…so, it’s been awhile because I’ve been sort of stuck (but still working on other stories, projects, etc). Here is another bit from my big book project.
As a child, I dreaded summer vacation. Three solid months devoid of the safety and structure of school, spent in my hot, muggy house doing household chores for my mom. No thanks. I counted every last second remaining until the first day of school. When August arrived, I found solace in knowing that I was coming down the home stretch. I could never afford summer classes in college, so I spent the hottest months working two jobs, desperate for anything to pass the time.
And in my adult life, I still hate summer. I cannot explain this. How can I despise a season that allows ample chances to swim and hike and picnic in the park? Bicycling without a coat. Sleeping on the porch. BBQs and house parties and drinking by the river. These are luxuries.
Summer is not as bad here. At least the air isn’t so stifling and thick. But even still, when I see the calendar creeping toward June, I am filled with an indescribable nervousness. Fear. Dread. Experience has shown that I am far more likely to crack up when the rest of the population is enjoying days at the beach and badminton on the lawn. Doom and despair instead of camping and bonfires.
I could feel something bad happening to me in the last full summer I spent in Chicago. I couldn’t breathe. Everything was closing in on me. The responsibility of going to work each day. Writing the rent check. Changing the cat litter. Washing my hair. All of these simple tasks were becoming larger with each day. The gravity of adult life, with all of its obligations, was crushing me. I barely had the strength to get out of bed each morning. My desk was overflowing with unfinished freelance projects. A tower of dirty laundry was threatening to consume my bedroom. I couldn’t be bothered to check my voicemail or wash the dishes or go to the grocery store.
I kept this to myself. As far as my friends and boyfriend could tell, I couldn’t be happier. I was the life of the party, filled with amusing anecdotes and hilarious one-liners! Always put together, makeup carefully applied, hair skillfully disheveled. Somehow I managed to bake birthday cakes and give the right gifts.
Meanwhile, at home, hidden away in my bedroom, I was silently drowning in a sea of drugs–some actually prescribed–and liquor. My boyfriend was too busy struggling with his own habits to notice. Brazzer was overwhelmed with summer school. This allowed me an extraordinary level of solitude. I developed a routine: Fake my way through work. Spend hours in the bathtub drinking vodka with lime slices while Vivian kept a close watch on the windowsill. Retire to my bedroom. Close the blinds. Snort a smidge of heroin. And then lay inert on my rug for the rest of the evening. Insert occasional breaks for phone calls.
The feeling I had…a feeling best described as drowning. Or being on the verge of being crushed to death. Just falling off the bridge, seeing the water below. Realizing that one had just eaten a delicious bowl of tomato soup tinged with cyanide. This sensation reminded me of a night a few years before, when my ex-boyfriend and I split a hit of acid that he had purchased at a Grateful Dead-themed bar in Lincoln Park. It was surprisingly potent. As we walked around our neighborhood, I was convinced that dead animals covered the sidewalk. Further inspection revealed piles of sticks, leaves, and trash. Nonetheless, I was terrified.
Eventually we ended up at a friend’s new apartment. It was our first visit there. I went into the bathroom to wash my hands and face. When I was finished, I realized that the room had three doors. Immediate panic set in. How had I entered the room? How would I exit? What lie behind the wrong door? Most likely certain doom. My eyes moved from door to door with increasing rapidity. I couldn’t breathe. This decision was too great for me. My heart was pounding. I knew that I could never leave this room on my own.
Eventually I began screaming. “Andrew! Andrew! Come help me!” My eyes filled with tears of relief as he carried me out of the room, laughing the entire time.
I felt as if I was spending the summer trapped in that bathroom. Too many choices and yet, no options at all. It was all too frightening. No one was going to carry me away to safety this time.
The weekends were the test of my composure. Socialization was virtually mandatory. Time to pull myself together and carry out all of my substance abuse in public. All of my friends–with the exception of my boyfriend–condemned hard drug use. So I had to leave that at home. I considered this a non-problem, since clearly I was not addicted to anything and I could definitely give it up for a few days. I could walk away from it at any time. But I was jealous of my boyfriend, with his coterie of drug buddies. He found great solace in comparing himself to their own dramatic declines.
One Friday, my friend Emma called to remind me that we were going to a show that night.
Emma was rowdy. She had the foulest mouth and the brusquest manner. She did what she wanted, whenever she wanted. She made this very clear. She wore the least flattering clothes over the fanciest undergarments. She walked like a man. In other words, I loved her. I aspired to somehow adopt her demeanor. No one would ever fuck with me and I would conquer everyone and everything in my path. I found myself clinging to her that summer. Somehow she was helping me keep my head above water.
At some point I was really excited about seeing this particular band, but that night, I couldn’t even remember who we were seeing. The Empty Bottle was sweltering. I felt as if breathing took all of my effort. I had this pain in my head. A hand grasping the back of my skull and tugging. I washed down my last two Xanax with numerous gin and tonics.
By the time the show ended, I was seasick. I could barely focus my eyes. I managed to call my boyfriend and plans were hatched to meet at the California Clipper. This decision was made based on the availability of old country music on the jukebox. Apparently I had requested this.
We were greeted by a whole gaggle of friends at the bar. I was urged to drink a shot of something that tasted like fire. My boyfriend handed me a whiskey sour. I couldn’t decide if the room was spinning or vibrating. My face was burning. I couldn’t possibly go on.
I muddled through the murky air to the bathroom.
“Splash some water on your face,” I commanded.
The mirror revealed a stranger.
I sat on the floor. “Just for a moment, to catch my breath,” I promised.
I closed my eyes and leaned against the cool wall. I thought of streets filled with dead animals. Hallways filled with closed doors. Storms at sea. Tidal waves. Seaweed and mermaids and sunken ships.
Emma was shouting my name and tugging at my hands.
“I think you have had too much. We have to get you home!” Her face was beet red.
Somehow she dragged me to my boyfriend’s car. He lifted me into the backseat. We drove away, stopping to drop Emma off. He insisted that I move to the passenger seat. This required Emma’s assistance.
“Please don’t throw up in my car,” he requested.
“How was the show?”
“Did you see anyone you know?”
“How was work today?”
So many questions. If I opened my mouth to answer, I would surely vomit in the car. This was undebatable. Through clenched teeth (this seemed like a sound strategy) I said, “I cannot talk right now.”
This was too much. I wound down the window as fast as I could…Oh why didn’t he have automatic windows? I stuck my head out the window and began heaving. My mouth tasted like poison. Carcinogens and toxins.
He drove even faster. I didn’t dare bring my head back into the car.
Eventually we were in front of his building and he was pulling me out of the car. Standing up made me sicker. I threw up on the sidewalk. “I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment,” I cried.
He threw me over his shoulder and carried me into the apartment.
I made an immediate beeline for the bathroom. “Let me help you,” he offered.
No. I had to be alone.
I slammed the door and crumpled to the ground. I laid there for a while, expecting that I would be sick again. There was only one exit from this room. This was reassuring.
“Are you okay in there?”
I struggled to sit up. “Go away. I’m going to take a bath.” In an effort to prove this intention, I turned on the water.
The mirror showed that my face was streaked with tears and mascara. My cheeks were bright red. My eyes were all pupil.
I took off my shoes and crawled into the tub, still wearing my dress. I laid back, staring at the christmas lights on the ceiling. The water rose at a rapid rate; soon it was rushing into my ears. I turned off the faucet with my toes, while imagining my boyfriend’s wrath if I flooded the bathroom.
“I am dying,” I whispered. I sunk down under the water.
All I had to do was open my mouth and take a deep breath of water, and I could certainly drown once and for all.
“Maybe I am already dead. Maybe I have been dead for a long time, and no one has told me.”
It was easy to imagine all of my friends as companions in a barren afterlife. No one seemed particularly vivid. Everyone was certainly secretly sad and probably desperate. Regretful abortions. Relationships gone awry. Dead parents and criminal records and lost scholarships and hideous traumas. The entire world was dying from one thing or another.
I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling, bent and wavy through the water.
Too many doors.
I closed my eyes. “In the morning I will know if I’m dead.”