I am a terrible, obvious liar. My nose squiggles and my legs start to fidget. I feel like I’m about to implode. My cheeks are still chubby and rosy with childlike naiveté and sometimes older strangers pinch them.
So it is with truth I say I had been clean and sober for 89 days. But I let it all slip away from me. Because of my vulnerability, my thin skin and heavy heart, I felt the world’s pain as my own. In a flash of a moment, in a fraction of a fraction of a second, I forgot I cared about anything.
I left rehab that night in flames. My feet felt like phantom limbs. Floating on their own down seventh avenue, that pitch-black street with no streetlights even to illuminate or keep the street company. I knew better than to go down that street but I went anyway toward the seedy dive bar. The seedy dive bar alcoholic’s haven. People like us get looks at the bars normies hang out in. Normies are people that wait till after five to drink and enjoy the taste. At our joints, you feel no shame for dumping a bag of loose change on the counter with fingers crossed. You feel no shame if you just pawned your dead great grandmother’s sapphire engagement ring for booze money. You feel no shame if you tremble outside the storefront at 9:55 a.m., eagerly anticipating its opening. Shame vanishes after the first drop.
Vanishing. Next thing I knew, I was clutching a paper bag in that dark street. I hardly remembered if I paid. I’m sure the longhaired dude with a penchant for comic books was working. He stopped carding me long ago. I imagine my hands were shaking and he wondered why I hadn’t bought my medicine lately.
I floated on phantom limbs back to that alley. I ripped the fifth of Karkov because of the way it burned, because it ignited my throat like poison. I was trembling, barely able to hold my hands still. My fingers knew what to do but my body rejected it. I vomited bile. Goddammit, I wanted that blanket of intoxication to cover me. I chugged it. Then I was so consumed by crushing guilt, I swallowed a fistful of Ativans and Effexors. I took a razorblade to my wrists. My wrists became the canvas. My memory is in flashbulbs like the fluorescent lights with the whir of the ambulance whisking me off in the night. The ambulance is the stagecoach for alcoholics. We don’t lose a glass slipper. We lose our sanity.
The screeching sirens still burn in my nightmares and I wake up in a cold sweat, the blinding bright red and blue twisting and distorting into a fucked-up watercolor palate. My head spinning, brimming with chaos, I am in a stretcher again. A bright red wristband to warn others I was on a 72-hour hold for suicide watch.
In 403 B, I awake to the orchestral hums of the fluorescent lights and floor waxer. I expect a welcoming committee with clowns and fire-breathing dragons and balloons, but I roll over and realize by the cold sterility and lumps in the mattress that I’m lying in a hospital bed. They must have already given me Ativan because I feel like I’m tripping out of my mind. I think I see David Lee Roth over my bed shredding.
Instead I hear a soft, confident voice and feel the tightening of a blood pressure cuff like a noose to my arm.
“Hey, it’s Sandy I’ll be your C.N.A. tonight. Okay, I’m just gonna check your vitals and pump some more fluids into you.” Sandy looked to be a few years older than my mom. She had a weathered face with gentle blue eyes. I became aware of the acute stinging of the new IV in my hand.
“Your pulse is still 150, but the Ativan should help with your anxiety.”
I nodded. And tried to smile but then I remembered where I was (again) and couldn’t make my muscles move.
“It’ll be ok, just rest up. Anything I can get you?” Sandy asked.
I wanted to ask for my sanity back but my mouth was frozen. I really wanted home. I wanted home and it was impossible because I belonged nowhere. I asked her if my friends brought anything and she nodded. Before I could ask her to get it she was gone; she knew how much I needed home. She was gone like she knew where she was going. She held out my bright blue duffel bag. I found my blankie, greenie. In its shambles it was barely recognizable as a blanket. But it was my familiar. I reached for it.
“Sorry, but I can’t let you have that. It could be used in a way…” she trailed off. “Well in a way it shouldn’t be used here and it’s our policy.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks. I brushed them away with my sheet and offered a faint, “I understand.”
“I can cut you off a corner if you want,” she said. “Let me go do that for you.”
“Please? That’d be so…” I tried to let the words of gratitude come out but Sandy had already bustled down the hall. I clung to my greenie, my piece of home.
Tessa Torgeson lives in Fargo, North Dakota. She recently graduated with an English degree from NDSU and hopes to pursue her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Her poetry has appeared in the Red Weather literary journal. Her blog can be found here.
Read an interview with Tessa here.