Fresh Eyes: Victoria’s overdose


charles-woodby Charles Wood

She was Crayola blue, still warm to the touch when I found her. It was 5:15 p.m., and I had just gotten home from work and she was still asleep on my couch, or so I thought. I went to shake her awake; I just assumed she was still hungover from the previous night. When I touched her I quickly realized there was something wrong. She was too still. When I turned her over some vomit fell from her mouth and landed on my pant leg. She was that color of blue that no breathing person should ever be. I immediately called 9-1-1.

The previous night

Victoria and her boyfriend came by my place around 10 p.m. They were obviously drunk but not much more than usual. Victoria was a little handsy; I just assumed it was the alcohol. It got a little awkward when she proceeded to sit on my lap, with her boyfriend five feet away. I went to bed around 11 — I had to be at the office at 9 a.m. the next morning and needed my beauty rest. Victoria got the message and she and her boyfriend left.

When I got up the next morning, Vic was on the couch. I could have sworn I locked the door the previous night but I might have been mistaken. I tried to wake her up but she didn’t respond. She was still breathing, in fact, she was snoring quite loudly. I just assumed she was still drunk from the previous night and somehow wandered back into my place to sleep it off. I didn’t think about it too hard; I had to get ready for work.

I came home for lunch, and arrived sometime around 12:15. Vic was still soundly asleep and snoring on my couch. Her phone rang as I was making myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I answered it; it was her mother, Betsy. She asked if I had seen Vic, and said she was worried about her since she didn’t come home last night. I told her the truth; that Victoria was asleep on my couch but wouldn’t wake up. Her mother was used to this behavior and wasn’t overly concerned. I left my place around 12:50 to go back to the office.

Back at my place

The person on the other end of the phone talked me through CPR and sent paramedics my way. Have you ever given CPR to someone whose mouth is filled with vomit? It’s not an enticing proposition.

I’ll never forget that taste.

The paramedics were quick to arrive, but not quick enough. I saw them rip her off the couch, like a tablecloth under fine china and tear open her blouse so they could use the defibrillator machine. It was ultimately all for naught, and I was ushered out of my apartment to wait outside.

I sat on the sidewalk outside of the apartment complex, wishing I had a cigarette while I waited for the paramedics upstairs to revive Victoria. They would have had a better chance of giving CPR to a pile of ash.

The worse part of all this was the sense of deja vu. Just a week prior, Ryan, Victoria’s on-again-off-again boyfriend and junkie partner, called me while I was at New York Pizza saying something along the lines that Victoria was acting messed up and they were about to get kicked out of Coffeeology and could I come and help. I finished my beer and took my time heading across the street to their location. Once inside, I asked where they were and the pretty blond working at the time nervously looked at the back door. When I went out back I saw Ryan looking terrible and pacing. Vic was passed out on the bench.

She was Crayola blue, still warm to the touch when I found her.

“What should we do?” He asked.

“I’m calling 9-1-1,” I replied.

“I’m holding,” he said.

I took out my phone and called 9-1-1 as he ran off. I told the operator what was up and they in turn talked me through CPR.

The paramedics made it in time that night; we weren’t that lucky the next time. They told me the news, and I didn’t react much. I was in shock, I guess. Not too long after Venee, Betsy and Abbie came, all in tears. I bummed cigarettes and was told to wait for the police and CSI teams. I asked if I could go in and change pants because I still had Vic’s vomit on the ones I was wearing. I was told I could not.

Eventually, a detective came by and asked what happened. I told him the truth; I had nothing to hide. I suddenly remembered I had a bowl and a little weed on the coffee table. It didn’t worry me — that would be a misdemeanor at worse and I had a clean record (still do, surprisingly).

When they were done combing my apartment and questioning me, around dusk, I wandered in a daze up to College Hill Sundries. My friend Amy bought me a shot of whiskey and a PBR. The song “Only the Good Die Young” played as I drank it. It was either somebody’s sick idea of a joke or a messed up coincidence. I wasn’t happy regardless.

My friend Nathan talked me into staying at his place that night. I was still in shock and didn’t see what all the fuss was about, but decided to go along with it. The next day, I came home and cleaned up the vomit. I can still smell the mixture of cleaning chemicals and bile when I close my eyes. It took days for the reality of the incident to really kick in, and when it did I had nightmares for weeks.

Though that happened years ago, I still feel like I’m walking through a thick fog. I still have nightmares about Victoria and probably will for a very long time. I’ve lost a few friends since then, and quite a lot of people assumed since she overdosed in my apartment I had something to do with it or at the very least did heroin myself. I have never touched the stuff and don’t plan to anytime soon.

Charles Wood has written for Go Triad and  When not currently writing about topics ranging from strip clubs and karaoke to filmmaking and painting Charles spends his time drinking at dive bars, bumming cigarettes from friends, and watching Bette Midler’s masterpiece Beaches way too often to possibly be considered healthy.

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  • Ryan Patrick Cafferty

    why this had to be so cold and detached i cannot fathom. i dated victoria, was madly in love with her, and also used heroin with her. i left greensboro under awful circumstances of my own creation many years before this happened, and have managed to remain free from heroin for the last few years, but it offers zero recompense to my conscience.

    charlie, you’re an english major. you had, with this column, a forum to discuss your pain, to tell the greensboro that reads all about victoria lee, and in this forum you decided to pen what amounts to a diatribe about a night i knew little about despite my relationship to the woman in question. a diatribe about a girl that made her seem a floozy, a junkie. as much as i like you, i have to say i’m profoundly offended by your choice of descriptors and the clinical and austere manner in which you decided commemorate someone who loved you dearly.

    victoria was so much more than her drug of choice. she was a brilliant photographer, skilled in all crafts manual, a visual artist of many mediums. she was genuine, honest, confrontational, intelligent, beautiful, and unforgettable. she was loved universally. even in the depths of her addiction, she never betrayed or defrauded anyone she loved to support the habit like i did. i suffered the same addiction, and walked the path that so many heroin addicts do; i stole and i lied and did generally grimy things to keep the sickness away. vic never did these things, nor was she aware that i did, until the very end.

    should i have had the opportunity as a writer to memorialize victoria, i would have couched her tragic and premature passing in terms that let my readers know exactly the caliber of the woman in question.

    if i can take anything positive away from this text, it’s a stark warning against the exponentially growing scourge that is opiate abuse and addiction. it’s a peek into a window noir on a tableau i’d never want to witness, much less be a front and central party to, and it’s a clumsily written narrative describing, in the most brutal way possible, what it’s like to find your best friend dead on your couch.

    i’m not sure why you felt the need to exonerate yourself of culpability. if this helped you mourn her, i hope it helped. it certainly didn’t help me, and i am certain that it wasn’t received warmly by her mother, aunt, or other family. i can’t speak for them, obviously, but i am willing to speculate.

    i’ll never ever forget victoria. i named my son after her. this was a clumsy and ham-fisted gesture for sure, but i don’t regret it. i’d do anything to be able to go back and revisit that time, to edit my decisions, to make things right. that isn’t an opportunity that’s likely to avail itself to me in this physical string, but i can wish.

    i liked you very much, charles, and i’d never expect that you’d write something like this about someone so dear. so it goes, selah, et cetera.

    also: a cheap shot to remind you that there’s a very big difference between “worse” and “worst” and that, as an english major, you should know this.

    i miss victoria immensely. i hope she’s arrived at a peace she so desired and deserved.