When I open my eyes again, I have no idea where I am. After several months of nodding off in less than ideal locales (the El, a stranger’s bathtub, the gangway next to my building, a bench in Wicker Park), this confusion is nothing new. But something is different. It is so quiet and dark. Unknown machines are issuing a low hum. And I am in a bed. I try to sit up, but I can’t. Something adhesive on my chest is pulling. When I move my hand to investigate, my fingers find that I am practically encased in wires and tubes.
I am in a hospital. I open my mouth to exclaim “What the fuck?” but only a long sigh escapes from my lips.
My friend Matthew appears. “It’s okay, Amanda. Just stay calm.”
Why is he here?
“Listen, listen…as soon as the doctor knows you are awake, they are going to ask you questions. We have to work out our story. I know you’re not crazy, but they might think you are, and I don’t want you to be transferred to the psych ward.”
I am confused. “What?” I whisper. My throat hurts so bad. And I realize I’m shaking. Nothing too obvious, just a steady vibration of my body.
“Do you remember what happened Sunday night?”
I say nothing.
“Okay, well, I called you about coming over to get those records from you. And you said you were on the other line having some kind of stupid argument with Ryan. You told me to come over in like, an hour, and we would go out for a drink, because you would definitely need one. And then when I got there…maybe it was more like an hour and a half later, you were unconscious on the rug in your room. And you were wearing one shoe. “
He stops for a minute, choking back something. “Nate said he heard you talking to Ryan. You were like, ‘You’re lying, you’re lying.’ And he heard you shuffling around the kitchen, getting into the freezer and stuff. You were crying.”
Fragments of the night before are bombarding me, like someone through a collection of photographs through the air. I can catch tiny glimpses of brief moments, but nothing is in the correct order.
Ryan demanding through the phone, “Are you high? You are high, aren’t you? What the fuck, it’s SUNDAY, Amanda.”
I’m choking back a sob as I pull a bottle of duty free vodka from the freezer.
I’m telling Matthew, “Yeah, come over in like an hour. I definitely will need a drink.”
“You’re such a mess. I don’t know if this is who you have secretly been all along or if you really are just declining this fast.”
I am promising to show Nate the records I just bought after I call Ryan.
“I’m tired of taking care of you.” And then I’m protesting, “But when has that happened?”
I am snorting just enough to take the edge off. I feel like someone’s been gnawing on the back of my head all day.
Tears are running down my face as I am pulling the cigar box out from under my bed and dumping out the contents of each bottle on my rug.
I am realizing that I just want to be done with all of this.
“Every time I said ‘I love you,’ I was lying to you.”
Vodka is disgusting, but it really is a good way to wash down a lot of pills and powders at once.
“Why? WHY? I know that you are lying right now!”
I’m putting on my shoes to go outside. I want to fall asleep in the park.
My head is feeling so hot and the world is moving at a velocity that I can never survive.
“No, no, I’m sorry, I could never love someone as fucked up as you.”
And now I’m in the hospital. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. I want to cry–I feel like I am–but my body just can’t do it.
“It’s okay, Amanda. Listen, you just need to tell the doctor that you were really drunk and you had a fight with your boyfriend and then you accidentally took too much of your medication.”
I’m nodding my head. But what about the large amount of heroin in my body?
Matthew must be reading my mind. “Listen, I saw the pill bottles AND the plastic bag. I know what’s really going on, and they definitely gave you something to counteract the heroin, so they do, too. You’re just a nice girl who decided to try hard drugs on the same night your boyfriend fought with you. It’s not like you’re a junkie anyway. You should say that the drugs belong to your boyfriend. Okay? “
“You are going to be okay. I know they are going to make you stay here for a few days, because there has been some issue with your heart and liver. And oh, they think that I am your brother, that’s why I’ve been allowed to hang out here.”
Matthew is super-skinny and tall. He couldn’t look less like me.
“You still look really cute, but you have dried blood all over your face from when they pumped your stomach, so maybe you will let me wipe that off now? You will make a more a convincing case.”
I can actually laugh at this.
He rubs my back while we work on my story. “Don’t wink at them! This is no time for flirting.”
The doctors come, a whole trio of them. They make Matthew leave the room while I am assaulted with questions.
When was your last period? What kind of drugs do you use? How often do you drink? What are your allergies?
And then the questions take an unfortunately familiar direction. How often do you feel sad? Have you had trouble sleeping? Do you think that the world is filled with secret messages meant only for you?
Essentially: do you have an eating disorder or a drug problem or garden variety depression or are you paranoid, delusional, and dangerous?
I am aware enough to know that I am a terrible liar. And if the doctors can see this, I will definitely seem crazier.
A history of bipolar disorder coupled with a substance abuse issue could put me in the hospital for weeks or months. I could lose my job, my friends, everything. I would never win Ryan back with a plastic bracelet and a new prescription for Depakote.
I’m shaky, sweaty, and weak. Many capillaries under my skin have burst, leaving me with reddish purple smudges all over my face, arms, and chest. I have to put this aside and put on my Amanda mask. I am the spelling bee champion, the former cheerleader, the most likely to succeed. I have the science fair trophies, scholarships, and glowing score reports from the Educational Testing Service to back me up. I can do this.
I take a deep breath and begin my story.
“Well, it all started when I had this awful fight with my boyfriend. I had been having drinks with some of my girlfriends, so my judgment was definitely a little impaired…”
And it all ends up with, “I guess I just made a really stupid mistake and I’m just trying to forgive myself for this.” A tear–totally unintentional–rolls from my eye as the female doctor reassuringly pats my arm.
I go home two days later. And within minutes, I wish I were back in the hospital.