The week was interminable and my loathing of it long. I struggled through each day with the words fucking hell as my only release. Drugs were denied me. The only way to regain them would be through money and lies. I was capable of obtaining the former and the latter… well, they came to me naturally. There was not even an exertion of effort needed.
List of things money can buy:
A house in Amsterdam
A big party full of people I don't know doing drugs
These were my bourgeois dreams.
The pipes in the bathroom whistle. My electronic mahjong game goes on without me. Even the garbage bin rolls itself to the curb. The churchgoing family applauds. But my cat claws his way into the box spring -- the only show of aggression, the only resistance to matter at all -- like a convict might do to break out of prison. And there are those who, in resistance to matter, cut off a limb to save their lives, as when the infection rests in the bone.
Did I not too almost die from illness? Even the audience's mass exodus pales in comparison. Cancer? A blip on the map. I hope I do not alienate my brothers and sisters in death. Cerberus sniffed us all, though some more times than others. There is the usual palliative medicine, which makes the day pass quickly; the weeks, a dream. So you can imagine my dismay upon learning that I would be given no palliative care. I go to the food stamps office stripped. My shirt is over one ear. I hear my name ring into the waiting room, but see no one saying it. It confuses me. Who says my name into the blank room ahead of me? Behind you, says a voice. I turn. I didn't realize there was a back area, I say to the audience. Just to show you that this hasn't been for nothing, you'll meet with a second food stamp officer, the officer says. The food stamp interview takes place in two parts, she says. And you stopped working because work was scarce or?... asks the other officer. Pause. I tried to commit suicide on October 29th, I say. I haven't been able to work since then. Silence. He screws his nose a little one way. I'm fucked on time, I say and look at the clock. I'll have you out of here soon, he says. Your card comes in the mail from Tampa. Expect it Friday or Monday. I wear my sleeping bag of a down coat to protect my body from the elements, indoors and out, as a nun her habit. It's hard to remember the date of the food stamps interview. I do remember the holidays between which it falls. Likewise, I do not remember the date of my suicide attempt three months prior to the October 29th incident. But that's only a lapse of a month in time.
And if I had friends I would toast to them
Instead of many more.
Their names I'd pronounce so scrupulously
I'd savor the sounds evermore.
After the suicide attempts, I am left with a numbness from a phantom self, like a phantom limb would haunt an amputee. It controls me, this wayward shadow taking the glory of existence for itself.
Rush to the spot where you tried to kill yourself. Rush there. There's a big suicide sale at midnight. All shoppers get two attempts for the price of one. You can save a lot of money on caskets and burial costs. Your family will be pleased with your economy. Don't call anyone this time around. Just asphyxiate yourself and die. Your life is worthless. Love is worthless.
I wish I was dead. T. says wishes are for children. I am a child who wishes for the cessation of breathing. I am a coward. One day I will be successful at dying. It happens to everyone. The final breaths will be difficult. I am lost. I am mad. I am not here. I am here. I repeat myself. I am a lost child who is a coward. I see no way around lying. Telling the truth is forbidden to me. I have too much to hide. I was ousted from the hospital when I wanted to stay there, for making the other patients uncomfortable by revealing my thoughts in group therapy.
The group leader says, You don't have to prove yourself to anyone, not a single living soul. All you have to worry about is…
Ourselves, the group unenthusiastically fills in.
Ourselves, says the group leader. That's right. Now, can anyone give an example of when they tried to prove themselves to others?
I was a prostitute for 11 years, I say. My parents wanted me to do something different, so I applied to law school and got accepted. I didn't end up going, I say. But I had tried to prove myself to my parents. A week before I was supposed to go to school they rescinded their offer to help me monetarily. They thought I was unbalanced mentally. I was, I say. But that hadn't stopped me from doing anything before.
Okay, says the group leader, cutting me a bit short. Jennifer shared with us an example of how trying to prove herself failed. Let's get another story. Does anyone else care to share with the group?
Everyone remains silent. I guess I shouldn't have said the prostitution part. I should have left that out. But isn't leaving out the prostitute part only capitulating to the mores of the group, I ask myself. Wouldn't leaving it out be me trying to prove myself to them?
It's hard to get anyone to speak now. My friend in the group sleeps soundly in his chair. He's not snoring, but his breathing is audible. He's going through withdrawal from painkillers and takes Suboxone, a synthetic heroin.
It's his medication, says the group leader when someone asks why he is asleep. Let's end here, he says. See you tomorrow.
My friend wakes up and walks with me to the dining hall. He takes a tray from the stack and hands it to me. Here you go, he says. We occupy the remaining empty table. Shit, he says. Someone we don't know sits down with us. Mind if I sit with you, the intruder asks. No, go ahead, my friend says. He nudges my foot under the table.
The stranger leaves before we finish eating. Whew, says my friend, glad he's gone. Yes, I say. I finish my peach cobbler and pick up my tray.
How can I get the medicine you get, I ask him on the way back to the ward.
You've got to come in knowing what dose you want, he says. Say you're on the medicine already. They won't test you.
What dose would I take, I ask him.
Start with six milligrams, he says. That should keep you.
Thanks, I say.
We sit in the common room and drink decaf coffee. He slips his hand into my fur poncho. The nurses and patients are all around. I feel his hand on my left breast.
Jennifer, a nurse says, we've got your medication ready.
I get up and take my pill. My friend is gone when I return. I sit on the couch alone. No one dares to sit next to me, probably because my friend always sits there. He looks like a strung-out thug, someone whose nose has been broken and eyes blackened, someone who has done the same to others.
He sits next to me again.
Heard what you said in group, he says.
What did I say, I ask.
About having been a hooker, he says. My roommate warned me about you. He said he wouldn't even kiss your cheek. Told me to keep a distance. Fuck, he says, why didn't you tell me you worked the streets?
I was a call girl, not a street prostitute, I say. I take offense to his assumption that I'd been on the lowest rungs. I was an escort, I say in case he didn't get it the first time.
Copyright, 2011, Jennifer Chesler, All Rights Reserved