“On Self-Medicating”

Published in The Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology (January 2013).

On Self Medicating

It is Friday and Dylan is standing in front of the rows of caffeine pills displayed in the gray CVS down the busy street from his apartment, thinking of Sareh’s long, lithe legs, her smooth, throaty voice and dark, bobbed hair, which smells of juniper and almond shampoo—all of which are an hour and a half away at the university where her paintings got her into a master’s program, in the same little town where he lived with her for eight months, jobless, before moving here. Those eight unproductive months seemed the most miserable of his life—but, he tells himself, they were the best, because he will never again have a chance to do nothing but dote on Sareh all day, or cook her favorite foods for no particular reason, or pose ’til dawn so she can finish a painting for class—the most miserable months, that is, until he moved here, when he couldn’t sleep on the very first night without her breath and those sleepy, blinking eyes on the soft pillow beside his.

As he hears the automatic doors whirr open behind him, he realizes all his mind’s images of Sareh’s exotic hazel eyes are tied to thoughts of his insomnia—how he never sleeps on weeknights anymore except for the half-hours when he nods into a doze between six and seven in the morning, always just before his alarm goes off—and how Sareh hates it every Friday, as soon as Dylan sees her, when his shoulders relax—that almost painful stretch of muscle—and he gets drowsy, slipping off to sleep as soon as they sit down for a movie or a meal, or tumble into bed for some “I’ve been waiting all week” sex.

He is so tired now that his eyes are sore and trailing images of everything he sees; his arms have never felt so heavy, like lead is pumping through them rather than blood, weighing down on his back and pulling at the sides of his neck; and his knees go to jelly every five minutes or so, making him flex his calves and thighs to catch himself before the ugly, coarse blue carpet jumps up to cradle his cheek. But he knows he wouldn’t be able to sleep even if he did fall to the floor, despite his aching tiredness. Tonight, he tells himself, this weekend, I must stay awake. He must, he knows, or she will soon not want him around anymore, which will not allow him to sleep—he fears—at all, or maybe ever again.

Dylan looks over the small, neatly-placed boxes before him as an employee, a man about thirty-five with a scraggly rat-tail hanging down over his collar, shuffles behind him, dragging the smell of damp, dirty storerooms down the aisle. Dylan swallows back the flame of bile in his throat and reaches out for one of the boxes, the one with the brightest colors, the one his eyes refuse to ignore, despite the extreme side-effects and warnings posted on the front label. But when he looks down at his hand hovering by the NoDoze, it is trembling terribly and he can feel the strained effort his body is putting out just to send blood through his wavering veins, so he turns to the row of cash registers by the door before his fingers can clasp the thin, waxed cardboard. His foot refuses to move for a moment and Dylan stumbles before straightening back up, Sareh’s smile echoing in his mind, his shoulders beginning to loosen before he can even get out to the parking lot.

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