[FICTION] All That Holds You In
I’m on the X again.
Yeah, that’s what I call it now – the X. It’s only the fifth time I’ve taken it in my life, which is good. You’re not supposed to take these things too often, otherwise, you’ll get addicted and, I don’t know, maybe your head will explode or something.
I used to judge people who needed pills to get through the day. How pathetic can you get, popping pills just so you can be normal? I’d sneer and keep my distance from those kinds of people. You know – the mentally disturbed. People who blast bullets into school children. I knew I would never lose my mind like that. Sure, I had plenty of issues, and come to think of it, I wasn’t always the greatest party guest, but at least I was normal.
The X is really working tonight, probably because I took two instead of the usual half of one. I stumble out of my chair to get some food, something sweet but not terribly sweet like chocolate because ugh, a girl can only take so much of that stuff. I settle on a waffle and as I try to open the freezer, whoa, my legs are lead and my arms rest dumbly against my side.
Get the waffle, I command myself. It’s quite a task, but I get it, I prepare it, and I amble back to my chair.
I’m perfectly numb in this sweet green seat of mine. Except, it’s technically my roommate’s. I mean, she paid for it, but I sit on it, and if you judge me for that then you can go suck it.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I’m just very unfiltered on the X. Truth serum, that’s what it is.
At least I’m better now. The war drums beating in my chest have slowed to a melancholy jazz rhythm. I glance down at my plate and am depressed to see that the beautiful buttery waffle is gone, nothing but morsels languishing on the sides of my tongue. I decide to make a call.
“Hello!” The voice on the other end is bright and sunny.
“Hey, Mom.” I want to say more but the words are not coming out of my brain. I feel sleepy.
“What’s up? Everything ok?” She knows things aren’t when I call out of the blue like this.
“Yeah.” My voice lowers dramatically, in case anyone in my apartment complex can hear through the walls. “I took a pill.”
There is silence. I close my eyes. I hear, “Well, is it working? Were you feeling anxious before?”
“Yeah. I don’t wanna talk about it. But yeah. It was pretty bad. I tried to breathe through it, I really did.”
“I know. But that’s what your medication is for. Sometimes breathing techniques aren’t enough for you.”
“Yeah. Well anyway, how are you?” I always want to talk more about my mind, but I know it bores people. So, I let them talk about themselves.
She says she’s good, nothing new really. Grandma is starting to forget more things; it’s all slowly dripping out of her brain, but you know, it’s not too bad yet. Oh, and it’s very cold there. Winter is coming on strong.
“Cool. Well, all right, just wanted to check in. I’m gonna go to bed now. Good night.”
“Night sweetie!” I press the red ‘end call’ button. My finger lingers on it for a while, because it’s just too heavy to move it away.
I am languishing now. My arms and legs are four dead whales sinking me into the sofa.
I think I might have taken too much of the stuff.
Dr. Moyer suggested I take just half a pill if I felt it would be enough, to decrease the chances of addiction. I thought about cutting it in half, I really did, but my brain was spinning and I was so scared and I just shoved the pink tablet down my throat as quickly as I could. Almost immediately, I felt a little better. An hour later, my eyelids were trying to hold up bricks and the air around me was a warm blanket caressing me so sweetly. Imagine that, a pill more romantic than the guy I’m currently with.
You know, I don’t really want to talk about him right now.
I’m beginning to understand that X is a quick fix for a long-lasting problem. It’s a Dutch boy’s finger in a dike verging on collapse. But, it is better than nothing. Yes, I’m pretty sure of this.
I’m pretty sure.
X always makes me so refreshed the morning after I take it. More so than the mornings after I’ve spent the night with–
You know, I don’t really want to say his name.
Now I’m out of bed, stretching and rubbing my eyes, tacking contacts onto my corneas so the world makes sense again. I head to the kitchen and get really depressed when I realize I ate the last of those amazing blueberry waffles. I stand for minutes, contemplating what the hell to do with my life because I can’t even will myself to eat anything else, anything other than what’s gone.
Ping! My phone explodes with an announcement. I shuffle over to read it.
The X has worn off and my fingers are trembling. It could be from hunger. Who am I kidding; it’s because he makes me feel emotions that psychologists haven’t even invented.
Ok. See you at 11.
My cheeks are on fire.
I close my eyes and remember my introduction to X. I’m sitting in the waiting room with two other psychos like myself. We are silent, but we take comfort in our shared brokenness, our shattered minds.
A fellow psycho walks out of Dr. Moyer’s office. She’s heavyset, middle-aged, and has a faraway look in her eye. She’s holding a Chihuahua and saying, “Thanks so much, Doctor.” The trembling dog buries its nose in her cleavage. “Yes Boo-Boo, that’s right, Mommy has some new medicine now!” The dog whimpers from the folds of her body.
“Of course. I’m glad we found a solution for you.” Dr. Moyer flashes a smile at the dog before looking down at his clipboard. He looks up, right into my eyes.
“Ah. Come on in.”
I wordlessly oblige, carefully watching Dog Boob Lady as she hustles out the door.
His office is small, yet homey. He has one of those Zen sand garden things, where you can scrape a tiny hoe across a sad square of beige flatness. It’s supposed to be calming, or some shit like that. I’ve never touched it.
“How are things working out?”
“It’s great!” I lie. “I’m so glad we found a solution for my depression.”
“Well, that’s very good to hear. And your anxiety?”
I hate this word. My teeth press into each other, my chest expands, and I begin digging my nails into the palms of my hands. He notices it all and jots something down on his clipboard. I scrunch my nose at the thought of him making a note. What does it say? This freak needs more pills?
“Well, I try breathing techniques and yoga,” (more lies), “but I’m still getting panic attacks at least once a week.”
His stare disturbs me. What the hell is he looking for?
“I suggest you try this.” He reaches for a post-it note, scribbles something down and passes the yellow square over to me. I stare at what he’s written, trying to decipher the science behind the words. I’ve heard of this drug before. Isn’t it what bored housewives wash down with bourbon to make their lives a little more interesting?
“Really?” I ask quietly.
“I think your anxiety is more debilitating than you realize. I’m going to prescribe the lowest dose possible, so you can at least try it once and see how you feel. Only take it when you need it.” He clicks his pen and leans down to write the prescription.
I turn my head to the clock on the nightstand. 11:33. I close my eyes and sigh softly as he rolls off me.
“That was awesome.” He has a way with words. I open my eyes and lean into him. He presses his lips to my forehead, soft and sweet, and it electrifies me. I always like this part more. This is when I can pretend he loves me, and I can pretend he isn’t dating that other girl too. It’s too depressing to imagine him trailing his fingers up her thighs. I block the image out.
I’m really good at shoving thoughts out of my mind.
“Good night, Princess.” He has a habit of calling me all kinds of odd pet names. Princess, Sweetie, Doll, Honey. I never know which one I’m going to be on any given night.
I wonder if he uses these names for the other girl.
Blackness rushes in from the corners of my eyes, leaving two tiny pinholes of vision. Something has happened, something has triggered me, and I don’t know what. My heart wants to beat its way out of my body. My throat is constricting and closing so I can hardly breathe and I’m terrified and a hundred invisible needles are stabbing the center of my chest and it really hurts and I’m completely alone and ready to die on this kitchen floor because that is what’s happening I am dying, I must be dying.
I remember X.
Only take it when you need it.
I scramble up and crawl across the apartment to my bathroom, to the nondescript bottom shelf of the vanity that keeps the drug safe in solitude. I claw in the dark until my desperate fingers grasp it. I cry out in a mixture of joy and relief. I slam the pills into my greedy mouth. I don’t even need water to get them down anymore.
I’m a little worried about my well-being. I took one yesterday because I couldn’t concentrate on the food in front of me. My heart was beating too fucking fast for me to handle. Now, I am sitting in front of my friend Colette and the situation is the same. We’ve gotten tacos but my stomach has already started rejecting the first two bites that I had the audacity to take. Why does my mind hate food?
Colette looks at me carefully. “Aren’t you hungry?”
I shake my head, fighting nausea at the mere thought of taking another bite. “I had a big breakfast,” I lie. “You can have it.”
She examines the virtually untouched taco before me. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, really it’s totally fine.” The words rush out of me, desperate to pawn the offending object onto someone else. Colette finally obliges and begins polishing off the food. I sigh in relief.
I end up spending the rest of the conversation nodding and smiling blankly, focusing all my effort on quelling the rising panic in my stomach and chest. I have resigned myself to the understanding that anxiety is its own entity, and it takes great pleasure in draping itself across me like a heavy wet blanket. I try to get it off, I really do, but it’s heavy and I am weak if I don’t have X to help me.
I get home and down some X. I think I took two, although it might have been three. I spend the rest of the afternoon splayed out helplessly on the couch, trying my best to distract myself from the heaviness that threatens to overtake me.
I’m very worried about my well-being.
How long have I been sleeping?
I want to get off the X.
I want to get off the X.
I’m on the X again.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tasted its sweetness sliding past my tongue.
There are no boys in my life anymore, and there won’t be for a while.
“Hi there. Come on in.” Dr. Denforth smiles warmly at me, reminding me that I wish I had started therapy much sooner. Telling her about everything that allowed my memories to return – the increasing anxiety, the horrible relationship – has been so cathartic.
I smile back and enter her office. I am so calm.
“Well, how was last week?” Dr. Denforth cocks her head, preemptively empathizing with me.
“It was much better. I take my meds every day at the same time.”
“That’s wonderful! You should be proud of yourself. You’re moving forward in your recovery.” I begin to pick at my jeans self-consciously. I’m so bad at taking compliments.
“I haven’t had a panic attack in three weeks now. It’s been really nice.”
I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t want to talk about the thing she wants me to talk about.
“I take it that means you haven’t been having as many flashbacks?”
Dammit. Now I’m thinking about that horrible shadow man.
“Well, it only comes up when I think about it, which isn’t too often anymore, really.” I take a deep breath in, but my lungs feel thin and empty. She says my name.
“Recovery is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We’re working on building up your stamina, so to speak, and I think you’re doing a wonderful job so far.” She is so sincere I almost can’t stand it. I exhale and meet her eyes.
“I really am trying, you know.”
Dr. Denforth leans forward and softens her voice. “I know.” She pauses to think. “Anxiety is all that holds you in.”
I nod. I smile. I begin to chuckle. I laugh, I guffaw, I throw my head back and howl. I scrunch my eyes shut and I fling my hands to my face.
I collapse. I cry. I clench my hair, I curl into a ball, and I silently sob into my palms. Anxiety is all that holds you in. She is right, of course, and I know this.
I am a mess now, sure. But wait until tomorrow. Wait until you see how much fucking stamina I have.
Stepy Kamei is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She holds a B.A. in Linguistics from San Francisco State University, and her work is due to appear in Calamus Journal.