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There are two pills left in the bottle of my three month supply. I sniff the bottle, because I sniff almost anything. I get a buzzy olfactory high easily, like a dog with its head out the window.
With just the two pills left, I smell plastic and something chemical and bad. It’s the kind of toxic tang that causes the most reptilian part of my brain to send the hairs on the back of my neck to stand at attention. I imagine not taking them anymore. Nothing would change, everything would be the same. I put off emailing my shrink for a refill and an appointment. I pretend that I’ve gotten where I am all on my own, without a donkey-kick of serotonin.
It’s the pills or the therapy or both (that’s my mantra as of late), but I make the appointment. Tiny miracles like this I take for granted now. Following through on things, I take that for granted now as well. I promise to go to a birthday party where I only know the birthday boy and I go, and it’s fine. There’s a movie I want to see and the idea of two hours alone in the dark with popcorn appeals to me, so I go, I do it, and its fine.
I’m not an ad for pharmaceuticals, I’m not twirling around on a mountaintop, awestruck with my new reality, but my reality is new and it is awesome. The voice in my head that wonders about quitting it all, that reminds me that I’m going to hell, that insists I’m a failure, it’s not gone. It never will be. But currently it rides in the backseat, piping up at unhelpful intervals, telling me to do stuff like suck in my stomach or not text that guy or turn down the job because I don’t deserve to be happy. I can’t kick it out of the car, but I give it the finger benignly from the driver’s seat.
Sometimes I even manage to impress her, that irascible bitch. It happened earlier this week. For work, I go to a press screening. These things are almost always strange. There’s the requisite posse of writers (fine, bloggers) waiting patiently in line, the glint of their smartphones reflecting in their glasses as they clutch the straps of their messenger bags with their other hands and desperately fear and hope that someone will make small talk with them. Then there are the seat fillers. If there aren’t enough butts in seats for a screening, folks running the event will scamper outside the theatre offering free movie tickets. I once saw a screening with a totally wasted German soccer club. Another time, a man stripped himself of all his clothes and began frantically masturbating. Like so many other things, it’s a crap shoot.
The audience at this screening seemed stranger than usual from the get-go. I will admit that maybe I am saying this with the full weight of hindsight, but I do think I noticed it at the time. I’d dragged my youngest brother along as my plus one, and as we stood in line, no fewer than five people approached us, crept directly into our faces, and demanded to know what movie we were in line for. We laughed it off and determined that as a new hobby we would started forming massive lines in different parts of Manhattan to see how long it would take for people to join us. Fun fact: This is where the cronut comes from.
Invitees had been told to arrive at the screening a half-hour early because they were expecting a full house. Recovering from strep throat (SEXY strep throat), I was finding it a little harder than usual to flip off my backseat driver in all her awfulness. That meant I showed up at the screening an hour early, and nervously paced while waiting for my brother. Once he was there and we were in our endless line, I settled down. I am describing myself like a horse during a storm, and you know something, that is weirdly fitting.
We were the calmest people in the line. It’s a foreign experience for me, to look around and think, Man, everybody needs to relax, but there I was thinking it as people debated whether or not buying popcorn would screw up their chances at getting a good seat, wondering “what the hold-up” was, and trying to cut in line but repeatedly announcing, “No, I’m here for the FREE screening!”
In front of us stood a man who may or may not have been homeless. He was carrying two massive tote bags filled with loose food. He hadn’t showered for a while, and it looked like he’d been wearing his clothes for a long time. But again, who am I to judge? I frequently get up and wear my pajamas as clothes and repeat this cycle until I become concerned that people at movie theaters might no longer be able to ascertain from my appearance whether or not I live in a house.
I wouldn’t have noticed him, honestly, if he hadn’t turned around and rolled his eyes in an offering of “these people, right?” type camaraderie. This goes to show you: When you are bonding with a man eating what appears to be half an old peanut butter sandwich at a movie theater, it’s time to reevaluate. Which I did, until halfway through the movie when he kind of stole my cell phone. Ha.
When the lights went out I put my phone under my thigh (whatever, I feel this is normal) and the man behind me started eating what smelled like clams. A couple squeezed past my brother and I, and in the process my phone fell to the ground. The medicated part of brain told me to calm down and look for it later. The backseat driver railed and wigged and insisted I get down on the floor in the dark and look. I tried to ignore her, I’m so good at ignoring her mostly these days. I tried so hard that it took me twice as long to realize that it wasn’t her at all — it was REASONABLE CONCERN THAT I HAD LOST AN EXPENSIVE DEVICE.
As I scuttled about on the floor I quickly learned from another woman in the row behind me that she’d picked up my phone and had...handed it to the gentleman with the clams and the bags of food scraps who was now laughing violently as an FBI agent on-screen was shot to death. The woman’s eyes went wide. “I am so sorry!” She whispered. This is where old me would have quit. This is why I am still taking the pills, talking to the therapist, writing this column, because of what happened next.
“Sir,” I said, “may I have my phone? She returned it to you by accident.” The man stopped laughing abruptly and stared at me for a second. “I don’t have any phone,” he said. The backseat driver was losing her mind but I wasn’t. “Yes,” I said, “you do. You have my phone.” At this point an usher had made his way down to our section (“WE ARE MAKING A SCENE” yelled the mortified backseat driver) just as the man, his clams, and his bags were quickly standing up to beat a hasty retreat. After what felt like 20 minutes of digging under several pairs of eyes, he handed my phone over.
I can take it as a given now that I can look a stranger in the eye and shake their hand, or that I can go down and open the door when a food delivery arrives. But surreal and frightening albeit vaguely hilarious moments like these are why I make the appointment. Why I get the refill. Why I’m keeping it up. I want to exist in the world, where terrible, strange things happen. I want to be equipped to not just to cope with them, but to flow with them, and to take part in their absurd alchemy.