In the last months of her life—she would die of an overdose at fiftyseven, in 2025—Roxy Kline turned philosophical. It was not what anyone would have expected. In the family calculus that allots roles based on childish inclination, Roxy had been classified early on as “wild”—mostly in contrast to her younger sister, Kiki, who collected rosaries and made the sign of the cross at their mother’s boyfriends when they stayed over. In the course of her life, Roxy had more than fulfilled her “type”; in fact, she’d said that word—“wild”—so many times in recovery that it meant nothing to her.
In the Thursday-morning Dungeons & Dragons sessions at Bright Day, her treatment center, Roxy is fascinated by the way characters are made: A player rolls a few dice to assign values to traits like Charisma, Dexterity, and Intelligence, and then to acquired skills like Stealth and Animal Handling. A few die rolls, a list of scores, and boom—you have a Rogue or Wizard or Fighter with strengths and skills and weaknesses, exactly like a human being. Roxy once asked Chris Salazar, who leads the Dungeons & Dragons group with his friend Molly Cooke, if he ever scored real people that way: Generosity, Coordination, Immune System Strength, Sex Appeal . . .
“I don’t,” Chris said, “but the counters do. And the corporations who buy their numbers do. And the people who measure their own value in clicks and views do.”
“That sounds bad,” Roxy said anxiously.
Chris took her hands and squeezed them. He’s thirty years younger than Roxy, still in his twenties, and treats her with loving indulgence. “Don’t you fret,” he said, kissing her cheek. “There’s a way out of every labyrinth.”
That conversation took place in the cramped apartment Chris shares with his girlfriend, Samantha. Roxy was there for Passover. Chris Salazar has come to feel more like family to Roxy than most of her family members, and she is included in his holidays. Chris is the son of Bennie Salazar, whom Roxy’s father mentored and loved from the time Bennie was in high school. Like Bennie, Chris is beautiful, dark-eyed and olive-skinned, although Bennie’s hair is silver now. Bennie first brought Chris and Roxy together ten years ago, when Chris came to the West Coast for college. But only in the past three years, since Chris started the Dungeons & Dragons group, have he and Roxy become close.
D&D happens in the early mornings at Bright Day, so working people can play for an hour after their dose. Normally, you would play in the evening, Chris says, after work, but drug treatment centers are not nighttime places. Bright Day closes in the afternoon.
All of the regular players are male except for Roxy, who doesn’t actually play but likes to watch. Each week, Chris invites her to create a character and enter the game. You’re never too late to join—there is no such thing as “too late” in recovery, as long as you’re breathing. But Roxy is afraid of doing it wrong or not understanding. One of her “if onlys”—which take the form of…