Once, Doctor told me to write down my worst fears. She handed me a pencil. I was sixteen. I didn’t have to think.
She asked me if I needed to be checked into inpatient. She asked me if I needed to go to a hospital. I clarified: I was okay, those things hadn’t happened to me. Not around me or with me, but to me. The inevitability, the violence of it made her pause. We both lingered on the word, yet.
She stayed quiet for a while, and then said, at least you know yourself.
My body was at its worst on the day of my college graduation. I gave myself some sort of upper respiratory infection by getting drunk and kissing boys and girls, worsened it with a central line of Adderall, Costco brand vodka, and Sunny D. Coming off the stimulants would make me ache and cry, and so I got pinkeye in both eyes as well, from rubbing at my face. I was dirty and limp, a puppet held up by cocaine and bits of dental floss.
It was, in many ways, a starting line. I took off.
I make a promise to a friend in my filthy bathroom. We are taking turns vomiting into the toilet.
We can never try heroin, I croak.
This conversation will be the last of my voice. I won’t be able to speak for the next five days, throat blistered with stomach acid, but this is important. I’ll lose my vocal training. I used to sing. I like to tell people that. And I played violin for thirteen years. Nothing has ever felt so much like a precipice.
Never, my friend agrees
My eyes were too glossy during the ceremony. The pictures show them, hooded but still blown wide. The shiny exoskeletons of black beetles. The Dean handed me my paper and I thought, I am the devil.
Ryan and I sit on his apartment floor. He hasn’t got chairs. We wonder whether we are addicts.
I think it comes down to this, he says. I don’t always buy it. But if I do, I take it. I agree. I don’t own anything I haven’t already swallowed.
A brief venture into sobriety:
My childhood home in suburban Florida is a lot like rehab. My family doesn’t keep anything stronger than children’s aspirin. There, I suffer deliciously, without medication. Even when the doctor clucks that you should really be on antibiotics, I refuse. This is, in many ways, my penance. I’d be one of those springtime cicadas. I’d leave it; I’d kick it. Clearwater would be my chrysalis.
I move into an apartment down the street from the housing projects. They’re the best projects in Boston, I say. You have to apply to get in. I’m not making art, but I live like an artist. I buy discount chicken at the Stop and Shop. I run around in a pair of flip flops I share with two other people. We call them the flip flops, as in who’s turn is it to wear the flip flops?
I wear them when I scrambled across rooftops downtown. Pulled myself up over the red brick, close enough to touch the Sam Adams sign, close enough to touch the goldfinches. I fuck next to the lazy, terracotta chimneys holding their breath. Me dangling my feet over, shoes just barely holding on. One of them collapses that summer, leaving a girl who is not me paralyzed. It should deter me.
I live loud and ugly and poor, breaking the window screen with my fingernails when I lock myself out. I am feral, but I am not taking pills.
Anything can be a drug, if you let it.
The neighbors have a newborn. Their baby’s first word is going to be fuck because of me. They stare, horrified, when I run out in the mornings in my underwear to flag down the garbage men after forgetting to take out the trash.
These neighbors are not the first on the block to reproduce; in fact, they’re part of a growing contingent that gives me the stink eye over their strollers on my way to work. Reverse gentrification. Suburbification. Get out, we want to raise our kids here. This street is trying to grow up. Multi-family homes with peeling paint and red brick apartments alike are planting shrubs. Trying to clean up their act, make it so you can’t tell the drug addicts from the homeopaths. Trying to find the charm in their powdered milk.
Fifteen years ago, I couldn’t walk alone in Jamaica Plain. Now, I lie on the sidewalks at night and listen to the babies cry. My nurse friend works with heroin babies at Newton Wellesley. They sound like fisher cats, like the snap of chicken bones against teeth.
These ones are quieter, but not by much.
The babies don’t seem to mind me. They scream. We’re hungry. They cock their heads up at me when I’m sprawled on the porch after losing my keys, picking at scabs to stop from smoking. Their caretakers angle them away from me, keep space between me and their perfect, pink bodies.
I’m not dangerous, I want to say, but the screen door is already slamming.
In high school, we used to smoke in the bathroom: me, pressed up against the bathroom floor. My best friend Maria, standing on the sink, lifting one of the ceiling tiles with a single acrylic nail. Exhaling into the air vents.
“I’m pregnant,” she would tell me, at least once a month while we smoked. She’d say it right after we would hear the door creak, and go scuttling into the stalls. This way she wouldn’t have to look at my face. Maria was the one who was designated, who drove. She waited while I smoked pot on the running trails, wrinkled her eyes when I pull myself into her Jeep, trailing sweet clove and sweat.
One time, I drove her. The woman at the front desk said, honey you’re really in no shape to take yourself home. They gave her a big old pad, almost like a diaper, for the residual bleeding and sent her on her way.
She ignored me in the car. Curled her eyelashes, brushed sunlight and dust from her eyebrows. Always fidgeting with her face.
Adderall and pregnancy. I specify. Ritalin and pregnancy. I pause, glance around my apartment, find only wary dust particles. Heroin and pregnancy. I shut my computer.
At Occupational Health, I have to pee in a cup. Required of all new hires.
First, some boxes.
Check if you are pregnant
Check if you consent to being tested for illegal substances/non-prescription medication.
I have to wait until my hands stop shaking before I squat. I come back clean, like I knew I would. I still shake for days and nights after. I don’t sleep well. The baby across the street has colic. I consider Ambien. I chant the names of everyone I know who has overdosed. There’s one kid who OD’d with his finger on the dial tone queued up in his hand. Logan Rudy, sixteen. Logan Rudy, Logan Rudy. Lullaby.
The first time:
I reasoned with a friend in his college apartment. My eyes were already ringed with stimulants. I could barely see, and I felt beautiful.
“It’ll help with the jetlag,” I said.
I was later told that it was the most reasonable explanation they’ve ever heard for doing coke.
You have the most active depression I’ve ever seen, Doctor tells me. Why don’t you just sleep for 20 hours like a normal kid? I like to tightrope. I go out and drink and pick fights. I lay facedown on my air mattress with a flannel comforter pulled over me, holding seances in my head, chanting the word fuck like I’m possessed. I ride in taxis with my hand on the handle, imagining tumbling into traffic. A dismount, of sorts.
Writer’s block, I call it. Withdrawal, most people prefer.
I’m terrified of being bored. I’m terrified of doing heroin. I watch Intervention with a biblical kind of fervor, watch the cornered addicts weep like I have my eyes taped open. Silently cheer when they flip chairs, furious at being confronted by the cameras.
A nurse graduated while addicted to heroin, I tell my roommates. No one knew. She shot it between the toes.
A few blocks over from the apartment is a stretch of Boston coined methadone mile. If you’re a medical professional who lives here, they beg you to get registered to administer Narcan. OD Duty, they call it at work. No one wants to, too scared that the scabbed up leftovers of the person who was once pre-heroin will gut you with their used needle. I don’t get registered.
Instead of heroin, I do other things—mostly, other people’s boyfriends. I drink so much I have permanent bruises on my knees and legs, from falling, from my body scolding, enough. My right thigh has an omnipresent shadow from when I had to be dragged across a rooftop. I remember having to wear pants so no one thought I was a domestic violence victim. No one is hurting me but me. I find that funny.
I make up allergies to explain why I feel nauseous. I’m allergic to wheat, pot, laundry detergent. If I just tossed the Downy, I would be better. I have dreams where I drink bleach and it smells inviting and clean. It washes the stirrings right out of my abdomen. I wake up disturbed, tasting phantom poison. Sometimes I force myself to stand in the mirror. I never make it lower than my breasts. I ask myself if I am an addict. Whatever the answer, I squint and try to figure out if I’m lying. I do things to try and regain some semblance of order. In a fit of insanity, I flush my birth control. I pop stolen antibiotics so that I can’t drink.
I’m high functioning, I tell myself. I wake up late, but I make it to work. I wax my labia raw. I go on dates where I pretend I’m a marionette. I give myself directions, like a toddler. Now take a sip. Now laugh. I actively force myself not to self-destruct. I wear my hospital badge. I make strange, wounded noises into the night.
Now scream. It feels nice. The neighbors’ baby screams back.