CHARACTER: Morphine addict Lieutenant John Weldon
INSPIRATION: Katherine McCullough needed a husband in the military. I was listening to a lot of Americana music and crushing on a young Robbie Robertson from The Band while collecting Civil War era prosthetic limbs and morphine kits. Having just recovered from a life threatening blood clot and feeling wistful about the painkillers I was given in the hospital, I suddenly understood the draw of self-medicating.
A heroin addict friend told me a story about having to kill a bunch of puppies as a child living on a reservation.
JOHN WELDON WAS BORN:
“Doctor Dudley, you in?”
A sudden panic in the pit of Dudley’s stomach caused him to hesitate before opening the door to let Weldon in. They stood together uncomfortably in the center of the room.
Weldon scanned the room, searching for a place to rest his eyes. “Dudley…I have a problem, a concern really…”
Weldon rolled up his sleeve.
“Lieutenant Weldon, what happened here?”
“Well, it’s a burn, I think…” Weldon said.
“You THINK it’s a burn? You would know if it was. You would remember it, I’m sure. This is no burn.”
“Well,” Weldon stuttered, “I d-don’t know…”
“Lieutenant Weldon, this is badly inflamed. What have you been doing to yourself?”
Weldon scratched the sore skin behind his ear.
“Weldon, are you listening?” Dudley asked, thinking of Katherine and how she would feel if her husband died of blood poisoning.
“Yes, I’m listening…it’s not a burn. No, it’s not a burn at all…I’ve never told anyone…I don’t know why I’m telling you…”
Dudley looked Weldon in the eye. “Lieutenant Weldon, how long have you been doing this to yourself?”
“On and off…I hoped you might know a cure…I trust you won’t tell my wife…my career, my family….” Weldon drifted a moment, but came back. “I want to stop…I tried…”
“Well, good luck,” Dudley said dismissively trying to collect his thoughts while sifting aimlessly through stray papers.
“What? Is that all you have to say?” Weldon asked, the hopelessness in his voice reminding Dudley of his vocational duties.
Dudley reluctantly looked at the sore again and roughly let go of the arm. “There’s been missing stores of morphine. I assume you’ve been stealing them.”
“NO! I haven’t… a laundress gets…I haven’t taken anything from you, Dudley!”
“For Mrs. Weldon’s sake, I won’t seek charges against you. I can’t believe you fooled me. I even felt some sympathy for you when you left.”
“I’ve come to you for help. I’d never steal from you,” Weldon said in a surprisingly indignant tone. “I figured you might have experience with other veterans.”
Dudley sighed. “Weldon, I can put a little carbolic acid on your arm. It might help prevent further inflammation.” When his voice shook Dudley wondered at his inability to stay neutral and professional. “I’m so disappointed for you…for Katherine…there’s no cure for what you have. I’ve heard of people like you who’ve freed themselves from it, but I’ve never met them. Most just got sent home to be taken care of by their families.” Dudley was cold in relating the facts. He had been taught how at school. “This is your life, lieutenant. Get used to it. Most don’t live long—their teeth go bad, they lose their hair…and you’re already using it through a syringe and probably not diluting it that much…am I right?”
Weldon shook all over. He searched the doctor for some little hope or sympathy even, but didn’t expect it.
“Weldon, your wife should be prepared. Mrs. Weldon should be told so she can plan for the future. Soon enough you’ll be too much a mess to care for yourself. You both should leave here before that happens.”
“I—I can’t leave the army! What would I do? There’s NO cure at all then?”
“No, lieutenant.” Dudley looked for his carbolic acid, sprayed it onto the swollen, sore skin and wrapped a bandage around it. “I’ve never seen someone stop the habit once they use the needles.”
“I’ve tried to tell Katherine.”
“Well, trying and doing are two different things, lieutenant. Listen, you wouldn’t want to embarrass your wife. Mrs. Weldon isn’t looking well. I see she’ll have another child, and you’re no help to her anymore. Katherine should be with someone stronger,” Dudley said, regretting his spitefulness.
Weldon nodded. He pulled his sleeve down and walked out into the bright twilight.
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