Alcohol May Intensify Effect
I was going to be a star. I knew it. I had always known it.
The problem was no one else seemed to.
I had been auditioning in Los Angeles for over 10 years, and as much as I hated to admit it, I had become a cliché. The unemployed actress with a pile of headshots in her car, her agent’s number on speed dial, and a compulsion to check her voice mail for auditions fifty times a day. And a drowning feeling that never went away.
By 2008, Kevin and I had been married for 13 years. He supported my flat lining career with his headshot photography business. Kevin began playing the bagpipes again with a local band, while I volunteered at an animal shelter. My transplant was 20 years young and kicking renal ass. We had just bought a half-acre property in Shadow Hills, a beautiful ranch-filled pocket north of LA, and had disposable income for wine-tasting train rides to Portland. Corny nicknames. Godsons. Friends, family and a big, fat basset hound named Daisy. For the most part, we were happy.
I often took this list for granted, zeroing in on the spaces in between the lines, the tantalizing lights of Hollywood blinding me to everything but my unrealized stardom.
Adjusting my sunglasses in the rear-view mirror, I reveled in my rock star self. My satin dress clung to my hips like a lover’s sweaty skin. Smacking my lips together, I flipped my butter-colored locks over my shoulder as if on cue. I was Movie Star ready.
I had just screen-tested for Ron Howard for the role of a “Young Diane Sawyer” in his upcoming film, FROST/NIXON. I had killed it. I was looking at The Next Best Thing.
My Hollywood dream had been simple: To nurture my Canadian career—a steady stream of small roles—into a flash flood of lead parts and artistic challenges. That had been The Plan, but with every year my name was not up in lights, my agonizing case of career-blue balls incited me to try almost anything.
Instead of studying Pinter, I now studied the sundry shades of white-blond hair on reality TV. Then I drank the sugar-free Kool-Aid and went blond. I bleached my teeth. Had my fanged incisors rounded. Ran five miles a day. And was always, always on some version of a diet, never managing to achieve that “lollipop-body” look (Big head. Stick body.). With reverent determination, I studied actresses made scrawny from coffee and cigarettes. I puzzled over stars who would wax, nip and tuck themselves into plucked chickens, then tan to a rotisserie gleam inside halogen beds. Then I studied myself and wondered why, although I followed the Hollywood Recipe down to the very last ingredient, I never felt full.
As I merged onto the 405 N for home, I replayed the audition, designing an illusory blueprint of how my life would unfold from here on out. After I shoot the film, I’ll be able to get a great agent. Then I’ll get a publicist. Then… I could feel it fluttering in my stomach. Anticipation like the agonizing seconds as a man works his way down your torso to your wriggling pelvis. I was ready for the stunning payoff to a tantric career that had left me painfully unsatisfied.
Gone was my love of the craft. The girl who would spring out of bed at 6 AM for a role in an unpaid short film had disappeared. I now resented every fruitless audition, every flip of the coin when a producer chose another’s head over my tail.
What if I don’t get it? I bit down on my lip tasting gloss, then blood. It would be several days, possibly weeks before the role was cast. Out the passenger window I noted the miniaturized moments whizzing by—tiny homes, tiny people and tiny lives. I was going home to the same: Dinner, laundry and television.
You never get the part. That voice. You are a loser. You are a waste of space. More and more, it was the one I heard. Lowering the window, I let the wind whip my cheeks. My finger jammed at the radio until Nirvana’s ruthless sound filled my ears. I cranked the volume, egging the grunge explosion to drown the voice in my head. Fuck. Off.
I darted into the neighboring lane without warning, smirking as I accelerated past the pack. The engine’s roar. Cobain’s suicidal screams. More. I wanted more. I squirmed against the vibrating bass, the nostalgic riffs blasting me away. The car was now my Time Machine where I could will a world of my own design. In here, I reigned as law-breaker, superstar, god.
I swelled beneath my dress, suddenly wet. Glancing out the window, I surveyed the glut of cars. My heart pounded. Can I do this while driving? I loved masturbating in public places. Inside a restroom stall at a wedding or in a random Starbucks toilet, but this scenario was unexplored territory.
I spotted Kevin’s kilt in the back seat—weighted layers of wool ideal for concealing movement. Placing my left hand on the wheel, I twisted my body back and to the right. Grabbing the kilt, I yanked it over and onto my lap. Then I eased out of the fast lane, adjusting to the flow of traffic. I would have to coast along between cars my size, realizing the height of a trucker’s cab might serve as a voyeuristic platform. It never occurred to me this might be distracted driving, maybe even a misdemeanor, and even if it had, it wouldn’t have stopped me.
I reached underneath the kilt, sighing with the relief of flesh-on-flesh contact. Concentrate. Just stay around sixty-two MPH. Driving While Masturbating was so thrilling I was almost ready to come. My fingers quickly picked up the pace, from eager to hard to fierce. A moan echoed inside the car startling me. I am actually doing this. I could feel myself building to climax, tension as pain. My fingers dipped in, out and around, my cunt desperate for release. My foot began to descend heavy on the right.
Then I felt the twitch, that telling drop between your legs when you have reached the point of no return. Proud abandon filled my ears. My fingers dug into the soft leather of the steering wheel. I bucked upward, straining against complete surrender beneath this curious chastity blanket. I cried out. My eyes fluttered shut, then widened, uncaring if anyone was watching, as my orgasm crashed against the steel constriction of my thighs.
Shaking, I smiled, certain I had gotten away with something. But what? I reached under the wooly skirt one more time to finger myself in wonder. Bringing my musky fingers up to my nose, I inhaled. Adult. Real. My body’s twitches were fading. Even the thump from the dashboard seemed diluted. The thrill so quick to come had already vanished.
More. I always wanted more than what I had. I did not want to go home and didn’t know why. I switched back over to the fast lane, trying to outrun my ballooning anxiety. I needed something. Now. I wonder if I have any Fiorinal?
My heart skipped a beat. It was that simple. Suddenly, I was full. The mere thought of Her like a match sparking my obsession. Ordering Her was like preparing to go on a date you know will end in a great fuck. The ritual of Her trumped any ritual to come before it: Getting ready for my first date. Any hospital discharge. The morning of my wedding.
I pressed the icon on my steering wheel. “Bluetooth Audio.” it sputtered.
“Call CVS.” I said. It was on my Favorites list.
The call clicked through to an automated system. I tapped through a couple of prompts, then pressed “3” for the pharmacy. A live voice answered.
I got my first migraine when I was 17.
I was studying in my bedroom, nestled beside a stack of books. The only sound in the room was the concentrated scratching of my pen. A bookish, yet results-oriented teen, my focus wasn’t so much on what I learned, but on the grade I received.
Foreboding plopped into my gut as a single raindrop. Then another. And another. Then sheeting pain. Howling tore through my brain. I dropped my book and dug my fingers into my temples. My stomach roiled with nausea. Flung out to sea, so far, so fast, it was unlike any headache I had ever experienced.
Grabbing the Extra Strength Tylenol, I ignored the instructions: Take 1 to 2 capsules once every 4 hours. They couldn’t have meant for this kind of pain! I tossed back 4 capsules with a swig of water from the bathroom tap. Delirious, I paced my bedroom desperate for relief that never came. Defeated, I went fetal until dawn.
That morning, I awoke to scattered homework and a dull ache across my neck. My fingers shook as I gathered the incomplete assignment.
Later that morning, I whispered to a friend in class.
“God, I had such a crazy headache last night. I took 4 Tylenol.”
“Wow,” she said, alarmed. “That’s a lot.”
Was it? It had not occurred to me to try 1 or 2 capsules first. Four capsules had made total sense. Fists up. Fight. Fight. Fight. I didn’t know that I had just experienced a migraine, and no one conquers a migraine. You just try to survive it.
Four years later, I was complaining of these headaches to my second Canadian nephrologist, Dr. C. who had seen me through my first kidney transplant. My symptoms were: nausea, vomiting, ocular disturbance, a physical allergy to light and sound, and pain, ferocious, unrelenting pain.
Migraines are the tornadoes of the neurological world. Your typical tension headache— that nine times out of ten can be eradicated with a bottle of water and a jog around the block— might rate as an F0 (light winds, fast moving clouds.) My teenage neurological blitzkrieg rated an F5 (homes ripped from their foundations and flung into the air like confetti). By age 21, I was getting these headaches two or three times a month, each one lasting several days at a time.
Although a nephrologist and not a neurologist, Dr. C. explained that these were not just brutal headaches. I would learn the foreboding feeling was a like a warning system, a brief window of time before a migraine touches down. Also known as the “aura.” Mine would strike the back of my head or neck, or sometimes in-between my eyes. In 1991, Dr. C. prescribed me Fiorinal (Butalbital/Aspirin/Caffeine), but with a warning.
“You must take it the moment you feel the aura, or it will not be effective. And be careful. They are strong.”
It is with a wistful irony that I remember Our first time together. That night, I stood washing dishes in a condo I shared in my final year of theater school. A feeling of unease hummed in my neck. My stomach dropped. The aura had landed. Dripping, I peeled off the rubber gloves and went into my bedroom.
Fiorinal was waiting for me in a basket with all of my other medications. I read and reread Her label. Take 1 or 2 capsules at the onset of migraine. My heart pounded as I stared fascinated, at the lone, glamorous, double-blue capsule I had just rolled into my palm. I fingered Her gently. What is it going to do to me? Despite my escalating Codeine abuse, I hesitated. My stomach cramped, churning with bile. The thought of another migraine tearing through my body and soul was more than enough motivation. Fuck it.
I threw Her into the back of my throat and swallowed. Then I lay down on my bed and waited. After about twenty minutes, my migraine was flattened, unable to funnel into those hysterical winds of pain. And from that moment on, I was infatuated.
Codeine had helped my headaches, but never saved me from physical pain. My soul sang with almost divine relief. I was so grateful to Her, in the same way you are grateful to the first man who can bring you to orgasm. You never knew this feeling was possible, but after you’ve had it, you never want to live without it.
Infatuation is like a wily weed. It does not need respectful and tenacious maintenance the way love does. It can develop one of two ways—wither away when a new infatuation is introduced or patiently subsist, freakishly sustaining itself without sunlight or water. With nothing but time as fertilizer.
Over seventeen years, Her directions had become open to my interpretation. I would take a few extra pills here and there for myriad reasons: 1) to enhance the buzz of a beer 2) because 4 seemed to work so much better than 1, or 3) when there was no migraine at all. I never sought more than my monthly script of 30, especially when it was upped to 60. After pick up, I would consume all of Her in a few short days. This was followed by two and a half weeks of white knuckling it as I counted down the days to Refill Day. I never asked for more. I never exceeded the monthly amount. It wasn’t abuse. I just took Her a little more quickly than prescribed.
By 2008, I was obsessed. I did not realize how deep my infatuation went, until I found myself craving Her acrid smell, and longing to finger her plastic shell. Aching to disappear with Her for days on end. When obsession takes root, there is only one way for it to grow. Wild.
Step 1: The Ordering of the Medication.
“Pharmacy,” the pharmacist repeated.
“Oh, hello. Good afternoon.” Light. Polite. I needed this call to go smoothly. “I was wondering if you could check and see if I have any refills?”
“For what medication?” I could hear him typing in the background.
“Um, Fioricep?” I feigned. This was key. To never look too eager.
“Fioricet,” he corrected. “Yes, you do. Would you like me to fill it for you?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“OK. Give me half an hour.”
In porn, this moment would be known as the money shot. Now that She was ordered, I was free to explode in ecstasy all over the car. Yet, I continued to pretend I was so not into this transaction. Although I wasn’t doing anything illegal in ordering Fioricet, I had no intention of taking Her according to directions. So whom was I manipulating the phone call for? Not the pharmacist. He didn’t appreciate my professionally trained voice inflections, or genius pretense that I was so noncommittal about this drug I had forgotten its name. He wouldn’t care if I took my pills as prescribed or not. He wouldn’t think about me after I left the pharmacy any more than I would think about him.
“And how late are you open?”
I knew it was open 24/7. That’s why I had picked this CVS. I placed the question there with a quiet flourish, not to convince the pharmacist I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but myself.
“Thank you.” I replied, hanging up. My chest erupted with joy, hard and loud. As if a team of cheerleaders had stormed the field, screaming Her name. Gimme an F! F! Gimme an I! I! Gimme an O! O! Operation Refill complete, I maneuvered the car off the freeway, and onto the San Fernando Valley side streets, detouring south towards my Burbank CVS.
Timing is everything when you are having an affair. I didn’t want to call Kevin and let him know where I was just yet. It would be too hard to pretend I wasn’t on the freeway. If I got home much later than I told him, I would have to pick a reason why other than that perennially golden LA excuse: traffic. Maybe get a receipt to prove I had been running errands. Or straight up lie and say I had been to the chiropractor or even the gym, even as my gym clothes lay untouched in the back seat.
Kevin ran his photography business from home, and we shared one car, so we were together a lot. Which is not a bad thing when you love your husband, but it is a tricky thing when you are also in love with something else.
It was hard to determine what Kevin knew about my increasing binging. He was starting to speak up, noting I can tell when you’re on them or Your personality changes. Or maybe I chose not to pay attention to what he said. It made the logistics so much easier. As long as he didn’t stand in Our way, I really didn’t care what Kevin thought, and as I pulled into the pharmacy’s parking lot, I was no longer thinking about my husband at all.
Flipping down the visor mirror, I slid on a generous layer of lip-gloss. I always made an effort to look nice before I saw Her. I knew my pupils were black, glinting with Her magnetic force, goading me towards a dark dance choreographed just for Us.
Clip, clip, clip. My heels echoed across the parking lot. Fiorinal empowered me. Around Her I soared, in spirit and stature, insecurities like my stunted growth from kidney disease dissolved. I had always felt awkward about my height, but in this moment, invincible—all legs and no regrets.
I had entered my church and would drink the holy water. The antiseptic smells of witch hazel, hemorrhoid cream and Epsom salts comforted me like Roman Catholic incense swirling around the sanctified on their knees. Here I would find a friend. Here I would be saved.
Fiorinal and I had discovered something that made our relationship even stronger. In Vino Veritas. This was how we would really bond. We did not care for the subtleties of pear notes or a blackcurrant after taste. We were fans of what was cheap and cold. My customized cocktail was simple: the coldest possible chardonnay and a fistful of blue plastic pills. No mixologist could ever trump this winning combination. Hold the fruit, straws and tiny umbrellas. I took my absolution straight up.
I grabbed a sale-priced Mondavi and pretended to peruse the label. Really I was just fondling the nape to see if it was cold enough. Almost perfect. Nothing that a few ice cubes couldn’t cure. Then I began my march towards the pharmacy.
Step 2: The Purchasing of the Medication.
A bottleneck of people jammed the analgesic aisle, diverging into two lines at the counter. I joined the crooked, toe-tapping line, slumping my shoulders along with the others: the plaid-clad, blue-collared workers, the disheveled, scrunchied housewives and the hopped-up hipsters. My greatest fear was to approach the counter only to have the pharmacist report they were out of stock, would have to reorder and She wouldn’t be available until tomorrow or the next day.
At the other register, an elderly man was rambling on about his medication regimen, then his insurance, then, could they just check one more time that the generic medication was indeed the same as the brand name? How could an old man talk so much? Shifting my weight from one foot to the next, I rested the bottle along the back of my neck. Nice and cool. I wanted to yank him by his shirt collar and hurl him into a display of One Direction singing toothbrushes. I tried to make eye contact with one of my fellow prisoners-of-wait, to commiserate in mutual irritation. Everyone was either dialed-out, heads up, scanning the water-stained ceiling tiles or dialed in, heads down, scrolling on their phones. We were nothing if not a motley crew of disconnected pill poppers.
I approached the counter. The backs of my knees quivered as the cashier retrieved Her from a hanging hook on the back wall. Thank God. She was so close now. Folding over the top of the bag, he stapled it shut. My mouth watered. It took everything in me to place the wine on the counter and hand over my debit card. I smiled brightly. He ignored me.
“Have you ever taken this medication before?” he asked. I wanted to laugh in his face.
“Yes. Thank you.” I replied. He lifted the bag. Our eyes met. I watched as it dangled from his arm over the DMZ of the pharmacy counter. No longer his, but not quite mine. His eyes narrowed as my fingers hovered, curling around empty air. I grabbed the bag and pirouetted away, tucking the wine under my shoulder and busting through the front doors.
This was the feeling I wanted every moment of every day. Like fucking Christmas morning. Like fucking on Christmas morning. In this dance of anticipation, I was about to fall into my partner’s arms and succumb to every inch of Her charms; crossing over from Hen to Her, losing myself one delicious misstep at a time.
I slid into the car, adjusting my dress over the hot fabric of the front seat. Even in May, within a few short minutes, the interior of a California car stifles. Tucking a damp tendril of hair around my ear, I exhaled. Organizing my bags on the passenger seat, I glanced up to make sure no one was loitering beside me. Sometimes I wondered if anyone else was doing what I was doing. Taking their controlled medication before heading home, despite a prescription label that warned: Do not drive on this medication.
Mostly, I chose not to think moments like this through, never connecting the dots between my secretive adventures and how, a few days later, I would be dope sick and full of remorse. Just like alcoholics were men in trench coats who sat on park benches and drank from bottles concealed in paper bags, drug addicts were ne’er-do-wells who lived under bridges, jamming needles into their arms slamming heroin eight times a day. I did not know, that addicts, like pills, came in all shapes and sizes.
I pushed the wine bottle to the side. Her label also read, Avoid alcohol while on this medication. I chose to focus on the part that said Alcohol may intensify effect. Wasn’t that a good thing? I was prescribed this medication. It was medicine I needed.
My heart slowed as I lifted Her from the bag with reverence. Ker-thunk. Ker-thunk. Palming the lid, it popped open with a satisfying crack. The acrid smell caressed the fine hairs of my nostrils, promising what I could not deliver for myself—freedom.
Step 3: The Swallowing of the Medication.
Ignoring the directions, Take 1-2 capsules every 4-6 hours for migraine, I tossed three capsules into the back of my mouth, swallowing them with a swig of warm water from a bottle off the floor of the car.
The dashboard read 3:26 pm. It usually took 15-20 minutes before I felt anything. I would almost be home by then. I remembered a scene in an HBO movie-of-the-week called Norma Jean and Marilyn starring Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino. Sorvino, convincing as the lustrously loaded Marilyn, sits on the floor, a satin gown spread beneath her as blanket for her narcotic picnic of delights. She titters about her tricks of the intoxication trade to that evening’s partner in crime.
“I like to open them up and sprinkle them into the bubbles,” she breathes into his ear. Marilyn cracks her Seconal tablet in half, languidly sprinkling it into her champagne.
“It hits you faster…”
Cruising north on Hollywood Way my every hair bristled, vigilant, ready to receive the first signal that She had landed. It was subtle nudge, a metal taste at the back of my throat. Then my brain surged on. Everything became sharper, brighter—the cars, the road, the lights of the dashboard—even as a layer of chiffon floated over me. Blissfully swaddled, my life ahead no longer seemed overwhelming, but manageable. Worth the drive home.
I pulled to the top of our steep driveway and turned off the ignition. I hated the abrasive silence. The mechanical crackle and pop of the engine shutting down. My heart sank as I removed the keys, ejected from my Time Machine. Present day stood just a few feet away. I hated having to share Her with him.
Reaching into my purse I grabbed Her, first glancing up to see if Kevin had emerged from the house. I palmed two more capsules, and then crumpled the bag and receipt into a teeny ball. Taking the paper muffler, I jammed it inside the bottle, silencing my 55 remaining friends. Then I hid Her in an inside pocket of my purse. If necessity is the mother of invention, perhaps creativity is its daughter.
I knew this ritual was pointless. I was fooling no one. When I walked through the front door, I would not make a beeline for our darkened bedroom after a quick pit stop for a cool washcloth. I had no migraine. Eventually, Kevin would see I was intoxicated. But I loved my husband very much, and was resolute in hiding my betrayal for as long as possible.
Tossing back the two pills, I swigged again from the bottle of warm water. A dribble escaped down my chin as I gagged.
She had not failed me. She had brought me home.
“Where have you been?” Kevin exclaimed as I slinked in through the front door.
Oh, my god, he’s such a fucking pain in the ass. I marched over to the freezer and slid the wine onto the top shelf next to the edamame. Slamming the door shut with my hip, I wobbled on my heels. Boy. Those were just the first 3 pills. I have to pace myself. 10. Tonight, I will take 10. Max. I can do it. If I take 20, I’ll be sick in the morning, and… Is he still talking?
“Traffic.” I threw over my shoulder.
The pills were rolling over me now. Barbiturate bugs gnawing on the wires of my brain. I looked at Kevin, his arms crossed, tucked up into his armpits. His face looked like it hurt. He had really been worried. Waltzing across the kitchen, I threw my arms around him, my irritation melting along with the two other pills.
“Oh, sweetheart! It was amazing!”
Out it came, a thick stream of enthusiasm swimming with expletives, detailing the screen test from beginning to end. My swelling tripped on the “r” in “Sawyer.” I would soon be slurring. Now I would have to avoid certain letters and substitute specific words altogether, choosing to say, for example, “SNL” instead of “Saturday Night Live.” It was time to crack open the wine and get drinking. When I was loaded, he got upset. Tipsy, he could handle.
Kicking off my heels, I wobbled again. I grabbed at the kitchen counter, gracefully catching myself. OMG! Ron Howard totally looked like Ron Howard! Auditioning for him had felt like I was on a date with Richie Cunningham and we were debating whether or not to split a cherry cola at Arnold’s.
Kevin stared at me. After thirteen years of marriage, I still couldn’t figure him out. Was his neutral expression love or suspicion?
His tone was often flat. Never did Kevin proclaim his love for me in anything but straightforward declarations. When he listened, I wanted him to say something. When he said something, he almost never said the right thing.
Nor was my husband a writer of love letters. He had never been able to stroke my soul with an exquisite string of words perfectly arranged and presented like a pearl necklace I could wear close to my heart, grazing my breastbone for private pleasure, then occasionally pull out to show girlfriends that they might draw an envious gasp, that I might draw comfort from their envy, that I might make myself feel bigger by making them feel smaller.
Fiorinal nudged me. Who cares what Kevin thinks! You’re going to be a STAR!
It was 4:49 pm. Drinking after 5: Sophisticate. Drinking before 5: Alcoholic. Close enough. I hated doing this in front of Kevin. It was a total buzz kill having to reign in my gestures and not reveal the thrill of my ritual.
Step 4: Mixing Alcohol with the Medication.
His eyes followed me everywhere—from the fridge to the drawer to the bottle. Placing our state-of-the-art corkscrew over the bottle, I pressed a side lever that locked onto the nape and then up. The air sucked out with a sensual slurp. My stomach flipped. Could my husband see how much I wanted this drink? Inside my paranoia, I knew he knew everything.
“You want some?” I asked, my hand hovering inside the cabinet, secretly hoping he would say no. Yet also recognizing the more fucked up Kevin became, the less likely he was to notice how fucked up I was, and I did not think this thinking was fucked at all.
I pulled out two glasses and filled each halfway. Kevin was not a big drinker, so I knew he would not complain about the stingy pour. The plummeting glug glug glug delighted my ears. In a lovely and surprising move, Kevin raised his glass. Proudly. I thought.
“It sounds like you are going to get it.”
That was definitely the right thing to say. We clinked glasses. He looked me straight in the eye, whereas I dared but for a second. I turned away, craving private reverence as I went in for that first sip. My lips pillowed over the crystal edge, parting sensually. (I loved the elegance of my mother’s old glasses. There was nothing less than total sophistication here.) The pungent fumes blasted away any of my lingering anxiety. I tilted the glass back and swallowed. Then swallowed again. My throat burned with pleasure.
“Thank you, sweetheart.” Then I turned away from my husband to finish the wine.
A few hours later, I was packing away the remains of dinner to an 80’s pop groove. I had avoided eating by serving Kevin food in his office. (She went down so much better on an empty stomach.) Floating over to the fridge, I tossed the Tupperware box into the freezer. I snorted, catching my mistake, laughing to myself in that sinister drunken way.
Step 5: The Hiding of the Medication.
I swilled the last drops of wine, holding my empty glass up to the eerie glow of the oven light. Lipstick smears and greasy fingerprints marked its once pristine edge. I need more pills. I paused and racked my brain, parting through the veils of paranoia woven thick over the passing hours.
I would hide my pills all over the house: in my shoes, inside sweater pockets, or in between towels. Once Kevin knew She was in the house, his back went up and he questioned everything. When did you pick it up? How many did you take? I had learned how to keep Her safe from such interrogation.
She was in my new favorite spot: the kitchen’s corner cabinet below and to the right of the sink. One shelf inside this cupboard ran parallel with the sink, running long and deep to the back of the wall. We kept almost nothing on this shelf, as it was too difficult to angle your arm back and retrieve anything. This was my Secret Cupboard.
I peered around the corner of our kitchen, straight across the dining room, and into Kevin’s office where I could make out his shoulder and a portion of the back of his head. He was sitting at his desk, bathed in a florescent halo from his computer screen. Over the music, I could hear the tappity-tap-tap of his keyboard. He was nestled. I had to get to Her and find out how much was left. She was getting in the habit of disappearing on me way too fast.
Our cabin is very small. Kevin could stride over to the kitchen in ten silent steps. I had to be quick. I squatted beside the Secret Cupboard’s door, snaking my arm towards the back. My fingers clawed at the wood shelf, grasping nothing but air. My neck flushed with sweat. I was certain I had left Her in here. With another frantic thrust backwards my fingers grazed plastic—the thin of the container, and then, the thick of the cap. I grabbed, knocking Her over in my panicked lust. Feeling my grip, She rattled with relief. Shoving Her into a tea towel, I cradled Her close to my chest.
I could not count them here. If Kevin left his office and moved towards the kitchen, I would not be able to hear him approach with the music playing. If I shut off the music, he would be able to hear the spilling of the pills on the counter. It was Bedroom or Bust. I tiptoed across the main section of our living room and around another corner into our bedroom. I felt a flicker of discomfort, not enough to trip me up, and certainly not a Charley horse to take me down, but there was something treasonous about a wife sneaking away from her husband on feet that did not even touch the ground.
Step 6: The Counting of the Medication.
I slipped into our bedroom, coughing over the sound of locking the door behind me. The tapping of his keyboard rose up through the thin drywall that separated Kevin’s office from our bedroom. Hmmm. If I could hear him typing, he’d be able to hear the plunking of the pills. I selected a new-age radio station on the TV. Then I poured the pills onto the bedspread.
The bright blue plastic popped incongruous against the soft green bedspread chosen specifically for its calming potential—green like grass, grass like nature, nature like calm. Fuck that. I had mere seconds to get these counted and hidden again. Quickly, I separated them into groups of 2—2, 4, 6, 8, reaching 48. 48! That meant I had already taken 12 pills! My stomach dropped. How had that happened?
Fuck it! I had tons left. I plucked another 3 off the bed before scooping up the 45 remaining pills with the bottle’s plastic edge. Okay. 15. I wouldn’t go past 15. That meant I could take these 3, with more wine. I was sure I had another bottle hidden somewhere.
At this point in Our relationship, any plan I came up with began to unravel before I had finished designing it. I would rather drink on a deliberately empty stomach than eat dinner with my husband. I would rather tiptoe behind a locked door and count pills than meet his eyes over a loving toast. She was now the architect, but I still thought I was drawing up the plans.
The 3 pills lolled melancholy in my palm as if they knew they would be the final hit of the night. I could barely keep my eyes uncrossed, stand without leaning, or talk without slurring, but this thought truly saddened me. I knew if I just kept taking more—1 more, 2 more, 5 more—something better would reveal itself to me. I just didn’t know what.
Glancing at the bottle, something different caught my eye: 1 refill. One refill! I had completely missed that I had a refill. That was all I needed to see. I wobbled in relief, smiling from behind closed eyes. Guaranteed more pills, I spilled 5 more capsules onto the bed-cover. 8 more pills. 20 total. But no more.
In the bathtub, I lay motionless behind another locked door. The hot water rose in steamy wisps, lulling me close to catatonia. My eyes fluttered in the back of my head as I dragged my arm across the top of the water. I allowed myself to sink down, hovering below a watery line gone frighteningly still. This was no cause for alarm, for I always had a reason to surface: To swallow more pills.
I had now taken 18 pills. I thought about the remaining 2 in my bedside table drawer, hidden in between the pages of Mary Karr’s Lit—the beloved memoir about an atheist alcoholic who found Catholicism. Kevin would never look there. He did not read much, and he certainly would not open a novel about…or would he? Would he find the pills? Would he like the book? My head was thick with nonsense. Forming a thought was tedious work, like chewing through tough meat with very little payoff.
Step 7: The Betrayal of the Medication.
Despite my well-designed blueprint, I had arrived once again at the same place I had sworn I would not, and I barely remembered leaving. I had not yet taken the last 2 pills, but I knew I would. No matter where I hid them, or how many times I counted them, they had already been swallowed. I was already dopesick, wondering when Fiorinal and I could be together again. There was a knock at the door.
“Are you OK, sweetheart?”
“Yeah,” I slurred.
“You’ve been in there for an hour.” Kevin’s voice was tight.
An hour? Had it been that long? Our time together was never long enough.
I did not think about what he might say in bed, inconvenient questions I struggled to answer with a flaccid tongue. Maybe if I stayed in here long enough, he would fall asleep. I loved my husband. I really did. I thought I loved him more than anything. But in that moment —it feels impossible to write it—I loved Her more. I loved Her more.
I chose not to think about morning, knowing She would be gone. That I would beg for Her through the tremors, nausea and hallucinations. The prickly morning sun would burn my face without Her. The ear-scraping sounds of Her withdrawal would scream the truth—the knowledge that every time We stole away together, I knew was turning away from my career, and Kevin.
Sinking beneath the lukewarm water, I thought about my refill and smiled. The only way to survive Her, was more of Her. I did not know this yet, but I was losing the power of choice. But that was Her power. Convincing me I still had a choice.
It’s only once-in-a-while. I can still become a star. For the most part, we are happy.