn't want to trade one addiction for another. I got a husband, a son and two grandkids who need me."
Karen still retains that warrior spirit, I thought, and that's reason for hope.
Do prayers work? For the better part of a year when I was a teenager, I nearly wore out an album by the Doors called The Soft Parade. My favorite song was the title track, which begins with Jim Morrison intoning, "When I was back there in seminary school, there was a person there who put forth the proposition that 'you can petition the Lord with prayer.'" He then repeats the proposition two more times, before bellowing his feeling about it: "You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!"
Though I still enjoy the song, I'm not sure I agree with the notion of prayer as a "petition," whether to God or anyone else. When you attempt to analyze the subject via your intellect, it's easy to get lost in the theological weeds. For me, the act of prayer resonates intuitively. I guess my bottom line is simply: It can't hurt, right?
Here's the prayer I sent out for my customer in support of her recovery: "May the bravery Karen brought to the front lines of Iraq serve her well on the new battlefield where she now finds herself."
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.