(There are big picture Nurse Jackie spoilers below.)
Frank and I recently binge-watched Nurse Jackie. I have to be honest; I thought it was a hospital dramedy, and had no idea it centered around opiate addiction. I’m not sure I’d have started watching it if I had. But I did, and it was a really great show. Heartbreaking, but great. Because when she lied, manipulated. when the drugs were more important to her than her kids, her husband, her job, my reaction was what most have. I hated her. I saw her as a horrible person.
I saw my son.
Edie Falco is beyond amazing. She managed to be sympathetic and hateful, selfless and selfish at the same time. Like Chris. Nurse Jackie made me truly understand how the world outside my mother-heart saw my precious son. And how I, even in my deepest brain, saw him too.
When I mention Nurse Jackie in company, those who’ve seen the show say something along the lines of, “She’s a terrible person. I hate her.” Much like I did. But somewhere along the way, and because of my experiences, I saw the other side of the character. Jackie wasn’t a bad person. She was actually a good person with a terrible monkey on her back. A misunderstood one. A disease the world at large views as the weak character of a flawed person. Because her daughter suffers from extreme anxiety, the connection to Jackie’s inherent anxiety is made clear. She also has chronic back pain, as a result of her years of nursing, and relies on the very real excuse of that pain to use.
Much like Chris.
Jackie heals, gives hope, breaks rules to aid those who are being harmed by them. She shows her character, her core, even in the depths of her worst binges. (For those who’ve seen the show–the accident on her way to the airport. Enough said.) She also lies, cheats, steals, throws others under the bus–not to save herself, but to allow her addiction to continue unhindered. She gets clean, relapses, gets clean again, relapses again. This is the life of an addict.
This was Chris’ life.
In the throes of his worst days, he was still looking out for the misfits, for the disenfranchised. Helping them at the gym, befriending them when no one else would. All the while he was tearing his family’s hearts to shreds. I watched Nurse Jackie, watched Edie Falco deliver her lines and saw the mastery with which my son lulled me into believing him. He made things sound so rational. Addiction backed into a corner is smarter, savvier than the addict. In a person as brilliant as Chris was, I didn’t stand a chance. None of us did. Like the characters in Jackie’s life, I wanted to believe. I couldn’t prove his lies. Not until he crashed yet again, and I was breathing life into him.
The cycle was vicious. For me. For those who loved him. And for him. Because Chris was a good person, and the addict was not. The addict did things the young man screaming and buried in opiates hated too. There is a picture he drew, packed away with his things, of what his addiction felt like. Veins inside a body, and the blood droplets screaming in agony, the needle big and plunging by an unseen hand. It’s chilling. It’s real. It breaks my heart to think about it.
When Frank and I binge-watch, we binge-watch. We finished all seven seasons of Nurse Jackie in about three weeks. It was three weeks of bad dreams for me, of old memories surfacing, but it was also enlightening in a way I might never have otherwise understood. I’m glad we watched it. I’m grateful for this insight into the world outside my mother-heart, and into my own mind. It was all there, maybe buried under the years, maybe kindly quiet. But there.